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20 months of growth on swales in Saudi Arabia: Two rainfalls since 2010  RSS feed

 
Neal Spackman
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Location: Makkah, Saudi Arabia
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Hey all. Excuse the shakiness but it was super windy the last two weeks. Also, we got 10 mm of rain this week! (for you non-metric folks that's nearly 1/2 an inch)
 
David Livingston
steward
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Location: Anjou ,France
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Hi Neal
Lovely film but it goes wrong for me after 6min 23 seconds Is this a problem for me or can everyone else see the whole film?

David
 
Neal Spackman
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Hi Davids. I am not on the edge of the fog...the native trees you see are leftover from when this was more a savannah and getting more rainfall. The whole video is working for me...not sure what to say on that.
 
David Livingston
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Hi Neal
I think its a problem at my end I managed to get to the end of the clip eventually . It great work you are doing there in difficult conditions you have the right to smile more .
Are you having problems with the local fauna munching your trees I noticed the Barbwire ?

David
 
Neal Spackman
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Location: Makkah, Saudi Arabia
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Hi David. The razorwire has done a very good job keeping grazers out. There have been a couple instances when someone left the gate open and some camels got in but they are easy to notice and we can get them out fairly quickly.
 
David Livingston
steward
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They are quite large arn't they
I was wondering about wild animals .

David
 
Neal Spackman
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Location: Makkah, Saudi Arabia
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All wild animals are welcome! We have had foxes, lizards, cats, dogs, toads, and lots of birds. I do not think there are wild animals out here that would damage our trees except for termites...but they are also a key component of a healthy mineral cycle out here.
 
Sheri Menelli
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Neal, I've been pouring over all of your blog posts, videos and permies posts after I heard you interviewed with Diego so that I could really understand the project.

Great stuff!

So as I understand it, none of the trees were planted until after the first rain - is that right? All the work before the rain was the gabions, swales, buildings?

I notice that you have some trees getting bigger and they are spaced 5 or 10 feet apart. Wondering why you don't plant anything under them that would add more diversity and also help keep the ground cooler? Would you be doing that this next winter? Is it still too early to do it? Wondering what would have happened if when you first planted the trees, you planted it more dense with other layers like bushes, ground crawl, root layer (like diakon radish), etc.

Sheri

 
Neal Spackman
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Hi Sheri, I'm glad you're enjoying the material.

When the first rain came, we had our swales dug and some 30 or so check dams done (this was in January 2011, and we only started work in October 2010 so 4 months of earthworks work). That was a flooding event and it actually took some of our check dams with it (but filled the swales anyway). We did not do our first planting until December of 2012 for various reasons, but those reasons boil down to that we missed the window of opportunity before February of 2012, after which it is way too hot to plant.

As for the density of the cover on the swales--we spaced the trees based on their size at maturity, and planted the numbers based on the amount of water we had caught. I didn't know when we were going to get any precip next so I was pretty conservative with the first planting (and good thing too because it didn't rain for 3 entire years after that). The swales were thickly mulched at the time, to help against evaporation, but I didn't do any groundcover mostly because i didn't want to irrigate it, and I didn't know if it would rain. Time will tell if that was a mistake--we have some native ground covers getting established and I'd prefer those to planting a few thousand sweet potatoes and hoping they grow without irrigation.

This year we're going to spread watermelon seeds in the swales and if it rains we'll get a decent annual crop in them, and if it doesn't then the seed will just sit there.

Neal
 
Sheri Menelli
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Neal (and others)

What do you make of this article that was just published: http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/trees-vs-humans-california-drought-nature-gets-water-first-n228276

Neal, it will be so interesting 10 years from now to see if by planting trees, how much rain you can bring in.

This article really bothers me. Seems like someone has an agenda and that agenda isn't about finding the truth.

Sheri
 
David Livingston
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I was amused by the artile as obviously its the trees fault not global warming nor using up resourses faster than they are replenished

David
 
Austin Laureski
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Location: san bernardino, california
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Please help me understand. I am still learning a lot about greening the desert (about a year) but not sure what the point of swell are for if you have drip lines on all the trees and where you didn't water the trees as much they died. If the trees cannot survive on natural rain fall what's the point. Can you please explain more or point me in the right direction on how this is going to work without irrigation. At the end of the video you are going to plant trees that require more water will those have to be watered or just the outer trees. I am on the land search again and have been looking at drier climates but am still not 100% it's possible to change the land. Into a productive farm.
 
Marcus Hoff
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Hi Neal,
I've been following your videos and I'm very impressed. I imagine you must be a very patient man. Waiting years for rainfall, to see the results of your work.
I would love, if you could share with us, how you selected your tree species.
 
Sheri Menelli
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Austin Laureski wrote:Please help me understand. I am still learning a lot about greening the desert (about a year) but not sure what the point of swell are for if you have drip lines on all the trees and where you didn't water the trees as much they died. If the trees cannot survive on natural rain fall what's the point. Can you please explain more or point me in the right direction on how this is going to work without irrigation. At the end of the video you are going to plant trees that require more water will those have to be watered or just the outer trees. I am on the land search again and have been looking at drier climates but am still not 100% it's possible to change the land. Into a productive farm.


Austin, I think his point is that one day the trees will survive on just the rain that falls.

The land has been so abused for so long that his strategy is to capture water and only use the water that he has in reserve. From what I've read, it only rains one time a year if they are lucky but it is usually 3-7 years before a rain. So he can only plant a certain number of trees based on how much water he has captured. He's trying to make it last about 4.5 years just in case. If he gets more rain, he plants more trees.

The eventual goal is to stop using the drip after a few years when the trees are established. After he starts getting shade and accumulates organic matter in the soil, he'll start seeing the soil hold on to the water. Also these trees are native to the area so they should do ok with this kind of drought.

I think the hope is that by planting trees, it will start to rain more. The trees are part of an important cycle that help create rain. The belief is that if you plant the trees, the rain will start coming on a more regular basis.

When you create swales, you are creating a place for the rain to soak in on contour. I'm sure someone else will jump in here and explain swales and how important they are here in this design.
 
Sheri Menelli
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Neal,

The design of this project is very geoff lawton (should be because I know he consulted on this project)

I'm wondering if you know or anyone else who studied Sepp Holtzer how he would of approached this project?

I saw in his latest book that he did a project in Spain although I think the circumstances were far better as it wasn't 99% sand, 100 degrees and rain only every few years.

Would Sepp just make several ponds? What would he do?

Just curious to know the various ways to attack such a challenging area. Has anyone else been successful in greening the desert - where it is that hot and just sand besides Geoff and you?

I'm just itching to do this by the Salton Sea in California

Sheri

 
Jd Gonzalez
Posts: 215
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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forest garden greening the desert hunting trees
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John Liu on greening the desert.




A Chinese couple battle the desert.
 
Austin Laureski
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Location: san bernardino, california
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Sheri thanks for the response. I guess I missed that the only water he uses was harvested from the rain. That gives me more hope. I just keep watching videos and notice all the irrigation lines. Hopefully those people are not cheating their results.
 
Jd Gonzalez
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Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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forest garden greening the desert hunting trees
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Not sure what you mean by cheating. There are places that are so degraded that you have use drip irrigation to establish pioneer species and a canopy. Once your swales, gabions and check dams infiltrate enough water, irrigation will not be necessary.

Neal's work is remarkable!

 
Sheri Menelli
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Neal, how many more trees do you plan on planting in that area after you get more rain?

I guess I'm wondering is the project almost done and planted out or is there many more years of work to be done?
 
Neal Spackman
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Location: Makkah, Saudi Arabia
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Hey folks,

I've missed a lot of the conversation so let me chip in on a few of these.

Yes, the design is very Lawtonesque. I got my PDC from Geoff and he and I selected the demo site together back in 2010. As for what sepp holzer would do, I cannot say, but I will say this: ponds in this landscape would be absolute lunacy. Any kind of open-air water storage will result in greater salination and immense loss to evaporation (evaporation here exceeds 5000 mm per year whereas precipitation averages around 70). Sepp would probably approve of the terraces and benches we're doing, but otherwise I cannot say. By the way the overriding principle of greening the desert is making it such that total precipitation > total evaporation. If you can do that you won't have a desert anymore.

I selected my species through a climate analogue that I put together based on visiting local gardens, hiking around the local mountains, visiting the PRI site in Jordan, and then researching proven species in identical climate (Namibia, Mauritania, sections of W. Australia, and a part of India and Mexico are all analogous to my climate here).

I have to drip irrigate until my tree roots reach the water table or at least can get enough water hydraulically redistributed into their taproots such that they can make it from one rainfall to the next. Our water table is between 40 and 60 meters down; fortunately, both acacia, prosopis, and zizyphus roots can go down that far, and the acacias and prosopes are known to perform hydraulic redistribution, so they will permeate every planted section.

On the question of other methods for greening deserts--Allen Savory has done a great job in climates that aren't as extreme as this one in Arabia is, but i am skeptical they would work here--for one hoof action doesn't work on stone, and stone or on our crusty sand, and for two, I don't know of a single perennial grass that will go 3 years without rain. But there are aspects of Savory's work and writings that I am implementing here, especially his management system of assuming you are wrong and then looking for indications to prove it to yourself, and using that as your standard for when to make changes.

On the question of how many trees are we going to plant? As many as the rainfall allows. I am hoping to plant another 4000 this year (which would get us to a total of around 6,000 on the site) and I think that will be pushing it unless we get rain both this year and another rain in the next 2. But if it rains every year for the next 3 years, then we'll be able to do more than that--I just don't think that will happen though. I am headed into my 5th year and it has rained twice (I don't count it as rain if it's not more than 5 mm). We have had about 1/2 an inch over 4 different events in the last month, so that is something. But if it doesn't fill up the swale, I don't add it to our water budget.

The question about cutting trees in California so that people can have the water is just ignorant. If you cut forests down, especially on the coast, you will reduce rainfall by increasing atmospheric dust, reducing nuclei for ice and cloud condensation (both in the isopropenes, terpenes, and monoprenes coming off the trees and in the tree litter), plus you will reduce condensated precip off the tree leaves. I have some articles with more detail on that up on my website at twovisionspermaculture.com. On the other hand, they may just be talking about thinning the forest, which is a standard forestry practice.



 
Sheri Menelli
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Neal, Thanks for the reply

Fascinating stuff! I really wonder if there is any other way to do what you are doing - another method other than what you are doing.
If there is, I just can't imagine what that could possibly be! I just love looking at how those with a lot of permaculture experience
approaches these kind of challenges. But this is so extreme, I'm just not sure there are too many other possibilities at the beginning.

What will be interesting to see is if by you planting all these trees, you start seeing more rainfall.

Can't wait to hear more. Please keep up with the posts and videos.

Loved your article on hydraulic pumps/trees on your website!

Sheri

 
Jd Gonzalez
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Neal, any updates/videos of Al Baydha? I truly love watching the progress of the site and the possibilities of a sustainable future for the region.
 
John Master
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I'm getting now the concept of making your own rain by establishing trees in areas like the desert. Just because there is no rainfall doesn't mean there isn't humidity. If you can establish trees you eventually take advantage of the cold trees condensing moisture in the morning as the temperature increases and dripping it in the soil that now has organic matter after years of bringing life back into the area. The challenge is to stick it out long enough to get it established and take hold. Great work out there, something very few people appreciate, but something we had better start appreciating more.
 
Neal Spackman
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Hey folks,

If you're looking for updates, your best bet is my instagram page--instagram.com/al_baydha. There are some non-permaculture things on there as I share the page with some coworkers also doing leather production, embroidery training and other things we hope will lead to more employment in the region.

Otherwise, I've been asked to stop producing video for the time being...
 
Li Lee
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Terraced swales are a great water saving technique used since almost the beginning of civilization. It's just a hard concept for people not familiar with it to understand.
 
Rose Gardener
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Hey Neil, any updates? By the way, what is the average annual rainfall there? After watching your video, if you could do it in Saudi, shouldn't the same could be done in say Arizona or Nevada?
 
jack sharp
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Rose Gardener wrote:Hey Neil, any updates? By the way, what is the average annual rainfall there? After watching your video, if you could do it in Saudi, shouldn't the same could be done in say Arizona or Nevada?
+1
 
Teddy Rutberg
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Hey Neal! I love seeing how your project is coming and I think it's really interesting watching permaculture in such an extreme environment. Is there a place where I can see more recent update videos?
 
allen lumley
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Neal Spackman wrote:Hey folks,

If you're looking for updates, your best bet is my instagram page--instagram.com/al_baydha. There are some non-permaculture things on there as I share the page with some coworkers also doing leather production, embroidery training and other things we hope will lead to more employment in the region.

Otherwise, I've been asked to stop producing video for the time being...


Bump ! Big AL
 
grace proteau
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Hiya Neal great work. Bee sure to mulch your irrigation tubes so they don't degrade iin the sun.
 
Sheri Menelli
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Neal Spackman wrote:Hey folks,

If you're looking for updates, your best bet is my instagram page--instagram.com/al_baydha. There are some non-permaculture things on there as I share the page with some coworkers also doing leather production, embroidery training and other things we hope will lead to more employment in the region.

Otherwise, I've been asked to stop producing video for the time being...


Bummer that they don't want you do to video now. I really loved the videos.

Please keep us updated on how things are looking and especially when you get more rain.

Love your blog posts. Very informative.

Sheri

 
John Stannum
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Location: NSW Australia
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I think you won't get much increase in moisture till you have a hectare treed.
But this is the kind of thing I dreamed of as a kid.
I wanted to get land at Coober Pedy with 70mm average rainfall. But there is no freehold land there. I calculated 70 litres of water per 10m2 but you have to catch it all and direct it to the trees.
 
Watch the full PDC and ATC from home. As much or as little as you want: http://kck.st/2q6Ycay.
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