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how to grow all of your favorite garden plants without irrigation in a desert.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Inspired by a post from Paul Wheaton. 

I hope folks here with experience how to grow all "your favorite garden plants" without irrigation in a desert will share techniques of how it is done.

Thanks!

 
Josh T-Hansen
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Well I'm deducing from nature here and its not possible, unless I redefine "favorite garden plants"
 
Burra Maluca
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You might have to define 'desert' a bit.

Do you have seasonal rainfall, so you could grow stuff during the rainy season?  What's the soil like?  Is drip irrigation a possibility?  Is water the only problem or do you also have scorching sun to deal with?  Do you have access to mulching materials?  Or shading materials? 

I'm in Portugal where the soil is thin and poor, but we do have loads of seasonal rain.  The summers are seriously hot and dry though. 
 
Mekka Pakanohida
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JoshTH wrote:
Well I'm deducing from nature here and its not possible, unless I redefine "favorite garden plants"


Utter swing and a miss.  Yer out!  Next batter up!

There are a grip of very serious, well done examples of people having apples, willows and other water hungry plants in the desert.

In fact, there is an African man that essentially made a food forest in a desert till his government annexed it and kicked him off his own land.





First thing needed is a plan, measuring, sketching, planning, etc.  Rain collection system, shade causing over-story would be incredibly helpful to be planned out.  Grey water collection going through a plant system to increase water collection and so on.  It can be done but it takes planning and research, like most of permaculture, there is no instant satisfaction.

Page 107 of Gaia's Garden, 2nd Edition, has a wonderful very green image taken in Prescott, Arizona with vines growing up the cistern. 

The most important thing I can think of is setting up a greywater polishing oasis to increase humidity, and keep it shaded.  Build out from there.

Also, building miniswales out of rocks near the base of trees, and shrubs would help capture soil, humidity, and beneificals as well.
 
Emerson White
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It depends on a lot of things. Also what you define as irrigation. If you divert a stream into a leaky cistern that is irrigation, or through a leaky canal, or use ollahs (sp?). Does it count if you just plant your garden right on top of a spring?
 
Josh T-Hansen
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Mekka Pakanohida wrote:
Utter swing and a miss.  Yer out!  Next batter up!

Easier said than done I suppose. 
One strategy that I have read about is a subsurface plastic sheet.
 
Kay Bee
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Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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If you haven't already looked at this text, it's worth spending some time on:
A Manual for the Design and Construction of Water Harvesting Schemes for Plant Production
http://www.fao.org/docrep/U3160E/u3160e00.htm#Contents

Chapter 5 (water harvesting techniques) has quite a bit of good info regarding different methods and has some nice illustrations of the techniques.

Microcatchment is my personal favorite and I think it would be one of the most widely applicable across differnt regions.  The data from Michael Evanari's book, Challenge of a Desert, supports this.  They were able to grow many fruit trees in a climate that receives only 4-10 cm of rain per year.

Not sure these techniques will give you ALL your favorite plants, but it's a start.
 
Sam White
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The latest issue of Permaculture Magazine has a very interesting article in it about 'greening the desert' in the Sahel, immediately south of the Sahara in Africa.

Apparently the man responsible, a Dutch doctor I forget the name of, has been out there quite a while and has helped to re-green about 50,000km2 of the Sahel using a variety of permaculture techniques.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Mekka Pakanohida wrote:


In fact, there is an African man that essentially made a food forest in a desert till his government annexed it and kicked him off his own land.


Did they seriously?!?  That stinks!!  Why on earth should anyone work to improve themselves or their land if other people are going to just take it away from them?!?

Kathleen
 
Neal Spackman
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Re:  Sam

You may be talking about Tony Rinaudo, who's been working in the Sahel for the last 20 years or so, and a lot of the credit for Niger's reforestation is directly to him.  Niger is the only country in the Sahel that is experiencing net gain in forests, and that's been his life's work. 

As for the rest of the question, give me a couple years here in Makkah and you should have some good videos on it.  We haven't planted on our demonstration site yet--and we'll probably wait until October cause it's too hot now.  We have a giant earth berm doubling as a fence, last soakage site, and wind break that we'll plant first.  On the the outside we'll plant things the wandering goats won't eat (prickly pear, agaves, aloes, and a local tree called Salam Amriki, which is a kind of prosopis).  Most of our food forest, which we're doing along 7 kilometers of swales, will be geared towards perennial forage for the folks' animals but we'll do food forest too closer to the building area--lots of fruits, with dates being the overstory. 

As for gardening, we'll do a shade house, sunken beds, and black plastic lining about 3 feet under.  It'll be fed by greywater from our project's headquarters (once we build the hq).  We'll mulch and add compost to increase water retention, and then we go from there.

The main challenges of gardening in the desert are heat and water.  The soil tends to be pretty fertile, if a little alkali.  You lose water to evaporation more than anything else so you need protection from the sun and wind. 

There are lots of vegetables and fruits that should do fine--right now the locals are harvesting lots of watermelon and canteloupe, which they sow the end of February, adn they don't add anything to the soil--they just throw seeds out and they grow.  Other cucurbits do fine out here too, but most people don't grow them.  Mexico, Namibia, sections of NW India, all have coastal deserts along the same lattitude that i'm at and we're going to be borrowing some of their gardening techniques and plants.

Also, for climate's sake, we regularly hit 45 degrees C in july and August, and some days will go as high as 50.  Rainfall averages about 90 mm of water a year, or about 3 inches,  though averages don't mean much out here--one year you'll get 6 inches and then it won't rain for 2 years.  The water on our site will come from harvested mountain flash floods, which we're slowing down with about 75 check dams built in 3 main series and 4 or 5 subseries, 15 kilometers of small-scale terracing, and swales to distribute it across the flood plain. 

The first test of our water system caught about 14 million liters of water, and that was with 8 check dams in the main series failing.  If they hadn't failed we probably could have upped it to 18 or so, and that would have been enough to irrigate the entire site for a  year.  Once those check dams silt up, one good rain should give us enough water for more than that--and that it's just an issue of saturating the soil over the years.  I've seen this done succesfully in Jordan, and heard of it being done in the SW US, but this is the first time anyone has done it in Saudi.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Pneal wrote:

There are lots of vegetables and fruits that should do fine--right now the locals are harvesting lots of watermelon and canteloupe, which they sow the end of February, adn they don't add anything to the soil--they just throw seeds out and they grow. 


Do they irrigate them at all, or do the plants grow with the normal 3 inches of rain?

 
Neal Spackman
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Not only do they not irrigate, they don't water them at all--they plant in the wadis where all the flash floods run in the winter, and right after the last one (which is usually mid-end February), they plant.  It's a bit of a risk though and people often lose their entire farm to a late flood--but because there's so little infrastructure put into it, it's not that big a loss.  It's more opportunistic than anything else. 

On the other hand, there's nothing steady about it, and I don't think it's really gardening, because most people don't have more than one or two species--and it's generally melons.

One of the thing si'm trying to show the people here is how to slow down those flash floods and convert them into seasonal streams.  This would take years with lots of workers to do in a large wadi, but it would make an enormous difference to the water table and what they could grow. 
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ok thank you!  So they are using the extra residual moisture left in the wadis from the winter floods.  That makes sense. 
 
Mekka Pakanohida
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
Did they seriously?!?  That stinks!!  Why on earth should anyone work to improve themselves or their land if other people are going to just take it away from them?!?

Kathleen



It happens in the U.S. too, it's called 'Imminent Domain,' or some non-sense.  What you do, can be taken away, and it is something a lot of people are fighting in my county at the moment due to a natural gas pipeline & natural gas factory being put in, against the will of the people, the will of the county, and the will of the state.  Lawsuits have been happening non-stop for over a year, all at the nations tax expenses.  Oh, did I mention this isn't a US plant either, but is on our soil?

As for why to do it, IMO, it's my niche.  I realized a while ago I was here to be one with the planet, not against it.  There is a Sioux phrase, "Mitakute oyasin"  I.E. we are all related.

I don't personally have time for drama, non-sense, and so on, because I spend more time outside, actually tinkering, observing, doing my permaculture, and trying to come up with ways to help my community, then trying to destroy, and recent information coming to me about how the U.S. was prior to Columbus just starts upsetting me regarding how badly we have screwed up our own ecosystem.  I realize people will be here after me, and it is to that end I hold onto my permie ethics and will keep helping Earth Mother so long as I breathe.  I have done it for the ocean my whole life, now it is time to work on land equally with the ocean I love.

However, IMO, I guess it is a matter of perspective of permaculture here in the US and these forums.  Some people hold onto the ethics and the entire chapter(s) of the Permaculture Designers Manual & others just hold onto tag lines, want cash and instant satisfaction.  You can see it on the televisions programming, advertisements, movies and in video games, if you want to that is.

Well, in closing I want to stress, this is just my 2 cents, take it a grain of salt with it.
 
Emerson White
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Eminent domain, is a dangerous but necessary thing for a government. If you like to have things like roads (nearly all roads built through or expanded in maintained areas are built with it) schools, hospitals, municipal power systems, municipal sewers and the like then you want the govt. to have eminent domain, though it is also abused for developers to seize land for political favor and sometimes to take a farm from one farmer and sell it to another. In the US it's in the constitution.

I would like more information before passing judgement on the seizure of this greened land, I think that some legitimate reasons for seizing the land could exist (like if he was tapping and draining an aquifer that he didn't have the right to tap).
 
                                
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This is the story that really got me believing in permaculture.  This guy sacrificed quite a bit to bring back the land, but in the immortal words of Charlie Sheen, he's "winning".

 
Tyler Ludens
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Nerdmom wrote:
This is the story that really got me believing in permaculture. 

http://youtu.be/cYMTEB8WgrY


I love it!    So much of this I can apply to my place.

 
paul wheaton
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This is me at the Missoula public library answering questions after we watched a sepp holzer movie. The question is how do you raise water sensitive garden plants without irrigation.

Techniques listed in this video include: polyculture, more humidity leads to more morning dew, hugelkultur, and tap roots.



 
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