I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

Discussion in 'Designing, building, making and powering your life' started by PermacultureBen, Dec 17, 2008.

  1. PermacultureBen

    PermacultureBen New Member

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    Hi fellow Permies,

    This is my first post here, so hello! My name is Ben and I'm from sunny Santa Cruz, California.

    I just found out that I have 40 acres in beautiful, bone dry Lancaster, California. The land used to belong to my Great Grandfather who used it for dry farming wheat up until sometime in the 60's. My father spent a number of winters there working the land. He says it was very primitive with only a small trailer, a pit in the ground for a toilet and not much to keep you entertained. He fell asleep once driving the tractor and woke up across the field in a ravine. In the springtime the surrounding hills were covered with orange poppies.

    Here's a picture of the spread. https://tinyurl.com/6km7n9 anybody here like a challenge? :lol:
    It is a very harsh climate but some amazing things have been done with the help of Geoff Lawton in Jordan with similar conditions. See Greening the Desert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJ8pjOG4pXI

    Temperatures range from about 10 degrees F to as high as 105 deg. F putting it about in Zone 7. The real challenge of course is water. The area only gets about 5-6 inches of rain a year. There is an old non-functioning well on the property but from what I have seen on the web, the water table in the area is only about 300 feet down. That's hardly even considered a well here :)

    So here's my rough plan. To build a series of water harvesting swales with micro irrigation underneath. Date palms as an overstory, figs, pomegranates, guava, mulberry, loquats, etc. Probably after the first year of plant growth start building an earthship or similar very efficient home for my friends and I.

    So there you go folks! What do you think? Am I crazy to think this could be a viable permaculture oasis? Would the impact on the local environment be low enough to justify us being there?

    Think about this... the place is only about an hour north of Los Angeles, about the normal taco run there. So, if at some point I could turn this location into a Permaculture training center that would be amazingly close to the many interested people in LA. And in a climate they are familiar with.

    Thanks a bunch folks!
    Ben

    Also for those of you on twitter: https://twitter.com/permacultureBen
     
  2. foggyforge

    foggyforge Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    Hi Ben , i'm certain it can be done .Bill Mollison talks about desert Permaculture in this recording of a PDC-
    https://forums.permaculture.org.au /viewtopic.php?f=5&t=5805 - He talks about going underground in areas of less than 12" rain.There are some picturesIn the designers manual of some undergroud homes.I especially remember the home of a Mr Forestiere underground farm(youtube has video).In Australia there are some mining area's with underground living one of them is Coober Pedy https://www.outback-australia-travel-sec ... homes.html
    i would like to recommend Brad Lancaster's books https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/
    Keep searching for local permie groups, https://wordpress.com/tag/dryland-permaculture-design/ ,
    Do a PDC if you can at some of the desert based permaculture -the Quail Spring Permaculture site looks lik a desert :D -you may even be able to do a PDC with Geoff - https://www.quailsprings.org/index.php
     
  3. SueinWA

    SueinWA Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    Hello!

    I used to live in the San Gabriel Valley, and my parents had land in Antelope Valley.

    My first recommendation is to get hold of the books by Brad Lancaster, Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond. Two of the three volumes are available now. His specialty is growing in deserts, Arizona specificially. These books contain a TON of information and good ideas.

    One thing that I really liked was that he has a friend who was planting bare land, but he lived several hours away, too far to water regularly. He collected lots of junk mail (everyone's), old phone books, etc. Then he dug double-wide holes for his young trees, and put a large stack of junk mail and phone books in one side of the hole, filled it with water, let it drain, then planted the seedling trees and watered them again, and left. When he came back in the middle of that AZ summer, the young trees were still alive, and when he dug down to the pile of junk mail, it was still damp.

    Is the info on the water table old or new? Los Angeles and environs have been sucking everything dry. I had heard some years ago that the surrounding mountains catch the water and it drains down into the valley. If true, whatever you can catch and hold would be great.

    Can you look down the well (hand-dug)? Does it have bare soil sides, or is it just drilled? If you could look into it, you might be able to see the various layers. Does it have a white or dirty white layer of caliche? If so, how deep is it? If you do have caliche, contact the local Cooperative Extension Office (https://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/) and see if they have any suggestions. Depth will be important. Caliche (also called hardpan) is a hardened deposit of calcium carbonate, and can act as a water barrier if near the surface. Wikipedia has some info on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caliche_(mineral)#Problems_caused_by_Caliche

    What grows there now, just creosote bush? Joshua Tree?

    The soil will be alkaline, but a soil test should tell you what else is missing, and what you should do about adding any minerals.

    Sue
     
  4. david n

    david n Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    You're probably aware (since you're looking into irrigation) Date Palms require a surprisingly large amount of water even though they are found in extremely hot places. There are many edible Cacti, Yucca and other succulents I expect you know that might grow there, mostly for home consumption some have markets. I'm growing Yucca baccata for the fruit here in New Zealand, it should probably be where you are.
     
  5. david n

    david n Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    what about
    Parthenium guayule- likes arid- used in biofeuls, gloves, condoms, pharmaceuticals...
    Jojoba -likes arid- engine lubricant, detergents, shampoos

    maybe?

    I used to live by the sea, somewhat dry because of salt, so can relate some what to your project
     
  6. PermacultureBen

    PermacultureBen New Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    Hey guys, thanks for the wealth of information!

    Funny, I was in the Fresno area about a month ago and my grandmother brought up the underground gardens... she said the local consensus was that the builder was crazy. Really wanted to go check them out but couldn't get the address. After finding the gardens website yesterday, I'd say he was brilliantly crazy, what an amazing place to live: https://www.forestiere-historicalcenter.com/ From the looks of it, there are 10 acres (!) of underground gardens there, all hand dug. Also found those youTube videos foggyforge mentioned https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05g3kEawI6Y&NR=1 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21aapMPXmRc&feature=related

    While I've studied the design side for a while, I'm a bit new to the nuts and bolts side of permaculture. So the advice on soil and plants is much appreciated. It's really time to get my PDC and Quail Springs might be the spot. From a quick check of the weather there they seem to have a very similar climate to the Antelope Valley, although they do have that perennial spring...

    As for looking down the well, that will have to wait. I'm in Hawaii until the middle of February, biking and exploring farms :D What a different climate, or climates... Last night camping by Hanauma Bay on Oahu, it rained. Then today I road around the south end of the island, through fields of cactus and back into rain forest. Just wild.

    Ordering books by Brad Lancaster, to learn how to farm in Lancaster,
    PermacultureBen
     
  7. SueinWA

    SueinWA Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    I just got another book from the library on an interlibrary loan.

    A Guide for Desert and Dryland Restoration by David A. Bainbridge (2007, Island Press).

    It's a bit more scholarly than Lancaster's books, but would still be useful, esp for the amount of land you have. It goes more into the whys of desert degradation, and what can be done to bring it back to life. I'm just in the first third of the book, and I'm running across info that I've never seen before, and I've spent quite a lot of time in the desert.

    Sue
     
  8. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    Have you looked at solar "Air Water Harvesting" as a source of water?
     
  9. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    Hey Ben,

    I stumbled on this book which may be of help:

    "Growing Food in the High Desert" by Julie Behrend Weinberg
    https://books.google.com/books?id=xiazsgs7zwQC

    I really enjoyed reading about the underground complex near Fresno. Kinda opens up a whole new perspective on things, doesn't it? :eek:
     
  10. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    Ben, sounds like an adventure. I guess you know about the aerospace industry there, Boeing, Lockheed and airforce? Lots of jets practicing overhead, and isn't it one of the famous places for UFO citings? Gotta love it! The main thing I'm grateful for at my place is water, water and water. Nothing works without it. Since you're in the desert it's unlikely you'll get much condensation to try and dry farm it. Collecting the average 8 inches a year off your roof would be crucial unless...
    Do you know anything about witching water? Using divining rods and finding underground sources. All those native palms there are finding it, so if you have a chance to try it with brass rods or willow branches, or find someone who can, and see what kind of results you get. Even a slow running well (run by solar or wind power) can fill large tanks over a few days.

    Then just how sandy is your soil? Have you tried the water drainage test? Dig a hole, fill it with water and time how long it takes to empty out. If it's really sandy it won't hold water. So amending that soil might be a big job.

    You could probably get wind power and solar power to work well there. That might actually be what you can harvest best. Sell it back to the grid, if the main power company there is capable of accepting it and paying you for it. Be sure they don't mislead you by saying they are working on it, that means they aren't prepared to take whatever power you have. Talk to others there who are already selling it back.

    And 100 degrees in the shade is more like 110 in the sun, tough on plants, tough on you, and that's the average all summer long, I believe. So perennials that can take the freezing the heat in that area will take some research, certain fruit trees, certain cacti that fruit, check out agave for tequilla production, date palms. If you want to sell what you produce, be sure you are growing something different from everyone else. If people can get it anywhere, they won't be very interested.

    So what have you discovered so far?
     
  11. newcroft

    newcroft Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    I really want to second what Sue has said here. I was just given a signed copy of Volume 2 "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond". It really is a fantastic book. Brad really has thrown himself into this and there's absolutely stacks of info. Loads of drawings and illustrations. Heaps of practical and detailed info on designing and constructing swales and other water harvesting. Anyway, over-exuberant sales pitch over.

    https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/books/volume2/
     
  12. forest dweller

    forest dweller Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    G'day Ben, welcome aboard mate.
    40 acres in the desert sounds great to me. I plan to own a desert property one day too. Arid environments have their own special magic.
    Good luck with it. Keep us posted.

    Dave
     
  13. MoD

    MoD Junior Member

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    Re: I have 40 acres in the desert... now what?

    Check out quail springs they're north of Ojai...not too far from your place.

    https://www.quailsprings.org/events

    They have a tour on 10/31.

    Great people and a great place to take a PDC.

    If you have frontage off the paved road you should be able to divert a surprising amount of rain water off it.
    You'll also be needing a lot of mulching material so see what the local farmers will let you take.
     

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