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Reforestation - Growing trees in arid, barren lands - by Seeds and Clay cubes (no watering)  RSS feed

 
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Hi Kostas,

thanks for your updates, it is one of the highlights of the permies forum!

The planting pits (Zaï) increase the effectiveness of the rainfalls. In most soils and with most covers you have runoff.

Here a few examples of the runoff with different covers.

Land use description: Percentage runoff
Fallow, poor condition: 77 - 94%
Pasture or range, poor condition: 68 - 89%
Pasture or range, good condition: 39 - 80%
Meadow: 30 - 78%
Pavement and roofs: 100%
Woods or forest thin stand, poor cover: 45 - 83%
(Source 1)

Let's assume you have a "range in poor condition" with 75% runoff. It rains 21 mm. The first mm moistens the soil, and from the other 20 only 5 mm soak in. 75% of the rain leaves the range, taking soil with it while eroding the land.
Now you dig pits, (either by hand, with the Vallerani system, with a camel pitter...), spaced and shaped according to the local rainfall pattern. Around the pits you will still have 5 mm soaking in, but in the pits up to the debth of the pit will soak in! Thus having for example 400 mm of rain soaking in in one rain event. I checked on the samsamwater tool (2) for a random place in southern Greece, it gave me 750 mm of annual rainfall. If you have two or three rainfall events like the 21 mm event described above, you already have more water soaking into the pits than is falling on the whole area during the year.

This allows the establishement of trees not able to establish themselves in an area because of the lack of water for the critical first year(s).

About the Zaï pits: One of the ways they work in compacted soil is with the help of termites:
During the dry season compost/carbon/manure is added into the pits. Termites go there to gather it by digging tunnels into the compacted soil. When it rains, the water will soak in instead of running off.

See the attachements for a few examples with pits. You can also search for "chololo pits", "tassa", or "range pitting" in the Wocat database (3) or elsewhere, maybe some things are helpful. It is said that Yacouba Sawadogo reestablised forests in completely barren areas by digging Zaï pits for growing millet. He fertilized with manure, containing tree seeds. He left some of the trees grow...

Do you have Crataegus growing in your area? Because pears and apples can be grafted onto them...

Best
Hans

Sources
1) http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/swamp/docs/cwt/guidance/512.pdf
2) http://www.samsamwater.com/climate/
3) https://qt.wocat.net/
Filename: Compost-associated-with-planting-pits.pdf
File size: 198 Kbytes
Filename: Planting-pits-stone-lines.pdf
File size: 147 Kbytes
Filename: Vallerani-system.pdf
File size: 173 Kbytes
 
hans muster
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By the way: do you know the book "Holistic Management, a New Framework for Decision Making" by Allan Savory?

I found it quite interesting, and maybe useful to you.
 
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Kostas,

I hope too that something good comes out of it. I do hope that they'll have a report of work done so far and the successes. Let's wait and see.

Hans,

Thank you for the detailed explanation of the Zai pits. I'll go through the downloads.
 
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Hello Hans and Maureen,

Yes Maureen it will be interesting to find out what will be reported during the Dakar conference. I would like to have an overview of the progress -how many trees need to be planted, how many have been already been planted, how many are planted each year, how long it will take to complete the project - how can we help etc.

Hans, thank you for the very detailed explanation on the zai pits. Most definitely they can be used all over the world in difficult conditions - you are absolutely right.

Planting edible forests around each town/city/village is a great way to feed people and provide shade/oxygen etc. Would propably need at least 10 to 20 trees per person. We need different strategies for different conditions, and zai pits is one of the tols at our disposal.
Kostas
 
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You really might try those that I've mentioned. I'm at 700ft elevation, 40.5°N latitude and summer May-October with frequent 110°f and higher days. Oak, grey pine, manzanita and something called Yerba Santa all grow wild like crazy here. The Yerba Santa rots very easily for compost/soil building and is a medicinal herb used for upper pulmonary (throat, lung, chest) problems.
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Andrew Morse
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http://www.turtlebay.org/gardens

Here's the link to our local botanical gardens and arboretum. My locality is in a Mediterranean climate and the gardens reflect this with multiple world regional gardens including a Mediterranean Basin Garden which encompasses Greece. The whole thing is very educational on what kinda of things from around the world can grow in our climate type.

I would like to see them move to a more permaculture approach with zero pesticides or chemicals and a low-no watering system with rain harvesting, but it is a really good start for a city to support something like this.

Check the site and especially their nursery. Many of the plants listed are CA native, and some are not, but all do well in the hot, dry Mediterranean climate. Believe me... When it's 117°f, there are still green trees everywhere...
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Andrew,

Thank you for the recomendations.

I have considered oak, and have discussed it with friends. As I understand it, the oak seeds/kernels need to be placed in the ground as soon as they mature, or just ready to fall to the ground. You cannot place them in clay cubes, as they dry out and will not sprout - they must be placed immediately or they will not sprout. From what you know is this correct ?

They are great tree, and I will try a few dozen this year and see how they do.

As far as pines, I love them, I grew up among pine, fir and cedar trees. I grew up thinking that is what a forest is. But pines are weak and susceptible to disease and fire. I tried pine seeds a few years back, when I began this journey/project. They sprouted, then they died out in the heat of July and August. I am sure, once ground cover is established then the pine trees will survive.

I have recently discovered the Cistus Incanus plant, which grows all over the place around here. Its a very useful plant (tea etc), and it seems to improve the ground where it grows - it would be nice if it can be used for reforestation purposes. You may want to try it.

Your arboretum and climate gardens are a great idea !!! way to go !!!

Kostas
 
Andrew Morse
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Great! Thank you Kostas! I just researched the cistus family and ad it turns out there are many varieties available at the nursery...

http://www.turtlebay.org/Default.aspx?CCID=14050&FID=89810&ExcludeBoolFalse=True&ID=/nursery-search

I have nothing to do with the arboretum/gardens and nursery outside of loving the idea!

I didn't know that oak needed to germinate right away. It makes sense though considering the kernel is only 1/3 covered by hard shell. Perhaps a few could be planted by whatever means necessary and they could reforest themselves. My property burned to the ground in 2004 and many of the oak trees now have grown out of the stumps. They are extremely Hardy. You might try Spanish oak seeing as that country is close to you and almost exact in some climate aspects. Spanish, white, red, black, coastal, live oak, central Valley are just a few of the hundreds of varieties that thrive in the wilds all over CA (Oregon to Mexico).

I would also encourage you to try manzanita. Many varieties grow wild in the Sonoran Desert region (Guatemala to Canada) and has many uses. It is medicinal, succulent, produces edible berries, is used in smoking blends and best of all it grows "like a weed" in the hottest dryest environments.
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Thanks Andrew,
Manzanita, it is. I will keep it in mind. They should also consider it/try for the Sahel region - it may prove to be the key to providing ground cover. Our friends in Southern California should definetely experiment with it. If you have easy access to seeds place them in a trench come November and see what percentage sprouts and what percentage survives the 1st year - see trench test video. If someone can do the same for the southern CA regions, that would be great also.

A friend nearby, has an old oak tree, that is a great producer. Under it there are tens of small oak trees growing - I think I will collect from this tree, and hope it does well-we will see and report back. I am sorry to hear about the fire on your place. It's great the oaks survived - did any other trees survive?

Kostas
 
Andrew Morse
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The fire was before I was on the land, but I don't know that it was entirely a bad thing. The oaks burned, but suckers grew out of the charred stumps into new trees. A few grey pine survived. It must have brought in new species and opened up dormant seeds within the soil because my neighbor told me that there are many plant species that were not in our canyon before then. That is when the Yerba Santa started showing up for example.

The manzanita propagates underground really well, but I will place some berries in the ground when they start falling in autumn and report back with my results after/during the spring rains.

This and one other thread on the forum have really inspired me lately. I read some of this in 2014 and the idea germinated in my mind finally. I am buying apples, apricots, dates, almonds, citrus etc all summer and will plant about 3 acres with the seeds this fall.

I've also read that figs will not seed unless a specific wasp is present, but will root very easy from cuttings. I have a friend in the Bay Area who has huge fig trees near his house. Hopefully I can take and root a bunch of cuttings for figs!
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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!!!
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Andrew,

Thanks for the info on the figs. I have seen figs grow literally on stone, or the oddest places - one was growing on the side of a phoenix tree near the top !!!

I had no luck one time I tried to grow them from seed, but now will look into it again. It's worth the effort. I will see if I can incorporate them in the clay cubes, and see if there is any chance of success. Besides humans, all sort of animals benefit from the presence of figs (birds, ants, chickens etc). It’s a great tree.

The clay cubes I made last year, and dispersed this December did not sprout. Not one of them !!! The same thing happened last year.
The year before that, I had clay cubes with almonds sprout and grow successfully - so I know clay cubes work. And it's not the seeds, because right next to the clay cubes, the same seeds grow in the ground.

The ground does a much better job maintaining the moisture that falls on the ground - it does not dry out as fast as a clay cube. This year we had sporadic rains. It would rain one day and the next few days we would get hot sunny days - this would probably almost completely dry out the clay cubes.

We need to find a way make clay cubes that hold moisture much longer, so the seeds will sprout and survive the 1st year. I recently came across the super gels, or hydro gels, that promise to hold 250 times their weight in water and to release it slowly. It sounds promising.

I have contacted a couple companies and will see if small quantities can be purchased to run tests to see if these gels can work with the clay to create batter clay cubes.
We need to figure out the best mix of clay, manure/compost, super gels and straw. It's important that the gels be non toxic and biodegradable (organic would be better). If anybody has any knowledge or experience with this material, I would appreciate any input.

Another "good" failure that I had this year was by placing seeds in the ground in late January, as opposed to November and December. About 99% of the seeds did not sprout.
A small piece of land became available (late January) for seeding about 1/2 hour South of Thessaloniki, and I placed about 1000 seeds in the ground. So far I have seen one almond and one apple tree sprout. I will be going back to this piece of land in the next 3 - 4 years and seeding and reseeding until hopefully succeed. There is only a small layer of topsoil and there is solid stone underneath - success is not assured.

Kostas
 
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Hello Konstantinos Karoubas,

I am a new member here, found this thread searching on Google. I am considering trying to grow almond trees (sweet) in Greece - more preciscely close to Skála, Lakonia, southern part of Peloponnese.
My family owns about an acre of land there, with the possibility of buying about 40 acres more. Currently no trees on the land, and the closest farms are all growing oranges.
I am trying to research using internet if this is / could be a good environment and climate for almond trees, and if so - where to find trees to buy in Greece. If we are to try this I want to start the coming october/november by planting aprox 10 trees - different types of sweet almonds to see what kind would prosper there.

Any thoughts and helpful pointers would be very much appreciated!

With regards,
Oyvind Bremnes, Norway

 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Oyvind and welcome to permies.

Almonds will do well near Skala Lakonia - You can find small quantities of almond trees at the nurseries near Sparta. Here in Northern Greece, I met someone who bought his almond trees from Italy - I go by his land everyday - if I see him I will ask him about where he bought them etc.

Oyvind you should look into the whole concept of Natural Farming - create a farm that is not a mono culture - instead create a farm that has a large variety of trees shrubs and grasses. Here in Greece we have the farm of Panos Manikis (Edessa), that is about 30 years old and it’s a working farm - you should visit it - in the spring time, it is Heaven on Earth - words cannot describe it. The essence of Natural farming is no plowing, no fertilizers and pesticides and no pruning. Cost is minimal and once established, the profits are maximized.

Around Skala you should have water for the trees, but you want to avoid heavy water usage - the underground water system there, may be partially contaminated from the use of fertilizers and pesticides, over the years-this is something to look into.

The land there is fertile and you will be able to grow just about everything.

I hope this helps.

Kostas
 
Oyvind Bremnes
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Hi - thank you for the quick reply!
Great news that my idea is worth looking more into - the land was bought by a member of my family in the 19-sixties, but all development stopped. So it is about time we put the area to good use
Our goal is to grow as natural as possible, but I will have to look into the quality of the water, since the surrounding farms might be very not-naturally driven, from what I could tell when I went there in February to take a look

Exciting to see what this project might lead to!

Regards,
Oyvind
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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!!!
 
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Have you looked into any other trees for this project Konstantinos?

I imagine Jujube would likely do pretty well in your conditions.

Have you considered the Caucasian Persimmon [Diospyros Lotus]? I'm not completely sure the condition needs of the plant, but I believe it's native to that region?
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Kyrt,

Jujube I have looked at it did not sprout - I even planted 2 trees on my farm and they died away. But I will try again - it’s a great tree as is the lotus.

I think it's important to restate the parameters we are working with.

The seeds need to sprout and grow without any human input - that is, the only thing we have to do is put the seed in the ground, or preferably in a clay seed cube (or clay ball) and then let nature take its course. No water, no manure, no mulching - NOTHING. The reason for this is, that we NEED to grow billions of trees - not just thousands or millions, and we need to allow a willing individual to make a difference.

If you are planting one tree at a time and then watering all summer, you limited to a few trees a year - if clay cubes work (as they should if we make them properly), then planes can be used, or dispersed from a car or truck.

We want this minimal input, whether in the desert that is south California, or South Europe, Northern Africa, the Sahel, or the Sahara.
All you need is one or two pants/trees/shrubs to provide shade or ground cover - once you start producing organic matter and shade (lower ground temperature and moisture), then you are half way there. For Northern Greece - we have more than enough - apples, wild pears, cactus pads, almonds, apricots, plums (thank you Caleb Peretz) and laburnum (we are blessed !!!). More than enough. Closely spaced at less than a meter, they will provide the shade etc

Once the ground cover is established then we can easily plant other trees to easily create an edible forest.

I suspect that these trees I mentioned above, will not survive in Sahel or the desert of Arizona - they may work with the Zai holes - we need to try. But for every place on earth, there may be living matter that wants to cover the ground. Even in the Sahara, plants like the Ecballium elaterium (squirting cucumber) or the silverleaf nightshade may be used to provide ground cover - there are no weeds - we desperately need to cover the bear earth !!!

When working in a difficult environment, it's important to be persistent and respectful of the land and the place - we are the servants of the land - not the masters. We can provide the seeds (many varieties) to see what the land will choose.

That, in a nutshell Kyrt, is the approach I am working with - I may be way of - time will tell - but it’s a satisfying experience and worth trying.

Kostas
 
Andrew Morse
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Welcome to Permies Oyvind! Hopefully you and Kostas can be like two ripples in a pond starting in Greece and spreading through the world.

Kostas, I was just pondering your situation today and you've answered my question with your latest post. I was wondering why clay cubes were so necessary, but as you've mentioned you are doing billions of plants over millions of acres and so rapid seeding is very necessary. I love this vision and hope it can be successfully replicated on a global scale.

A couple thoughts... And again, I have not read this entire thread so correct me if these have been addressed.

1. Reforestation tourism... Perhaps an effort could be made along with the reforesting to create backpacking trails. While building these trails forest management and reforestation with edibles can be accomplished. Then while backpacking tourists can eat and be given education and instruction on reforesting and asked to plant seeds of what they eat as they continue to travel. This could go in a million directions, but a thought that would appease money makers and environmentalists alike.

2.Have you used any annuals in the "seed bombs" as they've been called? Using annual vegetables when reforesting at certain times will increase (edible) ground cover and the right varieties will reseed naturally year after year in your climate. I can think of many annual fruits and vegetables as well as perennial herbs that would survive year after year in the dry heat if sprouted at the right time and let go to seed.

I am really very excited about the possibilities here...
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Andrew,

Well said !!!

Great ideas - reforesting while hiking !!!

Definitely perennials are part of the mix - the thought of turning pieces of land around cities to provide oxygen and food, MUST include perennials.

Kostas
 
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Dear Konstantinos,

It's been ages since I responded to this thread. Nice to see you're still inspiring people. For a long time I presumed I was going to buy land in Spain and therefore prepared for quite dry circumstances. Things went another way and I ended up buying land in Central Portugal. Plenty of water there, except for the summner months. Part of me regrets missing out on the challenge of converting a "desert" into something more habitable. It's better this way though.
I did manage to lay my hands on a kg or so of bitter almonds because I've learned from you almonds are hardy as hell. Almost without thinking, I soaked them for a couple of days. They went into the ground when it was still freezing at night. The first one that came up was snatched by wildlife (I have been away since). It makes me wonder what the challenge actually is in terms of drought/rodent/seed viability ratio. This ratio may influence the time one would want to put seeds in the ground.
Nature was just waking up from winter dormancy when I put the seeds in the ground. I can imagine a mouse would grab even an almond full of cynide because it's starving and this simply happens to be the only thing available at that moment. Any thoughts?

Kind regards,

Ye
 
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forest garden greening the desert trees
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In "my" desert I can't start any seed in place without protection. I wonder, if I had enough water, could I plant a sufficient quantity that even after the wildlife has had its fill there would still be some left to grow to maturity.

Meanwhile the protection strategy is
1) start seeds and cuttings in a safer environment (our garden - which is greener than the desert plot and is frequented by cats).
2) when first planted out at the desert plot, the trees are protected by an 8 litre plastic bottle with its base cut off.
3) when the tree grows to the top of the plastic bottle, a metre high mesh is cable tied around the bottle and secured with stones and sand.



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Andrew Morse wrote:
1. Reforestation tourism... Perhaps an effort could be made along with the reforesting to create backpacking trails. While building these trails forest management and reforestation with edibles can be accomplished. Then while backpacking tourists can eat and be given education and instruction on reforesting and asked to plant seeds of what they eat as they continue to travel. This could go in a million directions, but a thought that would appease money makers and environmentalists alike.

...

I am really very excited about the possibilities here...



Lightbulb moment! What about super-biodegradable toilet paper that has region specific seeds in it? You'd be pretty limited as to what seeds you could use without making the tp uncomfortable but if it could be figured out then you have a little seed pack that's going to get put in the ground with added organic matter and nutrients.
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Ye,

Congrats on the land buy… plenty of water and probably rich soil - enjoy !!!

Trees will grow faster and you will develop of farm rather quickly.

No need to soak almond or search for bitter almonds - any kind of almond will do - place in the soil November or December - it will sprout in March April, when the other plant life comes alive so most likely your almonds will be left alone. In the winter time mice might take some, but if you spend 2 hours, you can plant at least 500 - they will not be all taken. Try the other trees we mentioned here - they will do well.

Good Luck - keep us posted

Hey Michael - great idea - why waste tp …

tp, compost or manure, some seeds and ready to go !!!

Steve !!!

Kostas
 
Andrew Morse
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Nice, seed tp, over humanure bed, cover with some ashes from the fire, inoculate with urine, all during autumn when the most vibrant and contrasting colors pop out... Makes nature's call that much more pleasant... And natural... And productive...

How about this thought... Charge a seemingly high price for camping/backpacking, but give a discount for every pound/kilogram of clay seed balls brought (and planted). Eco-tourists would love the opportunity to save money and reforest at the same time.

What about seed that wild birds, wildlife and long ranging livestock eat and are dispersed for hundreds of square miles at least. Maybe cows could eat a bunch of seed/grain of things you'd like to plant, then be put out on thousands of acres of pasture to disburse it (with manure) and will be fed on pasture.
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Andrew,

Thank You for your ideas and thoughts !!!

Wild Pigs, deer bears etc are probably a great way to spread certain types of trees, like apples or wild pears - at least I would hope. If a single apple trees was planted in the middle of a conifer forest, the animals would help spread its seeds around the area. It's worth trying, it's easy to do - it’s a long term project, and it's not going to be easy to monitor. I know birds help spread walnut trees. So yeah, if we are smart, we should take all the help we can get from these creatures !!! We can't do it alone.

As far as the humanure and urine - it’s a touchy subject… but should not be.

Human urine diluted with water (1 to 10 or 15) is an excellent fertilizer - I used it to grow an acacia tree (watered with the urine mixture all summer long) and the tree had amazing growth. Its absolute stupidity to put clean water in toilets, mix it with perfectly good fertilizers, send the mix, kilometers away in an infrastructure, that is costly to build and maintain, put it through a treatment plant to try to separate water from the fertilizers. We need, special toilets, so every household puts outside a container with the solid waste, and another with the urine. Trucks can go by to pick up both. The diluted urine can be applied directly to fields, and the solid waste can be used for methane gas, then after composting for fertilizer.

Alternatively, an appliance can be invented, using the ultra sound principles (or something like it) that will extract the clean water from the solids - deliver the clean water for garden use, and the solids for fertilizer in the garden. This is preferable, but as far I know this device has not been yet invented.

California is a prime candidate for the eco tourism and all these ideas. Has the recent drought served as a wake call? Are the local organizations/volunteers gearing up for reforestation activities? What about the pine beetle where you are ? Any effect yet?

Kostas
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Andrew Morse
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Well, let me talk about the drought from my perspective. I was wondering if the "California drought" news had reached others around the world. Now remember, I live in what's known as "Jefferson, 51st state of the union" (all counties north of Sacramento). We do not have a drought up here nearly as bad as central and southern California. We would have no drought at all if we were not sending billions of gallons down the Sacramento river to end up in the California aqueduct to feed a ton of Big Ag type farming. The big Ag industry has managed the farmland in the central valley so poorly that wells are toxic, rivers run dry, etc... There's little regard to rainwater harvesting and groundwater restoration there. And Southern California has been a desert for thousands of years. It's only in the last century we've been "greening it" with front lawns and heavily manicured and chemicalized landscaping.

And up in this part of the state it's only slightly better. We have the Siskyou, Lassen, Trinity Alps mountain ranges surrounding us with yearly snowpack and many creeks and springs, but again, we have dammed up a ton of rivers and use the outflow for electricity more than for freshwater. We don't do much groundwater restoration either. We try to manage fish populations with hatcheries, but they need access to the ocean and all the way up into mountain streams to thrive. It's all very sad.

A friend I have known since high school lives very close to me now and works in the wastewater treatment industry. At the local plant the goal is more about sterilizing everything, separating the solids and returning the water to the Sacramento River. The solids are periodically dredged from the outlet ponds, but I don't think they could be used for fertilizer because chlorine is used to cleanse the water, a system that is on its way out it seems in much of the state. Many plants simply use aeration and a series of ponds in an actual bio safe way. I don't know the USDA policy on humanure on food crops, but I believe the solids are mostly absorbed in the soil by reeds and other aquatic plants in the outlet ponds. In many places the reclaimed water is used in landscaping and given to local residents to use in gardening and landscaping. The governor is trying to make the recent water restrictions in many central and southern counties permanent.

"Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over." That's never been more true in California and as such, this post could be a novel...
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Thanks for the recap on the California issues Andrew.

How lucky you are to have the three mountain ranges you mentioned - they look fantastic !!!

There is no need to fight about water - there is plenty… it's just misused and wasted. Big Agriculture needs to change its ways and soon.

We have high hopes that California will take the lead in water management, water saving devices/practices and reforestation.

As the NY Times article points out, there can be no distinction between North of South… and time is of essence.

What I like about this tree planting project is that it allows an individual to do something, and see results… it gives great satisfaction, and hope. It addresses many issues at once... food/hunger, air quality, soil improvement, ground water replenishment… and all by just sticking a seed in the ground.

Kostas
 
Posts: 91
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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Chiming in here from a desert in Arizona.

I think you are right that many of the trees mentioned will not grow in the Arizona deserts if not cared for and watered. Compared to the conditions I read that Greece has, we are around 14 C hotter in the summers, with 50-150 mm of water less than Athens. (I was reading that gets about 365 mm annually - I tried to find the area in Greece that seems to have the least rainfall and lowest humidity). I read that Athens has about 60% average annual humidity. My area of the desert has an average daily humidity of 48% in the mornings, but goes down to an average of about 25% in the afternoons. In the dry season, the low average humidity is actually about 13%.

Similar soil conditions, though.

But due to the very high temperature and evaporation rates, and the low rainfall, it takes a rare breed of tree to grow here when left on its own. Almonds, definitely not - I had an almond tree planted, in the shade of another tree in an area with a bit more rainfall concentrated, and then fell ill and couldn't care for it after it had been in the ground for a few years. It DID manage to live for another year without any added water, although its leaves basically budded and fell off soon after, but it died the year after that.

Thankfully, though, we have a few native trees that will grow like crazy if you wild seed them. They are officially classified as large brush, quite often, but the over story trees in this desert - excluding the more mountainous areas where cooler temperatures allow for more growth - are usually not the taller trees seen in other areas.

Here, mesquite and palo verde trees are two of the main native overstory trees in the low desert. Ironwood is another. Their root systems can spread nearly twice the diameter of crown. They are all edible legumes, so not only do they provide the shade other plants need, they help the soil and provide edible legumes or pods. They reseed very easily, and their roots will dig deep into hardpan. Mesquite wood can be used for burning and flavoring food, or mesquite and palo verde wood can be used for making food-safe dishes and utensils, or has other uses for a hardwood. And as an interesting added bonus, the native mistletoe berries which grow on them sometimes are actually edible by human beings if they grow on mesquite or ironwood - rather unique out of the mistletoe family.

One factor with mesquite is that even once established, their roots can turn and grow up toward the soil surface to get more water. This makes them a very poor choice for planting anything underneath that requires regular watering. But if other plants are simply seeded there, to grow without extra water, they can be wonderful companions.

Berry plants that survive here without water are also possible underneath any of the above trees, just have to be native or desert adapted - desert hackberry and wolfberries, for example (wolf berries are related to açaí berries and quite nutritious and with medicinal properties, some of them).


I have been slowly letting trees repopulate my little .25 hectare property over the last 6-10 years (it was originally covered in plastic and rock, so I slowly move off a little more rock every year and let things seed themselves), and so far, most of my property is not watered in any way, and yet has the most vegetation of any property around me. As soon as I start getting a tree of sufficient size, things start growing under it, as long as I leave it be. At first, I just let anything grow, to help the soil. I have been watering a little now in a few places, as now that the soil is a little improved I have been collecting and planting more native plants that are now no longer growing near me (but used to be, before the land was razed by cattle and people), but I plan to water only until they are established, and then will leave them be again.

The native plants tend to do well, but this is definitely an area that is just not suited for the majority of trees and plants that provide food that people are used to, that they'd buy in the grocery store.

Here, I think it's important to adjust expectations to very hardy plants adapted to high heat and evaporation rates, and low rainfall, with food that may be unusual or unexpected as a result. If you do that, then you can have a wonderful little desert food forest with almost no effort at all. But trying to do things like grow stone fruit, citrus, anything like that? They can't survive here, in my experience, without extra water, at least not outside of the few areas that might have year round water source and lots of shade already established (like I know of a pomegranate tree that is a bit famous in my area, having popped up near a property that is by a small water source. over 50 years old now, I believe)
 
Andrew Morse
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Konstantinos Karoubas wrote:What about the pine beetle where you are ? Any effect yet?

Kostas



The reports I've heard is that the beetle problem is mostly in Colorado. I make furniture and the blue wood is nice to look at, but it's a serious problem. If I remember correctly I think I read that the main plan of action is to log as much of it as possible to try to contain the epidemic. I don't know whether or not if a continuous band of the same trees reaches into California, but presumably all of the American West needs to watch their pine populations.
 
Posts: 15
Location: Adana, Turkey, Zone 9b
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Kostas you've inspired me. Last year I planted some almonds and hazelnuts in a local forest ares. There has been some conservation work in the past. They've made some over-built but not very level swales and I think planted some pine trees. But the whole area gets grazed pretty heavily by sheep and goats. This past year wild pigs moved in. Not sure how many seeds have been dug up and eaten by the pigs but I planted a number of seeds where the pigs dug. So far about 8 of the almonds came up and none of the hazelnuts. Not really surprised by the later since it's not really their climate but I figured it was worth a try. The majority of the almonds that came up were in the little holes that the pigs dug. I figure they made for a little extra water to germinate. A few of them have been nipped off but I think all of them are still hanging on. We'll see how they do once summer hits. Depending on the results I'll probably hit planting a bit harder this fall. I have my eye on an area that needs it more. A south-facing slope without as much ground cover. It has me a bit intimidated.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Daniel Kaplan wrote:So far about 8 of the almonds came up and none of the hazelnuts. Not really surprised by the later since it's not really their climate but I figured it was worth a try.

Are you using the shorter shrub hazels more commonly grown for their nuts, or Turkish Tree Hazels?
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Daniel,

Good luck - I am sure once you get started you will do well !!!

Just make sure you choose a piece of land that does not get visited by goats and sheep - goats are amazing - they eat everything - there is no point wasting energy. There is plenty of land that is not grazed.

You should try all the seeds we mentioned here and see how they do (wild pears, almonds, apricots, laburnum, plums, apples and of course cactus pads) - see what is growing around you by the side of the road - that will give you a starting point in addition to the seeds mentioned here.

Hans, here mentioned crataegus - this is also good to try.

As mentioned before you should dig small trenches and place 10 seeds in each trench and mark the locations. This will give you an idea of the percentages of success for each seed. There is no point placing thousands of seeds in the ground if you know they will not sprout or survive the hot summers.

Good Luck - please keep us posted.

Kostas
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Shauna,

Thank you for the post and the info on the conditions in the desert. It’s a challenge, but also what an opportunity!!!

Do the trees you mention (mesquite, palo verde, ironwood and mistletoe berries) reseed themselves ? are there small trees growing underneath them - grown by themselves from seed?

Do you think the zai pits mentioned here help?

Are there wild squirting cucumbers growing in the area?

When you say, you have been letting trees slowly repopulate your land - can you send some photos and let us know what comes up by itself with any help from you (anything - shrub, tree, plant).

Has anyone in the area planted very closely spaced trees like mesquite or palo verde - and I mean closely, like three feet. I wonder how this affects the micro climate and the trees - what do you think will happen - will the trees survive? will this help speed up soil improvement or simply use up all moisture and kill the trees?

How do cactus pads do there, and is there a tradition of using them for food?

Do you have any capers growing there and is that a possibility - Rebecca Norman is growing the in the Ladakh desert - see.

http://www.permies.com/t/34882/plants/Success-planting-caper-seeds-plant#470858

We all should discuss the use of superabsorbent hydrogels - fully organic will come to the market soon - supposedly they have the ability to hold 300 times their weight in water and release it slowly when the trees need it. What their use how they can be used to reforest remains to be seen - new technology needs to be fully investigated, and looked at somewhat with a healthy degree of suspicion/curiosity.

Kostas
 
Daniel Kaplan
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Location: Adana, Turkey, Zone 9b
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I'm not sure what kind of hazels they are. It's whatever I bought at the market, same with the almonds. The almonds are from Turkey and I assume the hazelnuts are, too. They have a decent-sized nut, maybe 5/8-3/4" dia.

I noticed that the goats hadn't gone into the already-forested area (at least the seedlings there were fine) and the boar that had gone by earlier in the day hadn't touched them. So great for improving biodiversity and setting up a living seed bank, but not so good for reforesting the bare areas.

Kostas, I'll definitely have to try other varieties. Time to start saving seeds.
 
shauna carr
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Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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Konstantinos Karoubas wrote:
Do the trees you mention (mesquite, palo verde, ironwood and mistletoe berries) reseed themselves ? are there small trees growing underneath them - grown by themselves from seed?



Mesquite, Palo Verde, and the mistletoe reseed quite easily, yes. The majority of smaller trees in my yard from these, and the mistletoe, were seeded without any interference of any kind. Although leaving critters here alone - like packrats and ground squirrels - rather than eradicating them helps because they take the seed pods and carry them off to areas where they can spread even faster. I am less familiar with ironwood as that has a very specific range of temperatures it can grow in, and I am just a couple hundred feet too high above their range so they won't reseed naturally. I might attempt a seedling sometime, but it will require some effort to keep alive, I think.

Konstantinos Karoubas wrote:Do you think the zai pits mentioned here help?



They do to a certain extent. Here, the same type of pit design is called a Zuni waffle garden, same technique, just used by the Zuni tribe in New Mexico, USA. In NM, they would dig the pits and fill with sheep dung, letting is compost over a few months before use. Sand would be added over the top to help prevent evaporation of water from whatever was grown in the pit.

However, again, even though the Zuni lived in a desert area in NM, it's got lower temperature than the desert in Arizona. Digging pits here to collect extra water definitely makes huge difference. I have had more variety of native species show up in areas where I simply made a few shallow pits (1-2 feet wide) in random areas.

Adding in organic material to them definitely helps as well, but one issue here is the heat and low organic material in the soil. It won't hold water well until carbon material is added, but the bare dirt or rock is so hot that it fries many of the plants and trees when still young. Many trees and some cactus here will not grow without some sort of nurse plant to help them out at first, actually, for this reason. So, since carbon sources are at a premium and the bare dirt is so hot to most plants, I have had the best luck letting very tough weeds grow and grow, adding shade and carbon material over time, and then the trees that come up have more success - with more growth surrounding them, they are less likely to be eaten by the critters that are desperate for any type of green growth, and the shade helps them survive the brutal heat of the summers better, as well. The native trees here still do better in higher heat than most, but even they need a little help, often.

Another challenge for pits here is that pits dug down do better than building UP soil into small walls around them - we have most of our rain during monsoon season, and the rainfall is so heavy that it washes away many types of built up earth works, so digging pits is a big benefit.


Konstantinos Karoubas wrote:Are there wild squirting cucumbers growing in the area?



Nope, those haven't naturalized here. We do have a couple native gourd species, of which buffalo gourd is the most useful - the seeds are edible and high in oil, but the gourd itself is inedible. Also, this is a perennial and the root grows in size every year and can eventually use up all the water in its particular area and out compete many of the nearby species.

Konstantinos Karoubas wrote:When you say, you have been letting trees slowly repopulate your land - can you send some photos and let us know what comes up by itself with any help from you (anything - shrub, tree, plant).



Sure, I'll go take some photos and put them up in another reply post.

As for a list of some of what comes up on its own, without any assistance, from wild seeding (some plants are less common here but reseeded from plants in neighboring properties):
trees/shrubs - here in the Sonoran Desert, the trees are typically on the edge of being a large shrub, small tree classification, so most are multi-trunked and wider - mesquite, palo verde, netleaf hackberry

Shrubs - these are more the typical shrubs, so no more than 5-10 feet high, usually - desert hackberry, desert broom, yellow bird of paradise, creosote, lantana, chiltepin (chile pepper bush), mormon tea, white thorn acacia

cactus and succulents - prickly pear cactus, barrel cactus, cholla cactus, aloe (needs shade and does not get large), century plant, yucca, christmas cholla, multiple smaller cactus varieties, saguaro (has not come up here, but can in the right circumstances)

perennial plants - desert marigold, globemallow, dalea, hierba de venado(Porophyllum gracile), wooly morning glory, purslane, clematis drumondii (this has come up in areas within a couple miles of my location, but experimenting to see if seeds will sprout here as well), brittle bush, prickly poppy, numerous varieties of wild bunching grasses, burrowed (good nursery plant).

annual plants - desert lupines (nitrogen fixers), penstemons, blue bells, mare's tail, spiny sow thistle, spiny lettuce, pecos thimbleweed, palmer's amaranth.


There's many more, but most of what I listed above were the plants that have edible parts, medicinal parts, are nitrogen fixers, or are useful for the environment/soil for other plants or for insect/animal species in the area. There's actually quite a variety, but the wild areas around me are often used for cattle grazing (the land is rented out and the cattle rotated to numerous locations, because there is so little growth) and so the native plants have been destroyed in larger and larger areas. So it can be difficult to FIND the native plants to reseed from.

I find more variety of plants in the surrounding arroyos that cattle can't get to and have been slowly collecting seeds that I have been able to toss around my yard this year as well - we'll see what comes up!
There is also a wonderful nursery nearby that only carries native plants, many of them are nearly endangered, many edible varieties, and I have been adding many of these in, as well. They will be watered until established and then will receive no extra irrigation and and I hope to provide areas that they can reseed naturally into as well. These include plants like wolf berries, Mearn's sumac, lemonade berry bush, caltrops, desert lavender, chaparral sage, Arizona passion fruit vine, pinyon trees, Saya, Gonzales' Saya (great plant, edible beans, leaves, and roots), Arizona wild rose, Emory oak, native western mulberry, native Mexican elderberry, Texas persimmon, wild grapes, navajo tea, miguelito vine, bricklebush, panic grass (edible large seeds, native), and native chia.

Many of these are similar to more well known varieties, but have smaller fruits/leaves/plants. Some of those listed above require more water, so I have put them in areas with basins where water may naturally collect more, in places where they may be more shade during part of the day)



Konstantinos Karoubas wrote:Has anyone in the area planted very closely spaced trees like mesquite or palo verde - and I mean closely, like three feet. I wonder how this affects the micro climate and the trees - what do you think will happen - will the trees survive? will this help speed up soil improvement or simply use up all moisture and kill the trees?



With palo verdes, they don't do well closely planted in my experience. They tend to form a denser shade and choke out their competitors, as well as being higher water use than some of the other trees.
Mesquites typically have a lot of reseeding directly under their own canopy, sometimes forming closely spaced plantings all on their own - they have a more open, multi-trunked structure with more sunlight underneath. In these situations, the small trees seem to simply stay small or die, the larger ones grow more rapidly, and then if anything happens to the largest mesquite, the smaller ones will start competing and one or two will get large, and the smaller ones will, again, stay small or die. They do seem to form microclimates - I have some pictures of the growth difference under some of my mesquites vs. in areas with no shade - and it's a huge difference. But in the wild, more often I am seeing a broader range of species growing up around the trees.

From how they grow, and what I've seen, mesquites are good for adding organic material to the soil - lots of leaf and pod litter. But i suspect that, due to the poor soil, close plantings here do better with variety so there is less competition at the same time of year, for the same nutrients, you know? Also, when they start out, they all need some plants growing around them for shade as, even closely planted, they don't grow fast enough to help each other out with microclimate creation for a few years.


Konstantinos Karoubas wrote:How do cactus pads do there, and is there a tradition of using them for food?



Yup, very strong tradition in this area. All native cactus here have edible flowers, buds, and fruits, and if they have pads, many have edible pads, as well. They are common enough that the cactus pads and fruits are commonly sold at the local stores.


Konstantinos Karoubas wrote:Do you have any capers growing there and is that a possibility - Rebecca Norman is growing the in the Ladakh desert - see.

http://www.permies.com/t/34882/plants/Success-planting-caper-seeds-plant#470858



We don't, but it's a plant I've been considering adding, to see if I can make a success of it, actually.


Konstantinos Karoubas wrote:We all should discuss the use of superabsorbent hydrogels - fully organic will come to the market soon - supposedly they have the ability to hold 300 times their weight in water and release it slowly when the trees need it. What their use how they can be used to reforest remains to be seen - new technology needs to be fully investigated, and looked at somewhat with a healthy degree of suspicion/curiosity.



Oh that is interesting. But I agree, definitely needs to be investigated. I know that here, the TIMING of the water is pretty important for anything native. The monsoons are very regular, with little to no water in between, and the water can sometimes trigger certain growth patterns here, but it does so with the expectation that certain temperatures will be occurring with it. If that doesn't happen, the plant can be, say, flowering when it is too cold, or too hot. It gets hot enough here that pollen becomes non-viable, during the hottest parts of the year, so this could be a big issue, you know?


I'll post the pictures later today to show what's going on in my particular yard.
 
Konstantinos Karoubas
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Hello Shauna,

Thank you for the very informative post. It's an eye opener - a desert is not a desert, but full of life and potential !!!

I am looking forward to the photos. I will be reading your message again over the next few days - thank you for the time you took to provide all this info.

FIY - I received the package of 10 kg of superabsorbent hydro gel - it needs to be evaluated, but the 1st impressions are… impressive !!!

A spoonful of this material (11 grams), absorbed 1.5 liters of water - the bowl I was using could not hold any more water. It needs to be tested and see how it does.

Kostas
 
Posts: 28
Location: Western Cape - South Africa
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Hi everyone.

First off, THANK YOU SO MUCH! I've followed this thread for a few years now. I point every desert dwelling permie I know to this thread.

Now time to give back to all you wonderful folk.

Desert - Kalahari, South-Africa
Type - Bulb Desert, Slow-growing climax trees 18m+, many shrubs. Pretty much everything is thorny.
Rain - 200mm average (80mm one year, 1000mm in another. Deserts are volatile like that)
Mix - -3/-15C
Max - 48C - 50C

Lessons Learned

MULCH! Think you've mulched enough? Nope! Mulch again! Mulch until it starts feeling uncomfortable.
MULCH! I cannot stress this enough. Mulch Options - Grasses, Shrubs & Fast-growing trees (chipped or not), Sand - at least 30cm above your roots. Shade is mulch too.
Burying biomass is a shlep but well worth the effort. We grew potatoes, pumpkins, beets, corn & peas with these types of beds, unshaded but WELL MULCHED.
There are trees that have varying shade effects, in our Desert we have the Boscia Albitrunca (Shepherds Tree) whose shadow has a 20C cooling effect versus the american invasive we have, Prosopis Glandulosa which might give you 5C as a youngling & 10c as an adult. Measure your shade spots and see who your Super Shaders are.
Desert trees tend to have masses of seeds. Our highest producers are the Acacia Erioloba (Camelthorn Tree) game & cattle love the pods - a coffee substitute can also be made from both this tree and the next tree which is the Boscia Albitrunca (Shepherds Tree) its fruit are edible, quite sweet and attract flocks of birds. Not only do the birds sow it for you, they also clean the fruit off which has a growth inhibiting effect when left on. If you want to do the sowing yourself I would suggest leaving the dehusked seed in water overnight to get the remaining fruit off. Acacia blah var Detinens is a great living fence and one of THE MOST IRRITATING trees you'll ever come across. Its thorns go everywhere, in our language it is called the Haakbos, literally the Hook Bush .It carries thousands of white, fluffy flowers which smell delicious, look beautiful and is quite popular with the bees.

Wind & Water, Friends & Foes.

As Shauna said, digging is better than hilling if your desert has intense winds or large rain events. If well observed, small windbreaks like logs or stones can be placed around planting sites to create natural dunes/pits.
The Net & Pan method can have great success if mulched well. It also creates little pockets of biomass where all manner of things come up.
SMALL, DEEP dams are appropriate if covered by shade or any other material. If you can build a leaky dam, great! We started most of our trees around a 2mx3m dam. The wildlife love a small 20cmx2m open stroke to drink from, bathe in and if you have tortoise, play in. You might be surprised to see some of your local water plants coming up.
A buried bottle, with holes made pointing down to avoid clogging, works almost like a buried ceramic pot minus the sweating. The deeper you water the better.

The trees I mentioned earlier are great to sow in the wild, at large quantities. Un/fortunately we're out of the desert and never got as far as fruit trees. What worked well with a little care though just down the road from us were Mulberries, Pomegranates, Date Palms, Grapes, Apricots & any Rhus/Searsia. Prickly pears work well too. A rock on top of a pad works great. I always wanted to cut them into thin strips, let them callus over then sow them far and wide. Maybe some day.

Once again, thank you all for such a great thread and good luck to everyone in their desert.
 
Yeah. What he said. Totally. Wait. What? Sorry, I was looking at this tiny ad:
permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
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