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In dry climate, what leads to better sustainability, more mulch or more irrigation  RSS feed

 
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Leading question here, but one I think a lot about.

Many of you live in areas where you wont understand what it means to go half a year or more straight with no rain.  Most everything without a deep taproot dies, and the ground becomes dry and cracked and barren.  In the late fall, with the rains things come back to life.

How best to improve the soil on an area with 6 months of no rain, in order the help it increase its water holding capacity and life.  Preferably with less overall inputs of carbon and water over time.

There are three realistic options, as I see it, for all of the open ground. 

1. Mulch everything, everywhere, with wood chips.  This will help to protect the ground.  It does not feed the soil with any exudates. It does not require water.  However, without water added, it will not break down quickly.

2. Plant a perennial cover, such as clover.  And water it extensively to help it survivie.  This will add exudates to the soil. It will protect the soil. It does not require trucking in carbon.

3. Let nature do its thing.  It burns off the spring vegetation, its a long hard hot summer, and come late fall things get better.  However, I dont particularly like the environment this creates.

What is more permaculturey...to use water in a dry environment to establish and maintain a living cover..or use carbon spread to protect and shield the soil.



 
pollinator
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Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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I have an engineer's mind. Sadly. I have the fashion sense to match.

I order my thinking in complex systems thus:
1) list assets
2) list deficits/liabilities

Then I go through the asset list and try to figure out how I can cover my liabilities. Often I will see what I have in surplus and try to use that in as many solutions as possible.

This way I am coming from the positive side of the equation and it is less frustrating. I'm working on making my property more productive, installing a silvopasture system.

For my assets this looks like:
1) Softwood trees
2) Mulch from other people's softwood trees
3) As much mulch as I can possibly deal with when those guys tell where they are dumping
4) Steady rainfall most of the year
5) Mild temperate climate
6) Lots of deer to harvest

My deficits:
1) Softwood trees preventing other stuff from using the light and rain
2) Demineralization from past usage
3) Compaction from poor practices
4) Lack of equipment to dig/carry/chip
5) Deer eating all my plantings and dropping ticks all over the place

I have used the assets at this point to seriously improve a modest area, say 2 acres. This was done at a very reasonable expense in time and money. To move into a larger area, my lack of equipment and surplus of deer have become issues. I then have the choice of whether to work in this new system with a couple things I don't like or I have to invest more per acre.


For you, I would consider wet/dry seasonal climes

Assets:
1) Sun
2) Rain the other months (not total desert)
3) Lack of competing vegetation

Deficits:
1) Sun in dry season
2) low organic matter from devegetation
3) Low rainfall in dry season
4) Annual vegetation (bacterial soil microbial predominance)

So you have more sun than you need. Capture it to increase the organic matter, right? Stuff has to live and develop roots to get water. So start with a practice that allows some increased survival in dry seasons- swales, rapidly rooting trees, zai pits, whatever. Some of those techniques like swales will hold more water, but that depends on your soil type. The big win is from shade and wind protection- stop the evaporation and protect the soil. Only then will you get a soil biome developing, which is really what you are after. There is a chicken/egg argument about soil biome and vegetation. I know there is some evidence that if you target the biome directly with compost tea for instance you will have plants that develop faster (the feeder roots generally cannot go deeper than the associated micro-organisms). I think both lead you to the same place at different rates- healthy stuff above and healthy stuff below the soil. Pick what you can do out of your assets list!

I can get voluminous mulch, so I use it massively. I don't have a good way of making or spreading compost tea (yet), so I am not anything like an expert on it. For those like Dr Redhawk who are tractorless and have a good grasp of the production and use of the teas, that is their asset!

I would look at this climate and not likely think clover is a good plan. I doubt it would survive that dry spell, it doesn't root deeply. Maybe alfalfa? Might need to irrigate for a year but after that it is quite drought tolerant unless mowed of low grazed. Gamagrass! Same thing. For shrubs/trees maybe do some zai hole or swale plantings and once you have cover and other stuff is growing, the zai holes become unnecessary. You have to look at your soil type and climate and see what works to remove the summer sun from the deficit column. 

Bullock Bros do very well in that climate, but they have built their soil for a long time. They use pretty much all of these techniques.
 
Michael Jameson
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Great comment TJ, thank you for the time.  Increasing shade and capturing and sinking water is exactly where I think one has to start.  I have built swales, and planted trees.

I trust in time they will provide great benefit.  On human scale, Im left with a lot of time on my hands and dead ground to look at

The genesis of this is wondering, what is the best implementation between the tree aisles? And maybe the answer now...is different than the answer later.

As best I can figure...while it has full sun, until I have some tree shade...perhaps a very thick wood chip mulch is the way to go.  It will add organic matter to my clay soil over time.  Maybe I can grow some pumpkins and cucumbers in there, to take advantage of the full sun, add some life, creare some food, without requiring too much water..

Over time, as the trees grow in, say in 5 years time, and the wood chips break down...maybe my little ecosystem will be in better shape for more widespread root activity and I can try to nudge things in that direction a little further.

I struggle a bit with what seems logical as to the bounds of what compost tea can do, at least in relation to substantial dryness.  My land is not disturbed. Its never been tilled or sprayed or logged.  At least I believe not.  Its just dry as hell for many many months.  I have trouble believing its microbiome is not colonized with whatever survives and thrives here, or at least I struggle with reasons why this might be.  If I understood more, and understood how I could "stair step" my way to success by adding biology and simultaneously slightly tweaking the environment to make it more amenable to it..that makes a ton of sense to me, so far as speeding things up.  I guess that is what we are all trying to do, ultimately.



 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
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Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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Michael,

Unfortunately it is hard to do much beyond boilerplate advice absent location, soil and climate specifics. I don't see those listed.

If you can get free mulch, party on Garth. I certainly like what it does and it costs me $0. And I absolutely don't intend to do it indefinitely, except probably some of the paths and maybe a big back to eden garden. Who knows? In short, as long as it stays on your asset ledger, use it if it decreases your limitation/liability side. There are some places where it is not helpful, Travis Johnson is trying to lower his organic matter for instance in a wet climate- he is too high for what he wants to do.

If you can get cheap forest service trees or seed your own, maybe STUN (sheer total utter neglect) is the way to go. Bullock 2-in-a-hole planting. Tons of techniques.

Kind of shadow boxing without specifics, you will have to work out the specifics in your ledger.
 
Michael Jameson
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Nope, mulch isnt free here.  I suppose owing to the Savannah landscape, not enough generated vs the need.  I pay around $10 a yard delivered for ramial chips.  I did 100 yards last year, will do another 100 this year.  Along with around 100 100# bales at $8 each.

Carbon aint cheap, around these parts.  But it appears to be whats needed.  Or water.  Or both.  None of it free or cheap.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
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Thats a good deal for the ramial chips delivered in a dry area I hate to say. I have some areas that were not growing much and once the chips had decayed I have noticed sweetclover growing in it, which is a deep taprooted plant. That and alfalfa are good for N2 fixation depending on your soil acidity. I am a big fan of gamagrass bluestem and grama for savanna grasses. All get several feet deep. Literally you might drill some in at the start of the rainy season and see if it will establish. May be more effective than heavy tree cover.

If you are going to mulch, my unsolicited advice is go deep mulch in smaller areas rather than an inch or two in a big area if they are in during the wet season. If you are getting the chips early in the dry season maybe the other way around because they are solely providing shade for that season and won't degrade much until it gets wet again.
 
pollinator
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Maybe the open ground could be seeded with native and adapted species of support plants to provide mulch, as described in geoff lawton's Food Forest videos:  


Species used need to be adapted to the conditions.  Natives and species adapted to the specific local conditions.  I think after the first year, mulch needn't be brought in, but can be grown onsite.
 
pollinator
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I'm a big fan of mulch. I scored 5 truckloads of ash juniper a couple months ago. Its been pile up 4ft tall. A few days ago i moved some and the ground underneath was wet. Not damp, wet. Granted we got 1.5" of rain 2 weeks prior, but it has been 110+ f degree days since.
 
Michael Jameson
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Hi Tyler, natives adapted to these conditions are highly drought tolerant, which is great.  But they are anything but fast growing in my experience.  They wont be generating mulch for me, which is fine, Im happy they survive.
They dont seem to do much for the soil.  Which maybe be makes sense, they are well adapted to this soil and this environment. 

 
gardener
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Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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If you are going to mulch, my unsolicited advice is go deep mulch in smaller areas rather than an inch or two in a big area if they are in during the wet season. If you are getting the chips early in the dry season maybe the other way around because they are solely providing shade for that season and won't degrade much until it gets wet again.

  I think this is very valuable advice, as is most of what TJ said.

Again, with the need for details though...   ? 

Are you in Kenya, Wyoming, Chile, Spain, Queensland?  I have to assume that you are subtropical with a wet/dry cycle alternating like that... but where might make a difference on the answers.  What is your elevation, and do you have wind?  Do you have slope and how much, and does it face the sun or the pole.  How hot does it get at it's worse and how cold?  What are your native local trees?   Do you have a tractor, or a backhoe, or just a pick and shovel and hoe?  These and many other details might come in handy on how people respond to your questions.

You have access to mulch, but you have to pay for it.  Is there wood around, available cheaper?  Buying a chipper might be in your best interest instead of buying chips.

Both water and mulch will likely be needed, but water is going to be essential to get things going into your first few dry seasons.  Establishing a good water system is probably more important in the short term than anything else, but again, it will depend on a lot of variables. Mulch is also going to be super important to get your system transitioned out of it's dry dormant scene.

Definitely trees are going to be your very best friends, not just for shade but for leaf drop,  wind protection, evaporation control, water pumping...

I highly suggest watching and reading anything you can find on Geoff Lawton's Greening the Desert project in Jordan.  If you have access to heavy equipment, this project shows what can be done with swales if you have some seasonal rain.  But there is heaps of useful information in these videos and descriptions.

I highly suggest looking into Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration  I'll give you the brief on this important concept, and with some additions of my own.

Build a tree nursery. 

So you put your trees in, deep rooting ones and nitrogen fixers... ones that can survive anything, place them in rows that will catch water, and/or block wind.  Unless you are on an extreme slope where you are noticing erosion at this time, then use the trees to block wind instead of catching water.  Use your best judgment on this.    

Don't worry about  them shading too much.  I say this because, part of the process will be to whack them down to ground level later, and then (since they can survive anything) let them come up with a bunch of shoots, which many species will.  All you need is a pruning knife, a pair of clippers, or something similar.

Use the shoots to make biochar, or buy a small chipper and chip them for more ramial mulch.  Mulch and irrigate the trees heavily to get them established, and then ignore them so that they are forced to make deep roots and concentrate on the areas between them.  Build these rows up as raised beds of mulch, plant in them.  Put drip irrigation on the mulch.  As soon as you have shade being established, plant in the understory.  Start planting fruit and nut bearing trees that you have been establishing in your nursery.  Plant them in the understory or between your shade/nitrogen fixer trees.    Anytime there is too much shade, prune branches for biochar or chipping or making shade structures or wind breaks.  Inoculate with fungi if you can.   

In the rows or beds, plant deep rooting nitrogen fixing shrubs and herbaceous plants.  Alfalfa is a great choice.  It's roots can go down twenty feet and it lives a long time.  If you have local plants that you can think of to get seed from, all the better. 

Once you have a degree of moisture that is sustained thoughout the first half of your dry season at the base of your mulch/soil interface, then get annuals into it.  Get them established at the end of your rainy season in your nursery and plant them out so that they root in the still moist clay soil beneath your mulch.  Allow them to create soil out of your dirt for you, while they produce food.  Mulch all your scraps.  If they are wet, put them under the dry mulch, if they are dry, consider biochar for seedling/nursery work, or use as dry mulch under trees.      

If you are going to use microbial teas and you are limited in supplies, use them in the nursery and target the soil directly only where plants are growing. 

That's all I got off the cuff.  If you look into the Jordan project and the FMNR and think about those with what I have written and what TJ has written and then check out these three threads growing trees in arid barren lands        The big fat thread of Dryland Farming       Buried wood beds

And if you can give more details on your location, on your land and what you would really like it to look like in the end, then you will get more responses, as people can help you a lot better if they know more to begin with.
 
Michael Jameson
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Hi, thank you! Those look like some great leads. Your post helps me order my thoughts very much with regards to sequencing.

I guess I was trying to ask the question somewhat generically, but for specifics...northern California zone 9b, although I believe its trending to zone 10.  15 to 30" of rain.  Oak savannah.  Rolling foothills.  Heavy, heavy clay that has cracks several feet deep in the summer.  Dry and hot. I have water, plenty of water.

During the wet to dry cycling,  the clay shrinks enough that my house shifts and doors dont close right.

That was my first goal, to lessen the swings in ground moisture to a livable level.  Swales and many trees have been planted.  The question is what to put between those swales.  Deep wood chips, or irrigate and grow ground cover. 

My desire, I suppose, is to ultimately have a little eden of shade, birds, butterflies, bees, and fruit.  And nice soil, that doesnt crack.  I dont mind adding inputs, but ultinately Id like it to reach an equilibrium.

 
gardener
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I have a similar climate, except only half that much moisture during a year.  Rain/snow during the winter, and approximately no rain during June, July, August.

If I had to choose on my farm between adding irrigation, or adding mulch, it would take little more than a millisecond to choose irrigation.

The areas where I don't irrigate are barren. The non-irrigated areas produce a little bit of biomass first thing in the spring, then it scorches off, and something might grow in the fall. Plants in the non-irrigated areas grow slowly, because they are growing in cold weather, or scavenging minimal amounts of soil moisture during warm weather. Adding mulch to the barren areas doesn't appear to help. It just sits on top of the soil as a mummified duff.

The areas where I irrigate are fertile, and filled with organic matter. During hot weather, I have to be careful in the garden, because the crops grow so fast that if I sit down to rest they might grab my ankles and entomb me in foliage. In the irrigated areas the organic matter is abundantly self-generating, and self-spreading. All I have to do is turn on the irrigation water once a week.

And out here in the desert, it is super expensive to buy mulch! It's much cheaper to buy irrigation water, or build water collection and distribution systems.

 
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Water, hands down. Occasional deep watering better than frequent light watering as the former goes deep  encouraging roots down whereas the latter evaporates. Why haul carbon in when a tree takes it from the air and puts it underground?
 
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Short Answer? Water. 2 reasons:

1, When you add water, your native, virgin soil should produce plenty of organics with all the sun.

2, You have heavy clay soil, so the organics you do have will stick around pretty well.

But start small and targeted. Grow intensive for lots of biomass: banana trees, fast growing leguminous trees--in addition to whatever food stuff you're growing. If you use water channels plant sweet potatoes and lablab along the channels to produce super fast ground cover and biomass.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Michael Jameson wrote:Hi Tyler, natives adapted to these conditions are highly drought tolerant, which is great.  But they are anything but fast growing in my experience.



Even annuals are slow-growing in your locale?  I planted native wildflower seed in one bald spot on my place and they made complete cover in a couple seasons with no irrigation.  Some were annuals, some perennials.  Shrubs and trees are much slower.
 
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Don't waste your money on buying wood chips and straw bales, invest in setting up a small tree nursery and plant trees everywhere, you can always remove them later.
A chipper is a good idea as well so you can make your own wood chips as soon as you can start pruning your trees. Sow crops in the wet season that produce as much biomass as possible and cut that down for mulch to put around the trees that you plant and only there, don't try and mulch whole areas.

A good crop for in between rows is sorghum, takes the heat like a champion and gives you a very edible yield.
 
Michael Jameson
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Even annuals are slow-growing in your locale?  I planted native wildflower seed in one bald spot on my place and they made complete cover in a couple seasons with no irrigation.  Some were annuals, some perennials.  Shrubs and trees are much slower.



Ive established wildflowers in one strip where I irrigate them lightly. I broadcast them widely (with high hopes) in areas with no water and have a few stragglers here and there.  One naturally does not see very full stands of wildflowers around here outside of spring.   I do not think they dominate or thrive during the long summers.  If they are watered, sure.

 
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I think I understand where you are coming from.

I live in the dry subtropics in Queensland, and there are mountains between me and the sea, which catch almost all the rain.

The infuriating thing is that it floods once a year, and inches and inches just run off and away. Apart from that, there are months and months with no rain, and very intense sun. In this time of year, winter/the Dry Season, there are frosts and cold winds as well.

The sun cooks the grass, which dies off each autumn. Then the dust starts to blow. When I look around, the green hangs around a little longer in the shade under trees, and I am trying to add a lot more to my block. I have a very heavy clay soil that sucks off your flip flops walking in a puddle in summer, and cracks open in winter. Trees just sit in the soil once planted, creeping taller ever so slowly.

However, I asked my husband to dig some holes using his post hole attachment on his bobcat (skid steer). Then I chucked in organic matter/paper/cardboard, and refilled. Trees planted in these holes are 5 times the size in just one season. The holes seem to hang on to moisture too, so everything is surviving. I am looking forward to next summer, to see if there is another growth spurt once the rain arrives.

I find that the grass goes nuts in summer, and grows over the new plants. I have come up with a method of planting in holes, and surrounding it with a mulch of cardboard, to kill the grass. Although it stops any small rain getting in (not that we have many small rainstorms), it also keeps moisture in the soil once it is in. I find the sun just cooks moisture and life out of the soil, so the cardboard helps preserve things.

As I work in an IT department, I have ready access to cardboard boxes.

If I had more time, I would be out fixing my cardboard rings around each plant, ready for summer. I have some dam water, so I irrigate once leaves are curling up to get my trees through to the next rains.

Climate change is well and truly here. Whereas the rainy season used to start around November - January, in the last few years it has not arrived until autumn, in March. So the groundwater is not recharging like it used to.
 
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I am also on the long patient journey to more shade and wind protection in a dry climate. I would definitely second the nursery idea. It has been really easy and allows me to cheaply grow more locally adapted perennials.  I just make a point of collecting seeds in the fall.
I have adopted a couple strategies:
    -Plant the riparian zones: shade begets shade, so move the edge out slowly.  I can mostly neglect these plantings.
    -Drip irrigation for perennial establishment in full sun.  I run one poly pipe with drippers that can be connected to a garden hose a few times a year when the trees are stressed.  Even plant spacing means you can reuse for a new row once established.
    -Individual larger plants: These get babied often watered by hand with 6"+ of mulch. I only plant a couple per year, so they can get the necessary attention.

From a pioneer species perspective, locusts and siberian pea shrub have been the top performers outside the riparian zone.
 
Michael Jameson
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Ryan Sanders wrote:I am also on the long patient journey to more shade and wind protection in a dry climate. I would definitely second the nursery idea. It has been really easy and allows me to cheaply grow more locally adapted perennials.  I just make a point of collecting seeds in the fall.
I have adopted a couple strategies:
    -Plant the riparian zones: shade begets shade, so move the edge out slowly.  I can mostly neglect these plantings.
    -Drip irrigation for perennial establishment in full sun.  I run one poly pipe with drippers that can be connected to a garden hose a few times a year when the trees are stressed.  Even plant spacing means you can reuse for a new row once established.
    -Individual larger plants: These get babied often watered by hand with 6"+ of mulch. I only plant a couple per year, so they can get the necessary attention.

From a pioneer species perspective, locusts and siberian pea shrub have been the top performers outside the riparian zone.



All your points speak to your experience, all completely applicable to me.  Can't try to do too much at once, when things need a lot of help getting going.  Expand the edges.  Great stuff. 
 
Michael Jameson
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Well, my luck is changing.  My craigslist ad finally got a bite.  30 yards of ramial chips coming up from SF for free.
 
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Do you get frosts?

If not then you might consider investigating vetiver grass. It is very deep-rooted, drought tolerant once established, and makes copious amounts of material for use as mulch. When planted in a hedge it drastically slows surface runoff, sinks water and traps sediment which helps build soil. They effectively make living swales.

They may need some irrigation for a few months while they get established, but in the long term they will not need it, and will help address your mulch shortages while sheltering your other plants.
 
Nicola Stachurski
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Vetiver grass grows here despite the frosts.

We've just had some frosts and many leaves on my ice-cream bean tree are burnt. My small mango is burnt too, which is what killed the last one, so I hope this one survives.

Vetiver grass is not affected, and neither are my citrus.
 
Martijn Macaopino
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Nicola Stachurski wrote:
However, I asked my husband to dig some holes using his post hole attachment on his bobcat (skid steer). Then I chucked in organic matter/paper/cardboard, and refilled. Trees planted in these holes are 5 times the size in just one season. The holes seem to hang on to moisture too, so everything is surviving. I am looking forward to next summer, to see if there is another growth spurt once the rain arrives.



With this method there is a substantial risk that the tree will use that nice amended hole as if it were a nursery pot and not bother to go through the effort of digging its roots into the native soil.

One way to reduce the likelihood of this happening is to make the holes square so the corners encourage the roots to go into the native soil.
Personally though I stopped making nice amended holes and plant straight into the native (heavy clay) soil here and place all my amendments around the base of the tree followed by mulch.

Rain at my place is pretty much the same yet also the exact opposite, here in the Mediterranean our rain falls in winter and it is the hot summers that are dry.
 
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if you shred straw mulch or mow flakes of it into a bag you can stretch a bail out pretty far. Mix it with mulch from the oaks and water the heck out of it.
 
Nicola Stachurski
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Hi Martijn

I was worried about that too, but Dr RedHawk said not to fuss too much. My next idea is to create holes nearby, with organic matter (I have lots of horse poop) and create a plug of moisture and underground compost that the roots might stretch into.

Perhaps I should keep some photo records and see how they go in the future. Might be useful for others!
 
Nathanael Szobody
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Nicola Stachurski wrote:
I was worried about that too, but Dr RedHawk said not to fuss too much. My next idea is to create holes nearby, with organic matter (I have lots of horse poop) and create a plug of moisture and underground compost that the roots might stretch into.

Perhaps I should keep some photo records and see how they go in the future. Might be useful for others!



I kind of do a hybrid method on the trees I care most about: I plant my trees with moderately amended soil. A year later I dig a deep trench around the tree about 75 cm from the trunk. I fill that trench with wood and mulch, and cover with dirt. This is a fairly long-term bank of fertility.

However, I have termites, and they really help to break down the soil interface and integrate the organic material into the surrounding soil...
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Why haul carbon in when a tree takes it from the air and puts it underground?

  Hauling some carbon in to mulch deeply around (but maybe not right up tight against-->that can encourage rodents to chew the cambium bark) the young tree will allow any moisture that you give it, or that comes from rain, to stick around longer (It does this by eliminating dry wind, by decreasing direct sun on the clay soil, and by keeping it cooler in the summer); by keeping the clay moist, mulch also encourages microbial growth and feeder roots near the soil surface; it encourages fungal partners as happens in forest duff, it encourage spiders and beneficial insects, and it also gives a proper growing environment, by establishing a soil/duff type interface, where other transplants can be established in the (future) shade of the tree.    
 
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Here in Adelaide we get abundant rain Autumn-winter then just about NO rain for about 5 months. It gets so hot you can't even go outside.

A simple solution is just to shade out all hot afternoon sun and the main problem is already solved. Plants and soil don't stress from morning and some midday sun. My east-facing fence line has a thriving grapevine that took over the fence in just a few months of planting, but an identical grapevine on the west-facing fence grew only about an inch because the sun and dry soil stressed it so much.
 
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As others have brought up Water is first.

To improve desert soils the first thing to do is get the water availability set up, moistness helps with clinging, sand to clay, sand/clay to humus, without clinging, everything just goes down the drain so to speak.
Next is get humus into the soil, but this only works if there is enough clay to hold that water, humus all by itself will not hold the water.
If you have a predominately sand soil, before you start adding humus it is best to get some clay worked into the sand base.
Once you have the clay worked in your additions of humus will stick around far longer than if you just added humus to sand.
When you have the above done, you can benefit from things like compost teas, if you don't have the above setup in your soil then any compost tea will just sink into the depths away from the roots you want it around.

Redhawk
 
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:Hauling some carbon in to ...




I agree with all those benefits. My point is that weight for weight, manhours for manhours, $ for $, I will bring in a tonne of water rather than a tonne of mulch, I'll spend an hour hauling water rather than an hour hauling mulch, I'll buy $100 of water rather than $100 of mulch. Both would be great, but the OP is asking either/or, and the answer that has worked for me conclusively is water.
 
Michael Jameson
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Due to the availability of large amounts of wood chips becoming available for free as well as the use of a neighbors loader to spread them, decided to focus on a thick mulch layer between swales, rather than attempting to irrigate to keep a cover alive.

In the middle of each row I am putting perennial beds for raspberry, asparagus, and strawberry.  These beds will be a few feet wide, mounded with horse manure also available from a neighbor.  Goal is to put deep mulch and beds in place now to weather through the winter, and plant next spring.

This will give a narrow strip of active root activity between the tree rows, with drip irrigation on the tree and perenial crop rows, for minimal but sustained water usage. I like placing the perrenial crops between the rows as it consolidates the water and soil activity and ups the density.  My understanding of these 3 crops in particular is that some evential partial shade (fruit trees were just planted this spring) will not greatly diminish their output. Tree rows are 20-25 feet apart, leaving quite a bit of room.

Keeping the strawberry and raspberry in more ttraditional rows ( rather than betwixt the trees) will hopefully allow for easier management, i.e. protecting the strawberry from rabbits via row covers, and mowing or string trimming to keep the raspberries from taking over with minimal effort, as well as ability to add row trellising.

Context is everything, trying to drive decisions by what is doable and available.  The loader and apparently bottomless free chips becoming available has changed the equation.

I dont want continous carbon importation, but the material exists as a waste product and has to be put somewhere, it might as well go into the soil Im tending to.

Anyway, thats my proposed design and thought process.
 
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