We just had rain a few days ago -- and already the ground is getting dry! I've had to water my new raised garden beds twice.
Actually, my other huge challenge is CLAY SOIL. Heavy clay, not the loamy kind you can deal with. The kind that turns to gumbo when wet; the kind that's super heavy.
So even if I make raised beds to deal with the clay, then things dry out even faster with the constant 25 MPH winds we get. From the South mostly, but when a "front" blows in we'll get wind from the North too.
The last 7 days the wind hasn't let up once. Every day has been what a layman would call "windy" -- 20+ MPH. We do live on a hill, among open fields and farmland. Very few trees or windbreaks of any kind. Most of the people around here grow hay or graze cattle. That's all I've seen around here for agriculture.
I was (and still am) excited about the possibilities of permaculture -- but until I can get some established large bushes/trees, erect a concrete/stone wall, or something -- I don't think I'll be able to start my food forest.
About all I've been able to do is collect a bunch of materials, and build (2) 4x8 raised garden beds and bring in materials for mulching (both on the property, and outside of it). A few square feet of mulched earth isn't going to make a food forest any time soon -- not with this wind.
My first thought was windbreaks, build the biggest berms you can to block out the prevailing winds. Next I thought try and store water in cisterns or ponds which led me to my next idea. Use that wind power with some windmills, you could have one utilize the energy to pump water from storage to the beds or to just permanently pump water or to use for strictly power, constant wind could be a good thing in this way.
Those were my first thoughts, I know they both come with some investment the latter more than the former but these were just my thoughts I bet you will get some better answers from some of the more experienced dry land permies.
We get so much wind I get nervous when it's still. I stopped with the raised beds in wind country. We don't need help with drying out the soil. The advantage of earlier warming is lost due to the difficulty in keeping the ground moist. Adding organic matter will help your clay and the drying out problem. It does get better, really, but it takes loads. Start begging the neighbors for leaves and grass clippings. I have 3 contractors dumping stuff at my place now. Of course, everyone here is so broke no one spends money on herbicides, so it's fairly safe.
One thing I did last year for my corn was dig a 1-2" depression/basin in the beds and plant in that. About 1'x2' ovals. They stayed damp significantly longer than the surrounding bed. I'm going to try that in a lot more plantings. It's not that it holds water very long, but it is a bit protected from the infernal wind. So it doesn't take much protection to make a difference.
Can you get spoiled hay bales on the cheap? Use them as a windbreak until stuff gets established, then as mulch in a few years. If you can get a lot, you could make raised beds edged with hay bales, which will gradually compost from the inside out, doing three jobs instead of two. A couple layers of plastic snow fence (google it, you'll never find it in San Antonio!) would break up the wind quickly while your hedge gets going. I should try that too, see if the goats will eat it.
For the long-term, I'm planting a food hedge-fedge-next month. I had to change out a few plants-Scotch pine instead of poplar and alder and didn't get the black cherry, but it's going in with what I could get. Hopefully it grows faster than the fruit trees going in this month. In the unlikely event I can get water right to the fence line, I may toss in some vining plant seeds to climb up this year.
Depends on where you live. Windbreaks should be evergreen. Bamboo is good (clumping) but it needs warm climate, mine grows but didn't take off. If it's close to the house the fire risk is important (pine not so good). Elaegnus (autumn olive) species are good.
For a longer-term solution, like others, I recommend coniferous trees. Earlier in the year my wife filled out a survey for the Arbor Day foundation and in return they sent us 10 colorado Blue Spruce seedlings and two Fragrant Purple Lilac seedlings. Now, the spruce is pretty slow growing, but you don't have to pick that species. You could plant the trees on the up-wind side of a large berm as suggested here and then when the trees are big enough, knock down your berm and use the soil elsewhere.
As suggested, I think you'll find that the hugel mounds might cause more moisture loss than gain, like in a desert. Though I'm sure there are those in the forum who can point to exceptions. You can still burry the hugel wood deep and use a planting bed that is lower than the surface. I know this may be getting into your clay, but you can pull the clay out and use it to line a pond and replace it with topsoil. I've seen planting beds as much as 6-8 inches lower than the ground.
Keep us all posted. Love to see what you come up with.
When I think of it, in Germany and England they used to have (sometimes still have) hedgerows. They are mostly deciduous species, but still work well as a windbreak.
It is a mixture of local species (I'm actually not sure if it's always local) sloe, hawthorn and so on. It is as well a wildlife shelter and I think I would do something like that. You can also plant useful species with it like sloes or roses etc. And they are an awesome playground for the kids too. The thorny sloe is very good for birds.
Thanks everyone for your responses -- My Internet has been down since last Wednesday, so I can only check this thread occasionally and I don't have much Internet time obviously.
But I'll "be back" sometime this week.
I think I'm going to try the pit garden idea -- I have a large "mountain" of soil (maybe 10 feet high) from a cellar I created a couple years ago. If I put it downwind of that, I should be good.
A temporary option to allow some more permanent wind break planting to grow is some posts with scaffold netting attached to it - it is so much cheaper than windbreak netting and can make enough of a difference to allow stuff to grow.
A more permanent option that I am aiming for around my zone 1 is woven willow fencing. If you construct it in situ it can match the contours of your land and you can aim for a fairly open weave that lets some of the wind through so that it doesn't take off in high winds.
We have a very good windbreak around our veggie patch - It is a belt about 6m deep of trees and shrubs of various heights. It is all natural regen, rather than planted. I hack it back every now and again as it tries to encroach and use it variously for biochar, pea sticks, mulch material. The low level stuff seems to mostly be some kind of dogwood which coppices like mad and makes a nice dense barrier between ground level and about 2m.
Effective windbreaks are not solid barriers but permeable filters that slow the air as it passes through. The gap in the windbreak is really noticeable, where the track comes in. Stand there on what feel like a still warm day and you get blasted by cooler drying air.
If I were planting one deliberately I would choose different and more useful species, but I'd plant a similar height profile - tall trees grading to mid trees grading to dense shrub layer - I'd mix in more n-fixers (locust), edible fruit trees (although if your windbreak is sufficiently dense to be effective you will have trouble harvesting them), and for a low level shrub layer I'd use lots of berry bushes (redcurrants, etc...).
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