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Anybody growing without irrigation?

 
master steward
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radishes without irrigation:






watermelon:






brocolli




sunflower




the garden beds gave us some morels this year:



 
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Whatever you do, don't forget to mulch! I believe that a good deep mulch is key to growing plants with out irrigation in any climate.
 
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paul wheaton wrote:No irrigation here.  I just ate a bunch of potatoes.  We've had lots of rhubarb.   There are heaps of sunchokes.   Last year we got some squashes and melons.  Heaps of greens.  Huge turnip.




Ooodles of serviceberries and juneberries.  



I don't understand about hugelculture.  Where does the initial water come from?  You had to water it first, right?  Or did you just let it get rained on?  And doesn't it dry out from being exposed on 2 sides?  I don't get it.
 
gardener
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In a non-desert climate, a hugelculture mound soaks up rain in whatever season it falls (and initial watering if it is very dry) and holds the water in the rotting logs. You are generally not supposed to have bare tilled earth on the surface, so the cover plants help keep the moisture in.

In very dry climates, a mound would not work so well, and people have modified the practice to have mostly underground log heaps without a significant mound to catch the wind.
 
Lori Ziemba
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Glenn Herbert wrote:In a non-desert climate, a hugelculture mound soaks up rain in whatever season it falls (and initial watering if it is very dry) and holds the water in the rotting logs. You are generally not supposed to have bare tilled earth on the surface, so the cover plants help keep the moisture in.

In very dry climates, a mound would not work so well, and people have modified the practice to have mostly underground log heaps without a significant mound to catch the wind.



Oh, OK.  Thanks for explaining.  I had a feeling it wouldn't work in a very dry climate, especially a windy one.  Burying it makes more sense.  But here, I'd guess you'd have to do it just before rainy season.
 
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Just over 31" rain here (790mm) and usually summer rainfall so not the same but we don't irrigate the fruit area. We do grow some veg in this area like broccoli, chard, kale, peas, beans, potatoes, garlic and other alliums etc. Seeds/transplants get watered in, then they're on their own. This area is a year old having been poorly managed pasture before that. We use mulch liberally, either hay or wood chip mulch. Working so far.
 
paul wheaton
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Sepp holzer has demonstrated hugelkultur working extremely well in a very dry climate.

If I were in an area with only six inches of rain, I would probably try more things than just hugelkultur:  https://permies.com/t/7292/permaculture/replacing-irrigation-permaculture
 
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Hi check out the permie who was a permie before the term was created. Jean Pain. He and his wife Ida wrote the book "Another Kind of Garden" Great Stuff! I'm sure you could find a solution in here. He is my new hero. best wishes from the Gagne Homestead
http://library.uniteddiversity.coop/Permaculture/Another_Kind_of_Garden-The_Methods_of_Jean_Pain.pdf
 
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paul wheaton wrote:Sepp holzer has demonstrated hugelkultur working extremely well in a very dry climate.



I can't find that example.  I wish someone could just post the example.  I've been looking for it for years.

Maybe it is the example at Tamera?  Some people didn't think it is very dry there.   https://permies.com/t/21232/books/Desert-Paradise-Sepp-Holzer
 
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Is there anyone who is growing fruit or vegetables without irrigation in an area with less the 20 inches of rain a year? The crops I am interested in are "standard" ones not prickly pear and mesquite. Some folks think that Permaculture can replace irrigation, and I think it might be able to, but I'd like details of an actual setup if there is one, so that I don't have to keep reinventing the wheel.

Also, if you are doing it, what do yields per square foot/ acre look like?



Come on down to the Cheyenne, WY area and I can show you what I do with 11 inches of rainfall. I had corn last year grown in a swale I didn't even know about.
 
elle sagenev
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paul wheaton wrote:Sepp holzer has demonstrated hugelkultur working extremely well in a very dry climate.

If I were in an area with only six inches of rain, I would probably try more things than just hugelkultur:  https://permies.com/t/7292/permaculture/replacing-irrigation-permaculture



I would agree only if it is sunken hugukulture. With our altitude and wind anything above ground is going to require water.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think you also have the problem of no trees for hugelkultur.

I wonder if a crapton of huge Prickly Pear plants could be used as the basis for hugelkultur in places where trees aren't available?

 
elle sagenev
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I think you also have the problem of no trees for hugelkultur.

I wonder if a crapton of huge Prickly Pear plants could be used as the basis for hugelkultur in places where trees aren't available?



If you're talking about the OP in Denver having problems finding trees you're partially correct. He'll have to drive but there is a ton of forest destroyed by pine beetle. It's free to cut and take away I believe. Could get a lot of wood that way.
 
Tyler Ludens
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No, I actually meant you, elle, that it would be difficult for you to have hugelkultur on your place.  And that lack of trees for hugelkultur would be a problem in most desert environments.

For me one of the frustrating things is how to find detailed information about exactly what people are doing and what their yields are.  A couple radishes, a broccoli, and a watermelon aren't going to get one through much of a year.  How much corn yield per how much "mystery swale"?  
 
elle sagenev
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Tyler Ludens wrote:No, I actually meant you, elle, that it would be difficult for you to have hugelkultur on your place.  And that lack of trees for hugelkultur would be a problem in most desert environments.

For me one of the frustrating things is how to find detailed information about exactly what people are doing and what their yields are.  A couple radishes, a broccoli, and a watermelon aren't going to get one through much of a year.  How much corn yield per how much "mystery swale"?  



It's true. So far the only wood I've used for anything is dead trees from our tree line. Anything bigger than a few sunken kitchen garden beds would be out of reach for me without driving to gather beetle kill. I find most travel tedious with children so I won't be doing that any time soon. Plus, I figure if I'm digging a big hole I'm going to make it a krater garden. More effective. Blocks the wind and collects the water.
 
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If somebody needs to import trees to the site, Sepp would consider hugekultur to be a bad idea.
He only believes that it is a viable option if there exists an abundance of logs already on site.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's some information I found about Tamera, where Sepp did some work, and which seems to have been presented in the past as an example of people growing food without irrigation:

"In Tamera we pursue the goal of 80% regional food autonomy. Every year more and more of the vegetables and fruits that are consumed by the community are grown in our own gardens, on the terraces and at the shores of the water retention spaces, which also provide us with the water to irrigate during the summer."

https://www.tamera.org/project-groups/autonomy-ecology/gardens/
 
Tyler Ludens
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elle sagenev wrote: Plus, I figure if I'm digging a big hole I'm going to make it a krater garden. More effective. Blocks the wind and collects the water.



Do you need to irrigate the kraters?

 
elle sagenev
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

elle sagenev wrote: Plus, I figure if I'm digging a big hole I'm going to make it a krater garden. More effective. Blocks the wind and collects the water.



Do you need to irrigate the kraters?



It would certainly help with survivability but I'm in Wyoming, where water rights are worth as much as oil rights. I don't have the right to irrigate more than an acre of land and I have 40.
 
Tyler Ludens
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What kind of yield do you get from the kraters that you don't irrigate?

 
elle sagenev
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Tyler Ludens wrote:What kind of yield do you get from the kraters that you don't irrigate?



They are on their second year. My main focus is fruit trees as I hope to open Wyoming's first permaculture U-Pick orchard. I suppose it would be the USA's first as well.

Anyway, about 50% of trees and bushes survive in the kraters. I am trying to up this rate by cover cropping the kraters a year before planting the trees and by putting a wind break of caragana bushes. It's the wind that kills most of the trees. They're all dead on the windward side. Swales had a lower rate of survival at just 30%, though that was planting on the berms. Last year I planted in the swale and had a 70% survival rate on my wetest swale.

I have asparagus growing without issue in one krater. alfalfa grows without irrigation in the swales. My swales were dug with the bucket of our tractor and graded with the back blade so I could actually bale that alfalfa if I wanted to. Onions and garlic grow without issue. I've had success with root crops and greens. It's all experimentation still, but it does work. I had quite a few corn plants last year in the kraters but they did not produce any ears. The ones I didn't know existed in a "swale", that we are developing to be a massive dam, did produce ears.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you, elle, that is all very helpful!

I have a large open space which used to be my vegetable and fruit garden before our horrible drought, when everything but some asparagus died.  I replanted some asparagus on buried wood beds, but it died without irrigation.  Right now I have  chickens in a paddock in the space but I'm trying to decide which to do with it in the future.  I don't want to irrigate, so I'm trying to figure out what would be the best strategy to grow food in the space.  The area is exposed to full sun most of the day and is exposed to drying winds.  So learning about what is working under even more challenging conditions is helpful.  The only advantage I can see in your location versus mine is you have lower evaporation due to latitude, but may have higher evaporation due to wind.  You also have a lower average rainfall if I recall.  So if something works for you there, it should work here.  Also should work for Gilbert, with his high dry climate.

I wonder if kraters with buried wood in the bottom might be a thing to try...
 
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elle, do you have a web site.  if not would love to see you post a thread about your project.  many thanks.
 
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So, at Wheaton Labs, they are getting at least some crops without irrigation.

Some questions for lab folks;

How densely are the hugels planted? (Spacing)

What was the rainfall like in the past year?

What is your usual evapotranspiration rate in the Summer?

What was the local microclimate like? (South facing, North facing, side of hugel, trees nearby, etc.)

Are the hugels harvesting runoff from roofs or roads or slopes?
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Elle,

Thanks so much. That sounds very promising. Wyoming is HARSH!  Even though it is further north then Denver CO, I'm assuming the wind more then evens out the difference? Denver has lots of trees and buildings to block the wind.

How densely are your swales and kraters planted?

Here in Denver, I can actually get tons of wood. People have planted lots of trees, and usually in the wrong places. They also chose the wrong trees from a yard standpoint; Siberian elms, Russian olives, Norway Maples, aspens, poplars, and cottonwoods. So now people are cutting down lots of junk trees and need to get rid of wood.

The owners of the field I use just cut down 30 dead or dying cotton wood and elm trees. I have log rounds and wood chip mulch to last forever.

I'm hesitant about the termite issue, even though I've been told it is not a problem.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Is cold air pooling in the kraters a problem?

 
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Marijke, Tyler. What (dis)Advantages could come of burying the bales (to a certain extent) to retain more water?
 
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Hopi Dry Farming











 
Gilbert Fritz
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I'm looking forward to watching these videos as I get time.
 
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I'm in Georgia and the July and August heat and humidity seems to take it's toll along with the many different bugs that like to eat what ever I grow. I do use drip irrigation, and sprinkler and I've dug trenches to hold water. But my garden gets more afternoon sun than morning and I think that's not a good scenario. I really struggle. The zinnias and marigolds and potatoes seem to love the set up and attract lots of butterflies. So do tomatillos. And grass! LOL. There was no grass in there as of march, now it's lush, meanwhile my yard can't seem to support grass.
I don't have advice, I just can't seem to figure out how to grow organically and permaculturally here in GA. But I want to figure it out. I'm kind of obsessed.
 
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Mustard has also done very well here on the lab. I harvested about 5- 10lbs of mustard seed in my spare time and probably could have gotten twice as much if I didn't want it to self seed everywhere.

I'll also back up the above claim of HUGE TURNIPS! Most of which aren't even in berms. They're growing strait out of a gravel road. The ones that are on the berms are past soft ball sized by now.

Kale is another conventional crop that is growing well enough without irrigation that I can harvest from it every few days.

I recently harvested tons of peas as well. I trialed some fava beans, which yielded surprisingly large batches of beans so I intend on growing many more of those next year.

Rye grew luxuriantly under leaf mulch. The maples from the leaf mulch are also growing fast. Lentils yielded fairly well and now that I've seen how they grow I think I can harvest many more next year.

Apricots and apples from seed have been surviving their first summer well. The trees I planted in a swale ditch are especially vibrant. Transplanted apples and nectarines on ava are also getting through the summer without any irrigation. Just the initial watering and a good nest of mulch.

Sean the ant is growing huge squash, sunflowers, and corn on his plot with barely any mulch and no irrigation (save urination).

This is all with mediocre to poor soil. I think that as the soil builds up from all of the crops and support species and mulch there will eventually be an increase in yield and an expansion of possible crops. It also involves more precise planting times to catch the rains and maintain roots in the soil.

 
Gilbert Fritz
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How much rain has the labs got? How widely spaced are the crops? How deep of mulch? Are the hugels significantly better then other areas without irrigation?
 
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I have been following this thread with great interest. I think it’s a very important conversation to have, and I have been contemplating the best way to go about growing without irrigation. The first thing that comes to mind is this: there are no recipes. We have to use our noggins, and put the pieces together that are appropriate for our unique growing area.

I think that confusion comes because people think 'dryland' farming means growing without water. That's just not possible. I think what dryland farming means is that the land is able to retain as much of the rainfall as possible, to be used to sustain the plants during dry periods. So it might take quite a bit of time and effort to set up a dryland growing area - improving soil, earthworks to collect and hold rain, mulch, cover crops, etc.

The other thing that I see is that we'll need to grow the proper varieties - varieties that can thrive on less water. This is probably where landraces will come into their own. And we'll need to plant at appropriate times. I think that dryland farming is definitely a situation that can be worked toward. But we can't just plop some seeds into dry soil and expect them to sprout and grow. There needs to be some moisture there for the seeds so sprout and the pants to grow. So, how do we get the moisture there without conventional irrigation?

I have written a long-winded post with my ideas, but rather than post it all here, I'll post it on my Project thread (click the link in my signature), and you can read it there if you feel so inclined. I don't want to high-jack this thread.

I hope that we get some more people posting who have tried and succeeded (or failed) at dryland farming, and can join the conversation with tips and helpful encouragement. But really, I think that it will be a recipe that we will each have to create, according to our particular conditions; and with the vast amount of information available, I think it is a real possibility. It's been done before!

Cheers
Tracy
 
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Is there anyone who is growing fruit or vegetables without irrigation in an area with less the 20 inches of rain a year? The crops I am interested in are "standard" ones not prickly pear and mesquite. Some folks think that Permaculture can replace irrigation, and I think it might be able to, but I'd like details of an actual setup if there is one, so that I don't have to keep reinventing the wheel.

Also, if you are doing it, what do yields per square foot/ acre look like?

Technically, Aquaponics doesn't use irrigation- an elegant process that also avoids adding in unnecessary chemicals, provided courtesy of the fish waste.
 
theresa tulsiak
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Hi- I'm trying to add my $0.02 but haven't actually done it. Our family tried to get involved with others to start a green makerspace and  had a set-up with aquaponics that would grow food AND fish, reusing the water and converting the nitrogen, but then, you know, ..it happens.
 
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Today I walked through a field that I stopped farming three years ago. It has not been irrigated during that time. The only crops I found that are still surviving were winter rye, sunroots, and cepa onions. The onions had seeds on them, so I collected the seed. I wrote that the crops were surviving, not that they were thriving. The sunroots were about 18" tall. The irrigated sunroots in a nearby field are 7 feet tall. The onion bulbs were about an inch in diameter. The same variety growing irrigated in a nearby field are 4 inches in diameter. The irrigated rye seeds were about twice the diameter and twice as long as the non-irrigated seeds.

I visited the wildlands a few weeks ago. I noticed lots of current bushes growing without irrigation.

 
Tracy Wandling
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To me this says that plants can grow in an unirrigated field. If the soil was conditioned to absorb and hold more water, and perhaps if there were swales and/or other water catchments like buried wood in trenches, and lots of mulch, then perhaps the field could be grown in without irrigation. I'm not sure if you wrote that in a hopeful tone, or an unhopeful one. But I find it hopeful.  
 
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