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How to do permaculture on a dry and sandy area? And, it is dry!  RSS feed

 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 469
Location: Eastern Kansas
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I own a parcel of land near a creek, shich sounds ideal but it isn't! The soil in that area has a high sand content, and the inch of rain that we get once a week in the spring is not enough: I lose the vegetables due to lack of water. I have tried carrying water but that is not enough for them: I can only get out there perhaps once a week, and that is not often enough in that sandy soil. I tried mulching, but, the plants still died for lach of water..

There is a deep rooted grass that does well, but I was hoping for something more edible than that!

I got a little asparagus growing in a low spot, but, only the asparagus in the very lowest spot is doing well. The more uphill asparagus is mostly living but it is suffering from lack of water, and asparagus is a deep rooted plant.

I got some buckwheat started on the hillside and it thrived in the spring but as soon as summer came it got less rain and it died.

I got some daffodils planted and they do well, though of course they die back in the summer.

Any advice has to how to grow more than asparagus and daffodils?
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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dig some trenches and fill the trenches with gobs and gobs and gobs of organic material..or hugel beds..(same thing only different)..it should help a lot..the organics will hold your water..
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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look into biochar and terra preta soils, they hold water and nutrition far longer, and its harder for it to wash away as well. this along with compost and good management practices you can turn that sand into soil in no time.
 
Ran Prieur
Posts: 66
Location: Spokane and near Diamond Lake, WA
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I also have sandy soil, and I've managed to keep a lot of fruit trees and berry bushes going, although I'm not sure what would happen if I completely stopped summer watering. One plant that I'm growing on a dry south-facing slope without extra water is goumi, although it did need watering for the first couple summers to get established.

On advice from Paul Wheaton, I'm going to start growing taprooted plants from seeds, instead of from transplants, because transplanting often stops growth of the taproot. Assuming you've got some permanent ground water down there, anything that gets down to it will thrive. Useful taprooted perennials include wild indigo, good king henry, black walnut, osha, sweet cicely, nanking cherry, and thyme. Also Antonovka apple, so if you can find some seeds of that variety, you could plant them and later graft other apple varieties on top.
 
Pat Black
Posts: 123
Location: Northern New Mexico, USA
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You will get a lot better advice if you provide more information about where you are located, temperatures, precipitation patterns, wind patterns, etc. For example, Saguaro cacti grow well in sand, but it's probably not a plant that will survive where you are!
 
rose macaskie
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      There are in Spain races of sheep that eat some very strange things like the super tough grass that they use to make rope soled shoes, esparto or stipa tenacissima, which is a dry place grass.
        In places with a dry season the plants dry off in summer but grow back in winter, grass dies back and the leaves fall of the trees.
  Different grasses have different systems for surviving adverse seasons, some have underground rhizomes which survive drought or cold that have buds on them, the buds grow and re-establish the plant when the rains comes.  Some grasses die back nearly all their roots and aerial parts drying except for tiny buds at ground level protected in the middle of dry sheaths of grass, these buds too sprout with the rains. Look up Raunkiaer's system of living forms for information on this. You don't have to water them in summer though they look dead they will reappear when the rains come. but don’t let live stock eat the dry grass to the ground or they will do for the buds that allow it to recover.
    What about saffron, that is a bulb and they only appear in spring and die back afterwards so they don’t mind dry summers?
      Grasses, like oats and wheat are annuals but bamboos, that are also graminoids can be very long lived, not all the grasses that dry in summer are annuals, a lot are grasses live various years though they appear dry in summer they relive with the rains. 

Water harvesting on the land.
    You can build a underground cistern that takes the run off from a floor that you construct as a catchment area.  A hundred square meters’ or yards of floor by a half inch of rain how much water is that, i don't know i hate maths but a fair amount to run a micro-drip irrigation system on maybe. How much land do you have by the creek to catch rainwater on?
    In sandy soils you want to build up lots of vegetable matter so they have something in them that will hold onto the water which runs straight through sand.  The continually dying and regrowing roots and stems of the grass that will grow there are the easiest way to build up organic matter in the soil.
    Mulch turns into organic matter in the soil that gives sand some consistency but as mulch, that is as a layer of dead leaves say, that covers the ground,  leaves that the rain can work under, what it does is to prevent the rain being reabsorbed by the air, mulch lessens surface evaporation.
    Light showers can end up in very little because of runoff and surface evaporation.   
    Think how much of the rainfall that falls evaporates off the ground again and you will understand the importance of shading the ground, of ground plants provide shade and bushes and trees even more shade.
  Trees are always a awy of reducing the cold and wind as well as of having shade.

  Plants absorb water through their leaves and stems so if you have plants around less of the water of a light shower of rain will evaporate off. 

      As water gets carried through sand easily, the nutrients get carried with it so sand can lack nutrients.
      On the other hand in hot countries where there is not much rainfall to wash through the ground and so in doing to wash salts out of the ground, the ground can salt up easily if you apply nutrients to it. That goes for manure as well as chemical fertilizers, only as it is harder to spread manure it is more unusual for people to apply too much chemical fertiliser.
 
      Growing nitrogen fixing plants is one way of increasing the nitrogen in the soil for example  legume type trees. I don’t know which ones you have in the Americas, real acacias, like mimosa, are very dry area leguminous plants and the false ones that are American, that is two groups of nitrogen fixing trees robinas and gleditsias of  American are nitrogen fixing trees of America that I do know. There are brooms that live in dry countries and they are leguminous. Nearly all leguminous plants have nodules on their roots that fix nitrogen and as you have water nearby and trees are long rooted their roots should get to the water. Manyt of the nitrogen ficing trees are also usefull as forage for live stock. Paul Wheaton’s normal suggests cow peas with buck wheat which are a very deep rooted dry country sort of bean unless i am wrong and they should be a good at fixing nitrogen.

      In places where it is very hard to grow food the people usually live on live stock that can eat the tough plant  that can grow in these places, the trouble is they often get the live stock overgraze the land  and so they reduce the plants they can feed off.
      In the south of Europe and north of Africa they grow winter vegetables in green houses for the whole of Europe.
    Look up brad Lancaster who does permaculture in Tucson Arizona, he knows about desert plants. He has posted videos in you tube. Also the you tube video greening the desert by Geof Lawton. You should whatch all three of  bill mollison's you tube dryland strategy videos bill mollison dryland strategies  they include a description of makng a floor that will catch water for an underground cistern . He does not make a very big floor.  agri rose macaskie.
 
                                    
Posts: 147
Location: Anoka Sand Plain, MN Zone 4/5, Sunset Zone 43
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NM Grower wrote:
You will get a lot better advice if you provide more information about where you are located, temperatures, precipitation patterns, wind patterns, etc. For example, Saguaro cacti grow well in sand, but it's probably not a plant that will survive where you are!


how about prickly pear - that grows almost everywhere, right?  i'm thinking of planting some this year somewhere with other native prairie plants that like it dry.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9741
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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christhamrin wrote:
how about prickly pear - that grows almost everywhere, right?  i'm thinking of planting some this year somewhere with other native prairie plants that like it dry.


There's a limit to how much prickly pear you can eat!    I plan to plant a lot more of it because it does so well here, to use as compost ingredient and as forage for sheep (the "spineless" variety).
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 469
Location: Eastern Kansas
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Zone 5, I am in Kansas.

Most non-Kansans think that Kansas is fertile and productive and so it is, but only for a few types of plants. Winters are cold, summers are hot, and from mid-summer to late fall we get very little rain. It helps that the soil has enough clay to hold some of the moisture but my soil is sandy instead!

Honestly, what does well in my area of the midwest is grass and non-fruit trees. Corn is grass and wheat is grass, and that is why farmers grow it. Not because the profits are good-profits in grain run low- but because they are grass and grass is what grows well in Kansas.

During the winter nothing grows.

Spring is lovely but very windy: think the wizard of Oz! But the wind is only that bad during the spring. Spring only lasts 3-6 weeks and then the jet stream goes from south of us to north of us, and at that time we get the weather from the south and it is hot. In 2 days time we go from mostly highs in the 70's to mostly highs in the 90's, and the temps stay up there. Summer is pretty much dry but since winter wheat is ripe in June and corn is deep rooted the farmers do not care: it is the people with vegetable gardens who struggle!

Fall weather is unpredictable, and people just finish of their vegetables. Plants are covered before a frost and the garden is watered well during dry spells. Very few people raise a fall garden, as the cold-hardy vegetables would have to be planted in August and that means planting when the weather is in the 90's and hundreds: peas and cabbages resent such high temperatures.

I have tried corn and soybeans on my land and it failed: without the clay to hold on to the water the plants are too dry.

Antonovka apple sounds really interesting because of the deep root system, but there is a problem. I have MS and my balance is poor: my ladder climbing days are over!

I could try putting in pockets of mostly compost to try to get some perrenials growing. If that works I could get more variety out there.

I tried a google search on Paul Wheaton cow peas and I came up with nothing. Ordinary cow peas are doable as the seeds are sold mail order, but I do not know what types are drought resistant and that is what I would need.

I suspect it is too cold for prickly pear: I do not see much cactus here and none of what I do see is prickly pear.

I haven't had a chance yet to search for the other things mentioned, but I will.

If I can get amended pockets of soil with something growing in them, then I can probably get some fruit trees growing, though they would have to be deep-rooted dwarfs. Do they MAKE deep rooted dwarf trees? I have a garden and fruit trees near the house, but I would like to do something with the other land also! And I cannot raise livestock at this time. I do not live on the 5 acres, I live in town: I WAS going to make it into a small farm but I got sick with MS (multiple sclerosis) just a few weeks after putting a down payment on the land, and I do not have the energy to turn it into an irrigated vegetable farm as I had hoped.
 
Mark Vander Meer
Posts: 74
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How sandy is this soil.  Can you wet a sample and make a ball?  Does it stick together when you give it toss and catch it?
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 469
Location: Eastern Kansas
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It has been a while, so my memories are a bit vague. I believe that when I pressed a fistfull I got a ball that broke.

I put some in a jar and shook it: it looked like I had sandy clay when I consulted a book.
 
rose macaskie
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cow peas otherwise known as black eyed peas are a dry country sandy soil type bean, they are shade tolerant that makes them suitable for combined crops like cowpeas and buckwheat they are part of the system that Sir a Albert  Howard, sir as a recompense for his work on farming, who founded organic farming, found the Indians in India using  to grow things on their poor soils. They combined cow peas that fix nitrogen with i think it was buckwheat the plants that Paul wheaton talks of, and as the peas provided nitrogen they help the buckwheat and as both plants were deep rooted they managed to grow crops though the soil was poor and the weather dry. That is why Howard admired what people in out of the way places could teach you.
     If he had been the sort of person who did not try hard to see the intelligence of others they could have been as brilliant as anything he would never have noticed, it takes a counsciouse effort to discover the abilities of others our life is busy and so it is easy never to listen to them or weigh up the new ideas they might present. It is ego satifying to find ourselves clever so in general we discart the intelligent things others say and validate the stupid ones unless they are our children or some such for instance we say he heard it from some one else if the person says anything clever and that is him himself or her if they say something stupid we only know every thought that goes through our own mind so it is easy to know how clever we are but it is hard to know how clever others our conversation often remains on a trivial level and we don't know what they think and even if ew did thought often only dael with references to an idea the idea expressed in such and such a book rather than a full explanation of an idea so we would not know them that way either.  agri rose macaskie.
 
                            
Posts: 158
Location: Abilene, KS
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Terri, I hear ya!  I'm in Kansas, too.  I don't have sandy soil, but it's very alkaline, so the veggies are limited.  We're rural now, farm fields all around us so everything fills up with grasses, shattercane, volunteer wheat and marijuana (ditch weed is what they call it out here).  I can mulch deeply, but it doesn't matter.  We get a few days of rain and the brome/grass seed that has blown in will cover everything in a flash, especially the garden. Even trying to keep mulch on the ground is hard with 30 mph winds, huh.
I had all these dreams, too.    Now I understand why everyone around here has bushes or hedges for landscaping and grow a few pretties in flower pots.
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 469
Location: Eastern Kansas
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OK, I will try black eyed peas.

Marianne, if your soil is alkaline then we are probably from different parts of Kansas, though the wind is the same! LOL!

I live west of the Kansas City, Kansas metro area.

I am gonna turn in my good gardeners reputation here and confess that last year I put down a strip of woven greenhouse flooring on part of my garden. It was wonderfull! I punched holes in it every 3 feet and put in a pepper plant or a tomato plant or 3-4 corn seeds, and I got a bountfull harvest! Though once every few weeks I need to go out and pull up and grass seedlings that are trying to grow down into the woven plastec: once they get bigger they will tear the flooring when they are removes. This summer I will switch the tomato area and the corn area to do some cleaning up and preserve the flooring: I missed some of the grass under the tomatos.

There will always be grass here: as you have said the wind brings the seeds!!!

I grow many things but most vegetables resent this climate: corn, tomatos, and peppers do better than most so I plan my garden around them. I only got one good head of broccolli last year, and I planted 8!
 
                            
Posts: 158
Location: Abilene, KS
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Terri, I am north of Abilene.  Around us is what the farmers call good bottom land, but our little ol' homestead used to be a working dairy farm years ago, so tons and tons of crushed limestone, etc were brought in for drives, etc.  AND of course, the piles of manure?  I saw compost, but my husband saw cow shit, and had it all bulldozed to the back when I wasn't here.  The weeds sure like it, though.   
The water here is real hard, too, so even amending the soil to be more neutral doesn't do much good when you're watering with alkaline water.    I tried acid loving plants in pots, adding stuff to water for them, etc, etc...with lousy results.  One year I used strips of fencing to hold down straw mulch.  Agh.  Then when the rain/ grass cycle hit, I was screwed.  We planted trees for a windbreak, but it will be years before they are effective - the ones that survived, that is.

Current plans (subject to change) are bushes to outline/more windbreak one area at a time.  Bad thing is that gives more cover for predators to my free ranging hens.  We also have "Mud Creek" at the back of our property...and it is primarily mud, too.  But lots of bobcats, a cougar, racoons, coyotes run that creek.  I have two acres in back that I would LOVE to do a forest garden in, but problems abound.  The trees that I have planted back there keep getting broken off by the deer.  We have orchard grass back there now and it's spreading everywhere!  So even having a prairie garden is going to be difficult.  If I had the equipment, I'd try berming.

Oh, that's about par for the course with broccoli here, too.. one head per 8 plants!  LOL  Can't get one bell pepper, but banana peppers, beets, turnips, potatoes and tomatoes  like it here.  And gardening is pretty much over by August with that hot, hot wind.

Very frustrating when I had beautiful, bountiful, organic gardens when we lived in town 30 miles from here.  I feel your pain.
 
                            
Posts: 158
Location: Abilene, KS
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Oh for pete's sake, I just thought of this.  Yesterday I spent a couple hours looking at pictures of wild edibles in Texas, but I have seen many of the same things here on my property.  Whereas there are a lot of things that we can't grow well in our areas, maybe recognizing some grazing chow would help?  Wild sunflower (more edible than just the seeds), sunchokes, tiger lily, plantain, that type of thing.  Here's what I was looking at:
http://houstonwildedibles.blogspot.com/
My husband is scared that I'm going to slip him something unfamiliar.... 

Also, I got my berm idea from http://lesslawn.com - can you berm against the prevailing south wind and amend the soil there for small patches of decent soil to grow veggies?  Or do a potager, stick a veggie plant in a flower bed?
 
                            
Posts: 158
Location: Abilene, KS
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I wish I would have thought of this too, instead of multiple posts, sorry folks.  Terri, maybe both of us should contact the Kansas Forestry Dept - http://www.kansasforests.org/conservation/index.shtml

I have ordered conservation seedlings from them before, they were in great shape when I got them.  The guy that moved in behind us said that he asked for someone to come out to his place to help him plan, or at least give him ideas of what would be best for his property.  We should do the same, as we're both fighting a battle that is unique to our specific areas.

Still sounds funny.. Kansas Forestry Dept....don't think of Kansas when I think of forests...
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 469
Location: Eastern Kansas
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What a lovely idea! And, they sell bundles of 25 plums that are native to Kansas for $17..... $31 once you add in the shipping and handling but that is still awesome!

They also sell something to dip the roots into to help with the water situation.
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 469
Location: Eastern Kansas
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It is done: I just ordered a bundle of 25 trees, along with marking flags and root slurry.

They are supposed to be watered every 5 days: I can do that for a little while with the help of the spring rains but not forever. With the aid of the slurry, perhaps for long enough!!!

 
                            
Posts: 158
Location: Abilene, KS
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I think you'll be fine.  When you aren't watering as much, that makes the root system head down for water, right?  I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.
I went ahead and sent an email to the forester for my county (we have the same guy, BTW), going to ask him to come over the next time he's in the general area.
I'm thinking groves, thickets, that kind of thing over rows of stuff.  But it will be nice to get some educated fresh eyes out here.  The neighbor's property is going to be awesome when it all grows up.  In the meantime, I keep hiring a guy to drive his tractor over to mow to try to keep the orchard grass from seeding as much.  Agh.  And the wind keeps whipping by.  It's pathetic when you have to use bricks and rocks to hold your mulch down - LOL
 
rose macaskie
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terri, i did not say, i think i thought to get around to it and did not, that i use plastic bottles filled with water with a few holes punched in the cap turned upside down and pushed into the earth by new plants that my husband does not want to put a drip on. I buy the plants and plant them he does not always think its worth putting a drip on them though he often ends up likeing them. I have forgotten i am capable of doing it myself if i have gone to the garden prepared and realise i am going to need to.
The upside down bottles their caps firmly pressed to the earth seem to help my plants survive the summer mounths, sometimes they have not lost any water when i come back to fill them up, two weeks later say and somtimes they have emptied and i dont know when, whether in the first day or more gradually only some are half full or three quarters full demonstrateing that the warter does come out of them and gradually when i return but still it seems to work, maybe what works is going to water the plants every two weeks. THtey dont thrive but they survive.
It is hard work though it does not sound it to run around filling bottles in the summer sun but it is one method. The best method is to get the thin black plastick pipes taht are sold for drip irrigation laid so that you can run a line with a drip mecanism to each plant, that is attached to a time clock that puts the water on for ten minutes, half an hour, the amount of time you set the clock for. Your place is out in the wild you would need a pump on a time clock to pump the water out of your river too. agri rose macaskie.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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I am glad that this discussion got around to the State Forestry Division (or whatever your state calls it).  Many state forestry divisions offer fantastic offers on trees (while others offer prices comparable to retail outlets).  You owe it to yourself to at least check them out, because even if their prices are not competitive, they are only offering varieties that do well within the region.  Some forestry Divisions offer 10-packs, some 100 tree minimums, and others in between...you need to look them up, as what they sell is what will prosper in your region.

As an example, I am looking at a 40 acre plot in Tennessee.  If I buy "100 packs" of various hardwoods, and plant 2 per acre, and sell the remaining 20 trees @ $5 each, I have loaded my acreage with good fruiting trees for zero out-of-pocket expense.  Check out their choices/prices (unfortunately, Walnuts have been dropped from this year's selection):
http://tennessee.gov/agriculture/publications/forestry/seedlingcatalog.pdf
 
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