Permaculture - Living Independent, Healthy and Inexpensive

I've been growing veggies in a hardware cloth cage for many years, and I tried to grow organic, avoiding genetically engineered foods. Occasionally, I read about "permaculture," but it seemed like another yuppie fad, and I saw way too many ads for $1,500 permaculture design certificates. I was NOT impressed.

But last winter we met a Golden Valley resident who had planted more than 100 trees and bushes and she talked a lot about "food forests." We watched related videos on youTube, but it seemed unrealistic for OUR climate - the DESERT. Then we watched Greening the Desert II by Geoff Lawton with the Australian Permaculture Institute and we were sold on permaculture.

It makes perfect sense to have trees providing shade and a wind break for bushes, perennials and veggies. Trees naturally provide organic material and some trees like Palo Verde and mesquite trees even provide nitrogen.

You're worried about the cost of water? Gray water systems are legal in Arizona and just about everybody has enough shower and laundry water to be able to grow a few perennials, bushes and trees.

While some people use gray water for veggies, we only use potable water in our garden. As our trees and bushes grow and provide shade and shelter from the relentless winds, we'll need less water for veggies.

While many people rant about the corrupt government and our countless problems, we decided to take action to become more independent. We grow more and more of our food, we live off the grid and we vote with our money.

SOME OF OUR PROJECTS

Since it was winter and it had been raining when we watched Greening the Desert, the dirt was fairly easy to work. We dug two small swales on our hill and a trench for the gray water pipe. I had planned on using gray water for landscaping when I built, and while my contractors thought it was a bit weird, I personally installed the valves to switch from septic tank to the gray water system.

We're also draining the runoff that was pooling on the south side of the house after every rain through the gray water pipe. A 32' x 44' roof collects a lot of water. Digging the holding pond was a challenge as it happens to be in solid caliche.

Last spring we bought six California Peppers and African Sumacs at the Home Depot for $4/ea in one gallon pots. They were already 6 - 7 ft tall and terribly root bound. ALL these cheapo trees are now growing great and watered entirely with gray water.

We used free pallet slats to build a fence around our new garden and now we have four 4' x 8' garden beds with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, cucumbers, melons, basil, radishes and onions. While the fence keeps the rabbits out, we expected critters to feast on our veggies and the beds are framed with insect screen and hardware cloth.

Climbing zucchini, beans and other vines were supposed to cover the garden fence, but so far the MICE have eaten all the uncaged veggies and flowers. We've been setting traps and caught quite a few mice, but they finally destroyed even the large squash plants in our three sisters bed. They also got most beans and it's mostly one sister now, the corn.

Thyme, rosemary, sage and sweet annie are thriving and the lemon bergamot is flowering beautifully. So we adjusted to reality (mice) and we plan on many more herbs and medicinal plants along the fence. Tomatillos and a few climbers are now in hardware cloth cages.

We also planted fruit trees in the garden and aren't quite sure yet whether they'll make it. The pear tree got hit by a piece of OSB when a dust devil came through, broke a major branch and damaged the trunk. It lost all leaves and the trunk turned black. The peach tree never took off. The apple tree looks good and the pomegranate has the first flower. Numerous pomegranate cuttings are in our little adobe greenhouse and we hope to grow many pomegranates within a few years.

We also have a small dwarf peach that we finally planted into the ground last spring and we got about 10 little peaches - a big improvement over NOTHING for the last 2 years in the pot.

Salad is still thriving in our two covered raised beds by the house and our hardware cloth "tomato cage" is filled with potted tomato plants. We also planted grapes throughout the property.

At about 4,000 ft elevation, we finally gave up on citrus. Last winter we had several potted citrus in our greenhouse and when it warmed up, we moved them outside. They promptly froze, one didn't even come back and we decided to give them away. Kingman and Golden Valley are a lot warmer and they might survive in protected areas.

Our entire property needs to be fenced. While the cows are not supposed to be here, they ARE here and they damaged several neighbors' gardens and even took down a chain link fence. We recently finished the first 50' of barbed wire fence and set the t-posts for the next 150'. It's too hot to work on fencing.

Our small adobe addition on the south side of the house is used as a greenhouse. Adobe is PERFECT for desert buildings as it holds the warmth in winter and keeps the house cooler in summer. We've been growing tomatoes, basil and countless seedlings year round.

The low temperature in our greenhouse last winter was in the mid 40s without any heating while the outside low was 17 degrees. During the summer, it's about 15 - 20 degrees cooler than outside at noon, but the humidity is often much higher. This addition also keeps the house much cooler in summer.

Building with adobe bricks is great exercise and includes shoveling and screening dirt, mixing mud, filling forms and setting bricks. I built this addition mostly by myself, working an hour or two per day whenever I felt like it. I'll never understand why people join gyms when there's so much useful work to be done.

TRADING -- RECYCLING - BUYING CLUB

Many people garden to save money on groceries, but getting started is not cheap. While we look for used materials to buy or trade, hardware cloth is tough to find used and in good condition and it is expensive. Not to mention the cost of mulch, soil amendments, blocks, shade cloth, lumber and fencing and incidentals like pots, labels, stakes and velcro.

We order organic spices, herbs and teas through the Frontier Co-op wholesale program. Anyone can join for a $10 membership fee and enjoy their low priced high quality BULK products. I don't know of a co-op or buying club for gardening products.

I was thrilled when I found the Kingman FreeCycle Yahoo group. Someone posted that they had free aged horse manure and we already picked up several loads. Unfortunately, FreeCycle generally does not work very well for us since we live 60 miles from Kingman.

I wish the city or county had recycling centers as in Fairbanks, Alaska. Fairbanks had several highly organized lots where one could drop off just about anything in usable or fixable condition and you could go through everything and take what you needed.

In Kingman you're not even allowed to salvage at the dump. What a waste! I love the look of OLD lumber, especially when painted with linseed oil. I can only imagine how much old lumber and fencing is taken to the dump. One person's trash is another person's treasure.

I also recently tried Craigslist and spent literally hours looking for fencing materials and I wrote to four sellers. I got NO response! We sold several swamp coolers on Craigslist, but trying to purchase materials was a 100% failure.

COMMUNITY GARDENS

Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City all have community gardens. As more and more people become interested in growing veggies, it sure would be helpful to have a community garden in Kingman to demonstrate various desert growing techniques.

Growing food in the desert requires more knowledge and resources than in more moderate climates. People get discouraged when they lose their veggies to frost, wind, hail, heat and critters. A little help can go a long way and a thriving community garden would be inspiring to many.

GARDENING FOR PROFIT

I heard that Kingman had a farmers market and that it was discontinued because there wasn't enough interest. However, local growers can sell their products to Grandma's Best produce store on Stockton Hill. I loved the pecans from the orchard on Rte. 66 until they recently ran out.

We also enjoyed the locally grown baby cucumbers, apricots and plums. The plums weren't quite ripe yet and still sour, but I didn't want to wait and baked my first ever plum pie and it was delicious!

I'd sure like to buy more locally grown fruit and veggies.

SHARING RESOURCES AND EXPERIENCES

You can't imagine how many plants I've lost to critters, wind and freezes and most of all, because I planted the wrong plants, at the wrong time or in the wrong place. There is no need for everybody to learn the same lessons the hard way.

I've learned so much from fellow gardeners and certainly have a lot more to learn, but I gladly share my experiences. I'd love to hear from local gardeners and trade seeds and cuttings of plants that do well here.