Five years ago we moved to our current property in North Texas. While the general area is not particularly challenging, the property itself was. The three acre property has anywhere from 11 inches (28cm) to as little as 3 inches (7.6cm) of soil, sitting atop a limestone slab. Note: not rocks but solid slab. An insane place to build a permaculture property but we set to making it happen.
In our first year we selected an area to make into a full on food forest, in a swale-based architecture developed mainly from what I had learned from Geoff Lawton. This was a classic example of right technique for the right place.
Other than some other small swale like paths, this was the only area of the property we designed with swales. The area is about 3/4th of an acre. In total almost 600 feet of swale capture and infiltrate about 24,000 gallons of water for every inch of rainfall.
Once installed, we planted the swales with fruit trees, mostly stone fruits that do well in our climate like apricots, plums, almonds and various crosses such as pluots. We also planted many varieties of mulberry, apples and various figs, persimmons and pomegranates. To assist these trees we planted heavily with support species including initial legume based ground covers and supporting nitrogen fixers such as autumn olive and black locust.
Fertility was nearly nonexistent on the property so we ran a flock of ducks in a paddock shift system for three years, as part of a commercial duck egg operation. This winter we decided the ducks had done their work and at this point were actually holding the property back. We had improved other areas of the property but the effect of almost 1 ton of ducks on the property was preventing us from developing sufficient herbaceous understory.
We sold the ducks off to various customers and advised them in setting up their own small-scale operations and even turned many of our retail customers over to them.
As we came into this spring, without the birds grazing we knew something special was about to occur. Five long years of work, attempting to grow a forest on thin and highly alkaline soils on top of limestone slab may seem like an odd choice for a permaculturist, but it was the right choice. The locusts, oaks and even the fruit trees have deposited humic acid on that alkaline rock, creating fractures and fissures. Where once an inch of rain filled our swales, now it takes over two inches, water is getting into the fractures, wild flowers and medicinal herbs are everywhere. Our trees are labored heavily with fruit and it is only April.
The NRCS lists our land as “sparse range land, not suitable for agriculture”; perhaps someone should give them a free Permaculture Designer’s Manual and a copy of this video?