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Sandy Backyard Desert Death Trap  RSS feed

 
Nolan Robert
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So I live in SoCal. Our backyard is EXTREMELY sandy. When you water it, and it has not had any mulch or compost put on it, the water runs right off. I'm interested in improving the soil back there and growing some food as well, but I'm not sure what method to turn to.

I was thinking:

Dig zai pits/waffle gardens (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x28NpUZjmN

Digging trenches and planting in to them (similar to Zai pits: http://www.permies.com/t/31794/desert/Desert-Corn-Growing-Techniques)

or forking up some plots so that they are aerated, and just planting seeds in the slits caused by the forking.

I want to address the problem of why there is nothing growing back there except for annual weeds (which I try to keep my dad from removing because it is some ground cover, and it's better than just bare soil) rather than try to fight the symptoms, if that makes sense.



I also have a question that is sort of related;

Is it possible to sow directly in to pastures /ground cover/etc. without having to tear up the topsoil and strip it of ground cover plants such as perennials? I was thinking that if you have a yard or lawn or whatever, you could maybe take a broad fork or regular fork to it and plant in the slits and loosened soil, without killing the ground cover. How do annuals and weeds grow in there? Do the seeds just rest on the top of the soil or what? I want to know because if I am ever able to get the yard to a point where it has a lot of growth (it might seem like a little growth to some folks, but it'll be a lot more than what's out there now!) I want to be able to plant without killing off the ground cover plants, if at all possible.


Thanks!
 
Nolan Robert
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(Link doesn't seem to be working)

 
Bryan Jasons
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Location: Maine
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Here is an article showing something similar to zai : http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/no-till-vine-patch-zbcz1304zhol.aspx#axzz31pk8A7qO

Potatoes grown without tilling; works well on bad soil in need of organic matter or un-tilled lawns :


I wouldn't worry about trying to find ways of maintaining the ground-cover, if your soil is infertile you likely have no soil life or soil carbon to lose from tillage.

Sweet potatoes can grow well in sandy soil with little water. I've heard farmers here in Maine say they plant them in sandy areas simply because they can't get anything else to grow in such soil.

Taro and sweet potatoes might grow well for you, in the same ways as the squash and potatoes linked to above. Even though Taro is grown in standing water typically, many people use dryland techniques. You might have to water them though.

You could try seeding winter rye into a lawn. They sell it at hardware stores around here..

If you have bare or disturbed soil, then a grain amaranth could grow there since that's it's usual niche! It germinates on the surface.

Goodluck!
 
John Elliott
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Where in So Cal? What's under the sand? If you are in an area that is predominantly creosote bush desert, I'm dubious that these zai would work for you. In order for the zai to work, you can't have several feet of loose sand draining away any moisture. If there is some clay or caliche down a foot or two, well then maybe you have a chance.

You ask how weeds sprout, sometimes the seeds just sit there until they get enough rain, and they can sprout and complete their lifecycle. Such is the case with desert verbena (Abronia villosa) and Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii. Those two are very common ground covers on sand dunes, and are adapted to soil moisture draining away quickly.

You may be able to improve the soil quite a bit with biochar. The key benefit of biochar being that it is not going to decompose after a couple of monsoon rains in the hot summer. What is it you want to grow in your patch of sand?
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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You might want to look at Fukuoka's seedball planting technique. Plenty of plants manage just fine without humans planting them "1/4 inch deep under fine soil, lightly firmed" or whatever else the seed packet instructions may say

The thing with seedballs is that the seeds get some protection while they wait for favorable conditions.
 
Nolan Robert
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John Elliott wrote:Where in So Cal? What's under the sand? If you are in an area that is predominantly creosote bush desert, I'm dubious that these zai would work for you. In order for the zai to work, you can't have several feet of loose sand draining away any moisture. If there is some clay or caliche down a foot or two, well then maybe you have a chance.

You ask how weeds sprout, sometimes the seeds just sit there until they get enough rain, and they can sprout and complete their lifecycle. Such is the case with desert verbena (Abronia villosa) and Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii. Those two are very common ground covers on sand dunes, and are adapted to soil moisture draining away quickly.

You may be able to improve the soil quite a bit with biochar. The key benefit of biochar being that it is not going to decompose after a couple of monsoon rains in the hot summer. What is it you want to grow in your patch of sand?


In the south bay area, near L.A. If I dig a couple feet down, the ground is more packed and solid, but I wouldn't call it clay by any means.

I'm not really sure what I want to grow yet. i've actually grown things out there before, so I know it's possible (I have corn out there right now, we'll see if it survives the heat). I've planted a few trees too. But it's always such an ordeal because when it gets hot out here, I quickly figure out what was made to survive these conditions. Everything else withers.

I want to keep the weeds in spots that I'm not planting in because I've heard that they convert sunlight into nutrients for soil, which is good for the plants around them and for the soil itself. I've heard that they are "Natures attempt to heal the damaged soil", and all that.

I'm mostly interested in improving the soil (if at all possible) so that planting back there will be more successful.

I'm leaning towards waffle garden/zai pit's/trenches right now, except, like you said, they may not work in my area. My other beef with them is that you have to kill off all the vegetation around them I think to begin growing there.

I have a few dug out already, I couldn't resist trying, and one of the great things about having terrible soil is you don't feel to guilty about trying knew things in it.

 
Nolan Robert
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Peter Ellis wrote:You might want to look at Fukuoka's seedball planting technique. Plenty of plants manage just fine without humans planting them "1/4 inch deep under fine soil, lightly firmed" or whatever else the seed packet instructions may say

The thing with seedballs is that the seeds get some protection while they wait for favorable conditions.


I wanted to try his methods, and I've read sowing seeds in the desert and one straw revolution. Problem was I couldn't find the right kind of clay, and I was told that the soil has to be healthy before attempting his methods.

Also, It hardly ever rains here, so I don't know if the seed balls will ever germinate at the right time.

I tend to do a mini version, where I throw down seeds and just cover them with compost, but lately after reading one of the threads in this forum I have been thinking about digging a trench/zai/waffle and laying the seeds down there, and covering them wit compost. Reason being that they sill be closer to where all the water sinks and stays and that when I water them it will all drain in to where the depression is.
 
Nolan Robert
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Bryan:

I like the sweet potato Idea! And the Amaranth.

 
John Elliott
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South Bay has good soil; I thought you were going to say Desert Hot Springs, which a whole different pile of sand. You probably do have clay underneath that sand, close enough that roots can access it. What will really help is to add organic matter to your planting pits, whether you call them zai or hugelkultur or whatever.

Here are some suggestions as to what might grow well:

Artichokes/cardoon -- You are close enough to the coast that they won't have to put up with inland valley heat. They are adapted to Mediterranean climates with dry summers and wet winters. I have even seen them naturalized and growing in Ensenada, which is another level dryer than the South Bay.

Hot peppers -- I mentioned in another thread that these can be grown in planters or espaliered against a building. They are also adapted to drought and dry spells add to the heat of the pepper.

Prickly pear cactus/Nopal -- These will need the least soil prep, just stick them in the ground and water them once a month or so. You can do the same trick with aloe, but I have never found an "edible" variety that I didn't have to spit out.

These are three possibilities that may handle the drought better than other plantings. Under normal circumstances, you can grow almost anything along the coast in SoCal. With the water situation the way it is though, it's probably safer to plan on dry adapted plants, i.e., sorghum might have been a better choice than that water sucking corn.
 
Nolan Robert
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John Elliott wrote:South Bay has good soil; I thought you were going to say Desert Hot Springs, which a whole different pile of sand. You probably do have clay underneath that sand, close enough that roots can access it. What will really help is to add organic matter to your planting pits, whether you call them zai or hugelkultur or whatever.

Here are some suggestions as to what might grow well:

Artichokes/cardoon -- You are close enough to the coast that they won't have to put up with inland valley heat. They are adapted to Mediterranean climates with dry summers and wet winters. I have even seen them naturalized and growing in Ensenada, which is another level dryer than the South Bay.

Hot peppers -- I mentioned in another thread that these can be grown in planters or espaliered against a building. They are also adapted to drought and dry spells add to the heat of the pepper.

Prickly pear cactus/Nopal -- These will need the least soil prep, just stick them in the ground and water them once a month or so. You can do the same trick with aloe, but I have never found an "edible" variety that I didn't have to spit out.

These are three possibilities that may handle the drought better than other plantings. Under normal circumstances, you can grow almost anything along the coast in SoCal. With the water situation the way it is though, it's probably safer to plan on dry adapted plants, i.e., sorghum might have been a better choice than that water sucking corn.


Yep, the corn was a bad idea haha. But it's been doing o.k. so far on one watering a day. I have recently dug out two micro swales in between the corn stalks, so the water stays there and penetrates deep. I've been forking up certain patches a little an not smoothing them down, so that the water will penetrate deeper and hopefully STAY down there better. So far, I think it's been working. I don't know why it wouldn't, it's essentially swales and zai pits on a very, very tiny scale! But same principle I guess.

I planted a nopales cactus in a waffle pit. I'll see how it grows. My neighbors have a bunch so I'm assuming it will do well.

I want to find more perennial drought tolerant (or loving!) plants and plant them, and than figure out how to best direct rainwater (and regular waterings) to them.

So far I'm liking the zai, as I've got some soy beans coming up in them and I only water once a day. As I've said about a zillion times now, I also like the forked up patches, even when the holes get recovered do to watering, the depressions left in the ground pool water and keep it in place. I've been experimenting with swale-like structures, except I don't know whether to plant in the swales or in the sand/dirt next to them.
 
Nolan Robert
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Does anybody know:

If you made a ditch/swale, would you pant seed/perennial plants inside the ditch/swale or on the dirt next to it?

With Zai you can plant both in the pit or around it. With Waffle gardens you plant in the waffle pit.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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