Deep Mulch Method for Building Soil in Deserts

Yesterday I watched a video on how to build healthy soil in desert areas such as Arizona. A lot of our readers are building earthbag houses and gardens in similar environments since land like this is often quite affordable.

The forest garden in the video looked fantastic, however I was shocked to learn the owner has been applying 4’ (yes 48”) of wood chips and grass clippings every year for almost 30 years! That’s mind boggling. While this method obviously works, it is very labor intensive and it’s not scalable. There’s not enough wood chips to supply thousands of homeowners in desert areas.

I’d suggest getting Brad Lancaster’s bestselling book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond to learn of additional ways to build soil in desert areas.

Here’s one other option. I’d probably shape the land in advance with one or two mini-excavators: one to dig trenches for hugelculture beds on contour and to sculpt shallow swales in between (remove some clay), and a second excavator with a big auger to drill tree holes several feet apart until the site looks like Swiss cheese. Export all this clay and fill the swales and tree holes with mycorrhizal rich compost/top soil mix.

In between your new fruit and nut trees, consider planting fast growing soil busting/nitrogen fixing trees and plants to build soil and help shade the slower growing fruit trees. These can later produce biomass by chopping and dropping leaves and branches, and they can be removed when the main trees get larger.

For more free information, search our blog for keywords building soil or degraded land. There are quite a few examples now of people who have restored the worst soil imaginable. My example above is a bit extreme (machine intensive) but it would speed the process and get you off to a good start to establishing a forest garden or similar type of edible landscape around your home. You’d definitely save many hundreds of hours of very hard work. You could rent the machines to save money.

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