shauna carr

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since Feb 18, 2012
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Recent posts by shauna carr

I live in a hot climate that is usually good for citrus, but in winter, it does sometimes get below freezing. Lowest it has ever gotten here is 17 F (about -8 celsius), but it usually only gets down to the low 20's F. And even that is not for long - 3 days in a row below freezing is the record for the last 10 years, and on an average year it's just a few hours below freezing, maybe 2-3 dozen times throughout the winter.

People here protect their citrus without trouble, usually by covering it at night on these days, or putting the old fashioned, huge Christmas lights throughout the branches to keep them warm.

My limitations: I have chronic pain that makes it difficult to frequently put on and take off the coverings and it's likely to get worse over the years, so while I DO put on coverings now, even the couple of years I've had these citrus have been very hard, you know? I don't have outlets anywhere NEAR where there are citrus trees in my yard. I don't have a job currently due to the whole chronic illness issue, so buying a lot of supplies, like Christmas lights or special coverings, amendments, etc... in order to make something to help my trees is unlikely to be possible for a long while. And also, my hot climate is so hot that if I put rocks and such around the trees when they are smaller (a couple are), reflected heat may fry the poor things in the summer time.

What I've got: 1/3 of an acre of land. A large pond that the citrus are growing around. A ton of rocks all over that are fist sized to 2-3 times that size which I can build something with, a lot of dirt and a fair amount of sand, an old wood chipper and lots of chop and drop trees around that I can use for wood chips, a lot of native and drought tolerant trees that I can get seeds from to grow new trees, and some powdered cement and a couple small rolls of chicken wire.

So, anyone know any way I can use what I've got to help my citrus trees stay warm in the winter time here? Something different for the young vs. the older trees, maybe?   I have some ideas, but honestly, I'm very new to citrus, so would love advice!

Even if it's just to start brushing up on my baking to bribe local teens so I can get them to come cover my citrus trees during the winter time. ^_^
8 months ago
Thank you so much for your response, Trace. I love your idea, but unfortunately I don't think I have the water to make it work.

Rainfall here is 5-12 inches a year, and humidity is exceedingly low. Large amounts of wood chips are something a lot of folks use here for gardening, but only if one can irrigate a LOT in that area so it breaks down, you know?  Otherwise, you end up with a bunch of wood chips that sit there, dry and not breaking down at all, for years (there used to be a good video on the channel 'the vegan athlete,' on youtube, who lived in a similar environment and you could see the beautiful breakdown of wood chips where it was watered frequently, and the absolute lack of breakdown of wood chips where he didn't). I know of a log that was partially chopped up by the side of a hiking trail, and ten years later, it was still there, as well as most of the wood chips, mostly unchanged.

Also, even 6 inches of wood chips and the water during many of our rain events won't penetrate enough to get to the ground, unfortunately.

On the good side, I do have a lot of trees already - native - so I've got a lot more shade in my yard and cooler soil than most of the surrounding area. They drop leaves annually, they've allowed a lot of bushes and herbaceous growth around the trees as well that are covering the soil in many areas.  But the soil underneath is still very poor, past that top inch of better soil that has taken years to build up.  And many of these plants are not ones I necessarily want to grow, but precursors to what I hope to grow, but require better soil for.  

Any other ideas, for low water, high evaporation areas?

8 months ago
I live in the Sonoran desert in Southern Arizona. About half of my yard is either caliche or hard pan(clay originally) that is probably 2-3 feet thick.

I am trying to improve the soil in the entire yard, not just specific gardening areas, and I was hoping I might be able to run by what my plans were, to see if anyone more knowledgeable (so, pretty much everyone) has some advice.

What I don't have: a lot of compost or money to buy compost, an animal making manure, manure or money to buy manure, a lot of soil amendments or money to buy amendments, a lot of extra water. My area also does not have worms breaking down the soil, nor much in the way of mushrooms or rot - it's too hard and dry (things above ground often desiccate rather than decay).

What I do have: a teen to do labor with me, hardpan that is shallow enough I can dig through it, a lot of brown and green plant matter that I have let grow wild for a few years that I can chop down, chop up, and add as plant matter to the soil, and an annual season of heavy rain (like 4-5 inches in two months, in a good year). Termites, ground squirrels, and packrats are the main critters that break down the soil and plant matter underground, so we've got those, too.

I was thinking of simply digging into most areas that don't have roots from existing trees, through the caliche/hardpan, breaking the clods up into finer pieces, mixing in green and brown plant matter in small pieces, and simply putting it right back into the ground like that to slowly break down over the next few years.

Anyone know if this might work? Any ideas for improving it, huge flaws I'm missing?

I would honestly be just as happy to try and build up good soil without digging at all, but I don't think I'd see results in my lifetime. I've encouraged one area to grow, with native trees, shrubs, vines, supporting plants, etc...  It's been growing like this for ten years now. And while the soil is significantly better than elsewhere, it's only about 1 inch thick, and the caliche and hardpan underneath is essentially unchanged, barring a few spots where roots dug down deep.

I'd like to try and speed up the process a bit more than that, you know?

Any and all advice would be welcome!

8 months ago
Oh, just thought of something else that might impact drought and plants that is a bit more on the unexplored side, but could be something interesting to check out!

Plant communication during drought conditions.

I've seen more than one study now on plants communicating with each other, and one of the things that is communicated is drought conditions, typically via the root system and Mycorrhizal networks created by fungi in the soil.  For example, plants have communicated with other species of plants when a drought hits and it encourages the other plants to prepare for drought as well (like to close their stomata and slow down water loss, for example). It helps more plants have less water loss.

It's something that makes me wonder if planting in ways that encourage more roots intermingling, or with plants that are more sensitive to drought intermingled with other plants (I know they exist, but don't know what they are, yet), could be helpful.  Also, the thing permies talk about anyway, good soil and fungus, might be helpful not only in healthy soil, but also in our plants getting a slight edge in preparing for droughts more rapidly.

I haven't seen a lot of research in how much of a difference this makes, practically speaking, but it's a fun concept to explore, you know?
9 months ago
Where I'm located, the average temp is over 90 F for 5 months of the year, and for two of those the average temp. is 100 F.  Rainfall can range from 7-12 inches a year, with the majority of the rain coming down halfway through the summer for about 2 1/2 months.  Humidity when it's NOT raining, but IS hot, can be down to single digits during the hottest part of the day, and we have a very high evaporation rate, which is very hard on the plants, obviously. I grow both native species, drought resistant species, and also try my hand at veggie gardening as well.

My experiences with water, plants and drought conditions, good and bad, is the following.

Mulch based on plant matter -
The success of this depended a lot on water availability and amount of mulch.  Because of the high evaporation rate, the ONLY time large amounts of mulch worked (4-6 inches deep) was when irrigation was involved.  So around some of my fruit trees and garden veggies that I regularly water, it was tremendously useful. To not waste water, you have to have a set up that adds in the water UNDER the mulch, however. So a hose that goes into a section where the mulch is absent, or automatic watering systems that the mulch was put on top of, for example.  The water gets to the soil this way, the mulch breaks down slowly, and it helps tremendously to keep the soil in the ground.

But if mulch from organic matter is used when there isn't irrigation, it can't be thick or it doesn't work well.  Rain events can't penetrate the mulch and the water is simply absorbed by the mulch and released back into the air before it gets to the ground. And on top of that, any mulch that is wood based doesn't break down for a LONG time without a large addition of water.  Things here desiccate rather than decay, with a little help from insects, typically - there's an old fallen tree that's been on a hiking trail for 10 years now, and it looks nearly the same as it did when it fell over, except for where termites have eaten it.

So for native plants, or drought hardy plants I don't water as often, I still add mulch, but it's typically a 1-2 inch layer, and the pieces have to be cut smaller if I want them to decay.  This way, the rain can still penetrate, but it does help cover the soil and prevent some evaporation, and as long as I irrigate every once in a while, it usually will decay.

One solution for this particular issue that I do instead is, I guess I'd call it mulching with stones.  Rock or sand mulch (covering the entire area with 1-2 inch layer of small rocks/gravel/sand) is really popular here, and is also terrible - no nutrients get to the soil, and it raises the temperature of the surrounding area quite a bit, making it more difficult for the plants as well.

However, once a med-large sized plant is established, and casts a bit of shade, I can go back and place some large stones underneath it, making sure they have full contact with the soil.  I usually pick ones that are 4-12 inches wide. I'll put a few around the plant in question, with the spaces between the stones having that 1-2 inch mulch. It works fairly well, so far. It is kept moist underneath the stones, but the soil still has areas where it can absorb nutrients from decaying mulch.  

This does not work, however, until there is shade. It is so hot here that if you put large stones around a smaller plant, in the sun, they'll heat up things so much they stress the plant and sometimes have killed it.  

Ollas -
I have tried some homemade terra cotta ollas and they have done so-so, but I think that's more a case of my forgetting to add water to them than anything else. ^_^ One thing I did notice, however, was that with my high evaporation rate, the penetration of the water from the olla wasn't as far FROM the olla as expected, so there might be some experimentation needed with this with regards to one's evaporation rate and spacing, you know?

Oh! With re: to using plastic milk jugs as an olla for watering - I am highly jealous of the ability to do this, LOL.  One CAN use plastic out here, but it is so hot and brutal that it destroys the plastic fairly rapidly, so you can't use it for anything that you want to last.  I've tried milk jugs but within a few months, they are so brittle you can grab them and the plastic basically disintegrates in your hand.

drip lines -
I have had to avoid these, although they are popular here.  But I live a little out in the boonies, and anything that might have water, the critters are usually desperate to go after during the worst of the heat, when it hasn't rained. I have had so many destroyed hoses and lines from these critters.  

Although if anyone else has this problem, I have been having some success with putting out little shallow dishes of water near but also AWAY from the garden and watering equipment. That seems to cut down on the destruction of my equipment.

It had an unexpected benefit too.  Animals here can REALLY find water, wherever you have it. But what that has meant is that even if I have a garden fairly well camouflaged with plants that mask the sight and smell, the critters will STILL find my garden by following the presence of the water.  Putting out these little shallow dishes of water has cut down on that issue as well.

Shade -
Because of the intensity of the sun here, it's extremely rare to have any issues with a plant that can't get enough sun, but the sun itself causes a lot of water loss IN the plants. So finding ways to add dappled or partial shade has been helpful for keeping water with the plants during the driest parts of the year.  Usually, it does well enough with slightly bushy trees to the west/ south west of the plants, to help them the most during the summer months.  Mesquite trees are good for this with native plants I don't need to water. Pomegranate and texas persimmon have worked well for more garden oriented plants, and shade cloth in a pinch.

Also, a sort of 'personal' shade for some plants can be helpful as well.  I planted some greek oregano in a spot that DOES get shade during the heat of the day due to a wall, but I thought it had died, and just let native grasses grow over it for a year as I forgot about it. Come back later, when dead clump grass has fallen over it, and the oregano used the dead plant as shade for its base and was happily growing through it. I have a clump now that's probably 3x3 feet, and I might water it 2-3 times a year. If I try to weed it, it gets dry and struggles. If I let native weeds partially take it over, so it has to creep up through them, it flourishes.  The ground is always noticeably more damp underneath the shaded, weeded oregano than the surrounding area.

That is something I have noticed in this area - shade is king. I'm sure this is not the same in areas without such intense heat/sun, but for me, it's a vital part of planning with water and plants.

pit-type gardens -
The past few years I have used a Zuni style pit, the kind of 'waffle garden.'  This does all right here, but while we get little rain, when it DOES rain, it comes down so hard that it tends to eventually wash away the walls of the waffle gardens, no matter how hard you make them, even with stone mulch on top trying to keep them safe.  I'm sure with more maintenance I could keep them going, but I'm hoping that zai pits will be better for this climate and need less maintenance, so we'll be trying those this year.

Keyhole gardening -
Does not work so well here if you are looking for water conservation.  Again, it's mostly because of our intense heat and high evaporation rate.  This is an issue with raised beds of any kind here - the sun significantly heats up the soil down to about 2 feet. So anything that is raised up tends to get much hotter soil, and the plants need a lot more water, and even compost piles here have to be covered or they tend to dry out too fast.  I mean, you CAN get it to work, don't get me wrong. I know people who have done keyhole gardening here, but it's a lot more difficult, and it's not good from a water conservation standpoint, and most of them had to build a more complicated set up to keep the compost more enclosed above the ground so it didn't lose too much water.

Dryland farming -
Also does not work so well here, except during one tiny part of the year...and even that's iffy. While we are often within the range of dryland farming when it comes to rainfall, the heat and low humidity are so brutal that it makes it nearly impossible. The rain also comes so seldom that most plants cannot sustain themselves long enough, no matter how awesome they are (native plants are the exception, so I'll talk about that in a sec).  The one time it might work is during the middle of the summer, when the monsoon rains come.

Midsummer IS a growing season here - there is the possibility for setting up a dryland farming scenario during this time. I know that the native tribe here, in the past, made garden beds in these small areas that flooded during the rains, and vegetable varieties were used with short growing seasons. But the flooding areas collected water from a number of arroyos, and it's nearly impossible to get that amount of water from your yard, even when you are trying to collect it, you know?

That said - there are a lot of native plants that are sources of food that do perfectly well in an environment like this.  They don't need watering - I have a lot of plants that I don't water in the slightest and can get food from every year. A lot of cactus and native trees that are legumes, mostly. Some native herbs and greens that are seasonal. It's not the most exciting diet, but it would do, in a pinch.  One just has to adjust your thoughts away from 'what do I want to eat' and shift it a bit toward 'what can grow here.'

And...ha, yeah, didn't mean to go on so much!  This is such an interesting topic, though!  And in part I wanted to share what my own experiences are because many of these were ideas I looked at when I first started out, and they kept failing and confused the heck out of me. I finally realized that while many of these methods discussed rainfall conditions, most didn't really talk about heat or humidity, or any other condition that might impact water usage and retention. When I investigated, most of the methods that did not work here were from areas where the heat was lower, the humidity was higher, or the method in question had more water due to irrigation or rainfall.  
9 months ago
re: creosote - do you need it gone, or would you keep it if you could find a use for it?

It's a really useful plant in herbalism for multiple uses, including making a strong antibacterial/antifungal. I make a strong sun tea out of it that I can just slightly dilute and use as a spray on cleaner for counters or floors. I understand if you learn how to use it correctly, a component from the wood is actually very useful for preserving meats (through smoking - it seems to do better than certain other woord? - I haven't worked with it, simply skimmed over the concept). I know it used to be used as something to fix pottery with, so that might be worth looking into, as well.

Also, depending on whether you choose to keep a garden, you might want to check and see if any native birds use the creosote up in your area - the quail use it here to hide in and rest in the summer, but I wasn't sure further up north.  However, I have a lot of things like this that the local birds use as habitat. If the birds are living or spending the day in my yard, then they look for food in my yard first, and they have been great in keeping my garden insect population down so my garden does better.

re: the yucca - absolutely you can use as mulch, or chopped up and added into the soil to enrich it. Just have to chop it up some.  You can even do it with cactus, under the ground, as long as you break up the pieces a lot. You can find some videos here and there about some folks in Mexico or central america that use cactus or yucca for this and they are very helpful in seeing how they do it.  

re: the weeds - if it IS tansy mustard (I think it's tanacetum vulgare), you may want to keep them around, or collect seeds to plant more advantageously.  Rue and tansy used to be grown around crops as a natural insecticide. Tansy would sometimes be grown around the outside of the house  up near the walls to keep ants away.  Now, how well this works?  No idea, as tansy doesn't grow around me - just happened across this when I was checking out rue at one point.).  So, something to potentially have a use for this, anyway.

re: weeds as mulch - if it's not going to have a long lasting toxin added to the ground, I pretty much everything I have as mulch or to make compost with (oleanders, for example, are a no-go, because they stay toxic for a while).  it has worked quite  well.  I have even gotten certain weeds with large thorns or burrs and, when I have seedlings coming up, I have sprinkled these plants as mulch around the seedlings and they seem to help keep some of the rabbits away. Not perfect, but a little helpful.

re: mulberry - if you have some areas that would be nice for some trees but that you don't want to water much, we do have a native mulberry tree here (male and female, so you need two - but they'll change sexes if needed, so you just need two and don't need to worry about sexing them).  The berries are super tiny, but in an area with a little extra water, once they get established, they're quite nice and don't need a lot of care, and you get a little food out of them, too.

re: native plants you might be interested in - I highly recommend checking out the online plant list of this nursery located in Tucson, called Desert Survivors Nursery.  It's a nursery that has primarily native plants, and lists their requirements (including altitude it's used to), and often purposes (food, pollinator attractor, wind break).  There are a lot of plants there that I'd never even heard of but once I started investigating seemed very useful.  You can't mail order or anything, but it's a good source of ideas for plants, at least.
9 months ago

bob day wrote:...He also points out that at this stage small actions will generate large returns. /quote]

One nice thing about the Tucson and surrounding areas is that we actually have a very strong and connected water conservation community that has been doing just that.

They got together and managed to get the city gov't to allow any home to replace water using toilets with composting ones, with the correct permits (which aren't too hard to get, i understand). They managed to make it legal to be able to cut holes in curbs and set up areas next to the side walk with shading plants that are watered solely from the runoff water from the street. They have been encouraging center pieces in roundabouts to be planted and sunken slightly, to collect the rainwater there. And they managed to get passed a new law on future public roadworks so that they incorporate water harvesting (such as planted medians that are sunken to collect the rainwater). They also have a program for reimbursing up to $1000-$2000 for folks who put in water harvesting set ups or cisterns in their yards, as long as they have taken a free class offered by the city.

Brad Lancaster, the Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands author, lives in Tucson so as you can imagine, he has a big influence. :-)  
Where he lives is actually rather amazing - craptastic area, that he started planting and collecting water in, and it worked so well his neighbors began to do it  as well and the entire area is pretty amazing right now.

He has a great video, about our water supply in the Sonoran desert, that actually pretty much shows exactly why collecting water in this area would have been a better idea for the garden in question

1 year ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:

shauna carr wrote:

But as to depleting streams and rivers - it's kind of too late at this point.

I don't believe it is too late.  From what I have seen of the work of others who have restored watersheds, all the rivers could be restored in a period of about ten years, if people bothered to do it.

Ah, point - I agree that we may be able to restore some of the water with work!  I  just meant that at this point, there aren't any rivers or streams that people would be irrigating from, you know?
1 year ago

Jim Fry wrote:They might make a nice floor in a small building. Measure the pavers, get an exact square footage, build a building the same size, put in some gravel, place bricks on top, there you have a nice floor for a garden shed, etc.

I had not thought of this at all, but this could be great - I have a shed I'm going to be replacing this year, and this could be perfect, thanks!  
1 year ago

Anne Miller wrote:I like something like this from your link:

I had to laugh a bit - that is close to what it looked like before I dug the pavers up, LOL.  They were done in a similar pattern, surrounding a good chunk of the house in the back, and while pretty, I'm in a desert and it both raised the temperature what seems like about 10 degrees F (which, when it gets up to 115 F here is truly awful), but it also took up all the space near the house where I can plant trees to try and get shade for the house, you know? So very pretty stuff, but not for me, I don't think. :-)

Anne Miller wrote:
Rings around tree filled with bedding plants or flowers.

Stacked with a basin for a bird bath.

Use them to make a water feature like a fountain.

Stacked like the fire ring to use as a compost bin.

Use as a border for gardens..

thanks - I hadn't thought of a composting bin but mine is an old one that is wearing out, and that could be a great idea, and possibly the garden border, too.  I have a kind of 'wild' look to the yard, with a lot of native plants, so it doesn't always lend itself well to a more well groomed look, but I have enough pavers I can do multiple projects, and play around some. :-)
1 year ago