Thursday, June 13, 2013

Utilizing Our Arid Land

When we purchased 1 1/2 acres down the road, a friend asked, "Why did you buy that land for? It's hot and dry, not good for farming." He was a bit in disbelief that I intended to farm there, although someday it will morph into our retirement location. I was looking for something warmer and drier than the main farm. Some things just do better warmer and drier. 

So what are my ideas? Well, that depends upon how much water I intend to use. For now, it all needs to be trucked in.

Things I can grow with minimal irrigation:
... Purslane. This green grows exceptionally well in the dry, poor soil of the new place. There is a small niche market for it, and I can feed the excess to the chickens. In fact, I could develop a local chicken fodder market for purslane since flock owners around here like the idea of feeding it to their birds for the omega fatty acids.
... Sweet potatoes & gourds. The locale historically was a Hawaiian sweet potato and gourd production area. I've already experimented using traditionally Hawaiian ag techniques and have successfully produced both crops in that area, although not on my own lots. But I currently have both now growing there. I've used very little irrigation for either so far.
... Dry land landscaping plants for resale. -- cactus and other succulents, plumaria, bromeliads, bougainvillea, aloe, panex, agave, palms. I'm not sure I want to get into the nursery business, but the opportunity is there. I already planted some of these type plants, but only for my own landscaping. So I know that they will do fine there. By using a bit more water and fertilizer, I could propagate them.
... Pin cushion protea. These grow well in the area, but I'm not ready to get into the business. Possibly a future option.
... Pineapples. These would require some outside water, but they don't demand a lot. The local white pineapples are always in demand. I put in about 50 starts for my own use and they are growing well.
... Local desert plants. While it would make no sense to intentionally cultivate them, there are two plants growing abundantly in the area that I can use. One is Christmasberry whose berry can be ground and used for pepper seasoning. The other is Haole Koa whose young leaves and stems can be used for animal fodder and whose seeds and seed pods are used by local crafters. I have harvested leaves to add to the chicken feed but found it to be tedious and not a productive use of my time. I have hat bands made from the seed pods and I've  toyed with using the seeds to make a necklace. Very pretty but time consuming. I equate it to quilt making....time consuming, tedious work to do as a hobby or on a rainy day. But there are crafters out there who use the seeds and pods on a regular basis.
... Moringa. Currently a fad crop, but it has its plusses. There is a small niche market for it now, but I would most likely use it as livestock fodder.

Things that require more water:
... Now for the reason for wanting this location -- good to reduce problems with moisture related plant disease and dry enough for seed production. On the main farm, saving seeds is a challenge. The seeds often mold or even sprout right in their pods. They never dry down. Before pods go brown I've had beans and peas start sprouting! My radish and Chinese cabbage seed would get moldy in the pods long before the pods would dry. And with diseases, some veggies really suffered with fungal diseases in the dampness of the main farm. To date I have already produced two bean seed crops. Everything went beautifully, proving that the site will be quite useable for seed production. The main issue to be addressed will be water.
... Hot weather crops: Some crops just can't be produced on the main farm. I will be experimenting growing them on the south farm. I already know that papayas, mangos, breadfruit, and breadnut will grow there. I plan to try tepary beans, edible soybeans, lima beans, and malabar spinach.
... Hydroponics. A contained system would not waste precious water and produce a variety of crops. I plan to toy with simple hydroponic systems later on this summer. It should be fun. 
... Raising tilapia. While I'm told that tilapia will grow at my farm, fish breeders agree that it is too cool there for breeding them. Thus a small pond will be made on the warm farm in order to produce more tilapia babies for growing on to meal sized fish. 

Hot, dry, and sunny may have disadvantages for general vegetable farming, but I plan to take advantage of these conditions to expand my homestead farming operation. 

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