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one piece of advice for desert permies- what would YOURS be?

 
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Thanks for posting those links, John. I live for the day when Arizona can be forward thinking in more areas than just water harvesting! But water harvesting is a great place to start.
 
steward
Posts: 7926
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Arizona is forward thinking there in the sense that unlike other states, there are no requirements on how you put the system together. The only criterea is that it is effective. While other states try to tell you how to build a system, AZ just says "Make it work". This invites anybody with an idea to try it, and see if it will work. Encourages experimentation, rather than just following a set of rules. This mind-set will improve the art rather than just duplicating systems that kind-of-work.

Utah has a grey water system that requires a 250 gallon holding tank (for settling) that will just lead to stagnant water in most cases.
WA laws allow for 3 different tiers. A tier 1 basic do-it-yourself system that should work for most homesteaders, up to a tier 3 system which should handle shit you wouldn't want anywhere near your crops. AZ just says "make it work". No design parameters, no plans, just 'make it work'.

Funny thing is that each of the states allow bath/shower water in the system.
Please, don't tell them that EVERYBODY pisses in the shower! LOL

 
Posts: 264
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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The proper term for pissing in the shower is called "urea enrichment."
 
Posts: 299
Location: Oklahoma
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I can't believe no one posted this yet?



That won't necessarily work for everyone, but it is proven to work in as little as 6-10 inches of annual rain. Personally I think anyone with a large enough area, they should try it. Be aware though, it is much more involved than people think. I have started applying the Hm principles here in Oklahoma after taking the free course material from Holistic Management International. My area has been averaging under 30 inches per year. Some years well under that. Not quite desert, but quite dry with the drought. Also been having record highs well over 100 degrees, sometimes for weeks and weeks. Yet by using the principles Savory developed (and a few of my own), I keep getting better and better results And I don't even have animals yet! I just simulate animal impact with mowing...bush hog behind a tractor in the large fields, and hand mowers between rows in my smaller garden size plots. One day very soon I hope to add actually animals instead of "simulated animals". Should bump it up even more. Why? Because in dry times as many noted, the mulches and lasagne beds can dry up and blow away. But in the rumen/cecum of an animal, there is moisture and the bacteria can start the decomposition process, completing the nutrient cycle. I simulate that with the compost pile and simulate the mowing, but I believe the system will work better with less work once I can finally add the animals.
 
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One trick is to water plants from below. You can bury clay pipe which will allow water to gradually seep into the soil with little evaporation. Leave one end of the pipe above ground for filling. Hard to overwater this way too. I wonder if you can bury a weeping hose and cap one end and fill from the other end above ground. It might take more time, more frequent watering and not last as long but it would be cheaper than clay pipe.
 
Posts: 1
Location: So Cal Mountains
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Hi everyone:

If you have ever lived in a desert, you know that our dry climate and temperature extremes can be challenging. Not all permaculture standbys work for all climates. A really telling example of this is the Herb Spiral. Herb spirals are a poor choice for dry climates because anything raised is going to dry out more quickly. If you combine dry with HOT - it gets even worse. You've exposed your plants to a super-heated, super-dry microclimate.

So, desert permies, if you had ONE PIECE of advice to give someone new to desert permaculture, what would it be?



Find out your water capacity, and start raising what you like, rather than what will be suited to your environment...nothing teaches you faster than trying to save delphinums in a hot Santa Ana wind, or watching your gardenias hit by the cold Santa Ana's, or washing the snow off your roses on New Years Eve to save the buds from freezing. Then change the environment to grow what you like along with what is happy without any loving care...Plant quick growing shade trees with slow growing hardwoods five feet away, and as the hards wood begin to get large, slowly cut down your weed trees...plant to be shading from the morning sun, and the midday sun, and even the last hour before sunset...use your driplines and manure plentifully, but only next to the plants, for the weeds need no help...growing the gardenias in your heated and cooled greenhouse just for the pleasure of it, and planting sweet peas with your cucumbers, winter and summer, spring and fall. Plant your white roses on the north side of the house, and the reds and golds a little further out to the west under the Robinia trees you need for the flowers to hold their color, and since they can take the sun a little better. Plan your perennial's and annuals and trees and shrubs to give your chickens places to play and eat, and get the chickens later when your paddock system is built, and you have the equipment to take care of them.
 
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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You can read about my property here: http://permaculturenews.org/2013/03/20/working-with-what-youve-got-how-losing-my-vision-gave-me-perspective/



Jennifer, your property is truely inspirational and gives hope (and proof) of what is possible with proper techniques in areas where so many think it is not possible. Thank you for sharing it.

For health reasons I will very likely be transplanting myself to a new climate sometime within the next year or so. Hot dry would be best for me but I know that I have had a mental block to that because my mind thinks brown and lack of life when I think of those areas. (Keep in mind I am coming from a temperate, adequate rainfall climate.) I have been researching some less than optimal (aka. trying to find a happy medium areas) but in the back of my mind I know what would be best. This is going to be a MAJOR life alteration for me and I only want to do it once, so I am encouraged with what I have seen and read on this thread that the area that would be best for me physically might also be able to become a form of paradise that I am accustomed to. The discussion on this thread and your article on your own site has certainly allow my biased blinders to be reduced a bit. To take your original question a little further,

* What advice would you have for a temperate climate transplant thinking of making a move to a desert climate?
* Beyond plants, is there insight into property considerations?
* Is there a limit to property size that you would try to tackle in an enviroment like this for a newbie?
* Are there groups or other educational resources a person could plug into to help someone establish that different mind set and let them have a group of mentors that would help them shorten the learning curve of such an enviroment?
* If one were to make an advanced trip to explore/research an area a bit, what would you suggest to focus on?

I do find the hot desert to be quite fascinating in what is possible, I just haven't quite wrapped my mind around all that goes along with that yet. Any additional insight and suggestions would be beyond appreciated.
 
Posts: 165
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I grew up here on the eastern outskirts of the Chihuahuan desert in Texas, learn to copy the micro-climates of the desert, they're often hard to find here due to many years of overgrazing by livestock, but when they can be found, it's pretty amazing to find the variety of plant life that is growing there.
 
Posts: 2
Location: Yucca Mesa (Yucca Valley), California
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I'm a newbie to this permie stuff. I do agree we all need to do what we can and then some. I moved to the high desert in December 2014 and do enjoy the different way of life it presents. A couple of days ago I found this site and don't even remember what I was looking for but the page on hugelkultur really grabbed my attention, I'm in the high desert of southern California not far from Joshua Tree National Park maybe 15 minutes away.

But with the rainfall that is stated for this area 3.34" annually and wanting to have a garden I would really like to know more about this method.
So I'm reading as much as I can find online about it and plan on getting one started asap, this being a windy area I need to make this a sunken bed I think, the property I have has lots of weeds and I'm thinking of using them at the bottom of a four foot deep trench on top of which I'll use the neighbors tree trimmings and some old unused fireplace logs that were laying around when we bought the place.

If anyone has any insights not yet mentioned please post them.
 
Posts: 59
Location: The Hague; Morocco asap
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Seek out seasoned veterans who have been growing in your area for a long time.

A caveat to that here...

Permaculture, unfortunately, is new. There are very few permies out there (compared to conventional folk). Therefore, most people will give you conventional wisdom.

I lived on the island of La Gomera for 5 months [Canary Islands; dry hot summers]. I came and there was this awesome stream right next to the house and terrace i rented. Then i spoke to a local, a (really nice) guy that'd been living in that valley for 20 odd years; he told me the stream would dry up during summer;
it never did!
My mistake was i believed him. I'm sure he said what he did going by conventional ideas of how much water a person would require for a garden, but though the stream wound down to a trickle, it was a trickle that went on day and night. It would have been more than enough water for me but i counted on it going away and therefore i did not take the action necessary to access it. By the time i realized the truth, it was too late.

So my advice is: go your own way and don't underestimate conventional ignorance and stupidity. Just because 99% of folks have no idea of what the options are doesn't mean a thing. Do your own research and base your decisions and opinions on that, disregarding any advice or conventional wisdom that comes your way.
 
Posts: 9002
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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I have never lived in a place where 99% of the locals were ignorant on these matters. My tenant, Randy, was the first person that I asked about where to dig for a well. Based on vegetation, he was able to establish where we would find a shelf of subterranean rock, that directs rain water to a catchment point. The ground is almost level. Randy has operated excavators and other heavy equipment for 40 years. If you ask the right person, much can be learned. Expensive mistakes can be avoided.
 
pollinator
Posts: 104
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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- use what you've got - native plants that attract pollinators, for example, but grow like weeds. Might as well use these rather than try to introduce plants of my own that I have to water to keep alive.

- plant seeds or cuttings rather than seedlings, if you can. So far, most of my plants that were from seed (or some from cuttings that were propagated in the ground rather than a pot) do much better than those I transplant. The roots seem to either be stronger, or go deeper - not sure which but they do better with less water. As an example, I had a greek oregano that I transplanted, and took a cutting and planted that one straight into the dirt. The transplant struggled if I didn't water it regularly. The transplant has gone for over a year, with 12 inches of rainfall as its only water, and it's flourished.

 
steward
Posts: 5376
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
2020
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:So, desert permies, if you had ONE PIECE of advice to give someone new to desert permaculture, what would it be?



Watch what's already happening...

Notice the life-cycles of the pre-existing vegetation and animals. Make a point of going out into the once-in-5-year downpour and see where the water is really flowing. Observe how the snow blows and where it collects. Pay attention to the fog and the dew. Look at the patterns of silt, clay, and plant debris on the ground after storms... Notice where the low spots are... See how the rain scours the clay from one area and deposits it in another. Notice where the moss grows. See how the vegetation is different in different areas depending on how much water gets concentrated by slight variations in the terrain. Pay attention to where birds land and where they drop nutrients.

Or to sum it all up... Open your eyes with the intention of seeing what is right there waiting to be seen and mimicked

 
gardener
Posts: 1813
Location: Zone 6b
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I have never gardened in a place with more than 30" of annual precipitation (and that place, it was mostly SNOW that melted off quickly in the spring) and am used to under 17" (more like 10-13").

Strategic afternoon shade. Find out when your local high noon is during Daylight Saving time and plan for 1-2 hours before then to an hour before sunset. Even shadecloth, or a trellis that holds a quick growing sun loving vining something.

Find out what your prevailing summer wind direction is and put up windbreak. That wind will dry things RIGHT NOW. Great for your solar powered clothes drying, miserable for your gardening.

Mulch. Shade that soil.

Where I am at now, 30% shadecloth is pretty much mandatory to get anything to grow, even sun-loving plants. I can keep flowers on the east side of the house fairly close in as they get shaded from local high noon onwards. They also get protected by other things from the prevailing summer winds (trees just out of town bend over like they were on the sea-coasts from the winds, and tall trees in town are bent over at the top also).

At this time of the year, a 6' tall person has about a foot of shadow at high noon so it gets pretty much overhead (summer equinox) and we get north window sun in early morning and late evening. So shading a house is kind of difficult. A lot of people put a flying roof over their house (like building a pole barn but only putting the roof on) with 3-4 feet of clear space over the house roof and extending out several feet all around. This helps with the summer hot sun, and in winter the sun has shifted low enough for the house to do solar gain. We also tend to orient the long axis of the house north-south to minimize midday summer solar exposure, and plant heavily on the west side of the house to provide shade. I built a 12' trellis on the south side of our house, a sort of box frame, that I grow long gourds (snake gourds) over, they can take it as long as you mulch their roots and keep them watered, and inside the box, they will drop the gourds. You can plant one about every 4' along the trellis and they quickly will provide a lot of leafy shade, you can even sit inside the 'box' in lawn chairs and enjoy the shade.
 
Posts: 132
Location: winston oregon
cattle forest garden greening the desert
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sinkholes are your friend (couch scholar lol)
 
pollinator
Posts: 596
Location: Southern Arizona. Zone 8b
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My advice?  Experiment, break the "rules", etc.

Just because something does (or doesn't) work on the other side of the country, or even the other side of town, doesn't mean it will (or won't) work for you.


Second piece of advice, you can often get things to grow in a desert that wouldn't grow normally if you provide them with copious amounts of water.  However, depending on your soil, this might not be practical without soil improvements.  Biochar and compost can help a lot to slow down "well drained" soil.  Building raised beds, or sunken containers, with semi closed bottoms can help.  I usually line the bottoms of my raised beds with pavers, this helps keep the water in and the gophers out.  
 
Posts: 39
Location: Zone 6 Ohio but interested in Zone 6 Southwest
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Peter I love the paver idea!  I'm going to try using it this spring, I have the pavers already and was wondering what to do with them.  Of course I'm in Ohio, not Arizona yet but I like trying different things from this board.  I tried a hugelkultur mound one summer maybe I can combine them this year.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
 
Posts: 571
Location: South Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)
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plant whatever will give you the most biomass and shade with the least water. Totally forget about growing food or owning animals until you have done this. Look after your plot by doing what is best for it, before trying to take from it. Usually this will involve planting some sort of drought hardy desert tree. My first choices would be gliricidia sepium & leucaena leucocephala. The effort you put into hauling water to keep them alive for their first 2 summers will be repaid by shade, biomass, windbreak and ground biology that can thereafter survive with no help. Best to plant close together concentrating on the best spot (could be lowest lying or least windy, or part shaded by a hill) rather than distributing them far apart.. they support each other. Don't be scared to put saplings or seedlings less than a metre apart.
 
Posts: 80
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:@Richard - thanks for the comment!

[b]
--in the hot deserts, plan for shade.  According to Geoff Lawton, hot deserts need 25% shade on the east side (for low sun), 50% shade canopy over everything and 75% on the west side for the super hot setting sun.  Annual veggies will grow under this shade very nicely.  The term "full sun" on seed packages never met Phoenix's "full sun" - LOL.




This is actually useful information for people trying to grow in areas where full sun is problematic even without the desert. My garden is south facing, we normally get virtually no rain in the summer and the soil is sandy loam. Shading from my neighbours’ fences makes a big difference - especially in the evening, when temps are at their highest.
 
pollinator
Posts: 519
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Let me see now, there's more than one:
- Water below ground and mulch over the soil.  Gravel mulch may be necessary if there is a shortage of biomass, but you need a strong healthy back.
- Keep the wind off your plants.  A desiccating wind can kill a garden in an afternoon.
- If you container garden, plan on flushing out the soil once or twice during the summer to get rid of salt buildup.  Salt buildup can also occur in the ground, especially if you don't mulch, so keep a watchful eye and be ready to flush salt buildup away from the plants and their roots. (I have looked into grow bags.  It is an interesting concept, but not ideal for hot, dry and windy.  You will need some sort of barrier to slow the airflow, but still allow a reasonable rate of air movement.)
- Salt grass and other halophytes can take salt out of salt poisoned soil, just don't plan on mulching with the cuttings.
- A diffusing glazing, film or fabric (like light row cover) seems to help plants in the strong, high-contrast light of the high desert.  The high desert requires at least a tunnel in order to increase the growing season predictably, and it solves the light and wind issues.
- Xeriscaping can be problematic.  Even if you put down weed barrier and cover with gravel and rocks (they make great micro-catchments and mini-windbreaks), windblown detritus will build up in the crevices, creating little pockets of soil waiting to host a weed.  I say, if you can't beat them, join them.  Design for the inevitable and plant what you want to see before the weeds move in.

You know you were raised in the desert when 30% humidity is muggy.
 
pollinator
Posts: 214
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Thanks, everyone, for this great thread! Shall we bring it back now, with current crazy times making growing food at home ever more important?

We use sunken beds and rows in our high desert gardening, some greywater irrigation in driplines buried under mulch, directed floodwater irrigation for the rest using canals and ditches, and do most of our planting with the first monsoon rains (we have no well). We plant tree saplings and smaller perennials like chiltepines and wolfberries under mesquites on "islands" in our sunken rows.

Every year we expand our growing more, and I want to be able to grow more herbs, so I'm brainstorming ways to do this. Has anyone here tried a sunken herb spiral? I'd put the Mediterranean sun-and-dry-loving plants like lavender, rosemary, and thyme at about ground level and then go down from there, with things like peppermint (which actually we already have very happily established at the edge of a sunken greywater-irrigated bed under a mesquite tree for shade) and lemon balm and nettles at the bottom. Cilantro and basil probably pretty close to the top, too, so they can stay warm. I'd like to add a lot more medicinal herbs, though, which I'm generally less familiar with growing, so I'd to need to figure out all their warmth and moisture requirements and chart them out.

Last year, since planting and especially harvesting roots and tubers in our pre-existing sunken beds and rows was wreaking havoc with the careful grading that directs the floodwater during winter rains (of which we've received a lovely amount this winter) and monsoons, I dug a large triangular sunken bed at the end of one floodwater feeder canal that we call the tuber delta. It starts deep at one wide end and slopes up gradually toward one point, and we add mulch more or less continually, moving it around as needed as we plant and harvest. Saffron crocuses, horseradish, and garlic are growing extremely happily in there right now, radishes have sprouted and look good so far, and I've got carrots seeded. I can pick a point of the internal slope where things stay a little wetter or drier depending on what each plant likes. My idea for the herb spiral is similar, but in more of a spiral shape, and this time I'd more consciously include an area for stepping and kneeling.

What do you all think?
 
Andrew Parker
pollinator
Posts: 519
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Last year, I bought some fancy Rootmaker RootTrapper II bags, the ones with the white outer coating and a short band of uncovered material at the base for improved drainage and aeration.  I wanted to experiment with a wicking system using nylon rope.  It kind of worked, but there was a problem with inconsistency in the water uptake.  This year, I will be putting in a larger feed pipe, more closely resembling a raingutter wicking system (using large diameter pvc pipe), but retaining the nylon rope, rather than using net pots.  My son and I put together a potting mix using expanded shale, rather than perlite or vermiculite, because I don't like it when those float.  I can source the expanded shale locally without any problem, other markets might be more difficult and expensive.  I also mulched the surface of the bags with a half-inch(ish) layer of shale to keep evaporation to a minimum.

One serious glitch was that someone in the neighborhood sprayed an herbicide that almost killed all our transplants, about a month into the season.  Most of the plants recovered, but they were not happy and it put them behind a few weeks.  I am not a fan of suburban spraying services.  They apply chemicals indiscriminately and without regard to conditions -- and they are largely unregulated, so they don't really care.

I have had flower pots near the front entry for many years and had always intended to use pebble mulch and pot trays to conserve water.  Their placement puts them in the shade in the morning then the full afternoon sun.  This necessitated frequent and deep watering.  I had considered a wicking system, but it would have been complex.  I had noticed that the few pots that had trays retained moisture much longer.  Sure enough, combining the trays and decorative pebble mulch made a big difference last Summer.  No more afternoon wilt and watering was down to a couple of times a week.  I put pebbles in the exposed part of the trays to keep mosquitos from breeding in them, and keep the evaporation down there as well.  The pebbles were for show, I used shale in the back garden.

The reason I have gone with container gardening is that my soil is terrible, a sand and silt mix that hardens like concrete when it dries, and it is expensive to fix it.  It is excellent soil, if you keep it wet and soft.  Water is very expensive here, so that is not a viable option.  There is not enough biomass in the yard to mulch, and I don't like getting wood chips from the county because it can inoculate the yard with whatever died and found its way to the landfill (a neighbor started bringing in wood chip mulch and inoculated his pine trees with a parasite that slowly kills them.  It quickly spread and I have lost four large Austrian pine so far.  After informing us that our trees were infected, he graciously offered to treat them at $200 each, per year), that, and rats love wood chip and leaf mulch.  Pebble mulch can get pricey when applied to large areas, and the labor of moving it around is beyond my capabilities now.

I did see someone on YouTube who sewed his own root trapping bags from floor underlayment (sealed on one side).  I don't know as it would be cost effective for everyone, but if you are handy with that sort of thing, have at it.

If I were physically capable, I could have dug holes or trenches and filled them with potting mix, covered them with stone mulch and put in a drip/soaking system.  Plenty of permiesish options for the physically fit.
 
pollinator
Posts: 128
Location: Gaines County, Texas South of Seminole, Tx zone 7b/8a
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In my short experiments on my yard is just reshaping the ground a bit to hold back the water really changes the land.  If you notice the grasses up in where water is held is already greener then the grasses out away from the small basin and swales.
20200304_171354.jpg
after a good rain
after a good rain
 
Posts: 491
Location: Richwood, West Virginia
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connor burke wrote:sinkholes are your friend (couch scholar lol)



Guiera Senegalensis
native African plant that increases the water in the soil.


How a once-maligned shrub can help farmers in Senegal grow better crops




 
pollinator
Posts: 391
Location: OK High Plains Prairie, 23" rain avg
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Jennifer Wadsworth - You started a good thread, thank you. If you have saved the seeds of that monster squash from six years ago would you be willing to share a few with me? It might be just the thing for shade in hot, windy western Oklahoma.
 
Posts: 144
Location: Russia, ~250m altitude, zone 6a, Moscow oblast, in the greater Sergeiv Posad reigon.
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Hard surface runoff is key, use every drop. Leave no ground unshaded, and shade as many plants as possible. Put shade trees everywhere, even in the garden. Use sunken beds not raised beds. Pile rocks at the bases of trees for water collection. Incorporate pigeons somehow. Pigeons are good. They collect nutrients from a huge area and bring them back to your inner zones. Block hot winds. Don’t block cool winds. It’s better not to have ponds. If you do, make them small, completely shaded, and in a cooler microclimate.
 
pollinator
Posts: 171
Location: Missouri. USA. Zone 6b
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Harvest and Reuse grey water.
Contact local water management agency and see if they have such projects. They would help you plan out and piping and gather some volunteers to help. At least in AZ years ago. I went to one of such project, too bad  I wasn't  paying attention to the layout. Wasn't a permie back then, I went for the party afterwards.
 
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I use raised beds because the ground here just steals all the water. I build them out of thick sawmill slabs & usually put slabs in the bottom for moisture retention. That also keeps the ground squirrels, voles, gophers, etc. out. Once the prairie dries up, they will do anything to get in your garden. Then I put raised sides up (poles or boards) staple wire to those, then clear/opaque heavy plastic over that. The wire supports the plastic so it doesn't rip off & blow away. Then you can put a wire lid over that to keep birds & such out (the ground squirrels will climb, too). That's for my tomatoes & peppers that the grasshoppers don't like. For radishes, spinach, lettuce, carrots, etc. I put a lid made of old window screens over it to keep them from being devoured by grasshoppers. Plus, those plants like to bolt (go to seed) when it gets hot, so this gives them that little bit of shade. This is the first year I thought of the window screen lids because the grasshoppers have been so bad, but was delighted that I got through the July heat without anything bolting. And I was able to start more seedlings mid summer because of the window screens helping keep the soil moist throughout the day when I'm gone. That is usually not possible here.
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