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Anybody growing without irrigation?  RSS feed

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Is there anyone who is growing fruit or vegetables without irrigation in an area with less the 20 inches of rain a year? The crops I am interested in are "standard" ones not prickly pear and mesquite. Some folks think that Permaculture can replace irrigation, and I think it might be able to, but I'd like details of an actual setup if there is one, so that I don't have to keep reinventing the wheel.

Also, if you are doing it, what do yields per square foot/ acre look like?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I would also like to see any examples of this!
 
Steve Farmer
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180-250mm of rain here (7" - 10")
I'm experimenting with blackberries and figs starting off with some irrigation but aiming to ween off over the course of 1 or 2 years.

Don't discount the prickly pear, mesquites etc. They might not yield the fruits you are looking for but these types of pioneer plants are essential to create an ecosystem in arid zones.
From experience, the blackberries will not survive in isolation, but in a food forest dominated by drought resistant plants providing shade and ground water buffering, they might.
My own efforts are too early in the project to be of much use, but I've got healthy blackberries with very little irrigation. And I've got a few trees in now that go thru the dry season without any help.


I see mesquite & palo verde discussed repeatedly as the dry weather permaculture legume trees of choice. I'd strongly recommend looking at gliricidia sepium and leucaena leucocephala as the primary drought tolerant nitrogen fixers. These two blow palo verde and mesquite into the dust when it comes to surviving drought. Caveat to this is they're not keen on frost.

Another reason to look at maybe 50% of your plants being cactus/succulent is mitigating fire risk. I've seen a few fires, but I've never seen a pricky pear plant burn, except ones that have been dead for years.
 
Steve Farmer
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Plant deep. Below the point in the soil where moisture is lost to the air. Like a foot or more deep.

https://permies.com/t/52490/desert/Loquat-seedlings-Indian-desert-growing
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I would also like to see any examples of this!

Concentrating precipitation with earth-shaping [such as planting basins] and leaving plentiful vegetation to shade the soil and collect dew seems to be working out great for the wild orchard I installed this spring. I live in what might be termed the cool and damp end of the Mediterranean climate, usually with little to no rain from late june/early july through mid-september.

Granted, this has been a freak year with a particularly cool and rainy july. The true test is only now beginning in the dog days of August.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I can see it working better in a cool and damp location than in a hot and dry one, with high evaporation.

 
Jd Gonzalez
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Water catchment and water infiltration into the soil are key to eventually be able to grow without irrigation.
Here is Geoff  Lawton visiting a desert dam system and a man made oasis.
 
Tyler Ludens
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But no vegetables or fruit in that video.



 
Kyrt Ryder
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I can see it working better in a cool and damp location than in a hot and dry one, with high evaporation.


For clarity, this place is usually only cool and damp from September through May, with the rains tapering off in may, ending sometime around late June/early July and not showing up again until September. I was just comparing it to true Mediterranean climates with that 'cool and damp end' note. Spain and California make this place look like a paradise of green.
 
Jessica Padgham
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I'm growing gooseberries underplanted with mint with no irrigation after the first year.  Just two bushes so far and they are in bright shade between a pear tree and a fence.  Last year they didn't produce berries but neither did any of my trees.  This year they made a decent crop for their size and age.  I can dig up the variety names if you are interested.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Jessica, how far away is the nearest irrigated area? I've noticed that unwatered stuff in a yard with irrigated areas does better then a totally unirrigated area.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Steve, no I don't discount them. But I've been told, by various people, that other more mainstream crops are doable. I'm going to be investing some time in experiment, but I'd rather see something in action first so I don't reinvent the wheel.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Does Geoff Lawnton's work depend on run off from a larger area? I'd heard that was so. Not that that is a bad thing, but I would count that as irrigation. Micro catchments are not irrigation in my book, but once they get larger then say a quarter acre, they seem more like irrigation.

On that note, the Negev dwellers had fantastic runoff irrigation systems, though it involved a fair amount of ecological damage, smoothing hills and uprooting vegetation to get a sheet flow. Similarly, Brad Lancaster uses water sheeting off of roadways.

All good things, but not quite what I am talking about.
 
Tyler Ludens
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That is the impression I get from the Wadi Rum site, anyway, that it is irrigated by runoff from a larger commercial farm.  I don't think Lawton's Greening the Desert projects claim to grow normal fruit and vegetables with no irrigation, just with much less irrigation.  Those sites only get a few inches of rain per year, about 6", I think. 

I think wheaton labs is growing some food without irrigation, using very large hugelkultur.  This is in a northern location, with a very brief growing season, and not a long period of hot weather.  So somewhat analogous to your location, Gilbert, except you will experience higher evaporation rates, I believe, because of being at a lower latitude (and possibly higher elevation).



 
Gilbert Fritz
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Tyler,

Wheaton labs is probably more like Denver. Currently, the evapotranspiration rate here in Littleton (Denver metro) is between a 5th and a 4th of an inch a day, and we have not had a significant rain in several weeks. So far we have got around 10 inches this year, and it is hot, sunny and windy with a low humidity.

I have a hard time figuring out how much they are growing at the labs, and how. Seems like it is mostly infrastructure work for now. If an ant could chime in that would be great.
 
Jd Gonzalez
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Tyler Ludens wrote:But no vegetables or fruit in that video.




Because it self-seeded. A completely natural process that was triggered by man made Swales. The potential is there. There's enough moisture to grow fruit and edibles.  Capture water, mulch deeply and start the process.
Here's a longer video.

 

.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks, I'm familiar with it.  What we're really wanting to see is someone growing normal fruit and vegetables in a dry climate, without irrigation.  An actual example, not a theoretical example.  I hope I don't seem impatient, but, it's something we keep seeing people claim - growing a food garden without irrigation in a dry climate.  What some of us are wanting to see, are actual examples of this, and have been looking for such an example literally for years.



 
Jessica Padgham
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I think the closest irrigated area is 15-20 ft.  I have a few things on the far side of the pear tree that I watered a few times this year.  I gave up trying to keep my lawn watered.  The neighbor behind the fence waters his lawn but there is a large unwatered space between the fence and his lawn.  Also my shrubs are elevated compared to his lawn.  I'm sure it helps a little but I don't imagine it's much.  Another thing to know is that my neighborhood seems to have a bit of a rain shadow effect.  I'm on the south side of Green Mountain in Lakewood and when rain rolls through we only get hit 1/2 to 2/3 of the time.  Though on the plus side we get much less hail.  I do think that part of the reason for the success is that the soil in that area is the best in my yard.  It had more organic content and held water better than where I put my vegetables.
 
Jd Gonzalez
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Thanks, I'm familiar with it.  What we're really wanting to see is someone growing normal fruit and vegetables in a dry climate, without irrigation.  An actual example, not a theoretical example.  I hope I don't seem impatient, but, it's something we keep seeing people claim - growing a food garden without irrigation in a dry climate.  What some of us are wanting to see, are actual examples of this, and have been looking for such an example literally for years.

David Little in California has 30 acres dryland farmed.
http://www.thelittleorganicfarm.com/The_Farm.html




 
Kyrt Ryder
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Jd Gonzalez wrote:David Little in California has 30 acres dryland farmed.
http://www.thelittleorganicfarm.com/The_Farm.html

An excellent example of dry farming without irrigation in a fairly hot climate.

However, do keep in mind that town gets pretty significant summer fog. The summer water might be comparable to central texas but it's a good deal wetter during the growing season than much of the west [including much of California itself.]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thanks!  The example is dry farmed potatoes, in what I would personally consider a cool climate. Since when is Marin County a hot climate?  Not in any way analogous to Central Texas in my opinion.



 
Kyrt Ryder
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Heh, I suppose it's all relative. An average July high of 82 is fairly hot to me [my town having a 75 average July High and being warm by Western Washington standards]

When I was comparing moisture it was in reference to precipitation vs transpiration. Or do you guys have a roughly Mediterranean precipitation pattern as well?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Marin County average temperature 58.5°F    Average summer temperature  68.3°F

Kendall County TX  average temperature  65.9°F  Average high  temperature 78.3°F  Average high July  92

Marin County is also considerably farther north than here.  People rarely consider the importance of latitude in evaporation.


 
Gilbert Fritz
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Dry farmed potatoes are a fairly well documented phenomena. They can be grown with as little as 12 inches of rain in Idaho, but, and this is a big but, that generally means that the plot has been plow or chem fallowed for the previous growing season, thus giving them the equivalent of 20 inches of rain in one year, by storing the previous year's water in the soil.

Similarly, dry land winter wheat here around Denver is well established.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Steve Solomon has done quite a bit of work with dryfarming in the Pacific North West. They have a summer dry, winter wet climate. But yet again, this is not what I'm working with. Steve got 35 inches in the winter, none in the summer. Still a significant feat to pull off an unirrigated garden where everyone else had to water all the time, but not completely relevant. Also, he had a deep, loose soil that soaked up and stored all that rain; I have a packed clay.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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The "standard crops" that I see growing feral around here, in non-irrigated areas, with about 14" of rain per year are pretty much limited to: apples, plums, apricots, and rye. Initial establishment of trees in this area generally requires irrigation for 2 to 3 years.

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hi Joseph,

What are the crops like on the fruit trees? Are they exclusively near washes or streams?

I grew a good crop of rye last year with just one establishment watering.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Gilbert:

The non-irrigated feral fruit trees around here seem to be mostly seed grown. So no two trees are the same. Some of the apples are glorious. Others are more akin to crab apples. The plums tend toward being small and sour. I didn't mention chokecherries or hawthorns, because they are not standard American crops, but they produce a lot of food, even if the fruits are small.   The apricots likewise tend to be small. The apples and plums tend to grow better near ephemeral gullies, or where there is runoff from a roadway. The apricots tend to survive in drier areas like on hillsides with clay soil. I find Gojiberries sometimes in the deep desert.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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So a dryland orchard here in Denver ought to be quite doable, then.
 
Lori Ziemba
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Thanks, I'm familiar with it.  What we're really wanting to see is someone growing normal fruit and vegetables in a dry climate, without irrigation.  An actual example, not a theoretical example.  I hope I don't seem impatient, but, it's something we keep seeing people claim - growing a food garden without irrigation in a dry climate.  What some of us are wanting to see, are actual examples of this, and have been looking for such an example literally for years.





Yes, I would like to see it, too!  Although it is mostly cool and damp here, we get no rain at all 5-7 months out of the year.  I'm still trying to find a way to grow stuff on the embankment across the street without having to water.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:So a dryland orchard here in Denver ought to be quite doable, then.


Around here, yield on feral dry-farmed apples, apricots, and plums is around 1/10th the yield of irrigated fruit trees. Yields would be higher with suitable water retention practices like swales.
 
John Polk
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote: I find Gojiberries sometimes in the deep desert.

Interesting.  I know that there are several species further south, such as the
—Lycium exsertum. (100) LYCI-22. Packet: $2.50
'WOLFBERRY'. Profuse small lavender flowers followed by abundant bright red edible berries.
Spiny shrub to 3 - 6 feet. Low deserts, Arizona and México. Very drought resistant.
The berries were eaten in great quantities by the Indians, fresh, cooked, or dried like
raisins. Good wildlife shrub. Germinates in 2 - 6 weeks.


Lycium exsertum range:
Sonora-Desert.PNG
[Thumbnail for Sonora-Desert.PNG]
 
jesse dylan
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You mean irrigation connected to mains water?
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Or canals, ditches, etc.
 
Marijke Groothuis
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For what it is worth, I live in Australia and we have extemely hot summers here. Last year I began my food forest (or what is supposed to become one!) by making triangular planters out of tightly bound small straw bales. Fruit trees and native trees were planted above ground in those planters and then I watered the straw, NOT the soil. Much to my surprise I only needed to water once every FOUR WEEKS, whereas the rest of my garden beds slowly deteriorated with watering every 2 to 3 DAYS! It is astonishing how much water a straw bale is able to take up and then slowly disperse; even the hottest days produced no noticeable heating up of the soil within the triangle either so insulation-wise it works a treat as well. All up, I handwatered that area 3 times over summer, the little rain we get over summer also meant that the bales are still in pretty good shape, one year after having put them down. I have also created a more traditional vegie bed but with walls made out of straw and this too required very little watering, not as good as the triangles though. In the past few weeks I have begun an orchard as well, but instead of triangles, the planters are rectangular. In this way I hope to plant 10 fruit trees reasonably close together (5x2 rectangles). Clearly this is very small-scale, but it may give you a few ideas.

Will be interesting to see what this year will bring, but so far it is looking good...
 
Lori Ziemba
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Marijke Groothuis wrote:For what it is worth, I live in Australia and we have extemely hot summers here. Last year I began my food forest (or what is supposed to become one!) by making triangular planters out of tightly bound small straw bales. Fruit trees and native trees were planted above ground in those planters and then I watered the straw, NOT the soil.
Will be interesting to see what this year will bring, but so far it is looking good...


Did you fill the planters up with soil?  Or did you sink the bales into the ground?
 
Bryan Elliott
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Marijke,

Do you  have any pictures of those straw bale planters?  It would sure help me understand how you did that.
 
Marijke Groothuis
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The bales are above ground and filled with soil (see attachment).
permies.jpg
[Thumbnail for permies.jpg]
Partial shot of new garden bed
permies4.jpg
[Thumbnail for permies4.jpg]
consstruction of bales
permies2.jpg
[Thumbnail for permies2.jpg]
the site before construction
 
Bryan Elliott
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THANKS!
 
paul wheaton
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No irrigation here.  I just ate a bunch of potatoes.  We've had lots of rhubarb.   There are heaps of sunchokes.   Last year we got some squashes and melons.  Heaps of greens.  Huge turnip.





Ooodles of serviceberries and juneberries. 


How about this video where it was a drought year and there was no irrigation:

 
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