Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Drylands Awakening

Harvesting Barrel Cactus Fruit on Bean Tree Farm

I've just gotten back from studying drylands permaculture for 3 weeks on the amazing Bean Tree Farm.  I'm deeply indebted to Barbara Rose, permaculture designer and director of Bean Tree, for letting me INTENSELY pick her brain for those 3 weeks. Bean Tree specializes in native plants food production and I've returned as an absolute believer in the importance of this for our community here in the Morongo Valley. These desert native foods are packed with nutrition and medicinal qualities. I'm determined to plant a few carefully chosen fruit trees and a small veggie garden only where they can be taken care of by greywater and rain harvesting tanks. With an aquifer that is being depleted at a foot a year, has no natural recharge, is about to receive piped in water from the Delta through earthquake territory, it's an absolute necessity that we do everything we can to reduce aquifer water use. Irrigated orchards and farms are the last thing we should be doing here. Besides draining the aquifer, the evaporated salts will eventually make the soil unusable. Just take a look at the heartbreak of the abandoned irrigation fields around Tucson to understand where traditional agricultural practices using aquifers will lead us if we start that here in our area. Increasing desert native food production is the answer. Plant prickly pear cactus, mesquite, palo verde, wolfberry, barrel cactus, cholla, yucca. Don't clear your land! Understand the incredible bounty that it offers. All these plants provide food, tools, animal forage, and medicine. For more information on desert harvesting go to


  1. I live in Phelan on 2.25 acres that has been cleared except for the Joshua Trees and the California juniper. I'm in the process of propagating native cactus, mesquite and yuccas to re-vegetate my yard for a native edible landscape. I'm glad there are others out there doing the same. It would be nice to know of others in the area doing the same or interested in doing the same.

    1. Hi Dustin,

      There are many of us here in Joshua Tree that are sharing information about this. So glad to hear that you're embarked on regeneration of the native landscape as well. I forgot to mention Agave Murpheyi (sp?). Very important food source. You might also be interested in looking at the website of Bean Tree Farm.

  2. Thank you Jill! We shall work on this....perhaps some sunchokes too.

    1. Yes, sunchokes too. In pots (they spread like crazy). Watered with greywater.

      Desert food planting formula:
      - pick desert hardy plants that give the most nutrition for the least amount of water
      - detach plant watering from the aquifer as soon as possible using water harvesting techniques

  3. Hi, I'm Karen & a neighbor to the north in the Indian Wells Valley. I thought you or your readers might be interested to know that Geoff Lawton is now offering an online Permaculture Design Course with certification. Many have already signed up including me! Glad I dilly-dallied around about taking a PDC. Now I don't have to take off from work & pay for a hotel & dog-sitter. You can access a video about the course at & if you click on "add to cart", you'll get a detailed list of what the course offers. It includes 6 DVDs sold through PRI plus 18 DVDs with the course on them. He'll also be doing videos throughout the course to answer student questions. The forums are already hopping and networking between students is happening.

    The cost is $997 Australian Dollars but if you want to save $100, you can join the member support brigade at which costs $50/year. Once you do that, you can access a special page only for TSP members to save $150 when you sign-up for the online PDC course. There is also a podcast interview with Geoff about the online PDC here:

    Oh, supposedly the number of students will be limited even though it is online. So at some point enrollment will end.

    I hope this benefits you, your friends, or readers.


  4. Oops! Meant to include this link to a video done Sunday with a tour of the course & his farm.