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Starting from nothing (top soil)  RSS feed

 
Zyk Hallaway
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I've been lurking here for quite sometime since i first stumbled upon a rocket stove link from reddit.com

anyways

My parents have moved to Snow flake Arizona. few things about the area.

20 acres front 10 has a slightly southern slope, rear 10 has a much larger northern slope.
elevation is about 5600 feet.
summer highs in the mid 90's
and in the winters it can get into the lower teens and very rarely around or below 0
It is VERY VERY windy here
4 seasons
about 10-12 inches of precipitation per year.
the natural landscape is juniper and alligator juniper trees with a fair bit of tumble weed and little grasses.

The ground is maybe 15% covered in trees/random grass/weed.

The soil make up is largely sandy/rocky/clay

Save in a few spots there is next to no topsoil at all.

when it rains the water jets over the top of the soil and runs off.

I understand the basics of what needs to be done.

Swales, and ponds need to made.

However am I going to need a major input of one source or another to get this system started?

Am i going to need to input tons and tons of hay and or mulches or topsoil?

Is there someone who has already done this in an area nearby?

Is anyone in the process of doing this now?

Has anyone had experience with starting in this kind of soil?

I have read the renewing the deserts and such, but they are very vague on the starting point, yes nitrogen fixers etc. I'm looking for a more technical and more regional specific source for information.

 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9741
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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In such a dry climate you won't be able to have "ponds" you may be able to have "basins" which will hold the water until it soaks into the ground.  In my opinion, coming from a slightly less dry climate in which ponds go dry except in wet years. 

I recommend you first of all get "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands" Volumes 1 & 2 by Brad Lancaster.

http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

rainwater harvesting videos:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ-FBAmvBw
 
Zyk Hallaway
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well i know ponds can exist here with out extra input of water from a well or what not, the levels fluctuate though.

My mothers neighbor has a 75 foot [s]diameter[/s] radius pond that is 20 feet deep in the middle and he has had it for 15+ years now and he says the only time its ever been dry were the first 2 years he had it, sure the water level fluctuates but it doesn't go dry. He said he has not added water to it in over 10 years. since his house caught fire and he used it to put out the fires.

Assuming his "pond" was 20 feet deep all the way around that's 2.6 million gallons of water.

now assume that it averages 10 feet deep, thats still 1.3 million gallons of water. that is a ton of water to evap and seep into the ground.

So I'd say its possible, it  just has to be on a large scale.

Checking out the resources you linked now, thank you so much.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9741
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Well, my mistake!    That's very different from here, when many or most ponds go dry during drought (our drought is their normal rainfall).  Must be the difference in elevation/evaporation or something.

 
Zyk Hallaway
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yeah I couldn't believe it myself at first when i sw it. Which was in September (after all the rain) its HUGE. actually after the rains it is alot bigger then he dug it he says. he has a natural dip there. now its still mostly full as we are getting into the dry season (the melt filled it overful again). He says it will get smaller and smaller until its about  2/3 the size area wise. he says during the dry season there are enough sporadic rainfalls to keep it from going dry even in the drought years.

I think that is really really cool and would love to build something that size eventually. however I think were going to start with swales and such
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I'd suspect soil & stratigraphy & groundwater & landscape position & 'lining' all conspire to keep a pond wet or dry regardless of climate.
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
pollinator
Posts: 1422
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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Somewhere on this forum I saw a picture of a front end loader piling up logs and then covering that with all kinds of stuff to decompose.

To adapt that to my area I broke up the centipede grass in a particularly hot dry area and started piling on tree limbs, leaves, bedding from the chicken coop, droppings from the plum tree, green grass clippings and piles of pulled weeds.  No particular order and no scientific method. 

It still looks like just a pile of stuff and if you reach down in it, it appears dry as a bone, HOWEVER......  we are in a drought at the moment and the butternut squash and okra growing out of this pile (I just randomly threw the seeds in) look great.

My other plants look in need of water but the plants coming out of the 'hugel' strip look wonderful.  Sounds like you could do the same there but just build yours in a shallow pit to hold the occasional rain.  The rotting wood at the bottom appears to hold moisture even when it looks and feels dry.
 
Lee Einer
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You have a large area to work with.

You might want to consider defining zones, and keeping the labor intensive stuff to zones one and two. For the rest of the property, there are strategies less intensive which can get the land trending back to more mature and robust ecosystem.

Identify and mitigate runoff, beginning at the top of the property, to slow water down, spread it out, soak it in. Try to intercept it upstream of where it is cutting arroyos, if it is doing so.

You can also work within the arroyos, if they appear to  be active and growing.

If the terrain is rocky, you can arrange rocks to form permeable dams of sorts. If you don't have rocks, you can lay downed tree limbs perpendicular to slope in order to slow the run-off. Where you do this, you will not just be slowing down and infiltrating rainwater, the topsoil and native seeds will tend to catch in the same places and will grow. They will in time become bigger water-harvesting structures, and can act in a positive feedback loop (they trap more water and topsoil causing more plants to colonize and grow trapping more water and topsoil and so on.)

If you have a pattern of late frosts there, the north slope will be the place to plant fruit trees and bushes. They will stay colder and bloom later in the spring, and not be quite as vulnerable to getting their buds killed by frost.

The junipers, much maligned, are self-mulchers and water harvesters. For this reason, they tend to be nurse plants to piñon. But you could likely take advantage of their behaviors by identifying the plants that like to hang out with them and planting the same or similar species (with human benefits) around their driplines. There's no good substitute for careful observation of what is already growing, but plants found in guilds around juniper include piñon, wolfberry, artemisia, ribes aureum, scrub oak. New Mexico permaculturist Ben Haggard wrote a paper on the Juniper-piñon guild associations which might be a useful guide. https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_rm/rm_gtr236/rm_gtr236_143_145.pdf&embedded=true&chrome=true
 
Zyk Hallaway
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wow thanks a lot Lee

Starting is the hard part, defiantly have been working on setting up the zones.

fruit trees on the north side, that's a good one thanks for that tip.
 
Lee Einer
Posts: 169
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H. Ludi Tyler's recommendation to get and read Brad Lancaster's books is a very, very good one.

This also may help-

https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://quiviracoalition.org/images/pdfs/1902-Erosion_Control_Field_Guide.pdf&embedded=true&chrome=true

and, if there is dirt road adjoining or running through your property, this also - https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://quiviracoalition.org/images/pdfs/1888-A_Good_Road_Lies_Easy_on_the_Land.pdf&embedded=true&chrome=true
 
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