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polycultures for semi arid?

 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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I've got 10 acres in Northern Mexico. Our land is very hilly, and we get about 20-25 inches of rain a year, most of it coming in July-September, so we have a long dry season.

What are some good species to develop a sustainable polyculture here?

I am thinking mesquites, acacia, prickly pear, oaks, juniper, pinon pine, wild grapes, as those are all local.  Figs, mulberry, eucalyptus, poplar, honey locust, persimmon, pomegranate are others that folks grow around here that could be added.

For shrubs, there are not many wild options,, but I am sure manzanita, jojoba, elderberry, currant, hackberry, squawberry, and wolfberry would be decent options.

Any other ideas?  I need to get some swales going, but it is proving to be a project that will require quite a bit of dirtwork, which means money.  Any cheap ways to do swales?

If you have any resources for examples of desert polycutures, I would be interested to know about them.

Thanks!
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Before adding shrubs and trees, make sure you make a nice living mulch layer first. Grasses, herbs, medicinal, ornamental, everything. You need less evaporation on that soil. I live in temperate climate so this is not my problem. But still, where there is lack of meadow plants, places go desert like.

You got a lot of vegetation already or you are looking into a desert?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
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Location: Oakland, CA
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Lavender and zaatar might be useful in places.

For a Latin-American take on Fukuoka's methods, it might be possible to rotate amaranth and quinoa over a permanent groundcover of jicama.

I was wondering what sort of polycultures incorporated sesame, and found this, which might be interesting:

Polycultures in the Brazilian drylands
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Joel,

Thanks for that link.  I'll look into that.  We do have amaranth growing, though it only grows during the wet season, July-September.  I haven't had much luck with jicama here, though I'll continue trying and see what I can find.

Planki,
I have a lot of grass here, it is about chest deep.  No, I am not looking onto a desert, unless I look beyond my fence into the overgrazed areas of my neighbors.  I actually have quite a few oaks and junipers on the property already, and right now, they are acting like nurse trees. Vetch is pretty prevalent under them, as well as many other weeds and grasses.

The evaporation is not a huge factor here.  We rarely are above 90 degrees in the summer, winds are mostly in the spring, which is the dry season anyway (water already soaked in).  With my perennial grass cover, I have very little evaporation.

But, I want to start getting some more trees growing and start a polyculture going.  Kinda like a dryland forest garden.

Thanks for the comments!
 
Heda Ledus
Posts: 69
Location: San Francisco
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velacreations wrote:

But, I want to start getting some more trees growing and start a polyculture going.  Kinda like a dryland forest garden.

Thanks for the comments!


The one thing I don't understand about food forest books and the actual planning of them is the fact people don't take into account the need for spacing in different places.

Typically where I am the typical plant communities are Oak Savanna types with areas of Oak Woodland; at any case they are relatively wide-spaced I'm guessing because of the competition the plants put on each other for water and minerals.

An issue you might have could be the affects in the long run of densely planted trees, shrubs, herbs, ground covers, etc...  lowering the mineral content and/or water levels in a given area; also the increase of humus and mulches that could cause root and crown rotting to plants adapted to dryier places.

So limiting layers & spacing them out more might be an adaption to the food forest, orchard polycultures you see everywhere.

I was wondering whats your Sunset Zone and USDA Zone?
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Looks like you have a nice place. Cool. And thanks for some explanations, i learned a lot. Btw, do you cut the habitat down or are you letting it be natural?

Tropicdude, good point. Natural local areas are the best to learn from and see what is possible.

I was also into dense systems a while ago. But now, If there is enough land, i'm into planting, where plants have their own space. I just love those trees and shrubs that are given their own full space.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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I'm wondering what part of northern Mexico you are in?  I'm considering making a move to Texas at some point in the next few years (getting tired of cold winters, esp. with my daughter's health issues), and wonder if your area is close to the parts of Texas I've been looking at (the cheap-land areas, LOL!).

Kathleen
 
tel jetson
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sounds like fairly brittle conditions, the sort that Allan Savory and Holistic Management International cut their teeth on.  check out some of their literature if you can.
 
rose macaskie
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Plankl has asked if you have a lot of plants growing that you think of how good the soil is before planting trees maybe a good idea the first trees i planted hardly took though permaculture advises planting trees that fix nitrogen so overcomin gthat problem i suppose , the wuqestion makes this a good place to mention something that happened in my garden which is in a semi arid place.
        the entrance to the house an dgarden was always a sandy area where absolutley nothing or very little grewwi have a foto of the dog there.
gravel.jpg
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rose macaskie
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  My husband got the entrance to the garden and house it concreted with some slates stuck in the concrtete from off the roof and we left a strip bare which he put manure on so we could plant a hedge and an incredible amount of weeds started to grow there. It could not have been the water, he put in a drip and maybe having the ground next to it concreted could mean an increase in the amount of water availiable, as it i s hard for water to evaporate from the sand under the concrete. It had always been wet in winter and spring so that there swas more water does not explain the growth of weeds.
       It proves that bare land can be thre result of  a complete lack of nutrients. Here they over graze t bare the land for fear of fires and in the end there is no vegetation at all left and then the ground becomes barren.
       As there are  no plants left alive to produce organic matter that  creates nitrogen when it rots or to attract animals that fertilise the land, there can be no nutrientsin the ground then any seeds taht fall their wont grow.
  I put in the irishes i have wome an dthey reproduce really quickly it is easy to plant them everywhere. I mean tto put in this other foto. maybe it does not make much difference there are lots of weeds in both. maybe the direstion can take out one. i think there are more weeds in the first foto mallow plaitain maybe a sorrel and verbascum mullein or wht aloks to me like the leaves of this plant, a bought plant in England but here in Spain a wild flower, grass and a teasel. agri rose macaskie.
plants on drive 3.jpg
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weeds in drive.jpg
[Thumbnail for weeds in drive.jpg]
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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I am VERY familiar with Savory and the HMI stuff.  I hope to one day get a holistic plan developed here for our village.  Rotational grazing is wonderful, in theory, but in practice, it takes quite a bit of money and effort to do it right.  Traditionally, just letting cows overgraze is MUCH easier, so that is why it is difficult to transition.

I am in the western part of the state of Chihuahua. Our area is similar to Ft Davis, Texas.  Maybe also over east of Abilene, it is kinda like that land.

Where in Texas are you considering?  I used to live near Terlingua, where land is super cheap and VERY arid.

I let the habitat be as natural as possible, mostly to avoid any erosion issue.  I kinda just plant within the grass, and trim the grass at time to give my plantings a head start, and then I let things fend for themselves.

There are some VERY thick oak forests around here.  Generally, where grazing is kept to a minimum and humans haven't converted it to agriculture, it is thick forest, oaks, pines, junipers, etc. So that is what it used to be, even on my place.

I definitely want to give everything its space, and hopefully, I can get enough ground water stored up before things get too big to help with that.

I don't know my zone, I think I am 7-8.  The USDA zones don't really flow very well into Mexico.

My soil is a red clay loam.  Pretty decent soil, actually.  My gardens do wonderful here without much added.  In places it is compacted a bit, but not severely.  It does hold water very well in the soil for a long time, and I think if I can cut the erosion down to just about nothing, I should be able to grow a wide array of plants, from semi-arid species to somewhat humid species.


 
Aljaz Plankl
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velacreations wrote:I let the habitat be as natural as possible, mostly to avoid any erosion issue.  I kinda just plant within the grass, and trim the grass at time to give my plantings a head start, and then I let things fend for themselves.


Beautiful! Have a good time!
 
Pat Maas
Posts: 194
Location: McIntosh, NM
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velacreations ,
    You get a fair bit more precipitation than I do here in central NM. Here we are rated at 12 inches a year. My records often have reflected 8 inches or less the last few years.
      In the hilly country you're now in sometimes have riparian areas tucked away in various places. Are you so fortunate to have one or more of these areas?
    Understanding what you have locally first is key. It will clue you in to what will work best there. Almonds should do well as should some of the low chill peaches for garden areas. Have you identified the oaks? Some of the native oaks in southern NM fall under the burr oak family and are low tannin-you may find that so in your area.
    Wolf berries- there are some native varieties found here in NM, so should be found in your area also, unless grazed off.
    On the swales, mine are done by hand. After watching for what precip does a while first. Generally speaking I have a lot of rock a few inches to a couple of feet down and use the material in mining that rock for my swales.  The rock is used for everything from herbal spirals to raised beds, terraces and check dams. Most of the work is done with a wheelbarrow, shovel and a steel bar sized for me/and its wood block for leverage.  Yes, it does take planning and time and is done in the winter here.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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I was looking at the Terlingua Ranch area, and West Texas, but decided that water was too much of an issue.  East Texas is too humid, so if we do move there it will be somewhere in Central Texas, maybe the Hill Country.

I'll watch this thread and see what suggestions you are given, as I suspect your region has some similarities.

Kathleen
 
Pat Maas
Posts: 194
Location: McIntosh, NM
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Hi Kathleen,
    The hill country of Texas is beautiful. Have friends there and seeing the grass knee deep and the goats fat on it, keeps me a bit jealous, but then they have mosquitoes and here we don't!
      I've been in Chihuahua as an ag advisor and have spent some time in the area that was being discussed. One of the biggest issues there is the seasonality of the rains, not so much a problem as where you're suggesting. I would check with a local weather records keeper on rain history as it can change considerably from local to local in hill country.
    When I was in Chihuahua a few years back, saw little of water storage or even methods to "earth bank" it. There were rain gutters on the ranch owners homes, but the water was funneled away, not stored. Hope that has changed some. Saw some very sad sites there due to either lack of caring/awareness or education. Unfortunately I wasn't there for that, it was to teach ranch hands how to use a greenhouse.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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Pat Maas wrote:
Hi Kathleen,
    The hill country of Texas is beautiful. Have friends there and seeing the grass knee deep and the goats fat on it, keeps me a bit jealous, but then they have mosquitoes and here we don't!
      I've been in Chihuahua as an ag advisor and have spent some time in the area that was being discussed. One of the biggest issues there is the seasonality of the rains, not so much a problem as where you're suggesting. I would check with a local weather records keeper on rain history as it can change considerably from local to local in hill country.
     When I was in Chihuahua a few years back, saw little of water storage or even methods to "earth bank" it. There were rain gutters on the ranch owners homes, but the water was funneled away, not stored. Hope that has changed some. Saw some very sad sites there due to either lack of caring/awareness or education. Unfortunately I wasn't there for that, it was to teach ranch hands how to use a greenhouse.


If we do move there, I'll be raising goats (have 27 years of experience with the critters, might as well use it), so it's good to hear that they do well there.  I'm a little reluctant -- had decided to go back to Alaska when we are through here, and I don't like hot weather much.  But the cold is bothering me here (and it's not as severe as Alaska!), and my daughter has some health problems and can handle warm weather better than severe cold.  I just want someplace where trees grow!

Kathleen
 
Pat Maas
Posts: 194
Location: McIntosh, NM
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Lot of people with quality goats of many types in that part of Texas.  If you are into selling raw milk -Texas- last I knew wasn't exactly a friendly place, something you might want to check out if it applies to you.
 
rose macaskie
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Kathleen Saunderson,
    You talk about moving to texas or south america. In or near Elgin Texas is The Horse Boy Foundation, school for autists where they use horses and i think unautistic children mixed with the autistic ones to help autistic children. I have looked them up on the internet i have been following their progress since before the film was made and they don't seem to give as much information as they did before the film came out about how their son got better with a horse and later with a trip to Mongolia.
    They say they give you more information if you ask. The price of classes for autistic children or for those who would like to learn from them or study thier system is what seems right and within your power to pay. rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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  when i first joined these forums Paul Wheaton told me to plant cow peas and buck wheat. As he mentioned cows and bucks i was not sure if it was not a sexist joke of some sort, Was he calling me a cow? He has more reason to do so now he knows me better. I had no idea what he was talking about. As my garden is on top of a mountain it has more rainfall than one might expect in Spain. I have now found both plants or their seeeds and looked them up and apparently they are very dry place plants. So for pretty arid or arid, Paul Wheatons suggestion was cow peas that seem to be a sort of black eyed bean and buck wheat that is not a wheat at all and i expect to find in healthy food shops. When i have tried it i can give an oopinion . I am so bad at seeds that my experience wil not be worth having. agri rose macaskie.
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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The hill country is great, but land prices will not be cheap.  You might consider north/central texas, between Abilene and Dallas/Ft Worth. There is some beautiful country in there.  I used to live in Cisco and Breckenridge, Cisco being on the interstate. The scenery is great, land is reasonable, but the people leave something to be desired at times (very religious, very traditional, very niche-based)  But, there are pockets that are very nice.

I have grown cowpeas here with great success.  Buckwheat would probably do well here, too.

As far as oaks, there are lots here.  A lot of indigenous people here collect acorns from the Mexican Blue Oak, which are low in tannin, and they are a local commodity.  Also collected are pinon nuts, and they, too, are a commodity.

So, oaks and pines are definitely in my consideration for plants as they are both locally available, adapted to this environment, and provide nutritious food.
 
Pat Maas
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Location: McIntosh, NM
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velacreations,
    That's great the locals use the acorns and pinons. Here I have pinons, but they are too young to have cones yet. Doesn't stop me from planting more though! )
      If you haven't already, you may want to see if they will show you how they use the acorns. Local indigenous methods can be very useful for someone "homesteading".
    You are absolutely right about the pricing in central/south Texas hill country. Bargains can be found, but it helps if you have family or friends to help in the search for them.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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velacreations wrote:
The hill country is great, but land prices will not be cheap.  You might consider north/central texas, between Abilene and Dallas/Ft Worth. There is some beautiful country in there.  I used to live in Cisco and Breckenridge, Cisco being on the interstate. The scenery is great, land is reasonable, but the people leave something to be desired at times (very religious, very traditional, very niche-based)  But, there are pockets that are very nice.

I have grown cowpeas here with great success.  Buckwheat would probably do well here, too.

As far as oaks, there are lots here.  A lot of indigenous people here collect acorns from the Mexican Blue Oak, which are low in tannin, and they are a local commodity.  Also collected are pinon nuts, and they, too, are a commodity.

So, oaks and pines are definitely in my consideration for plants as they are both locally available, adapted to this environment, and provide nutritious food.


Thank you for the tip on where to look for land.  I'd been looking at real estate in the Hill Country and thought it was awfully high, so I'll take a peek at your suggestion.  The people will probably suit us fine -- I am religious and conservative, too, LOL!  Cringe sometimes here but I do have a strong interest in permaculture (it isn't the exclusive province of the left, LOL!). 

We've eaten acorns before, from the Oregon White Oak, and they were quite good. 

On the goats, my plan is to either raise meat goats and just keep enough dairy goats for our own use, or to stay with dairy goats and use the surplus milk to raise calves and/or pigs.  I'd like to have a couple of large donkeys, too, partly to help with the farm work, and partly because my daughter has wanted a donkey for a long time.  We've had horses, and I think a donkey would be better for her as they are usually calm, placid animals.  They'd be easier to keep on scrub land, too.

Kathleen
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Kathleen,

You should definitely consider north central Texas.  If you don't mind the conservative/religious views, you will have a lot of options there.

Yeah, I agree, permaculture is not just a leftist thing, and I hope to see more conservatives take it up.  Actually, we need it to be a "people" thing, not a political thing.

Donkeys are great.  Actually, near Terlingua, there are tons of wild donkeys in Big Bend State Park.  The park has to cull them to keep populations in check, but some locals catch them and tame them when they wander onto private land.  You can find donkeys just about anywhere in Texas, and they are usually very cheap (under $100), if you look around.

Pat, for the acorns and pinons, most folks just gather them and sell them.  They are kinda like a snack food, shell them and eat them.  There isn't much processing going on, and using them pretty much consists of putting them in your mouth.  I have hopes for some animal food from them as well as human food.  There are many more oaks that people don't harvest, but some of the indigenous in the mountains free range pigs in the oak and pine forests.  So, at least they are using some of them for that.
 
Pat Maas
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Location: McIntosh, NM
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It makes sense why they're not processing. They don't need to with the very low tannin. Those kind of acorns make good flour though.

The way I'm setting things up here is for pigs and other livestock to be able to forage fallen produce or nuts in addition to their pastures.It'll take me a few years (10-15)  but the animals will greatly benefit from the more natural diet. That will in turn reduce feed costs.

Feral pigs seem to be a constant in southern NM and Mexico and it makes sense they would stay close to the oak and pines. European traditions had pigs and poultry fattening on fallen nuts in forests and orchard leftovers.
 
Ben Van Der Kar
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Location: S. California Zone 10
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This post has been slumbering for a while but I just came across it and thought I'd chime in.
Firstly, I hope all is going well with establishing polycultures on your land Abe! I don't know how common frosts are in your area but I remember having read that citrus, guavas, lavender and aloe make a good guild. Lavender I'm sure because it is an insectory plant and the rest I reckon go well together because they have different root structures that allow them to co-exist without competing with one another. Can anyone else think of reasons as to why this would be a good guild? Hope this helps.

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Ben Van Der Kar wrote:This post has been slumbering for a while but I just came across it and thought I'd chime in.
Firstly, I hope all is going well with establishing polycultures on your land Abe! I don't know how common frosts are in your area but I remember having read that citrus, guavas, lavender and aloe make a good guild. Lavender I'm sure because it is an insectory plant and the rest I reckon go well together because they have different root structures that allow them to co-exist without competing with one another. Can anyone else think of reasons as to why this would be a good guild? Hope this helps.



Hi Ben and thanks for this post - it has made me think about that guild.

Here in Phoenix, I grow citrus with nasturtiums (winter crop), then black-eyed peas in the summer. Water is scarce here (7.5" with some years receiving only half that) and the heat is intense. I water everything only as much as it needs to survive and mulch heavily. In my case, I wouldn't grow lavender with citrus because it likes drier conditions. Aloes, too, can get overwatered and while most enjoy being under the shade of trees, if there are any reflective surfaces (my citrus form a hedge along a south-facing wall), aloes will burn. Now guavas I could see with citrus as their water needs are similar.

Thanks for provoking some thinking on my part - I guess I've come to the conclusion that even if similar plants will grow in various areas, they may or may not form sympatico guilds based on things we humans impose on them like water schedules and block walls.
 
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