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one piece of advice for desert permies- what would YOURS be?  RSS feed

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Hi everyone:

If you have ever lived in a desert, you know that our dry climate and temperature extremes can be challenging. Not all permaculture standbys work for all climates. A really telling example of this is the Herb Spiral. Herb spirals are a poor choice for dry climates because anything raised is going to dry out more quickly. If you combine dry with HOT - it gets even worse. You've exposed your plants to a super-heated, super-dry microclimate.

So, desert permies, if you had ONE PIECE of advice to give someone new to desert permaculture, what would it be?
 
John Elliott
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Move.

When I retired I had the chance to stay in the desert or go elsewhere. I decided that if I was going to do permaculture and mycology, I had better go to a place that had good rainfall. Since I was already familiar with South Carolina and Georgia, that's how I ended up where I am.

But if I had to go back to the desert and apply permaculture principles to green it up, I would say learn everything you can about water catchments. Go out into the washes and observe where things grow and figure out how they are getting the water they need. It's very subtle, and in the beginning, someone will have to point it out to you, but after a while, you will begin to see why plants are where they are. Once you can see that, you will know how to be able to make things grow.
 
Burra Maluca
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My advice would be to watch this -



http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Greening+the+Desert
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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John Elliott wrote:Move.

When I retired I had the chance to stay in the desert or go elsewhere. I decided that if I was going to do permaculture and mycology, I had better go to a place that had good rainfall. Since I was already familiar with South Carolina and Georgia, that's how I ended up where I am.

But if I had to go back to the desert and apply permaculture principles to green it up, I would say learn everything you can about water catchments. Go out into the washes and observe where things grow and figure out how they are getting the water they need. It's very subtle, and in the beginning, someone will have to point it out to you, but after a while, you will begin to see why plants are where they are. Once you can see that, you will know how to be able to make things grow.


I get your point, John - definitely not good mycology ecology here.

But - since desert permaculture is one of the hands-down most fascinating things I've ever experienced (and I know other crazy folks would agree) - moving is not an option for many of us.

And you are dead on about about the water - hence my love affair with Brad Lancaster's books...
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Burra Maluca wrote:My advice would be to watch this (Greening the Desert - the original)


I'm with you there, Burra. I think this video was a real eye-opener for many people and illustrates some key desert permaculture principles. I'm saddened that this original site didn't pan out (there was some snafu with land ownership, I believe) but the new PERMENANT demo site is even better.

Keep 'em coming, everyone! I would love this to be a "best practices" type of thread for desert permaculture here on permies.com
 
John Polk
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Many of the culinary herbs are from the Mediterranean area, and like dry, rocky conditions, while many other herbs want a moist soil. In planning your plantings, group them into 2 groups: Dry, and Moist. This way, each group can live within its preferred environment, with a minimum effort on your part. It makes no sense to plant a water loving plant amongst plants that will survive all summer with little/no watering.

 
Dale Hodgins
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Seek out seasoned veterans who have been growing in your area for a long time.

Learn everything you can about how the natives near you have traditionally gathered water and preserved moisture.

Study the various techniques employed in desert climates around the world.

Mulch.

That's four. No point in posting four times.
 
Abe Connally
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invest every spare dollar in rainwater catchment: http://velacreations.com/water/water-storage/313-cistern-howto.html

use the soil as well, but get a good quantity of tanks going to save up as much water as possible.

learn about local edible species, you'd be surprised how many edibles are available in the desert.

And I second the mulch comment. Start importing mulch.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Getting some really good input here!

I'll add the following:

--to preserve soil moisture, harvest rainwater and collect nutrient fall, use sunken beds. This will also set up a slightly cooler microclimate for plant roots, avoid salts accumulating in the root zone (as they will move to higher ground through wicking effect) and protect seedlings from desiccating dry winds.
--if you must use a raised bed for some reason (caliche or rock layer, physical limitations) - use some form of wicking bed and insulate the outside of the container as much as possible.
--Contact local tree trimmers and work out a deal with them to deliver woodchips to you from their jobs - many are happy to do this for free.
--avoid using Bermuda grass in your compost! This stuff is a survivor and will quickly take over your garden beds if you let a stolon, rhizome or seed into your compost. Save yourself some headaches and if you have it - mulch it by itself in black plastic garbage containers for several months. It's tough to kill. I personally don't have it and won't use it after fighting to remove it from my yard for 15 years.
--Know your homesite's watershed. Where are the high spots (rooftops), low spots. Where are your greywater sources. What is your water budget and how can you live within it? Determine your water budget here: http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/rainwater-harvesting-inforesources/rainwater-harvesting-online-calculator/
--Plan water BEFORE you plant. Determine your water zones. For most urban plots, the area with most access to water is closest to your house (Zone 1). This is where your roofs drip, and your greywater is close. Plant any higher water use plants in this zone - citrus trees and deciduous fruit trees are good examples of items that should grow here. Zone 2 is farther away from water sources so low water natives and other xeric plants should be planted here. At the extremities of the property (Zone 4) - plant only highly adapted plants for your area that will need little supplemental water after establishment. Wherever possible, plant INSIDE broad swales and infiltration basins (this is different from other climates where support species are planted uphill of swales and fruit trees are planted on the swale mound below the swale.)
--trees/shade/passive cooling and heating. In hot deserts, shade is necessary. Plant deciduous native legumes as an overstory in a solar arc. Placement should be no more than 15' from the house on the east, south and west sides of the house. This will provide shade to the house in summer, yet still allow for passive solar gain in winter when the trees shed their leaves. Additionally, for LOW sun in the morning (east) and especially in the evening (west), consider planting solar baffle shrubs/small shrubby trees or vines on trellises. These will block the low sun from hitting the house and heating the structure. Plant 2-3x as many native support species as fruit trees. Legume family trees and shrubs are especially desired for their nitrogen fixing ability.
--Exterior shades over windows will save big bucks on summer cooling bills. (about 5x as much as interior shades).
--continuously build soil by importing woodchips, using compost tea, using chop-n-drop from support species, letting hens till the earth and capturing grey and rainwater instead of venting it to the street.
--know your seasons - our best veggie growing season in Phoenix is Fall/Winter/Spring. Summer is rest/regenerate/plan season. Beautiful native plants are in bloom and their vivid colors and structural forms are visually striking. Congratulate yourself for living and thriving in this wonderful environment!

OK - got writer's cramp! More later.
 
Abe Connally
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yes, I forgot about wicking beds!
http://www.velacreations.com/food/plants/annuals/item/108-wicking-bed.html
 
John Polk
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As far as shade over your windows goes, remember those storm shutters old houses all had?
Few newer houses have them, and most are strictly decorations nowadays.

I have considered building some, but with a twist:
The shutters would be adjustable. Like heavy duty Venetian Blinds.
You could either seal them tight, or 'crack' them to provide ventilation (& some light).
Paint one side of the shutters Gloss White to reflect summer sun, while the other side is Matte Black to absorb winter sun.
Just 'flip' them in or out depending on the seasons/weather.



 
Brett Andrzejewski
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Learn water catchment.

I too thought about moving. Yet, I have read scientific climate change papers. It is likely that within the next decade or two the deserts will be expanding and will catch up with you. The US midwest region is suppose to return to desert (Louisiana to North Dakota). A lot of Australia will become even more desert, same with southern Europe, northern China, middle Africa, and parts of South America.

It would be prudent to learn the skills now to deal with drought and its increasing frequency.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Regarding moving - I can see the appeal. However, I always harken back to this interview with Bill Mollison (see excerpt and link below). I think there is great potential in knowing a place and knowing it well. Because when you know it well, you can be of service to it. And I really feel that's what permaculture is about. The vast majority of people live in dysfunctional areas like cities. Cities in fragile landscapes where things are scarce (like the desert) are even worse. However, they are also where the greatest impact can be made.

I have always felt that if people keep leaving a situation because it is challenging, headway never gets made. And Brett is right - more and more land becomes desertified every day - not the reverse. So we in the desert are at the forefront of finding solutions. That's a damned exciting place to be if you ask me. It piques my interest in a way that growing things and living in a temperate or a less harsh subtropical climate never could. It is FASCINATING to be here - in this place - at this time. I know not everyone will agree with me and for many, it's not the path they've chosen. But for me - it is like revealing insight after insight- like ever-expanding fractal patterns - there is an amazing discovery process happening in deserts everywhere.

So here's the quote from Bill Mollison. You can find it here: http://therongolianstar.com/2012/09/22/a-quiet-revolution-bill-mollison-on-permaculture/

"he whole of the peninsula of northeast Australia runs right up into the tropics, it’s called Cape York. When we first got photographs of it, it was solid rain forest. In Sydney, though, we’re noticing little holes appearing in the rain forest all along the coast and in the end, they turned into quite large holes with buildings in them. So, they went to have a look, and the hippies were escaping the city by going to Cape York, finding a nice waterfall ten yards from a beach, cutting themselves a clearing, putting in a garden and building a house and then getting a bigger house and asking their friends to come. So the hippies were actually eating the rain forest. And they’re the very people who turn up in thousands to stop all forests being cut anywhere. But they themselves, at home, were the main cause of the disappearance of a very uncommon tropical rain forest because they like to live in a beautiful place. What they don’t like to do is build a beautiful place to go and live in. They like to go to a place that is already very beautiful. That’s very typical of rich people and hippies. You’ll hear hundreds of hippies say, “Oh, I’ve found this marvelous place. It’s got a waterfall; it’s got beautiful trees. It’s got thousands of birds, you know. I’m gonna build there.” It’s right in a national park! You’ll hear that a million times, right? And I think, “You stupid bastard. You’re a type one error yourself!”(laughs) The hippy should go somewhere where there’s no forest, like I did, where there’s just cattle-trodden grasslands and build that beautiful place, which I did. I put lots of lakes in it with 50 good dams, so everywhere there’s water, and I created paradise. It created itself even more than I did; I gave it a three-year start. It built itself amazingly fast."

There is also another fabulous quote by Mr. Phiri - the Zimbawean "Man who plants water" (as featured in Vol.1 of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands by Brad Lancaster)

You can see the article here: http://ag.arizona.edu/oals/ALN/aln46/lancaster.html

And the quote:
"He has also gone to schools where the teachers were striking due to lack of water and the harsh conditions in dusty, windscraped classrooms. He taught the teachers and students how to harvest the rainfall, and together they've turned the schools into lush gardens and now have no reason to strike.

Note: in the book version, Mr. Phiri tells the teachers to "look upon wherever they find themselves as home, to set their roots into the ground, and to work to nourish and improve their lives together". He also warned the teachers that if they left the area, their problems would simply follow them. Half stayed and half left. Mr. Phiri worked with the ones that stayed and their schools came back into abundance. Over time, the teachers that left came back - conditions were no better elsewhere so they returned to learn.
 
Brett Andrzejewski
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I was thinking about putting the same quote in from Brad Lancaster/Mr. Phiri, but decided to keep my post short and sweet.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Brett Andrzejewski wrote:I was thinking about putting the same quote in from Brad Lancaster/Mr. Phiri, but decided to keep my post short and sweet.


LOL - yeah - trust me to be longwinded!

I just love that quote so much - it makes me love to be where I am, doing the things I'm doing. Bill's quote does the same.
 
John Polk
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There isn't enough room in The Garden of Eden for everybody.
Each of us must build our own oasis. We have the tools, and the knowledge.

If we all choose pristine, ideal locations, there wouldn't be any left.

 
Wayne Mackenzie
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Plant a few Jujube trees.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Wayne - what kinds have you planted? This is something I'm interested in trying.

Thanks.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Wayne - what kinds have you planted? This is something I'm interested in trying.

Thanks.

I have several. I planted a Li 6 months ago on my land in S.E. Az. I went back to see it 2 months later & it was doing fantastic! I watered it and returned 2 weeks ago - again, another 2 months & it was growing great. These trees are like nothing else. I also have Sherwood, Shanxi Li, GI-1183, & GA-866 that will be going in this coming July. I really loved the fruit on the Shanxi Li this year. Sweet, with great flavor & the little tree was just loaded.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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You're making my mouth water!! Do you know if any of those varieties are particularly suited to the low desert? I get about 350 chill hours where I am in downtown Phoenix.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
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Hey...I'm in Maryvale LOL! Lots of people grow them here. I'm just learning the permy thing & am using what I learn here & applying it to my hobby/retirement property. We have a thread running right now on a local permaculture site about these wonderful trees.
http://www.phoenixpermaculture.org/forum/topics/where-to-find-jujube-tree?xg_source=activity&id=2008067%3ATopic%3A354410&page=1#comments
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Oh Wayne - this is so funny. I was the one who designed that site back in 2008 - you should have seen the pushback I got from the folks on the original Yahoo! list when we moved to a more "social media" style site (that site is built on the Ning platform). But that group took off after that. I also was the original class coordinator back then when we taught the majority of the classes at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market.

I left that group with a bunch of the old timers to start Arizona Homegrown Solutions (AZHS) in 2009 because the original founder of the VPA (then the Phoenix Permaculture Guild) wanted to stay with "classroom teaching" and a bunch of us wanted to move to more "hands on education". AZHS merged with Watershed Management Group in Tucson in 2011 to form their Phoenix branch. I am now active with Watershed Management Group's Green Living Co-op and will be hosting a workshop here on Nov. 9th to install a "Laundry to Landscape" and a "Kitchen Redirect" greywater project.

You can read about my property here: http://permaculturenews.org/2013/03/20/working-with-what-youve-got-how-losing-my-vision-gave-me-perspective/

Things just tend to come full circle, don't they!

 
Wayne Mackenzie
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Very cool! I'm new to all of this, so please excuse my ignorance when it comes to the history of the movement. I've read several of your posts & must admit I have a lot of learning to do since so much of it flew right over my head.
I wish I had more to offer to this thread, but Jujube trees really should get more of a look. My fellow coworkers used to look at me funny when I told them about my trees, so I took some Shanxi Li fruit to work last week. After eating a couple, they really liked them.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Wayne - please don't worry about the history of all of this - the critical thing is that we all move forward with our education in the way that suits us. Every day is a new learning experience - especially in the desert!

I am MOST impressed with your jujube success and love that you took them to work and people loved them. Good food is a great way to change minds.

Keep posting here - I see very few of the folks from the VPA here - probably because that site is such a huge resource already. (I also probably wouldn't recognize most of the new folks - I've been out of that loop for awhile).
 
richard valley
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Greetings. Sounds good. Little by little. at the lower place all graywater is used. Catchments dug where water runs during infrequent rains and melting snow. The ground has a lot of clay and holds moisture. Haven't filled the catchments with rocks yet, they need fenced too so what grows there won't be eaten by rabbits, horses or kangaroo rats. Catching the rain sounds good also haven't done that. Russian Olive will find it's own water once it's large enough, we have a couple that we don't have to water and have planted more. If you live in an area that has wild horses, beautiful to look at but you have to fence them out or they'll eat everything you have including the trees. Rabbits and rodents you can live with them if you're not living with them. Snakes beautiful, they eat rats, they'll also eat your eggs and chicks. The girls used to take them way out and drop them off far from home but one large snake frightened wifey in the hen house and was taken out with a shovel. For mice in the house bate works well but if used outside birds or dogs could get the bate or dead mouse. One fellow says: when he finds a snake he throws it under the house for mice.

Well, Wear a hat, drink a lot of water, walk slow and keep your boch to the wind.

Richard

Jennifer, Just looked at your place, well done.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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@Richard - thanks for the comment!

Adding a few more here (for HOT deserts):
--in the hot deserts, plan for shade. According to geoff lawton, hot deserts need 25% shade on the east side (for low sun), 50% shade canopy over everything and 75% on the west side for the super hot setting sun. Annual veggies will grow under this shade very nicely. The term "full sun" on seed packages never met Phoenix's "full sun" - LOL.
--plant in ratios of 75% hardy native species (with lots of legumes mixed in) and 25% food species. The natives will help moderate the climate for the more tender edibles.
--trellised vines are our friends!
--if you can, run thorny branches through a chipper - it still doesn't take care of ALL the thorns, but it takes care of a lot of them.
--solar chimneys are a boon in our climate.

 
Wayne Mackenzie
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote: if you can, run thorny branches through a chipper - it still doesn't take care of ALL the thorns, but it takes care of a lot of them.



My next investment is going to be a 8 - 10 HP chipper. I don't want to buy any more mulch.
 
Alan Smithe
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Hi everyone:

If you have ever lived in a desert, you know that our dry climate and temperature extremes can be challenging. Not all permaculture standbys work for all climates. A really telling example of this is the Herb Spiral. Herb spirals are a poor choice for dry climates because anything raised is going to dry out more quickly. If you combine dry with HOT - it gets even worse. You've exposed your plants to a super-heated, super-dry microclimate.

So, desert permies, if you had ONE PIECE of advice to give someone new to desert permaculture, what would it be?


Two factors need to be accounted for: Shade and Water Preservation. I live in the Mojave Desert and when I went to Austin for a month I had some of my gardener friends check on my garden and make sure the watering system stayed working and when I got back I was bombarded with "How in the heck did you get tomatoes to produce like that in 119 degree heat?!" They may be full sun plants in their normal environment but their shade plants in the Mojave Desert. Then I allow sweet potatoes to cover the ENTIRE ground to help prevent moisture from evaporating. No nursery or gardener around here have ever heard of sweet potato plants for eating, just as a landscape (non-edible) plant. I had to drive to Los Angeles to get an organic sweet potato to grow slips from. The nice thing about here is the LONG growing season, I'm still mass producing tomatoes.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Alan Smithe wrote:Two factors need to be accounted for: Shade and Water Preservation. I live in the Mojave Desert and when I went to Austin for a month I had some of my gardener friends check on my garden and make sure the watering system stayed working and when I got back I was bombarded with "How in the heck did you get tomatoes to produce like that in 119 degree heat?!" They may be full sun plants in their normal environment but their shade plants in the Mojave Desert. Then I allow sweet potatoes to cover the ENTIRE ground to help prevent moisture from evaporating. No nursery or gardener around here have ever heard of sweet potato plants for eating, just as a landscape (non-edible) plant. I had to drive to Los Angeles to get an organic sweet potato to grow slips from. The nice thing about here is the LONG growing season, I'm still mass producing tomatoes.


Oh absolutely! I'm inspired that your tomatoes are still kicking. I usually remove mine in Sept (they look terrible) and prep and plant for snow peas - which I have in a super abundance from late Jan to May when the tomatoes go in again.

People really don't get the "full sun" means "under 50% shade cloth or trees" in hot arid climates. "Full sun" - that's only for the native species.

And I agree with you about the sweet potatoes - excellent groundcover. Although once I got a package of supposedly "delicate squash" from Seeds of Change. I don't know what they were but delicate they were NOT. Just two plants took over my entire front yard, crossed over the front fence, got into the sidewalk garden and I kept having to prune them back so they wouldn't reach the nature strip on the other side of the sidewalk. They also produced these huge green pumpkins in the driveway, on top of my gate arbor....everywhere. Here are a couple of pics. As they got larger, I started to wonder if I should venture out amongst the plants.... They were a little too vigorous.
monster-squash-102108-002.JPG
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View of monster squash from indoor safety
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Monster squash jumps the fence, heads for street
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Monster squash home security system waits to pounce
 
Erica Wisner
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So far I have learned not to expect anything to work the way "they" say it does .... or should ... unless "they" have a lot of experience in this particular climate.

Data points for this:
- neighbor who's been gardening here 10 years or so, swears that mulch "stops the water from getting to the plants" (it does, if you sprinkle-water daily instead of deep-watering or using that wicking-bed thing.
Can you make one of those with stone instead of plastic? Maybe even on bedrock?)

- same neighbors like potatoes, carrots, etc. bermed into loose soil for easy harvest. Requires raising the beds a bit, for easiest access, which means more water needed all summer. Turns out mulched potatoes grow right under the mulch layer, even easier to harvest. Must try other root vegetables the same way. Must find more sources of mulch.

- hugel beds: friend who's been here advocates building them very big and tall, and of course the top 2/3 gets parched. After asking why not bury the logs deeper (and trying it in one location), I finally pinned him down on "burying the logs sounds like work." And raising all that earth up to a useless elevation isn't?
My buried logs got set up later, didn't produce as well, but I will be trying further variations this year. Keeping the original bed for now; may even try the super-tall variety that I've seen work elsewhere, just once, just to see if that does in fact alleviate the parched sides and top. Seems unlikely.
Also, straight piles of logs next to a lot of edible green stuff is like PERFECT habitat for some little burrowing guy who really loves beans. All of them. Except he loves tomatoes EVEN BETTER. I tried plugging the holes with tasty weeds; no dice. Maybe next year I'll plant catnip, and see if the cats do less damage while high than this guy does sober.

- a visiting permie who has lived in this area for years declared that it looked like the whole project would benefit from more frequent watering. I agree. Except I'm not always home to do the watering, which is why I'm trying to learn about water-conserving and storage techniques.

- soil salting: Having read up on the rise and fall of Mesopotamia and such-like stories, I worried about using mineralized well water causing soil salting. There are some alkaline lakes up on the next ridge over, and our well water turns grape juice blue (at least at ratios of under a teaspoon juice in a cup of water).
A couple of friends say they know people who have irrigated drylands for 30 years or more without noticing any soil salting. Not sure that really addresses my overall concern, but it's nice to know it may not be a catastrophe. If we don't find a way to establish fertile perennial plantings that don't take irrigation, WITH the option of regular irrigation for start-up, there may not be people up here trying to grow anything 30 years from now. Will be doing water catchment as resources and local laws allow.

- chopped mulch and straw/hay: blows away. Lasagna compost dries without rotting. Working on more whole-plant mulching, less chopping, so that there's a fiber layer to protect chopped bits underneath.

- amen to "full sun" is for natives. That designation was dreamed up in climates where they have clouds. The shady side of the hugel did way better than the sunny side.

- I did 'heat collectors' for the tomatoes on the sunny side, trying to get an earlier start and a later harvest. They didn't wither up and die in the full heat, but neither did they particularly thrive.

- the best resource has been a local organic farmer down in the valley, helping out and watching what he does - and getting to eat some of it, lovely.
But there's a lot of drip irrigation under plastic involved. I want something with fewer plastic parts if possible, more trying to see just how much 'permanent' fecundity I can encourage.

Still struggling with:
- steps to 'rescue' a pond that has been disturbed, and now holds a fraction of its planned water

- getting tree plantings to grow; timing, watering, deer protection, and sourcing appropriate starts.
I'm using a rooting method I learned elsewhere of placing willow shoots in a bucket of water, and once they root, using that water to encourage bud-wood from other trees or herbs to also root. Works sometimes. Rooting hormone might be better. But I'm stuck getting the rooted willows to actually 'take' in the pond. On the wet side of the Cascades, willow logs are still sprouting leaves 3 years after you cut and stack them for firewood. Here they turn into sticks with their roots still in the water / wet mud. Don't know what I need to do differently - maybe just select cuttings from ponds at similar elevation, instead of valley ponds and upland streams?

- finding crops that don't bolt, or wither, or require daily watering, that I consistently enjoy eating and putting up

- finding edibles that thrive on the actual rain cycle here. native plants seem like the best bet, but I don't know a lot of them yet, and the ones I know grow differently (mostly short and browsed by deer).
I suspect the local natives didn't spend 365 days a year at any particular elevation or location; native foods are pretty seasonal in this climate.

I'm at 3000 feet in inland Washington, technically more arid basin-and-range than strict desert:
The valley gets average 11 inches precipitation per year, we may have more up on the wooded hills due to cloud capture (or it could just be our snow-melt comes later and it stays a bit cooler).
But I'm coming from about 2 meters of rain per year in western coastal climate, so it's a pretty steep learning curve to handle arid + mountain cold.

-erica
 
Ardilla Esch
Posts: 223
Location: Northern New Mexico, Zone 5b
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A lot of good advice so far... I will just add:

Protect your plantings from gnawing critters. When you first start your oasis in the desert, the rodents will go crazy eating the new plants. They will eat plants the books say are repellent to rodents. Apparently they don't read the books/catalogs...
 
Travis Krause
Posts: 26
Location: D'Hanis, Texas
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Ardilla Esch wrote:A lot of good advice so far... I will just add:

Protect your plantings from gnawing critters. When you first start your oasis in the desert, the rodents will go crazy eating the new plants. They will eat plants the books say are repellent to rodents. Apparently they don't read the books/catalogs...


Live in a dry climate as well in Southwestern Texas. About 20 inch average, but past 6 years average has been more like 15. Check out plantra.com

We have been using their tree tubes for a variety of plantings. Extremely effective for protecting from browsers and the gnawing sorts such as cotton rats, deer, cattle, etc… Also acts a a micro climate for seedling. A sort of mini greenhouse. Very successful for us. Species include: crabapple, mexican plum, chickasaw plum, wild pear, live oak, monterrey oak, mulberry, and guajillo.
 
Travis Krause
Posts: 26
Location: D'Hanis, Texas
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My one piece of advice: location, location, location. Read the land. Figure out where the water goes and does not. Focus your attention on where it goes. Swales, ponds, subsoiling, zai holes and more. Water is the number one limiting factor. Harvest the rain from your roofs. Don't think that a peach tree will grow in the middle of a flat, windy, dry desert. Perhaps on the edge where water flows off of a slope. Visit a desert. Learn where plants grow and where they don't. Focus your effort and investments on a place where your success rate is more likely.

 
Neal Spackman
Posts: 103
Location: Makkah, Saudi Arabia
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My advice would be:

Know what your mineral and water cycles look like. That should be the thing you aim for with your observation.

 
Adam Old
Posts: 18
Location: Miami, FL - Zone 10b
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John Elliott wrote:if I was going to do permaculture and mycology, I had better go to a place that had good rainfall.

Not necessarily. I remember quite clearly a hike in the Arizona desert, and stopping to sit in the shade of a bush, and noticing that under every single shady bush there was a lone dried mushroom which had sprouted. The desert was literally teeming with fungi waiting for the rains to come.
 
shauna carr
Posts: 84
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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I'm still a bit of a newbie, but I grew up in a desert loving plants, and finally made my way back to one. This is what I've learned so far has been:
- collecting water is vital no matter what desert you are in

- plant down rather than planting up - recessed gardens rather than berms and raised beds.

- Aside from that, take the time to learn about your desert in particular, the weather, the insects, the critters, the soil. I grew up in one kind of desert, and I'm living in a different one now about 500 miles away, and while there are similarities, there are so many differences that very little of the gardening lessons learned in my youth can be utilized now, aside from the water harvesting kind. The timing of the rains, the temperature variations, the composition of the soil, how the local critters are involved in the growing process - quite different, and in deserts, it just seems to me that it is such an extreme environment that these details have a huge impact. Possibly more than they would in a less harsh environment, although that's just a layperson's opinion from a little bit of observation, not researched or anything.

- In my own personal opinion, learning about local edible plants and being flexible about what you choose to eat is of great use for desert permies. I have a number of trees in my yard right now: native legumes, native cactus, and one native hackberry bush. They all have edible components, if I go to the work of gathering them. In 9 years, without even doing rain harvesting and getting 12 inches of rain a year, I have never watered a single one of them and I still get food from them every year. I really believe that in such harsh environments, you get yield with much less effort and using much less water, by using native species adapted to the environment. Or basically - native species are the way to do as little work as possible and still get something from it. ^_^

- this is going to be totally a bit cheesy, and I am kind of cringing when I say this, but I'm putting it out there anyway: learn to love it. I think it goes right along with Mr. Phiri's quote, to 'look upon wherever they find themselves as home.' You HAVE to love your home, at least a little. When we talk about greening the desert, and I discuss this with others, there seems to be two ways to think about it. One seems to start with a dislike of the desert and trying to eliminate all the parts of the desert that make it what it IS. It reminds me of my mother, from Ireland, who struggled for decades to try and make her yard into a little piece of Ireland, and had to work constantly to try and keep it that way. It never worked, and she was never really happy with it. And then there's those who simply want to try and, I guess, make the desert flower and grow and bloom. They LIKE or can appreciate the desert. They want to take a little piece of the desert and make it the best DESERT that it can be, the oasis part of the desert, where plants that do well there are flourishing, because they're in the exactly right place and climate, with our help. I don't think someone can be completely happy with desert permaculture if they can't learn to, well, if not to love the desert, at least appreciate it.

aaand, on that somewhat fluffy note, I'm gonna stop. >_<
 
dj niels
Posts: 182
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Very interesting discussion, much food for thought. Unfortunately, in CO, and in Utah, I have been told, it is illegal to catch rainwater or use greywater. And it would be very hard here to find enough native crops to make a meal. A friend has shown us some weeds and bushes that might contribute salty seeds to season a stew, and I know there are serviceberries and Pinyon pines at higher elevations, but those are mostly now inside the National Monument, and off-limits to harvest.

At my location, the only"natives" I know about are things like sagebrush and rabbitbrush and a few kinds of wildflowers. We have patches of prickly pears, but they only grow about 4-5 inches high, are very thorny, and have never fruited, though I have seen a few flowers in a wetter than normal year. And of course, the deer, and pronghorns, and elk, and rabbits and voles and mice and sparrows, none of which we could live off of, either because of limited numbers and hunting laws, or they are too tiny to be worth the effort to catch and clean them. But the small ones sure make it a challenge to grow anything, especially the sparrows, which fly around this small town in a huge flock, wiping out anything they can find. I tried covercropping, and they just kept eating all the seeds before they could sprout.

I am learning to love the high desert, and see beauty in the landscape, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, etc, but it is a challenge to learn what is adapted and how to grow anything we can eat.

My "advice" is: keep trying. Try all the ideas that seem remotely possible, and keep adding organic matter and planting anything that might survive in your climate and soil. Observe what others have growing, and keep learning.

For example, I have seen, in nearby yards, wild roses, rhubarb, cherry and apple and apricot trees, Nanking cherries, sumac, strawberries and raspberries, lilacs, and clovers. I have added a few others, like Siberian pea shrub, and bush cherries, and Egyptian walking onions. By combining these and similar hardy plants, I have been able to create a Mini-food-forest in my yard that is starting to fill in and provide some shade and wind protection, leaves for mulch, and even some food. But it takes time to observe and study and prepare the ground, and get plants established, etc. And, it takes a lot of space, and mulch, and compost, etc, to really be able to grow more than just enough food for occasional snacks or seasoning.

I have also learned, from Caleb Warnock, author of Backyard Winter Gardening, to use low framed beds (using 2x4s or 2x6 boards) with cold frame covers, to grow food outside my growing season, which is barely 90-100 days from killing frost in June to 1st frost in Sep. So, I know if I want to eat all year, I have to use a combination of methods.

But the most important piece of advice is Never Give Up. Even when it is hard, if we keep learning, we can help ourselves and others around us if times get even harder.
 
Andrew Jackman
Posts: 28
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
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dj niels wrote:Unfortunately, in CO, and in Utah, I have been told, it is illegal to catch rainwater or use greywater.


It's not illegal, it just requires registration: Utah Rainwater Harvesting Registration. You're limited to 2500 gallons and you can't take it off your property. Combined with hugelkultur, swales, and ground cover, you're doing pretty darn well.

Can you point me to any references that discuss the legality of greywater use?

Thank you.

 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Can you point me to any references that discuss the legality of greywater use?

Here are the Utah regulations (as of Oct. 1, 2014):
http://www.rules.utah.gov/publicat/code/r317/r317-401.htm


 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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For other states, these 2 links should provide either the info you are seeking, and/or links to your government's actual regulations:

This is an overview of the dozen states that actually have laws regarding rainwater harvesting, and provides links to the regs:
Rainwater Harvesting

Here are many pages of info regarding grey water.
Rather than digging through all of the pages, go to the top search box, and enter Gray water, and your state's name.
This will give you a listing of the information pertinent to your state.
Greywater

Be forewarned: some states are very forward in their thinking (Arizona), and others are quite archaic (Utah).
 
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