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transforming high desert soil for gardening / farming

 
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Location: Sedona AZ
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I just looked at a 25-acre parcel for sale in Northern New Mexico at 7300 feet.  I'm interested in permaculture farming or gardening, and rainwater harvesting across the the entire property. However, like most open country out here, the land was covered with sagebrush and rocks, and it was treeless besides, except for one very healthy pinyon tree.  The land sloped nicely downward from the back side.  Lots of pinyons growing on a hill to the south a mile or so away, which is public land I think. There are some hills in the east that are a little closer, but the prevailing winds blow straight in from the southwest unchecked.  I saw what I thought was a water channel running from front to back on the land, but then realized it looked more like an old road grown over.  Did not see any other channels or tracks of downslope flow of rainwater. So I really can't tell whether it's possible to work with this situation or not.  It would take a long time, I imagine, to get a decent windbreak, although with the one pinyon tree growing so well, I suppose I could get more of those going in the interim, as well as plant hedge rows or trellises to deal with the wind.  Incidentally, the next door neighbor said there are lots of rocks under the surface that made it impossible to drill a well, so the developer built a communal well about 1/4 mile away.   She did rainwater catchment from her roof that served her needs, but didn't do any gardening.  My initial conclusion was that this would not work for farming, but don't know enough about permaculture ways and means to say definitively.  I'm also not liking the high altitude, but land is so much cheaper and precipitation more reliable.  Don't mind growing under cover to extend the season, but getting good soil in the first place seems like a big project in itself.  Would appreciate any suggestions or advice.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1899
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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Land is priced to suit the markets capacity to pay!

Low priced land is not popular for the reasons you have listed- difficult to do anything with.

You may find a 3 acre block with very good soil somewhere is affordable to you.
Even with a small mortgage, you may be able to produce enough to pay it back.
BUT DO YOUR HOMEWORK
 
pollinator
Posts: 4684
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Howdy Rosemary, first off have you looked in Arizona or did you just want to try New Mexico? Seems like there are lots of good deals in Arizona and lots of folks practicing permaculture there.
How much rain does the New Mexico land get per year? Is there anybody else in the area that is farming?
I spent years in Wyoming , using the soil from under the sagebrush in my gardens. Great stuff, just needed water and a return of organic growth to the soil.
Any pictures of the area would be helpful too.
 
pollinator
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Geoff Lawton has a high dry and arid video for permies. They use the sagebrush as a nursery plant.
 
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Hey Rosemary!
I do not have any advice for you but I am thinking about moving to NM 30 min away from Taos because we have land already in the family. We will be trying to farm and are complete amateurs but we want to try. I just thought I’d connect with you if you choose to move there and want to meet fellow farmers/homesteaders.
Mcboyle16@gmail.com

Best,
Monica
 
Posts: 105
Location: Southern Utah
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Based on my experience with high desert (5300') in Utah the soil is generally lacking of most nutrients, and slightly alkaline.  After a few years of efforts to get things to grow I finally had success this year after top dressing every area I wanted to plant or grow something with plenty of wood chips and composted manure.  The wood chips hold moisture and will slowly break down to add organic matter into the soil, and the composted manure will add nitrogen and other benefits to the soil.
An affordable and simple home soil test kit will tell you quickly what your soil needs, or what it is lacking.  Your best option for wood chips will be to contact tree trimming services, but if you are far from their normal work area they may not want to deliver.  You could invest in a good quality wood chipper and when if you venture out into the hills to cut firewood you could also bring back the small branches and chip them yourself, firewood and wood chips in one adventure.  Check with local ranchers or horse owners or a stock yard if one is nearby and ask about the manure.
There are many videos on how to supplement your soil but I found good information from this Back To Eden Gardening video.  I don't do everything exactly as they do in the video but for getting started it is very informational.


Finally, if you move and if you have a reliable water source plan out where you would like some trees and bushes and run a drip irrigation system, or two or three, and get the big stuff planted as soon as possible.  Just make sure your water irrigation timers are reliable because a week or so without water will kill them.  I found that out the hard way when someone turned off the hydrant and it was over a week before I noticed nothing was getting watered.  
 
I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay, I sleep all night and work all day. Tiny lumberjack ad:

World Domination Gardening 3-DVD set. Gardening with an excavator.
richsoil.com/wdg


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