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travis laduke
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For the moment, I need to live in the city.

Can I drive out  on the weekend to some theoretical land that I bought and dig ditches and plant trees and in a few years it'll be in better shape than if I did nothing at all? This would be in southern California desert somewhere.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Personally, I think the best thing you could do in the desert before you move to your land is install water-harvesting earthworks.  I recommend Brad Lancaster's books and videos.

http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ-FBAmvBw
 
Emil Spoerri
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I think you indeed could make a great difference by sewing seed and planting trees. Also, you can set up grids of debris to collect more debris that blow in from the wind. This will help build organic matter and help with water. Plant as many and as much seeds as you can, using strategies like planting in depressions or using seed balls...
 
Tyler Ludens
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It's only worthwhile planting trees in the desert if you can irrigate them, otherwise they will almost certainly die.  I don't live in the desert, only in a drought-prone region, but I can't plant trees and expect them to establish without irrigation for the first couple of years.

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Location: Oakland, CA
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I'd like to add that some habitat would probably help. See what local wildlife could use, perhaps getting info from park rangers or similar. A bat box, some brush piles, places to perch, might all help a lot. These are partly strategies for encouraging concentrations of dung, although of course they serve larger purposes.
 
Brenda Groth
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what about digging down and making some pits and fillinig them with rocks around some plantings that might gather condensation on the rocks to water the plantings? and maybe som brush or larger rocks or logs or a fence panel to bring them some shade and wind protection
 
rose macaskie
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You can't plant trees and hope them to survive if you don't look after them in the dry season, but yoiu could plant tree seeds, they will do alright without water though the place is drought prone, the seeds put down a long tap root when they grow that allows them to survive the summer. If its a desert then you would have to plant different seeds.
  I used to collect the robina false acacia seeds, that is an American tree, from the pavements of Madrid and grow them in pots on my balcony and they grew and they are leguminous trees so would increase the nitrogen in the soil. I have grown a few things from seed i have collected but can't grow things from bought seed. I collect and plant lots of seed so if some fails some will take.

  In Spain trees grow incredibly well. Every bit of land that is left bare a while fills up with trees junipers and oaks and sorbuses. They like the heat i think. If the land is bare ti is because it is kept bare for fear of fires it is not extreme desert here.
    There used to be a lot of land left empty here in Spain because people, nearly all of them, left the villages and went to live in the towns.

  Most of what i have just grew, elms that died again, wild plums and willows a buckthorn and jasmine and a privet tree there are privet heath I  have read here, poplars and sloes, only i wanted fruit trees too and one or two other things so i have had to plant and help on some trees. It has taught me a thing or two.
      If you put in micro drip system it should not be too hard to water them in summer. Some trees i have planted have survived nearly without water in summer. A lot of others have died when i did not work hard enough watering them.

    If you buy ground and fence it off and stop others overgrazing it or using it for wheet till they have spoilt the soils so much  that they can only grow things if they add fertilizer. If as I said you buy land and fence it off,  I think there is a fair chance that you will help green things up and better soils, that your soils will  better and things will start to grow on the land you have bought without your lifting a finger. So many of the problems with land are our fault ntha tjust protecting it from humans is enough.
I have watched an old cowboy film the landscape they rode through was full of junipers, they are trees that bare heat and drought, are they still there, in California I suppose, I wonder.
      It does not seem to me to be difficult to be a weekend betterer of soil. It is trying to better soils while you live off them that seems to me difficult. How do you better your soil if you want and need to sell the grain you grow and the straw, so you have  no part of the crop left as mulch to better soils with. If you need to eat part of what the soils  grow you can't just let the soil right itself.
      The other part of being a permaculturist is to prove that you can be productive without chemicals so that others believe in you ecological methods  I don’t think I can do that as a weekend gardener. Maybe I will in the end. Still though you don’t sell stuff or live off it, others can see how  in your bettered soils grass for example weathers the summer drought for longer. If others don’t have a p9ositive sentiment to you they wont see anything good whatever you do.
      Maybe the above is not right, if you are there on the land all the time you can look after things much more so that though you have to live off the soil  your soil can get better faster than it can for a weekend gardener..
    Sill here in Spain there is a lot of land that does not seem to be being used though it is spoilt by over clearing for fear of fires and if permaculture type people bought it they coild do a lot of ecological good though they were not helping socially, they would only be covering half of permacultuer ends then.  If those who bought it wanted to prove how important mulch is, if they could afford to buy mulches and covered the land  with them so the soil would better faster, then all to the good, anything to prove the point that soil need looking after and organic matter helps it. Agri rose macaskie.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Location: Oakland, CA
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Another thing that would do some good under the right conditions, is to rent a land imprinter, or just turn over a shovelful of dirt every couple feet to make pits. It might also do all sorts of harm under the wrong conditions, so it would be worth some careful study.

I second Rose's suggestion of scattering climate-appropriate tree seed, maybe in the form of seedballs. Seedball instructions commonly apply to garden plants, I bet leguminous pioneer trees would work better if no compost is added to the mix.

Depending on what the rainy season is like, millet might be a good species to experiment with for generating lots of organic matter.
 
                              
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Location: Alberta, Canada
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As of right now we are weekend warriors.  We live in a city of about 600,000 and last fall we bought 110 acres of abandoned and unused land that used to have a lake on it and had been used as pasture for about the last 50 years or so, but has been totally unused for about 5 years.
Plan first and start with your water plan.  If you know where and what you are going to plant for trees and can get them started now I would say go for it.  The deciding factors for me were: Can I get out each week to care for trees, until they are established?  Can I transport what I need to get there easily or is it available on the way or on site?  (Water, mulch etc.) One gallon plastic milk jugs work well for transporting water, and if you punch some small holes in the lids, or extra lids, you can simply turn them upside down by your trees to slowly drain exactly where they are needed, but hauling water is a pain in the butt.
In our case we already have a dugout full of water from previous owners, 80 acres of hay (and weeds) gone wild for mulch, and about 30 acres of trees and bushes that have been reclaiming territory for themselves.  So for us at least it works and I have planted about 450 trees this year, native trees around the perimeter, fruit trees and berry bushes close to where we will be building our house, but I can tell you if we didn't have a water source already I would have planted a lot fewer trees.  We are trying to spend as much time out there as we can to observe and learn about the land and its changes so that this winter we can "finalize" our plans.
 
                          
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Monica,

You ambition and ideas are wonderful to recreate the land for better and sustainable future.  Make sure you walk the land, experience all the seasons and notice the wind direction.  Camp there often to observe the wildlife, especially the little creatures.

i think all the advice given is good but you will need to experiment and fail also to create an efficient method of transformatio.

I wish you all the best
 
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