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The Big Fat Thread of Dryland Farming Ideas!

Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
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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.
Posts: 2153
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 . . .
Posts: 452
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.
Posts: 424
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.

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./
Posts: 374
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.
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