Chop n Drop in the Desert

Discussion in 'Put Your Questions to the Experts!' started by Shawichick, Mar 1, 2018.

  1. Shawichick

    Shawichick New Member

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    Hi
    I love the idea of chop n drop mulching/ soil enrichment however our here in the desert there really isn't much to chop. We've recently planted a number of nitrogen fixers but its going to be a while before we can start cutting from them. I have access to two major sources of organic matter - date palm fronds and weeds. My concerns are:

    • The palm fronds don't seem to decompose and create hiding places for scorpions. They also tend to prevent moisture from getting through. The moisture isn't a huge problem as we don't get much rain and use flood irrigation on the date trees but it will stop dew and out here every single drop counts!
    • If I "drop" the weeds, won't they regrow ? We have a heck of a time controlling weeds and I don't want them all to come back after Ive spent hours pulling them out. ( I do allow some of them to grow as they're useful for goat fodder and some are medicinal)

    Any ideas or tips on how I can mulch more effectively ? I cannot get straw here, only grass hay - usually alfalfa and Rhodes grass
     
  2. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    if you are in a desert, pulling weeds and letting them dry is a good method
    but the concerns with them are valid. so to minimize problems, make sure
    to pull them before they set seeds and when you put them on the surface
    to dry out put them down with the roots sticking up in the air and that
    should take care of most issues. once in a while you make have a few that
    can regrow if you get some rains but that can be avoided by perching them
    up on top of other already dried weeds until they are thoroughly dried out.

    in the case where there are seeds then how you can deal with those is to
    either shake the seeds off (and use them as food, burn them or bury them
    so deeply they won't be disturbed and have a chance to sprout again.

    i use a general approach to clean up the surface soil if the weeds have
    been left too often to go to seed. i dig a deep hole and then scrape the
    top layer of soil into that hole and bury it. most seeds will not be able to
    germinate when they are out of their zone of temperature, moisture and
    light and others, even if they do sprout when buried deeply will run out
    of energy before they can surface.

    and then you get some really stubborn plants which can grow almost no
    matter what you do, in that case, i dig up as much root as i can find and
    dry it out in the sun on top of the weed pile and that often does get rid
    of it but retains all the organic matter it grew (and the energy from the sun
    it captured) and any bits of topsoil which cling to the roots.
     
  3. Shawichick

    Shawichick New Member

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    Hi Songbird,
    Thank you for your extremely helpful reply. This is great! So far I've only come across one particular weed that is an absolute nightmare, it has these really spiky burrs/thorns and sticks to shoes, clothes, animals like crazy glue! Nothing kills it, the seeds are in those thorns and the second they find moisture they regrow. They have no use other than to poke me and get tangled in fur - I'll be putting them in the bbq pit to burn at our next bbq.
    I'll give the drying out a try, our summer temps are really high so they should dry out pretty fast. Thank you so much for the detailed reply, I'm excited to make some use of those weeds!
     
  4. BajaJohn

    BajaJohn Member

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    I've been relatively successful with composting. I built 1.2 m cubed enclosures from fencing and line them with plastic sheet with enough left over to cover the top too. That keeps mixture in and you may need to add extra water to keep it moist. They heat up to about 60C which kills most seeds. When the most recent one is full I transfer them to another enclosure to mix and aerate the compost. Mine take 1-2 months to fill and 3-6 months for the compost to be ready. I also have a lot of dried citrus and mango leaves son I mix in some manure too. Palm leaves are tough and fibrous. They tend to mat and they clog up chippers so I strip the fronds from the stalk, put them in a pile and hack them into smaller pieces with a machete. The stalks break down incredibly slowly so I let them dry out then use them to make biochar.
    This article discusses to improving soil nitrogen using mesquite trees and cardon cactus. It also refers to some other informative articles.
    https://www.researchgate.net/profil...on_during_long-term_restoration_of_arid_lands.
    I found certain varieties of beans do well grown as ground cover and reseed quite readily in my hot, arid climate. The most effective for me was a gift of an unidentified local variety that looks like a runner bean. You may be able to find something local that would work.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2018
  5. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    burrs/seeds are definitely a problem and you would want to remove them and burn, compost or bury them deeply before using the rest of the plant (via drying). with your heat though i would guess that a week uprooted and exposed would do in about any plant.

    note, i am not familiar with your native plants so perhaps there are some adapted to such treatment, but none i've ever heard of.

    the largest issue in arid climates is retaining your moisture and mulching helps with that a great deal and for that every bit of your organic material you can use is important. if that means you have to sit for a while to repurpose those burr weeds it is just an investment in the future. think of it as shelling beans or peas.

    how large an area is infested? sometimes chipping away at it a little at a time will help. making sure to keep it chopped back whenever you can to discourage it. smothering with cardboard or other layers of materials (those palm fronds?)... setting up your animal resting area in the worst of it so they will keep trampling it.

    the USoA has burr problems too in some areas and is not always concerned with fighting it to eradicate. animals and people can spread it further. i'm not sure if goats would eat it.

    as a more general note for your growing areas and to protect animals at times wind breaks can help a lot too. have you looked into setting up some of those?
     

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