Restoring Degraded Land

Dry pinyon-juniper ranch land like this is a perfect candidate for land restoration projects as we explain in this blog post.
Dry pinyon-juniper ranch land like this is a perfect candidate for land restoration projects as we explain in this blog post.

Urban areas have strict building codes that often make it difficult and costly to build with natural materials. Good rural land is expensive and hard to come by. So where can you live? Pinyon-juniper scrub land is very abundant, cheap and worth considering. There are millions of acres of cheap ranch land like this across vast areas of the south and western US. (Actually, 40 million hectares in the western US, according to the USGS.) It’s cheap because it currently has limited commercial value. You need 50 acres or so to feed one cow. Using the methods described below you can turn cheap desert scrub land into a permaculture oasis. This is no idle claim. There are lots of people already doing it. Check out a bunch of the sites below for many amazing success stories. Please post a comment if you find other good methods and examples.

Massive areas of the earth are eroding and turning to wasteland. Persistent drought conditions are making things even worse. The good news is there are lots of simple ways to turn land like this into lush, highly productive land. The following list of resources explains how to grow forests, boost agriculture and increase water supplies in dryland areas.

Writing this blog post has been incredibly fun, interesting, and most of all, inspiring. I’ve watched numerous land restoration videos over the years. Some of the best ones like Geoff Lawton’s Greening the Desert and John Liu’s documentary on the Loess Plateau in China have already been published on our blog. However, there’s a big difference between watching videos like this once in a while versus watching dozens and scouring many websites in just one week. Wow. I am truly stunned. Now I’m convinced that most marginal lands can be greatly improved without spending a fortune. *Again, this could be an excellent option for natural builders on a tight budget who want to move to the country and are willing to work hard for a few years to improve the land.

In addition to the videos and other online research, I’ve also been corresponding with Abe at (We just profiled his new book and website the other day.) Abe has developed what might be the best system of everything I’ve found so far. He also researched the various options and has adapted the most appropriate ones for his pinyon-juniper farm. Abe uses pigs to root out terraces on the hillsides and then plants a forest garden. Hopefully he will explain more about his restoration system in the comment section below.

Natural Vegetative Strips
Sand Dams
Greening the Desert
John Liu — Loess Plateau
Keyline Method
Keyline Method details
Transition Forest Gardens
Zero Farming
Geoff Lawton Forest Gardening
Natural Forest Gardens (Zero Farming)
Miracle Water Village
Gandian Natural Farming
Back to Eden
Ruth Stout
Dr. Rene Haller restores industrial wastelands
Dr. Rene Haller’s principles
Dr. Elaine Ingham building soil foodweb
Below Ground Water Tanks
Earthbag water tanks
Terracing, Water Capture and Reforestation in Kenya
A Line in the Sand
Reforestation in Niger
King’s Projects — Thailand’s Economic Self Sufficiency
Key Principles of Economic Self Sufficiency
What if We Change documentaries
Green Gold Documentary
Sahara Forest Project
Willie Smits Conservation
Remineralize the Earth
Desert Friendly Cows
Allan Savory’s Rotational Grazing
John D. Liu confirms success of Allan Savory’s rotational grazing system
How to Grow a Forest Really, Really Fast
Growing Moringa, the World’s Most Nutritious Tree
Sadhana reforestation project in Haiti
Dune stabilization with straw
From Bare Dirt to Abundance [I would love to see a much shorter version]
Joel Salatin’s chicken tractors
How Joel Salatin nets $60,000/year on 20 acres of rented land
Organic Farmer Grosses $100K an Acre

Tip: To save money, buy land in the area you like direct from buyers. Look for For Sale signs along the road. Be sure to stay well away from industrial farming sites, power plants, military firing ranges, uranium mines, high crime areas, diseased trees, extremely low water table and so on. Research forest trends in the area before buying. If the surrounding forests are dying on a large scale then it’s probably too risky to live there. Also look for counties that have lax building codes.

5 thoughts on “Restoring Degraded Land”

  1. This is very much like my area. Land is cheap because the climate is a bear. Just in May we have had 70 mile winds, 1 inch of snow and several hail storms. We have had only about 7 days without at least 25-30mph breezes. It makes it almost impossible to plan for a garden. My fruit trees started to bloom when the temps were in the 80s, then had a couple of frosts.
    Here it takes 80 acres to feed one cow. So far the range is empty because of lack of rain. All of the watering holes are near empty. I like the idea of pigs. I wish I could locate a local source of biomass. Perhaps a few hogs are in my future.

    • That’s a good point about weather. Some areas are really harsh and make planting anything extremely challenging.

  2. Here’s another very good find. A farmer in India explains his forest garden system in detail, including what plants he uses and profits. He said he’s making $9,500/year per acre. (That’s a lot of money in India.) He’s hard to understand, but thankfully the text in the video description box has all the details in English.

    “CONCLUSION: He doesnt have any borewell in his farm and he says that his Land is a double wet land and mostly it is rainfed, canal water is used very rarely during peak summer. Water consumption is 10% of regular farming. He suggests that all the farmers to adopt similar Natural Farming Methods and grow plants & crops suitable for their local climate and reap money.”

  3. There’s a part on this page about the water battery:

    It has worked really well, super impressed, ready to be scale across the property.

    This is the “pig dozer”, basically getting pigs to do the swale/terrace work:

    This is the chicken step, compost and top covering:
    I don’t have enough animals to scale this part, but working on figuring it out.

    Then it’s planting. We plant trees on the hill side of the terrace, close to the swale area in pits along it, and then shrubs around that, lots of herbs and smaller plants around the base of the trees and shrubs, and then on the majority of the terrace, we broadcast hardier stuff to provide protection and biomass, like amaranth, johnsongrass, alfalfa, and others. These get cut and spread on top to form a thick mulch, and then seed with something else when it rains.

    If you have some local biomass, you can build it slowly, but the limits are the retaining wall, which is slow, but fairly cheap (just labor), the logs/branches backfill – trimming junipers and local shrubs (possibly extracting products from these), and then seedlings/seeds/plants for planting (can let the weeds do this for you if you time it right).


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.