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Need help with possible food forest in the chaparral desert with minimal resources  RSS feed

 
Posts: 21
Location: Tecate, Baja California
5
food preservation forest garden greening the desert
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After a while of furious planning and studying, I decided to start working on our 1/3 of an acre that we just got in Baja California. The mean temperature in the summer is around 100 degrees farenheit, while winters are mild at an average of 40f, its a pretty windy location (while camping our tent was completely stuck to our faces one time) , the rainfall is low at around 10 inches max and the native vegetation is a beautiful cross between chaparral and coastal scrub, the soil is a sandy and porous with NO organic matter at all. You could say this is a virtually pristine and untouched ecosystem that im trying to take care of as much as possible without disturbing the native flora and fauna.

So far I've planted around 20 trees, the only ones that survived after 6 months are 1 cypress, 1 acacia and 3 tropical ash trees and most likely since I was only watering like once or twice a week. But these are pretty hardy plants that I transplanted during autumn so they would have a better chance of surviving, also considering it was the wet season here. I noticed that the biggest problem in planting is with the local critters, hares and gophers, they tore through the plastic wire that was protecting these plants and ate them completely. I thought the prickly pears would stand a chance but those COMPLETELY disappeared, not even the roots survived hahha. So lesson learned and im burying wire mesh 1 foot deep to protect future plants and trees from any harm but theres still the extreme heat and strong winds to watch out for. Ive seen other people transplant hardy trees and watch them get scorched in a month or so. Ive been using a watering device similar to the groasis waterbox that I make from empty detergent bottles. These can water for a whole week or two even at 30 mls per day! I posted about it in another thread.

I included a screenshot from google maps with some things I drew on sketchup. I would like to start with a sort of food forest but this place is pretty far from my home right now and it requires trekking through the chaparral desert for 15 20 minutes on foot after a one hour bus ride and I must admit that im just a poor student that desperately wants to put his knowledge into action, so  I have minimal resources, no car and can only be there once a week. I swear I took a little cart with 20 trees in it and just walked until i got there. So, im pretty determined to make this happen, luckily we do have a water well which is the most important thing.

So to make things short, I want to create a sort of food forest in this hostile yet beautiful environment. Im going to follow these steps:

1). Plant the hardiest trees which will act as pioneer species / acumulators / N2 fixers that will survive the heat so they can start building up organic material, nutrients and form a microclimate there, mainly tropical ash trees, mesquite, acacias, leucaenas, prickly pear, some native bushes and I would like to use moringa also. Some of these will serve as windbreaks which will extend to the sides where there is no native vegetation to protect from the wind. I will also build a swale on contour for the fruit trees beforehand.

2). Afterwards, Ill start planting some hardy fruit trees like pomegranate, fig, almond, mulberry, olive and peach trees which can take a beating from the heat but wont need as much watering since theyll be close to the swale. These are mainly mediterranean type trees that dont need as many nutrients or watering.

3). After three years, I will finally start living there and be able to water regularly, fertilize, add some mulch and groundcover. Essentially building the food forest guilds so that I can start with the citrus, mango, avocado grapes, strawberries and so many other delicious fruits. By then I should be able to put a fence around the whole plot of land and to protect the plants from animals and possibly humans.

I would like to include a lot of native plants in the design (which is not finished yet), I read a lot about the natives in the area and they used them as food and medicine to a great extent plus some also fix N2 and smell great. Also, im going to inoculate new trees and plants with the local fungi. This is the basic idea for what Im thinking of doing and I honestly need some feedback from more experienced permies since this is my first attempt at a food forest which is mostly only on paper so far. What do you guys recommend? What else am I missing? Thanks everyone!
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pollinator
Posts: 1454
Location: northern California
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1/3 of an acre in that climate doesn't seem like much, unless you create a moist oasis.  You say you have a well....what is it's capacity and long-term potential?  Are landholdings around you also being settled, with wells, so that on the long term the aquifer stands to be depleted?  
     On the short to medium term, how do you get the water out of the well?  I set up a system years ago with a solar panel and a small pump that trickled water into a homemade cistern (made with a circle of fencing against stakes, carpets and a single piece of heavy plastic!  hardly any $) From this water could be siphoned out to gravity feed to drip irrigation.  Such a system could be set up to water stuff when you are absent.  Be sure all emitters are behind fencing as rodents will chew through them and the hoses causing leaks.  And yes, fencing!  Even where I am further north in California, every new important plant needs fencing below ground for gophers and above ground for deer!  That's a lot of fencing!  You could try to fence the entire perimeter and run baited electric wire on solar, which will keep the deer out, but it's dangerous to run in fire season.
 
Mike Autumn
Posts: 21
Location: Tecate, Baja California
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food preservation forest garden greening the desert
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Thankfully, this is part of a larger ecological village thats been divided into smaller sections so thus everyone will have a similar mindset of living a sustainable lifestyle while not overexploiting our local resources (hopefully). The well has good long term potential, we're using an electrical pump with a generator temporarily while we get some renewables in place.  It fills up a big cistern that I borrow to water plants and trees with a long tube. Im really focused on using very efficient irrigation methods so I dont use more than is necesary, Im also planning on starting up some moringa trees (and others) from seeds using wick irrigation so that the taproots can grow nice and long while being very drought tolerant.
 
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I worked as a landscaper for many years and if there is one thing I learned it is that unless you have excess resources you want to focus on native plants and trees.  Young trees not native to desert environments are very susceptible to sunburn which weakens the tree in a vicious cycle until death.  You mentioned that it is also windy.  Wind and hot dry air pull moisture from plants extremely fast.  There is a reason why desert trees and plants grow slowly or have long periods of dormancy.  I have seen people grow food forests in desert environments but they completely transform the property creating a micro climate with lots of shade cloth and drip irrigation on top of 5 inches of woodchip mulch.
 
Posts: 129
Location: Sunizona Az., USA @ 4,500' Zone 8a
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greening the desert
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Tree tubes are your friend when it comes to desert wind.
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Posts: 89
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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All righty, I'll just share my experience from my own neck of the woods. I'm over in Arizona. I, too, have about 1/3 of an acre that plants are in. I'm in a desert area with alkaline soil, an average temp of about 100-101F in the Summer, average lows about 42 in the winter, summer monsoons, and about 10-12 inches of rain a year. Very windy during some parts of the year (but not all).  The main difference here seems to be that my property has hard clay soil with little to no organic matter, as opposed to sandy. And the humidity here is much lower for at least half the year, even if it's about the same during monsoons.

I have some swales, many native plants, and my fruit trees are citrus, olive, pomegranate, fig, guava, apricot, texas persimmon, native mulberries, and I'm thinking about an avocado. Have had some strawberries for a few years now, as well as grapes, and looked at mango, as well.  Used to have an almond tree.

Enough similarities that I hope this will be of use.

So
1.  re: the mesh in the ground - I would pay attention to the size of the mesh vs. the size of the root system for the trees. Many desert adapted trees may have shallow, wide spreading roots, so they might grow THROUGH the mesh. This might be fine, or it might be an issue if your mesh is too fine and the roots start getting rather large, you know?

2. Re: animal pests in general, this is some of my experiences. The things is, as you've noted, there really is not a lot around there. which means that anything you grow is like animal buffet season for every animal that lives in the area and eats plant matter, and it will remain that way as long as you have growth there. Obviously you'll need some kind of protection. However, if you can figure out easily continuing methods to keep them away, and ways to make the animals work for you, eventually, rather than against (to a certain extent), it can be a huge benefit. Some examples for my own property.

I have some native species of plants in the ground that serve as nesting areas or roosting areas for birds - the birds pick off all the caterpillars for the plants that need it, as a result, especially as they are looking for food for the babies and my plants are the nearest sources of insects. Quails here like to dig up debris ridden soil for bugs, and would always dig up my seedlings along with the mulch while doing so - I just put in a few rocks near any planted seedlings and it made them unable to dig it up, but they could dig nearby. So as the tree/bush grew, they would dig near it, keeping pests down and helping fertilize a little too, as they go.

Planting a visual, strong smelling barrier plant around things I don't want eaten was very helpful - it takes a while to grow, though, and if the animals see something and eat it BEFORE the barrier is complete, they will keep trying to come to the same place for a few years, so the barrier concept worked better if it was done before I planted anything. Planting strong smelling (and unappealing scented, to animals, at least) plants near seedlings helped 'hide' them, as well.

Planting some of the native food sources for these same animals, just outside the strong smelling barrier, can help keep them satisfied enough they are not looking further into your area for more food, sometimes. And may provide you with an area of richer soil due to local animal manure too, that you could harvest and trade out for poorer soil inside.

One thing that helped in not attracting animals...having a few small dishes of water a bit a ways from new seedlings.  Many of the animals in low rainfall areas are drawn to anything that might give them water, especially new juicy plants, and so providing water seemed to help keep them away from the tender, juicy seedlings. Don't know if it would work there, but it seemed to help.

Also, not watering in the evening can help.  I know that water conservation suggests evening watering, but the problem is, in areas where there is little water and lots of wild animals, the scent of damp ground draws animals like a magnet. AND they will often dig up ground looking for the source of the water, so your plants suffer for it. If you can get it so the ground is no longer damp enough for the smell to be around by the time evening hits and the nocturnal animals won't be drawn over as much.

When it comes to mesh - many of the mice, rats, gophers, can climb OVER fencing, as well as dig under. :-/  It's one of the reasons I started trying to distract the little suckers, because the amount of hardware I was going to have to go through to keep them out was becoming far too expensive.

3.  wind - The barrier and native plants for the critters, if you get it started first, can be a great help for your OTHER plants. It's going to make you a wind break, it may help give slight shade in certain areas, and it may help prepare the soil more so you have a little nicer area.

4. Pioneer species - One thing that popped out to me was growth rate and root spread. If you are thinking to try and have a good amount of biomass/pioneer plants set up by 3 years, you really want some fast growing ones. Mesquite, at least, doesn't fall in that category - it's pretty slow to grow, at least in my area. I am not as familiar with the others, but that one stood out to me, so you might want to check the others - find some that can be 1-2 meters tall by 3 years, you know? And I'd really double check how much water they'll require to get that tall.

Also, you'll want to check out root spread for some of these. For example, mesquite root spread is about twice the diameter of the branch spread - it's enormous. Cactus is more, if I recall right. And both of these, if there is water nearby, will send huge amounts of roots to the water they can reach and it can really impact other plants in the area if they are not competitive enough.

I have a number of mesquite - they have been GREAT plants for helping enrich the soil and shelter other plants, for dappled shade. A little for adding nitrogen if you are digging branches and leaf back into the soil. Not so great for windbreak as they are too open. However, they work well primarily with plants that, like the mesquite, need no further watering once established. No irrigation.  Planting new plants under a mesquite that need watering for a year or two before establishment, or plants that will periodically need irrigation, ended up with massive amounts of mesquite roots growing into the area and the new plant struggling. Planting seeds, and letting native rainfall do the trick, has done just fine under mesquites. But that means either you need to plant to chop these suckers down, or plan what will be under AND near them, accordingly, you know?

Another thing - I do not know, but there is a possibility you may have to think smaller than tress for pioneer plants, like bushes or even annuals, if the soil is bad enough. Where I am, in some areas, I had to let certain native 'weeds' grow first, like a local plant called burroweed, because the ground was so utter crud that not even native trees could handle it. I tossed some native tree seeds around once a year (just a few). And it took a few years, but in these areas, when I noticed some native trees starting to sprout up (finally), then it was a good sign to me that the soil was good enough that I could start planting myself, you know?

Another thing - while I think it's really important to plan things out, it's good to remember you may need a lot of patience, as cliche as that sounds. The worse your soil is, the longer it's going to take to build it up into something awesome. You may be able to do it in 3 years, or it may take 5. Or it may take 8 or 10 (hopefully not, but the point is, you want to be prepared for the possibility). I have had this property for 10 years now, and quite frequently, I ended up planting something before the area was really ready for that type of plant. Maybe the soil wasn't built up enough, or there wasn't enough protection from wind or sun, etc...  And almost always, the plant struggled, suffered, and many times died. Whereas if I had a little patience and worked on the soil for a year or two more, I had much better results.

I'd say the easiest way to avoid expensive mistakes where tress are planted in areas that can't support them was to start with a few seeds. If the seeds can make it, then the conditions are likely good enough for a seedling or two. But if the seeds can't make it, then quite often seedlings will die, too. At least that's how it's worked where I am. 


5. re: water and food forests in low water environments.  I have seen some amazing results with food forests, honestly. But from what I've seen, there are a lot of variables that can impact it significantly so it's really important not to compare your results to another set up that's in a different environment. Like, for example, even though that food forest Jordan project Lawton did was set in an area with similar heat to mine, and even lower rainfall, at the same time, he had a LOT of water invested and a big gray water system set up, from what I've read (it's been a while, but I believe I'm remembering correctly). 

Most food forests that include non-native plants either have to be in an area with a fair amount of rain OR have an irrigation/gray water irrigation.  Yes, you can improve soil, and improve it's ability to retain water, and make swales, and add mulch and fungus and such - but that still only does so much.  It obviously can help make a more humid mini-ecosystem, can retain water better, and that's IS going to make a difference, too. But even with a big difference, you are not making a desert into a tropical paradise if it's not getting some extra water, and as you are sharing water with the folks there, you may want to work out how much that is for your planned trees.


6. Fruit trees - First thing that stood out to me in your fruit choices: water. There is a huge difference between 'water enough to live' and 'water enough to produce fruit.'  The heat tolerant trees survive hot temperatures, but that doesn't always mean they produce fruit without you still having to water them a fair amount, at least living in an area where, as you mentioned, you are getting so little rainfall.

For the mediterranean trees - you'll still need to water them (for the almonds, water them a LOT).  While trees like olive, pomegranate, and fig are obviously more heat and drought hardy, that is AFTER they are established...which takes around 3 years. Before that, they'll need a fair amount of water. If you cannot set up a system for that, or be there to do that, I'd honestly consider waiting to plant these trees until you are there, when you were originally planning to plant the citrus and such, and then maybe delay the citrus planting, etc... for a year or two after that.

Even once established, however, the olive, fig, and pomegranate (to name a few) are from an area that is not as hot as where you are. They tolerate heat well even in my area, which is hotter than yours, so they WILL do all right with your heat. But the thing is, that just means they don't shrivel up and die - they are still going to need more water in your area than they would normally because they need it to survive the hotter temperatures.

for mulberries - I don't know what varieties you are looking at, but there is a native mulberry, the western mulberry, that might be worth looking at. It requires both male and female, but it's more drought hearty and heat tolerant than some other mulberry varieties, I hear. Mine is only a year old, so I can't tell you about fruit production, yet, in the heat.

re: strawberries - they need an unbelievable amount of water for this area to produce fruit. I have had mine for 5 years now - first year and this one are the only times I have gotten them to bear fruit, and I have to water them constantly to make this happen. I am not keeping mine alive after this year and going to different ground cover, as they just struggle too much with our heat.


re: mulch 
One important thing to remember re: mulch - it not only impacts how much water stays in the ground, it impacts how much water reaches the ground. If you are in a low rainfall area, deep layers of organic mulch can absorb most of the rainfall so that little to none of it reaches the ground and the plants in that area will require irrigation or some other form of water collection in order to survive. So in areas where you are growing native plants that you do NOT want to water, don't make the mistake of trying to mulch heavily. Just a little build up of organic material that is naturally falling is enough, like 1/2-1 inch, but not really more or it becomes a problem.

re: climbers
you didn't mention any climbing vines and I wondered if you had looked at those? They can be a great addition. They can be added to lattices or screens to help make wind breaks, and there are a significant number of legumes that are climbing and can be great for nitrogen fixing. Also some fun south american food producing vines that might be fun and might work in your area - can't recall names right now, I'm afraid. 

re: pollinator attractors
just a reminder that I didn't think about for a few years myself - check out what your local pollinators are, so that you know the specifics, rather than just making plant choices based on generalized assumptions.   For example, in my area, bees are big pollinators, so I had lots of flowers that are supposed to attract bees. Except then I discovered that my local bees most like white and yellow flowers, which I had the least of, so I had to switch flowers at that point (it helped). Then I found out at the local bees were mostly burrowing bees, so providing areas of bare dirt, of certain compositions, ensured that bees were more likely to live in my property and more likely to pollinate my plants.



That's all that is coming to mind right off the bat.


Oh, except just as a fun aside, since you mentioned prickly pear - you can eat the flower petals as well as the fruits and the pads (once dethorned). Also, the inside of the cactus pads is just as useful for a burn treatment as aloe vera is.

 
pioneer
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Posts: 204
Location: Morongo Valley
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I think you've received some wonderful advice above.  I might be able to add some tree observations.  I've been living in Morongo Valley, CA (near-ish Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs), which has a some similarities to Baja.  Hyper-arid (3-6 in rain per year), sandy-cobbly-rocky soil, 100-117F summers, and crazy windy at times.  The property we bought had not been watered in about 2 years, so all the plants that survived that time are ones that I believe have high first succession permaculture value in this sort of a region.

Below is the list of the trees I've observed growing here with zero irrigation for an extended period of time.  I would use a mix of these to start a food forest here, because they are so tolerant of the extreme conditions in this location.  Even though they aren't all food plants or nitrogen fixers - they are all serious survivors and will at least attract pollinators and/or make habitat.  I'll put links to ones that might be confused with other species.

Willow Acacia Acaica salicina - ASTOUNDING pollinator attractor here and also nitrogen fixing.  Fast growing, tall.  Weeping appearance creating sort of dappled shade.

California Peppertree(Schinus molle) Fast growing tree with a lovely weepy look and maker of dappled shade.  The commercial source of pink peppercorns, but need male and female plants. 

Olive - I can't believe how hardy and drought tolerant these trees and bushes are in this arid region.  The olives attract birds, too.  Jays seem particularly fond here. Olives grow pretty fast here.

Chinaberry - Very fast growing, great tree for pollinators and attracting birds, but has certain issues.  Some say this tree is allopathic, but a bunch of different plants are growing under ours so I'm not sure that is correct.  In this climate, without irrigation, it did not spread seedlings.  However now that I'm throwing some water on it, a couple sprouted last year.  The wood of this tree is called Chinese Mahogany.  Tree can be coppiced - our neighbor does theirs every year.  Flowers smell almost like lilac, and are really lovely.

Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta) - Not super fast growing, but I think these have a special place in the ecosystem and the creation of oases.  Shallow mesh of roots, which seems to help create a base for smaller plants to establish themselves.

Desert Bird of Paradise Nitrogen fixing shrub. Hummingbirds love it. Also called Caesalpinia gilliesii.


You'll also see these below growing without irrigation, but they seem slow growing:

Mesquite - mentioned in replies above, nitrogen fixing, but a slow grower.  In this desert, bees love the honey mesquite tree in particular.  Thorny.

Palo Verde - many varieties, nitrogen fixing, seem slower growing.

Desert Willow - Not actually a willow.  Fragrant flowers, attracts larger pollinators. Slower growing native.

(A few others grow here without irrigation, but I'm not confident they have a place in starting a permaculture farm.  Eldarica Pine grows here without irrigation. They get very tall.  They seem to discourage other plants from growing underneath them. Also Tamarisk grows here without irrigation, but that one truly is allopathic. And of course, eucalyptus can survive, but again, allopathic.)

My biggest failures in gardening over the years have come from picking plants that needed too much coddling or care.  When we start a food forest again in our new place in another desert region, I'm going to keep it super low maintenance (translate- minimal irrigation and no need for sun protection) until I get some established plants in first.  And then put things in that need a bit more regular irrigation to really get going in this dry region.  This process will mean leaving most food plants for a later succession, but I think that it will be more successful... and I say this from experience already killing several supposedly drought tolerant plants here.  I should have done more soil-building first, it seems.  Now I've been watching as many permaculture videos as I can that describe the soil building successions in desert climes.

I'm sure you are familiar with the Geoff Lawton projects in Jordan...?  Those give lots of great ideas for plants, and there are a few newer updates now on youtube with walk throughs where he talks about the different trees and their uses.  Looking back in my notes, he's particularly fond of Leucaena trees - White Leadtree for green manure, forage and fodder...

Here is one video for inspiration -  but some people speed up soilbuilding with woodchips, which may not be feasible, or fire safe for you.  However I do like Jay Barringer's (Garden of Odin) results.  So here's his Arizona permaculture food forest for a little eye candy:



Good luck with your adventure!

 
Mike Autumn
Posts: 21
Location: Tecate, Baja California
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Thank you very much for your detailed response Shauna! I notice that your climate conditions are pretty similar to the ones I'm working with and your response is quite useful!

First of all, I see you've already planted a lot of the trees I'm currently considering and that makes me feel more confident about some of my choices. It's great to hear that your trees are thriving! In my original post I forgot to mention an important detail; in the image I shared, you can see a circle in the middle and that will be our home. So we're going to integrate a grey water system with a bell siphon that will water periodically and this should keep our trees nice and happy.

1. You're totally right about the size of the roots and them spreading out horizontally. I'm gonna have to get a lot more mesh then since the trees are gonna have their roots stuck to it. That also opens up a lot of options for putting in some ground cover in that same space next to the tree.

2. I think animal buffet is the PERFECT word for it, their appetite was ferocious. I've noticed that gophers have gotten between the roots of some of my trees and its probably for the small amount of water that was trickling out of the wick irrigation bottles. I'm definitely going to try out the idea of putting water dishes or even a small pond from a drip line. I can also put a large wick irrigation container with the sole purpose of giving them water. Someone also suggested throwing a lot of grains, alfafa and others inside clay balls so that they can grow during our rainy season. We're gonna give that a try as well. I'm also definitely in favor of using native animals to our advantage, their manure would really help.

4. About the mesquite trees, they are pretty slow growing so I guess I'm gonna have to go with some Leucaena's, they grow quickly and are used all around the world to fix N2. I see that their seeds need chemical abrasion to be viable so thats pretty good. I wouldnt want them growing everywhere. I guess we can just throw some treated mesquite seeds inside clay balls around our zone 5 and give them a chance to grow by themselves.

6. Wow! I hadn't really thought about the mulch absorbing most of the water. In that case I'm not gonna put a huge mat of it but either way I don't think Id have enough biomass for more than 2 inches haha.

By the way, what do you recommend for climbing vines in this kind of climate? I hadn't reallly thought much of them besides beans and perhaps Hylocereus undatus (a sort of climbing cactus). Also about the prickly pear, we eat it daily since were in Mexico! One of my favorite dishes is red salsa with sliced prickly pear pads on top of sunnyside eggs, YUMM!
 
Mike Autumn
Posts: 21
Location: Tecate, Baja California
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food preservation forest garden greening the desert
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I hadn't seen your response Kim and thank you for all the great suggestions! They are spot on. I definitely have to include some more rapid-growing species since mesquite won't cut it. I'm going to take some time to do some research on the ones you've listed to see how and where I can place them. Some of the trees you've listed actually grow there so that's a good indicator. There are same Leucaena's and Peppertrees growing there and I hadn't really paid much attention to them! I think I have to do a little bit more of observation all around to see what else is growing and also with the neighbors. You just reminded me with your first suggestions that I put in Acacia saligna, I hope that one is not so invasive. Olive trees are a must have also but I'm kind of putting off planting them due to all the diseases I've heard about in this region, I want them to be as healthy as possible because I need my olive oil. The desert bird of paradise and desert willow are beautiful, by the way! Putting in more shrubs just makes a lot of sense, especially considering the fact that most of the trees here will provide very little shade.

I totally agree with your suggestion of using very low-maintenance plants and trees, I decided to go with mesquite, acacias, prickly pear and cypress trees but I'm still having a hard time from the weather and critters there. I also just remembered that I wanted to do some soil improvement the Jean Paine way with discarded twigs and branches, so the fragments would be smaller than woodchips but we're gonna have to be VERY careful since fires are a common thing here and they can be devastating. So I think caging in the dry material and composting it for a while should do the trick. I am familiar with Geoff Lawton's projects in Jordan, they are one of my biggest sources of inspiration only that he uses some species that right here are actually quite invasive. So, I am considering looking for equivalents that are naturalized or native in this case. I wish our project could move as quickly as his! They are truly amazing.

Thanks for the video! I do want to have a tropical paradise as well but I guess it's gonna take a while!
 
Posts: 534
Location: South Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)
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Great thread here, your plan of what to plant over the first three years looks really good, avoiding the temptation to go for food/fruit off the bat and choosing wisely the drought tolerant N fixers. Leucaena is a staple of my plantings due to fast growth AND drought resistance. In the animal buffet though it seems to be first choice. I take an 8 litre bottle, cut off the base and stick it over the seedling (with lid off). This retains humidity and protects from rabbits, goats and lizards. Do not underestimate how much damage lizards can do to small trees, they need to eat too, and can get thru mesh. They can also tunnel but only if you make it really easy for them. About growing leucaena seeds... I take the seeds from pods that are just starting to split on the tree, and soak them in hot water. Half fill your vessel with tap water and then top up with water from freshly boiled kettle giving you a rough temp of 60C which I found works best. Leave them in the water for 24 hrs. Once planted, they will germinate as soon as the temp is in the high 20s C.

A tree noone has mentioned yet is gliricidia sepium. It is more drought tolerant and fast growing than any other tree I know of. And finally yuccas... actually a cactus rather than a tree, these don't grow as fast as the N fixers but are super drought and wind resistant and can form a very effective eventual security barrier. Mind your eyes on the leaves tho so be careful if children about.

Also like your fruit tree choices. I would add fig (as already mentioned by others), and consider moving moringa into year 2 unless you are prepared to devote quite a bit of water to them. Moringas aren't too great in the wind either, especially in the first year. Maybe grow a couple at the outset in a wind protected area to get started and give yourself a source of fresh seeds for year 2.
 
shauna carr
Posts: 89
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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Re: seed balls in desert climates

I have experimented with seed balls, and talked to a few others who have, in very arid climates, and they were, well, kind of a disaster. I don't think I got a single seed sprouted from them - literally not one.  It was wildly disappointing.

Talking to others who have tried around here, water seems to be the biggest issue. Even though we get monsoons here, with large rain events when it DOES rain, the low humidity and lack of rain for most of the year seems to keep the seed balls from breaking down properly by the time they DO get rain. We just get super, super hard little balls, eventually, that still don't break down.  

It may be that you have a higher humidity, enough that it might be all right, or it might work differently for your climate. But I would possibly consider potentially making a few experimental seed balls and seeing how they do in your climate, before you make a big bunch of them, you know?


Climbing vines - honestly, I am still exploring and trying to figure it out.

Where I am, I found a local passion fruit vine (Arizona passion fruit) - it's a mild medicinal and a so-so edible. The tastier edible vine is from a warmer climate than mine, and uses more water, so I chose one that had multiple uses.

Clematis Drummondii is a vine that may do well where you are - I am not sure of the range. It's a great medicinal for me, however - it helps with migraines, so I grow a few of these. Clematis also can make some pretty dense shade areas, if you want them, as it can grow quite large with enough water.

San Miguelito is a pretty one, with some beautiful flowers, that can attract pollinators and is extremely heat hardy. Don't know of any other uses.

Oh, and the old standby, bougainvillea - heat hardy, pretty, flowers are edible, leaves and stems are mildly medicinal, attracts pollinators- and has massive thorns, so I suppose could be used as a deterrent for larger critters like deer or something, potentially.

I have heard that Ibervillea sonorae (wareke) is good - vine and tuber - but have not explored it much yet.

Where I am, there is a local mission that has grapes that were originally brought over by missionaries in the 1600-1700's, so I am hoping to get some of those. Wild grapes might work well, too, however, and be better for water conservation - you can use the leaves for food, even if the grapes themselves are a bit smaller. Sour grapes, if you have enough of them, are commonly used as a sour addition to foods, much like we would use lemons, too.

Oh, and even though it's a tuber rather than a vine, have you heard of Oca? These are Incan tubers that I believe prefer sandy soil, even, so might be worth exploring. I am unsure of water needs, though.

Also, as an addition for the fruit trees you mentioned...you may already be aware, but if not, the majority of the trees you mentioned have leaves that are edible in some fashion or another. So if, in the early years, you can't water them enough to get fruit, you will still have something. Citrus leaves can be used to make tea, or a leaf or two, cut very finely, can be used in citrus based stir fries. Pomegranate, fig, and olive, you can make leaf tea. The olive leaf tea is actually very useful against hay fever allergies, if drunk regularly (I have an allergy-related disorder and actually use olive leaf tea as a daily medicinal). Fig leaves are useful for wrapping tamales, too, instead of corn husks (if that is something that interests you, there are some fig leaves that are broader, and some with deeper lobes, with the latter making it more difficult to use as a wrap, so it might be worth exploring varieties, if that's a concern).
 
Mike Autumn
Posts: 21
Location: Tecate, Baja California
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food preservation forest garden greening the desert
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Thanks everyone for making this such an amazing thread, I got a lot of good things to work with, your help is greatly appreciated!
 
pollinator
Posts: 480
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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bee chicken homestead
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Glad to see the mesquite is a keeper. It's an excellent cooking wood. We had plenty of it in Texas.
 
Posts: 38
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Animal buffet isn't the half of it. I also have chickens and everything in the world wants to eat chicken! All of my fences are 6' 2x4 weld wire on T posts. It does not stop ground squirrels, birds, bobcats. It slows down coyotes for about 10 seconds. Where skunks are an issue (they will kill chickens) or to keep javalina out of the gardens I put chicken wire over the weld wire and bend out about 18" at the bottom and pile on the rocks.

I do have intensive garden beds that have drip systems, as mentioned animals will eat the tubes, especially squirrels and rabbits. I have a really open area getting blasted by the wind at times. I have a 4' fence around this garden (it's inside the 6'perimeter fence). I have a lot of Ailanthus trees and when I cut down the suckers I tie them to the fence with baler twine to act as a wind break. In the desert you will also often see Ocotillo put on barbed wire fences the same way, sometimes they are inserted into the ground and some will root.

You may have to put up some fencing around an area to keep rabbits and things from eating stuff up, jack rabbits can jump pretty high so I would use at leas 4' to keep them out. If you have something like burro brush I have found that after seeding an area with wild flowers or cover crop seeds, if I cut some burro brush and lay it over the ground it helps and more seeds will germinate and grow in that covered area than out in the open. I think it help shade the soil and helps hide the seedlings from birds and such until they get going.

You may want to research how the natives usesd to live in the area. In some places they made diamond shaped beds, more like a half a diamond, where the point of the diamond is the lowest on the slope, this funneled water into the area during rainy times and then they planted crops just at the bottom of the bed where it had the most water

good luck
 
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