Forgive my ignorance on the subject, but is there some book, webpages, videos that will tell me step by step how to begin greening the desert? I have always found value in every kind of ecosystem, whether it be the lushness of the western Sierra or the hidden beauty of the Mojave. As mentioned before, I am shopping for land now. I am planning on using greenhouses and hydroponics to grow food, so that I can minimize the water needed, as well as to minimize the need for storage equipment and facilities. I am more concerned about soil conditions for the sake of beauty, reducing dust, and show casing the beauty of nature. I also plan on raising fish, but the troughs they will be raised in will be sealed and will have minimal evaporation. It might take a truckload or two of water to get things set up, but maintaining will be relatively easy.
I vaguely recall in high school biology seeing a chart, that had a continuum of plants - on the left end were plants that would grow almost anywhere, in almost any conditions with little to no help. On the right end were plants and trees that almost needed a miracle to survive in even ideal climates. The article that I read was saying that when reclaiming land, the goal was to start with plants that were on the land right now and then gradually add more and more plants, moving to the right on the continuum by doing crop rotation, water conservation, soil improvement, etc. Does that sound right?
It sounds like your interested in specific techniques. Is that right? Your second paragraph does touch on one of the most basic techniques--using pioneer species to improve land and reduce evaporation as well as increasing mulch material.
Also, if you're shopping for land now, remember the starting point is observation. I observed my land for nearly a year before beginning to shape it--gently and slowly.
I don't know that there is a definitive document/book/website step-by-step regreening of the desert although there is hopes to create such a resource soon!
I teach in just a few minutes so I'm hoping folks can jump in here with resources they know of and I'll come back to add more later.
The primary thing to understand is your climate and what kind of desert you're looking at. For example, our biggest challenges in Phoenix are excessively high heat, low rainfall, high, high evaporation, alkaline soil (common to most deserts), low organic matter in soils (also common in deserts). Enhancing the watershed through water harvesting methods is critical. Appropriate trees to build soil and provide shade - also critical - especially legumes to build soil. Buffering the effects of high heat and high evaporation by building into the soil instead of above it is also a good strategy. For example, sunken beds over raised beds, walipinis over greenhouses. You pretty much have to address your limitations and seek to moderate them before your system can start taking care of itself. Supplemental watering will be necessary for most desert trees during the establishment phase (and possibly long after for more water-thirsty plants).
Subtropical desert (Köppen: BWh)
Elevation: 1090 ft Annual rainfall: 7"
The principle behind greening the desert is very simple; You need to manipulate your water such that evaporation < precipitation. If you do that, your desert will stop being a desert. How you do it will depend entirely on your site.
Yeah, Neal. I've heard it posited that bringing a volume of trees or other substantial foliage into drylands can actually attract precipitous weather systems to that area, and I would love to see some solid examples of that! It just seems it would be especially difficult to influence weather patterns in that way if there are substantial mountains blocking the would be rain clouds from entering (...Phoenix for example...), unless the moisture was brought in and contained in some other way.