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the dust bowl of the 21st century is here...History is repeating itself  RSS feed

 
Miles Flansburg
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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http://www.denverpost.com/commented/ci_23420681

Snip...

"It looks like the surface of the moon," he said. "It's just blowing whenever we get wind."

After three years of extreme drought, the soil of southeastern Colorado has been ground into a fine powder, like brown flour, that easily goes airborne.

The Stulps are using the latest technologies and soil conservation practices developed after the Dust Bowl, including no-till farming, which allows for growing crops without turning the soil.

"You don't want to risk unnecessary tillage," he said, pointing to a particularly erodible area of land. "If you plow that once, it will probably start blowing."

They also use stripper headers on combines when harvesting wheat, which strip only the grain, leaving most of the stalk standing, which helps keep the soil in place.

"We are changing our practices on the farm rapidly," Stulp said. "But is it rapid enough to deal with what's coming next?"



 
John Polk
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Monitor your local conditions here: http://www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

This week's map:

DroughtMap.PNG
[Thumbnail for DroughtMap.PNG]
 
Ben Plummer
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I think I've seen pictures like this before:



Oh yeah:

 
Miles Flansburg
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Ya mom and dad always talked about how bad it was in South Dakota when they were kids. They had to tie a rope from the house to the windmill so when they went to get water they could find their way back to the house!

To bad folks didn't learn the first time around.
 
Christine Baker
Posts: 62
Location: NW Arizona - high desert Joshua Tree forest
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We had a couple move into the Joshua tree desert and it's anything but bare, we have so many shrubs and grasses and yuccas. The very first thing they did is CLEAR their entire acre -- everything except a few Joshua trees. Many people do that because they're afraid of snakes. In this case I was very surprised because they actually want to be self-sufficient and of course their dirt is going to be rock hard and dead as a doornail.

On a larger scale, a developer is FARMING the desert and I just finally posted the pics I took of the project:
http://highdesertdirt.com/blog/2013/06/20/rhodes-farming-to-get-permit-for-homes/

The biggest upside to the 2008 financial crisis was that two developers went broke BEFORE they started clearing. I moved here because it's such a beautiful drive from Kingman, 60 miles of mostly natural desert with the occasional residence here and there. I didn't even know that so much land was privately owned. It's scary what people can do to the land.
 
Clara Florence
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Its a knee jerk reaction for people to clear land, even self sufficiency types. Tilling the soil and clearing the land is all they know and they think its the first step to creating a garden. The culture of weeding and planting what one visually likes is so ingrained its going to take a long time for that thinking to change. It took a while for me to get the concept of building a garden bed ontop of soil instead of digging one. The only reason I dig now is to get some soil to put on top of my raised bed after putting organic materials into the hole I just dug. When I have access to plenty of compost I dont touch the soil at all.
 
dj niels
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Then there is the problem of local govt requiring clearing or mowing "to reduce fire danger," so we get more sand and dust blowing around from all the mowers. We have a 2 acre piece, right now it is a beautiful meadow with wildflowers and wheatgrass, etc, scattered over most of it. I would love to just let it grow, then do a chop and drop later as we start forming swales and berms and planting trees, for a restoration agriculture savanna, but I imagine the town council will be after me soon for not mowing it down and leaving the bare dirt and dried top growth to just blow away in the strong gusty winds we get up here at 5900 feet elevation. We are in a drought, with fires all over the state, so once spring growth is cut, it doesn't do much growing until next spring unless we add tons of water to irrigate, which could end up salting and killing the natural vegetation.

I have put in a couple of small covercrop areas, which I had to water some to establish, but are now growing well with being watered only once a week or so, and have a few garden beds, mostly sunken beds we dug out and filled with woody debris and spoiled hay, leaves, etc, and a new windbreak we put in along the west side (most of our wind comes from the west). We are hauling in woodchips from the next town (20 miles each way) and spreading on our paths as quickly as we can, in between all the other garden projects, so it is a slow process, but the mulch is making a difference already in settling the dust and holding in soil moisture.

We see neighbors out mowing a lot, and everytime the wind blows, dust billows up from the dry, bare soil.
 
Christine Baker
Posts: 62
Location: NW Arizona - high desert Joshua Tree forest
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You have to mowe 2 acres?

That sounds a little ridiculous. I know there have been a lot of fires, but you can't just cut everything down. I could see 20 ft around a house, maybe even 50 feet on the side the prevailing winds come from.
 
Ben Plummer
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dj, ugh, governments at all levels make such a mess. It is like people are trying to open a steel door by bashing their head against it repeatedly while a few folks try to give them the key. Nope, gonna keep trying to use what will never work and we are all going to end up with a major headache.
 
dj niels
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Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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I am hoping if we just mow the area outside the fence, between the property line and the roads on 2 sides, and maybe a strip inside the fence line, they will let it go. I see other properties, including one across the street from my garden, that is owned by the town, or at least they have a very large propane tank there to supply the town hall, that hasn't been mowed, and has just as much tall grass and wildflowers, for its size, as my place.

Part of the problem, I think, is caused by the mowing--all the native grasses and perennial herb layer are cut down by the summer mowing before they can set seed, but after the cheat grass has seeded itself, so the areas of cheat grass keep spreading. The dried cheat grass is very flammable, so if someone throws out a match or cigarette, or we get a strike by dry lightning, very common here in the summer, the dried cheat grass catches fire and the fire spreads rapidly in the wind to whatever else is growing nearby. That kills a lot of the natives, or at least sets them back a lot, while the cheat grass seeds actually thrive on fire. So the problem grows and grows.

So yes, they keep beating their heads against the same steel door, and we all get the headache. Good analogy.

Actually, the fires aren't totally a bleak picture. A friend who happens to be a cattle rancher, reminded us yesterday during a discussion about the recent fires, that places that burned 2 years ago are green with abundant grass and young browse for the deer and cattle, but I'm sure there must be better ways to manage the land here, and I am trying to learn the permaculture way as quickly as I can absorb the knowledge. This forum helps a lot, as do books and videos by Mark Shepard, geoff lawton, Alan Savory, Sep Holzer, and Joel Salatin that I have been reading and watching lately.

 
Brett Andrzejewski
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The same thing happened (is happening) here in Albuquerque.



A story from Weather.com Albuquerque Haboob

All around the city the trees in peoples yards are dying. I see mostly Juniper and mulberry dying. Yet, the other day in the foothills of the mountains, I saw cactus that were browning up and dying too!

 
Ben Plummer
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Yeah, fire isn't the problem in regards to topsoil loss considering the number of plants which thrive and keep the soil in place after what seems to be a very destructive event. Permaculture has an answer to keeping home and land safe from wildfire too. I remember visiting parts of southern Colorado a couple months after a wildfire and what would have been the understory of the forest was absolutely lush, way more so than the unburned areas.

Brett, I guess it is time to check in with some friends in Arizona to see how their trees are doing. Can't imagine that if the cactii are dying that things are going well though.

My heart goes out to those out west, hope you get some rain!
 
andrew curr
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id really love to know why people chose the drought option??
 
dj niels
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Andrew, I am not sure what you mean about the drought option, although I have learned from my studies about permaculture, that many of the drought events are directly related to agriculture, tilling the land, cutting down trees, and changing the way the water moves through the land. I have read that many streams in the Rocky mountains of North America dried up after miners in the 1800s cut down the trees to shore up their mines etc. And the dust bowl of the 1930s was strongly effected by prairie grasslands being plowed up and turned into "productive" farms instead of "just grass." Sadly, it is easier to look back at the mistakes made 100 or more years ago, than to look at our own mistakes, or to see that there is a way to do things differently now. Instead, we get caught up in maintaining customs, even though they cause us pain and problems.

My hope is that if enough of us (permies, restoration agriculture, agroforestry types, of whatever persuasion and emphasis, learning from folks like Joel Salatin, Mark Shepard, Geoff Lawton, Alan Savory and lots of others) keep planting perennials and greening our bits of land, we can make a difference and help to create the changes we want to see.
 
andrew curr
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Abundance is a choice ,drought is an option!
 
dj niels
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We may each choose the path to abundance, but we are still influenced and affected by the choices of others, and may not be able to have a choice on being surrounded by drought. I personally can plant perennials, apply mulches, and use earth-shaping and the various methods we are learning about, but climate, weather patterns, wind, sun, etc still can have a major impact on what I am trying to accomplish. So I respectfully disagree, drought is not my choice, but it takes time and much effort to achieve the abundance I choose to see.
 
andrew curr
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A choice made collectivly is still a choice
if all us chose abundance , guess where well end up ;more rain less evaporation yada yada
 
dj niels
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Isn't that why we are here, at permies, and doing our permaculture projects? The more of us who actually do choose this path, and keep working on it and telling others about it, the better chance we have to get past whatever history we have that leads away from abundance. So, keep learning, keep sharing, keep planting trees and other perennials, keep making swales, and keep choosing abundance.

As one wise man said, if we have our permaculture project at least started, even if it is still tiny, we at least have credibility to talk about it. We need to start, and be the examples of what abundance can look like, if we want others to follow. Don't just talk about permaculture, but live it first.

I love my little food forest. It is not very big, and maybe not as abundant as I would like, yet, but every time I walk outside and see what is growing, I am refreshed and renewed to continue the effort to expand my system, and to learn more and teach more.
 
andrew curr
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Yes!
 
Ben Plummer
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This reminds me of the guy from Paul's hugelkultur video who had lush, green growth while his neighbors had brown, dormant plants. You would hope his neighbor would come around and ask about what was being done differently.
 
Brett Andrzejewski
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On a related topic, weather, I have been reading several posts on the unusual oscillation of the jet stream over North America. Jeff Masters and other climate scientists are saying that the jet stream is starting to oscillate and gets stuck in a holding pattern that results in incredibly dry conditions and record breaking heat for about two weeks. The pattern then unlocks and allows the jet streams return to a normal pattern.

The stuck pattern is responsible for the record high temperatures over the western half of the U.S. (dust bowl) and record rain falls on the eastern half (flood city).

Weather Blog - Jeff Masters

 
Paulo Bessa
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Clearing the soil is not only terrible for erosion and creating a dead soil (if repetitive).

Clearing the soil can be especially damaging in dry hot climates. Or windy climates.

And the worst is that near-desert landscapes (like the midwest) have reduced evaporation, as compared to forests. Reduced evaporation causes more extremes in temperature. This by its own creates changes in the atmospheric pressure which creates disruptions in the jet stream, which provokes the extreme weather we are commonly ovserving in the previous decades and especially years.

You do not even have to bring the global warming hypothesis. Just this per se, creates extremes in temperature and precipitation (drought and heavy rains). Having bare soil everywhere is a very bad idea. It is asking for deserts to invade both the US and parts of Europe. And this is not natural climate change, it is manmade climate change, and it has nothing to do with CO2 but desertification.

If this keeps gradually this path. we will all end up like the Middle East, living in deserts caused by historical agricultural desertification, and eventually we will blown ourselves with wars, when growing food becomes complicated. This is something very important to avoid.

Anyways I do not wish to start any discussion in politics, climate change, etc. I think nearly everyone here agrees that excessive tilling, compaction, monocrop agriculture can cause desertification, which leads to weather extremes and the dust bowl conditions.
 
dj niels
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Paulo, I agree that clearing and tilling and leaving the land bare, is bad and leads to lots of problems, but I don't understand your comment that it reduces evaporation. In my experience, the dry soil and air from tillage, or mowing the grass and weeds as is done here, actually increases evaporation, higher than precipitation. The air in Colorado is so dry it sucks moisture out of the ground as fast or faster than we can add it back in. Even snow evaporates to the air instead of melting into the ground. I do believe that clearing the land, cutting trees, etc, reduces precipitation, and moisture in the soil. After the early miners cut a lot of trees for mine timbers, etc, the local streams stopped flowing, and streams and springs have been restored by increasing forest cover.

The grasses and other plants here are mostly bunch grasses, or clumping wildflowers, etc, with large spaces between each plant. A common practice here is to mow the weeds, leaving large bare patches of dirt, that are dry and dusty, and lead to plumes of "dust devils" whenever the wind blows. My son and I are working hard to collect and lay wood chips on our paths, to hold down the dust, but it is a slow process.

Yes, we, as a whole, are creating our own problems, and need to work together to create the solutions. I believe permaculture is one of those possible solutions. I just watched one of Geoff Lawton's videos, about how he rehydrated a property he once owned, turning it from a grassed and gullied place, to a place of abundance, with numerous dams and swales on 5 acres, with fish and frogs, and many fruit trees, creating a lush sub-tropical paradise.
 
andrew curr
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I think he is referring to transpiration ??
 
Fred Morgan
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A lack of trees does many bad things. One, you do have a lack of transpiration. (i.e. pulling water from the ground and breathing it out at the leaves), it also means there is no wind break, so the speed of the air across the surface is usually faster, much faster, which results in drying out the soil faster. Also, when there is a rain, due to the ground being so level from working it for planting, water runs off, no irregular features to catch water and allow it to go underground. The roots, and of course debris of trees (limbs, leaves, etc) help capture moisture.

There is a round a take here were two rivers come together. One is almost always clear, the other almost always muddy. Guess which one goes through conventional farm land?

It amazes me that people don't see the muddy river and think "there goes my wealth" - it isn't a big jump from understanding you need good soil to grow good crops to seeing a dirty river and thinking "that is my future going down stream"

Not to go political, but the consequence of having lots of people on the planet is that each of us has to be caretakers, not exploiters.
 
dj niels
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I agree about the rivers. We have two rivers within about 20 miles either way. Both run brown most of the time, due, in my opinion, to the bare soils all around, and the ''scorched earth" policies that seem to see bare dirt and mowed or poisoned weeds as preferable to the abundant growth of weeds and other plants that are working hard to heal the degraded land. I think many people seem to feel threatened by lush growth--a "jungle" is a foreign experience to most of us, that we have to be educated to appreciate.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Brett Andrzejewski wrote:On a related topic, weather, I have been reading several posts on the unusual oscillation of the jet stream over North America.


In what forum is the topic / or the posts?

Has anyone had a look at my arguments about having a weather/climate forum?
http://www.permies.com/t/26088/tnk/climate-forum
Thanks if you can give your opinion.
I am not sure I explained well my reasons. Anyway for sure, "greening the desert" is very climatic oriented because weather is very central.

It amazes me that people don't see the muddy river and think "there goes my wealth" - it isn't a big jump from understanding you need good soil to grow good crops to seeing a dirty river and thinking "that is my future going down stream"

Part of the problem, I think, is caused by the mowing--all the native grasses and perennial herb layer are cut down by the summer mowing before they can set seed, but after the cheat grass has seeded itself, so the areas of cheat grass keep spreading. The dried cheat grass is very flammable, so...


No way to make a good file about the logical chain of what causes what? and present it to the press and locals etc? If a local newspaper could run a feature on the topic, to open the idea that at least the mowing question should be assessed...
 
Fred Morgan
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Sadly, knowing better rarely is the problem, short term gain is.
 
dj niels
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There are so many good videos and other info on the internet, books, etc, like Geoff Lawton's Greening the Desert series, gaia's garden, etc, but until people realize that "the traditional way" of doing things is causing a problem, they won't go looking for answers, and won't be likely to listen anyway. I think the most important thing I can do as an individual is to keep working on my own permaculture design, and create a living example that will show another way. Until I can show that it works, my words are just hot air. Geoff and others are trying to speed up the learning process, but it does still take time for a permanent change to develop.
 
Miles Flansburg
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
 
Kelly Smith
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here is a a link to a few pictures around Colorado Springs yesterday:

http://gazette.com/gallery/3099/pictures/452881?display=nextgen

youll never hear it called the next dust bowl though
 
Bill Ramsey
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We have been getting more rain here in Georgia but I've been seeing a LOT of the local fields being altered in ways that scare me a bit. It's obvious that the lessons from the old dust bowl have been forgotten or are being ignored. Many of the fields are being expanded and that happens by tearing out the trees that were previously left for good reasons. The wind breaks and erosion control areas are being taken out and I've already seen huge problems such as the soil washing into streams. I can't understand why farmers would put their future at risk like that. Even if they are trying to catch short term opportunities while hay, corn or whatever is in short supply, I just can't see the logic in ruining the field for it, even before factoring in the "big picture" effects.
 
Andrew Parker
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Bill, agricultural land use in the US is largely driven by agricultural subsidies. Most of the improvements implemented as a reaction to the Dust Bowl were plowed under decades ago. (Don't be quick to blame it all on corporate farmers. Most farmer's are loath to turn their backs on subsidies) The Dept. of Agriculture, farmers and Congress knew this was inevitable but have doggedly marched to the precipice with their eyes wide open.

Sometimes there is nothing to do in reaction to sustained (decades long or longer) drought but move. That is a reality that may face us, as it was faced by earlier inhabitants of marginal arid and semi-arid lands. The inability, reluctance or refusal to adapt to changes in climate have doomed civilizations throughout history.

Dry farming opened up millions of marginal acres to cultivation, but we pay a stiff price when drought comes. Farming is always a gamble and farming (and grazing) marginal lands is a big gamble, even when using the most appropriate methods.

I hope this current drought is one of the 3, 5 or 7 year kind. It has been some centuries since the American West has experienced a 20 year or 200 year drought, but they have occurred in the past and we are not immune to it happening again -- regardless of our carbon output.

Intelligent land use can green damaged (even centuries old damage, so long as the overall weather patterns are conducive to it) and it can change microclimates. The trick, I suppose, to dealing effectively with prolonged drought is to not get caught with your pants down (your fields and pastures bare and fallow), and make the appropriate adjustments to land use to deal with it in such a way as to minimize the negative near and long-term impacts to the land. Realistically, prolonged drought reduces the carrying capacity of the affected area, so unless you can transport water in, the surplus population will need to move. Central Asia and the American West have shown this pattern of migration many times throughout history. Unfortunately, California is not the refuge it was in the '30's -- not that it couldn't be, but that is another subject.
 
Brett Andrzejewski
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Andrew Parker wrote: Unfortunately, California is not the refuge it was in the '30's


California may be suffering from lack of water too. Many of their reservoirs are at ~30% capacity and there is very little snow pack in the mountains. California's rainy season is coming to an end in the next couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see how the state responds when the farmers are really hurting for water in the summer.

If you do look at climate change, and previous climate history (on a geologic scale) most of the mid-west US was a sandy desert. The National Geographic episode 6 Degrees Could Change the World talks about how climate change could revert the mid-west to sandy desert.
 
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