• Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Hugles in HOT Drylands

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Pie
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
173
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Zach:

There's been a lot of discussion on permies about whether or not hugelkultur is really appropriate for hot drylands. Most of us living in these climates - with rainfall usually 3" - 15" per year and temps over 100 degrees for months and months on end - generally feel that aboveground hugels exacerbate our situation rather than ameliorate it because we are exposing more surface area to our extreme conditions. Plus anything "raised" tends to shed water as opposed to harvest it. Here in Phoenix we get around 7.5" annual rainfall but our evaporation rate is 94" per year. Yikes!

Some folks here, myself included, have experimented with beds where branches are buried underground and sunken beds are crafted on top. This seems to work fine but I honestly can't tell if it's holding any more moisture than a regular sunken water harvesting bed.

So what I'm wondering is if you or Sepp modify the traditional hugelkultur when you work in really hot, drylands? Am I missing something about traditional hugelkultur that would make it more applicable to my area? I've tried to get my mind around how to effectively use this technique in my climate but the only thing I come back to are the sunken bed hugels.

Phrustrated in Phoenix,
Jen
 
Zach Weiss
pollinator
Posts: 294
Location: Montana
54
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Jennifer:

You are right on the money with your sunken hugelbeds, we do indeed make them as depressions in the ground when working in dry lands or with sandy soil. The wood attracts the moisture and stores it in the depression. Kind of a pot-hole garden with wood in the bottom to help retain the moisture. Have you done a side by side comparison with and without wood? I'd be very interested to hear the results of an experiment like that!

As I was just posting in another thread Hugelkultur is treated like a one size fits all solution and that is just not the case. Most of the places I visit with Sepp he does not recommend any Hugelkultur. Often times the landowner even wants Hugelkultur and Sepp says that it just doesn't make sense anywhere on their land. It's all about the resources that you have available and working with them to the best of your ability.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Pie
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
173
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Zach - THANK YOU! I think I can sleep at night now

Have you done a side by side comparison with and without wood? I'd be very interested to hear the results of an experiment like that!


I haven't done a side-by-side growing the same crops. The wood was mostly under my urban orchard. In the 6 yrs since I've installed it - it's sunk about an inch a year. Now it's a tad too deep. Not sure I'd do that again with trees on the downslopes of the sunken "swale".

The way I see it there are two problems with putting wood in a sunken bed - they sink further - which might be ok for veggies but can be problematic for trees over time. The other thing is maintenance - what if you want to refresh the wood once it's rotted down? Again - it would work for annuals but not so much for perennials - unless I'm missing something.

And then there's the fact that I'm just plain lazy and digging even deeper sunken beds to bury wood is WORK, my friend!
 
Zach Weiss
pollinator
Posts: 294
Location: Montana
54
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Great points Jennifer,

Hugelkultur is often confused as a good system for growing trees, this is most certainly not the case. As the wood decomposes the tree roots will destabilize causing problems for the future. I've seen a lot of people that want to use Hugelkultur like swales but this is not how Sepp uses them. Hugelkulturs are for annuals and small perennials such as berry bushes etc. They can be used as a nursery space for trees but are not a long term tree growing system.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Pie
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
173
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Zach Weiss wrote:Hugelkultur is often confused as a good system for growing trees, this is most certainly not the case. As the wood decomposes the tree roots will destabilize causing problems for the future. I've seen a lot of people that want to use Hugelkultur like swales but this is not how Sepp uses them. Hugelkulturs are for annuals and small perennials such as berry bushes etc. They can be used as a nursery space for trees but are not a long term tree growing system.


Zach - thank you again! I know so little about hugelkultur so this conversation is extremely informative. Thanks for clearing up some of these nagging issues for me - I very much appreciate it.
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Pie
Posts: 3546
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
128
bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My place is far from a desert but In my observation of my aspen forest it seems that the trees create their own hugel over decades. The grasses and shrubs start things off, the trees slowly crawl into the area. As trees die they drop to the ground and decay. More trees and shrubs grow, trees drop and decay. My aspen forest is very old and the soil is really deep and dark.

My point is that maybe you could just continue to Hugel above ground once you have an underground hugel started and the plants are sinking in? Just keep adding logs to the pile?
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1271
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
22
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Zach, did you see the pics of my place with the wood behind walls?
http://www.permies.com/t/37389/hugelkultur/Large-sunken-beds-building-stone#292253
I am a zone 11 mediterranean....
I would like to know more about the problems you talk about.
As the wood decomposes the tree roots will destabilize causing problems for the future.

I cannot have a real forest but I want to plant carrob and some others...
The rest of the place will be cereals for hens.

digging even deeper sunken beds to bury wood is WORK, my friend
!
hehe, I have put wood quite deep, as I use a caterpillar.
How deep, better say "how not tooo deep" should be buried the last wood?

The soil I have added has more clay, so great for moisture, and I can still graduate the quantity and depth of the pine logs.

Also, is it possible to bury some goat dung on top of the wood?
 
shauna carr
Posts: 84
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Miles,
I was thinking of how different the experience of decay is in a desert a few weeks back and took some pictures that I thought might be a good, visual example of some of the differences that happen here in the desert compared to other areas. It's kind of hard to believe until you see it, but when you do, I imagine it'll make it clearer why the whole forest decay thing doesn't work so well here, or at least, doesn't work with quite the same systems in place.

The first two pictures I took in an oak and pine forest, up around 6,000 feet in altitude, I believe, so this is cooler and gets more than twice the moisture than I get (30 inches compared to 12). I don't know the age of the forest, but I know it was already a recognizable forest over 130 years ago when it was named, so it's been around a while.

In the photo, you can see the soil is not dark at all under the natural mulch made by the trees and vegetation. Seriously, it's pale and it was also completely dry. The photo was taken about a month after the last rainfall in that area. And I should mention again - this is an area that gets MORE moisture than where I'm at.

Next picture is of a log that's been in the forest for years and years - and you'll note the distinct lack of breaking down, here. There's no fungus, no moss, no lichens, even. Just a little bark missing and big, dead, slowly desiccating tree corpse. They just don't rot here like they do in a wetter climate, you know?

The last picture was just a brief one to show the level of growth near our arroyos, including one naturally occurring 'hill' on the left of the picture that's makes basically an island in the middle of a small stream a few hours a day, during the monsoons. You'll be able to see one section of it with nothing growing on it. There was nothing but one scraggly weed that was still mostly to the side. Otherwise, everything grows in the valleys rather than the hills (I think I might have to put this photo in the next post.

natural_forest_mulch.jpg
[Thumbnail for natural_forest_mulch.jpg]
The forest floor in a desert pine and oak forest
dirt_under_forest_mulch.jpg
[Thumbnail for dirt_under_forest_mulch.jpg]
The not-dark-at-all dirt of the forest floor
dead_log.jpg
[Thumbnail for dead_log.jpg]
desiccated log on forest floor
 
shauna carr
Posts: 84
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yeah - last picture of the hillock in the middle of an arroyo, one of the wettest places near my home. On the left of the picture is the hillock, in the middle is the tree growing in the small valley formed behind the hillock.

hillock_in_arroyo.jpg
[Thumbnail for hillock_in_arroyo.jpg]
tree growing low, nothing growing high, here in the desert
 
Brett Andrzejewski
gardener
Posts: 315
Location: Buffalo, NY
29
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have spoken with several people who have tried hugelkultur in arid hot drylands with poor results. Yet, the same people get amazing results when they bury a lot of organic matter under the ground. we locally call it a 'sponge' or 'organic sponge'. It makes sense to me because 'hugel' originally referenced a hill. It is basically the same thing of putting organic material into the ground.

Hot arid drylands
hugelkultur -above ground hill loaded with wood and organic material covered with dirt - doesn't work well
organic sponge -sunken pit loaded with wood and organic material covered with dirt - works well
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Pie
Posts: 3546
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
128
bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks Shauna ! Great post.
 
James Koss
Posts: 73
3
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Out of simple curiosity and enthusiasm, I decided to make a hugelkultur outside of my yard, a couple months ago. It's all stone and no soil, almost entirely. Only the hardiest plants grow here. I'm on the edge (area) of the Judea desert.

The summer here is super harsh (not even a cloud), and I am not irrigating the hugelkultur. However, two sturdy cucumber plants seem to survived. Other plants died on it, but those two might have managed to push their roots below the wood pile, and keep alive.

If they're still alive so far, my bet is that they will survive the summer, and give [small] fruit. I'll keep an eye on them.

I shared pics on my blog, including other experiments:
http://www.assafkoss.com/2014/06/hugelkultur-plant-friends.html
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Pie
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
173
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Assaf - I love that you are experimenting with this! I hope you keep lots of notes and pictures as the summer progresses. I would definitely save the seeds of those cucumber plants! Are they Armenian cucumbers (at least that's what we call them here) - they seem to be the hardiest in hot, dry areas.

I wonder too, if more things would survive if you used a sunken hugel bed instead of the more traditional hugel mound?

I also understand completely about "no clouds in the sky". When I lived in Somalia, it rained twice in the two years we were there. And one of those times it rained on our neighbor's property and not ours. So really, we got one rain event in two years. Such is the way of the desert.

 
James Koss
Posts: 73
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Assaf - I love that you are experimenting with this! I hope you keep lots of notes and pictures as the summer progresses. I would definitely save the seeds of those cucumber plants! Are they Armenian cucumbers (at least that's what we call them here) - they seem to be the hardiest in hot, dry areas.

I wonder too, if more things would survive if you used a sunken hugel bed instead of the more traditional hugel mound?


Thanks, Jennifer. I don't know that they are Armenian or otherwise. It's just the seed packet that I got in my local gardening shop. I'm sure it's some locally favored variety, considering our special conditions.

The ground here is rocks and lime, I think. Anyhow, it's not digging-friendly, at all. Even with a pickaxe, it would be a menace; and I've tried before. So, that's not a viable option, without some heavy machinery.
 
Celia Revel
Posts: 81
2
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here's a picture of my two year old hugelkulture after two years of drought in California. Any questions? The only green part is the bermuda in the background growing over the septic tank which I'm trying to kill with a board of plywood, as you can see. There is a little green at the depression of the horseshoe shaped bed, but that is in direct opposition to the idea. It basically now serves as an infiltration basin for the middle.
IMG_0460.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_0460.JPG]
 
Gilbert Fritz
Pie
Posts: 1029
Location: Denver, CO
15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So here in Denver, an experience permaculture practitioner is planting trees in a hugelmulch. Given Zach's comment earlier, about trees not growing in hugelkultures, I wonder what he would think about that? The thread is in the hugelkulture forum.
 
jill giegerich
Posts: 27
1
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Great thread! I am a member of the Transition Joshua Tree Permaculture Team. We are doing a lot of experimentation with Hugels in our Mojave desert region. So far, absolutely, the sunken Hugel bed seems the way to go. One member has had very good success growing an annual vegetable garden on his. Keeping the atmosphere moist is a real struggle here for vegetable growing so he has constructed a mini greenhouse cover over it that can be easily raised and lowered. He is a long time desert gardner and is now convinced that sunken Hugels are a great advantage. I have adapted the idea and made a sunken hugel swale that is solely for grey water capture from my kitchen sink. I will be growing a patch of Prickly Pear cactus on the down slope berm of the swale. It is also placed just a bit away from the drip line of a large pine tree that gets very stressed in the summer. I am hoping that it will provide a bit of moisture relief for it as well. I don't know yet if it will work out but I'm hopeful. Here in the desert, we stack functions like crazy.
 
Mira Morse
Posts: 10
Location: Mariposa, California, USDA zone 8b
3
chicken greening the desert
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You can have a hugelkultur (raised garden without walls/berm) right next to a sunken hugelkultur (humus storage ditch in Sepp's words). Even if nothing grows on the berm, it protects the humus storage ditch from wind.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Pie
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
173
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Mira Morse wrote:You can have a hugelkultur (raised garden without walls/berm) right next to a sunken hugelkultur (humus storage ditch in Sepp's words). Even if nothing grows on the berm, it protects the humus storage ditch from wind.


Mira that's probably an excellent solution for a lot of "high and dry" situations where you get significant wind. Thanks!
 
Jeff Rash
Posts: 90
Location: Arizona & North Dakota
4
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I would like to add my experience here.

I did a LOT of research on dry farming in the West. I was basically told that dry farming was impossible, especially with corn. All the local "experts" said it was not possible. That really irked me, because the local indians use to grow maze, pumpkins and beans\peas here no problem. If they could do it, why can't I?

So in my research, I ran across the writings of a Mormon Professor out of Utah. His name was John A. Widtsoe and his book is called: "Dry-Farming: A System of Agriculture for Countries Under a Low Rainfall." You can print\read the book for free, but in a nutshell, he explains that most desert soils have a LOT to offer. They are EXCELLENT moisture retainers, high in fertility and have the amazing ability for water to cling to the microscopic particles in the soils. He explains that Western soil is NOT what you see on the surface, (hot, sunbaked, brick like soil) but what's about two inches down that is truly amazing.

I then researched how it was that local Indians grew corn- and was amazed. (No pun intended.) The locals use to grow in arroyos where the water would fan out after coming down a mountain side thunderstorm. They would plant incredibly deep- up to 18 inches!!! This ensured access to what I dubbed, "Widtsoe's Water Vault." They would get HUGE harvests this way and often had no need to grow again for several years.

The other locals, the Apaches, would grow near a water source such as a creek or spring. They would shape their growing beds into squares, looking very much like waffles. They they would go round with a simple bucket and water each square in the morning before going hunting or visiting the neighbors, etc. (The Apache were never as evil as Hollywood made them out to be. Only a minority were truly interested in warfare, torture, etc. Instead they really did want peace and to be left alone.) That water would pool a bit at the surface and slowly work it's way down into the soil. The result was crops that could go a whole week in the hot summers with no more water. (Maybe longer- I never did try to push the envelope.)

So I combined both schools of thought with a bend towards automated harvesting, and created deep trenches. I went about four inches down and simply carved a straight line trench out of the moist soil in late winter. Then I would plant my corn four inches deep. (The farmers here in North Dakota freak out at that. They claim it would never germinate, but nobody here has tried it more than two inches deep, so how can they know?) So that meant the roots were eight inches deep on my corn. At that depth, the ground is ALWAYS moist and due to Widtsoe's hydrostatic tension principals, will wick moisture in both directions! So when it did rain, the trench filled with water and concentrated moisture at the corn's root system. When the sun dried out all the surface water, only the crust forms a dry, hard barrier. That barrier is like a vault door- it won't let moisture pass in either direction except under specific situations. It takes the concentrated moisture of the trench system to soften the barrier enough for water to pass downward. However once the moisture is down there, the soil forms it's own "skin," preventing moisture loss due to sun and heat. (Incidentally, the same concept causes flash flooding in the West.) But now the corn has access to deep deposits of moisture. As it uses the moisture in the soil, the ground wicks water from down below. It really is amazing.

So I would like to offer this same concept to those living in hot drylands. We may not need the wood or the organic matter. We may only need the understanding of the locals to do what the Indians did and take advantage of Widtsoe's water vault concept.

Makes total sense too. The local vegetation has tap roots from three to six feet long!

I would love to work with some desert dwellers to prove out my results! So if you want to try, then hit me back and I will do everything I can to help. I have a brief document that outlines the concept that I made in a grant proposal for the Arizona Grains Research Council. In it, I explain the concepts and the practicalities of it. Anyone is welcome to it.

Also, it works great in regular climates too! I tried it in my North Dakota garden last year- had a full crop of corn. All the local farmers got a shriveled crop last year- too dry.

Jeff

Forgot to mention, the trench system blocks wind evaporation too! I do hope I can get a few people to verify the concept. Would love to present it to USDA and others for use in Africa and other places where poverty is high and food is scarce. But I need proof it will work in various desert climates\soils.
 
James Koss
Posts: 73
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Jeff, can you link to your sources? Like, about how the Natives used to grow their maize there. I'd be curious to see what you found, specifically.
 
Jeff Rash
Posts: 90
Location: Arizona & North Dakota
4
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
James,

I will be happy to post what I created for the Arizona Grain Council while applying for a grant. That should allow you to find the resources I used to piece the concept together. The AGC was to offer me a grant to further improve the methods used, especially to develop no till tractor tooling that could be used to carve the trenches with minimal disturbance of the soil.

About 75% of what I gleaned, came from the 1911 Department of Agriculture study of New Mexico Indian pueblos corn growing methods. Further, there are some low grade photos in the report showing their methods, including the planting stick that they would use to punch a whole up to 18 inches deep in the desert floor. It further documents that they would place up to a dozen corn seeds into the hole. Lastly, the study documents the huge quantities of corn harvested using this method.

The other 25% was from Widtsoe's book, "A System of Dry Farming for Countries Under Low Rainfall" In the book, Widtsoe documents the physical principals of Western soil and hydrostatic tension that the Indians used in their planting methods. I then developed the trenching method combing those methods into a concept that works with mechanized farming.

Lastly, I am not sure where I found the bit about the Apache Indians using waffles, but I remember being struck with the idea of combing all three disciplines into one method as soon as I saw the Apache waffles. Sort of all came together in my head right there, in a form that could be used with mechanized farming methods. The advantages are manyfold, even where moisture is not scarce. I found that one could apply fertilizers and mineral treatments in vastly smaller quantities, because they only go directly to the plant and not the entire ground. Simply add the fertilizers to The trench concentrates them upon the crop, not upon the spaces inbetween. Weeds are not a problem then, as the crops grow so fast, they choke out the weeds in no time. I had no pests to deal with in the desert either, other than a slightly annoying moth that would attack maybe one ear out of 50 with a huge green caterpillar. Fixed that using a natural pesticide from the Neem tree grown in India. I never got corn rust, smut or so many other of the pests that must be sprayed against. Corn is just not natural to the desert- so there are very few pest species. Combine that with the cheap nature of land in the worlds deserts, and one potential has a farming revolution on their hands!

Let me conjure up my copy of the grant proposal and a link to both sources in my next post.

Jeff
 
Jeff Rash
Posts: 90
Location: Arizona & North Dakota
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sorry it was not the 1911 Department of Agriculture study, but the 1918 Department of Agriculture study that documents multiple corn growing methods of the "Corn Cultures of the West." One of those methods is the Hopi method, whereby long sticks were used to plant corn bushes in arroyos that would collect summer thunderstorm water, as well as trap that water via Widtsoe's understanding of the hydrostatic tensions of Western soils.

Search the following text string and you will find multiple copies of the study: Yearbook of the U.S. Department of Agriculture- 1918

I took only the Apache and Hopi methods from the study and combined them into one, but there is a treasure trove of understanding in the report of how Indians all over the West dealt with the challenges of Western seasons and soils. The Department realized that this unique form of agriculture was dying- the children of the Indians wanted to be modern farmers or live in the cities. It did not help that the Indians were treated as children and given their food by the government. Truly this was more damaging to the Indians than relocations, forced marches, and reservations- combined. When someone else feeds you, you become a dependent, rather than a people. Look at the photos and you will see only old men and women- no youth.

Yet the Indian mind is so sharp, it was able to divine the very nature of nature itself- and live by it. It truly goes to show that the human mind, across all cultures, is a marvelous thing. Further that science has always been with man, that is to say science in it's purest form. Observation, hypothesis and experimentation to prove out theory. Indians did not call it science, but science it was nonetheless.

Mr. Widtsoe's book is available free as well. Just search the following text string: John A. Widtsoe & Dry Farming - A System of Agriculture for Countries Under Low Rainfall

There are multiple copies for free. Project Gutenberg is where I got my copy from. I printed it out and it's always by my desk. Truly a great read for ANYONE wishing to understand how water and soil work together- regardless of their locations in the world.

Lastly, if you implement any of these methods PLEASE do keep me informed! I seek to teach but also to learn from others and their experiments with the trench methods I developed. I feel like this method is still in its infancy. I was interrupted before I could develop the tooling by an economic downfall. Any help and thought is welcome. I did design a very simple tool, should anyone desire to test it with modern tractors and machinery. I offer everything freely- one should never profit from the basic human right to eat the bread of life from their own hands.

Attachment should be here on the post, let me know if you can't see it or download and I will be happy to email it to you. It's only nine pages long, a true record in brevity for me!

Jeff
Filename: Project Deep Roots.pdf
Description:
File size: 329 Kbytes
[Download Project Deep Roots.pdf] Download Attachment
 
Joseph Lofthouse
pollinator
Pie
Posts: 1592
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands
274
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Jeff Rash wrote:Mr. Widtsoe's book is available free as well. Just search the following text string: John A. Widtsoe & Dry Farming - A System of Agriculture for Countries Under Low Rainfall [...] Lastly, if you implement any of these methods PLEASE do keep me informed!


John A Widtsoe was the director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Utah State Agricultural College. He later became an apostle of the Mormon church. To those not familiar with the culture of this area, holding both of those posts makes him one of the most influential men that has lived in the Rocky Mountains. His methods of dryland farming were widely adopted during his lifetime, and are still being practiced by the great-great grandchildren of the farmers that adopted his recommendations.

As a beekeeper, I love dryland alfalfa, because the second (or third) crop might not get harvested so the plants bloom and bloom until killed by frost.
 
Jeff Rash
Posts: 90
Location: Arizona & North Dakota
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Joseph,

He was truly a brilliant man and called out the future need for dry farming in semi-arid and arid lands. He thought it would happen closer to his own time, but modern transportation and yield enhancing chemicals set his predictions back in time and scale. Now with food stocks stressed to the limit by the rise of the Chinese consumers desire for luxury meats, arid lands look more and more attractive. Throw atop that the use of corn for fuels and one can see the people of the earth hanging by threads. (The Chinese have a HUGE appetite for pork and buy nearly all their feed stocks from here in North Dakota and the general region. Pork thrives on corn and so does ethanol.)

His predictions that the Western dry farmer (and other arid farmers the world over) would come to prominence has come true a 100 years later. Desert dwellers are learning how to make a profit from food grown using DRY farming methods on their land. I really see this as the path to freedom for many economically depressed peoples the world over that live in arid climates.

My greatest hope is that many who now live in true poverty across the globe can take their desert lands and raise their own foods- while not harming their lands with our "modern" farming methods. Land and self sufficiency in food IS the very basis of freedom. America was a farming nation at the time of our separation from England and the Founders envisioned a nation of free and prosperous farmers. This should be the goal of our Western governments foreign aid, rather than generating dependencies upon handouts.

I believe it is a fundamental right of mankind to eat the bread of his own hands and that when you do, your are truly heading in the direction of freedom. If you look at suppressed populations and radicalized societies, they are nearly ALWAYS forced to turn to their masters for the bread of life- and they must tow the ideological line if they wish to be fed. Freeing them with food then, should be a goal we pursue as a world.

Sorry, food and its production by the individual and by families is something I get passionate about. Please don't let that take from the genius that was and is Mr. Widtsoe and his amazing insights.

Jeff
 
Joseph Lofthouse
pollinator
Pie
Posts: 1592
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands
274
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

The people in my village have been dry farming for 154 years. I estimate that only about 1/3 of our cropland is irrigated. Without irrigation we can grow small grains or forage. It has been our experience that those are not crops that convert a poor farmer into a middle-class farmer. The farmers with access to irrigation can grow corn, vegetables, and fruits. Grain and forage crops yield about 3X more on irrigated land than they do dry farmed. We run cattle or sheep on the badlands that are too steep or rough for farming. The land used for animals is greater than our cropland. Last I checked it cost 800 dozen ears of corn to pay the property taxes on my farm... Seems to me like it's the taxes that keep poor farmers down.


 
James Koss
Posts: 73
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Fascinating! I wonder if, instead of the obviously failing hugelkultur method in the ever-dry and rough (grazed) Israeli land, I should experiment with planting 3 correlating plants inside holes, as well. There is activity inside the ground, as noted. Plenty even, we got moles!

I've noticed before, though, that often when I put seeds inside the ground, bugs will get at them. Did any of your research mention how the natives faced the voracious bugs, Jeff? Or did they just sow plentifully enough, so that enough seed caught?
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1271
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
22
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yes, when it is dry, lezards eat ALL what goes out green and tender.
At a small scale, we all put plastic bottles around seeds places and little seedlings...

What is so special there in the hot desert?
Here it grows with little water because it is NOT HOT.
But I do not see any humidity underground. Appart from irrigating of course.

What about the crust you mention?
I have heard so much that you have to brake that crust, because it facilitate evaporation, and you say the reverse here.
Might it depends on the quality of the soil?
 
Jeff Rash
Posts: 90
Location: Arizona & North Dakota
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I will be honest James, I had a heck of a time with pests until I learned to work with the moisture cycles. It was three to four years before I understood and began to work with my local moisture cycles.

You see at first, I followed the directions on the corn packets, which told me when to plant in my "zone." This was total disaster as the rats and mice ate the corn as it was emerging. I came out one morning to see my corn emerging from the ground, about an inch tall, only to return the next morning to find it eaten to the ground. It would make one last valiant attempt for emergence- and the rats would return again. Not one corn plant made it that first year. But I found the concept so intriguing, that I just had to know how the Indians outsmarted the rats. I realized what was happening is that the rats (desert rats) and mice were eating the corn shoots for their moisture- not their calorie content.

Understanding that it was moisture the pests were after, I did some more research into when the Indians planted, for they certainly had no issues with their harvests! Turned out I was planting far too late. The rats and mice were starving for moisture at that point and would eat any green thing they could find.

Next time I planted in late March, with emergence in early to mid April. This is exactly the same time as the Spring rains and there's lots of moisture for the rats and mice from other sources. They actually don't seem to bother the corn in the least at this time of year, apparently it's not a prefered crop for them.

All deserts with the exception of maybe the most harsh, have some sort of moisture cycle. In Arizona, we can get quite a bit of rain, but it all comes in droves- then waits another nine months before raining again!

I suspect Israel and the surrounding regions are much the same. If I were going to teach you to use this method, I would first test your moisture vault during the driest months, (most likely now) by digging a hole. Odds are good the top is like digging through concrete, but somewhere between two to four inches, you will will suddenly notice a difference in the earth. It will become far softer, cooler and loose. The hard soil is the vault door and the soft soil is the moisture vault. You want to plant down to this level, so the roots will always have a moisture source. I find that a four inch trench depth along with a two inch corn planting in the lowest part of the trench, seems to be a near universal.

I would start small scale, maybe four trenches six feet or so in length. They can be made by hand if they are not longer than six feet. Dig down about four inches, then plant your seed two inches deep in the middle of the trench. I actually found the corn grew better if each seed was planted six inches from the other. I thought such a method would stress the moisture vault too much, but I was looking for limits anyway. The serendipitous surprise was that closer plantings cause each seed to grow faster. I suspect that each plant is much like the average person and very much wants to keep up with the Jones's! I also noticed, though I can't prove it, that the corn took on a symbiotic nature when planted this close. It seemed to grow as one, pollinate as one and bare fruit as one. How a simple corn plant knows what it's neighbors are up to is beyond me, but I am convinced that they do! So while it sounds like it's a great way to stress the plants and the soil, they actually grow far better close together at a six inches apart, than a foot or eight inches. (Tried both of those too, not as good a result as six inches apart.) The other thing I noticed, to my amazement, was that denser corn creates it's own atmosphere! My dogs first clued me to this, when they would disappear into the fields during the hottest part of the day. They would emergence later, not panting or thirsty and looking well rested. Puzzled, I crawled in with one and sat down. WOW, was I shocked! Had to be 70 degrees Fahrenheit with about 60% humidity! (At a typical daytime temperature of 110 Fahrenheit.) It was a literal oasis in the middle of one of the most brutal deserts known to man. So pack the corn in tight and don't worry about overcrowding. Corn likes it's neighbors. This is born out by my observations here in North Dakota. Farmers corn fields are always stunted around the edges. But one level in, the corn thrives.

I would suspect that the traditional Indian planting date of April 15th is a near universal. All frost is gone by that time in deserts, (usually) and it is a peak "wet time" for most deserts and semi-arid lands.

Another tip on keeping corn from pests is the use of what I call "corn dogs." I had five dogs during this time. (My wife is a serial rescuer, lol) They worked as a team to keep the corn pest free. They naturally love to hunt and any four legged pest deciding it wanted my corn risked its life running the gauntlet of my "corn dogs." Best breed so far was and is a Springer Spaniel. Wonderful dog, she would hunt all day in the hot sun, flopping into a pool of water for about 60 seconds and then back on it. All the other dogs would watch her from the corn field, then jump up and pursue whatever she had scared up. (She use to point grasshoppers too- wish I had a video!)

The small loss in crushed corn was minor. The dogs seem to stay atop the mounds, avoiding the trenches. Only a few corn stalks were ever destroyed- certainly worth it for day and night pest control. Even had a dog that ate rattlesnakes. He was immune to their venom after his second bite. Each dog had a "snake bark" that was a call to the "Guy" the "snake killer." Guy would come running to that bark. Before I could even realize what was happening, he was there and engaging in combat with rattle snakes. (We had really nasty Mohave Greens by the way.) He would grab the snake mid section, thrash his head back and forth with the snake in his mouth and then fling the snake 15 feet or more in the air. He would then run like hell! The poor snake would come down in pile, too stunned to defend itself. Guy was then all over it.

It's truly amazing how all these disparate intelligences come together on a farm. There is a rhythm, an unspoken understanding, a collective intelligence if you will that all starts with an understanding of the land, the weather and the natural cycles. It was a great time and place and I hope to return to it sooner, rather than later.

Jeff
 
James Koss
Posts: 73
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Pffff Frost. Over here? Nope. The Mediterranean sea is too close.

Actually, a lot of plants I seed seem to die either before shooting out - seeds eaten by bugs, or when young - roots eaten by bugs! It might be more of a local thing to my region, but maybe it's still a cycles issue. That's a fascinating way to look at it. Just seed some every month, and see which month takes the best.

Sadly, instead of becoming better plant growers, cultures over here just focused more on grazing sheep and goats. I love my cheese, but it's just no excuse. Not to mention the grazing doesn't let any cultured plant take. o-O Only the wild herbs and grains seem to be hardy enough.
 
Jeff Rash
Posts: 90
Location: Arizona & North Dakota
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
James,

If you are lucky enough to have a year round growing season, then all you really need to do is establish your moisture cycles. That's not hard to do. Look up the areas average rainfall by month from the internet. In your case, you are looking for a 90 day window in which moisture is at it's peak in rainfall. Plant at the start of the cycle and plant in a four inch trench, with the seed around two to four inches deep and you should see good results.

If the corn does become stressed for moisture, your watering needs are dramatically reduced because you only need to water in the trenches, not the entire field. A fraction of water normally used in agriculture will be easily sufficient for the corn.

Consider growing corn silage for the sheep and goats thereabouts. It super easy to do, you have a built in local feed market, corn silage requires no added yeast or bacteria and it lasts for years if properly stored. Plus, you have no shipping costs. Alternatively, you can have the sheep and goats graze the field after you harvest. You have no stubble to deal with, nothing to burn, (hate when the farmers here do that! Why not just plow it back in? Plus it stinks to high heaven of ammonium nitrate they use for fertilizers here!) and you get free manure to enrich the soil.

I think you are on the right track. I want to encourage you to start small, observe what happens and expect failure. In fact, you should be joyous at failure, because that's what leads you to an understanding of how best to work with the nature of your soils.

Lastly, don't be surprised if you suddenly find the nature of the earth in your area changing. There's something weird about working with nature, something that can't be proven, though many farmers know it instinctively. The land becomes a friend almost, as if it tries to work with you. You will notice a sharp reduction in pests and other ailments, once you bring your methods inline. Pests seem to love it when things are out of balance and tend to disappear or sharply reduce once things are in alignment.

Avoid plowing often, as I found that a really good way to create a lot of dust and disrupt the moisture vault. The only time it's justified in my opinion is when working organic matter into the soil and during peak rains.

I am looking forward to you trying this out James! Be sure to look up monthly rainfalls before you begin and plant at the beginning of the rain cycle.

Jeff

PS, one more thing about corn silage, you don't need a mature crop. Even a crop that's only a 1/4th grown will make for excellent corn silage! So if the rains are light in any given year, you can harvest at any given point- and still make $$$$ from your corn crop as silage. Oh! And don't forget about "corn dogs" and "corn cats!" You would be amazed at how they control pests.
 
James Koss
Posts: 73
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Oh, I won't be doing anything very meaningful, other than tiny research. Israel is notorious for the lack of land availability. There's no option for land here. At all. Nothing. Not even trying anything on public land... no place is untouched. Unless you're inheriting it, which is very rare.

There's only one month in the year where rainfall is at its peak. About January. The rest of the year is strictly dry. No summer rains: (I'm more into the hills, which could go as low as half the rainfall in this chart)
http://en.climate-data.org/location/2900/

Also, the grazing I mentioned is done by regional Arabs. It's not possible for me to own animals... super expensive and bureaucracy. The Arabs have their herds from before the state, so some are still at it. They are let to graze around here, once a year, to trim the herbage. And it's in-season, so anything grown on public land won't make it. All local councils are also bound, by law, to send people with machines to trim everything that wasn't grazed. It's stupid, I know.

Anyhow, I will try these methods on a 1m square plot, just to see how anything catches. Just like I did with my failed hugelkultur bed.
 
Jeff Rash
Posts: 90
Location: Arizona & North Dakota
4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
James,

End of October looks like your perfect planting season then. Since you don't get any freezes, you can grow anytime. Corn will be in silks and ears at the peak of your moisture cycle. (That's when corn needs the most water.)

1 Meter is certainly enough area to experiment with. My first patches were about that size. Plus if you have to water it, watering a small plot is far easier.

As to your growing situation, I have heard things are rough, both with land availability and government rules. You are welcome to move to America, we have plenty of desert and the land is "dirt" cheap, so to speak. Places in Kingman AZ are nearly being given away. There was a huge building boom there about 6 years ago. Then the bubble popped and now there are too many houses and nobody to live in them.

Jeff
 
James Koss
Posts: 73
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Ah, on a personal note, I'm actually not welcome to move to America. You guys over there are very unaware of how difficult it is for anyone to move over. o-O It's pretty much impossible, for me. Your gov' won't let me.

I'll try your advice. I'll get a small variety of seeds, and setup for the coming Autumn.
 
  • Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic