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one piece of advice for desert permies- what would YOURS be?  RSS feed

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Thanks for posting those links, John. I live for the day when Arizona can be forward thinking in more areas than just water harvesting! But water harvesting is a great place to start.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Arizona is forward thinking there in the sense that unlike other states, there are no requirements on how you put the system together. The only criterea is that it is effective. While other states try to tell you how to build a system, AZ just says "Make it work". This invites anybody with an idea to try it, and see if it will work. Encourages experimentation, rather than just following a set of rules. This mind-set will improve the art rather than just duplicating systems that kind-of-work.

Utah has a grey water system that requires a 250 gallon holding tank (for settling) that will just lead to stagnant water in most cases.
WA laws allow for 3 different tiers. A tier 1 basic do-it-yourself system that should work for most homesteaders, up to a tier 3 system which should handle shit you wouldn't want anywhere near your crops. AZ just says "make it work". No design parameters, no plans, just 'make it work'.

Funny thing is that each of the states allow bath/shower water in the system.
Please, don't tell them that EVERYBODY pisses in the shower! LOL

 
Jd Gonzalez
Posts: 225
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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forest garden greening the desert hunting trees
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The proper term for pissing in the shower is called "urea enrichment."
 
Scott Strough
Posts: 299
Location: Oklahoma
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I can't believe no one posted this yet?



That won't necessarily work for everyone, but it is proven to work in as little as 6-10 inches of annual rain. Personally I think anyone with a large enough area, they should try it. Be aware though, it is much more involved than people think. I have started applying the Hm principles here in Oklahoma after taking the free course material from Holistic Management International. My area has been averaging under 30 inches per year. Some years well under that. Not quite desert, but quite dry with the drought. Also been having record highs well over 100 degrees, sometimes for weeks and weeks. Yet by using the principles Savory developed (and a few of my own), I keep getting better and better results And I don't even have animals yet! I just simulate animal impact with mowing...bush hog behind a tractor in the large fields, and hand mowers between rows in my smaller garden size plots. One day very soon I hope to add actually animals instead of "simulated animals". Should bump it up even more. Why? Because in dry times as many noted, the mulches and lasagne beds can dry up and blow away. But in the rumen/cecum of an animal, there is moisture and the bacteria can start the decomposition process, completing the nutrient cycle. I simulate that with the compost pile and simulate the mowing, but I believe the system will work better with less work once I can finally add the animals.
 
Kat Green
Posts: 76
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One trick is to water plants from below. You can bury clay pipe which will allow water to gradually seep into the soil with little evaporation. Leave one end of the pipe above ground for filling. Hard to overwater this way too. I wonder if you can bury a weeping hose and cap one end and fill from the other end above ground. It might take more time, more frequent watering and not last as long but it would be cheaper than clay pipe.
 
Suzanne Forrest Anderson
Posts: 1
Location: So Cal Mountains
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Hi everyone:

If you have ever lived in a desert, you know that our dry climate and temperature extremes can be challenging. Not all permaculture standbys work for all climates. A really telling example of this is the Herb Spiral. Herb spirals are a poor choice for dry climates because anything raised is going to dry out more quickly. If you combine dry with HOT - it gets even worse. You've exposed your plants to a super-heated, super-dry microclimate.

So, desert permies, if you had ONE PIECE of advice to give someone new to desert permaculture, what would it be?


Find out your water capacity, and start raising what you like, rather than what will be suited to your environment...nothing teaches you faster than trying to save delphinums in a hot Santa Ana wind, or watching your gardenias hit by the cold Santa Ana's, or washing the snow off your roses on New Years Eve to save the buds from freezing. Then change the environment to grow what you like along with what is happy without any loving care...Plant quick growing shade trees with slow growing hardwoods five feet away, and as the hards wood begin to get large, slowly cut down your weed trees...plant to be shading from the morning sun, and the midday sun, and even the last hour before sunset...use your driplines and manure plentifully, but only next to the plants, for the weeds need no help...growing the gardenias in your heated and cooled greenhouse just for the pleasure of it, and planting sweet peas with your cucumbers, winter and summer, spring and fall. Plant your white roses on the north side of the house, and the reds and golds a little further out to the west under the Robinia trees you need for the flowers to hold their color, and since they can take the sun a little better. Plan your perennial's and annuals and trees and shrubs to give your chickens places to play and eat, and get the chickens later when your paddock system is built, and you have the equipment to take care of them.
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Jennifer, your property is truely inspirational and gives hope (and proof) of what is possible with proper techniques in areas where so many think it is not possible. Thank you for sharing it.

For health reasons I will very likely be transplanting myself to a new climate sometime within the next year or so. Hot dry would be best for me but I know that I have had a mental block to that because my mind thinks brown and lack of life when I think of those areas. (Keep in mind I am coming from a temperate, adequate rainfall climate.) I have been researching some less than optimal (aka. trying to find a happy medium areas) but in the back of my mind I know what would be best. This is going to be a MAJOR life alteration for me and I only want to do it once, so I am encouraged with what I have seen and read on this thread that the area that would be best for me physically might also be able to become a form of paradise that I am accustomed to. The discussion on this thread and your article on your own site has certainly allow my biased blinders to be reduced a bit. To take your original question a little further,

* What advice would you have for a temperate climate transplant thinking of making a move to a desert climate?
* Beyond plants, is there insight into property considerations?
* Is there a limit to property size that you would try to tackle in an enviroment like this for a newbie?
* Are there groups or other educational resources a person could plug into to help someone establish that different mind set and let them have a group of mentors that would help them shorten the learning curve of such an enviroment?
* If one were to make an advanced trip to explore/research an area a bit, what would you suggest to focus on?

I do find the hot desert to be quite fascinating in what is possible, I just haven't quite wrapped my mind around all that goes along with that yet. Any additional insight and suggestions would be beyond appreciated.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
Posts: 165
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I grew up here on the eastern outskirts of the Chihuahuan desert in Texas, learn to copy the micro-climates of the desert, they're often hard to find here due to many years of overgrazing by livestock, but when they can be found, it's pretty amazing to find the variety of plant life that is growing there.
 
Dan Keeney
Posts: 2
Location: Yucca Mesa (Yucca Valley), California
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I'm a newbie to this permie stuff. I do agree we all need to do what we can and then some. I moved to the high desert in December 2014 and do enjoy the different way of life it presents. A couple of days ago I found this site and don't even remember what I was looking for but the page on hugelkultur really grabbed my attention, I'm in the high desert of southern California not far from Joshua Tree National Park maybe 15 minutes away.

But with the rainfall that is stated for this area 3.34" annually and wanting to have a garden I would really like to know more about this method.
So I'm reading as much as I can find online about it and plan on getting one started asap, this being a windy area I need to make this a sunken bed I think, the property I have has lots of weeds and I'm thinking of using them at the bottom of a four foot deep trench on top of which I'll use the neighbors tree trimmings and some old unused fireplace logs that were laying around when we bought the place.

If anyone has any insights not yet mentioned please post them.
 
Socrates Raramuri
Posts: 59
Location: The Hague; Morocco asap
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Seek out seasoned veterans who have been growing in your area for a long time.
A caveat to that here...

Permaculture, unfortunately, is new. There are very few permies out there (compared to conventional folk). Therefore, most people will give you conventional wisdom.

I lived on the island of La Gomera for 5 months [Canary Islands; dry hot summers]. I came and there was this awesome stream right next to the house and terrace i rented. Then i spoke to a local, a (really nice) guy that'd been living in that valley for 20 odd years; he told me the stream would dry up during summer;
it never did!
My mistake was i believed him. I'm sure he said what he did going by conventional ideas of how much water a person would require for a garden, but though the stream wound down to a trickle, it was a trickle that went on day and night. It would have been more than enough water for me but i counted on it going away and therefore i did not take the action necessary to access it. By the time i realized the truth, it was too late.

So my advice is: go your own way and don't underestimate conventional ignorance and stupidity. Just because 99% of folks have no idea of what the options are doesn't mean a thing. Do your own research and base your decisions and opinions on that, disregarding any advice or conventional wisdom that comes your way.
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
Posts: 6795
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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I have never lived in a place where 99% of the locals were ignorant on these matters. My tenant, Randy, was the first person that I asked about where to dig for a well. Based on vegetation, he was able to establish where we would find a shelf of subterranean rock, that directs rain water to a catchment point. The ground is almost level. Randy has operated excavators and other heavy equipment for 40 years. If you ask the right person, much can be learned. Expensive mistakes can be avoided.
 
shauna carr
Posts: 84
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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- use what you've got - native plants that attract pollinators, for example, but grow like weeds. Might as well use these rather than try to introduce plants of my own that I have to water to keep alive.

- plant seeds or cuttings rather than seedlings, if you can. So far, most of my plants that were from seed (or some from cuttings that were propagated in the ground rather than a pot) do much better than those I transplant. The roots seem to either be stronger, or go deeper - not sure which but they do better with less water. As an example, I had a greek oregano that I transplanted, and took a cutting and planted that one straight into the dirt. The transplant struggled if I didn't water it regularly. The transplant has gone for over a year, with 12 inches of rainfall as its only water, and it's flourished.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2617
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:So, desert permies, if you had ONE PIECE of advice to give someone new to desert permaculture, what would it be?


Watch what's already happening...

Notice the life-cycles of the pre-existing vegetation and animals. Make a point of going out into the once-in-5-year downpour and see where the water is really flowing. Observe how the snow blows and where it collects. Pay attention to the fog and the dew. Look at the patterns of silt, clay, and plant debris on the ground after storms... Notice where the low spots are... See how the rain scours the clay from one area and deposits it in another. Notice where the moss grows. See how the vegetation is different in different areas depending on how much water gets concentrated by slight variations in the terrain. Pay attention to where birds land and where they drop nutrients.

Or to sum it all up... Open your eyes with the intention of seeing what is right there waiting to be seen and mimicked

 
Deb Rebel
garden master
Posts: 1802
Location: Zone 6b
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I have never gardened in a place with more than 30" of annual precipitation (and that place, it was mostly SNOW that melted off quickly in the spring) and am used to under 17" (more like 10-13").

Strategic afternoon shade. Find out when your local high noon is during Daylight Saving time and plan for 1-2 hours before then to an hour before sunset. Even shadecloth, or a trellis that holds a quick growing sun loving vining something.

Find out what your prevailing summer wind direction is and put up windbreak. That wind will dry things RIGHT NOW. Great for your solar powered clothes drying, miserable for your gardening.

Mulch. Shade that soil.

Where I am at now, 30% shadecloth is pretty much mandatory to get anything to grow, even sun-loving plants. I can keep flowers on the east side of the house fairly close in as they get shaded from local high noon onwards. They also get protected by other things from the prevailing summer winds (trees just out of town bend over like they were on the sea-coasts from the winds, and tall trees in town are bent over at the top also).

At this time of the year, a 6' tall person has about a foot of shadow at high noon so it gets pretty much overhead (summer equinox) and we get north window sun in early morning and late evening. So shading a house is kind of difficult. A lot of people put a flying roof over their house (like building a pole barn but only putting the roof on) with 3-4 feet of clear space over the house roof and extending out several feet all around. This helps with the summer hot sun, and in winter the sun has shifted low enough for the house to do solar gain. We also tend to orient the long axis of the house north-south to minimize midday summer solar exposure, and plant heavily on the west side of the house to provide shade. I built a 12' trellis on the south side of our house, a sort of box frame, that I grow long gourds (snake gourds) over, they can take it as long as you mulch their roots and keep them watered, and inside the box, they will drop the gourds. You can plant one about every 4' along the trellis and they quickly will provide a lot of leafy shade, you can even sit inside the 'box' in lawn chairs and enjoy the shade.
 
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