shauna carr

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Recent posts by shauna carr

Tom Connolly wrote: There are some plants that are considered to be marginally compatible with desert regions.  It seems that if they can be started - and nursed along for a couple of years - they will take care of themselves.  Can trees be started in a green house to encourage this process and then be transplanted into soil? I have seen root structures from green house grown plants that are longer than normal.  It is probably trees and plants with big tap roots that would benefit from this.



Answering this mostly based on my own experience and not on research, so much...

In my experience, it'll greatly depend on the desert in question and the location IN the desert (from larger areas to small microclimate areas within a yard).

First, the idea of being 'marginally compatible with desert regions' greatly simplifies the concept of desert regions, you know what I mean? One would need to look at what the extremes of a desert are. I think the more extreme the desert is, the less likely marginally compatible plants will succeed there. The deserts that get 2-3 inches of rain a year are less likely to work for these plants than those that get, say, 10 inches of rain yearly.  A marginally compatible plant might be just fine in a desert with an average of 80 F summers could dry up and die in a desert with the same rainfall but an average of 100 F summers.

I live in a desert with the 100F average summer temperatures, and it is very, very rare that marginally compatible plants have succeeded here without constant help. When they do, it's typically because they are in a special location (like the 100 year old pomegranate tree that wild seeded down in a canyon with cooler temperatures and significantly more water than the majority of the desert around it.). It is just so brutal here that even marginally compatible plants often won't cut it, you know?

At the same time...that special location can make a difference. I have some greek oregano that I transplanted, nursed along for a year, then forgot about because it was in a side location out of the way.  Some allysum grew them and covered up the area where it was. Well, that area has some extra shade, and some extra water collects there naturally, and the dead allysum kept the ground shaded, so that oregano just started growing along and was unwatered for 2 years, not a problem at all. I water it not occasionally to make up for taking leaves from it, but it does not seem to need any watering, as long as I leave dead matter on top of it, shading it from the sun.

re: the green house - perhaps it'd work? In my climate, there is such a huge difference in leaf shape and size between plants grown in sheltered locations like greenhouses vs. those grown out in the sun that sometimes you literally think you are looking at two different species. Withstanding the heat and lack of humidity here is such a major burden that leaves from green house plants aren't up to the task. Obviously that would change over time, but a plant that was raised outside a greenhouse would likely have a much easier time adapting.


Tom Connolly wrote:Would it be better to use a biodegradable material to make the long pots for the trees - at some point, just stick them in the ground and within a few months the pot has disintegraded?  It is not that difficult to make such things by hand.



My one thought would be that you'd need to check out the specification of the biodegradable material the pot is made from. At least in my desert, some material that is supposed to biodegrade, well, doesn't. Usually because the material turns out to need a certain amount of water to help along that biodegration, and we don't have it.  So making sure that this isn't an issue with the pots might be important.
4 months ago
Not much help on the woody waste after trimming, but in terms of leaves, you could use them as a food source or sell them as such.

Olive leaf tea is a nice drink, used to be drunk in Greece pretty commonly ( I don't know if it still is in most places).  It's got a mild flavor, but you need to boil the leaves for 5-15 minutes, then steep for another fifteen. I usually do dried leaves for this, but fresh would do in a pinch.  You can make it strong or weak, your preference.

Also, olive leaf tea shows some promise as having anti-histaminic properties if drunk regularly.  A study done on olive leaf extract (which I suppose you could track down how to make, perhaps?) showed definite effects on histamine levels. The leaf tea wasn't mentioned in the study, but I read an interview with one of the researchers (haven't been able to track it down to give you the link, I'm afraid!) where he said that the leaf tea helped as well, but unlike the extract, it needed to be taken regularly and took longer to take effect. Considering that I have used this for this purpose, and it worked amazingly well, I'm willing to believe it.

So not surprisingly, you can find dried olive leaves for sale in areas that sell herbal or medicinal teas, too, so that might be a market you could explore, potentially.
4 months ago
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).
6 months ago
From what I understand, you're in Arizona, yes? There's actually a huge number of local nitrogen fixing plants that could be of use, hopefully. While some of the trees, like mesquite, ironwood, and palo verde, fix nitrogen, as you noted, they sometimes don't play well with others.

However, there are some great perennial small bushes and even some annuals that are quite nice.
from the Fabaceae family (legume family)
1. the Caesalpinia sub-family - while palo verde is here, so is the Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), and the little cassias (cassia covesii).  The latter is listed as a mild medicinal in herbal literature.
2. the Mimosa sub family - this one has the mesquite and acacia, but it also has fairy dusters, which are pretty little bushes with pink fluffy flowers that'll fix a little nitrogen for you.
3. the Papilionoideae (pea) sub family - while this is the subfamily ironwood is under, there are also quite a variety of native lupines that are here, as well (seeds are for sale in many desert nurseries)  They tend to reseed fairly easily, and have lovely purple/blue flowers. Dalea make small bushes with lovely purple flowers. There are also some local clovers here that might do well, if you can collect some seed or find a local nursery that sells them. There is Desert Rockpea, and a couple Deervetch as well, although I haven't found the latter two for sale anywhere (this link lists some of them - http://www.arizonensis.org/sonoran/fieldguide/plantae/papilionoideae_p2.html )

6 months ago
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.

6 months ago
and one last photo, actually - this is an area with hardpan. I only show this because it highlights one of the issues here with reseeding, which is that sometimes, you have to prepare the land a little bit even for wild seeding, if you want to have growth that you get to see in your lifetime. This area has not been touched for over 6 years (except the edges where you can see more growth), and you can see how little growth there is, compared to the areas I already showed, which had less hardpan. It actually has afternoon shade, although no leaf litter, but with the shade it gets, usually you would see some growth. However, the dirt here can get so hard that plants simply cannot break through and survive.

In these areas, last year I finally began digging holes to break up the hardpan, and dumping in some green and brown compost leavings, then filling the holes back in to leave alone and let wild seed later.
2 years ago
And lastly, growth under another mesquite.
You can see a few baby mesquite just 2-3 years old in the foreground. The darker green little bush in the right front is a wild seeded chiltepin, and the leggy shrub just behind it and to the left is a net leaf hackberry tree. In the background on the left are larger shrubs, and on the right are a baby mesquite, another net leaf hackberry, and a desert hackberry or two- i will likely have to thin it out a bit if I want them to survive.

I've got a vine planted near the base of the tree, another native one, that I am hoping will reseed once I get it established.

The net leaf hackberry and the chiltepin have only wild seeded in the yard underneath the shade of much larger plants, mesquite, typically, although a very large shrub did the job in one case. The mesquite will sometimes wild seed even in areas with little to no shade, but it will struggle for quite a while before it starts making progress, in that case. Can stay less than three feet high for years, in the hotter areas.
2 years ago
The baby mesquites on the side of the yard - these are about 20 feet from another mesquite, I'd say.
2 years ago
Woosh, sorry for taking such a long time to get some photos up of my area down in Arizona! Had a few technical difficulties. >_<

But, here are some photos of my area.

First is the growth under the largest mesquite tree in my yard (likely a cross-breed with of native and non-native mesquites that grow in the area). There is a lot of reddish rock underneath, a hold over of the previous owner that I eliminate a little more every year. You can see where the few shrubby grasses stop and more green growth starts - that's essentially right where the demarcation line is between shaded earth and non-shaded, at mid-day. You can't quite tell, but some of the green in front is actually baby mesquite trees, blending into the low hanging canopy. There are a few non-mesquite plants growing further back on the right - a few shrubs and one net leaf hackberry tree that is still shrub sized. The little green bottle near the ground is hiding a tiny native berry bush that was just planted and needs extra watering for another year, yet.

Edit - actually, I still have the technical abilities of a blind newt, it seems...I'll put the other photos up in separate posts!
The next photo is the other side of the mesquite, showing other growth. There are two cactus with edible fruits, two desert broom in the back ground, some up and coming Indian scrubby mallow shrubs, two native hackberry bushes and another baby mesquite on the right. The center, near the reddish, square brick, is mostly empty because I recently took out two bushes that had sprouted there - both were non-native invasive species that were not good for the yard or the environment. Instead, I have planted there now another native berry bush, lemonade berry, and it should hopefully be fully established and possibly able to reseed within the year.

The next is showing two baby mesquites - these are both about wild seeded, 6 years old, growing on the lower side of the yard where water tends to pool during rainstorm.



2 years ago