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Anybody growing without irrigation?

 
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How are the currants producing? Somebody else mentioned gooseberries as dryland tolerant. Seems like the Ribes genus might be a good start for fruit.
 
steward
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Tracy Wandling wrote:To me this says that plants can grow in an unirrigated field. If the soil was conditioned to absorb and hold more water, and perhaps if there were swales and/or other water catchments like buried wood in trenches, and lots of mulch, then perhaps the field could be grown in without irrigation. I'm not sure if you wrote that in a hopeful tone, or an unhopeful one. But I find it hopeful.  



That field doesn't have runoff. The soil absorbs all the water that falls. It has a natural basin in it, that is no more wet than the rest of the field. It was more impressive, to me, that the plants were growing even with tremendous weed pressure. The field grows a lot of grass and weeds.

Gilbert Fritz wrote:How are the currants producing?



Don't know. Already fruited and going dormant.
 
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I would think it would depend on the microclimates and soil in the specific areas you are growing. Some areas could support edible wetland plants that grow in hydric soil, others different plants like the grassland species. Grow the edible natives instead of the typical crops.

In Colorado:
flax seeds, yucca root / flower, Opuntia spp. flower, Asparagus officinale stalk, Glychriza lepidota (Wild licorice roots much sweeter than sugar), Typha spp. (Shoots or Roots), Nastertium officinale (Flowers), Grapes, raspberry, strawberry, plum, chokecherry


There are many many more that could grow but those are a few that are really common on the front range. Lots of nurseries around will sell seeds or starts or you could probably order some online.
 
pollinator
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Thank you, elle, that is all very helpful!

I have a large open space which used to be my vegetable and fruit garden before our horrible drought, when everything but some asparagus died.  I replanted some asparagus on buried wood beds, but it died without irrigation.  Right now I have  chickens in a paddock in the space but I'm trying to decide which to do with it in the future.  I don't want to irrigate, so I'm trying to figure out what would be the best strategy to grow food in the space.  The area is exposed to full sun most of the day and is exposed to drying winds.  So learning about what is working under even more challenging conditions is helpful.  The only advantage I can see in your location versus mine is you have lower evaporation due to latitude, but may have higher evaporation due to wind.  You also have a lower average rainfall if I recall.  So if something works for you there, it should work here.  Also should work for Gilbert, with his high dry climate.

I wonder if kraters with buried wood in the bottom might be a thing to try...



If you can dig them that deep I'd encourage you to try. I'm limited by both the law (got permission for my kraters) and soil. It's all rock down there.
 
elle sagenev
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charlotte anthony wrote:elle, do you have a web site.  if not would love to see you post a thread about your project.  many thanks.



www.peacockorchard.com

Bit eclectic, my blog.
 
elle sagenev
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Elle,

Thanks so much. That sounds very promising. Wyoming is HARSH!  Even though it is further north then Denver CO, I'm assuming the wind more then evens out the difference? Denver has lots of trees and buildings to block the wind.

How densely are your swales and kraters planted?

Here in Denver, I can actually get tons of wood. People have planted lots of trees, and usually in the wrong places. They also chose the wrong trees from a yard standpoint; Siberian elms, Russian olives, Norway Maples, aspens, poplars, and cottonwoods. So now people are cutting down lots of junk trees and need to get rid of wood.

The owners of the field I use just cut down 30 dead or dying cotton wood and elm trees. I have log rounds and wood chip mulch to last forever.

I'm hesitant about the termite issue, even though I've been told it is not a problem.



Hmm. Density is an interesting question. I have 4 swales and 6 kraters on 5 acres. However, I also have a tree line, driveway and future dam site on that acreage so....not that dense. I also have to figure in the 2 planned Kraters that were also deemed unsuitable due to suspected bentonite clay problems. I dig them with enough space for tractors and piles of dirt in between them.
 
elle sagenev
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Is cold air pooling in the kraters a problem?



It's a massive bonus in my world. This year the plum planted on the swale berm flowered in early May. We had 4 frosts after those flowers appeared. We won't get any fruit from that tree, ever. The kraters keeping the trees from coming out of dormancy before Wyoming's tricky weather is settled is a great selling point for me.



Oh thought I'd add a paw paw story. I have found paw paws to be a pain in the...back side. I know they require shade and they certainly require water if all the death is any indication. Anyhow, I do have one surviving quite well in the bottom of one of my Kraters. I lucked out and have a lot of sweet clover growing around it keeping it moist and shaded.
 
elle sagenev
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:How are the currants producing? Somebody else mentioned gooseberries as dryland tolerant. Seems like the Ribes genus might be a good start for fruit.



I have three currant bushes, varying degrees of water. One is doing great and it gets lots of water. The un-watered is dead. Goji's. Try Goji. No water, doing just fine. Also, russian almonds. They haven't been touched. I'd also say osage orange. Again, never touched.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Elle; that is a great point about the benefits of cold air pooling. I'm working on something similar, stacking up walls of log rounds to the South, East, and West of my trees to keep the ground cooler into the spring. Late frosts kill off all the blossoms here quite often.

Your experiments sound wonderful, thanks for sharing. I've never heard of a Russian almond, what are they like?
 
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Greetings.  I keep thinking I am missing something in this thread.  We have people in Colorado and Wyoming contributing, anyone continue looking along the eastern slopes of the Rockies for other places?  Montana, Alberta, where I am in Dawson Creek (56N)?  This year has been exceptionally wet (for us), but I believe typically we are under 20" per year of precipitation.  And that is with nominally halt the year being winter (and precip being snow).  But even the yearly snowfall can't be counted on for growing, as Foehn winds (we call Chinooks) can come along in the winter and remove nearly all the snow before the ground thaws and can absorb them.  The "Peace Country" (watershed of the Peace River in NE BC and NW Alberta) is the size of Germany, and grows all kinds of food.  Largely without irrigation.  I suspect most of it is slightly over the 20 inch per year precip line.

Anyway, my 40 acres at Dawson Creek is a few miles downwind of a 130 MW wind farm, so we get consistent winds like Wyoming.  On my lawn (4.5 acre), I have some fruit: two kinds of apples, saskatoons (you might call them serviceberries), northern black currant, raspberry, gooseberries.  In the last few years, the one apple tree has produced enough fruit that I have to remove green fruit to limit self-damage due to too many apples.  Much of the remainder of the 40 acres used to be pasture/hay, and has gone wild.  It had been worked up and reseed when I was in high school in the late 1970's, and hasn't seen herbicides or fertilizers since then.  Now it is mostly fescue, some alfalfa, some clover and a variety of things that volunteered in: vetch, dandelion, strawberry other stuff I don't know.  Most of the woods here are poplar, aspen and willow, and they are popping up all over the 40 acres.  There are also a lot of wild rose all over the field (which reduces the hay value considerably).

I also have 2 stands of a blue honeysuckle, which was a research plant long ago at Beaverlodge Research Station.  Today, USask has a successful offshoot of that same family called haskap.  These plants are nominally 6 feet tall, and get lots of (yeechy) bluish berries.  But I think this last year USaskatchewan released two haskap varieties that are amenable to machine picking.

Some people up here have grown Burr oak trees, like Manitoba Burr Oak they tend to be short (25-40 feet).  Maybe they will grow taller, they can't be that old.  I would like to try and plant some acorns from taller Burr Oak, as well as the shorter ones people seem to have now.  Things seem to be getting warm enough for them now.
 
elle sagenev
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Elle; that is a great point about the benefits of cold air pooling. I'm working on something similar, stacking up walls of log rounds to the South, East, and West of my trees to keep the ground cooler into the spring. Late frosts kill off all the blossoms here quite often.

Your experiments sound wonderful, thanks for sharing. I've never heard of a Russian almond, what are they like?



Russian almond is a suckering shrub. It's not great for human consumption, I'll say that up front. But it makes a good wind break and browse for animals.

Nice Permies post for it.   https://permies.com/t/24713/trees/Russian-Almond-Prunus-tenella
 
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Hi,
I'm new to the forum.  I am considered an expert in edible landscaping in the Desert Southwest USA (over 30 years of trowel and error).  If you ate the plant it can probably be grown in low-rainful areas, with managed watering.

The key is to get the plants stable to begin the process of reducing the watering frequency while extending the watering amount, getting the roots to go deep in the ground.

I am happy to answer questions and I have a blog on gardening and cooking with the bounty.  http://edibleherbsandflowers.blogspot.com/2016/08/babay-watermelon-fell-off-plant-what-to.html

This is a picture of garlic drying in my citrus trees one year

I hope this encourages you!
 
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How to grow European wet moist veggies in dry hot windy environment without irrigation? Hmm. Is this a hot, warm, or cold desert?

I think any significant amount of growing is going to require irrigation. Every production system uses it.

Who's is that Permaculture guy in death vally where they get 2" of rain?  Anyway, he uses swales and soaks millions of gallons of water into the shallow aquifer then pumps from the ground for drip irrigation. He uses much less water than he captures.

However, if you have a way to concentrate water for each plant to a level approaching normal for that veggie you can raise the plants in a shade house in flats, 1 inch apart, for two months prior to wet season. Then, if that season is appropriate you can transplant out the plants and they will mature and produce in a little over a month.. Ah-la grow bio intensive method.  

Corn, beans (marama & that black Mexican bean), water melons, cactus are much more in line with the clate without irrigation. If all you want is a small veggie plot try unglazed clay pots burried and filled with water, ollas.

Now, having said that I have seen a storm water surge pit in the desert growing tomatoes un attended...

Oh, and don't forget the growasis dry veggies:
 
pollinator
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Do you water your citrus once established?

 
Catherine Crowley
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Tyler.  We do water our citrus on a regular schedule and can skip watering when we receive an inch of rain.

There are test gardens/farms growing in some of the desert areas which are relying only on rain water (dry farming -- water harvesting runoff), we have not tried that here as yet as our gardens are a mix of trees, other perennials and annual edibles.  Our property, however is bermed to capture up to 3 inches of rain at a time before running off (we are in a suburban area).  We get an average of about 7 inches of rain a year in the Phoenix metro area.

There is a helpful article on dry farming in Modern Farmer.  webpage
 
Posts: 254
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ok....this is my third attempt at replying.... I'm going to post the pictures in a separate post....if it works.

...using irrigation... This is my first season in the area, the last frost is around mid may, and I didn't begin digging tiny garden swales until around that time. I found some free mulch early on...maybe a couple weeks after planting. I had a tiny bit of mulch before that, but not enough to really make a difference. Also I didn't get my power up until about a month ago so I've only put down two applications of compost tea. Through the hottest part of the summer there were no rains and so I had to do quite a bit of watering, but I kept at it because as the dirt begins to turn to soil it will begin to retain water......but it needs to be kept moist to keep the soil organisms alive. And the rains began about six weeks ago, and I've had no need to water since then. Next year it will be more established, and likely require less watering. I didn't plant trees or bushes because I was unsure as to where I wanted to build, and so I didn't want trees to be in the way.

If you desire to plant trees without a need for continual irrigation, then I suggest earthworks, compost, and mulch. Dig a hole next to the tree hole and fill it with mulch, then water the mulch hole, the person I learned this from uses junk mail, his name is Christian Meuli, and he also talks about this in Brads books, and he says that he plants all his trees like that and the only time he waters is at planting. Geoff  Lawton lined the holes for his tree plantings in the Dead Sea valley with cardboard...he said it helped to retain moisture around the root zone as it gets established. And of course lots of mulch on the surface.

Cover crops, mulch, earthworks, compost, support species, etc...

In northern NM, south of Santa Fe, elevation guesstimating around 6000'.
 
Joshua Parke
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My lil garden patch..been eating melons, squash, tomatoes, peppers.....had a melon this morning. Next year there will be more vigour and health in this patch as it continues to grow soil.
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I just tried to read the entire thread and am not sure what Gilbert is trying to do.   I understand there is a "field" and that "[t]he owners of the field I use just cut down 30 dead or dying cotton wood and elm trees."

What is the goal?  Plant a cash crop without water?  

Are you buying the field?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you, Catherine.  So "low irrigation" gardening rather than "no irrigation."
 
Catherine Crowley
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Tyler,

Right low irrigation.  
 
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I live in an area where there is a very dry season and a wet season and have learned what works in each.  An e-booklet was given to me by the American author who lives in Nicaragua. The booklet  shows in detail how to plant a Milpa garden. Essentially you build long wide rows in which the ditch in between is blocked on either end to retain any moisture. At least 6 inches of mulch is placed on top of the rows and is never tilled under. You can place starts by separating the mulch & you can separate a tiny row to put seeds directly in the dirt.
We go from Nov. to May without rain, and using this system I had my summer garden using very little water.
Good Luck!
 
Lab Ant
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Tyler,

Wheaton labs is probably more like Denver. Currently, the evapotranspiration rate here in Littleton (Denver metro) is between a 5th and a 4th of an inch a day, and we have not had a significant rain in several weeks. So far we have got around 10 inches this year, and it is hot, sunny and windy with a low humidity.

I have a hard time figuring out how much they are growing at the labs, and how. Seems like it is mostly infrastructure work for now. If an ant could chime in that would be great.

my pictures are probely sub par but I had great luck with berms here. I through cover crops on lightly mulched berms every rain storm in may and june. Then some time in june I spread vedgie seeds randomly. When vedgies came up I mulched a little with rotted logs. I could have done much better if I had the time but I have a huge amount of diakon as a cover with lots of other things yielding well all things considered. If you got any questions or want a pic of something specific just ask.
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Gilbert Fritz
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What is Gilbert trying to do?

In this thread, just trying to gather ideas, and thanks to all of you for bringing up your experiences!

I have access to fields that I can use free so long as I give some produce to the owners. I work with a group of others growing vegetables and fruit trees. We have irrigation, but I'd like to cut way back.

Eventually, I will be buying a plot outside of town, which may not have irrigation access. (Water rights here in Colorado are hard to get.)

This is a cold, high desert, with large temperature swings between day and night, cold and changeable winters, and a short season.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Catherine, how many inches do you apply in an average year? Thanks for bringing your experience here!
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Dan, I think you are on to something; starting seedlings with some applied water near a house with catchment and then transplanting at the right time can go a long way toward what we want to do. The growasis tech is expensive, but I'm starting to experiment with homemade versions. The trouble is the there is not much dewfall here in Denver in the summer.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Joshua, where does you water come from? How many gallons did you use on how many square feet this year?
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Sean, thanks for the pics! So you just threw things around? Are there logs buried in there?

Nancy, I will look into that system. Is the booklet you mention available online?
 
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Is there anyone who is growing fruit or vegetables without irrigation in an area with less the 20 inches of rain a year? The crops I am interested in are "standard" ones not prickly pear and mesquite. Some folks think that Permaculture can replace irrigation, and I think it might be able to, but I'd like details of an actual setup if there is one, so that I don't have to keep reinventing the wheel.

Also, if you are doing it, what do yields per square foot/ acre look like?



I live in a boreal rain forest climate... But if I were to try a garden in a desert, I would do the following:
1.) Border the area in tallish desert plants to act as a "desert break"
2.) using retaining walls I would make sunken planting areas 2 feet below grade (maybe 10 feet by 20 feet). basically making the opposite of a raised bed. The long side would run east-west
3.) The paths (one center and thin one around the base of the retaining wall would be a deep layer of woody debris.
4.) If the area has runoff during rainfall, I would shape the land to funnel that runoff into the sunken planting areas.

another idea that comes to mind is to plant vines in a trench, south of the sunken bed and train them up a trellis. This would give partial shade to the bed.
 
Sean Pratt
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Sean, thanks for the pics! So you just threw things around? Are there logs buried in there?

Nancy, I will look into that system. Is the booklet you mention available online?

theres brush in there one to two foot thick the berms are pretty high I feel like thats the real key in my good luck. The sub soil is pretty deep. I just threw things around so I could observer where things do best. It seams with a little shade things dont need irrigation if they have berms to play in. But I still got diakon and mustard even in sun baked areas.my hope is that with ground cover and mulch in key areas they can be completely covered without much work.
 
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Sean; What kind of soil are you working with?
 
Joshua Parke
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Joshua, where does you water come from? How many gallons did you use on how many square feet this year?



I'm hauling water in currently. I don't know how much water I've used in the garden. And the square footage is unknown to me as well.....but I measured the linear feet of the swales a couple months ago, and it was 248'.....and I'm guesstimating that the swale depressions are roughly a foot wide. Also, I planted in the swale depression instead of on the mound.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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So, Sean's raised berms; this keeps coming up. It would seem that one should have sunken beds. I'm thinking that if the mound is large enough, and the winds blocked off, the benefits would come from having deeply loosened soil so that each plant can tap a lot more area. Steve Solomon, in a Pacific Northwest climate where they have plenty of rain in the winter and none in summer, grows stuff without irrigation. But even there, he says it can't be done on clay; one needs a deep sand or loam soil, at least 4 feet deep.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Jotham,

Wind breaks are important. I'm lucky to have high Juniper hedge lines around one of my fields. I've also planted an orchard where it will in time become a break. Sunflowers grow wild here, so I will be planting them around the edges of the plot. Rye grows here in the winter with no irrigation, so I will be planting a few beds with it and letting it grow up to block the wind.  
 
Sean Pratt
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:So, Sean's raised berms; this keeps coming up. It would seem that one should have sunken beds. I'm thinking that if the mound is large enough, and the winds blocked off, the benefits would come from having deeply loosened soil so that each plant can tap a lot more area. Steve Solomon, in a Pacific Northwest climate where they have plenty of rain in the winter and none in summer, grows stuff without irrigation. But even there, he says it can't be done on clay; one needs a deep sand or loam soil, at least 4 feet deep.

I would say that asumption is correct from what im seeing I do have some things below ground level that did well. Also anything shelted from the wind seams to have more biodiversity. All I would add to that logic is throwing down all sorts of seeds DURING any storm to get a cover established. Im excited to see what you come up with. Hopefully it gives me more inspiration. Thanks for the thread!
IMG_20160824_123805.jpg
wind sheltered and a lil below ground level in spots
wind sheltered and a lil below ground level in spots
 
Sean Pratt
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Tracy Wandling wrote:Sean; What kind of soil are you working with?

its mostly sand with some clay mixed in I beleve. Its freaky deep sub soil. Im not sure what the technical term is and I have never done that jar test to see what the exsact amounts of everything are.
 
Catherine Crowley
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Gilbert,

I can't tell you what amount of inches we add to the rain fall.  I can tell you we water based on the amount of drying out of the soil, we have learned by observation.  The average gardener in our area thinks they need to water every day, even multiple times a day, because our summer temperatures can reach 110+ during the summer.

What we have learned is that the trees and plants adapt to a schedule which works with the drying out (and retreating moisture) of the soil below the surface, not based on surface moisture.

We use extreme density of planting to canopy the soil not the plants, as all edibles need full sun (in most cases).  The density minimizes evaporation and cools the soil surface.  We know from experience that the soil surface temperature on a typical summer afternoon in our area is about 180 degrees (along with concrete and asphalt surfaces as well as the sides of containers).  The planting density includes areas which are similar to rain forest with upper story and under story plantings with certain edibles (trees and bushes and even growing ginger in the shade of trees).

If starting your garden, thick layers of mulch can substitute and aid the canopy of the soil to help start and stabilize the plantings.

For starting a garden in the desert,  reclamation concepts such as Pit Basin Gardening (Zai) and barrier water catchment (cordons pierreux) are helpful.  What that means is using slopes to catch rain runoff.  Use barriers to catch and hold the water at the seeded or transplant area and 'pits' to create a suitable zone in the soil to help the roots take.

If the desire is to totally minimize the use of adjunct watering, concepts such as wicking principles (like growboxx) webpage would work (or homemade version of them).

I hope I am helping the understanding of what works for a desert garden.

Barbara Kingsolver in her outstanding book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" famously said they moved to Virgina because they could not grow enough food in the Tucson desert. I disagree with that (the only thing in her book I disagreed with).  We can, many ancient people did and many more can in the future.  But understanding the water and the soil is key.






 
Christine Baker
Posts: 62
Location: NW Arizona - high desert Joshua Tree forest
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Gilbert,

I have access to fields that I can use free so long as I give some produce to the owners. I work with a group of others growing vegetables and fruit trees. We have irrigation, but I'd like to cut way back.

Eventually, I will be buying a plot outside of town, which may not have irrigation access. (Water rights here in Colorado are hard to get.)

This is a cold, high desert, with large temperature swings between day and night, cold and changeable winters, and a short season.



My primary concern is that it's a LOT of work (and money too) to get this "field" going.  I suppose you could consider it a practice run for when you buy property.  Why did the trees die on your field?

You mention a hedge around it and how effective it is as a wind break depends on the size of the field.   I put up a 6 foot shade cloth in our new orchard, but it doesn't protect plants from wind more than a few feed away.  Maybe 10 ft?  I'm still trying to figure out where I could plant tall trees strategically throughout the orchard without shading the fruit trees too much, but providing a more effective windbreak and some frost protection.

We have a very similar climate here at about 3800 ft, every few years have nights with single digits to kill off the Palo Verde and other sensitive trees/shrubs.   110 F or so during heatwaves in summer.  Add the wind, which is probably the most destructive and it's really difficult to get things going, especially since we get 40+ mph winds about 20 - 25 days/month in April and May when we want to get veggies started.   We get rain maybe once a month in April / May (in a good year), without irrigation it's not going to happen.  Your season is even shorter, I hope you don't have winds like that.

But, once trees and bushes are established it's hard to kill them by not watering.

I've seen pistachio trees after several years on a vacant property with pistachios.  However, they may eventually die as they get stressed during heatwaves and no water for possibly a couple months.  Rain and monsoon is different every year.  And the quality of the nuts may not be great.

I would not want to try to grow veggies without irrigation no matter what.  Even in the BEST year we wouldn't get rain more than a few times a month, not nearly enough water for zucchini or tomatoes.  I suppose it's a little cooler in summer in Denver.  I'm surprised you have rye in winter, thought everything would be covered in snow, suppose it's like Santa Fe.

I like interplanting and of course shade and lots of mulch and good soil helps.   I haul my water from a community well 1.5 miles away in a 320 gallon tank.  I "should" get a bigger tank, but it really doesn't bother me enough to make an effort.   When it doesn't rain I haul water at least once a day, sometimes twice, and I actually enjoy it.  A few minutes of rest    Maybe around 35,000 gallons / month in May and June when we rarely get rain and I know people who use that much in their house and for a few trees.  

Almost everything is gravity irrigated, first gravity from the water truck into six 220 or so gallon tanks throughout the property and from there to manifolds with 1/2" poly pipe.  No drip attachments, just the drip holes wherever I need water and I redo it in many areas once a year as trees get bigger and when I add more plants.  

I'm experimenting with various timers, almost all reduce the pressure too much.  In most areas I manually open the valves and if I forget to close it, it's not that big a deal -- at most 200 gallons wasted, and not really wasted, just "deep watered."

I also have a 20 x 40 hoophouse and a "lower garden" with around 7 or so mimosas, several goji berries, chaste tree, AZ reeds and some natives, hopefully will get to planting berries there this fall.  When it doesn't rain that garden gets about 300 gallons / week and I used to grow veggies there too, but didn't have enough time this year.

About 10 fruit trees are outside the orchard, 50 ft of grapes, lots of pomegranates,  some figs, chaste trees, black locusts, honey locusts, mesquite and palo verdes.  And some junk trees like trees of heaven (stink trees). And of course many native plants too.

Speaking of AZ reeds, I'm so happy that a couple of clusters that have not been watered in years are really thriving now after several good monsoon rains.  They make great windbreaks, but don't provide a lot of shade so maybe I'll put a few in the orchard.  Have to think it through, put them on the north side of trees so they still get sunshine in spring.

Also have some swales and am still in the middle of planting, got a 2nd acre a couple of years ago for the little orchard (maybe 1/4 acre, 12 trees) that serves as veggie garden until the fruit trees provide too much shade. I hope I live to see that!

I started in 2009 and it was very frustrating with the WRONG trees that froze during really cold winters in 2010 and 2012 and we couldn't even get yellow bird of paradise and other plants going that just grow by the side of the road.  And then all of a sudden everything was taking off.    I know one thing,  the more you water (within reason, maybe twice a week in summer), the better and faster even natives grow.

It's a TON of work.   I'm very grateful to our WWOOFers, could have never done it by myself.  Speaking of which, if anyone is interested in visiting, let me know, the worst of the summer is over.
 
Christine Baker
Posts: 62
Location: NW Arizona - high desert Joshua Tree forest
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Catherine, I could not stand the heat in Phoenix, but it's actually easier to get a system established because you don't have the freezes and basically a 12 months growing season.  I wish I could grow lemons and oranges.   Used to have neighbors that brought them up from their house in Scottsdale, they were so good!

And I totally agree with you, it's all about density and minimizing evaporation, but veggies still need sun.   Takes some planning and then pruning and maybe even transplanting.
 
Posts: 21
Location: San Francisco area, USDA zone 9
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In response to the original question: What can I grow without irrigation?

In my area, we get about 25" of rain per year, Oct-April.  The summers are not very hot and nights are cool.  Swiss chard, tree collards, blackberries, artichokes, fennel, and feral brassica mixes all grow wild in the uncultivated areas of my garden, and they make it through the summer.  The mulch layer is fairly thick, but other than that they receive no care.  They seem to do best surrounded by a living ground cover.

Some work well if they are planted during the rainy season and then finish maturing in the early summer without irrigation: potatoes, quinoa, garlic, peas, onions.  (Also with a thick layer of mulch.)

I have had tomatoes thrive without water if they are right next to a compost heap, which is kind of similar to the principals behind hugelkultur.

This is an area with only a few light frosts in December, so we can grow cool-season crops during the rainy season without irrigation.  
 
Posts: 186
Location: Swanton, MD
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I use this system to water my plants:   http://www.chapinlivingwaters.org/  I purchased 3 units around 2005 for $45 per unit and it is still going strong today.   I use 2 setups and use the 3rd setup as spare parts for the two I use.

With it I can use some grey water, such as pee water, and rain water as long as it is liquid only.   It only takes a small chunk to clog the drip irrigation.   I use 2 Brute garbage cans for the buckets.   I fill them by hand in the mornings before the heat sets in.   I do not have water pressure so hose filling is out.  For Tomato plants,  bush type plants, and individual plants such as cabbage, I used the Chapin system exactly how he designed it.  Those plants want water less often but more of it.  When I fill that bucket, I do so twice in the am and the pm.   The second setup I use a soaking hose and have it snake back and forth through a long bed.   There I plant beets, potatoes, turnips and root crops which grow close together.

The garbage cans go on top of the platforms once the have water in them.   The wind can undo hours of laying out of lines unless they have weight in them.

I plan to install 2 rows of hugelkulture this fall.   I will use both methods for the next few years and probably stick with the one that is the least amount of work.
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