shauna carr

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since Feb 18, 2012
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Recent posts by shauna carr

Just re: the hook (bottom picture, second from the left) - I know the hook might be an orifice hook, but I thought I'd mention another possiblity.

I inherited a few hooks that look just like this from my great grandmother. They turned out to be vintage buttonhooks, used for clothing (or shoes) where there were a lot, and often much tighter fitting, buttons to close. (I've seen Victorian era and Edwardian era that look similar, but the one I have isn't nearly as old).

They look very similar to orifice hooks, with just some slight differences, but the hook you have looks nearly identical to one of the ones I inherited from my Nana.

(here's some Edwardian ones for sale for an example of how they look: )

I'm not sure how one can tell the orifice hooks apart from buttonhooks, honestly, but maybe someone else does?

EDIT: I stand corrected on how to tell them apart, LOL.  My eldest kid owns a spinning wheel and tells me that, based on the assumption of the size of the hook compared to a crochet hook, that from what they can tell, the orifice hooks they have seen are usually made of thinner metal/wire (like, not too hard to bend it by hand), and the curve for this is common for buttonhooks, but seem to be less common for an orifice hook (in their experience - they are not an expert in spinning), and the orifice hooks they have seen usually have a longer shaft before it hits the handle.

The buttonhook tool they had, the widest part of the hook part was maybe 1/2" -ish, but the orifice hooks they have were smaller than that, at the widest point of the hook.

But scale is a bit hard to tell from the picture, but if the crochet hook is 'average' size, they are thinking maybe buttonhook as well.
1 week ago
Congrats on your project, it looks like it'll be a lot of fun!

So, most of the info I have that might be of use involves smaller specifics and might be more along the lines of 'might be good to research,' but I hope it can help!

First thing: the saguaros. I would highly recommend that you do not dig in around the saguaros if you can help it, if you want them to survive and thrive. They have a very wide root spread - the roots spread out from the cactus for the same number of feet as their height, in all directions (so a 50 foot cactus has a 100 foot diameter total root spread), but it's only a few inches deep - usually 3-5 inches or so.

And the root system has nearly as slow a growth as the saguaro itself, so if the roots are damaged, it takes an incredibly long time for them to come back. A 4 foot cactus' 8 foot root system usually takes about 55 years to grow, for example. So the cactus will have to cannibalize its own internal supplies to try and survive while its roots recovers, if they are damaged. And as we are in a huge mega drought, and may be for a number of years, this could be disastrous for the saguaro, you know? an aside, this is why so many saguaros in cities, with little to no space around them to grow roots, are sickly and dying.  Modern landscaping is honestly terrible for saguaros. :-/

re: food production. Are you irrigating, or planning to have any gray water? If you are not, you may want to explore whatever information is out there about...I don't know what the official term would be for this, but basically, at what heat, and at what rainfall level, various plants will stop producing.  

I've run into this problem with a lot of desert permaculture plant suggestions before. I get lots of suggestions for what plants will survive a desert climate, but that is NOT the same thing as what plants will still produce food in the same climate. If there is not enough water, your plants will sacrifice making seeds for survival, for the perennials.

Heat can be an issue as well, if you are bringing in any non-native plants - even with shade, some desert plants may struggle with the temperatures + low humidity you are getting out in west Phoenix, if they aren't from a desert that is quite that hot, you know?

re: birds that eat insects - While providing food sources to attract birds sounds good, I would also consider nesting areas and especially shade if you want to attract birds to help keep insects down, as well as a water source if you can manage it, because the drought plus the rising heat, and its impact on plant growth and food sources, is quite literally killing them in AZ.

Small birds have a much lower heat tolerance than we do - the rising temperatures are more dangerous for them. So they were already struggling BEFORE the fire. But with a fire in your area, it's obviously killed off a lot of of the plant life that provided shade and nesting, not to mention food. So they will likely need more support than they might in a typical permaculture site, especially if they have to travel a ways to GET to your site, if the area around you is burnt and doesn't have as much to support them.

(a few brief news stories on the heat and drought problem for birds in AZ-          )

re: the grasshoppers. You mentioned " I heard they only eat plants that are weak, lacking nutrients/ soil life or ph is off. "
Soooo...this information is kind of one of those 'in regular circumstances, this would be true' kind of things.

You aren't in regular circumstances though. One thing I think it's really good to remember is that it's not just your plants that  suffered from a pretty devastating fire - every other living thing in that area is dealing with it as well. Your area's entire ecosystem is going to be out of wack.

This is going to be a pretty unique situation, in terms of what your site is going to experience. Before, it was a permaculture site in an area that had a working ecosystem that your site would have...kind of just plugged right into and used, you know? But now, you don't. The fire trashed it. It''s kind of like moving into a house in a city, vs. moving into a house in a city that just survived a hurricane and has no working infrastructure back up yet.

It can be done, but I guess what I'd say is that your project may be more impacted by this than is obvious at first glance. There may be a lot of situations you run into that aren't going to follow what most permaculture sites are dealing with, which may mean that for conventional wisdom, 'mileage may vary,' as it were.

For example, anything that eats/needs plant matter - leaves, bark, roots, seeds, pollen, you name it - may be dead and gone or could be desperate and potentially on the verge of starvation because their food is, as you noted in how much was burned on your property, GONE. These critters are not just going to eat weak plants; they are going to eat everything, And if you plant a lot of plants, and the area around you is still devastated from the fire? Well, it's going to be like the plant version of the Field of Dreams: if you plant it, they will come.

And the predators of these plant eating critters ALSO got decimated by the fire. They may be too small in number to keep the grasshopper population down at this point.

Or something needed for them to survive/have babies/thrive in your area may no longer exist due to the fire, so they might be living in other areas until your area can support them again and they come back.

So basically, dealing with how messed up the fire has left everything is likely going to be an ongoing issue, because it's going to be added on to the mega drought that was already stressing the animals and plants, plus it's a desert, so it takes animals and plants longer to come back from stressors already.

So for example,  exploring what pollinators are still around may be a good idea. Like, most of our local bees are ground dwelling - how many of them can live through fires? How far do the local bees travel to find pollination sources and is that far enough away that the fire would have still impacted them so you won't be getting local bees for a while? How were bat habitats affected in your area and how will that impact pollination? How were butterflies and moths impacted by the fire? How is the local bird population after the fire - did it hit during nesting season, for example?

I have no idea what the answer to these questions is, obviously, but...yeah, I think it may be really helpful for you to explore that so you know what difficulties you may be facing. They are going to be really distinct, but honestly, I would think that the information you get from this process could be really valuable for others who might be trying to help areas that are also devastated by fires and other natural disasters.

Oh, and re: pests  as well - one thing that may be good to look out for is what trees/bushes you want to put in and how drought stressors impact your plants' natural protections (or impact the critters that provide some protections).

This was an issue in New Mexico about 10-15 years ago and is still a problem. The Pinyon pine there has a bark-beetle that can be a problem, but like with the grasshoppers, typically it was considered to only be a problem with unhealthy trees. However, the defenses healthy trees have to keep the beetle away turned out to be highly impacted by severe drought, and so when the drought started getting really bad in NM, the beetles absolutely decimated the pinyon pine population across the state. Between 40%-80% of the trees died, depending on the area.

And goodness, rereading my post, gotta say sorry; this post comes off a bit doom-and-gloom. I know it's more 'look out for' than 'this is good to try.' Let's just say that I have a lot more 'oops, screwed THAT up' experiences, so I know a lot of what NOT to do, or what to be worried about, and less of what TO do, sometimes.

Good luck with the site, and I look forward to seeing how it's going!!

2 weeks ago
[quote=Alex Moffitt]
I am wondering why if people just utilised understanding about some of these basic aspects, they do not understand that everything is solvable and no problems should exist. Money is worthless.

The only real issue that exists is ignorance!


I definitely agree that ignorance is an issue, and that a lot of folks don't bother to look at new information to really learn about it, or what it can do. I do agree that problems are solvable. although sometimes the solutions may not be what we like. And I 100% agree that good solutions for global problems may often involved generations of effort. That 'plant a tree that your grandchild will enjoy the shade from' kind of attitude.

But I also think that we, currently, HAVE a lot of ignorance. We know a lot about the natural world, but we also DON'T know a lot about the natural world and how it works. And while I am all for trying to make changes now, even if we don't know everything, making changes for long term futures without acknowledging our ignorance and without funding the thousands of studies we need when we have a LOT of ignorance, is what screws us over, you know?

We need to know a lot more about how the world works to make many long term plans truly successful, so I think we should be researching like mad, along with making plans.

I mean, just a small incident to make my point. I live in an area that is part of the migration path for Monarch butterflies. The milkweed they eat have been killed off a lot by urban environments, so the scientific groups that support these butterflies got together with local botanical groups and found some good milkweeds that were easy to grow, could survive well here, and could help the revitalize this section of the migration corridor.

And instead, it screwed them over worse. Because it turns out that the local milkweed that the butterflies use - which are harder to grow and more expensive to get seeds for - have adapted to this particular environment to die off earlier in the year that other milkweeds do. And THIS is what prompts the monarch butterflies to start migrating further south at just the right time. Now, though, we have a TON of milkweeds that don't die off, and the butterflies stay too long, and then more of them are dying when they finally try to continue their migration.

This is just a tiny thing, but... animals and insects migrate, and they require certain conditions when they do, and we don't KNOW all the conditions. We don't always know what attracts them or repels them (which matters when we might have migrating pollinators, and potentially even migrating predators of these pollinators, and we want to have 1 acre farms that lay along a migration path for them).  This would be an issue, but it's just a teeny, tiny issue among the whole host of issues that we need to take into consideration to make something as breathtakingly grand as trying to set up a system where no one is hungry and we can have sustainable cities and farms.

We need to know how all our ecosystems work together. We need to know more about how plants are connected and communicate with each other. We need to know how plants and animals and an environment interact, for every environment, to a DEEP level, if we want to be changing things on a grand scale (what pests exist, what keeps them under control, how do the animals and insects alter the current environment and what does it DO for the environment that we may need, how is the bacteria/worms/fungus in a particular soil impacted by different light or plant growth than it usually gets, how does this impact the soil, and on and on).

Otherwise we end up with another monarch butterfly issue, or dung beetle-toad disaster in Australia, or the 'suppress all forest fires' crap that has so damaged a lot of US forests and meadows now.

Truly, I want to see human being do better, but...we have a long way to go before we KNOW enough to know HOW to do better on a large scale. We're working towards it, I truly believe that. I think we just need to remember that our knowledge about how the world works IS still a work in progress, and not a completed one.
3 weeks ago
I have a few concerns about this, but the main one is this: just because something isn't obviously useful to humansf, doesn't mean that it isn't important, or that we should simply change it to fit our human idea of what we want or like.

A good example is the everglades in florida, over 2 million acres of what humans considered unusable land (coastal marshes and wetlands), so that much was filled in with excess dirt from elsewhere so people could build on it. Only it turned out that these marshlands served the purpose of protecting the inland areas from the rising sea levels, high winds and storm surges that come with the hurricanes that are common there. By making the land more usable for humans, we instead made other land more dangerous for humans.

Natural deserts (as opposed to man-made areas suffering from desertification) have purposes too and I think it is a bad idea to treat deserts as though...well, as though they are an empty lot in a city that we just need to improve and build on.

They are not. Many plants and animals only exist in deserts and would go extinct without them, for example. Basins in deserts also act as significant storehouses for carbon.  There are likely other uses deserts have in the world, but I don't know them... wouldn't be surprised if they haven't been studied all that much. Because we humans are pretty good at NOT studying things we don't see an immediate use for (which is why we didn't take care of the everglades, as we didn't know what they did until they were damaged and weren't doing the job any longer).

But also, in re: to deserts and resources TO green them's just not sustainable.

Yes, many cities dump a LOT of usable resources...which is not sustainable for THEM. If a city is not recycling its water, is not making itself a closed, self-sustaining will run out of resources, you know?  They will not be a sustainable source of water and resources for greening a desert because they aren't a sustainable source, period. And they never will be.

About 1/3 of the entire earth is considered arid land (hyper-arid, arid, or semi-arid). That is 1/3 of the world that does not get enough rainfall to NOT be arid.

The world is a closed system...we are not going to be getting more water here. So the only thing we can do is shuffle the existing water around, which means that we would have to eliminate the high water areas to enable eliminating the low water areas. Or at least, we'd have to if we don't want the cities to turn into man made deserts because they used up all their resources and gave them to natural deserts to turn them green. If we wanted to keep EVERYWHERE somewhat green and usable, we'd have to start taking water from high water areas, like rainforests, and distribute that around, too.

Because again, we cannot change the fact that planet earth does not have enough water to make everywhere green. And eliminating deserts is, IMO, as concerning an idea as eliminating the rainforests would be.

All that said - I DO think that using the waste and water and other items from cities IS a good idea. I think making things sustainable is a good idea. i think trying to fix man made desertification is a good idea. I think helping areas that are dryer than normal due to man-made climate change is a good idea.

I just think we should change the question from 'how can we change things to be better for humans' to 'how can we change things to be better for the world that humans also have to live in.'
1 month ago
this website might be of interest/use to you as you are looking at replanting:

It is a website by the US fire service, their 'Fire Effects Information System,' and if you enter in some plants you know grow in your area, you can get a ton of information about what species tend to grow with it, near it, what comes back first after a fire, all sorts of things. Most of it under their 'species review data' tab, that will pop up once you search for a plant, if they have a tab for the particular species (they have the data for a lot of them, but not all - I think they can find info by common or latin name, but can't recall right now).

I have used it to help me figure out some tree guilds for certain native species, as well as figure out what to plant some of my native plant areas with, on my property.  
1 month ago

I'm not certain some of my growing experiences would also work in your area, but I will pass on what I've experienced, see if it will help. I live in a slightly cooler area - 37-43C is the common temp during summers, but can go up to 47C every once in a while. Winters a few degrees cooler, often little to no water then, and while mid-summer we get some monsoon rains, the crops have to survive the hotter 'dry' summer month before that, so a lot of folks here have that 'let it go dormant during the hottest season' mindset as well (although then there is planting just after it, when rain comes.

So, to answer your questions:
1) Sunflowers have worked well as shade here - I choose some local varieties that a local conservation group sells that grow very tall, and are more heat adapted, but they die in the summer heat, so I have shade left over from them.

Corn is the same, but needs more water. But a row of corn does well for providing shade as well. I also use some heat adapted varieties of these.

Have used small bamboo/wood poles to make a tripod kind of shape and grown heat adapted beans (tepary ones, around here) over the poles to provide extra shade.

amaranth is common here as well, although I don't use it as much so I'm not sure if it might have a bit more of a 'choking out' issue with other plants.

Also, while not a specific plant, a technique to help provide shade has been to plant things too close together. For example, tomatoes. Planting bush tomatoes (indeterminate) really close together, so they are growing into each other, ends up making this much denser planted area within the bushes. So while the outside fries and turns brown, it leaves this inner area that is cooler and a bit more humid, a little micro-ecosystem, and can stay green and still give tomatoes for longer. Some years, it means I can keep the tomatoes alive through the summer, where they will start producing again after the heat ebbs a bit. But some years, it just makes it last longer than it normally would, is all.  Again, I tend to use some local varieties that are desert adapted (we have a local library that has a 'seed library' where people can donate seeds of the garden plants that produced. They are trying to build up a collection of desert adapted varieties, and so far, seems to be working. )

Mexican yellowshow  (Amoreuxia palmatifida ) - I love this particular plant. They are small herbaceous bushes that only poke green above the ground when it is over 37C and they get a little water. The leaves are mild and edible (raw or cooked), the seeds are edible (raw when tender, cooked when hard - but small seeds/beans), the flowers are edible, and if you get a big crop and can dig a few up, the root is edible as well (cooked or...dried, I think). When it starts to get cold, and they get no more water, they die back completely, so you can't even tell they are there, until it is over 37C again and they are getting some water (they are native in areas where they get between 5-12 inches of water a year, almost all of it during mid-summer).  

Asparagus has done well in my area. i planted a patch and forgot about it for a few years when that patch was abandoned, and the asparagus is still alive and grows every year.  Needs more water to be thick, but it is still kicking, anyway!

Chiltepin might be a good choice, if you can find the most heat tolerant varieties. these are small, perennial, chile pepper bushes. The chiles are small and round, sometimes only 1 cm or less in size, but most are very hot so you can use just 1-3 for an entire dish, if want only a little heat. Mine wild-seeded in my yard, but always just slightly NE of a large bush or tree, for the shade. But they do well with fairly low water and high heat.

Wolfberry or hackberry bushes- both give berries, both adapted to high heat, but both might require water during mid-summer as both are used to a monsoon season, so...not sure if they would work, you know? There are desert and non-desert varieties of hackberry bushes, but unsure about wolfberry (wolfberry tastes MUCH better though). These can also get quite large, so might do as something to give shade eventually for an entire garden patch, you know?

malabar spinach - this is a climbing vine, with leaves that are thicker, and does well in high heat. Often used here in summers because the spinach doesn't survive or goes bitter with the heat.

Some other plants for seeds or leaves that folks grow here that can be hard to grow elsewhere, that might do all right in your area (but that I don't have much experience with): sesame, safflower (sometimes see the seeds with the Spanish name, Corrales Azafrán), okra, panic grass (a native grass with a very large seed that can be harvested and eaten), chia (used for the seeds), and pignut (spanish name: Guarijio Conivari, latin: Hyptis suaveolens) (used as an herb or to make tea, seeds or leaves used).Some of these might do for shade purposes as well.

Wish I had more in terms of garden veggies, but most of the really desert adapted things here are the larger perennials, like cactus and trees.

As for publications - while this guy might not be a perfect fit, this particular youtuber lives in a very hot desert as well, so often has a lot of desert-friendly plants and advice (this video is where he's visiting another desert gardener, so you get a two for one, sort of. ^_^ )

I am sure there are more, but I'm blanking at the moment. I'll pop back in to add more when I think of any.
1 month ago

Andrés Bernal wrote:In  this video

Geoff Lawton shows how some of the earthworks made back then to fix this problem in Arizona are still functioning.

I've seen other videos on this area before, with Mollison and others, and I've never really talked about my opinion on them, I think. But what with the discussion on the dust bowl here, I thought it'd be a good time to throw my 2 cents in. I live in this area, know a lot about the local plants and animals (not an expert, but I pay attention, basically), so I'm gonna talk about what I know.

First, I feel rather bad for how Tucson gets portrayed in this video. Because while as a city it definitely still has problems with how water is handled, it's actually got less control than is sort of implied, and what control it does have, it's heading in good directions at least.

Tucson is in a state that is controlled by a lot of wealthy folks who do not give a crud about conservation, of water or much else. So even though Lawton showed that shot of a lush golf course in Tucson,  Tucson itself has no control of that. Golf course water usage can't be curtailed by the cities - it's a state regulation, so Tucson has no say in how much water the golf courses in or near it can use.

Tucson IS using too much pumped out water. That's definitely a problem. But it also has a very active water conservation scene in this city - I think more active than almost anywhere in the state. So it has been making changes to try and incentivize both lowering water usage AND refilling the aquifer, up to and including water harvesting infrastructure for roadworks and commercial buildings. Brad Lancaster (the author of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands) lives in the city and is one of many that have pushed for water conservation reforms to the city building code and more.

They also have been trying to work a lot more with reclaimed water so that the water used isn't lost forever. So in Tucson is a place called the Sweetwater Wetlands that is an artificially constructed wetland using reclaimed water ( ). Salinity issues exist, and are partially addressed by native plants that thrive in higher salinity environments to make it easier for other plants to grow as well (like saltbushes).

And in the same river that Lawton stood in, as of 2019, the Santa Cruz River Heritage Project has been pumping water back into the river, from reclaimed water, to flow near the edge of Tucson and OUT of Tucson. I do not know what salinity issues there may be, but it's spawned a lot of growth in that area, so it's been at least somewhat of a success, so far.  ( )

I am not saying that Tucson is great - its water usage is not sustainable. I just felt bad that the city that has such a strong water conservation gig going mostly had the focus on golf courses and pavement, you know?

But that said, this was not the main issue with this video.
The big problem I have with this video is the very reason the video exists: the swales.

There was a lot of talk about how lush they made the area, how rich the soil, how full of plant life, etc...

And most of that's true. The soil there is MUCH better than the rest of the surrounding area. A lot of water collected there; a lot of plants can grow there.

But...well, I'm just gonna use an example to show why I really, really dislike how these swales are talked about.

The Santa Cruz river bed - the dry one that Lawton was standing in for part of the video? Lawton implies that it's dry due to a number of factors.

That is not true, however. That river went dry pretty much due to one action taken by a group of businessmen in 1910 - 19 wells dug to collect water around the springs that were the source of this river. The water was sent via canal to various buyers in the valley. It took them 5 years to use up the water so completely that the springs went dry, and so did the river. So this river has been dry since 1915.

This is what happens here in the desert, though. We have LIMITED WATER. There is not a single water source here that is kept full of water from rainfall alone. All of the year-round flowing water near here is, and was, from underground springs - and there IS no year round source of running water in this valley. The Santa Cruz river was IT.

So the vast majority of the water that the plants and animals use in the desert comes from rainfall, instead. It comes mostly, and sometimes only, for three months in a row in the middle of the summer. Most of the rainstorms will drop rain in small areas, and then the water gets distributed throughout the desert via the arroyos that are dry whenever it is not raining.

Arroyos are an integral part of this desert. They are one of the reasons that the desert has the level of growth it does - which is, as I understand it, higher than almost any desert in the world. They may not be running with water all year round, but for the desert, they are as much a source of life as a regular stream or river would be in a non-desert environment.

So blocking an arroyo, especially a large one, is about as beneficial to the environment as, say...digging 19 wells and draining a spring dry. Which is why the swales - which blocked arroyos - are actually rather awful.

Because BOTH the swales AND the wells draining the springs put extra water SOMEWHERE. They made more plants grow SOMEWHERE.

But they only managed it by taking that water AWAY from everything downstream that used to depend on it. This is not, IMO, a good thing.

If I have water fall on my property and I dig in basins so it is more likely to collect in specific spots, or more likely to collect and soak in than evaporate off the surface? That's good for me and the plants and animals on my property. That's a pretty natural occurrence that I'm just helping along. Same for if there is water that falls ON my property, and I make sure it doesn't run OFF of it.

But there is no such things as making this entire desert lush and looking like that basin behind the swales, not without screwing over other parts of the environment. We do not have enough water in the desert to DO that. The more extreme we make our water collection, in terms of blocking flowing water for our use, the more we take away from elsewhere.

Like, just as an example, that amaranth he points out? It looks like Palmer's Amaranth. It grows freaking everywhere - richness of the soil is not in anyway a necessity for them to grow that thick and tall. Water is the determining factor.

They grow that tall and big along numerous arroyos near my house that only have water for maybe 2-3 weeks a YEAR and the crappiest soil imaginable.  They grow in bigger patches when there is more available water, and in smaller patches - including just a few plants - where there is less water. And they are ONLY that lush for a short period of the year. Same for the grass - edges of many, many roads, where there is just a little more water, look just as lush and full of grass and amaranth during the monsoon season as the middle of his swale.

So you can have that swale with a lot of concentrated amaranth...or you could have NOT had that swale and the amaranth would have grown in much smaller patches along miles of arroyo downstream, to be used by a lot more animals, and slightly improved the soil everywhere a little bit, instead of one big patch of 'rich' soil. You could have added bits of stone and other things to slow down the water just a bit, so that the edges of the arroyos had more growth and less erosion, if one wanted to encourage a greener desert.

But the only way to have that dream that Lawton talks about, planting citrus and figs and 'maybe dates,' is if you essentially grab the water in your area, PLUS block water flow from some arroyo.

Oh...and you irrigate.

You're not having pretty much any fruit tree growing here without irrigation of some kind. I don't care HOW rich the soil is - the humidity is too low and the rainfall is too low for the majority of the year...maybe I'm wrong, but I'm guessing that even with extremely rich soil and a bit of shade, a citrus tree is going to struggle with high temperatures, humidity sometimes in the single digits, and not a single extra drop of water for, say, 7-8 months straight.

So...yeah, I know I'm going off a bit here. I find it hard not to, honestly, because I keep seeing videos like this, and then I hear folks get caught up in the idea of 'greening the desert' as something we can do in our area as though it will not have any impact on the rest of the environment around us.

That is not how it works. We CAN have more lush areas in the desert. But to get them to the extent suggested in the video? In the end, we'd have a small bunch of really lush, green areas, and a much drier, deader desert all around them. Which is not a good trade off.
1 month ago
I feel like I see a lot of folks talk about greening the desert in a way that seems, I guess I'd say unrealistic?  Great enthusiasm, but to the point that there seem to be some unrealistic expectations of what can be grown sustainably in the environment.

We can help our deserts become as fruitful as they possibly can. Deserts can be beautiful. There can be some amazing biodiversity. But it's not the same thing as creating, say, a forest the likes of which Tolkien would be proud of. And I hear so many folks talk about the last concept as if that IS what is possible.

I do not believe it is, and have seen nothing yet that contradicts that belief, at least if one very important factor is part of the equation: sustainability.  

I believe the sustainability is an inescapable part of the entire concept of greening the desert, but it gets left out of a lot of discussions about it. Not in regards to sustainability for plant life, for nutrients in the soil, or anything of that nature...but for water.

If we pump out water from the ground, in a desert, to irrigate our plants? That's not sustainable. Yes, gray water helps us use less water, but desert aquifers only have so much water, and with drought (which is happening in my area of the world, for example), water is being pumped out significantly faster than it's refilling the water table.

So when I hear someone talking about using water pumped up from the ground and also using the gray water from it to irrigate anything so that we're using 'so much less water' - which I hear a lot of folks talk about around here - it kind of feels like someone talking about a great deal they found on a new car when they are already in debt and have no money in the bank.

We cannot escape the fact that rainfall as a limiting factor for plant growth in a desert, if we truly want something to be sustainable. Deserts only get 10 inches of rain a year. We can set things up so that there is more shade, there is richer soil, there is more retention of moisture in the soil and as little evaporation as possible...we're still not getting more than 10 inches of rain a year. And that will only sustain a certain number of plants and animals.

And it's not enough to make a huge forest, typically. At least not of the kind I usually hear a lot of new-to-permaculture-and-deserts enthusiasts talk about.

Although sometimes, the problem seems to be a kind of disconnect between the details of various success stories and the reality of the average individual's permaculture project.

The success stories for greening the desert that involve 'lush forests' seem to fall in one of two categories:

1)  Areas that had man-made desertification that was restored successfully BUT that have higher rainfall than a true desert. For example, the Al-Baydha project is in an area that gets an average of 21 inches of rain a year, twice that of the highest desert annual rainfall.

2) Areas that are in true deserts, like Lawton's Jordan project, that got a lot of water from a non-rainfall source to start everything off, and which typically involve plans of extra water sources to be continually added. Sometimes it's added gray water, which is not sustainable.

Or they are in a rare place in the desert where there is an oasis or year round running water, which is very location specific and not a plan many of us can follow.

Or someone is blocking water that is running from a larger source, which is great for them, but screws over every living thing downstream. like the CCC-built swales in Tucson, AZ.

I'm not denying that these success stories have some amazing growth. They do. But so far, I haven't seen any that didn't involve rainfall PLUS extra water to achieve it. If anyone has some that they've found, I would honestly love to see it, truly, but I haven't found any myself.

So nothing we do is going to change the fact that there is not enough water to support more than a certain level of vegetation, period, end of story. Brad Lancaster's books on water harvesting have a great chart in them about the water needs of various trees and shrubs, and I think it is worth a read for anyone wanting to green the desert because you find out really quickly that your land is only going to support X amount of vegetation.

If a desert is only appealing to someone because they plan to make it as green as Ireland, they're likely going to be disappointed, I think. If they are just looking to put in a lot of desert vegetation that is in the best possible situation so they have more growth than the typical area around them? They're likely to be happier.

Now, philosophically, the question of 'should' we green all the desert we find? I don't think we should. There is a lot of biodiversity that exists because of deserts and would die if we actually succeeded. Not to mention that there is an ecological purpose for deserts, just like everything else. For example, deserts are a net carbon sink. Current research is suggesting that bacteria located in aquifers beneath sand and in the sands itself in at least some deserts are capturing carbon from the air. (

I do think that we can still help deserts become the best they can be, in a lot of areas, but I think deserts BEING deserts is still a good thing, too. I'm admittedly a little biased - I grew up in one desert, moved to a more temperate area and a coastal one, and ended up back a desert because I love being IN a desert, harsh as it is.

And I also am a huge fan of the whole concept of 'planting a tree that your grandchild will be able to sit under.'

Of course, I say all this and my land? It's not sustainable right now. I have some plants I have to irrigate. I am still working on water harvesting. I don't have things all completed or even all figured out on my land. I'm just very aware that some of my plants aren't sustainable in the long term, water-wise, is all.

Thanks for asking these questions. These are things I've been thinking a lot about too.

EDIT: LOL. I read your question and didn't get to answer it until much later, and totally forgot you had already mentioned the whole carbon sink thing, ha. Great minds think alike, I guess. ^_^
2 months ago
Oh MAN...I had a nice long post and accidentally erased the entire thing. argh. I grew up in NM, so familiar with the area, at least, and living in a nearby desert in AZ now.

So, quickie redo.
Desert food forests need a higher ratio of support species to food forest plants in the end. Common start, as you may have seen, is 90% support and 10% food to start off with, aiming for 10% suport, 90% food by the end for a food forest. Desert food forest, you're likely going to have more of a 66-75% support species end goal, because the more severe the climate, the more support the forest will need permanently.

2nd thing - wind break species sound like something to focus on a lot, yeah. And things that add to the soil.

Personally, I like to use as many native species as I can, because you're going to have the best luck for them to survive when they have to grow in more severe conditions. One great resource for this is the fire effects information system put out by the US fire service. It's aimed at helping know what grows with what, in native conditions, as this is really useful for when there are fire and we need to know what was lost, what to replant, etc...
So if you search on their site for a plant that grows local, like, say, prickly pear cactus, you get this:

It has lists of ecosystems, various lists of plants that grow with and near the prickly pear, and so on. It takes a while to go through, but it has really helped shape my plant choices, when I know what WILL go well together, and is native, and then I can research them and find out what might be useful for various purposes. And it creates a really unique, region specific support species system that is honestly kind of neat.

i also recommend checking out books and info on wild edible in your area. Many can be support species but you can also still get some use out of them, a little. A nice starter book I liked was the wild edibles of new mexico by charles kane (the arizona one has some species that I also found in NM, but not in the NM book).  Many of these were plants that grow will in my yard, and I simply let them grow now rather than pull them out, which was worth the price of the book, honestly.

Last couple of things...
If you are looking to plant pinyon pines, you may want to make sure you have the soil a bit better and more able to hold water first, even though they are native. The pinyon pines lost about 2/3 of their numbers in the entire state over the last 20 years or so due to drought. They are susceptible to a particular beetle there and can't fight it off as well when they have too little water, which is why they were killed off in droves. So it IS a good plant, but a bit more water availability will make them more resistant to the local pest, you know?

asparagus - that stuff lives through anything, seriously!  I have some I forgot about for 4 years, in a spot that got NO extra water, but only had a bit of shade and ground cover. We got 5-12 inches of rain a year those 4 years, with temps over 100 frequently in the summers...asparagus did just fine. It is still kicking.  That stuff is gold! ^_^

And...critters. If there is not a lot of growth around you, you will become a critter magnet for EVERYTHING. You will not be able to stop this, so you'll have to plan for it.

Me, I try to make it as much of a feature as I can. I have fruit trees where the birds get the top and I get the bottom, and the poop from them helps the tree. I plant a lot of native edibles that I don't have to water or care for on the edges of the property, on the outside of any fencing or other barriers, and often, the critters will eat those easily accessible foods and not venture further in because they are so desperate for food. And their manure will often add to the ground on the edges and can help with planting more plants there later.

Also, desert animals can find water better than anything else in the world. They are often desperate for THAT too. This is why the common advice to save on water to try and irrigate in the evenings is, well, really bad advice in the desert. Because what happens is every nocturnal animal in the desert (which is a LOT of them) will smell the wet dirt, assume that means water is available, and will dig their way into your property to try and get to it...and then dig DOWN into the wet dirt - that is holding your plants - to try and find the water source.

One way I've managed to take care of this is to actually have a small water source I keep for animals either AWAY from where I water the plants, or on the other side of a barrier hiding my plants, where any animals attracted to the wet will find water available and not have to investigate further to find it.

I know this isn't perfect or all encompassing advice, but hope it might be of some use, anyway!

Take care, and good luck. Look forward to hearing how it goes!
3 months ago
Another person here who has an experience similar to your wife's. I had very intense nerve pain, especially around my neck and upper back. Had a few concussions and whiplash issues that impacted it. Hearing you talk about the huge amount of pillows, trying to just find a way to get comfortable enough to sleep, is SO relatable. I was so exhausted it was insane. Depressed, could not function, just unbelievably exhausted beyond words. I also couldn't take pain meds because I have really bad reaction to them. So truly - just huge empathy for what your wife is going through.

My husband reacted very similarly to yourself. I honestly remember suggestions like yoga, meditation, not eating before bed, not watching a screen X hours before bed...pretty much everything you suggested, aside from the cannabis, my husband also suggested. He said it out of a place of concern and love, at the time. I'm sure you are coming from that place as well.

After years of this, both the advice and the pain, I managed to find a way to decrease the pain and finally get to sleep, and it was unbelievably amazing.  So I'm putting this out here as someone who has been in a similar situation with the pain and with my husband, and managed to get to a good place.

Of course, this may not be the same solution that would work for your wife and you, but I wanted to pass on some of what I went through in the case that it helped.

So, first - while it is obviously really important that your wife try to find a way to sleep or cope with her level of sleep, another thing that has a huge impact is support during the rest of the day in ways that don't have anything to do with sleep.

Pain grinds you down. Sleep deprivation grinds you down. You've already noted that she just seems overwhelmed and depressed, so I'm sure you've seen it.

So the question I'd ask is this: is there anything you do, or can do, to help her with some of her tasks during the day, when she's struggling like this? Wasn't sure if there was something you are already helping out with, or can help out with.

For example, what does she do to support the household? Does she cook? Laundry? Garden? Take care of finances? Clean the house, feed animals, repair things, etc...?

Just asking things like, "hey, I can make dinner tonight so you can relax a bit. would that work for you?" means SO much. It shows that you care. It shows that you are thinking of her troubles in a realistic way, like the fact that sleep and pain make everything else so difficult that help is needed. Honestly, they should be handing out gold medals to every person who manages to accomplish anything with chronic pain and that level of sleep deprivation.

I say this as someone who has done these tasks both with and without the pain and fatigue. Gold. Freaking. Medals.

Because I know you understand that your wife is exhausted and depressed and suffering. It's clear in everything you say. It's clear you care very much. But at the same time...the suggestions that you have made seem like you maybe are missing some of what's going on, as well, to be honest.

Like, you have talked about the TV screens and eating and meditation and all of that, and it absolutely does impact sleep. I would not argue against any of these; they DO impact getting to sleep or staying asleep.

But, and it's a big 'but,' these all impact 'normal' sleep. These are all things that can cause problems for the average person who isn't really dealing with anything else that impacts their sleep. They are great suggestions for people who are struggling with screwed up sleep cycles and circadian rhythm disregulation and problems with calming the brain and such, so that they can sleep.

Your wife is not one of these people. Your wife has pain. Pain is the reason your wife cannot sleep.

And all these other suggestions are...well, they actually relate to one of the flaws in that nail in the head video that's been discussed already. The man in the video can see what's wrong, but the wife needs more emotional support, or to vent, etc.... And many on here have suggested that your wife doesn't want you to solve the problem, they want to be listened to.

There is one problem with this assumption, though (in the video as well). This presumes you know better than your wife what the problem is. Like, it feels like you are seeing nails in your wife - TV time, too much stress, screen time before bed, etc... - and keep trying to find ways to encourage her to take them out.

Your wife keeps saying that it might help, but the pain is the biggest issue (if i'm reading things right - I tried to read all the responses). Which may not be a case of 'it's not about the nail' because she doesn't feel listened to but more a case of 'it's not about the nail' because there's a huge wound in back of your wife's head - the pain - that is much more of an issue than a few measly nails. And taking out the nails won't make much of a difference until the wound is triaged, basically. And on top of that, trying to take out these nails is using up a lot of energy that your wife doesn't have, so that's a lot of effort for very little in return.

And I can tell you, as someone who went through this and was on the receiving end, it feels so belittling to have someone ignore what you are telling them. It feels like they are treating you like a child because 'they know better.'

Your wife does seem depressed and overwhelmed, which yeah, that'll mess up the mind some and does make you worry that she's not seeing things realistically. However, she is a fully grown adult who is also the one living in her body, and dealing with the pain and crushing fatigue, and trying to tell you what problem needs to be dealt with first (the pain) because it is the reason for the other major problem (the lack of sleep). Ignoring her because you think she must be wrong, because it doesn't match up with what you experience in your body, or what you think she should be experiencing in her body, is going to make it hard to support her.

We can't fully support people if we don't believe what their reality is, you know?

Which actually applies to the concept of 'leading by example,' too.  I say this with all the care in the world: please don't do that.

If you want to do things to improve your life, that's great. If you feel like it's hypocritical to make suggestions that you aren't already following, that's also a great reason to alter your behavior.

But if you are choosing to do things in the hopes that she will see what you do, and see something in it that she should emulate? Yeah...that just makes it feel like you aren't listening and are trying to find a roundabout way to give her the same suggestions that you were already giving her.

We don't lead by example for equal partners, you know? Maybe we put our money where our mouth is, but 'leading' always carries that suggestion of knowing more than the person you are 'leading,' of you being right and her being wrong, and you trying to 'show' her what she should be doing.

That just never feels good to be on the receiving end of from another adult that you want to respect you as an equal. It'll often make you feel frustrated because you are trying to show your wife something and it can feel like she 'isn't listening' if she doesn't start emulating what you are doing. And it can make her frustrated because she'll feel like you are saying the same things you were, but in a different form, and make her feel that you aren't listening to her, either, you know?

I don't know in your and your wife's situation, but for mine: not a single thing my husband suggested ended up helping until I dealt with the pain. And some actively made it worse - like yoga and chiropractics. Both of these can cause a lot of problems if there are spinal injuries in the mix.

And I wish I had answers for you about dealing with the pain, but I'm just going to share what helped make things better for me. Might give some ideas of something to explore, potentially, at the very least.

For me, lowering inflammation was a huge positive for lowering the pain, but avoiding anti-inflammatory foods didn't do enough to even notice. I had other issues that were causing increased inflammation that impacted the pain.

First, I found out I have an auto-immune disease (celiac disease). Much more common in women. Fatigue, inflammation, and depression are some of the most common earlier symptoms of the majority of these diseases, so they can be hard to diagnose - I only got tested because another person in my family got diagnosed and that means you are a higher risk to have it yourself. I had none of the traditional symptoms of it at all.

All auto-immune disorders can cause widespread inflammation in the body, so any chronic pain is typically much worse. When I got this, and got treatment, pain AND depression were better, because inflammation was causing them both (check out inflammation and impact on depression - it can cause depression that cannot be treated by something simple like behavior modification).

I had pain lower enough I could finally sleep again, just from this. It's honestly worth at least checking if there are any family auto-immune disorders that she might be at risk of developing.

But figuring out that I had a food intolerance that ramped up my inflammation helped even more. Had to do an elimination diet for that, because it ended up being a chemical sensitivity and there are no accurate tests for that (the current test for sulfites, the one I had problems with, has about a 50/50 accuracy, so...not much help).

Obviously this is not something everyone has, or even everyone has the energy to do, but if someone can help set up a diet and cook the meals for her, and she's willing, might be worth exploring to see if it impacts the pain.

I still have pain flares if my disease or my diet alter (I have other problems that impact it as well), but it's so much better now it's unrecognizable. Eating anti-inflammatory foods helps now, but it didn't make a dent in things before.

I know biofeedback helps some of my close friends with chronic pain that nothing seemed to touch, not even drugs. There are some expensive systems that do it but that people can buy themselves now, as opposed to going to a doctor for, but I don't recall the name right now.

And also, I am really sorry if this comes across harsh. I am truly not trying to be so. This is an emotional subject for me that caused a lot of pain between me and my husband, especially when I felt that no matter what I said about my experience, what he focused on what what he 'thought' my experience was vs. what I was saying it was.

I just hope that you and your wife can avoid that and have a much better outcome and that you and she can find some peace and harmony and get some sleep. :-)
3 months ago