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Texas Chihuahuan Desert Project - Pecans

 
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I bought 320 acres about 5 miles north of the Rio Grande. If you check out the property on Google Maps, you'll notice a large wash running north to south, which then dog legs to the west.

https://maps.app.goo.gl/hWHHdfzVqdt5fqxAA

That wash is the reason I purchased the property. It's just shy of 40 acres and has substantial water, but not so much that it comes as a tidal wave. The total drainage area above the property is about 1,200 acres. I think you can tell from the drone footage that the banks range from about 1 foot deep to almost completely flat.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1aH_8t00OpFw5GeycFTzzwez5bB9Id1Fo/view?usp=drivesdk

I hired an excavation company to help with earthworks. There's just no way I can do that myself. I know that normally you start at the highest points of a property, but I have a limited budget and eve more limited time to spend on this. That and there's so much water that passes through, I want to start in the best spot. The best spot IMHO is the wash.

My original idea was to build L shaped swales in the wash. The water would hit the swale - the long part of the L - and then start to backflood. The little part of the L would follow the bank so that once full, the water in the swale can run around without washing it out. Based on the drone footage, what do you think my risk of a washout is?

The alternative is to trench. I know that will work, but I also think it would take forever. That and I don't want to worry about snapping my ankle in the future when I walk across the valley.

Regardless of the method, every rain event should be soaking in 3+ feet of water because of the 1,200 acre catchment area. Soil surveys expect water infiltration rates of 6 to 18 inches per hour through the sandy loam. With our monsoon rains, I think each water catchment will recharge the groundwater with 15+ feet annually, which is probably close to the depth to bedrock.

My ultimate goal is commercial. This area isn't terribly far from Las Cruces, some of the best producing pecan orchards in the world. I'd love to be able to make pecans a primary source of income.

I believe that establishing pioneers will be essential for 1) building organic matter and 2) establishing fodder for the wildlife to distract them from the pecans.

My concerns with using pioneers like western honey mesquite and honey locust is the invasiveness. Somewhat nearby in the Quitman Arroyo is completely overwhelmed with mesquite. With the abundance of groundwater, I'm worried that I'll get overwhelmed with the pioneers. How does the transition work from the pioneers to the cash crop trees?

Thanks for your input!
 
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Shaun, welcome to the forum.

One of the first principles of permaculture is "observation".

It sounds like you have done a lot of homework.

Have you observed what happens in that part of Texas when it rains?  During heavy rains?

Right now that part of Texas is experiencing a drought so I can understand wanting to capture as much water as possible.

I believe that establishing pioneers will be essential for 1) building organic matter and 2) establishing fodder for the wildlife to distract them from the pecans.



This sounds like you are on the right track.

I would like to recommend this company for your seeds for the pioneer plants:

https://permies.com/t/92417/Native-American-Seed-Texas-USA

I would also suggest that doing a consultation with them would be very beneficial.

A few years ago I toured their facilities and was very impressed.

Jan and Bill Neiman founded Native American Seed in 1989.

Our staff invite you to Shop for Natives and explore the full pallet of native wildflowers, grasses, unique conservancy species and mixes. Native American Seed is committed to preventing the spread of invasive species.



Have you planned what variety of Pecans you will plant?

What variety of Pecans do they grow in Las Cruces?
 
Shaun Overton
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Wichita is the most common variety in West Texas. I think that's mostly what's in New Mexico, too.

I plan to start native seedlings and graft later. I care more about minimizing inputs than maximizing returns.

Thank you for the seed referral.
 
Anne Miller
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Wichita sound like a great Texas Pecan.

Have you looked into the work of Brad Lancaster?

If not, I recommend at least looking at his website and/or YouTubes:

http://www.rainwaterharvesting.org/international/dryland.htm

https://permies.com/wiki/51855/Rainwater-Harvesting-Drylands-Brad-Lancaster
 
Shaun Overton
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Yep! Adding sandbags throughout the wash will be one of my projects while the front loader operator works.
 
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I'm in Central Texas and everywhere squirrels can dig I am working on uprooting Pecan seedlings.   Are you sure you need pioneer trees at all?  If you can make a trip to Central Texas in late September you could easily gather thousands of pecans from all over parks and street trees.  Drop these into holes just a few inches deep and see what sprouts.  https://permies.com/t/560/14353/Reforestation-Growing-trees-arid-barren#729846  This man has been documenting his progress with this approach for years.  If nothing else it could be a low risk addition to your current plans.  The young trees are easy to identify and grow fast.

I grew up with a mesquite tree in the front yard.  They can be beautiful trees that cast a lovely dappled summer shade that doesn't stop other plants from thriving.  They also become very brittle in winter and shed super hard thorns that will punch right through the soles of shoes and tires of equipment.  Once you have one established it won't be easy to get rid of.  The one in our yard is nearly 200 years old by now and last I saw is still going strong.   Outside of the thorns I think they are pretty close to the perfect tree.  Just be sure you can live with the thorns before you commit.

 
Shaun Overton
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Casie Becker wrote:I'm in Central Texas and everywhere squirrels can dig I am working on uprooting Pecan seedlings.   Are you sure you need pioneer trees at all?  If you can make a trip to Central Texas in late September you could easily gather thousands of pecans from all over parks and street trees.  Drop these into holes just a few inches deep and see what sprouts.  https://permies.com/t/560/14353/Reforestation-Growing-trees-arid-barren#729846  This man has been documenting his progress with this approach for years.  If nothing else it could be a low risk addition to your current plans.  The young trees are easy to identify and grow fast.

I grew up with a mesquite tree in the front yard.  They can be beautiful trees that cast a lovely dappled summer shade that doesn't stop other plants from thriving.  They also become very brittle in winter and shed super hard thorns that will punch right through the soles of shoes and tires of equipment.  Once you have one established it won't be easy to get rid of.  The one in our yard is nearly 200 years old by now and last I saw is still going strong.   Outside of the thorns I think they are pretty close to the perfect tree.  Just be sure you can live with the thorns before you commit.



I'm not at all convinced that I need pioneers 😄 That's why I'm asking. It seems almost certain that I'll never be able to get rid of them with that much water around.

I'll need them in other parts of the property where water is far more precious. But I think they're going to be a nuisance or worse if they're near the wash.

Thanks for the link. I actually have 70 lbs of in-shell pecans that sat in my garage through the winter. They may not be perfectly stratified, but they should mostly germinate.

Is the idea behind the guilds partially to obscure the tasty sapling from critters? Pecans take sooooo long to establish. It only takes one hungry deer or cow to set me back years. The extension agent suggested that I build cages, but that's nearly $30 per planting site.

Do you have any suggestions for avoiding the cages? I have enough nuts to plant 30 nuts per circle if that means I might get lucky. What do you think?

If that's viable, I might start some saplings and then follow through with overseeding as a backup plan.
 
pollinator
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Location: 18° North, 97° West
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Definitely second Brad Lancasters, work--volume two of his book is the book you need for water harvesting earthworks. Geoff Lawton used to have a computer-animated video of using gabions in washes, I can't find it now, maybe he took it down as he has so many videos now. I live in a semi-arid region of southern Mexico, and I've also visited your region of Texas, and I think gabion would work well.
The main purpose of starting at the top of your land is that the goal is slow, spread, and sink water. You need to be very careful starting lower in the landscape as you may accidentally exasperate erosion. If you have not already done so, study Brad's books.
I love the idea of collecting pecans and just seeing what sprouts and what survives. Don't overlook mesquite which is also a useful tree, and Brad Lancaster is also involved in a group called Desert Harvesters which shares a lot of information about useful SW plants.
 
Shaun Overton
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Melissa Ferrin wrote:Definitely second Brad Lancasters, work--volume two of his book is the book you need for water harvesting earthworks. Geoff Lawton used to have a computer-animated video of using gabions in washes, I can't find it now, maybe he took it down as he has so many videos now. I live in a semi-arid region of southern Mexico, and I've also visited your region of Texas, and I think gabion would work well.
The main purpose of starting at the top of your land is that the goal is slow, spread, and sink water. You need to be very careful starting lower in the landscape as you may accidentally exasperate erosion. If you have not already done so, study Brad's books.
I love the idea of collecting pecans and just seeing what sprouts and what survives. Don't overlook mesquite which is also a useful tree, and Brad Lancaster is also involved in a group called Desert Harvesters which shares a lot of information about useful SW plants.



I like gabions, but the nearest large rocks are over a mile away. The wash is a mix of sand and gravel. I don't see how I could fill the gabions in any kind of timely manner without a screener, which I don't have. The remoteness of the property means that 1) I have to maximize my time on site, which is max 1-2 weeks per year at this phase and 2) it's very difficult to bring extras like a screener.  Getting an excavation company to even show up took something of an act of God. I'm open to suggestions, though!
 
Casie Becker
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Sorry, I don't have any suggestions for deer pressure. I am in a midsized city an the surrounding countryside is just getting built up enough to drive the deer into the neighborhood instead of out to the undeveloped fields.  I keep most of the vegetable beds in the backyard and mix the ones in the front with unpalatable or downright poisonous ornamental flowers.  So far they've only eaten roses and daylilies.
 
Anne Miller
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Shaun said, "It only takes one hungry deer or cow to set me back years. The extension agent suggested that I build cages, but that's nearly $30 per planting site.



We use welded wire with small squares around plants.  I don't know if you mean $30 per tree though that sounds high.

With deer, it is depending on how hungry they are. They ate our two tomato plants.  We put wire over them then one deer blatantly nudged the wire and ate one plant until it was nothing but a twig.  I think it is coming back.

We now have the wire where they cannot nudge it.

Since we are in a drought the tomatoes were the only green stuff other than rosemary and verbena which deer do not like.
 
pollinator
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I grew up in NM, now live in So. AZ, near a pecan orchard, actually. So, my thoughts on this project are based on that.

Questions:
1. Are you planning on irrigating from another water source? If not, the variety of your pecans may matter significantly more. I am unsure about all varieties, but in my area, at least, the pecans seem to require irrigation, mostly because they need consistent watering (even in very good soil). So the monsoon pattern of water, or water that falls and soaks into the ground but doesn't come again for a while, doesn't work well for them. I know the Las Cruces pecan growers do a lot of irrigating as well.

I don't know if it's required for the trees to survive, period, or more for the trees to have enough resources to produce nuts for a crop, however.

2. Do you know if you have javalinas near your property? I believe it's within their range but wasn't sure if they happen be specifically there or not. They are murder on plants as well, but a bit more hefty than deer, etc... and can dig up plants quite a bit more. There are plants they don't like, tend to avoid more, that can work like deterrents (native desert plants). This link mentions them: https://trademarklandscapeaz.com/hungry-javelinas-how-to-keep-these-critters-out-of-your-yard/

These little guys will literally eat prickly pear cactus - not just the fruit, but the actual thorn filled pads. They are tough little guys.

3. pollination - you may want to double check that you have good wind levels in the area when you need them to be pollinated. Likely it'd be fine, but I've had a few plants that need wind pollination and ended up having to hand pollinate because we seem to get almost no wind during the time of year they are producing pollen. :-/

4. Critters - down in this area, critters are going to be drawn as much by water as by food, so if you have any area with standing water, due to the swales, that's likely to draw in critters. They will often dig up damp earth to try and find a source of water, during the hot months, which can be murder on seedlings. I'd had small trees completely dug out by animals as small as packrats and ground squirrels, just trying to get at the water in the ground after a good rain, when the dirt stayed damp for longer. Even larger birds like quail will do this.

re: protecting the seedlings/trees - For a few years, small critters will be as much of a concern as large. I have a lime tree that is about 6 feet tall, now. Most branches on it are thin, 1/2 inch at the most, in the upper areas. More than once, I have come out and little round tailed ground squirrels had climbed the tree and chewed through the branches entirely to drag them back to their nests. Literally destroyed over half the tree. I have had a pinyon seedling 4 feet tall that they chewed through at the base and killed entirely.

I have a lot of growth and native plants around both trees, but it wasn't enough. For whatever reason, they wanted THESE trees, specifically. Although I have had some success in keeping critters away from plants, with native plants, but in these cases, I literally have to surround and 'hide' the protected plants with a horde of native ones, ones that hide visually AND with strong scents. I have haven't tried to do it for anything that's not an annual, though, so I don't know how well it would work in a longer term sense.

I do not know what little critters you will have, but they have been harder to control for here than the larger animals, at least until any trees are much larger. They can climb over or dig under fencing, so you literally may have to keep things enclosed to keep them out, or have some, say, sacrificial pecan trees that are easier to access (if these trees seem to be targeted by the critters)

Making the area a snake friendly habitat can help with keeping the little rodent population down, but you have to plan for that when trying to harvest pecans eventually, as well.

Although it may be helpful to explore a bit about what helps things break down in the soil in that area, before making plans to try to keep critters too far out, at least initially.

I don't know if it's like my own area, but after living here, one thing that I found out is how significantly different things function here, in terms of plant matter breaking down and enriching the soil, due to the temp, the lower rainfall, and the low humidity. Here, it's too dry - even deep in a swale - for plant matter to break down very quickly. Outside of rain events and a little after, the plant matter will just kinda sit there, and termites and packrats and other burrowing critters are actually the main way the soil gets broken down and water and nutrients get into the soil. Mushrooms and other things that require damp to break things down have much less of an impact around here.

Things DO break down,  don't get me wrong, it's just much slower than in other areas, which means planning for a longer period of time needed to have soil nice enough for planting the pecan trees.

If one is irrigating, the plant matter can break down a lot more quickly, and that may be needed to start things off well for the first few years, but yeah...having critters involved in helping enrich the soil, at first, might be something to consider as part of the plan, for an inexpensive and hands free approach, as it were.

Also, if you are irrigating, anything that the critters can chew through is in danger - again, they go for water pretty hard core. Have to have things buried or made of metal, etc... if you aren't able to keep a close eye on things regularly.

5. pioneer plants - mesquite does often readily reseed, yes. I have this happen all the time in my yard, so you'll likely run into it. I don't really know of anything that keeps that from happening except something to eat them down, or pulling them out. They have VERY long roots - taproots can be extremely long, and they can spread out their roots 2-5 times the diameter of the drip line of the tree, so it can be a bit of a process to get 'em out. But they do provide a lot of food, the wood is good for smoking, it is food safe, and it is also a hard wood so can be used for soap making, as well.

There are some native lupines that are popular enough that you can get seeds for them, that are also nitrogen fixers, so that can be a nice plant to add to the mix. I think there are a few other native nitrogen fixers as well, but can't recall the names off hand.

It looks like a really nice property. Hope you can make something awesome there.
 
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Location: Southern Colorado, 6300', zone 6a, 16" precipitation
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I think you will need some sort of nitrogen fixer otherwise where will the fertility in the system come from? It might come from animals, but that would mean you keep close control and move them each day, until the pecans are big enough to tolerate animal damage. So you should pick a nitrogen fixing shrub to nurse the pecans along the early stages and provide long term fertility. I would recommend siberian pea shrub as it will be a shrub underneath the pecans, but are also fast growing, thorn free, and can feed chickens/goats/sheep. Another option is sagebrush curl leaf mahogany - these nitrogen fixers are thornless, but they grow slowly. If you want the most efficient nitrogen then yes it would be mesquite. Yes it is invasive, but this is where you come in to manage it through ruthless chop, drop, and coppice. Another plus of these thorny NFs are that they will help keep the deer away. A deer will not venture into a thick bush of mesquite, NM locust, or Russian olive just to chew on a pecan tree in the middle. A living chola fence will also keep the deer out.

On the swales, you really will need some kind of sill or spill way. Otherwise, the water will erode the ends of your swales within one season. The spill way could be a section of rocks in the berm wall, or concrete, a large gauge pipe, a culvert or so on. Geoff Lawton uses a swivel pipe that can be turned down to siphon off excess water.
 
Shaun Overton
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Thank you everyone for the support. I've been able to get started and decided to make an Instagram channel to document my progress. What do you think so far?
 
pollinator
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Elk, Javelina and...drug mules!
 
Shaun Overton
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Jd Gonzalez wrote:Elk, Javelina and...drug mules!



😂
 
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