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Getting things started

 
master pollinator
Posts: 11444
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Water may be a huge problem, as in too much of it all at one time. If you get floods down the drainage, they will likely be too large to divert, though you may be able to slow them. We have two seasonal creeks that meet on our property which drain hundreds of acres of land uphill from us. When it floods there is a two foot deep, 100 foot wide rushing river of water through the entire lower part of our property. We're gradually putting in small earthworks and brush dams to slow the water, but without massive earthworks we could not hope to divert more than a tiny fraction of it. Please don't build any permanent structures on your place until you have been through at least one flood event. We initially thought of putting our house and shop lower down on our place, with the shop in the drainage channel - we didn't know that's what it was, we thought it was just a nice flat space. Our original house placement would have only been a few feet from this rushing torrent. Fortunately we camped out here a number of times before we decided on the house and shop placement (we still made stupid mistakes) and two of those camping trips were in heavy rains which helped show us the errors of our original ideas (our camping gear started floating away). I really can't express myself strongly enough in cautioning you to not make any decisions on placement until you have studied the land for a year at least, or in any case been there during heavy rain events. My husband just suggested a method of checking to see how much flooding you get in your absence by placing chunks of lumber in the drainages and seeing how much they move. If you put some large ones and they move a lot, you'll know you get big floods.

I guess I'm sort of standing here waving my arms and screaming "Be Careful!" Because we have quite a challenge dealing with our drainage problems, and I want you to be able to avoid some of the mistakes we made. We did end up putting our shop in a drainage (another nice clear spot - now we know why!) but fortunately not a large one.

A comment about the pond - around here ponds (aka tanks) are typically only full during the wet times, and most will go completely dry during the summer unless it is an unusually wet year. We have an old quarry on our place which shows up as a permanent water feature on maps, but it is by no means permanent!

Here's our place on the map, with this beautiful huge pond - I wish! It is actually a big gouge out of the hillside, which sometimes holds a shallow bit of water:



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Posts: 65
Location: West Texas - near Big Bend National Park
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Joseph,

That is a huge drainage area coming down to you! In Google Earth I did some polygon traces and the upper mountainous drainage areas feeding down toward the pond you mentioned (and your) property are over 1,000 acres.

As Tyler Ludens will tell you there is such a thing as too much water when it overwhelms any and everything you put in front of it.

A pond in the immediate vicinity that holds water year round is a very good sign for potential on your property. Ponds are expensive to get built so plan and watch water flows for a year or so before you pull the trigger. Whoever builds your pond(s) must also make them where they fill completely when excess water is flowing, but also allow water beyond the ponds capacity to continue to flow on "past". That is important because it is mind boggling to think about building spillways to handle 100% of what flows through the channel.

Keyline land planning principles will help you understand how you can begin to control how water moves through and across you land.

Kevin
 
Posts: 128
Location: Sierra Blanca, TX
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Just some ideas here to show where my mind is. Please feel free to tell me I am nuts lol. Keep in mind that the only expense for most of the earthworks is Time and Fuel. Obviously the berms would need to be in higher numbers than what is shown but scale is an issue here. Thoughts?
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Ideas 1.0
 
Tyler Ludens
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Something that leaps out at me immediately is the large berm at the top: This shape will accelerate the water; something you probably don't want.

You'll want to make sure your road works with the water-control structures you have in mind, so you want to design those together. Roads should follow the contour whenever possible but avoid traveling within drainages. They can cross drainages with culverts or low-water crossings. Culverts are expensive, but low-water crossings mean you can't leave the property during wet times. Brad Lancaster's Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2 has some diagrams for water control structures which are also roads. It looks like you'll have to cross a major drainage to get to your house site, so you'll definitely want to observe it in rain events before making final decisions. I'm guessing you don't want to put your house close to the main road when you have so much land. The middle part of the land shows the most plants, so it is the best irrigated by drainage, but it's also possible that entire area is under water sometimes. You want your house to be above any possible flooding, but on the other hand you want to be able to bring water near the house via earthworks for your food gardens.

Quail Springs is an intentional community in the desert. A few years ago they experienced a major flood event which caused a huge amount of damage to their place. Here's a picture of "normal" flood waters through their drainage: http://www.quailsprings.org/an-upbeat-update-from-the-quail-springs-valley/

Report about the flood: http://www.noozhawk.com/article/100510_quail_springs

Not trying to discourage you - I think what you want to do is fantastic - I just want to make sure you're aware of the special challenges of the desert, and weirdly, one of the major challenges is too much water.
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
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Oh, something else you might want to try to find is a soil survey for your county. These have detailed maps as well as description of soil qualities and what the historic vegetation was (for instance parts of our land used to be Tallgrass Prairie!). http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/surveylist/soils/survey/state/?stateId=TX
 
steward
Posts: 2179
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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I was perusing Bountiful Gardens' catalogue last night... This is claimed to help caliche. I thought of your challenges.
"Dormant Alfalfa, Organic Extremely winter hardy
for those who want a perennial alfalfa in cold climates-hardy to zone 4+.
Also provides quality hay, is non-spreading, and can be cut 2-4 times per year.
Reputed to be best for breaking up intractable caliche and hardpan-roots go deep for water and nutrients, opening up the soil for other crops."

https://www.bountifulgardens.org/products/CAL-6902
 
Kevin Elmore
Posts: 65
Location: West Texas - near Big Bend National Park
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Joseph,

I am going to bring up keyline principles again because they will be very important for you to understand if you want to start bringing water under control for your land.

One principle of keyline is that water should be stored as high in the landscape as practically possible. That means stored in the soil or in a pond. Water stored in the soil is available for plant growth. A major challenge in dry climates is that rainfall events are so sporadic that the soil can dry out completely. Couple that with soil that has lost its "sponge" capacity and has very little or no coverage, and a high intensity rain event will cause flash flooding. These "flashes" will cause scouring of soil and formation of drain channels. As channels form, water no longer sheet flows across the land. Dry areas become drier and even more subject to erosion in the future.

This probably describes what you see on the ground there now, but how do you go about changing this disruptive cycle?

PA Yeoman (founder of keyline principles) faced similar problems in Australia and searched for a solution. The keyline principle is what he wanted to be remembered by.

Yeoman wrote four books, three of which are available free online:

1. Yeomans, P. A., The Keyline Plan (1954) The Keyline Plan
2. Yeomans, P. A., The Challenge of Landscape : the development and practice of keyline, Keyline Pub. Pty., Sydney (1958 The Challenge of Landscape
3. Yeomans, P. A., The City Forest : The Keyline Plan for the Human Environment Revolution, Keyline Pub. Pty., Sydney (1971) The City Forest

There are also some original videos that were made while PA Yeoman was still alive. Several of these have been digitized and are available on You Tube:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.



That should take a while to digest, but you can also look for Keyline videos by Darren Doherty and others.

Kevin

EDITED by Staff (to repair broken download link) John Polk
 
Tyler Ludens
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I always wonder how people are able to afford those massive earthworks and large machinery! Is there anyone in Texas who has a Keyline plow rig who will hire out to do the work?

 
Joseph Johnson
Posts: 128
Location: Sierra Blanca, TX
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Kevin,

Thanks for the info and the videos. This is indeed a lot to digest. The videos here talk about massive acreage with very large dams and ponds. I would be interested in trying to scale it down to fit my little place. I am currently looking for sites that work with smaller areas but those i find are dealing with far less flooding potential. If you know of any I would love to see them. After speaking to someone at Rio Grande Council of Governments, I learned that the monsoon season out there runs from mid July through September so I Hope to have some idea of where and how water moves there by the end of the season. We have a tractor so we can move the dirt, I just have to figure out where to move it to.

Tyler,
I really appreciate the genuine concern in your post above and your warnings are not falling on deaf ears I assure you. We will not be placing any permanent structures until we know where and how the water flows. Our intention has always been to put a temporary "bunk house" 12X20 out there to get us started. We all read these posts so our group has been brainstorming a lot lately and while the challenges seem daunting, we all keep a positive outlook. Thanks to your last post, one of our group is now jokingly suggesting we build the bunkhouse on pontoons lol. Of all the posters here, your family seems to be dealing with conditions closest to ours and many of our group are interested in seeing more our your place. Would it be possible for you to post pics of your property, especially areas where you are dealing with the arroyos. We would also like to know what type of planting you are doing and where you are sourcing from. As for your offer to supply us with prickly pears, it is appreciated and we will likely take you up on it. I will be taking on of our expedite trucks out to the property (probably mid july) and would just stop by and assist in harvest and save shipping.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you, Joseph. I've been posting in a couple threads about our water challenges, and what we're trying to do about them:

https://permies.com/t/53556/earthworks/Creek-repair-rock-dams
https://permies.com/t/51421/earthworks/Creek-repair-brush-dams

I've had little success with plantings other than natives or adapted plants (Sotol, Agave, Prickly Pear, native wildflowers). I had kind of a nice baby orchard for a few years but then it was mostly killed when my sheep got into it without my knowledge and then we had the really bad drought and the surviving trees died. I've killed so many things and it has taken me a long time to learn how to grow food here, because it seemed I could never irrigate enough and everything would die in the Summer. But since I moved the garden to a more protected spot and put in buried wood beds, I can grow year round. I get regionally adapted food plant seeds from http://www.nativeseeds.org/, native wildflower seeds from http://www.seedsource.com/, interesting things to try (and kill!) from http://www.jlhudsonseeds.net/

Here's a satellite view of our place (only 20 acres, but more than I can deal with). In the upper right corner (northeast) you can see where we've had a basin dug to slow some of the run-off coming down the upper creek. This used to be an eroding gully, but now it's mostly grassed in except the very bottom of the basin. This is not meant to hold water like a pond, just to slow it, so it isn't compacted. Unfortunately the neighbors, who seem to like to thwart us (unintentionally), dug a channel though their field so much of the water now passes to the west of the basin. You can see we have tons of trees, and you can also see the scraped-looking area which is the edge of an old quarry. The quarry itself has mostly filled in with grass, but the edge of it is sterile compacted limestone dirt that nothing wants to grow in. There's another basin close to the center of the land which slows water coming down the drainage we ignorantly put our shop in.
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Posts: 53
Location: Newfoundland
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The eastern part of your property is the most interesting looking place, at least to my eyes.
There's what looks like some deep creekbeds or gulch's.
And based on the elevations in google earth, the 'pond' in the north is actually in a high point, 4193 elevation, and following the band of veg into your property, it then flows into a lower elevations, 4140etc.

Taking a look at the area in Google Earth, it changes the angle that you look at your property, and to a certain extent, you can even go 'level' and see elevations, but there's also a fincky Day Light Angle estimator. If you fool around with the settings, you can see the shadows cast by the sun as it rises and sets, those shadows show the high and low lying areas of your property that cast shadow.

I can't figure out how to upload the screenshot images directly, so I'm sharing an online photo album from my gmail account.
There's some photos of the east corner, one without the Daylight setting, and one with the Daylight setting at around 8PM. You can see a lot more of the shade and shadowing going on.
There's what looks like a fairly deep gulch, and a lot of veg going on, and some veg concentrated in a couple spots off on their own further to the bottom-right corner. Veg concentrated in certain spots like your terrain generally means there's moisture for them to be there, or different soil to be there. I'd at least be curious as to -what- veg was actually there. There's also some tall shadows in the area if you zoom in(one that even looks like a hiker given how defined it is).
I added one with an edit of the flow lines, the gulchs look like they flow towards the south west of your property.


Google Shared Album

Edit: And while I was figuring out the photos, everyone else posted a lot of things. Lol. The safest place to put your house would likely be up on top of that random hill, but this doesn't solve the problem of where to put your house in regards to an official road or driveway, it's quite a ways from the official road after all, even with that graded track. But putting your pond or a water catchment system in this area is going to make the most sense.
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
Posts: 11444
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Excellent observations, Alice! Looking at those more detailed photos, it seems like there are tons of opportunities to develop water catchment near the proposed house site! And as you point out, there seem to be some areas there where moisture stays long enough to produce extra plant growth. Super!

(Sorry, I'm kind of geeking out about it )

Personally I would not put the house on top of a hill; you want to be able to provide irrigation to the house area, so it should be mid-slope. Geoff Lawton points this out in his video: http://geofflawton.com/videos/property-purchase-checklist/
 
Alice Tagloff
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It's not much of a hill based on Google Earth's elevation levels, lol, only about 10-15ft I estimate based on Earth's numbers, not enough for the program's terrain generators to pick up on it and emulate an elevation. I call it a hill because the grounds obviously different in that one spot, and there's a 'gulch' to the right of it too that looks like it potentially can wash out the dirt-road right above it.
It's so hard to tell when your not there to actually see what the spots mean in relation to the satellite photos. The things I'm calling a gulch is probably just washout ditches that's standing out because it's satellite photos.
But in a desert with potential for flash rains & floods coming down the hills, I wouldn't build on the side of an obvious hill either. The satellite photos look a lot like the Nevada hillsides where people end up drowning in surprize flash floods in a flash rain. It's just that it's the highest elevation on your property according to Google Earth that I mentioned it.
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
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Here we get floods over most of the property, and we're not even in the desert! We've had flash flooding through our house site strong enough to knock down fences and trees. But still I think mid-slope is best for a house site, if upslope there can be some kind of water control structure like a swale with a good overflow that routes the excess water away from the house site. With all those gullies indicating potential extra water, the place could become a lush paradise with the right earthworks and other structures. I think there is tremendous potential on that site, as well as possibility for really exciting drama courtesy of Mother Nature!
 
Kevin Elmore
Posts: 65
Location: West Texas - near Big Bend National Park
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Joseph,

Keyline design principles can be employed even on plots much smaller than your 100+ acres. Of course most of the landform concepts are not applicable when tracts get really small, but ripping on contours for smaller tracts still helps to build soil. Since you have a tractor you might be able to find a small ripper and try some test plots.

Kevin
 
Joseph Johnson
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Location: Sierra Blanca, TX
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Ok after much reading and hours of video I think I kind of have an idea of how swales and keylining works. KIND OF lol.

Swales
I watched one video where the guy had put in several swales that looked nice but as he walked it, he was making comments about how water was still standing in some spots but not others because of more clay in some areas. Now I am thinking to myself, swales are supposed to be near perfectly level, right? If I got that right, shouldn't the water have flowed level across as well and drained in the soil with less clay like the rest? Not trying to be a smart-ass or pat myself here, just wanna make sure I didn't miss something. I saw one where the swales looked like a boxed trench with the dirt piled up on the downward side. While this seems like an easier way to construct them, wouldn't a more rounded "trough" be better than a trench?

Keylines
I watched videos on both keylines and imprinting. While imprinting puts many "dimples" for catching seed soil and water in greater coverage (area), it seems to me that keylines would be more efficient because they would act more like "mini" swales and as such would allow for more water retention. Granted this would be in rows instead full coverage but couldn't that be addressed with the type of grasses ect?

So assuming the above observations and thoughts are correct, (please don't hesitate to disagree if I am wrong) I have come up with the following ideas to address the flood potential and erosion issues. I hope they will adequately address the wind erosion as well

If I Started with the 40 acres in the middle referred to here in this thread as a "delta" and beginning on the north side and moving S-SW, I could put in a a swale on contour just inside the property line, perhaps 3ft deep and 5ft wide in the trough and the berm 3ft high with overflows every 30ft at 5ft wide with a 6in flat spillway. (berm would only be 30in here). Then step in every 40ft (or there about since contour doesn't give a hoot about a tape measure) and do it again reducing the swale berms by 6in in height on each successive row. The 5th swale would only be 1ft high. 40ft +/- behind that a 5ft high berm with a channel graded toward the pond maybe 2 acres with a center depth of about 15ft below lowest point on site at its center. We are thinking we can rent a D6 dozer for a couple weeks to do this as the little loader/backhoe would take forever. I can pick up some old tines and modify them to use the dozers rake to keyline as well?

The house could then be placed behind the last berm and be safe from anything short of a 100 year event?

Fast growing trees along the berms spaced about every 15-20ft with prickly pears in between them?

Keyline at 18in between the swales and planted with native grasses with each section closed of in several paddocks, perhaps 3 between each swale. This way my sister can have a few goats and a few sheep. 3 days grazing per section would give each section 45 days to recover?

Your thoughts?
 
Kevin Elmore
Posts: 65
Location: West Texas - near Big Bend National Park
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Joseph,

Great start on a plan!

Swales:
1. Easy to plan for perfectly level on paper, but much harder to pull off once equipment begins moving dirt. You will have high and low spots in the swale, but they will tend to "level" out over time.
2. Bottom profile will also be determined by which equipment is used to move the dirt. Some people use motor graders, others backhoes/tractors, others excavators, other bulldozers, etc.. Each will have a "sweet spot" where work can be performed effectively. Slope of your land will also determine if some equipment cannot be safely used.
3. Are placed to soak water into the ground. A flat bottom profile gives a lot more sq. ft. to soak water in compared to a more rounded channel.
4. Downslope wall height is the determining factor in how much water is held back by each swale.
5. Used to collect and move water (like to a pond) will need a slope directed toward the collection point. A flat bottom in these swale types is very desirable because you don't want the water to scour material as it drains toward your pond.

Imprinting:
1. More effective in areas with "soil" rather than "rocks", and flatter rather than steeper slopes.

Keyline ripping:
1. Each rip does in fact act as a "mini" swale once grasses begin to grow in the rip.
2. Can be performed on flat ground or slopes, and depending on what you use to perform the rip, can handle varying degrees of rocks and hardpan.

The plan:

A one inch rainfall event equals ~ 28,000 gallons per acre.
28,000 gallons per acre x ~1,000 acres in your watershed (not on your property) = 28,000,000 gallons .

How much soaks in vs. how much runs off:

10% soaks in; 90% runs off (very quick downpour and/or soil with no grass cover, etc.) = 28,000,000 x .1 = 2,800,000 gallons soak into the watershed and (28,000,000-2,800,000)gals is runoff = 25,200,000 gallons coming generally your/your neighbors way.

50% soaks in; 50 % runs off = 14,000,000 gallons each

Lets say your first swale only gets 50% of the runoff from the watershed (rest goes to neighbors):

1. In the first scenario, your first swale at the N side of the property would see 12,600,000 gallons of water hitting it. (1/2 of 25,200,000 gallons = 12,600,000 gallons)
2. In the second scenario, your first swale at the N side of the property would see 7,000,000 gallons of water hitting it. ( 1/2 of 14,000,000 gallons = 7,000,000 gallons).

This is the reason in Google Earth you can see the "delta" formation on your/your neighbors land. Water has and will continue to rush out of the confined watershed above your property, rush down the deeper channels and spread out over the "delta" as the slope of the land flattens. As the water spreads out, it also slows down which is why there is deposition of gravels, sands, and fines throughout the delta.

This is what Tyler Ludens is referring to in her post. Your must respect the power moving water has.

I have a very good friend who is sited on a similar 100acre situation as you. His drainage watershed is a little over 600 acres. It has very little grass and a lot of bentonite clays and shales. The runoff coefficient is very high for him. All the water comes down a single 150 foot wide draw that runs through the northeast part of his land. The bottom profile of the draw is flat. When they get a 1" type rain his draw will go from bone dry to 2+ FEET deep in a few minutes. It will run like that for 15-30 minutes and then begin to subside. In 45-60 minutes he can walk across the draw (mud now -- just small channels with some water still flowing). About halfway down his property the draw starts widening out and the delta formation begins. By the time your reach his south property line it is all delta and no draw.

My friend had observed his draw running before he ever started digging and knew there was no way he could build something that could even come close to catching what he observed flowing down it in even moderate rainfall events. He built smaller ponds where the side of the draw formed part of the dam wall. The dam height is 5-6' higher than the water flow line in the draw. The remainder of the dam is then aimed upstream in the draw and continues further upstream than the anchor point to the wall of the draw. Kind of like a boomerang. The pond fills with water coming down the draw, and when full, the flow into the pond stagnates, and water then flows past the whole pond and continues downstream. The next pond would anchor off the opposite side of the draw, etc. As the draw opened out into the delta he made a boomerang shaped pond that was not attached to a side, but continued to offset them so water would flow past/around a dam when full to the next pond downstream. He currently has 12 ponds that hold ~ 1,000,000 gallons when they are all full. Some years he can hold water in them all year, others only 8-9 months. It depends on how many runoff rains he gets during the year. He captures all of the runoff in smaller rain events, but in the big rain events he only captures a small % of what flows through.

I believe you are going to have to continue thinking about your earthworks in light of a large rain event because I don't think your swale design can come close to handling the big events that eventually come in the desert. Think about what can happen when we get a Pacific hurricane coming up through Mexico and it rains for a week straight. You can spend a lot of time and money and have your efforts destroyed in the blink of an eye. A swale will simply blow out the downslope wall and release the water on its way. Build a 2 acre pond 15' deep in the path of that breach and you will collect a lot of sediment in your expensive pond.

As far as siting your house you will have to put a critical eye to that. I don't think I would try to hide it behind swales. I would look for a rise that is at least 10' above water flow lines. Keep in mind that as trees and grasses establish, they will trap sediment and raise grade a little bit each time water floods onto you. Give yourself a good safety factor for important and expensive things.

I really like your thoughts on paddocks. Once you figure out how to tame your water a little bit and store more in/on the land you can grow a lot of browse.

Kevin
 
Kevin Elmore
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Joseph,

I hope I did not scare you with my last response.

I was thinking today that you might leave a drainage corridor in a "wild" state for the big rains, and start swales either side of the corridor. As you get more grasses and trees going and you have a better idea of how the waters flow you can start implementing ideas to tame the drainage corridor.

You have a number of great locations for ponds that don't have to be huge to be effective in rehydrating your land.

Kevin
 
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There is lots of expertise here already. I would just put in a plea that before you do much or lock in too much planning on how you are going to change the place, that you really learn about what is already there and how those communities of plants, microorganisms, animals, and pollinators already work. All of Gary Nabhan's books would be on my must-read list, especially Gathering the Desert and Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land. His account in Gathering the Desert of finding one family still doing traditional storm-runoff agriculture in one of the hottest driest places on earth, miles south of where all experts thought agriculture stopped, is gripping. He also documents the stone-pile gardens that he found still producing agave centuries after the culture that planted them became extinct. In Growing.... he quotes a tantalizing conversation with a Native couple about how the wood and other stuff left by the floods should be carted to the fields and worked into the ground. They tell him that this storm flotsam (hugel sorts of stuff) makes the soil able to grow things but manure (he has just brought them a pickup load of manure when the conversation occurs) will just burn up the soil and the moisture.

I would also suggest finding out what was written by anthropologists about native life in your area, and study the ethobotanical literature (Make friends with a research librarian.)about the many uses of plants like the creosote bush, which is a whole herbal pharmacy in itself, as well as a keystone plant for the local insect/animal life. The allelopathic chemicals they contain serve to space them the distance from each other that they need to be so that each plant has enough root area to find adequate water.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Jamie Chevalier wrote:They tell him that this storm flotsam (hugel sorts of stuff) makes the soil able to grow things



That has certainly been my experience with buried wood beds. https://permies.com/t/52077/hugelkultur/Buried-Wood-Beds Just adding manure was not sufficient; as soon as the weather got hot, everything would die.
 
Kevin Elmore
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Joseph,

Keep us posted on the progress you make on your land.

Kevin
 
Kevin Elmore
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Joseph,

Any updates over the last six months?  Hopefully you all have been getting some good rains.  I went to the "open gate" event at Circle Ranch Circle Ranch (west of Van Horn) about 3 weeks ago and it looked like the area was beginning to respond to rain.  Hope you have had time to watch water on your land.

Kevin
 
Joseph Johnson
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Hi Kevin, I am on the road more than I am home so things are going slow. We have picked out the site for the house and the test adobes are better than expected so I don't think we will have problems with the construction. Most of the water moving across the property is in to large washes on the back 2 lots. Across the front and middle lots we don't really get the flow I expected but the areas we have stripped of creosote have really responded to the water we do get. We have grass and wild flowers growing in these areas. Everyone thought I was nuts to begin with when I told them we could get grass to grow. When we put the fence in between the buildings we dug out so we could curl the fence in to keep the dogs from digging out, these "accidental" berms where we piled the dirt along the trench held water just long enough to prove the theory. We found grass starting in every low spot along that fence line. We didn't plant it and hadn't seen any grass in the area, but there it was. Since this was by "accident" they are now thinking about what we can accomplish on purpose. I am on my rest break right now and gotta run but I will get some pics up tomorrow after I get this load delivered.
 
Kevin Elmore
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Joseph,

So great to hear of your successes even though they may seem sporadic.  Finding suitable building materials on site will save you lots of money.  Sprouting grass is also magical.  I have a friend who says in the desert all you have to do is "add water and stir" for things to come to life.  Confirmation is a wonderful thing and goes a long way with making the naysayers vanish.

How much rain have you all received so far this year?   Many areas around Terlingua are approaching 12 inches, with some more than doubling that -- so it has been a banner year!  Hope your weather patterns are similar.

Kevin
 
Tyler Ludens
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Joseph Johnson wrote: these "accidental" berms where we piled the dirt along the trench held water just long enough to prove the theory.



Even the tiniest berms can make a noticeable difference!  I'm building little berms of rocks, earth, logs, or brush everywhere I can along contours.

Looking forward to your pictures.  

 
Kevin Elmore
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Tyler,

I have also found that brush is a great way to give things a start.  I don't rip out brush like creosote and whitethorn acacia --  I try to get it to grow better so I can harvest brush from it.  I pull out the dead limbs in creosote bushes and trim acacias so I can create contour brush lines.  If I find a dead ocotillo around it is a great resource as well.  I have also found that a very light dusting of straw/hay over areas that I am trying to green up is enough to get the small nurse plants a start.  The more "rough" an area is in terms of brush, rocks, etc., the better it will be for getting things started.  It is raining now, but I will post a few pictures of what I am talking about when it is safe to get the camera out.

Kevin
 
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I suggest you check out Mark Shepards book (and videos on youtube) about restoration Agriculture. He says the place to start is to lay out contour lines, keyline swales and berms etc,  to manage any water that falls or runs onto your land. Also watch Geoff Lawton's greening the desert video. I watch it over and over for inspiration. If they can do it in Jordan, surely I can do it too, with the right species and techniques.

I have learned on my high desert area, with about 10-12 inches of precipitation per year, that most of the rain seems to come in a few large bursts, and is very dry in between. Evaporation much exceeds precipitation. Snow in winter tends to evaporate rather than melt. But I have seen water sheeting down my slightly sloped driveway area in a heavy cloudburst, so I am in process of laying out small ditches to collect some of that moisture into collection areas, and building swales and berms that are mulched and planted with hardy conservation trees and shrubs that might have a chance to survive my intense summer sun and frigid winters.

I use chickens in small movable pens (a modified chicken tractor) to build sheet compost beds, and haul in woodchips to cover all my garden beds--any other kind of mulch blows away in the intense gusts of wind we get quite frequently. My land is on the edge of a small town, so I do have piped in water, which has helped me establish a garden and young windbreak/ food hedge.
 
dj niels
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Oops. I was reading through quickly and didn't even see the second page discussion. Sounds like you've already considered a lot of that.
 
Kevin Elmore
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Just got a few minutes to get a picture posted of using brush/dead ocotillo to help hold straw on a rocky slope.

Second picture shows how ants are creating a small "compost pile" at the base of certain plant species.  I am guessing it is a symbiotic relationship with the plant.

Kevin
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Ocotillo used to hold straw on a rocky slope
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Small "compost pile" at plant base by ants
 
Joseph Johnson
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Hi Everyone

I know I promised to post some pics earlier but things have been a little nuts and I have yet to get home again. I had my sister send me some pics to add to the ones on my phone so I am posting them now to show some of what we are up to on "Rancho Nuevo Comienzo" or New Beginning Ranch". Not really a ranch but majority rules so.... lol.

The first and most important issue was getting a place to live. When we arrived on Memorial Day we spend the first three nights camping on the roadside next to my truck. While we were there, many of our new neighbors stopped to check on us, It was great to find how genuinely concerned the people here were. On the second day I drove into El Paso and rented a Skid Steer and cut the driveway and cleared a place for the buildings we were waiting on. (I rented the bobcat for a week but with the constant running back and forth to El Paso, 100 miles each way, I only logged 13 hours on it) Finally the buildings arrived. Norman and Marquita got a 12x34 and I ordered a 16x40 for me, my sister Sharon and my mother Evelyn. Open floor plans on both.

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The temporary homes
 
Joseph Johnson
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Ok, not sure why that happened but since i cant seem to insert pics and continue, I guess this is going to be multiple posts lol

Next we needed to get water on the property and it is the desert so cooling was also addressed. We found a guy in El Paso that sold food grade IBC tanks so I bout 4 275gal for $80 each and took them into Sierra Blanca to fill up 3 of them so we could fill the empty one on the ground and unload the newly emptied one and fill it. A good system to start with but we are looking for new options. While in town I bought an evaporative cooler and installed it on the back wall. Never realized how much water these things take. Again, looking for other options, likely to go with earth tubes.

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Water at last
 
Joseph Johnson
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Next we addressed the power issue. I found 305watt 24v solar panels in Gillette, AZ. I bought 10 of them for $1500 shipped. I went to Missouri Wind and Solar for my Aims 5000watt 24v inverter for $449.00 + Shipping. This was nice because it allows wiring directly to the breaker box. I also bought a Mid-Nite 150 Classic charge controller from them for $569.00 + Shipping. I wired in a 3500watt generator for back up (and after the battery issues listed in an earlier post this was a blessing) For now we have full power when the sun is shinning and we run on batteries till a couple hours after dark and shut everything down. this is working for us and will continue to be the practice until I can replace the batteries. Right now we have other more pressing thing to deal with so maybe this summer?
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the solar array
 
Joseph Johnson
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Sadly, I lost my little buddy Apollo while we were building the forms for our adobes. He was running around the property with the other dogs and we believe he got bit by something. He died in my moms arms while I raced to El Paso to the vet. The first test blocks were a success and I used the blocks as capstones for his grave. This changed our priorities a bit as now we had to fence between the buildings so the rest of the dogs could not go running across the desert and suffer the same fate. While we were putting up the fence, the berms we made while trenching gave us our first taste of what holding the water a few hours longer could do. Between the berms and clearing away the creosote we now have grass growing and the area behind the fence has wild flowers growing.
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Wild Flowers!!!! Things can grow here!!
 
Joseph Johnson
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After seeing things just start popping up, we decided to see if we could grow food as well. I decided to try combining a few different ideas for our test garden. First I built a raised bed (box) 18 in. high, 4 ft wide and 8 ft long. We filled this a foot high with branches, cardboard and paper. then we added a 70% clay/sand and 30% potting soil mix 5 in. deep on top. After completely soaking this with water, the girls transplanted bell peppers, Jalapenos and tomatoes. We had been saving our coffee grounds, egg shells and non meat scraps in a barrel with water. Sharon poured a glass full on the base of each of the plants and every few days repeated this. Inspired by the idea, they built another shorter box 10 in, high and just used our clay/sand soil in it. She planted sweet potatoes and carrots in this one. She also planted a squash and potatoes right into the ground. Marquita had taken some canvas and landscaping cloth we had and sewn together an awning to go over the top to help shade the boxes. This was working to a point but didnt shade it early in the day and the plants were suffering from our hot sun. They took everything they could find for material and added sidewalls to it and created our redneck garden area lol. The bell peppers and jalapenos didnt make it because of caterpillars and too much sun early on but the tomatoes went crazy. They have given us plenty of great tomatoes (or so I've been told because I havent been back home to try one lol) The squash, potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes are doing well too.
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The first garden bed
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First planting (tomatoes, bell peppers and jalapenos)
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Carrots and sweet potatoes
 
Joseph Johnson
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only 3 pics per post i guess so....
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straight into the ground
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Tomatoes Took off!!
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From bare grond to We Have Squash!!
 
Joseph Johnson
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We sometimes just gotta work with what we have so the girls did this to our garden beds. Not the prettiest but the plants dont seem to mind at all lol
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Joseph Johnson
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And of course the one thing you can always count on in the desert it that you WILL get dirty. To start with we addressed this with sponge baths and a couple trips a week to the truckstop in Van Horn for showers. This got old real quick lol. I built an outside shower using the remaining landscape material for walls. Open ceiling is really nice. It currently only has one line so if you want a hot shower then you need to take it around 5pm lol. I have ordered 24v water heater elements so we can use the array to heat things up a bit. (my next project when I get home)

Guess that wraps things up for now. Will try to update more often
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