Aid ProjectsCommunity ProjectsDemonstration SitesFood ForestsIrrigationLandPlant SystemsSoil ConservationSoil RehabilitationSwalesTreesWater ConservationWater Harvesting

Planting Days Are Here! (Al Baydha, Saudi Arabia)

by Neal Spackman

This week the project started planting the swales with 1000 very hardy desert trees. The team is working in shifts of laying drip line, digging holes, manuring and mulching swales, putting in compost, planting, mulching again, and then adjusting the drip emitter.

I knew I had selected good species when the team had their own name for every variety I brought. These are our pioneer trees that will fix nitrogen in our soil, establish wind breaks and shade, strengthen the soil’s fungal network, and help establish greater soil biodiversity. In short, they perform the functions we need before we can expect fruit trees to thrive in Al Baydha. We’re planting Acacia Senegal, Zizyphus Spinachristi, Parkensonia Aculeata, Sesbania Sesban, and Albizia Lebek. Additionally, I’m harvesting local prosopis pods that we’ll plant later in the winter, and getting some Leucaena Leucocephala seeds sent from Trees For The Future.

It’s been wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the team as they see how all the earthworks have laid the foundation for the beginnings of a forest. Something has clicked with them in understanding the big picture of these systems and how they interact with the local environment. Most of them have asked to take some trees to plant in their courtyards.

These trees will prepare the site to support moringa, date palm, citrus, mulberry, pomegranate, and fig trees, which we plan to plant in October 2013. We plan to drip irrigate them until 2015, at which point we will pull the irrigation off with the expectation that our forest will be able to live off the rainfall coming from the mountain.

Swales are spaced about 20 meters apart, which is the height of a mature date palm. Spacing swales according to the overstory height maximizes shade between the swales.


  1. Thanks Eric–I’ve seen links about chaya being used as chicken forage, but also understand that it is toxic to humans if eaten raw–do you know if anyone has grazed goats or ruminants on it?


  2. Hi Neal.
    I’ve just spent some hours reading everything about the project here on this site and seen all the films on Youtube. It’s so great to read about these desert projects!

    I just have one question, did I read the wrong date of posting (I thought it was last month) when you said that it hadn’t rained since january 2011? So no rain for almost two years?

    And if that is the case, (of course, I might have misunderstood) do you expect that rain from one (or two) showers will be able to provde enough water for the future food forest to last two new years?

    Anyways, looking forward to reading about this project and I’ll be following you on youtube to see more new clips. (How did the wall you guys sett up turn out? I’m curious to how it looks now.)

  3. Hello Ingrid,

    That is right; our rain last week was the first since January 2011. This is typical of rain in our area–we can go as long as 2 years without rain. Our strategy is to use a 3 to 1 landscape to forest ratio, sink rainfall as quickly as possible, eliminate evaporation as much as possible (except through trees’ evapotranspiration), and then we are counting on the hydraulic distribution abilities of our longer-lived trees to moderate the periods between rainfall.

  4. Hey there Neal.

    This is Adil from Madinah. I dunno if you remember my friend Sharif who was attempting to do some Permaculture work at Taibah University?

    They ran into a bunch of red tape and no funding so it died. I’ve since taken up a small camp in a nearby Wadi. I am trying to green a small area up to about an acre in size. I was looking to plant some initial trees to aid in that process.

    Any idea ho I can get my hands on some seedlings of the plants you used? Currently I have two large Acacia trees that I plan to plant Moringa nearby.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. MR. ADIL,
      ASALAMU ALAKUM I have seen your message and appriciated toyur interest for Moringa. just tell me the ara where you like to cultivate this tree and what information required by you.

  5. Adil i’m just seeing your post 4 months later: We got our saplings from a nursery in Jeddah. Madinah nurseries ought to have at least the zizyphus, parkensonia, and Acacias.

  6. Hi, my name is Morena Ferrer , I think what you guys are doing in Saudi Arabia is fabulous ! .. I have a plant nursery here in homestead florida ,USA , and I grow some dessert plants including the moringa tree , Acadia trees, etc etc I grow figs too , if you ever need anything from my humble knowledge please contact me …wonderful adventure !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button