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Growing food in the high desert?  RSS feed

 
Dave Hartman
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Location: Off grid in the central Rockies of Montana (at 6300') zone 3-4ish
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Howdy, What would be your most valuable tip for growing food in the high desert (off grid in Montana 6300')? I am already harvesting water into the land (hugleswales). I also seed-bombed, but not enough moisture to sprout(drought)this year, so I believe after winter snow they will pop. Thanks much, hope to read your new book.
 
larry korn
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Thank you all for your welcome and your encouragement. Now I'll get right to Dave's question about practicing natural farming in the high desert of Montana. The short answer is that I have no idea since I have only passed through the area but do not know it well and I have never been to the place where you live. I could suggest the usual things such as careful water management to catch and store the water, cover the soil with mulch and if possible a permanent soil-building ground cover, get nitrogen fixing trees going to create shelter and shade, and so forth. These are all things I would broadly refer to as "techniques."

The foundation of Fukuoka-san's natural farming is what he saw that morning in Yokohama when he was 25 years-old. He described it by saying that he saw the true face of nature revealed. It was completely interconnected and was in perfect balance. He found himself within nature rather than looking at it from the outside. People separate themselves from nature by creating concepts such as east and west, strong and weak, good and bad, libral and conservative, beneficial insects and pests, and so forth. In true nature, which Fukuoka-san often referred to as reality, these things do not exist. He tried without success to explain this to others but no one could see it, or they were just not interested. He decided to return to his father's farm to create a physical example of his understanding and so demonstrate the practical value to humanity.

I know I'm answering your question, Dave, by going all over the place, but I want to point out is that natural farming is a way of seeing the world and living appropriately within it. The farming is merely a physical manifestation. Judging from the emails I receive, most people are missing this because more than 90% of the questions are techniques oriented. For example, "How many pounds of clover seed did Mr. Fukuoka use per quarter acre?" or "How can I grow tangerines and rice in Portugal?" or "Where can I get some of the rice seed Fukuoka-san used in Japan so I can practice natural farming in Costa Rica?" When you see the world as it is, without the filter and structure created by the human intellect, you will know exactly what to do with your farming.

The place where natural farming has really caught on is in India. I think that is because they see the world-view first and the techniques secondarily. One email I got from an Indian fellow said, "Mr. Fukuoka knows how to farm the same way a mother knows how to give milk to her child." That is real understanding of natural farming.

Sorry to be so long winded right off the bat but I just wanted to get the ball rolling.
 
LaLena MaeRee
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I know it wasn't my question but thanks Larry. I enjoyed your long winded answer! I haven't read Fukuoka yet, he is on my list of the greats I need to learn about, I may have to bump him up the list now.
 
Dave Hartman
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Location: Off grid in the central Rockies of Montana (at 6300') zone 3-4ish
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Larry, Thank you very much. I feel very confident as I am doing all the "techniques" you mentioned. Now I must observe!
 
Greg McIver
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Hi Larry,

I'm north of Dallas, TX and the last 2 years the summers have been very dry. It is most years but very little rain in the summer and much more rain in the winter. We went 3 months without rain last year and 2 months without rain this year. I'm at the beginning of the learning curve and am trying to get the best info for my short and long term plan.

I'm putting together a plan but there isn't a lot of great examples here in my are that I have found yet.

Thanks for your good work!
 
larry korn
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Location: Ashland, Oregon
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First for you, Greg. A quick Google search directed me to the Dallas Sustainable Living and Organic Gardening group www.meetup.com/dallassustainability From some of the posts it looks like this group is active with meetings, garden tours and who knows what else. Once you find like-minded people in your neighborhood everything gets easier and its more fun. ~L

Now back to Dave. Yes, that's the way it is referred to in permaculture...observation. The theory is that you visit nature, observe your surroundings closely, then mimic natural systems in your design. Hmmm...

For me the word "observe" implies an observer and a subject which is being observed. The separation from nature is already present before you even begin. "Mimic," too implies that what you design will at best be an imperfect copy. Why should we settle for an imperfect copy? What is needed is for us to become so close with where we are that we become a part of it. That's why Fukuoka-san had his student workers live in the orchard without any of the modern conveniences. After a while it is amazing what you see and how close you become to the plants and animals you are living with.

Try thinking of it this way. The Indians knew their place intimately. They knew every plant, animal, and boulder as intimately as if it were part of their own family. Actually, they did literally think of everything in the natural world as part of their own family. They knew each plant and the charactistics of the individuals with a single species. They talked with the plants and animals around them, and after thousands of years of trying this and that they learned how to use the elements of the natural world to comfortably sustain themselves. They did not simply do nothing, wandering across the countryside hoping to get lucky and find some fruit on the trees. They carefully tended the landscape in such a way that it became more abundant for themselves and all other species. They took only what they needed and they never took it all. I really can't think of a better example of natural farming. When the Spanish first came to California, for example, they thought they were looking at primeval nature, but actually what they saw was a carefully tended landscape from end to end. What they did was so sophisticated that the Europeans didn't even see what the Indians were doing.

Fukuoka-san said that his greatest challenge in developing his practical farming techniques was dealing with the weeds. After about ten years he made the crucial breakthrough by finally understanding the natural cycle of weeds in the fields and in the orchard. He took advantage of this by seeding his summer crops in early spring while the winter weeds were beginning to fade. By the time they did, and the the spring weeds sprouted his vegetables already had a head start. Same thing in the fall...he seeded just before the summer weeds went down so his barley crop was well established before the winter weeds sprouted up. What he did was quite simple...just spreading seeds, spreading straw, and growing a continuous ground cover of white clover, but the timing was waaay sophisticated. Maybe he could have discovered that from simple observation, I don't know...but the point I am trying to make is that rather that simply observing, or looking at nature, the goal should be to become nature. See reality from the inside out rather from the sidelines. That way there is at least the possibility of recreating the real thing rather than copy created by a conscious design.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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larry korn wrote:The Indians knew their place intimately. ... They did not simply do nothing, wandering across the countryside hoping to get lucky and find some fruit on the trees. They carefully tended the landscape in such a way that it became more abundant for themselves and all other species. ... When the Spanish first came to California, for example, they thought they were looking at primeval nature, but actually what they saw was a carefully tended landscape from end to end. What they did was so sophisticated that the Europeans didn't even see what the Indians were doing.


That is exactly what I think, and that it should be our aim! I even think this is the aim of permaculture, and sure of natural farming.
We separate too much nature and cultivated land.

But, I unfortunately see some obstacles. Here are some:

1) California was the most populated area of America, and Indians were 1 per 2 square miles!
So they could tend the land and benefit to plants and other animals.
We have hands, and God or whatever energy of life gave us the task of tending nature in a different way than other animals (or than plants)...
So, we are part of it.
But we are too many and do not have enough room.
Fukuoka was much more intensive than the extensive "fields" of the Indians, so extensive that they did not look like fields.

2) Indians lived where they were born, with their relative being the teachers of this school. And they lived in a place that had been tended for long. They did not bother about technique, but they had it!! So yes, this is relevant, if you want to avoid starving 10 years before you find it.
Indians had techniques, they knew when to burn dead herbs, when to prune, when to collect etc.

So, I think that when you cannot spend 10 years and more with your parents while a child, teachers must find a way to transmit also the techniques. It has to do with pedagogy. Some people who are too much inside do not know that they know, and they cannot find how to transmit what is so obvious for them.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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I live in a near desert with 5 months drought per year, and we had today our first rain for 1 year... and the one before last was in may... 2011.
I mean rain, not wetting leaves!
we all hope we will not have a second winter with no rain.
Of course, we water and do not rely only on rain.

Then, I can add you some more difficulties that need some techniques AND the spirit to be part of it of course.
- I was not born here (but I know all the plants around now, as I cannot imagine to live with friends without being acquainted!)
- There are almost no edibles in the wild.
(only prickly pears and a kind of onion)
- Most plants that are usually grown came from Europe originally, some have become local varieties.
Other plants are tropical and new, but most of them are real tropical with big water needs.
(I do not want mamey nor breadfruit!)
Mangos do not need so much water, but it is hardly warm enough, so they have pests.
- If I want desert plants, I have to import them, and I have to know them in theory, so that I avoid mistakes.
No time to reinvent the wheel, it must roll on so that the plants live and not die.

Larry, any idea about how we can deal with these problems?
Is there a way we can relearn quicker than the traditional child with adults way?
 
larry korn
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Xisca, I understand what you mean about the Indians. They were born into a culture that pretty much work things out over thousands of years, they lived in stable tribal cultures that inherently had the understanding that they were one of many creatures in the same family of life. They lived with gratitude and respect. They never harvested more than they needed and never took it all. Also, nature was still whole and abundant. Their activity made it more so.

Today many of those ties have been broken. We separate ourselves from nature by our way of seeing the world through discrimination, we see ourselves as being different and superior to other forms of life and nature has been severly compromised by our thoughtless activity. Yes, we certainly have a lot of challenges if we are to make the environment, our communities and ourselves whole again.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Yes, we have to mend many bonds...
I was feeling you were answering to my post in the native permaculture threat I made go up!

I believe we should focus more on pedagogic methods (that is a cup of tea I like!)

You make me think about the interest in deserts, in challenges... Why?
This is also found in Fukuoka's book!
And he certainly did not live in a desert, he grew rice, not sorghum!
It might be a reaction of urgency, who can do more can do less...
Or the desire to make something that shows a lot, to attract the world's attention...
Or a way to be more touched by nature, through its strength?

You might tell us about Fukuoka's interest in the topic?
Why this book especially about deserts?
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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i also didn't realize the different micro-biotic "zones" made such a difference. It can make a real difference in if your trees and garden thrive, or struggle.

check out the thread on innoculants, and the story by this calif nursery , that points out that planting for it, and not fighting it, is one of the major keys for success.


http://www.permies.com/t/14900/fungi/Do-most-plants-form-nodules

and especially

http://www.laspilitas.com/classes/classnot.htm

tons of info on the site about root structure and flora.







 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Larry,
Thank You for your lifelong effort and work in this area.

I Have a few questions.

The Indians knew their place intimately. They knew every plant, animal


How do we know this - is it documented in book, documentary etc ? if so which?


After about ten years he made the crucial breakthrough by finally understanding the natural cycle of weeds in the fields and in the orchard. He took advantage of this by seeding his summer crops in early spring while the winter weeds were beginning to fade.


This is very, very important stuff - have you mastered this in your own farm / garden.

I have a farm in Northern Greece that I have working using the NF principles for the last 7 or 8 years. Panos Manikis (he stayed with Fukuoka-San at his farm) has taught a bunch of us here in Greece and Europe the principles of Natural Farming. For me its a learning process that looks like it may take years and years - the land reveals itself very slowly - to me at least.

How do you grow your vegetables ? do you grow any of them in a semi wild manner ? - do you ever sell your own fruits and vegetables ?

I hope I am not asking inappropriate questions.

Thank You.
Kostas






 
Paulo Bessa
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Xisca, if you allow me to be fully honest: I came to the understanding that Iceland is not naturally a place for humans.

Why? Because the climate has a short and cold growing season, too much wind, and poor soils. Nature by itself only sustained one species of inland mammal: the arctic fox, that feeds mostly in birds. Birds that mostly eat fish and birch buds (very acid to us). Biomass inland is not enough to support large life, and solar input is not enough to support large biomass. It seems to be my observation, but I might be wrong.

I reckon humans in Iceland can live like the Inuit, relying mostly in seals and fish, but when you are further inland life is then really difficult unless you raise lambs and horses that feed in the tundra grass (and are carried indoors over the winter). The grass grows well in the short but sunny arctic summer. Theses animals can eat that grass but not humans.

If you want to grow your own vegetables, people here laught at you, because basically its difficult, it is just too much effort and you are fighting against the climate. Like ocasional frosts in June, July and August (and even snow). The natural farming that is in me, tells me I am living in the wrong climate. I have a large problem, my body dislikes eating meat, so that makes my living even harder.

Humans are mostly adapted to tropical locations, where foraging for food is easy, and natural farming and permaculture is really easy. Towards the arctic you are forced to use your own intellect to develop tools for fishing , raising animals, farming and having greenhouses. This is my natural observation. Its not a judgment, it just is.

However I do believe one can be sustainable and still achieve that degree of most natural farming as possible. We can use our intellect for good, while we expect to connect further to nature. But it will take me years to learn this here.

We are living in previously glaciated land. And I don't want to starve. Nature runs in circles. When you live this further north, you must accept the fact of failures and move to southern lands when climate worsens. And it is failures that teach me to follow Fukuoka: I allow nature to follow its course (but I only do that because I have an income and can buy imported European food!). In good years, rye, barley, potatoes, work here and make a staple of vegetable food, other than the staples animals. But they can fail in cold summers.

Maybe you are living in a similar situation. The deserts located in subtropical belts around the equator. Life is more restricted. Its a different kind of challenge but still one that restricts life, if you observe nature around you.

I totally understand your challenges Xisca! And its great you are there learning and making work as a pioneer.

At the very least you can focus on the farming that many desert Africans perform: millet, sorghum, teff, enset, dates, coconuts, draught resistant pulses, sesame, and some dry resistant perennials. While in the Arctic we have no history of native farming, and nearly no mammals or permanent vertebrates (nearly all are imported are fed by humans - reindeer, rabbits, lambs, horses; or migrate in winter - most birds), except in sea (whales, fish, seals).

Fukuoka had an excellent approach but he lived in a blessed climate. We have much larger challenges, but we still can inspire by its principles.


Xisca Nicolas wrote:Yes, we have to mend many bonds...
I was feeling you were answering to my post in the native permaculture threat I made go up!

I believe we should focus more on pedagogic methods (that is a cup of tea I like!)

You make me think about the interest in deserts, in challenges... Why?
This is also found in Fukuoka's book!
And he certainly did not live in a desert, he grew rice, not sorghum!
It might be a reaction of urgency, who can do more can do less...
Or the desire to make something that shows a lot, to attract the world's attention...
Or a way to be more touched by nature, through its strength?

You might tell us about Fukuoka's interest in the topic?
Why this book especially about deserts?
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Hola Kostas and Paulo

the hot and cold deserts...
But even for a blessed climate, what do you do for a living while you wait for years?
Before you understand your piece of land...
How did Fukuoka himself for his living, while he was having lower yields than his neighbours?

There is a need to work on TRANSITION more!
Think about people who get income or their daily food only from growing!

I made a "up" for the indigenous permaculture :
http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/80/5671
Kostas, you will find there
How do we know this - is it documented in book, documentary etc ? if so which?

I personaly have "tending the wild".

Paulo, I am not a pioneer here, as my neighbors have gardens too, and mostly ecological ones, even 2 that are for selling to health-food stores (but they are not really ecological, standards seeds mostly, and using "guano" that is actually from "hens in jail"). My specificity is that instead of relying on the water we get from pipes, I anticipate more by choosing drought resistant species, that I look for, all over the world.

That is why I do not believe in "spirit" only without the techniques. Children understand the spirit of their culture by seeing the recipes and techniques for years! Separating the 2 as I see it, is just a matter of finding the right pedagogy to make them join.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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And yes, the colder, the more you need to rely on animals that can eat what you can't!

About your body that do not accept meat, well we can discuss in the food forum, as I have clues about where it comes from. My body reacts to sugar or even honey, but reacts no more if I stop all starches! So, this is a matter of mixing... I know you are opened about food, and as me, you eat what your body seems to agree with!

I am also in an island where people relied more on animals! Goats, as they did not fish a lot, strangely. The Guanches were killed by Spaniards and other Europeans some centuries ago. The only fruit was the fig, coming with them from North Africa I guess. So goats ate the herbs, and humans ate meat and milk.

I smiled at "coconut", it is too cold here for them ! (except in Puerto de tazacorte where I saw some)
Dates are forbidden to import, to protect the local palm from a pest that the island do not have.
the problem is that I have to try the dry tropical plants, and see which ones will "chill" here!!!

My challenge now, is to select the right acacias among the hundreds.... I should open a post about it... I will... I go!
 
Paulo Bessa
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Hola

I agree: the transition is a serious challenge.

I think for most people, they will still have to keep their jobs or start some kind of business based in what they grow. At least for those years while you wait for tree to grow, or while you wait to buy a property. Even for full food self-sufficiency, you will need to wait so that all our techniques become workable.

But now with the current economic crises in nearly all countries, it is a big risk to drop a stable job (you might have) to have an income from your garden. And in a harsh climate, risks are even higher.

I don't have a solution for the transition.
If I would, I would be very happy. And I have been thinking on this for many years.

There is no choice other than keep trying, waiting, much experimentation, and taking risks and accepting many failures. Unless you have an inherited property with things already growing on it. The good thing is this forum: it allows us to learn by example rather than shooting in the dark.




Xisca Nicolas wrote:Hola Kostas and Paulo

the hot and cold deserts...
But even for a blessed climate, what do you do for a living while you wait for years?
Before you understand your piece of land...
How did Fukuoka himself for his living, while he was having lower yields than his neighbours?

There is a need to work on TRANSITION more!
Think about people who get income or their daily food only from growing!

I made a "up" for the indigenous permaculture :
http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/80/5671
Kostas, you will find there
How do we know this - is it documented in book, documentary etc ? if so which?

I personaly have "tending the wild".

Paulo, I am not a pioneer here, as my neighbors have gardens too, and mostly ecological ones, even 2 that are for selling to health-food stores (but they are not really ecological, standards seeds mostly, and using "guano" that is actually from "hens in jail"). My specificity is that instead of relying on the water we get from pipes, I anticipate more by choosing drought resistant species, that I look for, all over the world.

That is why I do not believe in "spirit" only without the techniques. Children understand the spirit of their culture by seeing the recipes and techniques for years! Separating the 2 as I see it, is just a matter of finding the right pedagogy to make them join.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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For all those reasons, and for an easier transition, I believe in the transmission of techniques at the same time as the spirit of living with nature.
I also believe that writers should stop with the aim to do books for everybody living everywhere, and books with all inside. They should do many small books, and they also should co-write.
And the transition should focus on transmission by thinking about pedagogy, so that recipes could be adapted by people.
One can replace eggs in a recipe by knowing what eggs do in a cake!

Well, let's stay in the "desert" topic, why do we want to make something more complicated than what it is by greening the desert? I understand the person in Utah who want to be there because he IS from there.

(well, I did not chose my place because it has low rainfall, but yes I need sun and dry air for health, or else I would be in a rain-forest!)

Prices are too low to get an income, but when the richer people will have more than 50% of the land because farmers have to go away, then prices will go up I guess!! So I want just my food, and more than food, without selling. I understand why the best (I hope) permaculturists become teachers, it is better paid than selling food!
 
Jeff Rash
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To Dave's original question,

I adapted the farming techniques of the Navajo, Apache and the local Hualapai Indians around Kingman Arizona into a method that supports dry farming corn in the desert. Using the "Three Sisters" method of planting developed by the locals, I am convinced one could come very close to a total dry farming ecosystem- especially in Montana!

Montana likely looks like a tropical paradise compared to Kingman AZ! take a look at the thread and my humble proposal. With a little bit of understanding about how desert soils actually conserve moisture, one can easily open the vaults of moisture to be found in all soils- and in a way that works with the cycle, not against it.

http://www.permies.com/t/31794/desert/Desert-Corn-Growing-Techniques#247655

YLE
 
Anne Miller
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bee dog food preservation greening the desert hunting toxin-ectomy
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This is an older post with many thought provoking ideas.  I would love to hear what others think.
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