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PostPosted: Sat Mar 13, 2004 2:48 am 
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I have been involved with a medical mission in central Baja, California, Mexico for 14 years. We have some what less than 2 sections of land on the desert floor with vast under ground fresh water reserves.
QUESTION?
Does any one know how to farm organically in a desert. We will need compost and it has to be cheap. We intend to use sea water (concentrated so easy to ship), liquid humates (shipping not to bad), molasses (a little goes a long way).
I don't think cactus is the answer. Is green manure the only answer? Might be able to get some fish waste from the Pacific coast and/or the east coast from the gulf of California.
I am looking for all kinds of answers.
This program is to take poor migrant workers and find ways to let them build homes on property, farm organically to support them selves, and sell surplus to high end restaurants in southern California. This will also be a demonstration farm to teach other Mexican businesses to farm and sell organic products.
There is an orphanage on property. This will give kids responsibility and a vocation in organic farming.
This is Christian organization and all help will be appreciated. Pilots, medical people (MD's, Dentist's, Nurses, Chiropracters, techs, etc), construction people, people that can cook, translators - You name it and we can use you for the Lords work. We have bait ans switch program - we bait poor people in the Baja in for free medical care and then switch them to Christ before they leave. Organization ahs sponsored 3 ongoing churches in the last 37 years.
Robert D Bard


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 13, 2004 11:29 am 
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I've thought about this. What a cool project!! I'm jealous.

Can we assume the area is full of desert brush? I'm going to make that assumption. I think the best way to restore a desert is by running animals on it. There are companies in the US doing desert restoration in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas using cattle, but I'm going to suggest goats as a lower risk and lower cost option.

1. Get water into a cistern on top of the ground with a solar powered pump. If gravity won't work for a delivery system, use another solar pump to get water out to the pasture.

2. Fence the outer perimeter with serious electric fence (solar powered unless you have reliable electricity (best)).

3. Fence inner pastures so that you have at least 15 of them and more if you can. Electric fence is best.

4. Run the biggest garden hose you have from the cistern to the pastures and fill a water tank in the first pasture you want to use.

5. Decide what grasses and legumes you can grow there and scatter seed in the first pasture.

6. Figure out how many acres you have and put out "a few" goats per acre along with an equal number of chickens in portable coops. I suggest they start small for practice and get the drift of the process. For example start with 15 acres. Each interior pasture will be one acre. Since you have 15 acres, put 30 to 45 goats/chickens out. All these animals go into the first interior pasture you want to use. (If you have a coyote problem, post guards - preferably armed with rifles for the coyotes and .38 caliber handguns filled with snake shot for personal protection.) The goats will eat all the scrub brush and the chickens will dig through the goat poop to purify it from worms and flies. At first I would not pamper the chickens by feeding them corn. See if they can survive on the "pasture" alone. Of course make all the water they need available to them.

7. When the goats have eaten all the brush down to a couple inches, scatter seed into the next pasture and move the goats and chicken coops. This foraging might be a day or two or longer.

In a couple months the chickens will start laying eggs which can be eaten or sold. In a few more months, the first goats will start having babies and the older ones will become cabrito. Start a serious culling program for the goats right away so you have good healthy animals for the desert. Once they get a handle on the process, they can increase their acreage under management either by buying more goats/chickens, or by bringing in cattle. It would help the bottom line to teach the kids there to slaughter and market the animals.

After they have some success on the restoration, hot spots of fertility should emerge where they can plant whatever crops they want to go with.

The process I've described is what the Spaniards did when they arrived here, according to historical records in the Texas archives. Well, maybe they didn't use solar pumps and electric fence, but according to the archives, within one year the pasture had improved enough to run cattle in small numbers side by side with the goats. They found that the goats and cattle were perfectly compatible with conjoined herd grazing. They worked their way up to 1:1 goats and cattle.

Ideally you want to grow grasses and legumes with the deepest roots you can find. Hopefully they will tap into the deep water reserves and irrigate themselves. Once you have deep roots, every time it rains, the water will be captured by the land and not allowed to evaporate. Alfalfa is probably king of the deep rooted legumes but it may not grow for you there.

If they had all 1,200 acres under animals, they could be harvesting hundreds of thousands of eggs (daily income), thousands of chickens (monthly income) and hundreds of goats (seasonal) and cattle (annual) every year. Maybe this is a little optimistic even for an immediate goal, but who knows how well the desert can be restored?

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 8:00 am 
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Dave, Sounds like you did your research. Looks like a pretty good program to me. Didn't know you could turn a desert into living vegetation supporting life. I always thought that the only thing a sand desert was good for was a glass factory.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 1:37 pm 
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California's Imperial Valley on the Mexican border was converted into the breadbasket of California a couple decades ago simply by watering and fertilizing. By using animals, it can be done much less expensively.

Here is a websitewhere a guy ran cattle on strip mine tailings in Arizona's Sonora desert. Baja can't be much worse than this! Strip mine tailings consist of the powder left over after they acid wash all the valuable minerals out of the soil. I used to have cousins in the town where this project was done so I can tell you for a fact that those tailings were decades old back in the 60s when I used to travel there. They are the consistency of talcum powder and equally infertile.

The reclamation process used on the mine tailings was a little different from what I described above. Because there was no vegetation for the cattle to eat, they had to bring it in. They fenced and watered, but then they unrolled bales of hay for the cattle to eat. Sure the cattle soiled the hay but they also walked on it and forced it into the dust - seeds, manure, fiber, and all. The top picture on that web page shows clearly where the fence line is for the test project and the original pile.

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 Post subject: Ideas
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 3:47 pm 
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Robert,
Sounds like Dave is onto something here. It's not so different from Joel Salatin's "chicken tractor" model. I am wondering about a couple of things that might make this more difficult than it sounds. How hot does it get there and is there adequate shade for the animals? Chickens in an enclosed portable coop might have trouble with the heat. Get local chicks and make sure they are a heat hardy variety.

For compost, may I suggest a variation of Ruth Stout's "spread it out and let it rot" method? There are tons of vegetable matter thrown away all over the US every day. Could you get a truck or two to pick up some of that vegetable matter and bring it to your location to compost? Could you get the local people to bring their green waste to the area to compost? You will have animal manure to add microbes and as you said, molasses to speed the process but if you got a couple of truckloads you would have a source of material to decay on the desert floor and add organic matter to the soil. Much of the time, the matter isn't really decayed enough to be trash but well enough on its way to be unsellable. It might also be viable as an alternate food source for the animals. Truckloads of produce are sometimes spoiled in transport and disposed of...see if you can get a couple of sources to tell you when they are available. I have a friend who runs the Society of St. Andrew here in Texas, which does a lot of gleaning, another possible source of materials to compost, who could probably give you help in tracking down sources.

Don't know how much this would cause battles with the surrounding wildlife, but it's a thought I figured I could share.

Kathe


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 Post subject: desert farming
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2004 9:18 pm 
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Good ideas but after reading your thoughts there are few things I left out. Mission is 450 miles south of San Diego. It is 16 hour drive from San Diego - after getting across the border. Electric is not a problem - except for cost. Desert has no shade - just like in Imperial Valley, which has been destroyed by chemicals. Saltin Sea get worse almost by the day.
There are tomato farms that grow for southern CA, and of course they use chemicals. I hope that with a viable organic program we can prevent the destruction of under ground water and soil surface like the Imperial Valley.
Desert has sand and cactus. Across the Gulf of CA in Hermosillo they raise a lot of chickens and eggs in the desert. I guess the heat isn't to bad.
There is alfalfa grown for cattle but they probably will not part with manure.
I have heard that Israel has made the desert bloom. Anyone know anything about what they have used?
I like the idea of produce gone bad for compost but that might be hard to get across the border.
The problem with goats is that they destro vegetation - look at how the desert in Northern Africa keeps going south by 2 miles per year. Of course people burning everything also helps this process.
In Baja the migrant workers cut cactus and dry it for fuel.
Humats may be the best bet for humas, but could be expensive to haul - unless there are any coal deposits.
I appreciate your thoughts. With this other info maybe I have stimulated some other thoughts.
I am going to look at Daves website suggestion.
Robert D Bard


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 Post subject: Re: desert farming
PostPosted: Mon Mar 15, 2004 12:00 pm 
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I don’t mean any of the following to be argumentative. Sometimes my choices of words can use improvement and I’ve got a huge sinus headache going right now, so I’m not quite fully responsible for my decisions.

Robert D Bard wrote:
Desert has sand and cactus. Across the Gulf of CA in Hermosillo they raise a lot of chickens and eggs in the desert. I guess the heat isn't to bad.
Different breeds adapt differently. Get your initial chicks from Hermosillo for sure. I was not thinking of keeping the chickens penned all day. I would let them free range during the day and lock them tight at night. Joel Salatin has a chicken coop on a cotton trailer. Underneath the trailer provides shade for the birds during the day. It also forces predators to jump quite high to get up to the birds at night.

Quote:
There is alfalfa grown for cattle but they probably will not part with manure.
This is an excellent sign!!! See if you can get seed from the alfalfa growers.

Quote:
The problem with goats is that they destro vegetation - look at how the desert in Northern Africa keeps going south by 2 miles per year. Of course people burning everything also helps this process.
I can find you thousands of folks who will swear that cattle destroy vegetation, too. It is the human mismanagement of animals on pasture that destroys vegetation. Any animal will eat what they have available. I can destroy pasture by overgrazing chickens, too. If you keep the animals moving through the pasture and give the grass time to rest, no matter what the animal (except pigs), they RESTORE vegetation. But if you really are against goats, go with cattle, I don’t care. Goats are way cheaper, multiply much faster, eat things cattle won’t eat, and cabrito is a delicacy down there. I was trying to cut costs for you. I firmly believe that proper use of animals on desert/pasture can restore that entire desert in North Africa. Let’s see, recovering since pre-Biblical times might take at least another 2,000 years, though (c;

Quote:
In Baja the migrant workers cut cactus and dry it for fuel.
Cattle and goats will eat it. Don’t burn it!!!! Pretty soon they will have so much fuel growing, they won’t bother with the cactus any more.

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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 9:42 am 
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Good Morning! I am new to this discussion board, but a longtime advocate of organic methods. Thank you for the opportunity to participate. I too do not intend to be augmentative and only hope to contribute. My family owns a small farm near Abilene, no chemicals on it since the 70s. I am a geologist and working in far west Texas on a variety of projects, including restoration of a desert grassland, which was farmed and ranched from the 1870s until the 1980s. The ranching operation in southern Brewster County never made any money, except for the first bailing of the native grasses. After that it was downhill and one landowner after another. The livestock grazing is credited with destroying the 90,000 acre operation. Currently there is a serious problem with advancing gully systems and bare ground with physical crusts, and very little of the original grassland. All this on an area that reportedly had stirrup high grass. The point is that if this "desert floor" didn't previously support forage or doesn't currently support, your efforts may be futile and will probably do incredible damage at the landscape scale. There are a couple of important pieces of information missing, and should be provided before any discussion about what may work. Annual precipitation (quantity, intensity and timing), soil quality, average slopes etc. Is this area currently covered with desert pavement? Having said that, you may want to try one of the desert plants that produce oils and wax, such as candillia or jojoba. There are dozens of operations in the Chihuahuan desert that tried operations like is suggested here today. They all failed except those that got access to large quantities of surface water and high quality ground water. Maybe greenhouse vegetables, which would produce less disturbance to the landscape. You can not do too much planning for this sort of operation. One can point to several civilizations that made the desert bloom, but for how long. I?ll save my sustainability soapbox for another time.

Concerning the mine reclamation project in AZ. Was this in Globe, AZ. I saw a presentation at a mine reclamation conference in Durango Co (approx. 1991). It is my recollection that despite an incredible amount of effort it was still a bare pile of tailings after the project came to an end. Tailings are not usually the rock that has been leached, rather the waste rock or over burden that needs to be removed to get to the ore.


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 Post subject: desert farming
PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 11:14 pm 
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The reclaimed are was in AZ but I don't
know where. It was reclaimed with cattle
and it had something to do with mines.
The pictures were impressive. Beyond
that - I am just a reporter.
I have solved the problem in the desert.
You do not need soil to grow food or
crops with sea water. You only have to
dilute it properly. The owner of the
company has grown vegetables in sea
water and gravel for years and then
sells the produce in south FL to high
end restaurants.
The solution is to use drip irrigation
and inject sea water into the system
pipes. No humus will be needed and
we will have food for the poor and
high end surplus to sell to high end
restaurants in southern CA.
Robert D Bard


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