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Poor Soil in Nevada  RSS feed

 
Bryan Baker
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Hi everyone,

I'm new to this forum, and I don't know if I can ask this big of a question yet.  But I going to ask it at accept the penalties afterward.  

Can anyone give me suggestions on how I can build up better soil life here in my backyard?  I posted a couple pictures  (I hope they can be seen).  Do you guy's think I should try a sheet mulching recipe like in Gaia's Garden?  I know it's going to be a lot of work, but I willing to do the work.  I would like to build a permaculture system in our yard were I can grow fruit and nut trees, herds, and veggies.  The vision i have is a mandala style garden in the back half of my backyard (were the rocks are in picture).  I have got a bid to do our landscaping from the closest landscaper to a permaculture designer I can find here.  In the design there are 2 raised beds, a herb spiral, an apple tree, a peach tree, lemon tree, a pomegranate, and a almond tree.  The 2 problems I'm having with the design is 1. it's $20,000 2. all the other plants are native, but I can't use them for eating or medicine.  After watching video's like "Greening the Desert"and others. Leads me to believe I can do this here.  I just need to build up the soil.  Sorry this is so long, but I hope someone out there can help me.  Tell me I crazy for thinking this way or something.  All the "experts" at my local nurseries look at me like I'm crazy. When I ask them if they think building up the soil is a good idea.  "Just do raised bed's.  That's all you can do in Vegas" they say.
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Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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I can't recommend too highly Brad Lancaster's books and videos about rainwater harvesting!  Most of what he talks about is on the scale of a normal yard, so is totally applicable to your situation.

http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ-FBAmvBw

Scrap that $20,000.00 plan and we'll help you come up with one in which you can harvest rainwater and grow food! 
 
Kirk Hutchison
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Is water available on-site? If it is, plant the fastest-growing legumes suitable for your climate and chop-n-drop them, over one or even two growing seasons. If water is NOT available, plant native, drought tolerant legumes and sit back and wait.
 
                                    
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Yikes! That soil looks like it has been compacted to hell.  I know a lot of permies are against tilling on principle, but it looks like you're going to have to start by tilling deep or nothing will be able to get started let alone establish good deep root systems.  I'd pick a pathway for walking first off then till up the rest.

After that get your soil tested, find out the ph, what it's missing etc.  You don't know what to add until you know what you need.  But it looks like your soil needs air first and foremost!

Till first, then test and amend and mulch.


 
maikeru sumi-e
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I'm mostly no-till, but I can see times when it might be useful. What type of soil do you have? Rich in organic matter or not?
 
Bryan Baker
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Thanks for all the info so far everyone.  @ Mikeru the soil is like concrete.  There's pretty much nothing to it.
 
                                
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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I love your site. Lots of potential.

Raised beds would be excellent. I hope you keep that well established cactus. Just reduce the gravel around it to a circle and do raised beds with nice paths. I'm in the Pacific Northwest where we get a lot of water and the decay rate is fast but I'm guessing things break down a lot slower there. Tilling won't be very good in the long term because you'll just build up a traktor pan but if you can do some hand cultivating and get some nitrogen fixers in there, do it. Build your own beds, and use moisture holding mulch and do the fixer ground cover everywhere else.

What's your water situation?

(t-r-a-c-t-o-r misspelled deliberately because there was some link auto inserted when I spelled it correctly. Second word that has happened with)
 
                                
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PS. Apparently p-a-n also generates an auto-link.
 
maikeru sumi-e
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fattychops503 wrote:
Thanks for all the info so far everyone.  @ Mikeru the soil is like concrete.  There's pretty much nothing to it.


So it's like really fine silt or clay? If so, I think that's actually a good thing. Organic matter will work well with fine soil or clay soil to produce a rich, water-holding topsoil with a little love and care. Clays usually have good CEC and can hold a lot of nutrients, so long as you work in that organic matter to provide aeration, loosen compaction, and jump start the soil life. They need lots of organic matter to eat, eat, eat, grow, grow, grow. The more the better.

If you till, and you could in this case IMO, take it as an opportunity to work in as much organic material as you can. If you don't till, still work organic matter into the dirt with handtools like a hoe or spade. Whatever you can get, hopefully with some diversity like wood chips, bark, branches, grass clipping, straw, composted manure, etc. Get it into the ground and mixed up. As the organic stuff breaks down, it'll make things spongy and loose and attract earthworms. You can also take the opportunity to inoculate the soil with compost teas...something I highly recommend.

Mulch the area heavily with more organic matter after planting or before seeding and let the seeds fall into cracks and holes of the mulch, and perhaps consider a drought-resistant cover crop in your garden like subterranean clover. I live in the desert too (next state over), and I notice the subclover still tolerates these tough conditions. It'll thrive if you work in some SOM as I mentioned, cover the soil, and fix some nitrogen for your trees, shrubs, or veggies. Some ground covers like white clover are more difficult to maintain in hot, dry conditions. I only have a few small patches that are doing all right, whereas my subclover is widespread, seems to be quite happy.

After done, don't till again.

If you don't want to till, sheet mulching, laying down a thick, thick layer of mulch and organic matter, etc. or building raised beds are all good ideas. I did the sheet mulching in other areas of my backyard. I'll do the heavy mulch thing with another part along my west side fence for onions, shallots, garlic, potatoes, etc. Raised beds can still require a bit of work. My main garden is a raised bed and it took a lot of energy to build.
 
                                    
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Matthew wrote:
Tilling won't be very good in the long term because you'll just build up a traktor pan


To be clear I'm talking about a one time deep tilling to break the hardpan to allow water to penetrate introduce oxygen and provide space for beneficial microbes  to inhabit.

If you walk on pathways instead of all over the soil it shouldn't need re-tilling. 


Even if you make raised beds here it would be wise to till under them first IMO as some roots may wish to go deeper.
 
Paula Edwards
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I always hoe the whole thing with a garden mattock to get the crap (concrete, old paint tins, asbestos) out. Then I would build up the beds.
I would never spend so much money on a landscaper, gardening and landscaping is not rocket science. You can do it.
You need tons of organic material and it looks very suburban. Just phone one (!) lawn mowing company and one gardening company to dump you their grass clippings and prunings.
I think it is a big mistake getting everything at once, especially if you are not y very experienced gardener. I would start little experiment a bit around and then expand. Maybe some herbs at the doorstep and a little salad garden. Each year you add a bit.
Making a plan in the beginning like permaculture says is a good thing, because you think on the things. But you begin to garden while you make your plan. And then you update your plan, maybe you really draw it on paper or you change it only in your head.
Landscapers often make nonsense gardens, my neighbour has a vegetable patch which is unused now,, because the trees there grew and it is in deep shade.
BTW, in your conditions a bit of shade might be good.
A good plan is not the nice drawing on paper, it is more a collection of ideas and knowledge and in the end you draw something on paper or not.
What you urgently need is a water tank. If it does not deep freeze in your country you can do a simple plastic one and as the drinking water situation in the US is no so good I would go for 5000 gal at least. You don't need a concrete pad underneath, just gravel or crusher dust and some timber around, level, rake it in and hose it in. I would not leave a tiny bit of roof unconnected to a tank, not the garage, not the shed, even the chicken house.
 
maikeru sumi-e
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The point about shade is a good one. At high elevations or desert areas, the sun burns and bakes and there may be high UV levels which will damage your plants. (I'm not sure, but it appears to me that UV levels are rising since I was really young. In my area, it used to be that 6 was considered strong in the summer on the UV index. Now there are days regularly 8-9+.) Last year my peach and nectarine trees had many of their leaves sunburned in June and July. They survived, but it surprised me. Light shade could be a great thing for a forest garden in the desert. My main garden is partially shaded by a silver maple above it, although by late summer, the maple's shade is a bit too much.

Also, I have some concerns about growing apples or some stone fruits out in Nevada depending where you are. Do you think you'd get enough chill time? There are many cultivars/varieties that should allow you to get around most chill time issues, but I think it's important to consider.
 
James Burdine
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I live in much the same area(Henderson) and am really considering two methods that will involve a lot of initial work. While sheet mulching can have the desired effect, I am considering the combination of the waffle gardens of the Hopi, keyhole gardens, and hugelkultur. The idea I had was to dig out 6 foot circles about 4 foot deep. Sheet mulching with logs, waste wood, sawdust, for about one to two feet. Then gradually sheet mulching the rest of the way up the usual fashion with compost, clippings, manure, etc until the bed is full. A one foot heavy mesh wire cylinder with rebar to act as the central basket to feed the bed with kitchen clippings etc and redworms. Instead of raising the beds you sink them and leave a raised rim around them to allow flood irrigation. The rim acts to hold the standing water and allow it to sink down to the bed base. The wood layer would act as a water sponge to maximize water holding down in the base of the bed instead of draining it away. I already have my caleche bar to help break up the ground and allow digging. All I need now is motivation and time, not to mention explaining why I am digging big holes into the back yard.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Personally I think raised beds are not a good idea in a dry climate.    I think reconfiguring the area with basins to capture rainwater is a better idea.

Don't put a raised rim around a basin except on the downhill side.  You want rainwater to go into the basin, not around it. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS-XQUkSGvU&feature=related


I can't express how important I think this information is for us in dry climates! 
 
James Burdine
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Ludi Ludi wrote:
Personally I think raised beds are not a good idea in a dry climate.      I think reconfiguring the area with basins to capture rainwater is a better idea.

Don't put a raised rim around a basin except on the downhill side.  You want rainwater to go into the basin, not around it. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS-XQUkSGvU&feature=related


I can't express how important I think this information is for us in dry climates! 


I agree to a certain extent. But raised beds are easier to work with right away. Especially if you are just starting out, and you are wanting quick results and you have to buy all of your organics. There is organic material in the soil out here (in the Mojave desert area), but not much. The effort to create a level area for the building of homes means that anything that was there has been scraped off. Some of these homes are actually built over former landfill sites that were covered with hauled fill from another area and then leveled off to create home-sites. I've been living here for over 20 years and have gone to containers for any growing of vegetables. But looking for a more permanent situation that will allow more water efficiency is there. Gardening here means irrigation. Sub irrigation and water resevoirs can improve the efficiency of that irrigation, but you have to deal with eventual saliinization of the soil from leaching from tap water. We get occasional heavy winter rains, and occasional summer showers during the monsoonal season.  Water harvesting in the area is almost non-existent. Most landscaping deals with drip systems and water spray systems that depend on the city water supply. Hopi and Zuni agricultural practices (waffle gardens) show that there is a better way of dealing with intentional irrigation that maximize the catchment of whatever water you use both natural and irrigation. But all of this is going to take more labor than most folks want to do right away.  First you want to make sure that if you have to irrigate that the water goes where you want it to go. Second you want to improve the holding capacity of your soil, then you want to improve the method you are going to use to feed your garden plot. Waffle gardens are built into the ground and a lip of clay and rock are around the edges of the bed. Most are no more than 3-4 foot square so that one basin/container of garden can be used to irrigate the entire plot. The lips of the edges help hold the water until it soaks into the ground. Combine that with the keyhole garden principle of a 6 foot round area with a central feeding basket, where you put compost and water into that central basket (where it diffuses out to the edges under the surface of the garden bed) and you have increased your area of your garden. Now to improve the water holding ability of the plot, dig down about 4 to 5 feet, start your sheet mulch layer with wood sumps, twigs,etc. ala hugelkultur for about 2 feet and then put your greens, compost, etc until you have filled the bed. Worms have to be imported to put into the bed since there are no native species locally that I have ever seen. Mulch the top around the plants, feed the central basket, and water it. The other consideration here is the intensity of the sun can be a bit much for some plants. So you put shade cloth over the plants that need them. Native species like prickly pear(nopales) and other edibles of course don't need shade cloth.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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jburdine wrote:But all of this is going to take more labor than most folks want to do right away.


I can empathize with that statement.  I don't know if you've seen any photos I've posted of my kitchen garden where I'm digging out rocks down to 18" to put in hugel beds.  I can appreciate the difficulty of hard work.    But I can also appreciate getting off to a good start with the right design approach.  I did not have the Lancaster information when I started my gardens and I sure wish I had, I would have saved many years of wasted effort and dead plants. 
 
Kay Bee
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Desert areas have very different challenges than areas that have dry times of the year.  My area typically doesn't get rain from May/June through October/November.  Then we get a LOT of rain.

In a desert area, I would suggest focussing almost entirely on trees/shrubs for planting in the ground, and even then only if you have enough rain-catch space or access to reasonable water of a quality suitable for irrigation (not too hard or salty). 

As Ludi mentions, Lancaster's books can help, and the appendices have info that will describe how much of an area you will need to harvest a suitable amount of water based on annual precipitation for your area.

Rather than raised beds for annuals, I would suggest sticking with containers along the style of the earth box designs (but I would substitute in compost/manure for the chemical fertilizers).  something with a reservoir at the bottom and the ability to limit evaporation out the top of the soil.  By building in portability with the containers, you can keep plants like tomatos and peppers alive for years.
 
Kay Bee
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Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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another book recommendation for desert farming using ancient techniques:

The Negev: The Challenge of a Desert, by Michael Evenari
http://www.amazon.com/Negev-Challenge-Desert-2nd/dp/0674606728/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1297187525&sr=8-1-fkmr0

I was able to get a used copy for my B-day and it's a great book!
 
Paula Edwards
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I would maybe build a pergola with dragonfruit to raise seedlings underneath and do other work. And maybe I would put the tank underneath the pergola too. In a desert you can't let water simply drain away. Even if your garden is ideal you won't hold that much and long water in it as in a tank. And you must figure out how you use the overflow, if it ever flows over.
Really go step by step, save the landscaper money for other things (tank tools plants solar hot water etc). Learn as you go.

I once made a garden, drew up a plan. Went to the library looked into garden design books which was the biggest mistake. I redrew my rectangular simple plan and replaced it with something with a diagonally curved path in the middle. Hoed the whole lawn out and made the beds in the shape on my plan. What a nonsense it was!
I ended up with triangular beds at the end of each path which were awkward to work with and my arms were always too short.

Now I think one should do the opposite what garden books recommend. Not go and first get in all the hard structure, but begin simply and go further.
 
Bryan Baker
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Hey,

Thanks for all the info.  It looks like I have a lot of learning to do.  I had thought of trying to do a hugelkultur raised bed.  But I never really thought of the waffle bed techinque. 

@jburdine-  What a cowinkidink!! I live in Henderson too!!
 
paul wheaton
master steward
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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How cold does it get there in winter?

How much rainfall do you get each year?

 
Bryan Baker
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The temp in winter time gets to be between 30-35 degrees.  We get about 4 inches per year.
 
paul wheaton
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Is it possible for you to get a bunch of woody material for hugelkultur stuff?

Do you think you can get bales of alfalfa hay?


 
paul wheaton
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I would do hugelkultur stuff.  And because it is so dry there, I would make the hugelkultur beds a good seven feet tall, knowing that they will quickly shrink.  I would get lots of alfalfa hay as mulch.  I suspect that there is not a natural source there for good topsoil, so I would wanna make my own.  I would mix untouched "dirt" with a broad variety of organic matter (hay, alfalfa meal, leaves, twigs, wood chips ... anything I can find where I know that it has had a lifetime of organic stuff - no pesticides).  I would find some good, rich soil somewhere and get a few five gallon buckets of that to mix in.  That soil will have lots of microbials in it that i want.  I would buy the fungi perfecti soil additive stuff and put that in after everything was built.  I would also get a few bales of ORGANIC straw to use for a variety of things.

I suspect that apple trees will not do well there. 

Since you are in SUCH a hot climate, I think biochar would do a lot for you - you should look into it.  I usually advocate against biochar in the colder climates, but I think it is something that would be a fit for you. 

Start making lists of the things you want to grow and share them here.  Pay careful attention to what will do well in your area.  We want to make sure there are plenty of legumes.

Since most of my knowledge is for colder climates, we'll be depending on others to help us with understanding which things do well down there.
 
                                              
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paul wheaton wrote:
I would do hugelkultur stuff.  And because it is so dry there, I would make the hugelkultur beds a good seven feet tall, knowing that they will quickly shrink.  I would get lots of alfalfa hay as mulch.  I suspect that there is not a natural source there for good topsoil, so I would wanna make my own.  I would mix untouched "dirt" with a broad variety of organic matter (hay, alfalfa meal, leaves, twigs, wood chips ... anything I can find where I know that it has had a lifetime of organic stuff - no pesticides).   I would find some good, rich soil somewhere and get a few five gallon buckets of that to mix in.  That soil will have lots of microbials in it that i want.  I would buy the fungi perfecti soil additive stuff and put that in after everything was built.  I would also get a few bales of ORGANIC straw to use for a variety of things.

I suspect that apple trees will not do well there. 

Since you are in SUCH a hot climate, I think biochar would do a lot for you - you should look into it.  I usually advocate against biochar in the colder climates, but I think it is something that would be a fit for you. 

Start making lists of the things you want to grow and share them here.  Pay careful attention to what will do well in your area.  We want to make sure there are plenty of legumes.

Since most of my knowledge is for colder climates, we'll be depending on others to help us with understanding which things do well down there.


How are you structuring 7 foot tall HK beds? Are these rows your walking between? is it one huge bed?

Im also curious why your an advocate against biochar in cold regions? Ive played with it a few years, Im in a cold and dry place. I find it absolutely amazing, and it gets better with time. So im curious your reasoning....  in fact Im getting lots of things going just to ensure i have a supply of things to make into biochar... honey locust grows fast, and should do well for that. you can use it for a source of quality wood for the fire to. Once established, i read of really good results on continual harvest of its limbs.

 
duane hennon
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maybe you could give these people a call

 
Bryan Baker
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   Thanks Paul for you time.  I was thinking of going with straw.  I never thought of Alfalfa though.  I went to a class on herbs a few months back at the Springs Preserve here.  The lady that taught it uses Alfalfa hay for her beds.  She sales her herbs at a farmers market here.  I'm going there tomorrow to ask her were she gets it.  I got a good idea of where I can find wood for hugelkultur stuff.  I had planned on doing a soil test here soon, and amending the soil with the results I get.  So do you think I should scrap that idea, and let nature take it's course? 

    I really enjoyed you podcast you did with Larry Korn.  I bought One Straw Revoultion.  I'm starting reading it today.  I was think that after I let the hay and organic matter do it's thing for a good 9 months to a year.  I wanted to try the whole natural soil amender's.  I think you guy's talked about Daikon, Clover, and Mustard.  I got a lot of reasearch to do, but thanks again for all your help.

Ohh yeah I was reading the review's on One Straw, and here's what one person said in the 1 star review's "If you like cults, you'll like this philosophical treatise on...rice.

As a long-time gardener, I found the book practically useless, and I found the concept of "do-nothing farming" to be offensive. "  Sorry I just thought it was funny!!
 
                              
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I'm living in a similar climate (SW Arizona) precipitation 6", evaporation 100"+.  I am totally in agreement with no-till methods, but here I think the only way to get something going fast (annual garden etc) is to dig in lots and lots of organic matter and then maintain feryility with no dig methods. (Lots of caliche here) I haven't had a chance yet to a hugelculture bed but have been mulling over how it would work here.  My idea is to dig at a bit of a trench in such a way as to catch any rainwater and start the hugelculture in there.  We would probably need more soil, manure etc on top to keep it from drying out until it started to rot and hold it's own water.  Also do not plant anything that needs any chill hours too close as the heat from the composting may affect that. 
 
                                              
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  i get more rain then dragonfly and the OP. Its 8-12 inches here. its a colder region also.

  i have a nearly unworkable soil though. You need a pickaxe or maddock. Its a powdery heavy clay.

I must say working organic matter into my soil is nearly worthless.

  tilling is meaningless. It recompacts itself. Ive tilled in 6 inches of manure twice a year for a few years. You can barely tell i did a thing.

  heres something interesting though, and Ive been playing with this to great benefit. I now put down a layer of compost, then leaves or straw. after a season the soil underneath is workable. more workable then areas I mixed in a total of 30-36 inches of manure into 8 inches deep!!!

  it seems to me to be related to microbial life. they cant thrive in manure mixed into my soil. Its actually volcanic soil so its actually full of good stuff though a bit alkaline. in layers though, like youd find on a forest floor, the microbial life makes its way into the soil. That or associated acids that such things release.

  for actual beds I think Im going to re do them as hugelkultur this year(and biochar as im able). I think the action with all that decaying wood will be extremely beneficial.
 
travis laduke
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I want to see what happens when you get some burdock or daikon going in that soil.
 
                                              
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travis laduke wrote:
I want to see what happens when you get some burdock or daikon going in that soil.


If its like mine, and it appears it is.... they wont grow in any worthwhile way, even after balancing the PH, and watering well, a good mulch etc.....
 
maikeru sumi-e
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fattychops503 wrote:
   Thanks Paul for you time.  I was thinking of going with straw.  I never thought of Alfalfa though.  I went to a class on herbs a few months back at the Springs Preserve here.  The lady that taught it uses Alfalfa hay for her beds.  She sales her herbs at a farmers market here.  I'm going there tomorrow to ask her were she gets it.  I got a good idea of where I can find wood for hugelkultur stuff.  I had planned on doing a soil test here soon, and amending the soil with the results I get.  So do you think I should scrap that idea, and let nature take it's course? 

    I really enjoyed you podcast you did with Larry Korn.  I bought One Straw Revoultion.  I'm starting reading it today.  I was think that after I let the hay and organic matter do it's thing for a good 9 months to a year.  I wanted to try the whole natural soil amender's.  I think you guy's talked about Daikon, Clover, and Mustard.  I got a lot of reasearch to do, but thanks again for all your help.

Ohh yeah I was reading the review's on One Straw, and here's what one person said in the 1 star review's "If you like cults, you'll like this philosophical treatise on...rice.

As a long-time gardener, I found the book practically useless, and I found the concept of "do-nothing farming" to be offensive. "  Sorry I just thought it was funny!!


Many desert plants have deep roots that could possibly serve a similar purpose to daikon or burdock if those don't work. Remember there may be native solutions to your problems.

Fukuoka-sensei's work and life was heavily permeated by Zen Buddhism (even if he wasn't an avowed Buddhist) and traditional Asian philosophy as well as an understanding grounded in microbiology (remember his studies and work as a plant pathologist). Most people are going to find his ideas and philosophy alien. He seems cryptic, but he doesn't mean to be so. Don't be put off or puzzled. This isn't a book to rush through--his ideas require time to absorb and self-realize.
 
James Burdine
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SILVERSEEDS wrote:
  i get more rain then dragonfly and the OP. Its 8-12 inches here. its a colder region also.

  i have a nearly unworkable soil though. You need a pickaxe or maddock. Its a powdery heavy clay.

I must say working organic matter into my soil is nearly worthless.

  tilling is meaningless. It recompacts itself. Ive tilled in 6 inches of manure twice a year for a few years. You can barely tell i did a thing.

   heres something interesting though, and Ive been playing with this to great benefit. I now put down a layer of compost, then leaves or straw. after a season the soil underneath is workable. more workable then areas I mixed in a total of 30-36 inches of manure into 8 inches deep!!!

   it seems to me to be related to microbial life. they cant thrive in manure mixed into my soil. Its actually volcanic soil so its actually full of good stuff though a bit alkaline. in layers though, like youd find on a forest floor, the microbial life makes its way into the soil. That or associated acids that such things release.

   for actual beds I think Im going to re do them as hugelkultur this year(and biochar as im able). I think the action with all that decaying wood will be extremely beneficial.

I live here in the same area; I think the soil is too alkaline and saline here. It kills off the beneficials quickly. So sheet mulching concentrates the organic material and keeps the bacteria and fungi alive longer to work on the stuff underneath. What we need is a way to catch what little rainfall we have, and allow it to percolate down into the ground and then stay a while instead of going all the way to the water table. Currently doing container gardening with Sub irrigated planters that I make myself. It is not sustainable over the long term because of salinization from the tap water, just one season of wicking water up and you will see salt frost on the top of the containers unless you flush through regularly from the top or go to expensive reverse osmosis water.  But observing the backyard where organic material from the dog has been just laying on the surface and the El Nino(sp) rains this year brought a rush of green grasses and other plants than in prior years. Out here it is so dry that the dog manure just dries quickly and you can leave it there. It desicates and disintegrates into place. So now I am rethinking the waffle gardens a bit. I might just be able to get away with using a pick mattock to dig down about a foot to 2 feet, lay the logs, stumps and whatever scrap wood down to the level of about a foot, and then start sheet mulching from there. If I can get ahold of some sandbags I can use those to build the walls of some raised beds with the packed silt,rock, and caliche that I pull out of the ground. I was actually thinking of making seedballs with clover, alfalfa, and a few other beneficial plants to broadcast as a long term strategy at improving the soil. Those clay balls would just sit there until the rain came and then start sprouting out grow in place, send roots out, and then die back with the dry time. It would take time and the creation of catch basins to concentrate the water,mulching with straw and leaves,etc. and regular reseeding to get it done, but the ground would gradually over time improve. Right now after the rains the desert mallow, and russian thistle and a few other plants come up live their complete cycles and then die back during the dry. The jojobe and creosote bushes create their own mulch and spread out over time. The small hardy prickly pear cactus that live here just hold on. The only big ones live in folk's yards that receive regular irrigation. There are pockets where native mesquites still hang out but they are fighting a losing battle to the salt cedar that were introduced because someone thought they looked pretty. The salt cedars have long thirsty roots and steal water before the mesquites can get it. You get up toward the rocks and up into higher elevations and you find little catchment areas where the native plums and other plants still grow. Agave and pinon pine were the big plants for the indigenous peoples here along with whatever game they were able to take in.
 
                                              
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    I never know where to start with such posts... but i believe I could help you some jburdine. depends on your goals.....

    The white stuff wicking up in your containers is almost certainly calcium and other minerals, not salt.

    yeah seedballs dont work to well here in my experience either. Keep in mind most drier areas are hotter when they get their water, our comes mostly the end of summer and in winter.... sandy soil is also more common in such areas. If we dont have good water left in the soil from winter we have no spring.

    the reasons why the prickley pears you see in the wild arent as big as those around houses, may not be what you think. Many planted around homes are varieties bred for landscaping. otherwise few would want a small little oddly formed prickley pear... although the extra water helps. I assure you they dont need it to grow to their potential, they would just get there faster..... Take a single pad from a larger one you know, and do nothing but, bury the end that was connected to the plant. not deep, only an inch or so is needed, a bit more perhaps. laying at maybe a 25 degree angle..... water it in if you have it, or not... 95 percent of the time it will take no matter what time of the year it is... and you can have those bigger prickley pears in other spots. just takes time..... they are beasts....

      anyway... Ive got to much info rattling around to share things readily... I think I could help you though. sounds like Im farther along in my designs and experiments....

    Im also breeding many staples for our area, and trialing 200 plus fruit trees. Hordes of other things, I couldnt list it all. so keep in touch.
 

 
charlotte anthony
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a lot of great stuff here, many thanks all of you folks.  i am growing a special dry land alfalfa here called laedek (sp).  alfala can go down into the soil to 140 feet, although elaine ingham see to me to be saying that most plants will go very deep if they have good microbe partners.  i would find something that would grow and then innoculate with microbes.  there must be some kind of native grasses growing there.  bunch grass grows here where the cows have not killed it off but we have more than 4 inches of rain.  some kind of legumes would be good as well.  here we have lupines.   this is a good case for gabe brown's inspiring teacher (name is on his video)  who said that he could grow where he had 2 inches of rain a year. 

again if there is not a large amount of water at one time,  any type of swales including kraters may not work.  the microbes in the soil, once you can get them there will hold the water.
 
220 hours of permaculture video, freaky cheap! http://kck.st/2q6Ycay.
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