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Zack Williams
Posts: 4
Location: Arizona
forest garden greening the desert tiny house
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Hi all! This is my first post, but I've been studying permaculture for about three years now and have been gardening for about two. Now that that's out of the way, here's my situation...

I currently live in Phoenix, AZ, but my land (20 acres) is several hours away near Concho, AZ. Long story short: I bought the land sight-unseen on eBay, and didn't really understand at the time what I was getting myself into. The good news? The land is in a climate that received more annual precipitation than my current residence, and it can grow more of the conventional varieties that I'm accustomed to. The bad news? Well...

-no road at all (nearest dirt track is about a mile away)
-no well (obviously)
-in what SHOULD be pinyon/juniper woodlands, only the junipers remain (locals said it's Japanese bark beetles, but I'm not certain)

Lastly, and I'm not sure if this is good or bad, the land sits in what I would probably improperly call a "floodplain", but struggle to define any other way. What I mean is: it's in the path of a VERY dry river bed, and I don't know if this bed occasionally floods our not. I think this might be good, because maybe I can tap trap and collect the water? But I think it might also be bad, because it might wash my house away :/ it's worth noting that some of the land is elevated and not directly in the path of the dry river.

SO! At last, we arrive at my question: how BEST to turn my little chunk of high desert into an Arizona Eden?

I already own a large stash of native seeds that I bought from PlantsoftheSouthwest.com, and I have some solar panels and several hundred feet of in-line drip irrigation tubing (I had planned on devising an automatic watering system that would catch/store rainwater and dispense it slowly when available). I've thought about making seed pellets and trying that approach?

I guess, right now, the main barriers for me are:

-being so far away from the land
-not having direct access (at this point in time)
-Nihilism (haha, kidding...not kidding. Just kidding!! Kinda....)


Thoughts/suggestions?? Thanks!!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9740
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
180
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Can you post a satellite image of the land so we can see the features? 
 
duane hennon
gardener
Posts: 763
Location: western pennsylvania zone 5/a
45
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you might want to hook-up with some like minded people in Arizona for contacts and ideas

here's one such couple youtubing their adventure

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=life+in+a+box+tiny+house+
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2500
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
471
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
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My suggestion, would be to find a way to be on the land. Perhaps set aside one weekend a month to go camping. That'll let you see what's going on. It'll remind you what you want to accomplish. It'll start to feel familiar. Maybe you'll get lucky, and one of your visits will coincide with monsoonal rains, or a thunderstorm. No worries if you plant seeds, most of them will die most of the time, but a few may survive. 50 years ago, I planted hundreds of trees in the badlands. About 8 of them are still alive. I am very proud of them. About 10 years ago I planted a dozen species of cactus in the desert. Most of them died. A few species survived. Some of them are thriving, and even show up on satellite imagery. I love visiting my cactus garden!!!

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Cactus plants showing up on satellite imagery.
 
Zack Williams
Posts: 4
Location: Arizona
forest garden greening the desert tiny house
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Thanks for the speedy feedback everyone!

Duane: thanks for the channel suggestion! I've never seen them before, but I'll be sure to give then a watch and see if they want to meet up.

Joseph: that's sort of what I had in mind, but I was hoping the survival rate would be better :/ What size is the area of the cactus garden in the photo you attached?

Tyler: I'm gonna try attaching a photo to this post, so hopefully that'll work
201-02-022aerialApache20ac.jpg
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Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2500
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
471
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
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Zack: My cactus bed is about 55 feet long and six feet wide.

Gorgeous site! I like that grove of trees that's just under the arrow on the attached photo. Seems like a place with more water than the rest. I'd be dumping some of the dead trees into the ravine there, and perhaps some of those wonderful rocks. I don't see any saguaro though. Boo hoo. I love those things!

arizona-oasis-2.jpg
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Arizona Desert
 
Zack Williams
Posts: 4
Location: Arizona
forest garden greening the desert tiny house
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Zack: My cactus bed is about 55 feet long and six feet wide.

Gorgeous site! I like that grove of trees that's just under the arrow on the attached photo. Seems like a place with more water than the rest. I'd be dumping some of the dead tree trees into the ravine there, and perhaps some of those wonderful rocks. I don't see any saguaro though. Boo hoo. I love those things!



Unfortunately those only grow in the lower elevations They sure are amazing though! Truly a national treasure.

Thanks! I'm glad you feel (as I feel) that it's got potential Should I try making the ravine into a hugelkultur? I too thought of trying to take advantage of that ravine and I thought about trying to (eventually) make a pond or something there. What do you think about the automatic solar watering system to establish fruit/nut trees? Is that something I should just wait on until I'm living there? I don't plan on moving to the land until about 10 years from now (long story), but I'd like to kinda have it up and running once the time comes.

Is that just a pipe dream?

Also, I entertain the idea of building a sort of "castle" out of the rocks, haha Something kinda like what Jim Bishop https://youtube.com/0sbBeTS_Ox4 has done in Colorado, but less "artistic" and with less ranting (probably)

I took an earthbag construction course though and was definitely impressed with even the small structure we built!

Decisions...decisions...
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2500
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
471
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
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Zack: Your place in the desert is much more vegetated than the place that I take care of... What has been most successful for me is small things... When I prune tree branches for  fire breaks, the limbs go into the ravine. They might not stay where I put them, but they will wash down stream and get stuck somewhere, and collect some sediment. If I have old fencing wire hanging around, I might use it to tie some tree limbs to a boulder in the ravine. During the once in five year flash floods, tremendous amounts of soil can be deposited in and around the branches. So while it is not a purposefully built hugel, it's the same idea: Wood buried in the ground.

Rock check dams a single layer deep have been more successful for me than larger piles of rocks. Orienting fallen branches and trees so that they are on contour can capture a lot of moist soil behind them. Any indent in the soil, even something as small as a cow hoof-print can fill with water.

The base of those bedrock outcroppings can be a wonderful source of water, especially if there is a catchment immediately downhill from the bedrock. At my place, I think that seeps could be developed in some places where there is soil overtopping bedrock. One place in particular grows a profusion of moss. It's dry most of the time, but I bet if I build a weir just uphill from that bedrock, that it would fill up with soil during the first thunderstorm, and seep for a month after any significant rainstorm.

 
Merry Bolling
Posts: 25
Location: USA, Arkansas, zone 7b
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Safe Camping Alert .  You probably already know to be very careful to not place your campsite in the dry streambed / ravine areas on your property. Be aware that even when it is not raining at your locale, rainfall from other locations can unexpectedly flash flood into your  streambed, potentially overflowing stream banks as well. You want to watch the water flow patterns on your property, not be a part of them.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9740
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
180
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From my own experience living on land with two seasonal creeks, during heavy rains they become raging torrents.  I agree with Joseph that low rock dams may help slow the water and build soil.  Because not much vegetation is growing in the ravines on your place, brush dams might not work because they may simply get washed downstream in floods.

I strongly suggest you get a copy of Brad Lancaster's Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands Volume 2 which goes into tremendous detail about all kinds of rain harvesting earthworks.  In the soil is the best place to store rain water for plants; tanks are more suitable for household water because irrigating with tank water is not efficient.  My neighbors have a 20,000 gallon rain tank and quickly use it up when irrigating.

http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

Here's some more free information about planning for your region:  http://quiviracoalition.org/Publications/Publications_for_Download/index.html
 
Zack Williams
Posts: 4
Location: Arizona
forest garden greening the desert tiny house
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Thanks for all the replies, everyone   I'll definitely put the information to good use!

Brad's group, Watershed Management Group, has certification courses that they offer and, after the suggestions that have come out in this thread, I think I'll definitely need to take that course when I can

What do you guys think about trying to start a ground cover of Buffalo Grass, White Clover and Sheep Fescue?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9740
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
180
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From my own experience in a somewhat less dry area, it works better to "plant the rain" before trying to plant seeds.  I've had better success with plantings in protected spots - fenced, and mulched with cut cedar branches - than broadcast seeding "out in the world."  Exposed seeds tend to get eaten or dry out before they can germinate.  You might do better to save your seed money until you can get some earthworks done - no matter how small.  I wasted hundreds of dollars on seeds that I broadcast in unprepared areas.  Only a few of them came up.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2500
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
471
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
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Zack Williams wrote:What do you guys think about trying to start a ground cover of [...]?


I don't know those species specifically, or the area so I have no thoughts about those particular species in that particular location. I have plenty of general thoughts about trying to plant things in the desert... Something is already growing there. Might as well figure out what it is, and why particular species are growing in particular places. Perhaps I can figure out how to make more of those particulars. For example at my place, the pinion pines and junipers pretty much only grow in the ravines, and even more particularly, on the north-facing side of the ravine. So if I want more trees, I should focus on putting them in the ravines, and especially on the cooler, north-facing side of the ravine. Depressions in the topography attract and hold onto runoff. So I might as well try planting things in/near depressions such as cow hoof-prints.  Some species grow only during the winter wet period. Might as well take advantage of that by planting crops in the fall that produce a harvest in early spring, before the weather turns dry and hot. Sometimes I collect progagules from the desert, and grow them out for a year or three in my home garden, and then return them to the desert, when they are larger, and more likely to survive. In other words, the place is still desert, and I treat it like desert rather than trying to turn it into an oasis.
 
Wayne Mackenzie
Posts: 115
Location: Sunizona Az., USA @ 4,400' Zone 8a
1
greening the desert
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Lots of wood chips for mulch. You can also try tree tubes to stop damage from the wind. Try trees like Jujube, Mandarin Melonberry, Honey Locust, Sand Cherry, and other tuff stuff. Since you can't get there often, use SoilMoist or an equivalent polymer mixed in with the soil. You can also use Driwater, but you'll need to cage off the trees real good or the varmints will dig it up.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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