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Summary

Credit: Julia Winter

Best way to establish a food forest in high desert (Rocky Mountains) with annual rainfall 3"-8" at 7500 ft above sea level. Geoff says he's getting a lot of questions about high dry deserts. It is a difficult landscape, because it's quite cool, but still dry. You'll have to work hard on your nursery systems, probably with a glasshouse of some sort--Geoff talks about an underground greenhouse, mainly just a glazed south facing roof, maybe even with animals inside. Check out Chapter 11- dry land strategies. You've got to get the shelter going for your plants, do the earthworks, get ready for the rain and be ready to plant when you've gotten your rain. You can use some groundwater, if it's not too deep--you've got to get those trees going. If your earthworks are good you will recharge the aquifers. Once you've got trees, they will start gathering moisture via condensation. Living in cold climates brings all those challenges of comfort and heating.

Paul takes a stab at this question: he thinks job one is to increase organic matter. He agree that you start up with earthworks, and points out that you can make some serious wind breaks, like 12'-15' berms and do other things to gather water and create microclimates.

Geoff has a system for using an excavator to fill earth bags, and another system using nylon net to hold earth together. (Can't wait to see more of what that leads to!)

Paul points out that he personally doesn't like large berms "on contour" because he's worried about frost pockets. Geoff says that if you are in high desert, catching all of the rainfall (which is likely to come in rare, major events) might be more important than avoiding frost pockets. Similarly, you might need to gather snow and try to shade it as well, to keep it from melting and evaporating. Geoff points out that swales are for trees, and the trees should send the cold air up (?) and over and create a sheltered place below them.

Paul asks Geoff about air wells: stacked rocks that can collect water via condensation. Geoff says he's seen ancient rock piles with swales for holding the water that's gathered in the middle east, and Bill Mollison saw a lot of gathering condensation water in the Canary Islands, using trees. He'd love to hear more about people using condensation water.

A question about keeping away large herbivores like elk and bison. Geoff says both Bill and Sepp Holzer talk about bone tar, putting that on the trees to keep animals off. You could try planting stuff they really like and putting it over there (this is good for birds). Electric fence can be helpful, especially if you bait it with peanut butter on aluminum foil. Dogs are good. Geoff trained his (cattle) dog to go nuts on foxes. One thing that's useful for really large animals is a ha-ha fence, a deep ditch with steep sides that the animal can't cross.

How many acres do you need for self-sufficiency? Well, it depends, doesn't it. Some land is very difficult. It depends on the climate, on the geography. If you want to be a raw fruitarian, the big island of Hawaii is a nice spot. According to the John Jeavons biointensive gardening system, it's 1000 sq ft per person, featuring vegetables. As a complete guess, if you have 1/4 acre of zone 1, you can do well for a small family. For one person, 1/5 of an acre should do you well. An acre of zone 2, with food forest, animal tractoring system, and if you want to pasture animals, you're looking at 2-4 acres for zone 3. Your woodlot is an important part of the system in a cold climate: coppiced woodlot, and now that should be a good 5 acres. Geoff has clients with 7 acres who raised 3 boys on their land with very little in the way of exterior inputs. Bill had a student who has been able to raise huge quantities of food on 3 acres in Hawaii for decades. Geoff has a student from last year's online PDC who is feeding his family of 8 (well, 90% of their food) on an urban lot in Florida.

This moves into a discussion of cold climates versus tropical or sub-tropical climates, pros and cons of each. Warm climates never get a break, cold climates have huge variation in tasks (and comfort).

How can urban and rural permaculturalists help each other? Geoff says people need to get together to share their experiences. In Australia, they do "permablitz"s, where groups of people come together to tackle a job at someone's place. Geoff says that producing food in your front yard is a good thing, in Austalia. Paul share tales of front yard gardens being persecuted in the United States.

Geoff says if you have a permaculture group with more than 100 people, a local, non-profit community group, and the group is diverse, and it goes on for more than a year, then you will have the local government people come in and see that they'd better figure out what it is that all these people want. He says most people who run for office are insecure, and if they come in and see a really diverse group, they will be intimidated by this. Start a group, call it "Permaculture (your town's name here)"

Do you know any commercial farm that transitioned from regular agriculture to permaculture without utilizing income from workshops. Is permaculture viable without being a leisure interest. Geoff says yes, yes it can happen. In Iran they went from a big commercial farm to a smaller more diverse oasis, and they are making production levels of various things. Mark Shepard in Wisconsin has built up a permaculture farm. Of course, you're never going to have the same products--it's going to get a lot more complicated. There are farmers who have gone from simple grazing to cropping and grazing and then forestry with water harvesting earthworks. The big issue is, how do you market the new diversity coming off your land? That should actually be easier in France, from whence the question came.

Paul shares examples of how people can become successful through developing diversity in their income streams. Then follows a discussion about how people just can't see what they are not ready to see. Geoff talks about the experts saying you can't grow figs in Jordan, even after he's got figs on the trees.

Ivan asks what to do if a national permaculture group has rules that conflict with what Bill Mollison taught. Geoff says, go with what you know and what you think is right, but the Skype connection goes wonky at that point and that's abruptly the end of this podcast.

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COMMENTS:
 
pollinator
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This was a great one. I way constructing dry land beds in my head even before Paul and Jeff stole all my ideas! I really am enamored with the concept of raised bed with rocks and sand at the top (to shed all the water deeper) and shallow wide ditches with more greenery at the base (what for the rocky tops? sage brush? I don't know totally not my climate)

I have however (not knowing the climate) been entertaining the Idea of Horses, Camels, and Cannabis perhaps being good natural allies for that sort of high desert thing. It worked for the silk road through central asia right? Just a thought. Also what about wildflowers - mammoths lived on those buds right? Must be some pretty good cold and dry tolerant ones right - I mean the Ice ages where relatively dry right? I think where...

Anyway I really enjoyed this one.
 
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@Paul:
Thank you very much for these Q&A podcasts with Geoff.

But I really have to intervene here, regarding your accusations against “science” or “scientists”.
No scientist worth calling him/her a scientist would ever claim something is not possible until he/she can prove it is not possible. If a person does not subdue to this rule, he/she is not doing science but some kind of religion.
Referring to Geoff´s example with the fig tree:
A scientist would never say: It is not possible to grow figs here. He would say: We (or whoever else) have tried out this and that method and it did not work. So if you want to have success, do not waste your time doing it the same way we did it. You need to change something.
And they might come up with some theories why their experiments did not work. Like: Not enough water, too high evaporation etc. They might suggest solutions how to solve this issues:
Install water harvesting systems, install shade, block the wind etc.
And when there comes this guy Geoff who shows how it can be done, than they will see this as prove it can be done and then start with their details work:
What factors do add to this success? They will start finding out which factor does add how. And then they will develop theories and how to improve the system and will start trying these out.
In the end they might come to a system producing twice the figs that Geoff´s does.
This is how science works.
Off course there are a lot of people around calling themselves scientists whilst being everything else… Please be careful whom you stone.
Science is all about making observations, bringing up a theory how it works or why it does not work and then finding the proof. As soon as you have a proven theory, you can use this for building new theories on how to build something that do not exist by now.
And of course scientist are people and do make mistakes. If a theory is proven to be wrong, they will throw it away and find a new and better one.

And proof is a really complicated thing.
For example:
You find some seashells fossilized in a rock in 2000 m above sea level.
This proves there are fossilized seashells in this rock up there.
Than you can make up some theory like:
There must have been some giant flood that allowed clams to live up there.
Or: There once must have been clams able to live outside the water.
Ore: Some other animal must have brought them up there.
Than you still need some theory how they got imbedded in this rock.
Religions people might say: God hast put them there when making the earth. Or there has been this deluge caused by god and of course in that time calms could have lived up there.
The scientist would answer: I cannot prove you are wrong. So it might have been as you belief. Let us at your theory.
Now we have a nice batch of theories and sure could add some more.
What a scientist needs is proof.
And then there come these geology scientists who can explain and have proven that this rock once was created by deposits on the bottom of some prehistoric sea and later was compacted and transported up there by movement of tectonic plates or other matters of elevation (volcanic activities etc.)
We have to accept this and can now throw most of our own theories over board.
The religious guy might say: God made all this just 5000 years or so ago and he simply made it look like it was all done by tectonic forces etc.
Than the scientist again has to say: Let us add this to our batch of theories until we have proof.
And so on…
 
pollinator
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I enjoyed this popcast Particularly about Jeffs dog and the question about converting a conventional farm to permiculture in France .
I was surprised as in France I know that there is a shortage of farms offering an "AMAP" service ( its a french form of CSA ) plus France has so many markets its nuts . Here in Angers population less than 200k there are over ten markets a week plus other markets in villages in a 40KM radius probably double that number .

David
 
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Anyone seen pictures or videos of the water harvesting systems at Petra that Geoff was talking about? I tried a quick Google image search but the results didn't prove anything that popped out at me.
 
Jon McBrayer
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Happened to stumble across the Wikipedia article on Ha-Has and thought I should share.
 
steward
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here is the picture.
 
the navigator
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Wow, this is a cliffhanger have I ever heard one...
 
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Agreed with David Livingston- I did a little happy dance when Geoff talked about his dogs! I've been curious about those little dogs as they've made a very prominent appearance in most of his videos, and they just follow him around! So awesome that they serve a purpose on the farm, protecting everyone from snakes.
 
gardener
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I got super-excited about the drylands high-altitude part, and started typing and... well, now I have a detailed almost point-by-point paraphrase of the whole thing. Not sure if it's kosher to post, or if the spelling is correct, and sometimes I seemed to catch the opposite sense of what they really said (like Geoff saying "frost pockets are not a big factor" when what he actually said was "of course you're going to design so frost pockets are not a big factor") Sigh.

But first I just have to say I am excited by all the features mentioned in the high-dry part which are already in place here. Did not think I was as well off as all that. I am one of the Rich People on Cheap Land! Yay! (6 months of snow still makes for a lot of work - if you think you are working hard in the tropics, think about how much work you have to do to put up that much food in 1/4 the time. By the time winter comes we need the rest, and we are just as much caught behind when spring catches us napping!)

High deserts
Orographic

http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/76030-281-geoff-lawton-qa-round-2-part-2/

I'm going to plunk the high-desert stuff in a regional thread, but if you have trouble catching the gist and want my version of it, let me know.
(If Paul gives the OK, I will post the whole paraphrased-write-up here. Assuming Geoff is also OK with it.)

-Erica
 
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Okay. I admit it. It has taken me almost 15 months to figure out how to use this interface. But then, I'm seriously visually challenged, so that's just what is. I originally posted this as a 'new topic' but then I saw it didn't show up in the thread. well. darn. just got that sorted. cannot undo the other post, don't much care actually - that's Paul and Adriana's problem, not mine. heh. but now I have finally figured out how to put in my location and etc all that juicy goodness and make this thing work - AND put my post where I WANT it to be. sweet. Nice to feel like I am not a complete Moron any longer. heh. heh.

Here is what I wanted to say about this awesome podcast I am staying up until the middle of the freakin' night to listen to once my life's chores are done:

This was/is so awesome. I wish I could spend ALL my time just learning permaculture right now. So love what you do. Really enjoy hearing you two chat over all of this and the wide ranging of the topics thanks to the Q & A. Lovely, lovely experience. Also love the diversity of the experience across the world - climate, population density, culture - farmers, urban dwellers, community - all of it. Just love it!!! Also love the idea that we all should do videos and share them with each other - yes yes yes! Thank YOU SO MUCH! Please do it again, often! Next time I'll get in my questions, too! We are in WET and cold this year SUPER cold and froze up down 3 feet - not seen in 40 years - ah, but the thaw is on now... Very grateful for the deep quiet of winter and the amazing gorgeous sunshine and warmth and blossoming this week! Glorious.
 
Erica Wisner
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Welcome to the forums Becky! Nobody is born knowing how to do this stuff, so congratulations on getting to the point where it's working for you.

Back to the main dialogue:
Geoff mentioned shading the snow to encourage melting rather than evaporation. (Wind protection seems to matter as much as sun protection for this).

I had this 'a-hah' moment: it seems like shading and retaining snow can also extend the thaw, and the resulting water available for planting, into the safer planting periods after the last frost.
In our areas the thaw tends to come around late February through March, there's a lot of road runoff that makes gullies in the gravel roads at that point, but the average last frost date isn't until May. We do often get some additional rain in May, but not reliably enough to plant without irrigating or water-harvesting. Having moisture that sticks around up here until May or June would be huge.

I am thinking about sourcing a big truckload of sawdust from the mill at the bottom of the hill, and making myself a "snow bank" of water above the garden that I can draw on into June. Great excuse to get some of my mulching work done early, in the winter, too.

-Erica
 
nathan luedtke
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Erica, I like your ideas for encouraging slow snowmelt.

It called to mind this old article from BLDGBLOG, about techniques to "artificially" extend and increase glaciers.

I'm sure there is an entire sub-discipline of swale technology involved in capturing and directing (and Slowing, Sinking, and Spreading) Snowmelt.

I imagine that shoveling the driveway/paths could direct extra moisture into water capturing systems. (only a little bit though)

And snow fences could be strategically deployed over the swale system to capture extra winter precipitation.
 
Erica Wisner
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nathan luedtke wrote:Erica, I like your ideas for encouraging slow snowmelt.

It called to mind this old article from BLDGBLOG, about techniques to "artificially" extend and increase glaciers.

I'm sure there is an entire sub-discipline of swale technology involved in capturing and directing (and Slowing, Sinking, and Spreading) Snowmelt.

I imagine that shoveling the driveway/paths could direct extra moisture into water capturing systems. (only a little bit though)

And snow fences could be strategically deployed over the swale system to capture extra winter precipitation.



Thanks for the link!

There oughtta be a whole sub-discipline for snowmelt, because it's a special set of problems.

My father-in-law tried ploughing the driveway piles into the pond to refill it for a few years, gave up because very large piles of snow are still not a lot of water for the size of pond he's got.
But I do sometimes shovel snow onto garden beds, or shaded spaces beside retaining walls, when it's just as easy as anything else.

I love the clever gutter systems for dumping the first roof-rinse from each rain in Bill Mollison's manual.
But all the gutter systems that I've seen look like elaborate ice-dam innards from up here. (Meaning, a good round of freeze-and-thaw that generates icicles on the roof will wipe these puppies off the roof.)
Even the 'leaf excluding' or 'ember excluding' systems, some of which are quite clever, can't stop the ice-er-falls. Dripping ice is water; it moves into any spaces reserved for water, then hardens and expands as it freezes.

Trapping thaw in the landscape is reasonable. So how to manage?
During the late Feb to late March thaw, the snow starts to melt before the frozen subsoil some years. Infiltrating freezing water makes impermeable ice sheets (we call them "winter concrete"), and the ongoing melt dumps huge loads of water across them. Then the remaining ice eventually melts into the soil.
Surface-freezes at night, occasional new dumps of rain or snow, longer thaw periods followed by late frost or snow, winters without enough snow where the ground freezes very deep (does that mean that more of the runoff gets shed, because the ice sheet lasts longer?)
The whole mess is not super-predictable as far as timing or exact progression, but it does come with a predictable type of mess.

There's a great deal of snow-lore from the Midwest and New England, but they also have humid summers. So I don't know if they concern themselves with capturing snowmelt. (I think their winters are wetter too, stories of blizzards with 0 visibility whereas our worst snowstorms seem to still offer a visibility of 20 feet or more.)

About half our rainfall comes as snow, and there's a great deal of frost and fog condensation in the cold months as well.
So excluding snow and then setting up a "summer" water catchment is impractical. You'd basically be limiting your water-harvesting to about 2" in June.
July and August are dry. We get the occasional localized thunderstorm gully-washer maybe one year in 4, but in terms of garden availability you can't count on rain again until the fire-and-frost season starts up in September / October.

My current hypothetical workup for water collection is:
Given a T-shaped building with steeply sloping roof (30% or steeper)
- Use the valleys on the building roof
- Make a 4-foot-wide awning or porch-type overhang to direct the 8-foot-pile of snow from this roof away from the building walls far enough to allow for walkways
- Contour and French-drain the perimeter under this dripline to move excess water toward garden swales, and allow for swale overflow toward the pond on the property
- Above this gravelly drainage base, hopefully under the dripline, locate rain barrels, tanks, etc. Possible buried cistern where I can gravity-feed the overflow from these tanks.
Make sure the building footings are tall enough that if I screw up and get 6 inches of standing water in the walkway, it will not do too much damage before it finds somewhere else to go.

We do have good snowmelt-fed aquifers, and the rare privilege of a property with 2 wells that tap into 2 different aquifer drainages. So we don't need to store 100%. We can also count swale and pond storage toward our neighborly duties regarding that aquifer, at least in our personal conscience. (Water rights is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.)
We are dry enough that I'd prefer to keep using rainwater for gardening, and reduce the dissolved salts, and rely less on irrigation with aquifer water. It's slightly hard, forms a white crust on my teakettle that I don't want to see on my soil.

As Geoff says, one reason we're here is that land was/is cheap. The in-laws bought this lovely spot as a fallback, then fell back to it.

Update: I am embarking on a hugel-glacier.
 
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The excavator that filled earth bags sounds amazingly cool. Does anybody know where to get more info on this? Name, website, a picture...anything? This is something I have been trying to figure out in my head for years. There's actually someone who figured it out... I want... no I NEED to talk to this person.
 
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Hello,

I may be a bit late to the party, but I have been hunting high and low to try and find out about the course and actions taken by Geoff Lawton and his team in Birjan, Iran.
I can't seem to find any information about their involvement there other than the report on the Permaculture Research Institute site.

I've stalked Google plenty with various search terms, but alas and alack, I have not found any word on the Iran project. Plenty on Jordan, but not on Iran.

Kindest regards too all.
Benita
 
Police line, do not cross. Well, this tiny ad can go through:
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https://permies.com/t/61704/Food-Forest-Card-Game-Game
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