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Species for Dryland Mediterranean Food Woodland

 
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Hi, everyone.

I've done my work around 'Plants for a Future' website, trying to find suitable species for a no-irrigation garden, but there's a fundamental flaw in climate choice.
USDA doesn't take account for the long hot dry summers we have in the Mediterranean. And it is a completely different story to grow on drylands.
In dryland mediterranean, soil becomes hard like bricks in summer, heat burns most plants when they are dry, but it is too wet in winter for desert plants. There are many plants that can thrive in this climate when they are irrigated or in an already stablished forest, but out in the dry fields that's a different story.
In drylands we don't have forests, we have woodlands or, most likely, shrublands.

My goal is to build guilds of useful plants that I don't need to irrigate, to create a garden that provides food and beauty, that is self-sufficient. No pets or farm animals allowed. I've already identified several local species that I should help propagate, but I want to broaden the range of plants. PFAF is very useful at finding plants, but the selection it provides is only useful if I were to irrigate.

What I have for starters is this: Carob trees, Fig trees, Olive trees. Then some fruit trees that are struggling because we can't irrigate them properly. These are likely the tallest trees we might achieve. Oaks are too slow to grow, Pines kill plants around them.
At shrub level we have brooms, thistles and aromatic plants like thyme, fennel and rosemary. Good for spices, little more.
Vines we only have grapes and blackberries, but without water they aren't giving any yield.
Then herbs, I've found that most of them die or hide in summer, and then regrow in their favourite season. I've also identified many wild edibles, some of them even tasty.

For those who happen to be in a similar situation I have a couple of questions.
1. Where can I find a catalogue of suitable useful species, plants that thrive without irrigation in this climate? Something with nutritious value or meliferous, preferably perenial or self-seeding. I don't mind if they are foreign.
2. Is it ever posible to build soil when every summer it turns into dust? Shade from trees seems a must. Herbs will just dry out in summer and it is a fire hazard. But then, the only decidious tree here is the fig tree, the others would limit sun exposure in winter for surrounding plants. We are already working on green walls to protect the garden from the winds, which are constant. I've tried to grow clover as cover crop, but it just dies.

We also have a small piece of market garden we try to irrigate, but we were left with no water during six weeks in hot summer, and the only things that survived were a small tomato plant and sorghum. I have hopes of sorghum yielding organic matter for mulch.
 
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Abraham said, "thyme, fennel, and rosemary. Good for spices, little more.



These also have medicinal benefits, too!

I use rosemary for mouthwash.

Here is a thread to offer suggestions on how to water your trees and plants:

https://permies.com/t/138768/Water-Plants-Trees-Drought-Conditions
 
Abraham Palma
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Thank you Anne.
I think I had already read that thread twice. I am already doing pretty much everything exposed there but the air well which I don't trust. However, the soil still turns to dust in summer without irrigation.  Dryland in the Mediterranean is such a different beast!

I guess there are two major strategies regarding the guilds.

The first one would be to use only plants adapted to the current conditions (syntropic?). This is mostly what I want to do. For these plants, anything we can do to increase water retention (mulch, shade, wind shelter) will just show as bigger growth, more organic matter. Given enough time, the extra organic matter, the extra shade, will help to change local conditions and more species could be grown hopefully. But for now, growing what already grows well seems like the safe bet. I am sure there must be more plants adapted to the local condition other than what it is already growing, but I miss the tools to find them. Hence my first question.

The second strategy would be to increase water catchment area and water retention so to create a better microclimate in a small zone, where more species can be grown. This I am already trying (people want tomatoes!), but there are big challenges. I don't have much shade, our trees must be kept small in order to be able to take their produce. Bigger trees are complicated: pine trees disturb ph around, holm oak trees take forever to grow. Carob tree is the only one we can let grow big and still get the fruit. Mulch is in short supply, we chop from nearby herbs in automn and spring, but in summer most herbs have decayed. Wind is still an issue, we have a constant breeze and we are trying to shelter it with a wall made of several different plants, but the wall is not growing fast enought without irrigation. I've also made a couple of sunken beds with buried logs: they are good, but they are still not enough to grow plants that require irrigation. I am not sure if the soil we are building in these beds will hold for the next season had we left it completely dried. Hence the second question, given that the soil might dehydrate every summer, can it be increased every year? Or drying it out means that every automn the soil must start again from zero? I could try to keep some beds irrigated, but if they must all be kept irrigated, then it's not a good strategy anymore.
 
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It sounds like you have a difficult climate to work with. I think establishing a more humid microclimate sounds like a good route to take but it may take some time and establishing hardy, drought-resistant plants in the meantime is certainly worth the effort. For what it is worth, I think starting to grow holm oaks and other large trees is worth doing. Yes they will take a long time to get established but, once mature, they will provide shade for future plants and help cool and moisten the air through evapotranspiration. The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago, the second best time is today!

I have no direct experience with Portuguese grow projects but I know of several people who have lived or worked on them and I remember the following "useful" species being mentioned as present on a lot of them:

- Cork oak
- Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)
- Olive, which you have
- Fig, which you have

You could also look to southern India for inspiration, particularly Tamil Nadu where they have very hot summers but very wet winter monsoons. Auroville is located there (it's actually in Pondicherry, a small city-state) and I'm sure there are people living in that community that could help.

I recall the following being grown as staples in TN:

- Snake gourd
- Ash gourd
- Luffa (for eating as well as washing with)
- Moringa (edible leaves, "drumstick" fruits)
- Gliricidia (for compost, living fences and green manure)

There are also irrigated crops such as maize, millet and sorghum that were grown but that is somewhat secondary to your question.

Finally, how about cacti or succulent species?

- Dragon fruit
- Prickly pear
- Agave (for syrup and tequila!)

As a word of warning, a friend of a friend grew a small amount of tobacco in Huesca and it took over their property very quickly. I would urge against that, if you were ever inclined to do so! They did manage to grow nasturtiums under their trees relatively easily though.

Best of luck!
 
Abraham Palma
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Many thanks.

Portugal is a good comparison, especially if it is located in the South.

I can say that we have planted tobacco, luffa, and some alike, they all dried and died without irrigation. Arbutus unedo should work, ironically, we don't have freezing temperatures required for the fruit to be tasty. Moringas are still alive, just because they are the loving babies of a partner gardener who doesn't forget to irrigate it, must she bring water from her house.

Agaves and aloes yes, they go well. I don't know how to get a yield from agaves. I think we have a garden variety, not the one used in Mexico for tequila. Aloes grow and multiply, but I dislike aloe pulp. I'm going to use them as living ditch for terraces, then as organic matter for the beds.

I'll go with your advice about oaks. Maybe in a future we will enjoy an oak garden instead of a carob garden.
 
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howdy,
my fig trees, soil type is red clay type, bakes hard in sun, but these trees seem to LOVE it and I love the figs, am trying to make a shaded bar b que area in the shade of the figs, also have some grapes trying to survive the heat.

IMG_3013.JPG
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IMG_3014.JPG
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over 10 doz. on this tree and double crop
IMG_3015.JPG
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This Tree, was grafted fig, above ground died, I dug up and replanted. 10-12 ft tall and producing fruit.
 
Abraham Palma
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Hi, Randal.
They are indeed sturdy, these fig trees. We had to chop down one black fig tree due to infestation last year, and it's already giving fruit! One lovely thing about fig trees is that there are a few different varieties with different ripe times. You can have four different fig trees and eat them in succession, if you have the space. Slightly different flavours, too.
Have you tried a guild around your fig tree? Being decidious and frugal, they are easy on the plants around.

Our grapes are barely surviving without irrigation, but all fruit is lost. However, they are currently not planted in the better spots. The people who planted them assumed that irrigation would be always available.
 
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“use only plants adapted to the current conditions….growing what already grows well…. I am sure there must be more plants adapted to the local condition other than what it is already growing, but I miss the tools to find them. Hence my first question.”

The tools for me turned out to be Wikipedia and Google Earth. In researching this question for my region, I looked at the places across the globe that are located at the 35th parallel AND 5,000 feet above sea level. This takes some preliminary research on Wikipedia to find places that have similar growing conditions. Once I knew where to start looking, Google Earth let me see the actual terrain and understand various strategies.

In your case, Malaga, Spain, is 36.72° N, altitude 36 feet. Research how the small farms that are at this latitude (either N or S) and altitude have adapted to the harsh conditions. Start by investigating the 37th parallel (Wiki) and look at the list for areas around the globe that are ~10 meters above sea level. Zoom into the places you find with satellite view on your computer (Google Earth) and you can actually see the way farms are organized. Look at the details then do a search on the traditional foods and plants for those specific villages. What are the dominant ingredients the traditional local cuisine? What are the top agricultural exports? So much information at your fingertips.
 
Abraham Palma
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This is a good strategy, indeed.

Wikipedia says that what I see in the wilderness is called sclerophyll woodland, or shrubland. That's a start.

Traditional food, never thought of that approach... Let me think. I will discard modern food, nowadays we cook a lot with peppers and tomatoes, but I've learned that you can't grow tomatoes without irrigation. So, it should be our grandparents usual meals...
Well, we got garlic for sure. Spain is famous for its garlic aroma. Wheat. Olives and olive oil. Wine. Almonds. Honey. These are the big ones.
Spices are very common too: saphran, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, thyme-rosemary, oregano-marjoram, persil, dried pepper.
Then we have lentils, chickpeas, chard, broad beans, sunflower, potatoes, fruits, but I suspect a few of them are irrigated. In winter/spring we have lettuces, carrots, cabagges, radishes, onions, ... Carob and acorns are considered animal fodder.
We eat a lot of fish, specially fried fish, and sea shells. Pigs, chicken and goats. The game here is bunnies, rabbits and birds. Very rarely wild goats and boars.

Small farms around my location are not the best example. The climate changes wildly in just a dezen of kilometres. These farms peruse plastic greenhouses and they irrigate crops on fosil water. They are growing avocados and mangoes, and as a result, they are ruining the aquifers. Where it is flat (as in my garden), there's irrigation. Where it is sloppy, it's olive orchards or wilderness.
California, Chile and Southafrica have the same climate, but looking at California, they work the same as our people, irrigating everything they can (wow, they really love farm rectangles in California), and even grow the same crops. In Chile, it is of importance the rapeseed oil, which is infamous in Spain. SouthAfrica is pretty much the same crops as here, too.
I was expecting to find some native dryland crops or edible plants in these countries that we could import, but if they exist, they are a minority of their produce.

I am not only after crops, I also want to establish some guilds, beautiful, flowery plants are also welcomed. Maybe I will be more lucky looking for sclerophyll guilds.
 
Amy Gardener
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Hello Abraham.

Great start. Now go deeper into the distant and unusual places that are noted: https://osm4wiki.toolforge.org/cgi-bin/wiki/wiki-osm.pl?project=en&article=37th_parallel_north
Following your low altitude will limit your search but look into what is happening about 37th Parallel in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Syria, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, rebel gardeners and actual neighborhoods at 36.7 N in California. The native shrubs, grasses and opportunistic recovery plants will appear in reports about specific regions. You may be the expert writing the plant guild study once you gather all the data from similar regions.

As you probably know, garlic is an amazing plant for recovery and captures water in the winter season. Harvest for eating at all stages: green shoots, green garlic, mature heads. The mulch is useful for nurturing young trees. The smashed and soaked heads along with chile keep problem critters away while young perennial plants get their starts. Especially good companion for fruit trees. We harvested over 600 heads this year and most will nurture the trees and keep pests away.
 
Abraham Palma
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Hmm, actually this is the climate distribution around the world:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_climate#/media/File:Mediterranean_climate_(K%C3%B6ppen_climate_classification).svg

I've dug into our local gov guides, and the classification for the garden's climate is thermophilic basement, sclerophyll woodland/shrubland of the mediterranean at lower altitudes. It's warmer than hoter thanks to being near the shore, but not coastal.
Soooo, cities that are alike, coastal, surrounded by hills, not many forests, and yearly precipitation:
- Malaga, Spain. 550mm.
- Los Angeles (CA), USA. 400mm.
- Cape City, South Africa. 475mm.
- Perth, Australia. 880mm. (!)
- Lagos, Portugal. 475mm.
- Tetouan, Morocco, 585mm.
- Algiers, Algeria. 600mm.
- Tunis, Tunisia. 485mm.
- Palermo, Italy. 647mm.
- Patras, Greece. 662mm.
- Smyrna, Turkey. 1325 mm. (!!)
- Tripoli, Lebanon. 745mm. (!)
 
Amy Gardener
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Very interesting Abraham!

Here are some local gov guides and links from LA County:
https://dpw.lacounty.gov/wwd/web/conservation/NativePlant.aspx
https://dpw.lacounty.gov/wwd/web/Documents/DroughtTolerantPlants.pdf

Maybe you could put out a call for similar guides for the parts of the world that you listed.
 
Abraham Palma
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Awesome! This is something I can work with.
 
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Hola Abraham

I think my place is rainier than yours , but I think that almond and plums can work there. And mulberry. Also argania spinosa. And for nitrogen fixers, soil creation, chop and drop, gleditsia triacanthos and robinia pseudoacacia. Date Palms and Prickly Pear, very easy to grow also. And I have good experience with Arbutus Unedo (madroño). And Palmito (chamaerops humilis) should grow there

Throw fava beans around in Fall, they grow easily, and are good for soil creation. Also sorghum, buckwheat and alfalfa.

Last Autumn I threw around a mix with mustard seeds, many types of clover, lupin, vetch, borage... without irrigation it grew okay (more than okay)

All the above trees and plants have been tested in my location last year. Some others for decades. As I said, Denia is "rainy mediterranean", but mediterranean nonetheless

 
Antonio Hache
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And I forgot. See this pictures: wild persimmons, planted by the birds. Zero irrigation
20210807_143132.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20210807_143132.jpg]
 
Abraham Palma
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Hi, Antonio. I suspect that the major difference with the amount of rain is how close the trees can be. Less water requires bigger rainfall catchment area.

I didn't know about Argania spinosa or Gleditsia triacanthos. I don't think we can produce argan oil, but Gleditsia fruits looks promising. We've been thinking about Arbutus Unedo, but we've heard that it doesn't produce tasty fruits in Malaga for some reason. We are already trying to grow lemon, orange, grenates, mulberry, oak, piñon pine, ... Plums, jujubes and peaches are on the to do list. We tried Jujube last year, but they didn't root. I've been seeding chamaerops humilis seeds from a nearby garden plant, I don't know if the seeds were mature enough.

However, in order to design a guild I will need more than trees: bushes, herbs, vines, bulbs. I found a guide for wild flora in Andalousia, then limited the search to thermomediterranean floor (this means below 100 m altitude) and sclerophyll forest (like carobs, which we already have) and rosemary shrubland, which are aplenty.
I've found many flowers, which is good since I want the garden to be both edible and flowery. Now I have to find the seeds, hehe. Some examples:
- Myrtus communis. Up to 5m, forms nice hedges, fruit is similar to black pepper and can be used for seasoning.
- Elymus hispidus. Very similar to wheat, but this plant is native and easier to collect.
- Genista umbellata. Very beautiful round bush covered with yellow flowers. Fixes nitrogen.
- Genista scorpius. Not very beatiful but can be used for thorny hedges and fixes nitrogen.
- Barlia robertiana. A huge orchid.
- Crocus serotinus. A small flower, substitute for safran, flowers on autumn.
- Muscari parviflorum. A very fragant flower native of Malaga.
- Smilax aspera. A vine with fruits that the birds love. A beverage can be made with the roots.
- Viburnum tinus. A beatiful bush only useful for hedges but is hardy as a rock.
- Allium ursinus is already there, I guess allium sativa could work too. Maybe onions and leeks.
- Arisarum vulgare. It is a vine, but can be used as permanent ground cover.
- Stipa tenacissima. A hardy broom that can be used for fibers, if we knew how to weave it.

Most of the wild flora is more suitable as sheep/goat/rabbit fodder, which I think it was their main use in ancient times. Hunt a rabbit and season it with rosemary and thyme, at least in summer. Sclerophyll plants are not very nice to eat, and that's the only thing that is still green in summer, but figs.

Growing cereals is a bit silly, since you can only bake a small bread bar for every square meter of cultivated cereals, but the diversity adds up and they grow fast, so it's good for building organic matter. I think the major dryland cereals can be grown: millet, wheat, barley and sorghum. But we don't have the tools to thresh them, so no wheat or barley. Dry legumes (lentils, chickpeas) should work too.
We tried to grow fava beans this winter in the first buried bed, only one survived but wasn't taller than 30cm, gave five pods and died.

Looking overseas, the list of useful plants I've found other than trees is short.
- Carissa macrocarpa. A Cape Town thorny bush with edible fruits.
- Juniperus californica. A California thorny small tree with edible fruits, a bit sour.
- Elaeagnus multiflora. A Chinese bush with edible fruits and fixes nitrogen. Resistant to draught but may not stand a Mediterranean summer without water.
- Harpephyllum caffrum. A Cape Towm small tree that grows fast and has plum like fruits.
- Hibiscus sabdarifa. A Perth big edible flower, best for tea.

The problem with the foreign ones is that pollination is not guaranteed.
 
Anne Miller
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Abraham said, "I am already doing pretty much everything exposed there but the air well which I don't trust. However, the soil still turns to dust in summer without irrigation.  Dryland in the Mediterranean is such a different beast!



It is good to know that you are trying those.

Have you ever put a large rock on top of a plant and later look at what was happening.  When I did the plant was covered with moisture. That was a fun experiment for me.

This is an older thread but might give you some suggestions not already mentioned:

https://permies.com/t/6585/Mediterranean-Climate-Forest-Garden

 
Abraham Palma
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Thanks Anne.

I missed that thread. Looks good. A few extra species: Cornus mas (fruit shrub), alfalfa for accumulator. ceanothus arboreus (ornamental bush, fixes nitrogen).

Even better, they gave a link to a book that looks promising
https://archive.org/details/permaculture_West_Coast_Food_Forestry-A_permaculture_guide

And then they give a couple of thoughts about poor soils and fire risk. Usually our soil is not very fertile because as the ground turns barren in summer, the nutrients are washed away with the autumn rains, but keeping a permanent ground cover in summer is also asking for a burning. The traditional way around here is asking the sheeperd to come with the sheep, they turn dry herbs into manure, but we are not allowed to use farm animals.

About the stone... it burns the plant unless you have it always in shade. We are experimenting with stone lines around the leafy trees so there's room for herbs to grow and shade the stones. So far, not good. Herbs are as dry around the stones as outside. A heat episode here is fearsome. It's already 40ºC at shade, plus a dry constant wind, plus the bare sun in a soil that is completely dry after two months or more of not receiving a single drop. I can't stand being in full sun, I don't know how some plants handle it. Most don't.
 
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I got no long term experience with dry mediterranean climates, but i´ve been at a friends place in coastal Granada ( so might be very similar to yours) a few times and I see what works for him.

Without to much constant care
- Pomegranates do very well for him, he got several varieties from iran and neighboring central asia that are used to desert like climates and can take a bit of beating from the sun and wind.    
- mulberries. Fast growing but likes a bit of nursing in the begining
- The native dateplum (D. lotus) as Antonio mentioned
- Figs
- apricots and similar stonefruits but needs a little more care to get established
- pistachio but haven't fruited for him yet, so not sure how well its crops at his place
- various kinds of cacti including opuntia species and I think peruvian apple cactus but not sure on that one  
- He got some acacias that are very hardy and seems to do fine but he dont know what species they are
- Date palms, not fruiting yet (I would try Jubaea chilensis and some of the Butia species too)
He grows lots more but this is what I remember right now

I think fast growing (and nitrogen fixing) tree legumes like mesquite (Prosopis species) and some of the acacias should maybe work alright for you as shade and nursing plants.
See what wild and naturalised species thrives a little more south of yours in the more arid and extreme climates of north africa ex. right across the med into Morocco.
If you haven't come across Brad Lancaster yet, look up his work
 
Abraham Palma
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Thank you.

I got no long term experience with dry mediterranean climates, but i´ve been at a friends place in coastal Granada ( so might be very similar to yours) a few times and I see what works for him.

Yes, pretty similar if it is on the coast.


Without to much constant care
- Pomegranates do very well for him, he got several varieties from iran and neighboring central asia that are used to desert like climates and can take a bit of beating from the sun and wind.    
- mulberries. Fast growing but likes a bit of nursing in the begining
- The native dateplum (D. lotus) as Antonio mentioned
- Figs
- apricots and similar stonefruits but needs a little more care to get established
- pistachio but haven't fruited for him yet, so not sure how well its crops at his place
- various kinds of cacti including opuntia species and I think peruvian apple cactus but not sure on that one  
- He got some acacias that are very hardy and seems to do fine but he dont know what species they are
- Date palms, not fruiting yet (I would try Jubaea chilensis and some of the Butia species too)
He grows lots more but this is what I remember right now

I wrote this post a few months ago, so let me update it. We already have many of these species: mulberry (very small yet), fig trees (producing), pomegrenate (no fruits yet), but also olive trees, almonds, and carob. The people who managed the garden before us planted a lot of fruit trees: oranges, lemons, bananas (though it dries off before fruiting), apricots, apples (all died), they are all too small or on the way to dieying, because we have really no water.
Date palms are on my list of future acquisitions[, even if we can't posibly collect the hanging fruit, hopefully we could take some dates from the ground. Pistachios might work, but they require more space than we have.
However, I was thinking of all the species in a food forest, not just the fruit trees.



I think fast growing (and nitrogen fixing) tree legumes like mesquite (Prosopis species) and some of the acacias should maybe work alright for you as shade and nursing plants.
See what wild and naturalised species thrives a little more south of yours in the more arid and extreme climates of north africa ex. right across the med into Morocco.


Acacias are fine. I'm going to try robinia pseudoacacias on Antonio's suggestions, since their seeds are very available here. They are going to provide wood for soil amendment, and some shade in summer for crops.
Still, I have serious doubts if it really can start building soil. When summer comes, there are two ways of keeping things alive: either you irrigate, which we can't, either your till the suface (10 cm) and kill any weed so the rainwater from spring is held in the ground during summer. The later is the traditional way of dryland farming around here, but this way you can't build soil, and it requires fertilizing.
I'm going to try to naturalize alfalfa and garlic, they are both nice to have and look promising.


If you haven't come across Brad Lancaster yet, look up his work


Oh, yes, I watched every video and read every free book I could find of his work. This garden is zone 2 or 3, far from home, and though we would install a rainfall collecting roof over the tools cabinet, we have no resources (time, manpower or money) to do it. I'm working on building a couple of terraces in the steeper areas, but the rest is lacking runoff water, so I'm just building sunken garden beds (well drained, buried logs), using the pathways as rainwater collectors for the beds. I tested it. My wife think me crazy for staying outside with heavy rains, but I saw no runoff stream I could benefit from, the water was evenly spread.

Let me put it very simple: the only places I know that keep the surface humid in summer are full grown forests, with lots of shade and tall trees. Any other biome just dries out the surface to 30-40 cm so hard that you need a pickaxe to make a hole. But trees don't grow easily outside forests without irrigation.

I found a permaculture group that is trying to do the same thing in Granada, they are even posting videos in Youtube. They are at higher altitute, so it's easier for them (less temperature, more rain), but the species are alike. They too are using robinias as nursury trees. They also dug some mini swales on slopes and holes around trees for trapping rainfall.
A big difference is the wildlife: they have boars, we have urban teenagers. Our wildlife has broken the fence several times for their mating rituals. Where we wanted a lush garden, our fauna found a lust garden.
 
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I'm in the Cape peninsula in South Africa, in an area of very low summer rainfall and very strong summer winds.

I wonder if the energy needed to get things going, and the energy needed once there's momentum, could be somehow disentangled. For example, an initial large input of organic matter or water will not necessarily make the whole project unsustainable in the long term, but will greatly increase the number of species that will be successful, and the speed in which you will be able to observe growth and get a yield.

We grow indigenous species as supports (in our case various osteospermum, wild sages, dovyalis afra, sourfig- carbobrotus edulis, polygala myrtifolia, tulbaghia, many types of pelagoniums, salt bushes), so that the soil is shaded around our fruit trees, even if the support species itself is not harvestable for human use. Keeping bees helps to make these support species feel useful. (and we also have dairy goats, for the same reason but also because we just love them).  We have to irrigate our fruit trees, using drip irrigation and rain water.

Importing massive amounts of landscaping waste, in winter, was very important for helping to get the soil covered more rapidly, which in turn greatly increased water retention in winter, and then compounded the effect. The area of our property that has no irrigation whatsoever is certainly not as lush yet, but we have tree lucerne (tagasaste) sourfig, Australian myrtle, and good groundcover, and I noticed now we have self-seeded hemp growing, and I've planted camphor and coastal oak and they are all doing ok. Also, if I can plant a relatively large tree in winter, their probability of surviving the summer is much greater.

 
Abraham Palma
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an initial large input of organic matter or water will not necessarily make the whole project unsustainable in the long term, but will greatly increase the number of species that will be successful,


I'm glad to hear that it is working for you!
For now, I'm "helping" the city's garden service to "get rid" of the fallen city tree branches, I'm sure they will give permission if I ask. Extra organic matter to boost our project, yay!
 
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Not as familiar with European edibles, but I'd bet you have a species of edible atriplex (aka Saltbush, Orache) in your region that would do well. Naturally salty leaves, good for salads & soups/ stews. You could probably find other good uses for them.
 
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Yes, atriplex halimux is the one around here. It says it's edible and suitable for salads. I thought they were just plants for the coastline. Limoniastrum monopetalum is also edible, but maybe not palatable.
Good catch!
 
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I’m in the Pacific Northwest so a lot more wet in the winter than your location but I’ve got a 3+ month dry season. The plants that have proven most drought tolerant for me are: chestnut, quince, fig, pomegranate and olives. I’d recommend getting some chestnuts going from seed so they have a taproot. They’re tough trees that’ll provide you with coppice, staple food and shade. Various palm trees would also likely work such as date palm if your conditions will allow it or jelly palm if not.

I can think of a bunch of “maybe drought tolerant” species but I think those are probably best avoided when you’re just starting out.

As an aside: it’s probably worth checking out what Geoff Lawton did in the Dead Sea valley. He did some amazing work there and they showcase a bunch of very drought hardy species.
 
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I’m in the Pacific Northwest so a lot more wet in the winter than your location but I’ve got a 3+ month dry season. The plants that have proven most drought tolerant for me are: chestnut, quince, fig, pomegranate and olives. I’d recommend getting some chestnuts going from seed so they have a taproot. They’re tough trees that’ll provide you with coppice, staple food and shade. Various palm trees would also likely work such as date palm if your conditions will allow it or jelly palm if not.

I can think of a bunch of “maybe drought tolerant” species but I think those are probably best avoided when you’re just starting out.


Chestnuts don't grow well at this altitude, they are to be found at mountains here; I am near the coast.
Date palms are on my list. The rest we already have them.


As an aside: it’s probably worth checking out what Geoff Lawton did in the Dead Sea valley. He did some amazing work there and they showcase a bunch of very drought hardy species.


Greening the desert? Or is it another project? There's a major difference with his project: they lived there, so they could use graywater. Not only they did catch water from the roof, but they also had some tap water for the household. Another big difference is that I can't make use of animals, since this space is a public garden and we can't commit to their care either. We open two evenings per week.
I may bring some bottled water from my house, the municipality sometimes fill our 2 ABC tanks, but it is in no way reliable. Besides, I am more interested in a dryland model that I could replicate anywhere, something we can expand everywhere and prepare for the future desertification of our country.
 
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I have an extremely dry summer, and pineapple guava (also known as feijoa) has done very well for me. I'm told by a friend in New Zealand that they are exceedingly drought tolerant once established


I find bigger trees are generally the most drought tolerant once established, having the root system needed to store and reach water. You might consider traditional fruits on standard rootstock.

I don't know if you can do this or if you've thought about it, but swales and earthworks have lived up the hype for me. And so has improving the soil. I have extreme drought for about half the year, and I have seen volunteer squash and corn make it without irrigation in areas that I've improved the soil. This is actually really bind boggling considering the situation here.
 
Amy Gardener
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Hey Abraham and all you forest gardeners in dry climates. Tomorrow is a big day in the Northern Hemisphere: full moon garlic planting celebration. It should be an official holiday in October. I have mentioned the humble garlic clove before in this thread. Ho hum, everyone has garlic.... But REALLY, garlic is the plant that will help distract and repel pests from all the newly planted fruit trees that people have recommended in this thread. It reproduces itself so once you get it going, you'll have understory food for life. And what's better with all that sweet tree fruit and savory greens than chopping up garlic greens, green garlic and bulbs in a delightful salsa or chimichurri. Garlic is a versatile food crop for the food woodland. As Abraham said, "...in order to design a guild I will need more than trees: bushes, herbs, vines, bulbs." Yes, garlic is a bulb! Bulbs planted at the full moon or later (so I gather from reading an ancient copy of the Farmers Almanac) reach down as ground water subsides throughout the October-November waning moon. So separate your cloves, mark your dibbers and get ready for tomorrow's festivities.
 
Abraham Palma
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Thank you Amy,
I've already planted garlics on your advice. Was it you who said to have hundreds?
We had a celebration party a couple of weeks ago and we had children planting garlic (cloves?), then I went and plant some extra myself. It was a celebration for the rainy season and we sang a lot out loud, then it rained the next day. Yay. But it's now two weeks without a single drop.
I guess some extra won't hurt.

We had a visit from a farmer who said we have to use sulfur for the grapes since they got some disease called 'cenizo' (maybe it's dust in English). She said we can't eat anything that the fungus have touched. Then I thought of the garlics we planted. I believe if I get enough of them, then I wouldn't have to worry about fungal diseases anymore. All our farmer experts say that we can only plant something for three years, then we must rotate. They don't know about food forests. Plants in wilderness are self seeded year after year and they don't show signs of decay, so why should crops in such a system only last for three years?
They also say you can't mix legumes with garlics, but is it true for food forests too?
 
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My climate is almost the same as yours, but a little more extreme: hotter summers and colder winters. I think our rainfall is the same. I've made a list of plants that people have luck with here. I removed anything already mentioned in the thread, but all of the existing suggestions are great (feijoa! persimmon!).

These edible trees successfully grow with no irrigation here on bare land. If you sow them in fall, the winter rains are enough to take them through summer their first year:

valley oak - quercus lobata (fast-growing, deciduous, makes lots of acorns)
california black walnut - juglans californica (tasty, hard-to-shell nuts. often used as rootstock for english walnuts)
pecan - carya illinoinensis

These edible trees need irrigation to establish, but can usually survive on their own after that:

white mulberry - morus alba
red-leaf plum - prunus cerasifera
loquat - eriobotyra japonica
tamarind - tamarindus indica
phalsa - grewia asiatica
sweet bay - magnolia virginiana


Edible, drought-tolerant shrubs (and other plants in that size category):

goji - two species in genus lycium
miracle fruit - synsepalum dulcificum
prickly pear - genus opuntia
yucca - genus yucca
saltbush - genus atriplex
caper - capparis spinosa

Drought tolerant herbal shrubs:

lavender - genus lavendula
salvias - genus salvia

Drought tolerant trees that might be useful for accumulating shade/biomass and chopping down later:

camphor - cinnamomum camphora (very drought tolerant)
catalpa - genus catalpa
chinese elm - ulmus parvifolia
chinese pistache - pistacia chinensis
paloverde - genus parkinsonia (very drought tolerant)
black locust - robinia pseudoacacia (nitrogen fixer)
italian cypress - cupressus sempervirens (very drought tolerant)
sweetgum - liquidambar styraciflua
acacia - genus acacia (nitrogen fixer, very drought tolerant)
mimosa - albizia julibrissin (nitrogen fixer)

Decorative and drought tolerant small trees/shrubs:

western redbud - cercis occidentalis
crape myrtle - genus lagerstroemia
firethorn - genus pyracantha
ornamental quince - genus chaenomeles
photinia - genus photinia
california flannelbush - fremontodendron californicum

Beautiful geophytes that go dormant over the hot summer:

harlequins - sparaxis tricolor
daffodils - genus narcissus
grape hyacinth - genus muscari
wandflower - genus ixia
nerine - genus nerine

Edible geophytes:

cluster-lilies - genus brodiaea
yacon - smallanthus sonchifolius
cassava - manihot esculenta

Misc. edibles that might naturalize in your climate:
artichoke - chynara cardunculus
fennel - foeniculum vulgare
dill - anethum graveolens
miner's lettuce - claytonia perfoliata
purslane - portulaca oleracea

See also this list of pioneer plants for arid climates: https://permies.com/t/24361/Geoff-Lawton-list-pioneer-plant

Do be warned that some of these plants have the potential to become wildly invasive! It'll probably be hard to source a lot of these in Spain, but these are all plants that do well in a very similar climate to yours.

I always plant trees in a slight depression (as opposed to on a slight hill). In other climates, there would be a concern about roots rotting, but not here. I mulch around new trees, and sometimes employ a watering basin: https://laidbackgardener.blog/2019/08/10/a-watering-basin-for-new-plantings/

This thread is about someone trying to grow trees in an even drier climate: https://permies.com/t/150708/permaculture-projects/Desert-Tree-Establishment

Vitis vinifera (european grape) is highly susceptible to powdery mildew and other fungal diseases. You might have better luck with american grape hybrids (vitis labrusca, etc).

I'll second Antonio Hache's suggestion to broadcast a bunch of winter soil-building plants on the ground. Clover, vetch, peas, radish, favas...all of these will grow happily if you throw them in the dirt now.
 
Abraham Palma
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Excellent! This is exactly what I was looking for!
 
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Hello Abraham,

I signed up to permies just to respond to your interesting thread.  I am trying to start a dryland orchard near San Antonio, Texas.  My conditions aren't quite as extreme as yours, but I am seeing a lot of the same challenges.  I'm worried about planting trees to their doom in full sun.  Over the last year, even before hearing of terms like nurse trees or chop and drop, I was planting pecan seedlings under the shade of existing mesquite trees and covering the soil with pruned limbs to keep things cool.  Even with those techniques, my tree survival rate has only been about 1:3 for the first summer.

Several years ago I led a project to plant shade trees along a commercial street near our home.  We used Groasis waterboxxes, and I kept them after the project was over.  I've used some at our farm, and they seem to give seedlings an edge in that first year survival struggle.  They are designed to put liner trees into the center of a donut-shaped water basin (with water emitted through a wick), but if I'm planting seeds or seedlings that don't reach over the top of the basin, I just set the basin to the side of the tree.  I'm going to try to attach a photo.  Just another potential tool.

Regards,

Steven
WBX_7.jpg
[Thumbnail for WBX_7.jpg]
 
Abraham Palma
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Thanks for your answer, Steve.
I was aware of waterboxes, but there's a couple of issues: they are expensive (at least for us!), and the basic model is made of plastic, which we want to avoid as much as possible (I know there's a cardboard version, but it is even more expensive). Plus, it is intended for growing trees, and I am looking for food forests, so 90% of what I want to grow is not a tree.

Here we use retama sphaerocarpa as our nurse bush, it's a very resilient bush for this place that casts light shade and even fixes some nitrogen.

Our next step is buying some wilderness seeds (mediterranean prairy) to ammend the soil before further planting. We already have a wild prairy, but we are missing some key species such as alfalfa and clover.
Then we will plant native edibles and ornamentals, and I mean native to the place, not the region (many seemingly local plants actually require a higher altitude). They can be found relatively easy in nursery gardens.
Once established, I will try to introduce some foreign plants that can adapt to be here from the list people have suggested, if I can find a provider.
 
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Great list, I will try it in Victoria Australia
 
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I don't know how it would cope with the autumn rains - perhaps fine - but Jojoba grows wild in the California desert in regions with very little rainfall. It is a shrub that is commonly cultivated for the oil produced from the nuts ('goat nuts') which are so similar in substance to our natural skin oils that it's perfect for body lotions and skin treatments. It's also just a rather pretty plant that seems to thrive in very harsh conditions and is a good refuge for wildlife, especially small birds which will then benefit your other plants and trees by cleaning off the insect pests.
 
Abraham Palma
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ziziphus jujube? Already trying to plant some.
 
J. Hunch
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Abraham Palma wrote:ziziphus jujube? Already trying to plant some.



I think jojoba is Simmondsia chinensis?
 
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I think jojoba is Simmondsia chinensis?


Oh, I see. An alternative to olives in desert climate.
 
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A very interesting conversation for me with lots of inspiration. I'm at the Spanish Mediterranean coast, too! I'm in Mediterranean climate but it's less hot than in Malaga...

I think one of the most important tasks you have is protecting the soil you have right now. A friend of mine recommended having at least 10 cm (!) of mulchon my soil. It's great you said you can probably get branches that have been cut during pruning, see if you can get more of that kind of material.

In Portugal, I got chipped wood from the municipality because they saw it as waste material. Add some horse manure and hay from an equestrian centre and it'll be even better (you can get tons of that for free if you know the right places; the bigger issue might be being able to transport it).

I'd assume that many of the plants initially need to be sheltered from direct sun and protected from the wind. Two ideas directly pop up: 1) a heap of stones (the interior ones won't heat up much), 2) using corrugated cardboard (insulates well, doesn't let any sun through. You can build a shelter in a way they only get direct sun for a part of the day).

The cardboard you can also lay on the ground and poke holes for seedlings. Secure it with stones. The soil will stay rather cool and won't be dried by the wind either. With time it will decompose.

I know these thoughts are not what you initially asked for but based on what I read it could be useful for you and others following this conversation.
 
Abraham Palma
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Thanks Jorim. They are relevant indeed.

We had some horse manure brought a couple of years ago. It costed just the delivery, but it was hard to pay for the people here since we run very low on budget. I'm bringing in every fallen branch I see in my street in addition to our prunning. I've been mulching our trees with that. The bigger branches I'm burying in my triangular sunken beds. I'm also mulching with stones where the shade is thick.
This year we've spent our budget on prairy wild seeds and a couple of tree seedlings.

We've got a gift from a gardener friend, a Plectranthus barbatus (boldo), he said this thing survives just on air humidity and it looks like he is right.

Cardboards could work, but people dislike the stuff, they think they pollute our plants, so I use them sparcely and in places where they are not very visible.
Wind is still a problem. I'm trying to build green walls, using blackberries on the fences, and then viburnum tinus (a hard shrub), genista umbellata (a broom) and rhamnus alaternus (another hard shrub that's already thriving in the garden). However, I'm not very good at nursering seeds and seedlings, so most of what I try dies before I even plant it, and direct seeding is impossible right now with the hard drought we are suffering in Malaga.

I surely will try to keep mulch over 10 cm this year.
 
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