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What can I do here? Ranch land in SoCal

 
Chris Korangy
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Hello!

This is my first post here. I just moved to Topanga, CA which is on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It's high up in the mountains, lots of trees and vegetation. I'm renting an airstream on the land and have been given permission to grow veggies and do gardening but I'm assuming nothing too invasive. Theres places by the side of the airstream where I can grow veggies etc. but the area by the barn which used to have horses is very degraded and I'm not sure what to do with it. I'd like to have it more like a lawn or cover crop lawn? I've attached pictures of this area below. What options do I have here to "green" this area up and rejeuvenate the land. I'm new to permaculture so I'm not sure if cover crops are  best reserved for areas that don't get a lot of foot traffic? I'd like to be able to use this part of the land for gatherings or picnics and such and the back area (which is not in the pics) for growing vegetables.

Thanks for any help or advice,

Chris
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John Elliott
pollinator
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Welcome to Permies, Chris!

If you have a decent depth of soil, you can grow anything that they can grow on the flatlands -- which really is anything, since the Southern California climate can support a wide range of veggies.  You might want to try things that grow in the coastal valleys of Ventura county: strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, and other brassicas.  If you have a spot with some good southern exposure to warm it up, tomatoes and peppers will do well.  If you have places that are difficult to water, then try things like artichoke, cardoon, and prickly pear cactus.

Maybe the more important question is "what do you want to grow?"  Tell us what you like eating, and we'll throw out suggestions how to make it work.
 
Chris Korangy
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Thanks John,
That's given me some ideas to work with. The area in the picture is not for veggies, I was thinking more of a cover crop lawn, white clover perhaps with some dandelions or grass.
 
John Elliott
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The traditional cover crops are mustard, which the Spanish padres introduced when they built the missions, or California poppies, which might look prettier.  Both of those can make solid stands, even in rather steep terrain.  It's hard to get dandelions to be thick enough to be a ground cover; maybe as part of a mix with clover. 
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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For that area I would go with the white clover and a sweet yellow clover mixed with rape and daikon radish, add some brassicas and you will have looser soil in one year.
 
Casie Becker
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In addition to clover, when I think of non-grass plants that can serve as a lawn (for entertaining purposes) there are a lot of low growing ground covers that can fit the bill. Not many edible plants can stand up to the amount of foot traffic that grass can, but creeping thyme has a good reputation and there is a famous lawn of roman chamomile (shorter than the more commonly seen german chamomile but just as good for tea) at an castle somewhere in Great Britain. Horse herb and frog fruit are sometimes used as lawn substitutes here, though they're not edible. All of these options will at least cover the soil and support beneficial insects that will in turn be available to work your veggies. They won't add nitrogen to the soil like clover will, but that's not the only reason to grow a cover crop.

Oops, left out an important word that entirely changed the meaning of a sentence.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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For foot traffic wearability almost nothing beats Scotch moss or Irish moss. Both are very durable and soft underfoot as well as looking great, especially when they bloom.

But if you are wanting to build soil you want a variety of plants growing together.
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
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i've been working on the "yarden" areas for a while now, direct seeding into unprepared soil all kinds of interesting low growing plants. the areas gets walked on a lot, and even in some sections occasionally have cars drive over them.
a few of the plants i am using :
sweet wild violets, wild strawberry, thyme, wild chamomile (pineapple weed - this one is particularly great at being walked on/driven over and still suceeding in growing in compacted unprepared soil), other types of viola, clovers of all types, common mallow (malva neglecta) - and in some other areas of the yarden that dont get tromped on - arugula, chard, mustards, calendula, other kinds of mallows (malva/hollyhocks)...comfrey, mints, lemon balm...

edit cause i dug up a picture....this is from early in the year before the pineapple weed had flowered, or the plants really got going.
we mow this down every so often just like grass, and it gets a lot of foot traffic...

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Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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One thought would be to mulch that area that you want to keep for picnics and such—a six inch layer of wood chips.  Within a couple of months, that mulch will pack down to a couple of inches and be a nice surface to set a picnic table or lawn chairs on, but it will feed the soil and give you a jump start on decompacting the soil.  Put in a horseshoe pit, tie up a hammock . . . whatever you want . . . the wood chips would make it a maintainance free space.  No mowing, no weeding, no watering.

Then, if and when you want to plant something, just pull the wood chips back, dig a hole in the newly improved soil, and drop your plant or seeds into the ground.  In the summer, you could keep it free to use for social events.  And in the winter, rake the mulch back and plant your cabbages, carrots, salad greens, herbs, etc. 

You could plant on the edges of the space and let vines reach out across the mulch in places where you don't walk much.  Pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelon, etc.  Watermelon grows fantastic in our climate.

When you are done, just walk away.  That mulch will keep weeds and grasses down, and will eventually break down and totally disappear.  If they ever want to put horses back into that space, no problem at all.

I live about an hour south of you and wood chips have been the answer to just about every garden question I've ever asked (I'm only slightly exagerating).  Flag down a tree trimming crew, have them back up their truck and dump the chips right on that space, spread them out, and watch the garden magic happen.
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