I wanted to share some pictures from a farm I volunteer at, La Orilla in Albuquerque, NM. The farmer and Permaculture instructor, Michael, got the farm in 2005 and has been restoring the land. It was originally an alfalfa farm that had been over farmed, loaded with bindweed and dodder, and the soil heavily compacted from repeated tractor compression. A good section of the farm was so bad that nothing was growing.
Michael uses only a small fraction (around 5% to 10%) of the water typical farms in the area use.
The pictures look great - impressive greenery in a region with such low rainfall! Could you write a little about what plants you are growing, what techniques have been used to restore the farm? Are those irrigation channels in the last picture?
I would love to take credit for all the hard work, but Michael has done most of the restoration. He started by planting wild sunflowers, and letting the Siberian elms grow as much as they wanted, and covering the ground with horse manure. Michael's wife is passionate about rescuing horses so there is no shortage of manure. He chopped and dropped the sunflowers (an important source of "slow" mulch lignin and "fast" mulch cellulose. The same is true for the Siberian elm, "fast" mulch leaves and "slow" mulch twigs and branches. As a pioneer plant the Siberian elm is always dropping twigs and branches. The tall sunflower and Siberian elm helped to shade the ground, decreasing evaporation and cooling ground temperatures. At the same time Michael is quite familiar with many hardy grasses. I can't name the ones he used but he established some tall (~ 4 ft) perennial grasses. He used the grasses to form wind fences around certain areas of the property creating microclimates.
He also let the weeds grow, die, and build soil. Michael would slowly replace the plants he didn't want with those he did.
One of his most recent projects was the irrigation channels in the abandoned horse paddock. He gets irrigation water which he used about 3 times a year to help establish trees. Once the trees are established they must rely on rainwater. The irrigation channels are in a honeycomb shape to maximize water distribution to the newly started trees. The irrigation water is not guaranteed and is often shut off, but he does have a well to get the trees established.
Michael is crazy for apple trees and has about a hundred different apple tree varieties. His larger goal is to find which apples are best suited for our changing climate, what microclimates and soils they prefer and maintain the trees for genetic stock.
Some of the plants I can name on his farm:
sunflower, Jerusalem artichoke, desert mallow, bind weed, goatheads, Siberian elm, alfalfa, plums, apples, fruiting mulberry, bamboo, grasses (lots), arundo donax, datura, pumpkin, squash, cucumber, sorghum grain/sweet, Johnson grass, Nanking cherry, nettle, comfrey, currants, pagoda tree, holly hock, arugula, lettuces, garlic, onion, sage, mint, cherry and lots more.
The first photo is an irrigation canal that flows near the land. In the photo the irrigation canal is flowing with water but not always. The summer monsoon has been pretty good this year and farmers in the area can take their allotment of water. Yet, Michael always warns the other farmers not to over irrigate to try and get quick cash for a good yield on year as over irrigating can lead to salting the farm. In the high desert the evaporation rate is very high and most farms in the area have no shade. Thus, only a little of the water gets to the roots and a lot evaporates leaving behind the salts. Michael uses irrigation to get the trees started (2 or 3 times a year for 2 years) and then stops irrigating.
The next image is of the simulated prairie. At the end of the season will chop and drop the grasses, alfalfa, and other plants and cover them with manure. His thought process is to simulate a large group of rooming herbivores having passed through. (It is labor intensive because the humans have to do the work of the herbivores). Yet, the simulated prairie grows taller and stronger every year.
This last image is some plum trees. The plums are still green and must be a microclimate effect because other farms in the area already harvested their plums.
Michael, the farmer at La Orilla, wanted me to show his delicious potato bed soil. "At the same time I am growing soil, I am also growing food." - Michael
The first picture shows the sheet mulching of the potato bed. The leaves comes from all around the farm, the irrigation canal and his neighbors. Michael has been talking and talking with his neighbors and has convinced some of them to stop burning all their leaves and yard waste. The yard waste now gets dropped off at his farm and becomes compost and sheet mulching.
Micheal removing ~ 6 to 8 inches of sheet mulch to show the soil. It is amazing moist but not wet. The monsoon rains have been consistent and heavy at his farm.
You can see the soil is so loaded with organic material that I can barely make out the clay substrate. All the meso and microorganisms ran for cover when exposed to the sun. The soil is extremely light and fluffy and has about the same density as Perlite.
The last image shows Jessica placing compost in the hoop houses. The last day Jessica and I were at the farm we were asked to place the abundance of compost where we could in the hoop houses. Also in the picture, bamboo, comfrey, chickory and other plants I can't name.
Two more images:
Michael is able to grow year round in our high desert climate using hoop-houses. Winters can get below freezing regularly with an occasional snow storm. Compost is used along with straw mulching to maintain soil fertility. Most of the plants in the hoop houses at this time are going to seed and will be collected shortly. The hoop houses will be transitioned for the winter growing season.
This is all amazing! Before I had even heard of permaculture I had thought about ways to green the desert, and it's still an ambition of mine. I'm originally from Arizona so I know the deserts are growing, but now I know that it's possible to stop it. Thank you for sharing these pictures, it is amazing to see it at work. If you have any, you should post some before pictures.
Your welcome, I'll also let Michael know his hard work is amazing other budding Permaculturists who want to reverse desertification. Michael often tells his visitors that there are four ways to spread desertificaion:
slash and burn agriculture
over irrigation (and salting of the earth by the resulting evaporation)
Sadly, I don't have before pictures. I meet Michael a year ago and all that you see in the photos is the result of +7 years of mindful Permaculture practice.
Inside one of the hoop houses, comfrey and a lot of plants going to seed.
Inside the other hoop house, more plants going to seed and some tomatoes that are being hardened up.
I believe this is a area of zone 5 on Michael's farm. Its small patch in between a driveway and the green house.
Keep the pictures coming!! They are amazing. Being originally from Arizona, I know what the climate of a high desert is normally like, but that farm looks NOTHING like a desert. Very well done. I like the prairie simulation and test being conducted. It is very different but yet still natural. On my property and future farm/ranch here in central Texas I wanted to do a section of desert, incorporate agave, cacti, mesquite, grasses and bushes. Basically whatever you can find in the southwest. People lived in the desert for hundreds of years without large farms and that is something I would like to try out myself. Which, like the prairie simulation, is very different, especially when it comes to permies.
This section of the farm Michael is quite proud of (these 3 images). It is a prairie modeled after what grows and occurs in a natural prairie. He will chop-and-drop the grasses and some of the plants followed by placing manure from an herbivore on top. He will then place a little more grass on top of that. Trying to mimic a herd of herbivores coming through eating all the grasses and then pooping on ground.
Michael is eventually going to help me name all the plants so I can post the information in the forum topic.
New rule: no elephants at the chess tournament. Tiny ads are still okay.
Greenhouse of the Future ebook - now free for a while