Monday, September 6, 2021

Resilient agriculture in brittle environments


One species of Pinyon pine ranges from Mexico to Fort Collins and as far east as the Oklahoma panhandle. It ranges west to the Nevada/Utah line.
Another species of Pinyon pine ranges from the Utah-Nevada line to the coastal range in southern California and as far north as Idaho and the dry-side of the Sierra Mountains as far north as Reno.

I have a reader who lives "out-West" and he values his anonymity. Consequently, I will only share that he lives in an area/elevation where Pinyon Pine is native and he has access to a tiny amount of water.

Pinyon pine defines one of the ecosystems out-West. Roughly speaking, the ecosystems grade from south-to-north and from low-elevation-to-high.

I hope it is obvious that these ecosystems blend from one to the next. There is not a line on the ground where one side of the line is 100% sagebrush, rabbit brush and creosote brush and 100% juniper 6 feet on the other side of the line.Very broadly speaking, they range from Sonoran desert -to- sagebrush & grass -to- juniper -to- pinyon pine -to- ponderosa pine -to- aspen, spruce & fir -to- alpine meadow as one climbs in elevation. 

The pinyon pine belt resembles much of the region along the Silk Road from where it rims the Gobi desert in Western China to its western terminal on the east coast of the Black Sea. (Note: The Silk Road was really a network of roads with multiple start and ending points.)

My reader is in the process of working within his constraints and creating a sustainable, United States version of an oasis along the Silk Road. These are not his words but how I interpret what he is doing.

So I knew he will be interested in The Lost Forest Gardens of Europe article. The point of interest is the resilience of that particular mode of food production and not the exact species used or the historical sequence of events.

Please note that the article is long and very rich in high quality photos.

A couple of teaser images. Some methods of using trees to trellis grape vines.

The trees were typically multi-use species like linden (basswood), mulberry or fruit trees. Linden and mulberry provide bast (fiber) and the leaves are edible for both man and beast....and silk worms.

In the case of my reader out-West, the amount of area he can put under intensive cultivation is limited by his supply of surface water. From the pictures I have seen, he leans more toward sunflowers than grain and his operation is a thing of beauty when they are blooming.

Bonus link:

Sylvo-pastoral systems on the Iberian peninsula; the dehesa system


  1. Where are you sourcing this images? Fascinating observations. I'd like to evaluate my AO.

    1. Images from the article linked at start of post.

      Pretty cool how they worked around no wire.

      Aggressive pruning mandatory to ensure good sun on vines.

  2. The biggest difference (IMHO), is the amount of water available to Europe vs. the American West.

    1. That is a huge part of it.

      Another part is that the Pinyon and Juniper regions that have enough water for plants like olives have lows that are 10-to-20 degrees below what most common olive varieties can stand. If clones can found (or hybridized) that had just a little bit more resistance to cold then that opens up opportunities.

  3. Has the gentleman considered making underground cisterns to store whatever rain or snowmelt he gets, and trying dew harvesting?

  4. Irrigation often causes problems out there, too. The water evaporates because the air is dry and leaves behind the minerals and can turn fertile ground salt-laden and caustic.

    Piñon pine burns really well on a cold winter night.

  5. How about simple solar stills to remove the minerals? Black plastic film stretched over a conical frame with a collector funnel, pvc hose to the plants.

    1. Sadly, they irrigate by the acre-foot out there.


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