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Minimum conditions for a food forest

Paul Gutches


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 84
Location: Taos, New Mexico
    
    1
Read this thread with great interest initially, but then became somewhat discouraged by the news from Toby about greening the desert and growing fruit trees.
http://www.permies.com/t/10508/permaculture/Fruit-Desert-Advice-Mentoring-Learning

Ir raised some interesting question for me...

what exactly are the minimum environmental conditions for establishing a food forest?

I live in north central new mexico on a very exposed site (6 acres on a very gentle slope). Annual precip is about 13.5 " with most in mid summer into early winter. It was once grassland before overgrazing, and there are lots of light Pinon Juniper woodland scattered in nearby areas.

Soil is clay, so a heavy mulch can easily keep the soil moist during dry periods.

That said, it isn't the 20" of rain a year that Toby says most fruit trees require at minimum.

One frustration I have in evaluating these things is there is never any context when you see precipitation #'s For instance, is mulch assumed in the precipitation #'s for different species? Not to mention runoff and accumulation by direction. Or do precipitation #'s assume typical cover or bare earth exposed to evaporation?

If we are to take 20" literally regardless of context... in some places that will = 13" of effective precipitation, losing the rest to evaporation. Does that mean my mulched high desert property at 13.5" might be equivalent to an unmulched property getting 20" a year?

Looking at it from another angle, let's say you only get 10" a year, but you devote twice the tree area to directing rain back to the tree. Does that count as a doubling of precipitation? I think it may not be that simple, which is why I'm throwing it out to all of you.

Thanks

Paul





Permaculture: The Edge is the New Center
Taos, New Mexico / Carson, New Mexico / 7000ft / zones 5,6 / Soil: Servilleta-Hernandez / Avg. 13" precip per annum
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
do you have running water in your house or have to use catchment? If you have running water you can always save water from your sink, shower, etc and use it daily on the fruit trees..an easy way to do that is to use a basin in your sink when you wash up or put some of your bath or shower water in a bucket before letting it go down the drain, etc..even greywater from washing machines can be saved

then say you have 7 fruit trees, one bucket per tree, one per day is 7 buckets a week to keep 7 fruit trees well watered and the surrounding area around them.

I can't see that that would be a problem for most families..unless of course you aren't using indoor plumbing, showers, tubs, sinks etc..

My husband uses that much water just to run the shower long enough for the water to get warm for a shower, and he runs it INTO a bucket until the water is warm enough for his shower..we find ways to use that bucket of water rather than just have it run down the drain.

I however, live in a totally wet area most of the time (we do get occasional summer droughts)..

Have you read Toby's book Gaia's Garden, he explained all kinds of ways to save water and protect from wind and excess sun.


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
Isaac Hill
volunteer

Joined: Feb 28, 2011
Posts: 343
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
    
    8
Paul Gutches wrote:
That said, it isn't the 20" of rain a year that Toby says most fruit trees require at minimum.




First, you're thinking too small. Traditional rosacea fruit trees (apple, pear, peach, plum, ect) are in no way necessary to have a food forest. There are many more appropriate perennial crops that can grow in your climate. They're not all going to be as productive as those fruit trees, but they can be very productive (cactus for instance.) This link has some fruits for arid climates: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-378.html

Second, you can still grow a couple traditional fruit trees with greywater and using wetter microclimates.

Third, if you have a large enough area planted with vegetation, when they grow to maturity they will impact the climate and actually draw water to the food forest and start filling the groundwater. You'll never have the same productivity of climates with more rain, but with water harvesting, mulching and re-vegetation you can definitely create a productive ecosystem. Look at this vid for more info: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpjWiM9O9gY

Toby says "But a food forest in the desert will need constant life-support unless you are using mostly desert natives and can get water for establishment."

You only need three layers of vegetation to have a "food forest" and that is easily doable with productive desert natives.


"To oppose something is to maintain it" -- Ursula LeGuin
Paul Gutches


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 84
Location: Taos, New Mexico
    
    1
That's interesting. Thanks.

Sounds like one would need a lot of vegetation though to begin effectively influencing local moisture / climate? I know the increased shade will help a lot, and the more canopy, the more humidity will be deflected from radiating back into the atmosphere.

Thanks for the link to the species. Never heard of those. My land doesn't seem quite so severe as the photos shown. I'll have to see if some of those are viable here. I'm at 7k feet in zone 5. I do have some cactus here. Just prickly pear and cholla at the moment. Plan to grow some yucca.

I'm definitely shooting for variety, but really want the apples and pears and such, if at all possible.
So far, 5 different apple varieties are doing well, with 3 bare root just breaking bud. I check soil regularly and make sure it's moist, but not wet. I've got heavy clay soil.
Also, pear trees seem to do well here so far. They remained supple all winter and are also budding out now.

When you say "bucket", are you talking 5 gallon bucket? Are you saying each fruit tree could really use a 5 gallon bucket of water / week? Is that regardless of soil moisture content?
That is, if I get no rain, but the soil is still very moist from last week's bucket, does the fruit tree (apple, plum, pear) still pretty much need that 5 gallon bucket?

I've heard stories of people commonly drowning their fruit trees, and I haven't quite gotten the feel for the correct amount to sustain a healthy tree yet.

Thanks


Paul Gutches


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 84
Location: Taos, New Mexico
    
    1
Unfortunately my water situation is a bit on the primitive side at the moment. no running water. little catchment. my current water strategy is primarily shedding a packed earth driveway into side ditches and heavy mulch. I have a well share which is 3 miles up a flat paved road. I can fill up a 300 gallon tank for about 7.50.
I have roof catchment, but the roof area is not very large at the moment.

What I have is acreage that could be shaped to direct runoff in local areas, such as the driveway, and other ditches. That is, it's not sloped enough to concentrate more than a few hundred feet at a time. The top foot of soil is easily redistributed. So, creating local sloped areas with plastic and stones over it to increase water accumulation in desired areas is possible (at the expense of growing areas of course). I've been thinking more about that... but it's the kind of thing that requires a lot of energy so I want to make sure I have the right approach.

I've not read Gaia's Garden, but I've been hearing good things about it.

Perhaps I'll pick it up.

Thanks

Paul


Brenda Groth wrote:do you have running water in your house or have to use catchment? If you have running water you can always save water from your sink, shower, etc and use it daily on the fruit trees..an easy way to do that is to use a basin in your sink when you wash up or put some of your bath or shower water in a bucket before letting it go down the drain, etc..even greywater from washing machines can be saved

then say you have 7 fruit trees, one bucket per tree, one per day is 7 buckets a week to keep 7 fruit trees well watered and the surrounding area around them.

I can't see that that would be a problem for most families..unless of course you aren't using indoor plumbing, showers, tubs, sinks etc..

My husband uses that much water just to run the shower long enough for the water to get warm for a shower, and he runs it INTO a bucket until the water is warm enough for his shower..we find ways to use that bucket of water rather than just have it run down the drain.

I however, live in a totally wet area most of the time (we do get occasional summer droughts)..

Have you read Toby's book Gaia's Garden, he explained all kinds of ways to save water and protect from wind and excess sun.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
First of all, I recommend Brad Lancaster's book "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands" Volume 2. It gives detailed information about making the most of any rain falling on your land, as well as information about greywater: http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

He has some encouraging videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ-FBAmvBw

Here is tons of information about using greywater: http://oasisdesign.net/greywater/index.htm

If you can direct enough rainwater to specific areas where you want to grow plants, you can potentially have all the rain you need. For instance if you're able to direct the runoff from 1 acre to 1/10 of an acre, you would have ten times the amount of "rain" you currently have per acre, which would be sort of a rainforest amount of water! It's not quite that simple, but, I feel those of us in low-rainfall areas have a lot to be hopeful about, if we're willing and able to implement rain-harvesting strategies.





Idle dreamer

Paul Gutches


Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 84
Location: Taos, New Mexico
    
    1

thanks for the links. I've read some of Brad's stuff. He's who turned me on to the "make your land into a sponge" idea.

So, yeah... I could do something like this... even a 1/4 acre of land would be substantial. It's mostly the issues of... having a place to direct it to. making sure it will soak in somewhere... or be stored somewhere...
delivering the moisture gradually so as not to drown plants or dry out between rain events, making sure it is manageable and can't get out of control in a deluge (which we sometimes get). those are the variables I have less of a handle on.

Does he cover all of those details in his book?




Tyler Ludens wrote:First of all, I recommend Brad Lancaster's book "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands" Volume 2. It gives detailed information about making the most of any rain falling on your land, as well as information about greywater: http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

He has some encouraging videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ-FBAmvBw

Here is tons of information about using greywater: http://oasisdesign.net/greywater/index.htm

If you can direct enough rainwater to specific areas where you want to grow plants, you can potentially have all the rain you need. For instance if you're able to direct the runoff from 1 acre to 1/10 of an acre, you would have ten times the amount of "rain" you currently have per acre, which would be sort of a rainforest amount of water! It's not quite that simple, but, I feel those of us in low-rainfall areas have a lot to be hopeful about, if we're willing and able to implement rain-harvesting strategies.




Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Yes, I think he does, he talks about making sure each catchment structure has an overflow route. This is one challenge I'm facing in trying to reshape the land around our house and outbuildings - how to direct the water to the most productive use but also how to direct it away from the area when it gets too much, which it has done in the past - flooding so badly as to knock down fences and small trees....
Evan Nilla


Joined: Apr 30, 2012
Posts: 19
Village homes is Davis, CA they get 20" a year and do amazing things. More or less grow all their own food in a subdivision.

Bill Molison's global gardener series, dryland, thats a good one to watch also, its on youtube. In the US in the 1920's, people were put to work under the government to fix what we did to arizona to create the dust bowls. You see that something as simple as land observation, in their case lots of measurement/surveying, simple but large scale swailing grew all kinds of things out there in the desert. It is definitely possible. Thats exactly what they did in "greening the desert", there isn't any reason you couldn't duplicate that scenario.

Another good one is Geoff Lawton's harvesting water, also on youtube.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Evan Nilla wrote: Thats exactly what they did in "greening the desert", there isn't any reason you couldn't duplicate that scenario.


To be fair they used drip irrigation in Greening the Desert, just a lot less of it than is normally used in the region.

Evan Nilla


Joined: Apr 30, 2012
Posts: 19
no, you're right, they did irrigate. There was no unnatural irrigation just a state over, in arizona and there is quite a bit of vegetation growing in those swails without any human intervention. However the OP stated that a hand watering method was being used already, unless i missed something.

Tyler Ludens wrote:
Evan Nilla wrote: Thats exactly what they did in "greening the desert", there isn't any reason you couldn't duplicate that scenario.


To be fair they used drip irrigation in Greening the Desert, just a lot less of it than is normally used in the region.

 
 
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