Gardening Gurus, Lend Me Your Search Terms
June 1, 2015 12:33 PM   Subscribe

As a child (back in the Jurassic Era), I saw an article in an encyclopedia about research into growing orchards and the like in the desert using clever techniques that made the natural rainfall sufficient to keep individual trees alive. I have no idea how to search for something similar online. Please help me.

In the article, they were creating square or rectangular beds for each individual tree. It was gently sloped, like a small shower stall, such that one corner was the low point of the individual bed. The tree was planted in that corner. Each planting bed had earthen sides surrounding it. When it rained, the water accumulated in the corner and lasted a while. They had to size them very carefully. If they were too large, the roots drowned and rotted. If they were too small, the tree did not get enough water to sustain it.

I am interested in reading up on sustainable gardening practices for a low rainfall environment. I live in California, much of which is desert to begin with, and we have been suffering drought for a while now. Consider this to be my thumb-sucking fantasy of surviving a dystopian future in comfort (instead of the usual American fantasy of winning the lottery to solve my problems). What kinds of search terms will help me find not only low water ways to garden, but really clever gardening hacks like the one above?

(Links to articles and blogs and stuff welcome as well. I am just not much of a gardener and don't even know how to look for what I am interested in here. I would like to be able to look for it.)

posted by Michele in California to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I believe that's called "microcatchment."
posted by Knappster at 12:41 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A search on negarim (small-basin) catchment popped this image (scroll down).
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:50 PM on June 1, 2015

Best answer: I think I read something about that in the book Gia's Garden. You can look there.
posted by patheral at 12:55 PM on June 1, 2015

Best answer: The waterboxx sounds similar to your memory.

"sahara reforestation" yields some interesting results, although most are multibillion $ desaliization projects.

I seem to remember a project in the sahara that demonstrated that a critical mass of forest created conditions for more rainfall. It was necessary to exclude goats from the forest (goats are postulated to increase sahara desertification (they eat everything down to stumps).
posted by H21 at 12:59 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To extend a bit, a lot of these ideas have resurfaced (ha) in the permaculture movement - specifically, things like swales.

Specifically planned and planted rain gardens are also used to manage runoff.

Hugelkultur beds are also an interesting thing - burying large amounts of wood (tree trimmings, logs, etc) as a way of retaining water and providing for long-term composting below ground.
posted by jquinby at 1:09 PM on June 1, 2015

Best answer: We have a small (but huge for this city) yard in San Francisco. We've slowly built a low, small-scale hugelkultur barrier on our yard's downslope side (it's no more than 6" above the surface, and we dug out probably about the same depth--none of this 3' tall business mentioned at the link!). Previously, any runoff would just pour under a fence onto our neighbor's paved driveway. Now, the barrier retains that water long enough to percolate into the soil. We just used yard trimmings--branches from a fig and a pear, fallen leaf litter, kitchen compost, and soil dug from the spot to open up a shallow trench--and have been building it over time instead of all in one go. It's worked wonderfully. Even in our crazy dry year, plants near the barrier are visibly healthier than last year (e.g. this old and haggard pear tree that once looked on the verge of death has now started to flower profusely and is sending up new growth). We're looking forward to expanding this system over time.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:12 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In my opinion, the best guy in this field right now is Brad Lancaster, of Tuscon AZ. Geoff Lawton (another awesome permaculture expert) just made a short film which is a good introduction to Brad's work, ReGreening the Urban Streetscape. While you are there at Lawton's site, also check out the "Gabions" film for alternate water collection in a desert environment. Both films explain the the systems well enough that you should be able to decide if you want to research them more.

Other luminaries:
1. Yacouba Sawadogo, The Man Who Stopped the Desert
2. Allan Savory, who reforests deserts by the unintuitive method of heavy livestock grazing.
3. Most of the best water catchment techniques owe something to P.A. Yeoman's Keyline system.
4. Any reporting on reforesting China's Loess plateau. A European (Belgian?) scientist did most of the early research and work, but I can't for the life of me remember his name, and for once Google isn't helping.
5. I am also a fan of the Dixon Land Imprinter, and wonder why more people don't use the technique.

memail me if you want lots more. A place to search for beginner-accessible articles on this and other subjects is permaculture news. Have fun!
posted by seasparrow at 3:06 PM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Look up "Permaculture."
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:03 PM on June 1, 2015

Best answer: I think you will enjoy (and can acquire search terms from) this New Yorker article about desert reforestation.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:03 PM on June 1, 2015

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