Hey guys I'm way new to all this so hang with me... I live in the California high desert (ridgecrest) very hot in summer very cold in winter... I have 2.5 acres (rectangular in shape) on a slight east facing slope... Can I use swales running noth/south... Honestly I have no clue how to do this... Would a pond work... What should i plant... I will take any and all advise... Also I'm on a very small budget but willing to put a lot of manual labor into it...
Regardless of compass directions, the first thing to do is to lay out your swales on contour, so that any and all rain that falls on your site is caught and made to soak in. Place enough swales so that even your hardest rain event will be mostly caught on site. Also notice if any dips or ditches are likely to bring runoff from off your site onto it....these create another opportunity to slow or stop that water and make it soak in. Do all of this first on a map, and then, working around and with the movement of water around the site, lay out your house site, driveway, and so on, if they aren't already in place. If they are in place, remember that the impervious surfaces of your roof and any pavements are also water catchments producing runoff that needs to be captured.
One thing I always mention in permaculture workshops and PDC's that is germane to your case is be sure to take the opportunity whenever it comes to put on your rain gear and get out and carefully walk your site in a heavy, runoff-producing rain. You can then SEE how water moves across the site and learn many lessons that are immediately obvious. This is way more intuitive than all the mapping and contouring!
The first question should be "what do you want to grow?" because that will partly determine how much of a swale you need to put in. Are you interested in pistachio nuts? They are quite suitable for the high desert, and you could either have one long swale with pistachio trees in a row, or you could make individual catchments for each of them if you wanted to space them out.
Trees like pistachio, almond, mesquite, palo verde, and pomegranate are already fairly drought tolerant, so it will take less of a water catchment to make them thrive than it will for things like stone fruits and apples or pears. Do you want to try some citrus trees? They are possible in your area, if you give them some winter protection. Mulberry is another good desert tree, the fruits are tasty if you can get to them before the birds do, and the leaves are good fodder for animals.
Unless you are right on a seasonal watercourse, I'm not sure a pond would be a good idea. With the high rates of evaporation and the sodic soils in the area, you don't want to be creating an alkali lake bed where you intended to have a pond. How hard is your ground/city/well water? Your local water utility should be able to give you that information.
Thank you for the input... Keep 'em comin... I would love as much variety in fruit as possible.. I will deffinately be putting in some pomegranates... I am on a shared well with fifteen other properties. I will look into water hardness... The last evaluation I got said the water was high in uranium... I don't like the sound of that, but how bad is that for irrigation?
I would recommend patience first. Start small and continue to work at it. Start collecting water at the top and work your way down. Get to know the land, where the cold spots are, where the water erodes, where the moisture might be. You probably already thought of this. Thus, I would recommend the book Harvesting Rainwater for Drylands and Beyond Vol 1 & 2. Great information for modifying the land for retention of water.
kody nielsen wrote:The last evaluation I got said the water was high in uranium... I don't like the sound of that, but how bad is that for irrigation?
Yea, there's all sorts of exotic metals that get mined in the Ridgecrest area. To cut down on the possibility of those getting into the food chain, you should be adding biochar and chelating agents like urine to your soil. If you do that, you shouldn't have to worry about your irrigation water.
Also, im looking into food forests. Im thinking to ease the price I would just start with support trees to get some actual soil on the property. Is this ok to do, and then bring in edible trees? What kind of support trees would be best in this environment?
You can bring in fruit trees right away. One of the nice things about the high desert soils is that they are fairly fertile -- all they are missing is water. If you look at any of the housing developments that spring up in places like Victorville or Las Vegas all the way over to Albuquerque, you see that when properly watered, fruit trees thrive. People move into their new house, stick a tree in the ground, and as long as it gets watered, it's happy. I had a mulberry tree in Las Vegas that had found the underlying aquifer, and it needed no additional watering, even in the scant 4" of precip that Las Vegas gets. I've noticed that olive trees have no problem in Las Vegas and Barstow, when they get adequately watered. But olives are shallow rooted and can't find that aquifer, so when their watering is interrupted, they shrivel up and die.
If you build your swales and add biochar and mulch your trees well, they should take off this spring. What you can also be doing now is going out and taking cuttings of fruit trees and rooting them in a protected area. If you don't have a greenhouse, just put them next to a south-facing wall and baby them a little for the rest of the winter.
Another suggestion would be to plant some prickly pear cactus. Rather than collect wild specimens, you might want to go to a Hispanic market and get your cladodes (planting pieces) there. At least then you will be getting a variety that other people deem both edible and tasty. Prickly pear cactus probably won't need any sort of swale or water catchment, it's the kind of plant that will survive on the natural rainfall, and if you are kind enough to give it a drink once a month, you'll probably be rewarded with a bumper crop.
Or we might never have existed at all. Freaky. So we should cherish everything. Even this tiny ad: