[permaculture] arid soil building

Dieter Brand diebrand at yahoo.com
Fri Dec 4 18:04:56 EST 2009

Rain, you sure know how to embarrass a guy.  I will be too self-conscious to write anymore, if I think you are going to save any of it for future reference.  If I ever write a book, it will probably be about Natural Farming, since I have followed this for years and much of it is unknown outside of Japan.  The problem I have with this is that it doesn’t work very well on a farming scale in the place where I live now.
I grew up on a small farm in the North of Germany.  There was always more than enough humidity in the deep humus-rich soil.  To plant a tree you would just put it into the soil and forget all about it. It would grow all by itself.  When we first got this place in the South of Portugal 15 years ago, I planted a few hundred fruit trees because I didn’t understand then just how dry the soil would get.  Most of them died during the first summer.  Some survived, but very few produce any fruit.  When I plant a new tree, I usually water about once a month during the first summer and perhaps every second month during the second summer.  After that, the tree has to survive on its own or die because I cannot water a large number of fully grown trees.  If you can spread compost and mulch under the tree once a year, you will find that it can survive on a lot less water after a number of years, when the soil starts to improve.  The feeder roots of a tree
 usually spread to an extent equal to the circumference of the tree crown.  So if you do water, that is how far you have to water.  But don’t forget, if you water for more than a year or two, the tree will always need watering during its entire life.
As I said, ours is a hillside property and every square foot has different soil.  In the meantime, I have learned that I can, for example, plant a loquat tree on a water line, where it will grow without irrigation and give plenty of fruits.  The same tree, 30 feet further up the hill would not grow.  There an olive tree may still grow.  Again, 30 feet further up the hill even an olive tree wouldn’t grow, but a cork oak or madrone will still grow.  If your climate and soil are anything like ours, I recommend loquat trees, fig trees and citrus trees for fairly wet soil, quinces, olive trees, plum trees, chestnut trees and walnut trees for somewhat drier soil, apricot trees for even drier soil. Incidentally, loquat trees are among the few that can easily be grown from seed.  Quince trees can be easily propagated by cuttings.  They can also be used for grafting pear trees.  
Acacias will of course grow very well, but most are considered invasive in a Mediterranean climate and we are not allowed to grow them.  Well, I have a few, mostly mimosas, but they have already spread in this region long before we moved here.
Dieter Brand


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