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The Big Fat Thread of Dryland Farming Ideas!

 
Posts: 80
Location: More D'Ebre, Tarragona, Spain Mediterranean zone
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Thank you Tracy for a very comprehensive list and for the suggestion to google "bunds" really informative and helpful -fell down a rabbit hole of info to keep water on my almost flat land.

Thank you Tyler! Ihave been racking my brain for a method for market gardening dry land planting that I can use on my wind exposed, depleted, sandy soil!

I'm planning to try Zai Holes next year to grow corn, beans, millet, and squash with no irrigation:  https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/echocommunity.site-ym.com/resource/collection/27A14B94-EFE8-4D8A-BB83-36A61F414E3B/TN_78_Zai_Pit_System.pdf  

I shall be trying tomatoes and squash.
 
steward
Posts: 2154
Location: Sunshine Coast, BC
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Ah, thanks for bringing this back up, Sarah! It's that time of year again, and I'm going over this to put my garden experiments together for this year.

My first 80 foot buried-wood garden bed is going into its second summer, after one winter of soaking up rain (and snow!). So it will be interesting to see how it does with water this year. There is another 80 foot bed that was built late in the fall, so it should have soaked up quite a bit as well. The next two beds will be built in the next month, and so will have less time to soak up water. So it will be interesting to compare the second year beds with the first year beds, in terms of water consumption, plant growth, weed pressure, and general healthiness.

There will be an area at the back of the garden that is going to be the start of the food forest, but this year I will be planting lots of different things in there - annual and perennial - all mixed together, just to get some stuff growing, build up the organic matter in that area, and provide nurse crops for the trees and shrubs. I am going to irrigate half, and let the other half fend for itself. This will only happen if we get the fence up, as there is really no point in planting anything outside a fence here - the deer will just enjoy a smorgasbord, and I'll get nada.

So many plans, so little time . . .
 
pollinator
Posts: 453
Location: Western Kenya
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What a fantastic thread that I never saw before.
We have a rainy season and a hot, dry season.

We use zai holes especially for starting bananas and trees.  We dig them before the dry season, fill them with whatever organic goodness we have on hand, let them sit through the dry season, and then plant the banana suckers or whatever else once the rain starts.  We keep dumping mulch, weeds, manure into the depression.  By the time the next drought hits,  the banana is well established and has a spot of happy soil.  It weathers the dry season with no problem.  

Some crops, if well rooted and established in the rainy season, can continue to survive the drought.  Sweet potatoes and cassavas keep doing their thing, and stay lush and green even when the weeds around them are totally dry and brown.  Somehow the tubers keep working, even though the soil is baked like a brick.  

I dug a "rippled" garden of something like mini swales and berms down in the wettest part if our property.  During the wet season I plant on the high parts, and put the mulch and organic goodness in the trenches.  During the dry season I plant in the trenches and mulch/fertilize the hills.  This has worked fabulously to keep my annual green leafy veggies going through the seasonal drought.  Especially if I get the seeds in the ground before the rains stop entirely.  I was late this year, thus I watered it only twice, by hand, with a watering can.  That was enough to get them through.

I think this stuff is super important to learn, study, and experiment.  Kenya is becoming hotter and drier, and this year the seasonal rains failed in some parts.  Better to have some skills before the well runs dry.
 
pollinator
Posts: 589
Location: zone 4b, sandy, Continental D
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Tracy Wandling wrote:Rules of Engagement for this thread:

The purpose of this thread is to get a whole bunch of possibilities and ideas for dryland farming (no-irrigation gardening, dry farming, or whatever you want to call it) together in one thread. There are a squillion different gardening systems, conditions, and preferences. So, maybe lots of these ideas will work for you, maybe some will work for you, and maybe only one or two will work for you. That doesn’t mean that the ideas I have put forth, or the ideas that other people will hopefully post to this thread, don’t work, at all, anywhere; and it would be great if we didn’t derail the purpose of this thread with all kinds of ‘discussions’ about why something doesn’t work, and what works the best, and asking for citations and proof. These are just ideas. They will all probably work somewhere, sometimes, for somebody.

These are just ideas to get the ol’ creative juices going, and help people start to think about how they might be able to cut down on watering, or eliminate it completely. This is not a recipe, or a tried-and-true method, just ideas.

If you feel the need to pontificate about your personal feelings about a particular topic that is likely to derail this thread, and lead to silliness, then it would be awesome if you started a thread of your own, so you can get specific about a certain thing that you are feeling passionate about. Then we can keep this thread as a place to put forth ideas that might help somebody somewhere who is trying to grow without irrigation, or at least lessen their water consumption in the garden.
Cheers
Tracy


Some time, folks need to look at their property with fresh eyes:The idea that surrounded by water you could need to have a 650ft well was the first thing that intrigued me about your post. Congratulations on having thoroughly researched your site and putting forth so many ideas, by the way. I printed out your whole post as I'm sure there will be more ideas that I can use. From the cold hardiness map, you look to be in a zone 7+, which was also a surprise to me. I knew that the gulf current brought the temperature up, but zone 7? (I wish!) in the central sands of Wisconsin, I am in a very cold zone 4. We have 35 ft of sand under our feet. Pure sand. and we get an average of only 34"of rain/ year. What you said about getting prepared to be water deficient also hit a nerve: We have a CAFO ((Confined Animal Feeding Operation) that wants to settle very close and with their High Capacity wells dug at 175 ft, (My well is 28 ft, with first water at 10 ft) we fear that they will leave us high and dry, or with polluted wells, so I'm with you in thinking "water scarcity" coming!
Since you are on an island, is the water around you, (with the some rivers nearby) have you checked the salinity of the water and could you be close enough to pull fresh water at lower tide? There are system to desalinize water, and some may be affordable since they must use something on ships on long voyages. With Vancouver nearby, someone might be able to hook you up with a refurbished machine? As you describe your soil, Yikes! my soil is poorer than "dirt poor" since we essentially do not have "dirt" in it, but at my age, I'm not sure I'd want to essentially clean a soil of rocks. What kind of natural vegetation do you have there? If you want to minimize your fight with rocks, you might have to build beds. You did mention Hugelkultur and indeed, that may be your best bet. the other thing I noticed is that you receive 58"of rain/year. Do you have a large roof from which you could catch water? It is amazing the amount of water we can catch with just 1"of rain.
Figure out the total surface of your roof from gutter tip to gutter tip, all round. A regular home around here maybe close to 2,000 square feet. Pour 1" of rain on this and you get about 1200 gallons. X by 58 and you get...69600 gallons of fresh water/ year... Not too shabby if you can direct it to your crops or in a cistern. Here is a link:  http://www.rainbarrelguide.com/how-much-water-can-you-collect-in-rain-barrels-during-a-rainfall/  
With sandy and rocky soils, our best option maybe to make piles of mulch and grow stuff into them. There are sawmill nearby? could they deliver sawdust/ bark etc.? I prefer to use stuff that is already on my property, but adding a one time large amount and sprinkle it in raised beds may be an option. I have a horse farmer across the road. We clean their barn once a year in exchange for the free manure. If you can find one nearby, they could help you too. We are not islands, right? (haha, could not resist). I'm pulling for you and hope that all you dream comes to fruition. You certainly have done a lot of thinking on your project already./
 
pollinator
Posts: 596
Location: Utah
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I live in a city called Sandy, and yes that describes it. The soil is sand and rock. We get about 12 inches of rain per year but mostly between September and May.

I started a dry garden last year with various squash--more than fifty seeds planted, 3 grew to maturity and fruited. It wasn't (and isn't) technically dry farming as I watered between two weeks and a month apart last year. The seeds germinated on 1 gallon of water, and those that survived the earwigs, slugs and other bugs got watered when they were showing serious drought stress. I used deep (leaf) mulch and planted in pits for additional protection. I also provided shade for the later part of the afternoon. The zucchini fruited the best, small and fast, coming on in flushes of 6-8 rather than 1 or 2 at a time.

This year I planted the seeds of that dry garden survivor (zucchini) and tepary beans. The tepary beans have not been watered yet and show no signs of water stress. The zucchini were watered the first time this week because I needed to kill the squash bugs that had taken up residence. The plants were not showing any signs of stress but there's also no sign of blossoms yet. Over time I will test other plants and gradually expand the dry garden into the main garden as I find or develop varieties that can survive.

In the meantime my grapes have been growing with no additional water for the last two years and they're doing amazing. I'm testing the plums and almonds this year and so far it appears that there's just as much fruit but it's smaller. Just like the grapes.
 
Posts: 201
Location: Málaga, Spain
48
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Here is my challenge.

I can toy with a garden with 800 sq meters in a Mediterranean climate (not a single drop from June to September, no freeze either). This garden has no water at all. There might be some runoff water, but I am not allowed to divert it, neither allowed to dig a well. Only rainwater. We run a NGO with no money at all, only hand work. The city hall allowed our asociation to manage the site, but they don't help much.
The garden is mostly flat, but it has some slope in the west side, where we have planted lots of fruit trees. The flat side has a few grown fig tress, olive trees and we planted a lemon tree and a banana tree that is dieing. The perimeter is fenced, with some vines holding on the fence giving a scarce protection against winds.
Initially we stole water from the municipality allowing to irrigate dezens of beds, and all the baby trees, but they shut the valve and now we can only maintain one bed irrigated during summer, our dry season. So this is a case of a dryland gardening, in a semiarid mediterranean region, with no irrigation at all.

I've tried to make a swale and divert (illegally) some water from a nearby dirt walkway, but so far the results are not spectacular. So I've decided to turn to water microcatchment for the area. I've dug a sunken bed, half of the earth is now on the berm who also acts as water catchmen area, and creates a cooler microclimate, the other half is mixed with some mature manure we happened to have. The bed is only two months old, but it is already looking promising. There were no flooding that could suffocate the plants, and even with the most intense rain, there was no runoff water that could ruin the berms. From observations, I've decided to try a new kind of sunken bed.

Next one will be more square, using buried hugelkultures in equilateral triangles. I'll mark a 2,50 m side triangle. Within it, I'll dig a 1,70 m side triangle. The dug triangle will be filled with branches from our last prunning, mixed with the same earth from the hole and some worm compost, the excess earth will go to the outside triangle to form a compacted berm, which doubles as pathway and water collecting zone. The center of the cultivated area can be reached within arm distance, 50 cm, I need it shorter than usual since it is below ground and working with it is difficult from above. The berm will create a nice microclimate protecting from some wind and cooling the zone. Being below ground level will also retain more moisture. Buried logs will be in contact with humid earth for longer, allowing them to decompose faster, and the increased organic matter in the cultivated area will increase water retention. In summer there is little risk of overheating since the terrain becomes completely dry.

Repeating this triangular pattern will produce a few long longitudinal pathways (the garden is longer than wider), and several angled pathways to the sides. Some of these triangles cannot be cultivated since the zone will be occupied by small fruit trees. This shape will also help to prevent the garden from looking like a farm (rows and rows of beds), which is something we want to avoid, as it is now publicised as a public edible garden and we would like it to look more like a flower and edible garden.

As for the cultivated species, we are still working on acquiring seeds from local producers, but I am afraid that none of them are really suited for no irrigation dryland farming, so we'll have to work on evolving our own seeds. The only vegetable that seems to fare well is the dandelion, who is a weed here, but I love it in my salad and purslane that is also a weed, and it does not taste bad. Asparagus in spring. So far, only radishes have grown from seeds I poured, but they grew huge.

I am torn in whether using mulch or just intensive planting. The problem with mulch is that it does not allow the seeds to grow, we don't have too much mulch and it is labor intensive. I think I may mulch around grown vegetables starting May, to help them stand the dry season, where the soil is bare. Until then, I'd rather use shallow hoeing and fill the bed with plants, cutting a few of them whenever they are too crumped, or if they are undesired weeds.

EDIT. This soil is pretty good, mostly silty, but it does not flood. Organic matter is of course low, but wild local plants grow without much effort. There's nothing wrong with the wild plants, but they are not much nutritious and people dislike to eat them. Currently we are five, maybe six people, involved with the daily care of the garden, and ten to fifteen people that come sporadically to help. Not having fresh water was a big deterrent.


 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
pollinator
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Location: zone 4b, sandy, Continental D
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Abraham Palma wrote:Here is my challenge.

I can toy with a garden with 800 sq meters in a Mediterranean climate (not a single drop from June to September, no freeze either). This garden has no water at all. There might be some runoff water, but I am not allowed to divert it, neither allowed to dig a well. Only rainwater. We run a NGO with no money at all, only hand work. The city hall allowed our asociation to manage the site, but they don't help much.
.......



As I see it, you have one major problem, which is 1/ your City Hall's refusal to help provide life saving fresh water. You may want to get politically involved in removing the most negative members of that outfit: You cannot be the only one in our situation. You don't indicate the type of soil you have or if it would retain water with serious help/ mulch. You may not be allowed to dig a well [and how deep is the first water anyway?] but building an underground cistern [in a clandestine manner if need be], may be allowed [?]
2/ Your second problem is your climate, which just doesn't provide enough fresh water to sustain your crops. I will just assume that the price of fresh water in your community is financially out of reach.
One huge saving grace is that you live on the Mediterranean coast, with an abundance of salt water. There are ocean-going vessels that have on-board a means to desalinate water for human consumption. Here is an example:
https://www.bluewaterdesalination.com/
That too may be out of reach for now. However, don't lose hope: Where there is a will, there is a way. On a personal level, you seem isolated, although you mention an "Association". [could they help?] which makes it difficult to find solutions you can use. "L'union fait la force" as we say in French [there is strength/power in uniting with others]. You may be able to unite with a fisherman's union, as in the Mediterranean their numbers are dwindling and it is harder and harder for them to eke a living:
https://sevilla.abc.es/economia/sevi-andalucia-acuerdo-pesquero-union-europea-reducira-20-por-ciento-facturacion-sector-andaluz-202012172032_noticia.html?ref=https:%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F
Your support of THEIR plight might help them support YOUR plight. Supplying people with fresh water sounds like an easier way for them to make a living than catching these elusive fish as the Law now restricts them. If you were to invest in a desalination effort on their boat, they might be able to provide you with a harvest of fresh water that you could use. You could drive to their dock in the harbor and with the help of a transfer pump collect the water they harvested for you and pay them by the container? You would have to guestimate how much water that would be per week for the surface to water, then go for it.
Malaga also seems to have a fair number of pallet producers, which may help you get to a source of woodchips for mulch[?]
https://www.suppliersof.com/wood-container-pallet-manufacturing/es/Malaga/80378614
If you cannot work with fishermen losing their jobs, you may be able to work with a larger outfit, like Club Med: they go in the ocean all the time and they have to have a desalination process on board, already built.
At present, you are doing a back-breaking, herculean job to transform your property into a place where you would be able to grow more crops. Perhaps building a cistern [which should be out of view/ prying eyes] could be part of your solution.
Let us know how things are progressing, and good luck on your project[s]
 
Lauren Ritz
pollinator
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote: 2/ Your second problem is your climate, which just doesn't provide enough fresh water to sustain your crops. I will just assume that the price of fresh water in your community is financially out of reach.

I don't agree. With 21 inches of water per year there should be plenty as long as it's used properly. Under deep mulch, I am able to grow a number of different crops on 12 inches (apx 305 mm) with no supplemental water at all. And this is in a similar summer climate--brutal sun, heat, very little water May to September.

With an average minimum of 45 degrees F, or 7 degrees C, he could even grow/plant a lot of things during the cooler season without much risk of freezing, and when the water is actually falling on the land. Let plants get established during that period so that when the water stops he doesn't lose as much.

Abraham, you need to observe where the water runs and falls and pools, taking into consideration that any change you make is going to affect the water flow. What you're doing is not at all impossible, although it may be difficult. At this point, build on what you've already done. You have a good plan in place, which will improve your soil and the soil's water holding capability over time--run with it, do it.

During the cooler season, if you can't do your major plantings put in annuals with a deep root system to get water pathways down into the soil. Water is truly your Achilles heel, but it can be done.

Come back and give us updates as well. I'd like to see how things progress over time.
 
master steward
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Abraham Palma wrote:Here is my challenge.

So this is a case of a dryland gardening, in a semiarid mediterranean region, with no irrigation at all.



Dryland farming is tricky as a person needs to use lots of tricks to get water when there is none.

This thread has a lot of the tricks that are available:

https://permies.com/t/138768/Water-Plants-Trees-Drought-Conditions

It has been a long time since I read "The Big Fat Thread on dryland Farming" so if these were mention this is an update on methods.

This thread mostly covers using Mulch:

https://permies.com/t/89965/dry-climate-leads-sustainability-mulch


This thread has some information on Zai Holes:

https://permies.com/t/96852/permaculture-projects/Starting-Food-Forest-soil-crazy






This thread is about Air Wells - collecting water from the air

https://permies.com/t/airwell


This thread is about Wicking Beds:

https://permies.com/t/134410/Wicking-beds-Texas






This thread is about Clay pots or Ollas

https://permies.com/t/56986/Clay-Pot-Irrigation-Experiment






This thread is about Keyhole Gardening:

https://permies.com/t/68883/permaculture-projects/keyhole-garden-summer-drought


Some information on Rainwater Catchment:

https://permies.com/t/36676/Brad-Lancaster-Waste-Transform-waste#285925

https://permies.com/t/127073/store-water#1040876


This last thread is about Dryland Farming:

https://permies.com/t/58559/permaculture-projects/Big-Fat-Thread-Dryland-Farming



I would also suggest a rain catchment for the garden like this guzzler:


source
 
Posts: 96
Location: Southern Utah
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I just found this thread and will read all of it when I get a chance, but I will share here what I just posted in Front Porch Chat because I think it is appropriate for this topic.

I live in a desert area of Southern Utah, about 5300 foot elevation on the side of a mountain where there are Juniper and Pinion Pine trees to provide some shade.  But the total annual precipitation is only about 20 inches of precipitation per year.
After a winter of 4" snow falls that would mostly melt before the next 4" snow fall, maybe every other week or so, the ground here got a good soaking. The last big snow fall maybe 6 or 8 weeks ago melted real slow and soaked in well. Last week we had several days in a row with a few inches of snow that melted just in time for more snow, so that was well needed. Saturday morning there was 9" of snow that mostly melted by sunset and finished melting and soaking in by Sunday afternoon. This evening we had about 2 hours of steady rain (probably a light rain for those of you who don't live in a desert) and it soaked in well with minimal puddles and no runoff.
I think I finally have the property terraced and mulched enough to properly allow the water to soak into the ground. I guess that means I can continue scattering mulch and compost, because it is obviously working.
And now it is snowing again and there is already an inch of snow on the ground.  With the extensive use of wood chips all over my property I suspect the moisture will remain in the soil for quite some time, unlike previous years where the exposed soil would dry out within weeks of steady sunshine.  Mulch, compost, wood chips, and more compost will retain the moisture and nourish the soil, and each successive year will be better than the last.
 
What is that? Is that a mongol horde? Can we fend them off with this tiny ad?
Food Forest Card Game - Game Forum
https://permies.com/t/61704/Food-Forest-Card-Game-Game
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