We have just under 40 acres of old ranch land that sits below the west side of the Greenhorn (Wet Mountains) range. Our highest point is about 7900 in elevation that gently slopes down toward the west and has rocky outcrops dropping to flat land to the east. This is going to be our forever home, once we get the cabin built. We plan to be completely off grid, except for having to haul in water. Originally, we were just going be doing the conventional farming thing, plowing and planting in straight rows. (Just a couple of weeks ago I began looking into permaculture. I have been watching lectures and reading Gaia's Garden.) Our soil is best described as "often associated with exposed sites, rocky substrates, and dry conditions which limit tree growth, the principle species characterizing these shrublands form associations that range from xeric to mesic." The spot that I have chosen as our starting point is in a small, not too steep, valley that is near the cabin site. I have not actually dug a test hole at this site but we have at various other locations on the property. We have found that we have a few inches of sandy rocky topping huge rocks in a lot of the upper parts of the terrain. As it begins to slope down we have a few more inches of still rocky but improved soil. We have juniper and pinyon pines on the property. The soil under these are rich but not too deep.
Because we are in the valley the wind is almost always present and at times quite strong, but so is the sun. We have only been able to spend a month out there earlier this year in April. So the only thing I know about the spring weather is that anything can happen but it doesn't stay that way for long. I live too far from our place to be able to go often, 14 hours away.
Now that I think I have given all the info I know about the land, my question is what do I do about the top soil? Or better yet, where do I start?? I have contemplated hugelkultur but I don't have much fallen wood that is of the right type for it. (Sadly, the tons of tumbleweeds we have probably will not be of any use.) I think I should probably make some swales for the slope? to catch or direct the precious rainwater. I don't think the soil holds water well since there is a man made pond type indention in the back pasture that is dry as a bone. And once we are living there, we plan to use the greywater for irrigation as well.
Because you're in such a dry area and won't have a well, I think your best bet is to try to direct as much run-off as possible to one area which you can develop as your main food-growing area, perhaps a food forest with mixed perennials and annuals. So the swales you make might want to gently move the water toward this area. Do you have a contour map of the land? This will be one of the most helpful things to begin your design.
Howdy Yolanda, welcome to permies!
I have added your post to the Rockies forum as there are a few other folks here, working on thier permaculture places in Southern Colorado.
I think once you get settled on the property, you will have a much better idea of what goes on there, year round. Be sure to take the first year to watch closely, everything that is happening. When it rains, go walk around and see what happens to the water. When it snows, watch where the drifts form, as when they melt you will have water there. Try to identify the plants that are growing there thruout the year. That will give you some idea of other plants that might be able to survive. There are lots of "pioneering" plants such as mallow that would help build the soil.
Be sure to check out what your neighbors are planting. If there are trees that they have grown you should be able to grow them too.
Will you have any big equipment like a backhoe? This would help you build swales.
Your pond may need to be sealed to hold water. Do a search here for some great threads on that.
Be sure to post more pictures here and keep asking questions, as permie folks are pretty helpful!