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Greening The Desert Question  RSS feed

 
Andrew Michaels
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So I think we've all seen and been impressed by Greening the desert http://www.raw-food-health.net/DesertFarming.html : My perennial question about it, though, is the water input.

I understand that the swales trap rain water. But in this example, they used additional water to irrigate. They say it's salted water...but they're still drawing on limited water reserves. They don't make it clear, but I imagine this must be water gathered from some underground aquifer or surface water body and pumped via fossil fuels to the location.

This seems to be the huge kink in the whole video, which they annoyingly did not explain. How can this be sustainable? One of the the huge problems with our modern agricultural system is that we're relying on underground aquifers and other bodies of water that are continuously being reduced. Yes, I agree that this example uses less water, but it still seems to be using outside water.

He says this model could be applied anywhere, but the caveat seems to be - if there is water to pump in. 

Can anyone shed some light on this? Am I off base here?

Thanks.

-Andrew.
 
gary gregory
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Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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    I don't think you are off base at all.    We humans try to green the desert because we can not because we should.    The population of the U.S. desert southwest has grown so rapidly that I am shocked when I travel there.    Sustainable is not a big enough word any more to deal with humanity.   
    OK enough of my over population speech.  I irrigate here in no cal with drip irrigation from an aquifer.  Its a 60' well.  It gets filled every winter by the winter rains.  We have a seasonal creek that doesn't start running until 6" of rain has fallen.  We normally get 20 to 30" every winter, But if there were a large population here, it wouldn't be enough water for people and crops. 
 
 
paul wheaton
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For some systems, the idea is to irrigate for the first few years until the plants can get by without irrigation.

Some folks can pull it off without any irrigation even on the first year. 

 
Neal McSpadden
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To me there is a huge difference between remediation of the land and sustaining the land.

The desert is a result of water not doing its duty, whether that is because of man or just randomly evolved weather patterns.  It is our job to create landscapes in which water does its duty, primarily for plants and animals.

So using unsustainable resources that will create a sustainable system in short order (say, less than 5 years) is OK to me.
 
gary gregory
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Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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They brought in mulch to get started with, but can they now sustain the system without bringing in more mulch material?       Is anyone reading this producing all of their own mulch?
 
Leah Sattler
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gary wrote:
     I don't think you are off base at all.    We humans try to green the desert because we can not because we should. 
   


I have always had a bit of difficulty with this sort of thing in my mind. technology might very well be able to convert the desert into agricultural land or habitat more suitable for humans..but should we? the desert has its very own ecosystem and houses its own unique plethora of plant and animal life. who are we to dictate that these things don't have value and should be converted?
 
Gwen Lynn
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Leah Sattler wrote:
I have always had a bit of difficulty with this sort of thing in my mind. technology might very well be able to convert the desert into agricultural land or habitat more suitable for humans..but should we? the desert has its very own ecosystem and houses its own unique plethora of plant and animal life. who are we to dictate that these things don't have value and should be converted?


I agree!
 
paul wheaton
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The sahara used to be lush jungle and savannah.  Thousands of years ago people started ripping all of that out to do the agriculture thing. 

Many think that it was removing the trees that caused the climate change. 

So, if somebody took 1000 acres, planted it with trees and babied them for five years and walked away - wouldn't that be a step in setting things right again?

 
Leah Sattler
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culturally, socially and personally I have to support humans first. individuals must do what they need to do for themselves and their families to survive and thrive. I'm not a suicide enviromentalist. but we need to be realistic and honest with ourselves so that we can make responsible choices......

practically the whole planet used to be a lush rainforest. the sahara desert started forming millions of years ago. humans first started toying with agriculture somewhere a bit beyond 10,000 years ago. I don't think you can blame the sahara on them. you can blame it on continental drift. my area used to be an ocean! if you dig around you can find fossilized clam shells and such. I don't think we should try and change it back. this planet has hosted a variety of geographic conditions and climates well before humans could have had any meaninful impact. greening the desert.... thats a purely human impact.......http://www.fjexpeditions.com/tassili/frameset/rockart.html

I think it is still perfectly natural and desirable for the planet to host such variation. the desert is far from a "dead zone". it is just not particulary suitable for human habitation. would people feel different if we found out the whole planet was a desert before humans arrived? would we then be here contemplating how to revert it back to a desert? of course not. people don't try and change the desert because that is what is best or "natural" for the planet. they try and green the desert because they, as humans, want to. it is the same selfish human endeavor to do whatever they want no matter the impact to the natural world (no different than any species of animal). a continuation of the human parasite.  they all (different climatic and geographical areas) host their own lifeforms that are suited to the climate and geography of their particular domain. maybe not suited to humans but the plague of humans on the planet should think twice about further invading areas not suitable to support them. 
 
                                  
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This is an interesting question.  I (and I would think most permaculturists) value diversity, productivity, and sustainability.  These values lead to qualities of soil, climate, geography, human/animal habitat, and society which most of us welcome.  Having these values would also, it seems to me, lead to the avoidance and reversal of desertification as an unwanted process resulting from the failure of conventional agricultural practices.

Because deserts now exist does not mean that they should exist let alone be honored, protected, and glorified.  They may be self supporting ecosystems, but so are toxic waste dumps in that sense.

I suspect that underneath this whole question is the issue of cultural relativism vs. universal values, which seems at the core of so much these days.
 
Jeff Mathias
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Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
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bruc33ef wrote:
This is an interesting question.  I (and I would think most permaculturists) value diversity, productivity, and sustainability.  These values lead to qualities of soil, climate, geography, human/animal habitat, and society which most of us welcome.  Having these values would also, it seems to me, lead to the avoidance and reversal of desertification as an unwanted process resulting from the failure of conventional agricultural practices.

Because deserts now exist does not mean that they should exist let alone be honored, protected, and glorified.  They may be self supporting ecosystems, but so are toxic waste dumps in that sense.

I suspect that underneath this whole question is the issue of cultural relativism vs. universal values, which seems at the core of so much these days.



I am trying to better understand your response here so please forgive me if I offend.

First are you saying most permaculturists believe that all deserts come from a failure of conventional agricultural practices?  I would agree some are but by far certainly not most.

Second if one values diversity and animal habitat as you have stated; How does one equate a rich desert environment with diverse sustainable life designed to live in that specific habitat to a toxic dump? This sound to me like a rationalization, the same one used to cut down forests in order to monoculture or to dam rivers for water for cities hundreds of miles away.

Third are you really saying that you would be fine with the complete extinction of totally unique species of both plants and animals if you felt that you could make a piece of the earth more productive or sustainable for humans? Do most permaculturists think this way? If so perhaps permaculture could use a healthy does of Taoism.

How familiar are you (and permaculturists in general) with some of the diverse species of plants and animals that exist in the true desert that simply could not survive in a "food forest" setting? Are you aware that the group containing cactus and succulents includes almost as many species as all other plants combined? Many of which are edible or medicinal in nature. Most cactus and succulents could not and would not survive with the increased nitrogen let alone the increase in moisture that "greening the desert" would cause, many cactus and succulents exist and survive in pure rock. Sandfish have evolved to swim through the desert sands and exist without a source of water, also sidewinder rattlesnakes evolved a method of transportation specifically for the desert. The list goes on and on.... just because one cannot see the life in the desert does not mean it is not there, sometimes it just takes being there at the right moment. Another important thing to remember about true deserts is that they are constantly evolving and moving. They are not static stagnant toxic waste dumps but more like oceans or rivers that are constantly flowing, shifting and  over time changing their course and the course of the land.

Now in the case of "Greening the Desert" if I recall this is one of those areas that would in fact have been reclaiming the desert naturally if not for the goats eating literally everything that sprouts as fast as it sprouts so understand I am not attacking what has been done there at all.

Also I am certainly not against trying to correct peoples previous mistakes here on earth, but would it not be another mistake to once again like children rush into something we do not fully understand only to realize that once again we have blundered after it is to late.

I end with this as more and more I think we humans could benefit from reflecting on this advice.

Ignotas nulla curatio morbid - do not attempt to cure what you do not understand

Jeff
 
                                  
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Location: Suwon, South Korea
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I smile when I hear the phrase, "please forgive me if I offend."  Is that an example of a "fear that hides the wish?"  Be that as it may, first, it seems, we have a semantic problem -- desert as ecosystem, desert as the consequence of the process of desertification, desert as absence of life, desert as museum to human folly, or desert as museum to nature's greatness.

What I'd like to focus on is desertification as a process that is spreading and invading other ecosystems and is, by definition, harmful to diversity, not an example of it.  What geoff lawton apparently is doing in the Jordan project is to add to the diversity WITHIN the ecosystem.  He isn't trying to endanger the cactus or indeed any other element of the flora and fauna, but to enrich the ecosystem, to make it more productive and habitable and less invasive and destructive to the wider environment.  He isn't trying to transform the desert ecosystem into a temperate-zone food forest.

What exactly would you say to him -- "Stop!! You're destroying some of nature's uniqueness!"?  That's one person's notion of "uniqueness," perhaps; the inhabitants' entire lives.  And by "inhabitants" I refer to us all, because desertification has negative effects far beyond its borders.  The Dead Sea region is a wonderful example of postcard beauty, no doubt, as long as you're not the one trying to survive in it.  There is a place for the desert as museum, I suppose, but I hope not a very large place.
 
Leah Sattler
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I just cant' see the correlation between a toxic waste dump (as an ecosystem...really?) and the desert enviroment. I don't think humans were meant to live everywhere and I don't think that the desert is bad. 'desert'  is a word that has negative connotations culturally (with good reason) but we can't let those negative emotional trips muddy our logic. humans shouldn't live there.  thinking has hopefully evolved to a point that we can see that just because something is bad for humans doesn't mean it is bad in general.

incredibly wise words from jeff

"Ignotas nulla curatio morbid - do not attempt to cure what you do not understand"

even in areas where it is supected humans had an impact on the expansion or creation of a desert they have little more than the notion that correlation means causation. and the suggestion that humans caused it should be viewed with the same waryness that everthing else is. and even in areas where humans impacted the formation of the desert that may only serve to prove that the enviroment was too fragile to support human habitation to begin with. if the balance is so delicate then we should just stay off the scale.

from jared diamonds book "collapse" speaking of the native americans in the southwest....

"espite these varying proximate causes of abandonments (*of the settlements*) all were ultimately due to the same fundamental challenge: people living in fragile and difficult environments, adopting solutions that were brilliantly successful and understandable in the short run, but that failed or else created fatal problems in the long run......."





 
Neal McSpadden
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I don't think the toxic waste dump was intended as a description of a desert, but rather as another place that is unfit for human habitation.  Possibly with the addition that we should do something about it to make it for for such.

Whether or not humans caused the deserts or the expansion of the deserts (I think the second is quite likely), I personally think greening them and creating sustainable habitats for people is perfectly fine.

But that's just me .
 
Susan Monroe
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Not all deserts were created by the same forces.  Some were created by nature, others were created by Man.

"Ignotas nulla curatio morbid - do not attempt to cure what you do not understand"... In my opinion, that is a philosopher's statement.  How much of our world does Man really understand?  A lot less than we think we do.  The problem is that we are learning at a much slower rate than we are destroying.

Deforestation, plowing, overfarming with chemicals all contribute to deserts.

Jordan is a country with people in it.  It doesn't have oil as a source of income, it doesn't have much water, and it's landlocked.  Kind of a triple whammy, wouldn't you say?

On one hand, we have people in desert places that are squandering their water supply at an incredible rate -- look at Arizona.  It has half an inch of topsoil and 1,280,000 acres of irrigated crops, fertilized with chemicals.  They aren't building any new soil, they're just destroying what they've got.  They aren't planting many (if any) trees.  What they are doing is absolutely not sustainable.

Down in Gaviotas, Columbia, they have been planting thousands of trees for the past 25  years or so.  The variety of natural/native plants in the forested areas have jumped from about six to over 250, without any other human intervention.  The soil has improved just from the trees.

Who created the dustbowl of the Great Depression?  People did.  Have they fixed it?  Not really.

Now we have a term called 'permaculture'.  Many people seem to be of the opinion it is to provide forests, crops and livelihoods without any input or money.  How do they think this is possible?

Like Gaviotas did, people need to find plants that can survive existing conditions with some outside input, like water and mulch.  Then they plant plants that have a good chance of renewing themselves with the sparse inputs available.  As the soil improves, it can support more.  As long as the nutrients of the plant production are returned to the soil, it should improve.

But to think that permaculture is like magic is silly.

Sue
 
paul wheaton
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the sahara desert started forming millions of years ago.


Do you have a source for that?

I'm quite certain of the part where the sahara was jungle and savannah 10,000 years ago.  About the same time ag got started there.

It is debatable whether natural climate change caused the desertification or whether ag led to desertification.  I side with the latter.

 
 
                                  
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I would invite those who think we ought to leave deserts alone to look at what Dr. Bob Dixon is doing to the deserts with the simple reclamation technology that he developed.  Here are the before and after photos:

http://imprinting.org/success_stories.html

Those who have seen Bill Mollison's "Global Gardener" video, now on YouTube in six parts, will remember Bob from that.  I would love to hear his response to a couple of the people here who would tell him that those who want to reclaim the deserts don't really understand deserts. 
 
rose macaskie
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I have a great book, El Bosque Mediterráneo en el Norte de África", by Jesus Charco, The Mediterranean wood in the North of Africa, biodiversity and the fight against desertificacion, by Jesus Charco. I don't think you can get it in English, I love it because it changed my idea of natural woods which was limited to pines and some sort of western deciduous tree whose species i was ignorant of.  Jesus Charco talks of woods of olives, oaks, junipers, palm trees, pistacia atlantica y terebinthus, that has pretty shocking pink berries, argans, argania spinosa, whose fruit apparently makes a better oil than olive oil, the woods of argans are called  the hanging gardens because the goats climb these trees to feed from their leaves, of cypresses, ceders, cedrus atlantica, morrocan firs, abies maroccana, pines, pinus halepensis, and tamarix in the Draa valley.

        Not all trees form woods naturally , many of the trees that grow by rivers only grow by rivers the poplar seeds float around in the air so densly they are everywhere but they only seem to take here by rivers, and are usually a mixed bunch. Bird carried seeds,  like rowans normally get a pretty disperse distribution, unless they are birds that bury seeds in which case they seem to seed whole areas with one species of tree, raquitic woods,  relic woods, cemetery woods, clear woods or impenetrable woods.

    The  really interesting thing was that he said is, that in Marrococo, if a saint dies, a Islamic saint, then they shut the cemetery, where he has been buried, to humans and live stock ,except for special religious occasions and these cemeteries become nearly impenetrable woods of olives, carob bean and pistacea atlanticus, with deep damp earth in them. His photograph is of a cemetery in Cabo Tres Forcas north east Morocco.

  ¡¡¡What an epiphany!!! as paul stamets, whose mother is a preacher of some sort, would say, jungles in the Mediterranean. I would say, "that's a real scheme breaker", a translation of a Spanish phrase.

    These jungles aren't cured wallops of desert they are patches in the middle of the normal pretty dry Mediterranean landscape, overgrazed land and patches of cereals. Jungles with no surrounding humidity from the rest of the jungle to back them up.
 
jeremiah bailey
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gary wrote:
They brought in mulch to get started with, but can they now sustain the system without bringing in more mulch material?       Is anyone reading this producing all of their own mulch?

Yes. Very simply in fact. I let the plants do the work of creating mulch. Most common mulches are basically carbon. Plants take the carbon from the air and produce their plant material. Depending on the plant, this material can be made into mulch in various ways. Plants themselves can and do serve as a living mulch. Grass can be mowed and dried, woody plants can be shredded. If you leave your grass clippings on the lawn, you are already doing this.
If one were to start out with trees and grasses suited to the area, much area could be covered rapidly. The trees form the foundation for improving the soil, while the grasses hold the soil in place. The grasses provide mulch in two ways. As a living mulch, the roots hold the soil, while the stems and leaves shade the soil and hold moisture in. When you mow and leave the clippings in place, you are now adding to the mulch properties of the system and also returning carbon from the air and other nutrients to the soil.
I hope this helps you out.
 
paul wheaton
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paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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The nest part ....

The good part is about 9/10 the way in.  Geoff shows a "before and after" with the "before" looking like one big cement-like rock and some sand.  And the "after" is a jungle.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ps1TpK9eiQ

 
Neal McSpadden
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Just for future reference, you can link to a particular time in a youtube video:


I recently found out that you can link directly to a specific time in a YouTube video. All you have to do is add a #t= anchor to the end of the URL that indicates the time position in minutes and seconds. Here's an example that links to the video for Cage the Elephant's "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked:"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t99bpilCKw#t=00m08s

The #t=00m08s anchor causes the video to begin playing zero minutes and eight seconds after the beginning. There's also a way to accomplish the same thing when embedding a video. Add a start parameter to the video's embedded URL in both the embed and param tags. The value of start should be the number of seconds to skip before playback.


taken from: http://workbench.cadenhead.org/news/3500/link-specific-time-youtube
 
rose macaskie
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sorry if i started a forum to similar to this one. the rush gets so big one subject follows another pat and i get confused in the end and have just decided to stop trying to find the best place and woneder how the devil to find my way back to somethign written in another forum i want to mention in conection with somethign new but given up hope of finding them again. like who was it one of the guys i think who gives a list of dryland forage bushes and trees things like the salt bush and some sort of mahogany tree and i wanted to say i had looked up the plants he mentioned and readign avobouut them was really interesting and made you want to try them but i felt suddenly lazxy or overcome with the number of forums and didnot get round to tryign to find them again.
      I think i read this forum without looking up the greening the desert tape and only found out about geoff lawton later. agri rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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  I hope that how you rise the water level in the desert though it is part of greening the desert is a big enough subject to have a page of its own. There are lots of Indian as in Hindu India ways of water harvesting. agri rose macaskie.
 
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