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Food forests in hot-dry climate

 
Chris Dean
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Has anyone done this or know of any examples?

I live in central Texas.  We usually get about 15 inches of rain a year often with no rain in the summer months.  I'm wondering if a food forest is viable here.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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That's about the amount of precipitation Oakland gets, with a similar schedule, and we do OK here, although summers are much more mild and fog drip adds up to a couple extra inches.

More-exposed areas of the forest might have to be things like mesquite, olive, oak (acorns are better eating than most people realize), fig, almond, pistache, pomegranate, with wet-season ephemerals forming the understory. A sheltered nook watered by runoff from the surroundings could easily stay productive year-round, if you did some work to boost its field capacity.
 
                          
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Hozomeen, I used to live in central Texas, out in the woods, south of Bastrop. We were converting our property, little by little to this method. We dug wild plum trees from the road sides that would have been plowed down and transplanted them and they were growing well for years before we moved. We also had elderberry, passion fruit, wild grapes, that were also on the roadsides originally, lots of wild garlic and we added domesticated. Before I ever heard of the term food forests, that is what we were working toward, especially since so much of our property was treed. In my decorative beds around the bases of trees, laid out in a flowing pattern, I had herbs, as well as ferns and such.  I tried to see what was native and work off of that. We were going through a drought at the time, so I know it can be done.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I also live in Central Texas and I think we can have a food forest if we choose our varieties carefully and do the maximum of rainwater harvesting in the soil with swales, berms and basins, and hugelkultur.  I'm optimistic of eventual success. 

Average rainfall in my area is about 28 inches, but really we usually get less with some extreme flood years to make the average look better than it usually is.  Recent years have been very droughty.
 
Jordan Lowery
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we have a thriving food forest, and we dont get rain from May to November. days above 100 are the normal. thick rotten mulch and hugelkultur are your friends.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here is a nursery with temperate fruit trees for warmer zones (up to zone 9), which I have been quite happy with:  http://www.johnsonnursery.com/
 
Chris Dean
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Thanks for everybody's responses!

I came across Hugelkultur a few months ago and promptly forgot about it.  This seems like the way I'll go for the flatter area I'm planning for the food forest, although due to the amount of work involved it might take a while.

The property we're on has a basin and berm built which is fed by runnoff on two sides of a field via large ditches.  This is the obvious place to build a food forest.  The basin rarely has water standing in it, but I suppose planting on the mounded side will help that and would soak up the water as well.  A drawback the soil is very poor is I can't see a viable way to do Hegelkultur on top of the mound due to its height (15 feet at the highest point, and it's about 100-150 feet long).  Any suggestions?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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One idea would be to pile wood up in the basin in a tall row, forming an isthmus from the edge of the basin. Earth could then be moved from within the basin (increasing its volume) and piled onto that wood, bringing it up to a height that will sit above the high-water mark. As it slumps, more dredging & additional biomass may be necessary.

A swale partway up the slope might also be quite helpful, and could be integrated with hugelkultur.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I wish people could list out what they actually are growing in their hot dry climate food forest.



I've had success with asparagus.

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I've heard good things about prickly pear and mesquite.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I have plenty of prickly pear, but there's only so much of it you can eat. 

We only have a couple of mesquites and they aren't producing pods yet. 

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Ludi wrote:I have plenty of prickly pear, but there's only so much of it you can eat.   


I've read it can be used as browse for ruminants, particularly if you use a weed burner to singe off the spines of the pads you intend to be eaten.
 
rose macaskie
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I have heard of prickjly pear leaves used for ruminants too, cut up i think it was for sheep the fruit might feed hens, could it be dried for them as feed for other parts of the year. I suppose olives might feed hens too, when they go black in the winter. Black birds like them, should make a deliciouse tasting hen.
  A list of some dry country trees an dplants. ,
    Carob trees their bean pods feed the live stck, figs ,palm teees, jujub trees has a fruit tha tfirst tastes like an apple and then a date. Real acacias that are mimosas, those whose leaves feed live stock, also said to be good incombination with passion fruit they are nitrogen producing trees. ,Aligustere privet grow wild in spain i dont know haw drought tolerant they are , the pidgeons love its berries pidgeons is an old fashioned meat source they say they were a reason for the french revolution they ate the crops of the poor and the rich ate the pidgeons. Tough grasses like the one used for rope soled shoes there is a spanish sheep that eats this grass.  capers. and almonds. ALmonds are a rich food source and the leaves serve as forage here in spai to some at anyrate races of sheep.as do the leaves pruned off olive trees. 
    There are all those bushes that do to start bettering deserts like the grease wood if i remember right htis does not feed animals.  Forage kochia a middle eastern plant which is not invaseve like other kochia is, and serves to feed live stock. culrly leaved moutain mahogony from Colorado whose foliage is good for live stock full of protien and wood good for barbacues. Old man salt bush also good for live stock and for birds. It has some substances that are good for parasiting them too a subject talked about earlier in these forums  in conection with sepp holzer. As the forage is the leaves of a bush this also helps against parasites as they are not grazing ant floor and parasite level , have to give the name of the article later.  Apparently its has a lot of surface roots good for catching the rain of an occasional summer shower that does not penetrate well a strategy of a lot of hot plae plants, they also serve  for taking up surface dew. They are starting to find out how much water  plants absorb through their leaves so stopping the water of summer showers and dew evaporating back into the air. agri rose macaskie.
 
                              
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Central Texas here as well (East Austin... in the city.)

Can't really get the whole food forest thing going on large scale here because it's a city lot.  But, I'm trying to adapt as much as I can into my organic gardening/landscape.  Luckly we actually get 32" a rain a year here.  But, like Ludi said, it's usually much less then that and then there's years of flooding to make it look good.  Where I consider myself extremely lucky is that we live in a place with real dirt going down 30'.  No limestone/caliche here

I've only planted some of this stuff yet but what I'm looking at is jujube, olive, passion vine, grapes, plum, peach, pear, apple, pecan, blueberries (containered because they want such acid soil), blackberries, satsuma, umm... starting to draw a blank.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks for these replies. 

 
rose macaskie
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stalk-of-fennel someone on these forums said that it does not matter about the acidity of the soil the thing is to get a patch with a lot of organic matter in it for acid lovign plants. It seemed to me that somone was the sort of person who knows a lot too. So maybe a few bags of compost type material the soil they sell that is all organic matter in one spot would do the trick. i am trying to sped up th eprocess of rottign down wood chips which were selling for a good price i suppose as bedding for rabbits or some such. 

  There is black earth in Texas the chernozen soils, chernozen is the name for soils with a very deep topsoil layer that exist in the Ucrane and Rumania,across Russia, in one part of China and in some part of of Canada, is that what you mean by deep dirt? It seemed to me interesting that you got black soils in Texas because i knew Texas was far south and that means you can develop them anywhere, Canada Texas at any rate mean a pretty big climate difference.  I dont know if they are conected to terra preta soils, if they are then they are found in  Canada Texas and in the jungle, all climatic areas.  If you have them are they good, do things grow like crazy for you?
    Jujub bushes get very wide i suppose you could prune them if you have a small place. I dont think the fruit are good enough to be worth it unless you have lots of room. Mind you i have only grown one that survived for many years but didn't grow and one now that has only just survived so it did not get very big..If you are trying to deal with a big area of desert then they will grow in deserts without help at least they grow in Almeria the part of spain that is said to be desert, i suppose there are lots of types of desert some more extreme  than others so it is not so easy to know what will grow in them . rose macaskie.
 
Jordan Lowery
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i used to live in a high desert with not much rain. i personally would spend the first year just improving the soil and doing the earth moving( creating water basins, swales, terraces to hold as much water as possible). it doesn't matter if its winter cover crops, paddock shifting animals, soil amendments, mulch, etc. use what you got. then start planting trees and shrubs and filling the spots with veggies and herbs. as well as beneficial plants that are still improving the soil. just make sure you select proper plants for the stage of growth the forest garden is in.

you will be much better off from all the hard work early on by a thriving desert forest garden.
 
Tyler Ludens
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soil, what have you been able to grow in your hot dry climate?

 
Jordan Lowery
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where i used to live, i grew figs, pomegranates, peaches very successfully(once established no need for watering). there were other trees but from what i had those three started off the forest ecosystem well( shading the ground and dropping leaf as mulch) under the trees i had strawberries that did well despite how people told me they wont grow in shade. the usual( and some unusual) herbs were planted all over for various reasons. then of course all the biodynamic plants. also a few fruiting shrubs here and there.

with the peaches i had the best luck with planting seeds and grafting onto that rootstock. though this isnt an option for everyone because of the size the tree will grow. but they sure give a lot of peaches.

mulch is your best friend in that climate, mulch EVERYTHING. either with living mulch (plants) or decomposing mulch. also with mulch is proper land layout to catch and hold as much water as possible.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks, soil.  Peaches have been a total bust for me, I think because of improper soil preparation.  So I'm planning to try again with swales, hugel beds, etc to improve water retention in the soil.  Even though I've been able to kill most things I've planted, I'm not giving up! 
 
insipidtoast McCoy
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Soil, where did you used to live?
 
rose macaskie
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  If you are reading about woods and such, wild nature, rather than gardens, then write  talk about optimum vegetation which is the vegetation that is natural to a place if everything is ok, ie. the soil is alright.  I read about these things in spanish so i am not sure i know the vocabulary in english. if the soil is spoilt vegetation tha lives on bad soils appears.
      You look up the name of a plant you have found and the book describes it  as a plant that indicates a soil of good quality, or that it is a plant you find in raquitic soils or in olive groves when the soil in these is getting poorer. What you can grow depends on the quality of the soil.
  I have read in a gardening book that thistles grow when the soil is poor and later when the soils better disappear, so it becomes interesting to whatch what plants are appearing on your land. I have read that grass grows up very tall very fast in spring when the soil is poor and seeds fast, while as the soil gets better the grass does not shoot so high nor try to seed so soon.
.
      Lots of the trees i planted have died, when  i have not been able to water them in summer, in the first years after i planted them. I miscalulated when i could go last summer and three new trees died.
    At first fewer of the things i planted lived, i dont know if more live now because the ground has got better or because i started to unwind and break open the roots of the plants i bought that were usualy pot bound and later to unwind them breaking very few roots, quite a job it takes me about an hour. Recently some of the trees  i have bought have not had their roots going round and round just inside the pot till they form a prision for themselves. but though i dont know whether trees started to live because the ground bettered or because i developed new planting techniques i agree with Soil, in the end you will get on quicker if you dedicate everything to bettering the soil at first. It can be more expensive to mulch everything than to plant a tree or two and let the wild plants better your soil though, so it depends on your finances. 

        I used to mulch things and my husband to take the mulch off them he is given to undoing what i do, even breaking my plants if he gets cross. He is not mad he is domineering and puni¡shes you if you aren not being obedient. I gave up mulching them but as i am not their all the time ii have a lot to do so it was time consuming to renew mulches he took off again.
      As well as ponds and swales  the more organic matter you have in the soil the more water retention.
    Also humic acids retain a lot of water they behave like gelatine which means they retain more than ten times their weight in water.  So the more roots you have in the soil that later rot, the more water your soil will retain.
  Insisting that soil needs lots of plants because organic matter increases the amount of water soil retains, used to be one of the ideas that made me start talking of green subjects. 
    Soils can lack nutrients if they have been overgrazed, more so in dry places wher it is harder for plants to recover and fill the soil full of nutrients again and it is easy to find out if that is the case, put a bit of manure on the ground and see what happens, if a lot of new wild plants suddenly grow, then before it lacked nutrients. agri rose macaskie.
 
 
rose macaskie
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  What about shade i would, if i had the money just put in shade like they put in greenhouses in Almeria, sticks covered in plastic, but for shade it would be sticks covered in shade cloth. Heat and sun degrades things faster, with shade you would get the plants producing more mulch, organic matter, tha lasted for longer. Thats one reason for trying to get trees going. agri rose macaskie.
 
insipidtoast McCoy
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There's a pretty cool palm that produces edible fruit, which is native to West Texas: Brahea dulcis
 
rose macaskie
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If you  look up the names of the  deserts at least the american ones you get told about the plants that are native to that desert.
    Permaculture with its emphasis on food plants comes up against those who want to grow what is native to the place. rose macaskie.
 
Tyler Ludens
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insipidtoast wrote:
There's a pretty cool palm that produces edible fruit, which is native to West Texas: Brahea dulcis


Sadly it may only be marginally hardy here, subject to die-off in cold winters. 
 
                  
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Ludi wrote:
I wish people could list out what they actually are growing in their hot dry climate food forest


Olives,almonds , figs ,grapes, apricots,apples  ...  but still need corn , beans , and squash

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10162336@N06/3642301136/

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3418/3251779337_21716e1683_m.jpg
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks, jmy. 

 
Paul Gutches
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depends on where you get your mulch

you can be creative here. Keep an eye out for those big bunchy bags you see on garbage night in the fall.
Go to parks and parking lots and rake them up. I get bags of great stuff every year.
Buy truckloads of rotted lumber shreds and sawdust from mills for mere dollars.
Look for public and government grounds maintenance ops. I found a huge pile of cedar shreds this way and covered 1/4 of an acre a foot thick.
Find horse, llama, and alpaca owners and offer to take their manure.
Gather up pine needles in the fall. (great for strawberries)
Get free shredded tree mulch from the local dump.
Get grass clippings from resorts.

So far, I've paid no more than $20 for all the mulch on my property, and there's a lot.

Of course, I'm going for a foresty look. If you have fussy neighbors you may need something that looks more well-behaved.



rose macaskie wrote:  It can be more expensive to mulch everything than to plant a tree or two and let the wild plants better your soil though, so it depends on your finances.
 
 
Nick Garbarino
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Lots of good suggestions have been offered. This forum is great. I'm a new permie, but my take on the question "is permacumture viable here" is this: If there is a natural forest around your property, or at least there was one before it was cleared by development, then the answer is a resounding yes! If there was/is not a forest there, then the answer could still be yes if you have enough water, such as your own well, creek or pond. Central Texas is a big area and some of it is more woodsy than other parts. Large areas have only scrub mesquite/cedar, and there's not many big trees unless you look in the creek bottoms. Here where I'm at in west central Florida, we get plenty of rainfall, however the sand, especially in the Sand Hills, is incredibly poor and water runs through it so fast it seems to defy the laws of physics. It's called a long leaf pine/xeric oak habitat. I never would have expected an area with 50 inches of annual rainfall to be characterized as xeric. Our oaks are scrubby and we have prickly pear cactus. So, in a lot of ways we have similar challenges as you have in central Texas. When I look at the woods around me, I see that almost all of the nutrients reside in the plants and very few nutrients are in the soil, which is exactly like the tropical rainforest where permaculture started so many centuries ago. When I find something growing luxuriantly in the forest, it often is growing right on top of a buried log - nature's own hugelkultur. The forest floor is covered with pine straw and oak leaf mulch and wire grass, so I'm wondering if wire grass, unlike grasses in general, might be a good ground cover for my food forest. In the mean time, it's mulch, mulch, mulch, and more mulch. I'm planting comfrey, lamb's quarters, lots of legumes, and all the other prescribed guild plants and trying to remain patient. I'm looking forward to the "pop" described by Mr. Hemenway, but I'm guessing it may take 2-3 years or more before that happens. One other thought about central Texas, unfortunately the climate models predict it will become more arid as the planet warms. However, there are nice food forests even in arid parts of New Mexico so, if you can apply some water, it will still be doable even in the dry future. Even if you can't apply extra water, you should still be able to achieve some success by carefully mimicing nature's ways in your area. Best of luck and please keep us updated on your progress.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Nick Garbarino wrote: However, there are nice food forests even in arid parts of New Mexico


Are any of these pictures and/or described on websites?

 
Nick Garbarino
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There's Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute near Santa Fe and Eden on Earth Landscaping in Flagstaff AZ described in gaia's garden. They both have a web site. That's the extent of my knowledge on SW permie sites, but I once lived in AZ and I know that the difference between down in the wash vs up out of the wash is night and day. It's as if you go to a different part of the country in only a few steps. As you know, water is everything, and the key is to find ways to sequester it.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks!

 
Paul Gutches
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Fascinating that 50 inches can still be xeric. Really enlightening, actually.

And, if enough of us do this, we can effectively influence the climate in some measurable way.

Some reforested areas now reliably get several inches more rain each year than they did without it.

Even on a very local scale, there are feedback effects too complex to reduce without losing the whole. That's been one of our errors. Focussing on parts and ignoring all the dialogue going on between everything.

I live in north central NM. Where I live is a grassland / light woodland area naturally. With some water direction I hope to make it a moderate woodland. Two years ago I would have told you it seemed impossible, but with everything I learn I get a little more confident that this place can be radically transformed. It just takes a lot of listening and observation and patience and you will get to know your land very intimately.

Nick Garbarino wrote: One other thought about central Texas, unfortunately the climate models predict it will become more arid as the planet warms. However, there are nice food forests even in arid parts of New Mexico so, if you can apply some water, it will still be doable even in the dry future. Even if you can't apply extra water, you should still be able to achieve some success by carefully mimicing nature's ways in your area. Best of luck and please keep us updated on your progress.
 
Nick Garbarino
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Right on Paul. The native Americans had it right, at least some of those peoples. I vow to try to learn their ways. Keep up the good work my friend.
 
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