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Geoff Lawton's "From Desert to Oasis in 4 Years!" now live  RSS feed

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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See the FULL VERSION of this inspirational project. (you must sign in using your email address)

Here's the short version:

 
paul wheaton
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For the first half: Wow! This has to be the most serious example of permaculture ever!

And then I saw the drip irrigation. Damn. I see row crops. Damn again. Is that plastic mulch?

I feel better when Geoff says "where is the water for establishment?" I think it is fair that in such extreme conditions you need to get the materials built up to make your start. So you might baby the system for five years with the design that in five years all baby-ing will stop.

If nothing else, I think that this video does have some really profound elements!


 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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As a desert dweller myself, I can tell you that there are "extra measures" one has to take in these extreme climates to get things started. In the hot desert, our limiting factors are low water, extremely high evaporation, high temps for long, long periods, intense sunlight and poor soil conditions. Supplemental water helps fast track ecosystem repair and establishment of food forests. So, in some cases, does plastic as it is necessary to hold extremely valuable and limited water resources within a certain area so annual crops can be grown without waste.

I've had some discussions with Geoff about his arid projects because Phoenix needs/uses similar measures. The idea is that a perched aquifer will form in about 5-7 years while the ecosystem reestablishes. Note that this is a "worst case scenario" site - most sites can be rehydrated in 3-5 years or less using water harvesting techniques. Once the native legumes are established and there is soil building and water retention in the land, you can start to remove the irrigation and plastic. Also know that this is a far better use of resources than what they WERE doing.

This is one of the sites I hope to visit in Oct/Nov of this year to document while I'm in Jordan interning on Geoff's "Greening the Desert - the Sequel" site. Because of physical limitations, I'll be the "documenter" of that project and associated projects. I'm looking forward to digging into these sites in more detail!
 
Michael Cox
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Yes, I'm glad he came clean on how the system was setup. It could have been presented in a quite misleading way to have people think that such a system could be established without such a big initial import of water.

Also, he doesn't discuss it in the video, but I supect that those swales are intended to harvest water that falls on land outside of the property and concentrate it in the food forest. Concentration of available water makes sense, but does suggest that there would be limits to expanding beyond a limited area.

Never-the-less this is quite impressive.
 
paul wheaton
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Diego Footer
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My latest podcast is out today with Geoff and he touches on some dryland strategies. And gives a pretty good take on where permaculture is today, what isn't permaculture, what's happening in permaculture, and more. There are some parts where he gets pretty fired up about what he is talking about.

You can listen HERE.
 
Diego Footer
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paul wheaton wrote: I see row crops. Damn again.



I think row crops in these types of systems allow these systems to scale. To mechanically seed and harvest. A la Mark Shepard. It's just the most efficient way to actually grow and harvest bulk crops on massive acreage.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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@Michael: I've lived in deserts both in the USA and in Africa - this project is impressive no matter HOW you look at it. It is a well-known desert technique to reuse water wherever you find it. Truly, without experiencing it, it's hard to understand just how hot and dry these locations are and just how incredible this outcome is.

@Paul: Berms in deserts tend to expose more soil area to evaporation and shed water more quickly. The dryland practice is to shelter more surface area by planting inside swales or infiltration basins. Just by digging down about 12-24 inches, you provide a micro climate that protects seedlings from wind, collects nutrient drop, harvests water and retains it, builds soil (nutrient + water) and uses the surrounding soil as thermal mass to keep roots cooler.

In this video, Geoff does show crops being grown on small "berms" (wide rows) with irrigation swales/paths between. I believe this was a compromise between Geoff's original plan and what the property owners did when implementing that plan.
 
Diego Footer
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:As a desert dweller myself, I can tell you that there are "extra measures" one has to take in these extreme climates to get things started. In the hot desert, our limiting factors are low water, extremely high evaporation, high temps for long, long periods, intense sunlight and poor soil conditions. Supplemental water helps fast track ecosystem repair and establishment of food forests. So, in some cases, does plastic as it is necessary to hold extremely valuable and limited water resources in a within a certain area so annual crops can be grown without waste.


Great point. I would agree. We are fairly arid here, although not Wadi Rum. And its very hard to get a system started without supplemental irrigation. I have seen massive plant losses due to failure to irrigate early on. It is just one of those trade offs - no irrigation and you risk high plant losses and very low establishment rate or you irrigate and have less plant losses, higher establishment rate, which then moves the system along faster because you start building soil organic matter faster, get shade, get mulch, get wind buffering. I wouldn't even attempt it without irrigation, it just isn't a challenge that I would want to take on. I look at it as let's use the technology and resources we have available now to get a system in place that is more resilient and regenerative for years to come, so it becomes a more efficient and lower user of those resources later on.
 
Julia Winter
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I think the row crops are for the comfort level of the people who live there and will care for the entire planting. This isn't a sepp holzer style fiefdom, this is a design for a land owner who maybe isn't completely open to full-on polyculture. More than half the land is in forest style plantings, and that is polyculture, albeit polyculture in rows.

I like the sturdy grape arbors over the swale--as the grapes get more substantial they will cast more and more shade over that moist place.

If I were going to use woody material to store water in a super hot desert like that, I'd probably bury the material deeply and plan on adding more and more organic material as it settles. Big berms could serve to buffer winds, but perhaps the equipment for their construction was not easily available or affordable in this location. Summer heat over 50 degrees centigrade?!? That's 122 degrees Fahrenheit!

This ex-Wisconsinite now PNW'r can't fathom such heat. (Actually, growing up near St. Louis we'd have days that stayed over 100 and got up to 115, but that's as much as I can recall, and it was horribly humid at those times in the Mississippi river basin.)
 
Enrique Garcia
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Yes, Paul as Jennifer said it is real dry & hot so sunken beds (rather than exposed berms ) are a method i will be employing here in Las Vegas as is the local Permie group here with great success .. geoff lawton himself said how much this method prevents evaporation

Also, to add to what Jennifer said .... wind & frost are bigger enemies here than the hot sun ... with no trees to stop the wind it kills more plants than the sun i feel as there methods you can employ to mitigate the sun ... & frost many people don't know is pretty severe in desert climates ...

And yes, water/irrigation in the beginning is absolutely necessary to build up a system in the desert but i agree once it is mature you can lessen & those are my aspirations here as well ... but you gotta start from somewhere

@Jennifer - What would you think about HugelKulture in a desert environment in between Sunken beds ? Would the advantage of these retaining more water & high quality soil be worth it in a place like Las Vegas ? We are going to have the earth raise in between the sunken beds .. may as well use Hugel Kulture in between there ?
 
Diego Footer
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@Enrique For what it is worth. I have something similar to what you are suggesting and the problem I am running into is that the wood in the hugelkultur isn't rotting. It just isn't wet enough. I think if you had the wood it might be worth experimenting with, but I wouldn't go out of my way to acquire wood to use. In retrospect I would have left the wood out and gone with faster decomposting organic matter - manure, compost, etc.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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@Enrique - I have to admit, I have not tried traditional hugels here in Phoenix mostly because of the above reasons (increasing surface area to HOT sun, desiccating winds) and the fact that anything raised just dries out super fast.

I HAVE tried a modification of hugels when I've excavated for sunken beds, I've taken out additional soil and thrown in some of my prunings from the mesquites, palo breas, palo verdes and acacias - all nitrogen fixers. I've made sure to water them well before putting other stuff in the hole like waste from the farmers market, chicken manure, etc. That technique seems to have worked well and those beds seem to not need as much irrigation. So for example, I may dig a 3 ft deep hole, fill about 18" with hugel-ly type materials then backfill with native soil mixed with compost in about a 3:1 ratio. Woody materials can sometimes over-leach our soils of nitrogen so I did experience some yellowing leaves the first year and I added more nitrogen sources (coffee grounds from local Starbucks - this made my yard a fave for "sniffing" as people walked by!) Note on coffee grounds, they must be worked into the soil as opposed to laying on top as they can "lock together" and seal the surface dirt if you're not careful.

Other than the nitrogen yellowing, I've seen some "sinkage" as the wood rots down. However, because the beds are sunken and they naturally attract nutrients being blown in (dust, leaves, feathers, urban paper trash) the soil is much higher in organic matter than surrounding, flat areas and are building their own soil! Score one for sunken beds and "no work" soil building.

@Diego - it's pretty interesting how long it takes stuff to break down with such low water inputs, low humidity and hot, desiccating winds. Mummification is far more likely than decomposition!
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Enrique Garcia wrote:Also, to add to what Jennifer said .... wind & frost are bigger enemies here than the hot sun ... with no trees to stop the wind it kills more plants than the sun i feel as there methods you can employ to mitigate the sun ... & frost many people don't know is pretty severe in desert climates ...


Enrique - you have your work cut out for you in Las Vegas! Truly.

Sometime you might be interested in taking Watershed Management Group's Water Harvesting Certification (WHC). Brad Lancaster is one of their teachers as well as several other talented folks. People come from all over the world to learn water harvesting techniques from them. If you get enough people interested, you could maybe get them to bring their program to Las Vegas. I know they've taught here in Phoenix a few times, Santa Barbara CA and this year they're doing a WHC in Albuquerque, NM. I'll actually be attending their March WHC in Tucson - I've been waiting a long time for the opportunity to attend!
 
Enrique Garcia
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:
Enrique Garcia wrote:Also, to add to what Jennifer said .... wind & frost are bigger enemies here than the hot sun ... with no trees to stop the wind it kills more plants than the sun i feel as there methods you can employ to mitigate the sun ... & frost many people don't know is pretty severe in desert climates ...


Enrique - you have your work cut out for you in Las Vegas! Truly.

Sometime you might be interested in taking Watershed Management Group's Water Harvesting Certification (WHC). Brad Lancaster is one of their teachers as well as several other talented folks. People come from all over the world to learn water harvesting techniques from them. If you get enough people interested, you could maybe get them to bring their program to Las Vegas. I know they've taught here in Phoenix a few times, Santa Barbara CA and this year they're doing a WHC in Albuquerque, NM. I'll actually be attending their March WHC in Tucson - I've been waiting a long time for the opportunity to attend!


Jennifer - I have met Brad Lancaster. The local Permaculture group brought him out here last year .. amazing guy !! We are hopeful to start a book group to study his books .. but we are busy with other projects here at the moment .. not sure about the WHC tho .. that might be more intense but I'd love to do it !! Lemme know what you think about it
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Enrique Garcia wrote:Jennifer - I have met Brad Lancaster. The local Permaculture group brought him out here last year .. amazing guy !! We are hopeful to start a book group to study his books .. but we are busy with other projects here at the moment .. not sure about the WHC tho .. that might be more intense but I'd love to do it !! Lemme know what you think about it


Yeah - Brad's a good guy.

I hear you about being busy - now's the season for us hot desert types to get stuff done before HEAT of summer.

I'll keep you posted on the class. I'm thinking of posting some pictures here on permies.com while I'm taking the course.
 
Cj Sloane
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paul wheaton wrote:I was hoping to see berms. Lots and lots of berms.


I don't know anything about this project in the desert, but there are berms and swales:
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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That's Neal Speckman's project in Saudi Arabia - it is AWESOME.

Yes, there are berms and swales. Many times in drylands one plants right in the swales as opposed to on the berms, simply because the swales are a wetter microclimate than the berms. The berms are retained for really serious xeric plants because after the first flush of water from the swales, berms are just more exposed surface where evaporation can take place.

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