James Burdine

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since Feb 04, 2011
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Recent posts by James Burdine

My German Grandmother(Oma) used to practice edible landscaping through the depression and the second world war and had jars and crocks of harvest in her basement as a matter of course. The fermentation book looks interesting.
6 years ago

Jason Mendes wrote:Aloha! I have for the past three years been living in the tropics and making gardens and planting where soil is open or simply clearing away what's growing.. But now i am residing in the suburbs of Mesa, Arizona, where the backyard is all gravel.. I've done a couple of raised beds by pulling away the gravel and making a border with wood boards, but i am brainstorming ways to simply plant right on the gravel.. I do notice that many 'weeds' grow easily in the gravel. The ideas i have so far would be.. Layering cardboard and organic matter like grass clippings and kitchen compost, then possibly other soil/compost brought in. As i am writing this, i am thinking that raising the level of the soil could be a problem close to the actual house, because there is a foundation layer of cement, then up a few inches, stucco. So, has anyone done anything like this? Any ideas?

A few observations from living in the desert.
1. Cover the bare ground with what ever you have. If all you have is gravel and rock, use gravel, organic material accumulates over time and it keeps the fine soil from blowing away. The desert creates a crust that does that but building your home on land, they scrape off that crust and leave the fine stuff exposed to blow away in the 5 to 75 mph winds that spring up each year. Witness the dust storms in the Phoenix area that remind folks of the dust bowl years.
2. I don't know about your dirt in your back yard, but mine is nearly absent in organic matter. My dogs have been adding material over the years that they used my backyard as a toilet. But there is nearly nothing that holds onto water. I am now trying a combination of wood chips and straw built up in a pile over 3 foot deep. If you can get local tree services to dump off fresh grindings the mix of green and brown starts to break down, and when the winds come they don't blow away like the bark mulch does. The combination of grindings gives you a mix of coarse and fines that seems to stay where you put it. Wet it down periodically.
3. Sheet mulch. At least a 6 inch layer at a time, as you build up layers, you are putting something there that will actually hold onto water when you do get rain. You can leave the gravel there, don't bother scraping it off. If you look at the few standing plants that have leaves in the desert they are self mulching. There is almost always a 3 to 6 inch layer of "trash" under the branches that build up over time. You just want to do that on a larger scale.
4. Don't waste money on composter drums, they don't hold enough material for one, and the material they have is held up to dry out faster than it can actually work down. Building a pile against a corner of cinder block wall holds enough moisture that the pile actually works.
5. Learn how to catch and hold water for the few times you do get rain. Otherwise it runs off somewhere else. Find a way to channel and hold it so it soaks gradually into your soil. Build basins and gabions where needed. Be patient, you may have no rain for 7 to 10 months and then have 3 inches fall in 5 minutes time in your particular area and across the street will be completely dry. About once in every 5 to 10 years you will have up to 5 days that will sock it in and you will have rain that goes constantly but varies from spit to full on torrent.
6. Learn to use drip irrigation for the 10 months or so that you don't have any rain. Learn to use timers and check them regularly.
7. Containers, hold enough soil to give you a short term solution, but the containers don't really hold enough soil and water to be completely efficient without timers and drippers. You go away for a short vacation and the plants die. Also even UV blocked plastic seems to be good for only one year before the edges become brittle.
8. Green houses that face south for winter, that become shade houses during the summer. If you don't mind wasting energy you can even air condition your plants. Learn to create temporary shade for your temperate plants, yes I know that plant tag says full sunshine, but they meant someplace like Maine, not Las Vegas or Phoenix.
9. Basin gardens aka waffle gardens, a sort of sunken rather than raised beds, allow you to sink down to hold water long enough to soak in. Also the salts from irrigation or that are already in your soil tend to migrate up to the ridges of your basin. The ridges around the basin also provide some shade and wind shelter for tender young plants.
10. Map out your yard and learn where you might benefit from wind baffles to slow down the wind as it whips around your house. It is frustrating to plant ahead of the frost date and then have your tender young plants get whipped to death by the wind.
11. Learn the micro climate of your particular area. They tend to grow fast maturing varieties here because during the summer it gets so hot that some plants tend to drop their blossoms rather than set fruit unless you are willing to jump through hoops to provide the plants with what they need.
There might be more, but those come to mind for where I live.
7 years ago

  i get more rain then dragonfly and the OP. Its 8-12 inches here. its a colder region also.

  i have a nearly unworkable soil though. You need a pickaxe or maddock. Its a powdery heavy clay.

I must say working organic matter into my soil is nearly worthless.

  tilling is meaningless. It recompacts itself. Ive tilled in 6 inches of manure twice a year for a few years. You can barely tell i did a thing.

   heres something interesting though, and Ive been playing with this to great benefit. I now put down a layer of compost, then leaves or straw. after a season the soil underneath is workable. more workable then areas I mixed in a total of 30-36 inches of manure into 8 inches deep!!!

   it seems to me to be related to microbial life. they cant thrive in manure mixed into my soil. Its actually volcanic soil so its actually full of good stuff though a bit alkaline. in layers though, like youd find on a forest floor, the microbial life makes its way into the soil. That or associated acids that such things release.

   for actual beds I think Im going to re do them as hugelkultur this year(and biochar as im able). I think the action with all that decaying wood will be extremely beneficial.

I live here in the same area; I think the soil is too alkaline and saline here. It kills off the beneficials quickly. So sheet mulching concentrates the organic material and keeps the bacteria and fungi alive longer to work on the stuff underneath. What we need is a way to catch what little rainfall we have, and allow it to percolate down into the ground and then stay a while instead of going all the way to the water table. Currently doing container gardening with Sub irrigated planters that I make myself. It is not sustainable over the long term because of salinization from the tap water, just one season of wicking water up and you will see salt frost on the top of the containers unless you flush through regularly from the top or go to expensive reverse osmosis water.  But observing the backyard where organic material from the dog has been just laying on the surface and the El Nino(sp) rains this year brought a rush of green grasses and other plants than in prior years. Out here it is so dry that the dog manure just dries quickly and you can leave it there. It desicates and disintegrates into place. So now I am rethinking the waffle gardens a bit. I might just be able to get away with using a pick mattock to dig down about a foot to 2 feet, lay the logs, stumps and whatever scrap wood down to the level of about a foot, and then start sheet mulching from there. If I can get ahold of some sandbags I can use those to build the walls of some raised beds with the packed silt,rock, and caliche that I pull out of the ground. I was actually thinking of making seedballs with clover, alfalfa, and a few other beneficial plants to broadcast as a long term strategy at improving the soil. Those clay balls would just sit there until the rain came and then start sprouting out grow in place, send roots out, and then die back with the dry time. It would take time and the creation of catch basins to concentrate the water,mulching with straw and leaves,etc. and regular reseeding to get it done, but the ground would gradually over time improve. Right now after the rains the desert mallow, and russian thistle and a few other plants come up live their complete cycles and then die back during the dry. The jojobe and creosote bushes create their own mulch and spread out over time. The small hardy prickly pear cactus that live here just hold on. The only big ones live in folk's yards that receive regular irrigation. There are pockets where native mesquites still hang out but they are fighting a losing battle to the salt cedar that were introduced because someone thought they looked pretty. The salt cedars have long thirsty roots and steal water before the mesquites can get it. You get up toward the rocks and up into higher elevations and you find little catchment areas where the native plums and other plants still grow. Agave and pinon pine were the big plants for the indigenous peoples here along with whatever game they were able to take in.
8 years ago

Ludi Ludi wrote:
Personally I think raised beds are not a good idea in a dry climate.      I think reconfiguring the area with basins to capture rainwater is a better idea.

Don't put a raised rim around a basin except on the downhill side.  You want rainwater to go into the basin, not around it. 


I can't express how important I think this information is for us in dry climates! 

I agree to a certain extent. But raised beds are easier to work with right away. Especially if you are just starting out, and you are wanting quick results and you have to buy all of your organics. There is organic material in the soil out here (in the Mojave desert area), but not much. The effort to create a level area for the building of homes means that anything that was there has been scraped off. Some of these homes are actually built over former landfill sites that were covered with hauled fill from another area and then leveled off to create home-sites. I've been living here for over 20 years and have gone to containers for any growing of vegetables. But looking for a more permanent situation that will allow more water efficiency is there. Gardening here means irrigation. Sub irrigation and water resevoirs can improve the efficiency of that irrigation, but you have to deal with eventual saliinization of the soil from leaching from tap water. We get occasional heavy winter rains, and occasional summer showers during the monsoonal season.  Water harvesting in the area is almost non-existent. Most landscaping deals with drip systems and water spray systems that depend on the city water supply. Hopi and Zuni agricultural practices (waffle gardens) show that there is a better way of dealing with intentional irrigation that maximize the catchment of whatever water you use both natural and irrigation. But all of this is going to take more labor than most folks want to do right away.  First you want to make sure that if you have to irrigate that the water goes where you want it to go. Second you want to improve the holding capacity of your soil, then you want to improve the method you are going to use to feed your garden plot. Waffle gardens are built into the ground and a lip of clay and rock are around the edges of the bed. Most are no more than 3-4 foot square so that one basin/container of garden can be used to irrigate the entire plot. The lips of the edges help hold the water until it soaks into the ground. Combine that with the keyhole garden principle of a 6 foot round area with a central feeding basket, where you put compost and water into that central basket (where it diffuses out to the edges under the surface of the garden bed) and you have increased your area of your garden. Now to improve the water holding ability of the plot, dig down about 4 to 5 feet, start your sheet mulch layer with wood sumps, twigs,etc. ala hugelkultur for about 2 feet and then put your greens, compost, etc until you have filled the bed. Worms have to be imported to put into the bed since there are no native species locally that I have ever seen. Mulch the top around the plants, feed the central basket, and water it. The other consideration here is the intensity of the sun can be a bit much for some plants. So you put shade cloth over the plants that need them. Native species like prickly pear(nopales) and other edibles of course don't need shade cloth.
8 years ago
I live in much the same area(Henderson) and am really considering two methods that will involve a lot of initial work. While sheet mulching can have the desired effect, I am considering the combination of the waffle gardens of the Hopi, keyhole gardens, and hugelkultur. The idea I had was to dig out 6 foot circles about 4 foot deep. Sheet mulching with logs, waste wood, sawdust, for about one to two feet. Then gradually sheet mulching the rest of the way up the usual fashion with compost, clippings, manure, etc until the bed is full. A one foot heavy mesh wire cylinder with rebar to act as the central basket to feed the bed with kitchen clippings etc and redworms. Instead of raising the beds you sink them and leave a raised rim around them to allow flood irrigation. The rim acts to hold the standing water and allow it to sink down to the bed base. The wood layer would act as a water sponge to maximize water holding down in the base of the bed instead of draining it away. I already have my caleche bar to help break up the ground and allow digging. All I need now is motivation and time, not to mention explaining why I am digging big holes into the back yard.
8 years ago
I wonder if anyone has tried hugelkultur with palm logs. Can't always find hardwood around here, but can usually find dumped palm trees with a little effort.
8 years ago