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Joe DiMeglio

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since Nov 30, 2011
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Tucson, AZ Zone 9A/9B
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Recent posts by Joe DiMeglio

John Arross wrote:

I'm looking for every way possible to improve organic matter content of my soil, while not burning a billion gallons of diesel in the process.
I've started planting woody perennials, vetch, oilseed radishes, and about anything I can find that MIGHT grow. Growing from seed so I can try a lot of things without as much expense and heartbreak of watching a nursery plant wither and die.

Hey John,  I forgot to add that we have an awesome seed company here in Tucson called Native Seed Search that finds, propagates and sells seeds that are adapted to drylands - especially edibles. With your efforts to bring in more organic matter, the more diverse the mix, the better, so here is a catalog page from NSS for High Desert seeds.  - You can also contact them for advice. Lots of smart folks there.  

There's also High Desert Seeds in Colorado -      And  High Country Gardens -   Wildflower mixes encourage pollinators, and gosh darn it, they're just plain purty!  A lot of their species grow down here too.

Here's some resources from Albuquerque Public Library that might be useful -

If you google "High Desert Seeds"  of similar searches, there's some good stuff out there.   I've got a lot of stuff on water harvesting, making small dams, and erosion control too if you want any of that - mostly on PDF's.  Just let me know if you're interested.

Regarding watching expensive nursery plants die, I hear ya. It's a drag, so seeds are the best way to go. There's a good thread on here about seed starting mediums too. I recommend 2/3 sharp sand - free on the inside bends of rivers -  and 1/3 locally made compost.  I learned that one from Mr Lawton and I like it a lot.  For broadcast seed, watering them in with compost tea and some mulch at the time of sowing is a great way to go.


John Arross wrote:
I'm looking for every way possible to improve organic matter content of my soil, while not burning a billion gallons of diesel in the process.
I've started planting woody perennials, vetch, oilseed radishes, and about anything I can find that MIGHT grow. Growing from seed so I can try a lot of things without as much expense and heartbreak of watching a nursery plant wither and die.

This year, I have my first hugelculture bed and I'm trying some things from sepp holder and mark Sheppards books.

I have a lot to learn. Anything you're willing to share is welcome as it's hard to find references for my specific climate.

Thanks for the reply.

Hey John, You're on the right track trying to improve the soil first. Keep that as your #1 goal and you can't go wrong.  My best recommendation is to immerse yourself in Elaine Ingham's soil health videos and website -  as a first step. She has a free micro course there that you can take. Here are a few of her best videos:    The Roots of Your Profits    Healthy Soil for Healthy Plants.  Life in the Soil 1   Part 2     Grow crops that resist pests - a shorty

Also look into her vids on compost and compost tea/extract/humic acid.

If you've got compaction, which I'm sure you do with Bentonite, you may also try Daikon radish. Try sowing your desired crops in among the native stuff as shelter plants, we do that a lot in the hot desert. Nitrogen fixers are also huge in arid lands, so lots of support species. I have lists of desert legumes I can send you, so just ask if you want them.

One huge benefit is that Bentonite will seal a dam or pond like nothing else, so you have the perfect stuff for lots of farm dams/ponds. Possibly connected with Keyline strips, swales or drainage ditches and tree belts. Look into Darren Doherty for his ideas doing this type of connected system. A video is below.

Since you don't want to burn tons of diesel in the process, I recommend using animals to improve your soil.  You may be able to run some goats to graze off the undesirable stuff while fertilizing and creating beneficial disturbance patterns and converting that scrub to milk and meat.  Look on YouTube for "using goats to clear land" for ideas.

For animal grazing systems, I highly recommend Greg Judy's work  -            
Greg runs cattle, sheep, goats and fowl all on the same paddocks, either together or in succession with amazing results. Polyculture first with plants, then with animals. Just like Nature.

You can look into Gabe Brown's stuff as well.   Like this gem -

Here's a series well worth the time investment - Putting Grasslands to Work -   Elaine again.

Of course, most stuff on Holistic Management and it's developer, Alan Savory, is awesome.

Darren Doherty, who uses a full-to-bulging toolbox containing Permaculture, Holistic Management, Keyline Design, Soil Foodweb, Living Machines and just about anything else he can find to regenerate the land.   This one is a fave of mine -     and there's lots more of him on the web.

Sepp and Mark Sheppard are definitely worthy teachers of course, but you know about them.

As for your specific Biome, I'll do some poking around, because there isn't much out there on high desert regenerative farming.

I hope this is helpful and not overwhelming for you. Just take your time and enjoy geeking out on all this stuff. Soon you'll be unable to see the world any other way - Regrarian Goggles welded to your noggin!

All the Best, Joe

John Arross wrote:

I have a 35 acre patch of bentonite, with a few yucca, greasewood and cheatgrass plants on it.

Hi John,

Welcome to Permies! I'm glad you found the site. It's really an amazing resource. I'm curious from your description of your biome - Zone 4 with bentonite, yucca, greasewood, (AKA; creosote, like we have here, I'm assuming?) and cheatgrass - Sounds like you're in some high desert area. I'm down in Tucson, AZ, and just wondering where you're based? I probably have some resources to help you out from my drylands experience. I'm a native and grew up on an organic farm here, so I'm a desert rat for sure. Don't hesitate to ask any question here, people are friendly and ready to help around these parts!

Best, Joe

Tj Jefferson wrote:

Can we as digital minions make videos for the evil empire? Is there a suite of cheap/free or cloud software that we can use to make it premium quality? I am trying to learn SketchUp for my Wo-Baa-ti sheep shelter, and I could probably shoot some video (unfortunately generally I am working alone so might need some equipment). It seems like that would lower the production price, i.e. no one is travelling, just electrons.  

Hi TJ,

You mentioned using SketchUp and I just wanted to let you know about this new, free software that is supposed to be much better, called Fusion 360. I just saw it on a video last night and the guy doing the video is offering tutorial in it at a link under the vid.  Here's the link if you're interested  -    

Regarding shooting video - One tip I'd like to give anyone shooting video outdoors if to use a good mic windscreen. I see way to many videos where the wind noise makes it all but unwatchable.  A long haired "Fake Fur" sock over the regular foam windscreen is a cheap and effective way to go. The other tip I would offer videographers is "Pan Sloooooooowly"  Especially with lower bit rate cameras, the image smear is really bad when panning quickly.  The camera cannot resolve moving images like our amazing eyeballs can.  Let's represent our work in the best possible way!

I also agree with what you said about apprenticing and quality outcomes, I've had the same experience with chiropractors too - some amazing and very effective, some cookie-cutter and not good or even counterproductive.  I've also seem a few "permaculture designers" who appear to not really get it and make "Type 1 Errors" consistently.  Competence is super important for the Earth, the People and the credibility and thus adoption & spread of Permaculture.  I think that quality presentations like SketchUp designs and good Video/Audio are another part of that for sure.

I also agree that a decentralized movement is more effective than a more centralized one and is consistent with Permaculture design principles. Nature doesn't centralize, it distributes widely for the most part. Lots of permies doing their work in their own locale is part of the way Permaculture spreads naturally, like a mycelial net. From my experience, modern industrialized humans seem to like to make chains, whereas Nature likes to make webs.

Cheers, Joe

Tyler Ludens wrote:I also feel that demonstrating results is the most effective form of teaching.  My husband and I hope to demonstrate that by using permaculture principles and techniques we can save our county road from the next big flood.  This isn't as dramatic as developing a full-on permaculture demonstration site, but it would still be keen.

Hi Tyler, You may find some good information for saving your road on this site -  Scroll to the bottom and download the free PDF.  If you look up the name  Craig Sponholtz  on YouTube  you'll see numerous videos of his erosion control work. This guy is a real expert at his profession, I learned a lot from him for sure. Growing up and living on an organic ranch/farm in the Southwest, I've been keen on trying to stop erosion all my life and this guy definitely has the goods. I hope it's of help to you.

Cheers, Joe
Thank you Nicole, I'm glad you're enjoying the videos. They are very much worth your time to watch and totally mind blowing. Soil is the Base Resource of all life on Earth. The complexity of the soil is akin to a coral reef and just as fascinating to me. Some of Elaine's lectures are 2 hours long and even at that, are not giving you the whole picture. If I can spend 2-3 hrs each watching the "director's cut" Lord of The Rings trilogy, I can surely justify watching 8-10 hours of Elaine and other soil scientist's lectures.  Jill Clapperton is another soil scientist with some great lectures out there. And don't forget Elaine's free micro soil foodweb course at  You even get a certificate when done.

Here's one on how bacteria communicate with biochemistry, just like our brains do, that is also mind blowing - and only 18 minutes long.  


Thanks for the pie too! Make mine Mud Pie. (with mulch sprinkles?)      
6 years ago
Hey Erik,  

 Regarding mulch on a large scale - This is why you want to do cover cropping - like Nature does. It acts as living mulch and as "soil armor". If you let the crop debris lay where it falls after harvest, you have additional mulch which will degrade within a month or so, if your soil biology is healthy. This returns the nutrients used to grow it back to the soil, just like nature does in a healthy ecosystem. With a super diverse cover crop seed mix, you will always have some species covering your land, no matter what climate changes you have. Check out this video by Elaine Ingham - she lays it out really quickly in this one. Of course, there is much more detail to what she's talking about, but this is a very succinct version that gives a good overview.

 I would also recommend Elaine's "the roots of your profits" video and any other lectures of hers that you can find on Vimeo and YouTube, as well as her free mini course on  Also check out Gabe Brown and Greg Judy's talks - They're all advocating the same thing from slightly different angles. The principles of putting the soil first and how to do that are the same though. You'll find that Joel Salatin, Geoff Lawton and others are talking about the same process. Who knew that soil science could be so exciting?  The soil is as dynamic an ecosystem as a tropical reef once you get into studying it.

Thanks soil scientists, permies and farmers who've pioneered these ideas, we actually have the tools to reverse the damage that Totalitarian Agriculture has done over the last 10,000 years...and the humble compost pile is the nexus of that change, because it's the analog of the forest floor where decay happens and soil is created.  It's all about mimicking Mother Nature in the end, so why reinvent the wheel that's been around for 4.5 billion years? That's the Fool's Errand that the Big Ag corps want to sell us.        
6 years ago
Geoff Lawton recommends 2/3 sharp sand - available for free on the inside bends of rivers, and 1/3 sifted, highly diverse, local compost, with a little bit of worm castings if available. He starts most of his seeds in this mix that he makes for free.  I've had great success with it too.  Seeds don't need much except a well drained substrate - sand, and some biology & the nutrient they provide - compost, to get going. Once they sprout, they need more nutrient of course, which is provided mostly by soil critters.

If you make your own compost of local materials, then the microorganisms will be the ones that are adapted to your biome, which will help the plants grow better in the native soil, which should be amended with the same local compost.  It's the same with worm castings/worm juice. With herbaceous plants, you'll want a more bacteria dominated compost, and for woody plants & trees, a more fungal dominated compost.

This is achieved by the ingredients you put into the compost pile - more herbaceous plant matter and less woody material for more bacteria and more woody material for more fungi.   Look up Elaine Ingham's YouTube videos on making compost, she explains it in detail. You can also look into the Berkley Method which Geoff teaches - the fastest method known so far -18 days to finished compost -it is more labor intensive however.  Worm castings are also bacteria dominated and good for herbaceous plants, and are also always at a perfectly neutral  7 pH.  Mother Nature is Damn Good, no?

   My grandpa, whose family were farmers for generations in England, always said "the compost pile is the heart of every farm" and he was right. It's the nexus where "waste" becomes solid gold for the soil, and it closes many of the loops in any biological system. You really can't have closed loops with out the decomposition cycle, whether it happens naturally or in a man made pile - no life without death, that's Nature's way.  

Good Luck!

6 years ago
Thanks for the link. It's encouraging to see stuff like cover cropping being mentioned in the mainstream. I noticed that they are referring to large mono crop farming and mono-species cover crops as well. They also talk about "organic farmers" doing MORE tillage than Chem-Ag farmers, but any truly organic farmer is going to know that tillage destroys the soil and not go that route.

Take a look at some of Gabe Brown and Elaine Ingham's videos and you'll see that the key is diversity in both your cover crops and main crops. Unfortunately, the mainstream Ag industry is still thinking in the old paradigm and locked into that mental box. A true Magic Carpet is a diverse one with multiple growth levels, successions and functions. Using a seed drill to pant is the best way to go for sowing most crops into a cover crop, not furrowing or harrowing. (from my perspective, anyway)

Here's a classic from Gabe Brown -


And a classic by Elaine Ingham


6 years ago

    Thanks for the link, I enjoyed watching the movie and will be sharing it with friends.  I saw a related article in the NY Times about an English sheep farmer's view of rural America and the state of economics and Big Ag in the world. He's observed the same issues with small farmers running into Globalist ideology in the markets and not being able to make a living competing with food form the other side of the globe. I think lots of folks at Permies will really resonate with what he says, so please share this around -  

He's written a memoir called "The Shepperd's Life: Modern Dispatches From and Ancient Landscape"  that sounds like a great read. He participates in a "Commons Grazing" system that goes back 4,500 years in England, and sees huge problems with modern Agri-Business. I haven't read it yet, but I suspect that there are probably ideas in this book that could benefit any grazier looking to implement time tested ways of feeding their flocks and stewarding their land. Combined with Holistic Management, this shared grazing idea could be a old way to go forward.

Back to the Future Marty!
6 years ago