***UPDATE*** I'm the Original Poster (OP) had to re-register...
South Central Idaho (Cold/Dry/Windy/Dry/Hot). In one word TOUGH.
Wow, what a learning curve. Three years later we have a grant for; a 20' x 200' high tunnel, a four row windbreak around the five acres, and drip irrigation for the windbreak and two production acres.
My sole income for the last three years has been from seed sales.
What I have learned, and what we have done:
The alfalfa is still with us and thriving without any help which we are grateful for (Ph 7).
Growing for market is rocket science and hard work... "Know what your customers want and provide it".
Voles!!! They love masses of vegetation, drip irrigation lines, and something to grind their teeth on... Mow and weed round precious plants, keep a 15' clear perimeter from any future vole entry points, and a hosepie down the holes with a mouse catching dog can win those vole battles... Castor oil works for a short while and is expensive. Take action as soon as vole habitation is present.
Comfrey, Nettle, and Borage are great fertilizers.
French Tarragon and Alfalfa are the toughest plants I have grown naturally (without irrigation or care). Sage, Thyme, and Oregano come in second, and then Lactuca virosa (which I have stands for production... amazing medicinal plant) Other plants growing well here with some water are; Kale, Collards, Brusell's Sprouts, Upland Cress, Radishes, Carrots, SPINACH, Serviceberry, Chokecherry, Goosberry, Rasberry, Austrian Pine, Blue Flax, Yarrow, Mexican Hat, Coneflower, Cherry, Pears,.... and others.
The Chinese Elm is invasive in the places I water but I have decided to let it grow because it wants to so much (almost impossible to catch it in time to pull it up from the roots) and then when it inhibits growing space and outgrows its shade use I mercilesly cut it down and used it as wood chippings for mulch.
This project is challenging but extremely rewarding.
My intention is to grow as many edible and beneficial plants as possible with the least amount of input possible. If it wants to grow I let it. Careful watching and noting what likes to grow where, and what impact it has, gives me a good idea of what to plant when and where. Creating micro climates with plants, and planting specific species at specific times, in specific places can work wonders. The practice seems best starting at micro levels and working out to bigger areas because I do not have enough knowledge of swales and heavy earth moving to do a thorough groundwork right now... I can see in the future, years of hard work will have to be bulldozed to create the right pockets but for now just learning is enough. But at my age 56 and looking 20 years into the future, I just hope all this hard thinking has a positive and beneficial impact for future generations.
Still on the learning roller coaster!!!
Best share what we learn.
Oh, and for small, impossible patches of clay... a bag of dried beet fodder for cattle or horses dumped in a pile and left to winter will bring in enzymes, beneficial microbial beings, and start a wonderful break-down recovery, as will potatoes left in...