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Mojave Desert Permiculture Start Up

 
Jeff Jefferson
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Hi,

I plan on starting up a permiculture operation less then 1 mile from the mojave river and was hoping you might be able to point me in better directions :]

I plan on utilizing well water, a source of free horse manure, Alfalfa as a ground cover, A moveable rabbit cage controlling where they can graze on said alfalfa, Id even like to use a solar powered dehumidifier to collect water from the air and put it back in the ground as to spread greening

Ive heard about an idea called swales, and also ideas about putting landscape fabric under soil to retain more water.



My main questions are
*What kind of nitrogen fixing plants can i grow in this climate? zone 8b
*Small Scale BioChar Production
*Effective AquaPonics in the desert
 
Chris Badgett
pollinator
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Location: Whitefish, Montana
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Hey Jeff,

You can get some good ideas on how to retain more water from toby hemenway's Video Series called: Permaculture Design For Conserving Water

Here's a couple of Videos from the series:

Contour Soil to Hold Water



An Introduction to Permaculture Design for Conserving Water

 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Jeff Jefferson wrote:
*What kind of nitrogen fixing plants can i grow in this climate? zone 8b
*Small Scale BioChar Production


Welcome to Permies, Jeff!

Mojave river somewhere close to Victorville? I would suggest palo verde trees as nitrogen fixers. They do fine in Las Vegas, but I'm not sure how high in altitude you can go with them before the winters get too cold. Maybe 3500'?

As for small scale biochar, just burn whatever wood you have on the ground and when it is no longer yellow flames, but glowing coals, quench it with the hose. If you think you want to make larger quantities more regularly, this is a very good method:

 
Brett Andrzejewski
gardener
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Location: Buffalo, NY
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Jeff Jefferson wrote:
*What kind of nitrogen fixing plants can i grow in this climate? zone 8b
*Small Scale BioChar Production
*Effective AquaPonics in the desert


1) Honey Locust, Mesquite, Mimosa are some of the trees I can think of that you can easily obtain
2) http://www.highdesertresiliency.com/biochar/
3) no suggestions
 
Jeff Jefferson
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Mimiosa tree would be the winner in my opinion just from browsing the wiki's. As far as a ground cover what would be the best in the mojave area?

Excellent videos, Im instantly sold on hugelkultur. The 2 main sources of organic matter i have are horse poop and creosote would these provide decent structure for a hugelkultur? I would probably have to let it "cook" for a few weeks but im just wondering if would be suitable? There are also lots of cottonwoods in the riverbed, im pretty sure they are invasive could i trim these trees legaly and use the wood for hugelkultur(not my property, pretty sure its owned by the county)?

Another idea im really interested in is the idea of airdrop irrigation. I found a DIY online for drinking water from the air here http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Atmospheric-Water-Generator/

It seems that I could simplify this and use solar panels for power and have air drop irrigation, I'm curious to see the ideas that flow in.


How much of a benefit would biochar have in mojave desert sandy soil?


Would it be possible to start a mushroom farm in the desert? I hear mushroom compost is awesome.
 
Frank Brentwood
Posts: 81
Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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Jeff Jefferson wrote: Id even like to use a solar powered dehumidifier to collect water from the air and put it back in the ground as to spread greening


In a previous job I worked for a Water/Smoke Damage Restoration company. I don't know what your relative humidity levels are in the Mojave, but dehumidifiers are generally much less efficient at RH levels under 30-35%.

Additionally, dehus that pull any real quantity of water out of the air are pretty expensive.

On top of that, you might want to look into the methods used for constructing the dehu. Many are made with questionable materials and have some potential for adding toxic gick to your land if you use the water they discharge. (Read some of the comments in that Instructable you linked about aluminum/copper in the coils of most dehus.)

Jeff Jefferson wrote:*Effective AquaPonics in the desert


Depends on what you mean by "effective".

I think a sheltered location to minimize water losses to evaporation and to not have heat issues in your tanks would be important, if not critical. Maybe a high tunnel with a white shade cloth cover or a WOFATI?

You could throw some rabbits & worms into the mix and get a plants/rabbits/poop/worms/fish food chain going?

Add a couple of Black Soldier Fly buckets to convert fish guts to fish food. (Does BSF do well in the Mojave?)

Add some chickens to the mix and you can feed them BSF as well as some of your plants and feed the chicken guts back to the fish. (As well as surplus eggs.)
 
Jeff Jefferson
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I really like the idea of black soildier flys, as I would love to get some chickens going. Are there any good cheap Diy coop?

As far as the dehumidifier I figured I could use a solar still to destill water for watering the land as I have plenty of sun to go around. I think once I have the area planted and its being irrigated the humidity should exceed 30% (the average annual humiditiy is 77.52) i am near the mojave river as well. I would love to use a more passive system for collecting water from the air like an airwell, but i doubt their effectiveness in arid climates.

For hugelkultur, I Was wondering if I could use creosote and cottonwood? What about horse manure? Im also considering buying either a cord or half cord to bury and make a few hugelkultur rows. What would be the ideal height? Im also thinking about planting some bushes(prefurably N fixing) around the yard for more privacy as well as to keep the wind out (very open surroundings)

Are there any desert guilds?

Would I be able to raise bees? does a hive need shade?



 
Jon La Foy
Posts: 89
Location: Hopkinsville, KY (Western KY) Zone 7
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"Im instantly sold on hugelkultur."

I would be careful with Hugels. I don't know the climate too well in the Mojave Valley, but if it's anything like the rest of southern CA or my home state of Arizona, it may not work the best. It's so hot in that area that the Hugel may dry out. Here is a link to someone that had placed a giant Hugel in her California property:
http://www.permies.com/t/25412/hugelkultur/Skwirrelkultur

I recommend swales, as you mentioned earlier. They will help maintain the water, and in super dry areas it is best to plant your trees and shrubs INSIDE the swale, instead of on the berm. Here is a link to a discussion/video about how that technique has used in the Negev Dessert:
http://www.permies.com/t/32900/desert/Growing-Forests-Desert-Negev-Israel

Hugels are not designed to hold water, but the intent is the decomposing matter helping the plants. This works best, truthfully only, if there is moister (in the air or in the ground). Swales will be your best bet. And not all swales have to be on a contour. Natural swales are just sumps in the ground, like a small depression. You can do this as long as water will drain into your swales. I am currently in central Texas and since the weather is mixed (humid and dry) I intent is to expound on the swale concept, both on contour and natural.
 
Bill Bradbury
pollinator
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Location: Richmond, Utah
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Jon's right, hugels are a bad idea in the sandy desert. A hugel must have the right conditions to wick moisture from the subsoil, so in the sandy desert, you would do best with a leguh. Dig a trench, put in organic matter(not big stuff, but manure, grass, branches, etc.) and backfill to a depth of 6-12". Spread a layer of cardboard on both sides of the trench and mulch everything. Plant this with seed gathered from trees, shrubs and ground cover that grow locally. These may not be what you end up growing, but will jump up and start your system.
I grew up in the west desert of Utah and we built many "guzzlers" for wildlife watering, but they could be used to provide plant water. We use metal roofing panels as a condensing surface, they have a 14 step powder coat that is very stable and long lasting. Tan works best. I think you could hook a drip system up to the tank at the bottom of the guzzler with a valve to stop it when unnecessary.
 
John Elliott
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Jeff Jefferson wrote:
How much of a benefit would biochar have in mojave desert sandy soil?


A LOT. Any organic matter that you add is going to burn up in one summer. You need something like biochar, that will still hold water three and four seasons down the road.


Would it be possible to start a mushroom farm in the desert? I hear mushroom compost is awesome.


Mushrooms require an awful lot of water. The only place I have seen mushrooms in the desert is on golf courses and overwatered green spaces. Then, they are almost always some hideously poisonous Amanita variety.
 
Celia Revel
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Hi Jeff,

I would agree with the above comments on hugelkulture. I live in the Central Valley where rainfall is about fourteen inches on average, and lately we are lucky to get even seven which is turning us into a desert. That said, I wanted to love hugelkulture, I made one, and wanted it to work so bad, but it became a water hog nightmare during the drought. It is convex which makes it dry out faster, and it is reliant on an abundant amount of rainfall during the winter which we didn't get in '14.

There is a book by Brad Lancaster that is worth its weight in gold: Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond. It goes into great detail about how to get water to trees in the desert using concave infiltration basins with a layer of mulch. There are volumes one and two with a third volume in the works. I would read it like the Bible. He explains a lot about passive cooling and heating, concave gardens and rain gardens, water harvesting, and shade cloth. I noticed my convex garden under my patio needs less water than anywhere else.
 
Jeff Jefferson
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How carefully do I need select horse rap for trench compost?
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Horse manure works great in a desert climate. If it's been out in the sun for more than a few days, it gets completely dried out and it poses no problem of being too 'hot' a fertilizer and burning your plants. You can dig a whole lot into your planting beds and not worry. When I lived in Las Vegas, my neighbor had horses and I used to shovel it over the block wall. I could put down a 4" layer, dig it in a bit, and vegetables and flowers would just take off.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
Posts: 107
Location: Sunizona Az., USA @ 4,400' Zone 8a
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greening the desert
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I have been using a lot of coffee grounds with the usual woodchips & horse manure on my sandy soil. I'm happy with the results so far.
 
Jeff Jefferson
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Wayne Mackenzie wrote:I have been using a lot of coffee grounds with the usual woodchips & horse manure on my sandy soil. I'm happy with the results so far.


Nice, I could probably get large amounts of coffee grounds from a few restaurants in town.

I dug about a 20x45ft area once over, covered it with roughly 200 gallons(filled trash cans) of leaf's and tumbleweeds that i cut small with a shovel, and about 250 gallons of a mixture of fresh/aged horse manure. Then I applied sparing amounts of kellogs organic fertilizer as well as neem cake and ground crustacean shells and turned it once more, then buried 3 gallons of vermicompost with worms, babies and eggs directly in the middle.

I have constructed small hugels(against all your advice) on both sides of my swale planting areas as my land is very flat and I was trying to maximize gains. I used small branches from an old dead tamerisc, piled maybe 8-10 inches tall then covered with horse manure and then desert sand. im going to be planting some strawberrys, broccoli, lettuce, kale and chard.

Do I really need rock dust here in the desert? I feel like theres enough rock dust blowing around as it lol.


In the coming weeks ill have some funding twords some green houses(winter) / shade houses(Summer) I was planning on the steel rebar / pvc frames. Im not aware of a good source for green house plastics thou. What kind(%) of shade would you folks reccomend for the desert? I would also like to build a solar chimney to keep air flowing through the green houses.
 
John Elliott
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Jeff Jefferson wrote:

Do I really need rock dust here in the desert? I feel like theres enough rock dust blowing around as it lol.


In the coming weeks ill have some funding twords some green houses(winter) / shade houses(Summer) I was planning on the steel rebar / pvc frames. Im not aware of a good source for green house plastics thou. What kind(%) of shade would you folks reccomend for the desert? I would also like to build a solar chimney to keep air flowing through the green houses.


Right you are about the rock dust. The Mojave is a good source for rock dust.

For greenhouse plastic, I use either the 4 or 6 mil polyethylene that you can get at any hardware or home improvement store. It lasts one, maybe two seasons, but it is cheap enough to consider as a disposable item. After it solarizes and becomes brittle, you can char it if you feel it needs recycling, otherwise soil fungi can chow down on those polyethylene molecules.
 
Sheri Menelli
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Hi Jeff,

How much land do you have?

Also, have you watched geoff lawton's video on Greening the Desert yet? I have a few more details on what he did that isn't in the video -
I asked him some questions during the last PDC course on it.

I really think there is enough people in Southern California that are fascinated with Greening the Desert that you could have a Permablitz and get a few dozne volunteers

SHeri
 
Jeff Jefferson
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I have seen his video, about 23,000 sq ft of area im 100% sure I can garden, as well as 140,000sq ft I could ask my landlord if he would mind If i planted(pretty sure he would be fine with it)



I've been tinkering with the idea of using a computer fan on a timer(on 5 min, off 5 min), powered by a solar panel to pretty much passively add to the water table / farm area.

Also entertaining the idea of using a Solar Chimney to power the condenser.
 
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