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How long will it take to get things green in the hi desert  RSS feed

 
Rose Reese
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Hi I am new to permaculture and I am very excited about getting the process in place on my 2 acres. I am trying to grow veggies here for the last 2 years I was not very successful, my soil is sandy and does not have alot of nutrients. For the past 2 years I have dumped tons of compost/mulch and I hope this year will be a bumper crop. I have 1 year old fruit tree orchard. I am really a beginner. I do have access to large quantities of mulch for free and I started creating wind berms and will do hulglebeds with tree prunings I have on th property, Juniper (acidic) Ash, Mulberry trees and the mulch. I assume this will take several years to get all things going. Is that right or can it be done faster? Huglebeds is that the right begining? Also, I plan to use the Juniper branches in a huglebed for acid loving berries can this be done.
 
Kevin Elmore
Posts: 65
Location: West Texas - near Big Bend National Park
6
fungi greening the desert solar
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Rose,

It definitely takes longer to get things going in the desert. Where is your location and what is your elevation?

Our garden finally got traction after two years of work. A big part was getting rainwater catchment in place to support the process because well water had too many minerals/salts. Hugels have been very difficult for me because of the large rocks and boulders that exist below our thin soil. It is hard enough just to get a "normal size" hole to plant in. We have some apricots and figs set this year on really young trees.

I have focused on trying to retain all the rainfall that falls on our land. You are fortunate to have access to so much free mulch.

Hang in there and stay cool!

Kevin
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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It really helps to bury the wood in the desert, rather than putting up "raised" beds.

It traps nutrients and water, cutting down on how much you have to input. Going the burying route, will be about two years. To try and "make" soil will take at least three, and that is with adding innoculants or good compost for bacteria and fungi.

They are finding that putting too much mulch on top of soils cuts down on the rain water soaking in, so you are better off "filling" swales with it, where water pools, and putting flattish rocks with lichen on them right around your plants. The mulches also give insects and snails houses, so if you do that, make sure it is the right kind of bugs.

Try a little bit of everything, but look at the curves of the land more than trying to enforce a design on it, and things will flow much easier...
 
Brett Andrzejewski
gardener
Posts: 318
Location: Buffalo, NY
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Hello Rose,

I too am new to Permaculture. I am trying to restore a small suburban backyard with permaculture principles. I am about 2 months into the project and can see some small changes.

Prior to starting the soil had no organic matter in it. It was rock hard, it is composed of dime size to smaller granite pebbles, and had a thin layer of desert dust that would easily blow away. I managed to laboriously rototill down about 6 inches in a small garden area. The rest of the area I am planning to use root plants, nitrogen fixing perennials, volunteer plants and mulching to try and break up/ rebuild the soil. I am expecting the a lot of work and about 3 years to get life reestablished. I am expecting a steep learning curve too.

I hope to get something from the garden this year (corn, beans, watermelons, sorghum, etc.), but will be happy if anything will take in the soil.

I have seen life start to return already. I have a sugar ant colony near the compost bin, cockroaches (naturally), lizards, and birds visit the yard to look for seeds in the straw. It gives me hope to see that in just 2 months I am starting to develop a (small) ecosystem.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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I have seen life start to return already. I have a sugar ant colony near the compost bin, cockroaches (naturally), lizards, and birds visit the yard to look for seeds in the straw. It gives me hope to see that in just 2 months I am starting to develop a (small) ecosystem.


If the critters are coming, the rest will follow.
Make certain to supply water for all of the critters...your oasis will find balance, and grow.

 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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if you keep wood off the ground (especially railroad ties) you will get a lot fewer cockroaches and roly-polys. If you want to have some for walkways or edging, but some boric acid or even borax under it...

if you stack flat rocks around a vertical wooden post, you will get more lizards. they need a place to get vertical and do push-ups !
 
Eray Gard
Posts: 2
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Hi everyone,

I'm also relatively new to permaculture, large projects in particular, although I have been gardening in several different climates for some time and grew up in an agrarian family.

My question is focused on the what desert plants I have to choose from that can both survive, and provide a suitable understory while my bigger fruiting trees and shrubs get a good start. The property I am working now is in Southeastern New Mexico in the Chihuahuan Desert.

On the site now, I have well water and a legacy of very old pioneer mesquite bushes that have been putting down deep roots and forming islands of sandy topsoil at their feet for almost a century.

Since we are in our 3rd year of severe drought, I am trying to plan very carefully for the one or two large rain events we might get, but I am becoming more aware of how quickly the well water increases salinity in the soils I use it on.

With the spring comes incessant 25-35 mph winds 4-5 days a week, which, thanks to the drought, are full of topsoil and up for grabs if I can get enough enough pioneers and shrubs to slow the breeze and catch them.

So, that's what I'm looking for guidance and resources about: Tough drought tolerant understory and pioneer shrubs or small trees that can build my soils and won't let us all get blown away like the end of A Hundred Years of Solitude.

Any Help?...please?

E
 
Kevin Elmore
Posts: 65
Location: West Texas - near Big Bend National Park
6
fungi greening the desert solar
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Eray,

Can you fill us in with some additional information like your elevation and normal precipitation amounts for your area? The Chihuahuan desert covers a lot of different territory so that will help us discuss this further.

Do you live on your land where the fruit trees are planted? Do you have any types of rainwater catchment in place at this time?

How much land do you have to work with and what type of terrain does it encompass?

I know this is a lot of questions, but it sounds like you already have some good things in the works.

Kevin
 
Brett Andrzejewski
gardener
Posts: 318
Location: Buffalo, NY
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Hello Eray,

Welcome to Permaculture! I too am new to Permaculture and your stated issues of water catchment, wind blocks and pioneer plants will be very important. For water catchment look for areas of run off or water concentration and see if you can 'slow it, spread it, and sink it'. In the little arroyos can you put a small dam or can you make swales or fish scale swales to slow the water down when the summer monsoon comes. On the swales or dams make sure that you have native hardy drought tolerant grasses to hold the structure in place.
You might want to research what plants make a good 'guild' with mesquite trees. The plants that guild will have a beneficial effect in growing and retaining the top soil. Make observations around the mesquites are there any plants that seem to be doing really well.
As you rightly observed you will need wind blocks. I have been using piles of old lumber to block the wind. Fences are good too. You can do coyote fencing if you have the spare wood. I have also seen prickly pear fencing and the small yucca fencing. This fencing type will allow you to get your larger living fence, trees and shrubs, established.
I have no personal experience with Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) but have read in Permaculture books that the Native Americans in the desert regions used it and ate it. It is suppose to hold the soil well.
Again no experience with Acacia trees but have seen them in a number of Permaculture books for arid lands design (some species will be edible too).
Sweet sorghum and grain sorghum are also suppose to be drought tolerant desert crops. I have seedlings of each started but have not grown them yet.
I would also recommend researching how to shade. geoff lawton talked about shading the soil in desert environments. I am trying bricks and large rocks on the west side of small plants to provide shade during the hot afternoons.

I hope my limited knowledge and experience is of some help.
 
Eray Gard
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Thanks for the responses and the questions!

Can you fill us in with some additional information like your elevation and normal precipitation amounts for your area?
AVG rainfall is almost 12 inches, although we have been significantly under that for the last 3 yrs, not sure how much, though.
the elevation is 3,600ft

Do you live on your land where the fruit trees are planted?
Yes, I do live on the land.

Do you have any types of rainwater catchment in place at this time?
No rainwater catchment is in place, but gutters are coming soon...Right now, everything comes from the ground.

How much land do you have to work with and what type of terrain does it encompass?
The house I'm living in is a ranch house/headquarters, so I can work with up to 180 acres immediately surrounding the house, but money and time will limit me to a much smaller area of a few acres.

I hope that helps get the idea wheels turning!

E.Ray

 
Brett Andrzejewski
gardener
Posts: 318
Location: Buffalo, NY
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Eray,

I was also thinking of some additional wind blocks. Juniper bush and Sagebrush seems to do very well in my/your climate. A wall of Agave (great for making Tequila later , but keep in mind it has a 7 year harvest cycle).

Edible cactus that you can probably setup in your Zone 3 or Zone 4:
Christmas Cholla, Strawberry Pincushion, Barrel cactus (seeds edible), Nopales (spineless prickly pear)

Yucca flowers and seed pods are edible depending on season of harvest and variety. Keep in mind the flowers and pods can be tough on the digestive system.

I don't know if Jerusalem Artichoke will grow in your area. I am trying it in my region and I know of people who have grown it in Moriarty, NM.

Creosote bush is hardy and is suppose to keep away certain types of unwanted insects. You would probably need to do more research on how to work it into your system.

Mullein (cowboy toilet paper) is a good biomass accumulator, medicinal, and desert hardy.

Desert Sumac is medicinal, good for cuts. Do your research on how to harvest and prepare.

Let us know how things progress.
 
Brett Andrzejewski
gardener
Posts: 318
Location: Buffalo, NY
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This is an old thread, but wanted to give an update on my progress. Today I found a "huge" worm underneath one of my compost areas. The worm was "huge" to me because I live in the desert and rarely see worms. When I go see worms they are usually about 4 centimeters long and 4 millimeters wide. This "huge" worm was about 8 centimeters long and 6 millimeters wide. I was really sorry to have disturbed his/her lunch on the compost. Yet, I relocated him/her in my other compost bin so it can have lots of babies and make a huge worm family

This result was seen after 5 months of good compost conditions.
 
Richard Gorny
pollinator
Posts: 266
Location: Poland, zone 5
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I have a similar conditions on my land - sandy soil, suitable mostly for pine forest, not for gardening. I have started early spring, trying to establish raised beds and "Back to Eden" ramial wood chips beds. I have installed drip irrigation and I have used some compost (I had very little) and some cow/chicken manure. I have planted a number of seeds and transplants and the only success I have is with beans and peas in raised beds. In "Back to Eden"style wood chips beds plants grow very slow or at all. Only strawberries were growing nicely, but no flowers/fruits. I have used stinging nettle/comfrey liquid fertilizer to improve amount nitrogen, but no luck. I have successfully cleared the area of all weeds though. I'm still optimistic, I believe next year the soil will improve and perhaps plants will grow better. Patience is a virtue
 
R Nichols
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Cob Project Campus is working in this same direction as well. We are at 3600 ft elevation, zone 5b-ish, lots of sun in the summer and cold in the winter. So far we are planning to get mushrooms going to help speed up the composting needed. Anyone here use mushroom cultivation for their composting?
 
Brett Andrzejewski
gardener
Posts: 318
Location: Buffalo, NY
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No, I've not tried mushroom composting. I will occasionally get the rare mushroom after heavy rains but the less than 10% humidity in my area makes is hard to grow mushrooms.
 
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