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The Big Fat Thread of Dryland Farming Ideas!

 
Tracy Wandling
garden master
Posts: 993
Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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Rules of Engagement for this thread:

The purpose of this thread is to get a whole bunch of possibilities and ideas for dryland farming (no-irrigation gardening, dry farming, or whatever you want to call it) together in one thread. There are a squillion different gardening systems, conditions, and preferences. So, maybe lots of these ideas will work for you, maybe some will work for you, and maybe only one or two will work for you. That doesn’t mean that the ideas I have put forth, or the ideas that other people will hopefully post to this thread, don’t work, at all, anywhere; and it would be great if we didn’t derail the purpose of this thread with all kinds of ‘discussions’ about why something doesn’t work, and what works the best, and asking for citations and proof. These are just ideas. They will all probably work somewhere, sometimes, for somebody.

These are just ideas to get the ol’ creative juices going, and help people start to think about how they might be able to cut down on watering, or eliminate it completely. This is not a recipe, or a tried-and-true method, just ideas.

If you feel the need to pontificate about your personal feelings about a particular topic that is likely to derail this thread, and lead to silliness, then it would be awesome if you started a thread of your own, so you can get specific about a certain thing that you are feeling passionate about. Then we can keep this thread as a place to put forth ideas that might help somebody somewhere who is trying to grow without irrigation, or at least lessen their water consumption in the garden.

Stay focused, and play nice. 

If you have a successful dryland farm or garden, or you are setting up a system, start a thread in the Projects Forum, and document your process and successes - yes, and failures! - in the hopes that it might help someone else.

And please tell us where you live, so people can get an idea of things that might work where they are.

I plan to set up my own project thread for this, but I wanted to start the conversation here, and get a little brainstorming happening. There are a couple of other dryland farming threads that have some great ideas, and I’ve tried to get quite a few of them in here, but there is LOTS of room for more ideas, personal successes, and general sharing. So let’s get some ideas flowing!

Why dryland farming?

So, if for some nasty and unforeseen reason, you were suddenly without irrigation water, could you still grow food? (That's a collective 'you', me included.) I am thinking of places and circumstances where people have no access to conventional irrigation systems, but want or need to grow their own food. I am thinking of situations where suddenly the water is gone, or poisoned, or the system breaks down somehow - maybe the electricity goes out - for a few weeks or months. Could you still grow food to feed yourself and your family? Do you have access to organic matter to bulk up the water holding capacity of your soil? Do you have the ability to dig swales and other catchment and infiltration earthworks to take advantage of every bit of rain that falls on your property?

And what about the people who actually have to PAY for their irrigation water?!    That’s insane. And many worry about spending so much on water to grow a garden - is it worth it? Not to mention the fact that city water has so many chemicals in it. Nasty.

My interest in dryland farming comes from the very real possibility of limited access to water. We will always need to eat, but we may not always be able to get the water - from a 'conventional' system - that we need to grow food. So what do we do? My thinking is that we need to at least be prepared for the possibility.

We have a well on our property. It is a very deep well - I guess they had to go down about 650 feet to hit water. So far, every time we turn on the tap, good clean water comes out. But what if one day it didn't? Or if something got into the water and we couldn't use it? I plan on growing quite a lot of food, so what if our well is unable to keep up with the watering that a 'conventional' garden system would use? We also have tenants, so we need to make sure that they always have access to water.

These are the things that run through my head (and I'm sure, many of your heads) when I think about my garden, and how I want to set it up for resilience. Being able to grow food with the least amount of inputs makes us more resilient. And not having to rely on a system that can break down is the resilientest (yes, resilientest  ).

Our particular soil situation is . . . well, we don’t really have any. We have sand and rocks. Big rocks. So we are learning what we need to do to grow here. I went with buried wood beds, topped with organic material, a bit of sand, and some amendments and clay. It has worked great this first year, but it’s not perfect. There is always room for improvement.

Advantages of growing without irrigation:

Obviously, you’ll conserve water. 

For the many who have to pay for water, you will save money.

You’ll save on the electricity bill. We have a well with a pump, and a pressure tank. So, we’ll save on the electricity bill, as well as saving wear and tear on the pressure tank and pump.

You’ll save money by not having to buy hoses and pipes and drip systems and/or sprinkler systems, not to mention all of the replacement parts year after year.

You won’t have to buy plastic stuff and strew it around your garden!

You’ll save time. Lots of time not spent watering, moving hoses and/or sprinklers, redoing the drip lines every year, or each time you want to hoe or replant (or fixing them, or replacing them!), etc.

Your plants could have deeper, stronger roots. This will not only help them to get more water from the soil, it will help them get more nutrients. The plants might also create more root exudates if they have bigger, stronger roots, which would be a good thing (that’s just speculation; something to look into). And it will ALSO help your plants resist flopping over in the wind, if you live in a windy area.

Not irrigating will probably help the soil retain more nutrients because the water won’t be washing it through.

I’ve heard that many veggies that are grown without irrigation - grown with only the rain and the available soil water - have a better, stronger flavor. Potatoes and tomatoes are ones I’ve heard of that have stronger flavors. I’m looking forward to experiencing that. It would be interesting to know if less water creates a greater concentration of good stuff, too - nutrients and whatnot - because there is less water in the vegetables diluting the nutrients, and the flavour.

What other advantages can you think of?

Setting up the System

I am in the process of setting up some parameters for a non-irrigated market garden experiment for myself, so perhaps others can get some ideas, too. I’ll be putting up a new thread in the Projects forum to document what I’m doing, what’s working, and what isn’t.

I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of dryland farming. The concept of dryland farming must be fairly unknown, ‘cause Spellcheck keeps trying to make it into two words. HA! Kinda irritating, actually.  >

I think one important thing to remember when setting up systems like this is that these are long term systems. They won’t be working their best right off the bat. They will take time to set up, and time to soak up all the water and get really hydrated - they need time to hit their stride and really give the best benefits. I’ve heard that swales and hugelkultur really hit their stride in the third year. That’s not so bad. 

The following are just a few things about my particular slice of paradise, and my thinking as I contemplate setting up the dry land garden. (You can get more details about our land, soil, and garden set-up in the link in my signature, if you’re interested.)

I want an area for ‘staple crops’ - things like corn, quinoa, squash, potatoes, and dried peas and beans, and possibly onions, leeks and garlic. The other garden area is for other things like tomatoes, cukes, lettuces, broccoli, herbs, etc. For things that I harvest every few days, to take to market, and for our own table. The bigger area will be for long term things that are generally harvested in one big bunch. There is another area of land that will eventually be put into production, but it will need a little more work.

The first area I’ll be working on will be approximately an acre, maybe a bit less. I know some sort of irrigation will be happening for a while, to get the system going. But the goal is to irrigate less and less, until I don’t need to irrigate at all. I’m hoping that three years from set up I will be growing without irrigation.

The problem with using the buried wood beds topped with organic matter which I have in the market garden area now is that things like corn and quinoa are too tall and heavy, and will probably fall over. It’s just not a strong enough growing medium to hold them up. The quinoa might be okay, as I can plant them closer together and they may be able to hold each other up. Potatoes, peas and beans will probably do very well in that set up, as will the onions, leeks and garlic. I might have to find another way of growing corn.

Ideas, ideas, ideas!

Aside from the more 'obvious things' like swales, buried wood beds or hugelkultur, getting organic matter in the soil, and mulching, here are some other little tidbits that I’ve heard/read about that I’ll be keeping in mind as I create my irrigation-less garden. Some of these are from Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener, some I’ve heard in different videos, read in books, articles, to other threads, or thoughts that popped up in my own little head  :

  • Squash plants can root along their vines, giving the plants more access to ground water. So make sure to leave the ground unmulched under the squash plants. Perhaps have the ground mulched, to retain moisture, and pull the mulch back as the plants spread.

    Squash should be direct seeded in the garden. Squash have a tap root that is usually broken/damaged if grown as a transplant. If direct seeded, this taproot will grow normally and help to reach water deep in the soil.

    All manner of seeds can be pre-soaked or sprouted before planting, which makes it less necessary to keep the surface of the soil consistently moist to germinate the seed. It will have enough water in itself to sprout and put down roots.

    Carol Deppe (Pacific Northwest gardener) always grows potatoes without irrigation, just on the residual moisture in the soil.

    Plant a variety of crops, so if some succumb, you have others. Diversity.

    Crop rotation - heavy drinkers alternate with light drinkers?

    Include animals in the system - lots of benefits.

    Creating healthy soil and water catchment in surrounding pasture/field/yard/forest helps the whole farm in general.

    Trees and shrubs in surrounding areas.

    Pay attention to the weather. Make notes, keep records of past years. This may help to identify trends, and to know when best to plant and harvest different varieties - if you know a spring rain is coming, get the seeds in so they can take advantage of it. First frosts, last frost, first rains, last rains, etc.

    Overwintering crops, where applicable.

    Staggered planting dates of the same crop.

    Plant seeds into a slightly depressed furrow in the garden bed. Often, even a shallow furrow will catch dew, or hold moisture longer.

    Use flat stones as mulch.

    Experiment with dew collection techniques.

    Mulch pathways heavily, instead of growing grass or weeds, or leaving bare earth. Lay down lots of wet cardboard (if you do that sort of thing) to hold water and keep down competing weeds, and cover heavily with wood chips, straw, or some other mulch material.

    Make sure garden beds are totally on contour, to take full advantage of the flow of water. And make sure that all swales are level and on contour so they work their best.

    Fertilizing before the dry season actually makes the plants less drought resistant. When they take in the new fertility they start to grow, and the faster they grow the more water they need. So if you’re using fertilizer - organic fertilizer, of course - do it during the wet season.

    Experiment with different mulches.

    Experiment with different plant spacing - intensive spacing vs recommended spacing vs wider spacing.

    Buried wood beds or hugelkultur, depending on where you live.

    Swales heavily mulched.

    Try different varieties of veg, to find the most drought resistant. Or create your own landraces and/or varieties that grow best in your conditions.

    Grow as many perennial varieties as possible.

    Play around with planting depths of seeds. Plant deeper in sandy soils that dry out faster, shallower in clay soils that are hard for the baby plants to push through, etc.

    Plant tomato transplants deeply so they create more roots. Strip off the lower leaves, and plant deep. What other plants can we do this with?

    Leave lots of dips and furrows in the tops of the garden beds, don’t rake it perfectly smooth. This will create little dew catchers, and the depressions don't dry out as quickly. It’s true.

    Block the wind! Wind sucks moisture right out of the soil.

    Direct seeding can be much better for some plants, as they have a tap root which is great for going deep to find water and nutrients. The tap root usually goes deep quickly - sometimes before any leaves appear above ground. They may also be stronger if not irrigated.

    Dew ponds, and other atmospheric moisture capture techniques.

    Stacked rocks.

    Shade.

    Perhaps deep mulches, where there is some summer rainfall or heavy dew, may absorb the moisture, and the moisture might not make it down to the plant roots. Then the moisture evaporates from the mulch and is lost to the plants. That’s where experimenting with different mulches comes in. Straw or weed mulch might let through more moisture/dew/rain than a more matted grass or leaf mulch.

    Using sand as mulch might allow summer rainfall and dew to seep down to the soil beneath. How deep? Would the sand absorb so much heat in the sun that it could burn the plants? Might be a site specific technique.


  • Timing:

  • Use early maturing/short season varieties.

    Start some earlier than recommended, and some at the recommended time.

    Start some early as transplants, some later as direct seeded.

    Grow some in spring, some in summer, some in fall/winter, to see when varieties grow best. There might be some varieties that grow better at different times, or can grow in winter/spring better than summer (if you live in a mild climate). The varieties that like more water will be best to grow in early spring when there is more water in the soil after the winter rains. So frost tolerance and drought tolerance are both valuable traits.

    Grow things in succession, and work out the best time intervals between seeding to get a continuous crop, instead of growing it all at once. This will be important for winter growing when things don’t grow fast, as well as for continued summer harvests - when things also don’t grow fast during the hot times - of things like broccoli, lettuce, cilantro, parsley, and other greens like mustards and pac choi.

    There may be times during the growing season when it is too hot and dry to direct seed, so transplants will have to be used. It will be interesting to see if transplants will establish and grow well during the dry season without supplementary water, or being ‘watered in'.

    Grow shallower rooted plants, or plants that grow quickly to harvest, along side tap rooted plants, or plants that have a longer season. Helps keep the soil covered until the larger plants can cover it and you harvest the smaller plants; and the plants don’t compete much. Plus you’re stacking in time and space, which is kind of Star Trekky and cool.

    Grow heat sensitive things like lettuces with plants that provide dappled shade. Staked tomatoes and trellised peas, beans, and cucumbers would make good shade for things like lettuces and cilantro.

    Experiment with planting in blocks as well as in single rows.

    Harvest lettuces and other fast bolting greens as baby leaf through the dry season.

    Have good storage capabilities so that veggies are available from storage during the dry or winter season when less is actively growing. Canning, drying, freezing, or root cellaring will probably be necessary.


  • Drought tolerant or early maturing veggies (test out different ones to find the best varieties, and the best growing times):

    (This is just a starting list. And not all varieties of all of these plants are drought tolerant. We need to find (or create!) the most drought tolerant varieties of these through experiment.)

    Chickpeas
    Quinoa
    Chard
    Some corn
    Cowpea
    Okra
    Peppers
    Artichoke
    Mustard greens
    Some beans
    Broccoli
    Cabbage
    Garlic
    Leeks
    Onions
    Some tomatoes
    Some squash
    What else? Do you know of any particular named varieties?

    It may be necessary to change the foods we eat if we are wanting to grow all of our food, especially if we want to grow without irrigation.

    Potatoes and other root crops can be grown during early spring,and stored through the summer. If we don’t have a cool root cellar we can can potatoes, or even dry them in slices or flakes (dry the potatoes, that is - I don’t know how that would work with other root crops).

    ~

    And that’s my list so far of possible dryland farming techniques, ideas, and possibilities. I know there are lots more. And I’m hoping people have examples of things they’ve grown without irrigation, that would be very helpful for others to hear about.

    So, let’s hear your ideas, your successes, your plants that grow well without irrigation. And please also include where you live, so people can see what has worked in an area near them.

    Thanks for playing!

    Cheers
    Tracy
     
    Tyler Ludens
    pollinator
    Posts: 9456
    Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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    Great thread!

    I'm planning to try Zai Holes next year to grow corn, beans, millet, and squash with no irrigation:  https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/echocommunity.site-ym.com/resource/collection/27A14B94-EFE8-4D8A-BB83-36A61F414E3B/TN_78_Zai_Pit_System.pdf

    Our rainfall varies from about 12 inches in a drought year to over 40 inches in a flood year, for an average of about 28 inches.

     
    Joseph Lofthouse
    garden master
    Posts: 2009
    Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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    My community does a lot of dryland farming. Our annual rainfall in farmed areas is around 14". There are two types of crops that are grown: Alfalfa or grass hay, and winter grains like rye, wheat, and barley. We produce a lot of food from the drylands in the form of beef and sheep. That's pretty much it...

    And to help put things in perspective: Our irrigation system is designed to add 12" of water to the soil during a growing season, between the first or second week of June, and the first week of September. So an irrigated field gets 26" of water, and a dryfarmed field gets 14".

     
    Casie Becker
    pollinator
    Posts: 1107
    Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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    Aerate or decompress your soil so that it will absorb water better. I used a garden fork to loosen the soil in my barren front yard and dusted a light layer of wood chips across the most compacted sections. It's now completely covered in healthy plants with no supplemental water.

    Well, covered in plants, except for along the driveway where I started parking after we needed a little more space for the new driver in our household. There we lost all the grass that had started. A puddle forms and then quickly drys ever time it rains. 

     
    Tyler Ludens
    pollinator
    Posts: 9456
    Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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    Casie Becker wrote: It's now completely covered in healthy plants with no supplemental water.


    What sorts of plants are growing there?

     
    Kyrt Ryder
    Posts: 746
    Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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    Not a true dryland farming technique, but for a Mediterranean type dry summer climate such as mine and the OP's I have found cheap circular above-ground pools to be a tremendous flood irrigation resource.

    Aquire one deep enough to hold your average rainfall (or rainfall multiplied by catchments in a drier clime) With a ground level drain and place it next to a system of sunken planting space. Cover with porous fabric (and provide shade if possible) to allow water to fill it but minimize evaporation.
     
    Anne Miller
    pollinator
    Posts: 508
    Location: USDA Zone 8a
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    We currently have four wildlife food plots which currently only grow during the rainy season, when the rains end the plants die back because we cannot haul water to them. So I have been researching this subject.  Seff Holzer, Mark Sheppherd, geoff lawton and Bill Mollison all used some sort of Dryland Farming techniques.

    These are a couple of quotes by Bill Mollison that I like:  We’d had agriculture for 7,000 years, and we’d been losing for 7,000 years — everything was turning into desert. So I wondered, can we build systems that obey ecological principles? We know what they are, we just never apply them. Ecologists never apply good ecology to their gardens. Architects never understand the transmission of heat in buildings. And physicists live in houses with demented energy systems. It’s curious that we never apply what we know to how we actually live.

    Make the least changes that you need to achieve what you want. Don’t cut a tree down unless you have to

    Here are some techniques that might be of interest:

    Airwells 

    This has a link to pics of Sepp + Paul

    Groasis Waterboxx

    Wicking Beds

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xeriscaping" target="_new" rel="nofollow">Suncken beds  Utilizing xeriscape principles
     
    Tracy Wandling
    garden master
    Posts: 993
    Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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    Tyler: That might work well for growing corn in my sandy soil. And for the quinoa, too. I do have some clay to add to the pits, and lots of organic matter. If the pits were downhill from a swale or buried wood beds, this might work great. Thanks for that!

    Joseph: Thanks for the stats. That always helps.

    Casie: Yes, loosening the subsoil is always a great idea! I'm glad you were able to bring the greens back to your yard.

    Kurt: That's a cool idea! For myself, I'm more interested in not purchasing anything. We will be digging swales and ponds, so essentially the same idea, but a little more natural. But that idea might work great for somebody here.

    Anne: Thanks for the links! All great ideas for trying to lessen our dependence on irrigation.

    ~

    I'm wondering how many of the people here that are interested in dryland farming are leaning more toward the vegetable/food production side of growing, rather than grains or animal fodder. I am interested in non-irrigated food growing systems. I know it can be done, I just know it! lol

    It's raining right now. 
     
    Tyler Ludens
    pollinator
    Posts: 9456
    Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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    I'm interested in growing some staples - calorie crops - without irrigation.  Some other things like tomatoes might be grown that way also, I plan to put some seeds in of likely varieties.  I'll be getting my seeds for this experiment from http://www.nativeseeds.org/
     
    Anne Miller
    pollinator
    Posts: 508
    Location: USDA Zone 8a
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    Tracy Wandling wrote:I'm wondering how many of the people here that are interested in dryland farming are leaning more toward the vegetable/food production side of growing, rather than grains or animal fodder. I am interested in non-irrigated food growing systems. I know it can be done, I just know it! lol

    It's raining right now. 


    The only thing we have so far been successful on the food plots is Turnips.  They flourished and went to seed without watering, but the wildlife didn't eat them and we can only eat so many turnips. We also planted purple hull peas, but those all got eaten by the deer, which is why we planted them. In our garden, the tomatoes did best with minimal watering since we were in a drought since May until last week.
     
    Tyler Ludens
    pollinator
    Posts: 9456
    Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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    Thought of another thing I want to try:  Rock mulch over organic mulch around the Zai holes.  I have insane amounts of rocks.  So I will do some of the holes just plain, and some with this combo mulch. 
     
    Tracy Wandling
    garden master
    Posts: 993
    Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
    157
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    Tyler; I really like the idea of using rocks. There seem to be many benefits, and like you, I have a lot of rocks. I'm thinking that, during the hottest times, if the rocks make it too hot for the plants, or the reflected light is burning plants, just throw some mulch over the rocks. That might work.

    And I like the idea of mixing lots of different techniques together. I think with our sandy soil, the Zai holes themselves might not work great, but by adding in a few more techniques, I might be able to make them work for growing corn. Here's hoping!

    I plan on trying to grow just about everything without irrigation. Eventually. Of course, because I have a market garden, I need to make sure that I have good produce to take to market. But bit by bit, bed by bed, I hope to wean my garden slowly off of conventional irrigation. So the experiments will abound!
     
    Vera Stewart
    Posts: 217
    Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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    Tyler Ludens wrote:Thought of another thing I want to try:  Rock mulch over organic mulch around the Zai holes.  I have insane amounts of rocks.  So I will do some of the holes just plain, and some with this combo mulch. 


    In an extremely small sample size, I rock mulched half my currant bushes. One died, and the other became quite stressed, during the hottest period. So I think you should be prepared to throw stuff on top of the rocks during the high heat times. (Why didn't I think of doing that??!)
     
    Tracy Wandling
    garden master
    Posts: 993
    Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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    Well, Vera, we can't think of Everything  That's why I started this thread. So we can pack it full of ideas and experiences, and help each other get the resilient and productive gardens we want and need.
     
    Tracy Wandling
    garden master
    Posts: 993
    Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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    Just out of curiosity . . .

    Would anybody be interested in a pdf to download that has all of these ideas listed? I can put one together, and then add pages as we get more ideas. I wouldn't put all of the details of the different techniques, but I could include links that are posted here. It can be printable, or you can just have it as a reference on your computer. If a few people are interested, I'll put it together.

    Okay, carry on with the ideas!

    Cheers
    Tracy
     
    Tracy Wandling
    garden master
    Posts: 993
    Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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    A couple more tidbits I've picking up hither and yon:

    • A crust on the soil could prevent rain or atmospheric moisture from soaking in. So, although a heavy mulch might also keep water from reaching and soaking into the soil, a light mulch might be just the thing to keep the soil from crusting over. But I think it would have to be a mulch that didn't crust over itself - like leaves, or finely mulched grasses do. A more 'porous' mulch is probably needed in order to gather all the moisture that presents itself.

    On the other hand, a crust on the surface also helps to hold moisture in. I think that it will depend on where you live. Places that are super arid, and don't necessarily have any summer rain, or any atmospheric moisture, might be okay with a crust on the soil, or a heavy mulch. It depends . . . ain't that always the way.

    • Bunds: For those of you who don't now what these are, Google bunds, and look at the images. There are a lot of different sizes, configurations, and building materials used, so this technique could be useful in all different climates and land scenarios. I know I've seen various styles of bunds in threads on here, but they were sometimes called something else. So, 'bund' might not be a common term, but it is used in lots of different ways.

    Just a couple of things to keep in mind as we build our irrigation-less gardens . . .
     
    Bonnie Kuhlman
    Posts: 21
    Location: Zone 7a, Paulden, AZ
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    Tracy Wandling wrote:Just out of curiosity . . .

    Would anybody be interested in a pdf to download that has all of these ideas listed? I can put one together, and then add pages as we get more ideas. I wouldn't put all of the details of the different techniques, but I could include links that are posted here. It can be printable, or you can just have it as a reference on your computer. If a few people are interested, I'll put it together.

    Okay, carry on with the ideas!

    Cheers
    Tracy


    Tracy, I just found this thread.  Thanks for starting this and, thanks to everyone, for all the info that's been shared.  I'd love to have this as a downloadable pdf.  We just moved to 2.5 acres of previously organically farmed land.  It's all pretty flat and I'm trying to figure out how to do swales here.  There's an orchard area with about 27 fruit trees.  Zone 7a in northern AZ.  We have an average of 14" rainfall.  I'm thankful that this was organically farmed, but it was conventional in style leaving me with 'dead' dirt.  For the most part though it's a blank canvas.  I'm open to suggestions if anyone wants to throw their $0.02 this way.

    Bonnie
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    Basins sometimes work better than swales on flat land, or around or between existing trees. 

    http://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1564.pdf
     
    Burra Maluca
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    Tracy Wandling wrote:Just out of curiosity . . .

    Would anybody be interested in a pdf to download that has all of these ideas listed? I can put one together, and then add pages as we get more ideas. I wouldn't put all of the details of the different techniques, but I could include links that are posted here. It can be printable, or you can just have it as a reference on your computer. If a few people are interested, I'll put it together.


    How about starting a new thread and we can make it a wikki page? 

    I think a staff member might have to work a bit of magic on it for you, but if you start a new thread with an appropriate title, and then remind me to 'do something' with it, then it should work.  You can update the first post as needed and keep it up to date. 
     
    Gilbert Fritz
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    Tracy, thanks so much for starting this thread!

    My thoughts, in addition to what has already been said;

    Plant spacing will be key, but it will take a lot of experimenting.

    For those in the Pacific Northwest, the experimenting has already been done for you. Here is a link to a free ebook; please read it, very cool. For the rest of us, we have more work to do. http://soilandhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/0302hsted/030201/03020100frame.html

    Some techniques designed to grow plants with minimal irrigation may actually be counterproductive when growing with no irrigation (deep mulch, etc.)

    Mulches of any sort should be moveable.

    There are several types of dry climates, and it makes a big difference which one a farm is in. The main variable is: when does the moisture come, and how? Some drylands have wet seasons, in others the rain is sprinkled around the year. Some drylands are prone to gullywashers, others to showers. Some get a lot of fog, some get snow. Some get rain in the fall, some in the spring. Some just don't get much water at all!

    The other important variable is latitude; it makes a big difference in how fast water evaporates.

    Cold frames and hoop houses may be important, slowing evaporation and speeding growth in the cool, wet times of year, so that harvesting can happen before a scorching summer shows up.

    Cover crops may take too much water to be planted in the same year as the edible crops; they may have to be separated further by time. A stand of winter rye will use lots of water in the spring before it is mowed down.

    I'm thinking about waxing or oiling lots of scrap wood planks, then laying them on the beds as mulch, each at a slight angle. Light rains will run off and soak in, while the planks will keep the water in the ground. They are easily moveable so that I can get the soil to heat up in the spring, then put them back. (I don't have a lot of rocks handy, and rocks will be harder to move to add fertilizer and mulch.)

    In drylands, snow sublimates quickly in the dry air. I'm thinking that I will keep dark colored tarps and fabric on hand, then spread them over each new snowfall. They would be left in place until the next snowfall came, and would melt the snow and soak it into the ground, while keeping water from evaporating. They probably should be porous so that the soil does not suffocate. (Here in Denver snow generally only lasts a week or so on the ground before it has all sublimated away.) The tarps would also speed soil heating so that warm weather crops could get a jump start and use all the valuable water available in May and June, before things dry out.

    Fences, hedges, etc. can be designed to capture drifts of snow.

    In general, capturing light rains and dews will be important, but sometimes difficult.

    Landrace crops will probably help to adapt to local conditions.

    Fertility deep down will be important. As the surface drys out, the roots will be excluded from the most fertile section of the soil. Using a rototiller or tractor for the first few years to deepen the soil may be important. Similarly with buried hugelkulture, etc.
     
    Strider Wardle
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    I have a 3/4 acre plot in suburban Orange County, CA. Our climate is dry in the summer and rainy in the winter, and our state is in the middle of a drought. The property already has a lot of plants and trees including citrus, pomegranate, olive, fig, pricklypear etc. stuff that does good with no water. I want to branch out to tropical stuff that will obviously need more water, will swales and heavy mulch on relatively flat land give these new trees enough water to survive once established? Right now all my fruit bearing plants produce without any extra water, but if they get a nice rain then theyll produce more. I plan to collect every inch of water off our roof and garage to help out with these new trees, and I dont mind irrigating with tap water, I just want to have a realistic idea of what earthworks can do for me on flat dry land. There is a slight slope in the back and a bigger slope in the front yard. The house in on an inside corner and would do good with some curb cutting into a sump pump that could fill an irrigation cistern or something to that effect. There are a lot of large trees on the property that I plan to eventually cut down to use in hugelkulture beds and what not when the food forest takes over. Hopefully I can get some help and guidance here before the rains come.
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    I don't like being a negative nellie or saying something can't be done, but I think it is enough of a challenge to try to get dryland fruits to grow and produce under low-water conditions.  I have my doubts about being able to grow tropical moisture loving plants in drylands without irrigation.  However, a thing to try might be to concentrate rainfall from a large area into a smaller one, and use every technique to try to store as much of that rainfall in the soil - I recommend buried wood beds and very deep mulch.  If you can use swales to capture moisture from an area four times the size of your planting area, you might be able to store nearly four times the normal rainfall, so for instance in So Cal where the rainfall might be 10 inches a year, four times would be 40 inches - though you can't guarantee to capture all of it.  40 inches is not a moist tropics amount of rain, unfortunately. I think bananas might need as much as twice that amount.  Which tropical plants specifically do you hope to grow? 
     
    Kirk Schonfeldt
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    Brad Lancaster (Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond) always says to "plant the water first, then plant your crops". The main thing is to capture all the precipitation that gets onto your property (and any runoff from your neighbors too!) and soak it into the soil. Multiple strategies work best, earthworks and tanks for storage (and later irrigation), mulch and windbreaks and shade to minimize evaporation.

    Cheers!
     
    Strider Wardle
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    I did plan on a banana/papaya circle(s) to send my greywater to and swales as many as I can get. All the neighbors have cemented back yards with either driveways, patios, or pools that I could get some help from depending on how its sloped. There is already an abundance of established drought tolerant trees and shrubs on the property that provide some decent shade, but they dont provide food for my family so eventually they will be sacrificed as the food forest expands and matures. The other water loving species of fruit trees that Im interested is long and not yet complete, but my goal is to have fruit ripening 365 days a year. I have some trees in roo pouches that include apple, pomegranate, pluot, apricot, nectaplum, and plum. I watered those and topped off my aquaponics on rain water until I ran out a month ago and we havent had rain since. My storage is likited to around 900 gallons across 2 55g barrells and 3 275g ibc totes. I fill up quickly and try to store the excess anyway I can in buckets and what not, and Im only collecting from 1/3 the roof on my 1300sqft house plus 2 car garage with patio for close to 1900-2000sqft of total roof space. My first plan is to dig the swales and get a few trucks full of tree trimming mulch, I think this will be the lowest hanging fruit. Then complete the gutters around the whole house with downspouts through first flush and cisterns to hold it all. Third will be a curb cut into a rain garden of sorts with a sump pump and piping to a irrigation only cistern in the back yard. I can cut a slot in the driveway and rout the water to the sump that runs off that as well. I think this final idea will give me the most water because the street slopes toward my inside corner and there are no storm drains inbetween my house and the top of the hill. I dont have a lot of money so the earthworks and gutters shouldnt be a problem, but building cisterns and cutting cement and installing pumps and things would be. Im going to buy all trees at once but I want to have the plan all at once. Should the more water loving fruit trees be on the downward side of the swale and the low water/natives be on the high side? How much distance should I have between swales if my grade is somewhere around 2-4%? I was thinking of swales on contour 3' wide for a nice pathway and 2-3' deep filled with tree trimming wood chips, is this too big/too small of a swale?
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    I definitely recommend purchasing Brad Lancaster's Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2, which gives tons of detailed information including methods of calculating size and spacing of swales and other earthworks.  I consider it a "must have" for anyone trying to grow plants in drylands.

    Lots of free info on his website also:  http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

    Basins often work better than swales in drylands; the plants are placed within the basin located according to their water needs.



    Actual swales might function better as off-contour diversion swales to move water to specific areas.
     
    Strider Wardle
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    Ok purchased a used version of vol 1 and new vol 2 on amazon, should be here soon. I was thinking about installing a french drain in my swales as a way to water the fruit trees later on, but I'm not sure if that would be more efficient than sub mulch surface irrigation and how bad the french drains would get clogged with roots and how much water I would have to put down at one time to make it work. I'm hoping the books can help me decide. I would assume that the french drain version would be cheaper, but the bubbler to each trees basin might last longer and be maintained easier. I guess it all depends on whether it would be more water wise to construct swales or basins for my fruit tree guilds. I like the idea of swales because I can construct them all now and start retaining water as I plant out the food forest, but the basins seem like they would be easier because I can do them one at a time. Its going to take a solid week for the books to get here so I'm hoping I can find information to sway me one way or the other. I've been researching the swale idea for so long and felt like that was already decided and now I'm back at square one deciding what to do first. I'm thinking the best thing to do right now is to place my request for truckloads of much from the local tree trimmers and start spreading that around just in case it rains before I can decide I'll still be able to retain some water in the mulch. I've already go a healthy helping of mulch around all the fruiting trees and that has helped them noticeably and I get more bigger fruits off of them. I just have to do something before the rains come, otherwise I feel like I'm wasting a season. If anyone has any food forest information or water harvesting that is specific to the mediterranean climate I would be very interested in reading up on that. Most things on youtube or the internet are not geared toward my climate even though there are so many people that live in Southern California.
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    If you can decide on the spacing of your trees, you can dig the basins ahead of time as well.  I dug basins last year for trees I should be planting in the next few months.  I dug the tree holes ahead of time, and planted seeds of support plants in other parts of the basins.  We have tons of deer here, so I have to fence each basin. 

    I really identify with what you're saying trying to figure out what to do, and in what order.  I decided on basins because I have to fit the plantings in between existing trees, and I wanted to be able to capture the maximum amount of water.  These basins have a deep area next to the tree hole which is filled with wood, and even with all that to absorb the water, in flood these have overflowed, so they could have been deeper.  I'll be making diversion swales between some of the basins to get the water to flow around the space instead of just heading downhill.  This is on a gradual slope but in flood the water really piles through there.

    I'm so slow, I'll probably only dig a couple of basins a year.  There are also a bunch of dead trees we need to clear out of the space.

    Obviously from the hose, I'm irrigating these gardens, so they don't strictly belong in this thread.
    forestgarden.jpg
    [Thumbnail for forestgarden.jpg]
     
    Tracy Wandling
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    I think there is an interesting conversation going on here that encompasses a variety of growing styles and desired results. There’s ‘dryland farming’ - which I think of as farming/gardening in dry areas without irrigation. And then there are those who want a more conventional farming/gardening in dry lands (which may entail using some 'unconventional' or supplemental irrigation). Dryland farming/gardening may also be defined by some as growing in any area without using irrigation - again, using only the area's rainfall. And I think this is great.

    So, some people are interested in trying to create a dryland - i.e. irrigation-less - farm or garden in any area, no matter if it's arid or not. Some people are living in low-rainfall or arid lands who want to grow what grows well there, but without using irrigation. And some people are living in low rainfall or arid lands, and want to grow things that don’t normally grow well there, so they’re looking for ideas to enable them to do this.

    Whichever one you are, I think we can all benefit from this conversation.

    ~

    Of course, there are varying degrees of ‘dry’. Normally where I live we get a wet winter season, and then months of no rain in the summer (which, of course, was almost the opposite this year  ). So, because we get a lot of rain in the winter, this is not what you could call ‘arid’, or even particularly dry. But, because we have sand and rock, instead of soil, it gets DRY here during the summer months.

    So, as I am planning on growing a lot of food, and do not want to - and may not be able to - rely on conventional irrigation, I am planning and researching all of the techniques I can find that will enable me to catch and hold all of the rainfall, and use it to get the garden through the dry season without irrigation; as well as the tips and tricks regarding planting, varieties, etc.

    ~

    And my point? Most of these techniques that we are gathering in this thread can be used by anyone, no matter where they live or what they want their end result to be! And that is what I love about permaculture thinking: it encompasses everyone and everything.

    That’s all. Carry on.

    Putting Brad's book on my reading list . . .
     
    Strider Wardle
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    Personally I like the idea of not having to irrigate, but there are things I want to grow and I know Ill have to irrigate them, so my interest in dryland farming is to reduce the amount of irrigation as much as possible and hopefully once my trees are established they can be weened off the irrigation. Im also very interested in different plants that will grow in my mediterranean climate without irrigation that my family and I have never seen and dont even know if we like them or not. Variety is the spice of life and I want to have a little bit of everything in the back yard.
     
    Gilbert Fritz
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    Tracy, did you get time to look into the book linked in my post? If you have 50 inches of rain and a deep sandy soil, that book says you will never have to water again. (Except maybe an intensive bed of lettuce near the house.)
     
    Tracy Wandling
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    I haven't taken a look yet, but I will.

    The problem is that we don't have sandy 'soil', we just have sand. And rocks. Honestly, very little resembling soil on our property. I imagine that eventually we could build up the soil by continually adding organic matter and other goodies, but our sand actually 'eats' organic matter quite quickly. And some of our sand actually 'repels' water. And some, about 3 feet down, is quite compacted - the septic guy called it 'quadra sand'. So, in order to get the gardens set up and growing quickly, I am using a variety of techniques - starting with buried wood beds topped with LOTS of organic matter, and a little sand. The other problem is trying to convince The Man to let go of the grassy areas, and let me start creating soil outside of the actual growing areas, in order to saturate the entire area, instead of just the garden area. It's a process. 
     
    Strider Wardle
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    I believe I have decided on individual basins for each tree guild that I add. The swale research that I've been reading today indicates that slope is much better than no slope and I have little to no slope. There is not much research available on basins, but when I google "permaculture basins" I get a lot of useful images for linking the basins together and having different levels of each basin like the picture someone posted. These basins after they are linked will be just as good as a long swale across the whole yard and I can get more mulch sponge mass in the food forest. I really liked the "net and pan" style of basin linking, but that might interfere with my pathways and we don't get a big enough rain event to overflow each individual basin. I'll be planting the more drought tolerant food crops at the top of my tiny hill and the more thirsty varieties towards the bottom. I found a good link for a smaller scale mediterranean food forest with basically just a plant list with a little of the reasons why each plant was chosen
    https://greenbeanconnection.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/mediterranean-understory-guild-plants-for-food-forests-part-2/

    So I'm going to put my request in for the mulch and start digging some giant basins in the empty parts of the yard. There are a few established areas that seem to support themselves without any extra water from me, but I'm going to dig out some basins around the food producing plants and mulch those heavily as well. I wrote Brad Lancaster an email asking his opinions on my situation, but it seems like a long shot because I think he charges people money for advice like that. Hopefully hes got some spare time for the cause, otherwise I'll have to wait for his books to come in the mail and hopefully that will give me some more insight. I believe my biggest source of water will be street catchment because its the biggest watershed I have in my area, I just need to build a cistern large enough to store all the water I'll need for the 6 months of no rain and the 2-4 months of little to no rain.
     
    Tyler Ludens
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    My neighbors have a 20,000 gallon rain tank and they burn through it easily.  I sort of gave up on the idea of being able to store irrigation water in a tank, and instead I'm trying to concentrate on storing it in the soil...

     
    Tracy Wandling
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    That's my thought too, Tyler. The Man keeps saying we need to get big water tanks, but I think that still makes us rely on a system that could break down, or not be enough. Plus it would be expensive. I'm more interested in setting up systems that don't rely on outside inputs and things I have to buy. With a water tank, you still have to buy all the irrigation stuff, so it doesn't really fit into my 'vision'.
     
    Strider Wardle
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    All valid points, but having a store of water makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when the state is in a decade long drought and I have all kinds of fruit in my backyard that I dont have to buy. I think paying for the irrigation, and rain water harvesting gear would be cheaper than a lifetime of groceries. Im trying to limit everything to as little input as possible, but its always good to have a backup plan. Im hoping to be able to build my own cistern using earthbags or rammed earth tire type of construction and doing a ferrocement layer on the inside as well as some kind of pond feature with tilapia to give my trees a little fish fertilizer every now and then. Tanks that are as big as Id need them are extremely expensive for me to buy.
     
    Tracy Wandling
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    Oh, well yes, warm fuzzies are very important. I'm all for warm fuzzies myself.    And I agree with you that a back-up plan is important. We have a well, but low water pressure, so we'll be putting in ponds/dams if we can figure out to do it in our sandy, rocky 'soil'. I'm thinking pigs!
     
    Strider Wardle
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    I watched a good video on youtube that had a brief mention of pigs and ducks to seal up a pond. Im not sure how thorough they would be and you might have to add some bentonite sprinkles at the end if the water is finding a way out. Id imagine the pigs doing the grunt work and the ducks could come in and do the finishing touches to smooth it out. Im not sure if they would all get along, but if the pen around the pond is big enough they could probably coexist.
     
    Tracy Wandling
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    Here is a really good thread about using pigs to seal a pond: https://permies.com/t/38201/ponds/Progress-Gleying-Pond-Pigs

    This gives me hope that we'll be able to create ponds in our sand! I think that once the pigs are done I'd get ducks to hang out there and continue the work of sealing it. I'm eternally optimistic.
     
    Bart Wallace
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    I do dry land farming in the spring and the fall. We usually average over 50 inches of rain per yera and our dry months still average over 3 inches of rain so it is not much of a stretch to do it. On good rain years  you can even not really irrigate in the summer but htat can be risky because of the extreme heat we have.
     
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