The High Desert Gardening Club

We’ve been so busy and are finally getting ready to put the film on the hoophouse. We had the first hard freezes, worked on our house addition and organized the High Desert Gardening Club.
We have been meeting every second Monday for the last couple months and had meetings.
Summaries of the meetings along with the links to the videos we watched are at the High Desert Gardening Club blog.
Wish I had more time to post. We’re taking lots of pictures and will catch up when it’s cold and wet outside.

26 Replies to “The High Desert Gardening Club”

  1. Hi everyone.
    I’m interested in taking a permaculture certification course and wondering if any of you here can recommend any specific?
    I know Lawton’s course in Australia is highly rated internationally, or so the web site claims. I wouldn’t doubt it. But that’s a lot of money… and I’m not sure how much of it would be specifcally applicable to my area.
    I would specifically like to be certified in high desert / cold climate permaculture, if in fact these course are focussed on specific regions. That way I can drill down deep on the details of plants and soil types for my geographic location and climate.

    1. Hi Paul,
      I wish I could help you out, but I have never seen any permaculture course for high desert climates. We’re struggling with finding nitrogen fixing TREES and PERENNIALS that can take the cold and will grow in our alkaline soil.
      Perennial herbs do GREAT here. I’m amazed that sage, thyme and oregano made it through our cold winter last year. Chaste trees also survived and do well. Just wish we could find some nitrogen fixing trees. We planted a few palo verdes this fall, but they’ll probably freeze. We have native cats claws and I hate them with a passion, they really hurt. And it might be too cold for mesquite.
      Where are you located?
      I just posted about our soil tests:
      I think we just have to learn as we go and SHARE what we learn,

      1. I see this post is a few years old. I’m in the low desert of S. Calif. There are some good nitrogen fixers… I’m just sure of it. Check out the Mexican Bird of Paradise? I’d suggest looking into plants of the Mexican Baja Valley zone. Some may tolerate your even more extreme weather.

        1. Thanks so much for the tip! I had no idea the Bird of Paradise is a nitrogen fixer. The yellow Bird of Paradise grow without any watering up here and I just FINALLY got a couple going and I’ll be planting many more!
          The red Bird of Paradise freezes here, but the yellow grows great.
          I just posted it at
          Also have to add the black locust trees as nitrogen fixers.
          Thanks again, wish I’d known years ago.

    2. Try the Colorado-based Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute ( I think they’re approximately zone 4, arid area, they’ve been doing it a long time, and they do offer permaculture design certification courses.

  2. Hi Christine,
    We’re in New Mexico and Indigo Bush (Amorpha fruiticosa) will work well for fixing nitrogen. I’ve heard mixed reviews about wild honey locust being a nitrogen fixer, although I think it will depend on who you speak to about it. We have pretty alkaline soils as well, and so far everything we’ve planted has done beautifully. We did a 50/50 mix of organic compost to our soil on site and then heavily mulched afterwards. The amount of growth this year was amazing. Also, you can go to for nitrogen fixing trees, shrubs and seeds. They are located in Albuquerque, NM.
    @Paul, if you’d like to learn more about permaculture in the high desert, here is a link to the Permaculture Institute located in Santa Fe:
    Lets keep in touch! I’m always looking for ways to garden successfully in our very extreme temperatures.

  3. A few more nitrogen fixers:
    Golden Banner
    Thermopsis montana- Lemon-yellow, pea-like flowers on 2 ft. stalks. Blooms between May & August, depending on elevation. Enjoys good but well-drained garden soils. A nitrogen fixer that spreads by rhizomes. Soak seed overnight in water & sow in spring.
    Purple Prairie Clover
    Petalostemum purpureum- Slender airy perennial to 2 ft. with bright purple flowers. Wonderful dried, keeps its color. Wildlife food & habitat; attracts beneficial insects. Nitrogen fixer. Deep rooted. Very drought tolerant. Blooms midsummer. Soak seed 6-8 hours in hot water & sow in spring.
    Broom Dalea
    Dalea scoparia- A mounding, 3-4 ft. shrub with leafless grey stems topped by masses of small, fragrant, dark purple pea-like flowers in summer. Native range from El Paso to Albuquerque & from the Rio Grande Valley to 6,000 ft. A good bee plant & nitrogen fixer. Sow anytime in a well-drained, sandy soil.
    New Mexico Locust
    Robinia neomexicana- Small, thorny tree (8-15 ft.) with pink flowers on drooping racemes. Can take strong pruning. Attractive landscape tree for small spaces. Suckers form clumps good for erosion control. Tolerates alkaline soil. Fixes nitrogen. Scarify seed by nicking with file, soak overnight in water & sow anytime.

  4. Thanks so much, Angela.
    We’re going to a local nursery tomorrow and we’ll see whether they have any of those plants.
    We were clearing an area for 2 yards of mulch from the big city (Las Vegas NV) and I was already talking about bushes and trees to plant in that area.
    I hope we can find some tomorrow locally. And I’ll look for seeds too.
    Thanks again!

  5. I could use some information for getting started on permaculture. I live on the reservation where cold and dry are foregone conclusions (had 2 snow days in November). Since I am a “guest” here while I teach environmental science, I am limited in the changes I can make but can petition for a great deal as I relate it to my class content and will be teaching while I am learning. I can probably get some of the tribal elders to teach me some of the traditional practices but I am not sure how much they will be willing to share and many of the women don’t really grow much or grow it traditionally anymore.
    In short (too late I know), where can I get some material that will help me to get started. I really am starting completely from scratch here.
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Laura,
      Where are you? Elevation and town.
      What grows in the area? Trees? Shrubs? What kind of soil do you have?
      I ‘d love to see some permaculture on the rez. What you want to do depends on your climate, soil and how much SPACE you have.
      You probably have to do rabbit fencing, maybe deer, cows and horses are a problem in your area. I never understood how the Indians grew anything other than for critters.
      Also, not all Indians farmed anything and some like the Apaches specialized in raiding others who did farm and store food. It would be great if you could incorporate traditional methods, but raiding isn’t permaculture πŸ™‚
      And of course keep in mind that many Indians were forced onto reservations that were NOT their homeland and of course the white people gave them the land the white ranchers and farmers did not want.
      There’s the traditional 3 sisters (squash / beans / corn), but we’ve seen the rows of corn they planted on the rez going from Flagstaff to Lee’s Ferry and it didn’t look all that great.
      Also, how long will you be on the rez?

      1. I am between Polacca and Keams Canyon, AZ. We are about 6300 ft. Since the school has about 1000 acres I am sure I can find some space to do some work on. In fact there is a small orchard (new) that I walk past every day and can probably get in next to that to incorporate the apple, peach and whatever else he has planted trees. That area is mostly fenced so would be protected from 4 legged beasts (maybe not from Jr High types though LOL) Since this is Hopi, there is alot more corn than critters (Navajo are more into ranching and Hopi into farming).
        I am here until they tell me to leave, so hopefully for a really long time. I would love to incorporate all of this into my course content. Teaching Environmental Science as essentially a required course to all sophomores is a tremendous opportunity but there is also a botany class. Botany has 2 greenhouses (which I am NOT allowed to use) and is planning a hoophouse. I don’t want to compete but if I could do some basics and keep it more environmentally based that would be fantastic.
        Thank you so much for your willingness to help.

  6. Hopi, great! I lived in Sawmill (close to Canyon De Chelly) on the Navajo rez for half a year back in 81 with friends who were group home parents. I left in December for San Francisco when I couldn’t take the snow anymore and there was just NOTHING to do way up there and of course no internet yet.
    It was COLD.
    Now we’re at 4000 ft and we found that we really needed to have the greenhouse / hoophouse to make some serious progress with our permaculture efforts to get plants started early and/or overwinter them until they’re large enough to make it through the winter.
    The orchard would be a perfect starting point since the trees are there and would be perfect to grow perennials, herbs an veggies below the trees and of course to plant along the fence. But they probably wouldn’t like that (yet).
    So try to get the area next to the orchard, preferably NORTH of it since you likely get the same southern winds in spring and summer that we get. At least you’d have some wind protection.
    Can you take some pictures of the area around the orchard?
    You want to start out with as much native plant life and especially trees and shrubs as possible.
    How long have you been there? Have you found any native plants that grow fast, have pretty flowers, are edible, etc?
    Pinions should do well in your area:
    They don’t give the elevation, but I know they grow around here up higher than we are, around 5,000 ft or so.
    Your biggest challenge will be to provide protection from wind and sun and then of course to keep plants from freezing.
    It would be very helpful if you could find other HIGH ALTITUDE permaculture projects.
    There’s the guy in the Swiss Alps growing CITRUS at 4,000 ft. Talk about creating a micro climate.
    Here’s his book:
    I have NO idea why I don’t have this book, have to order it.
    I’m sure there’s a lot of info about his projects available on the web and I’m really glad I remembered him.
    It’s much easier to do permaculture in frost free areas, but if Sepp Holzer can do it in the alps, we can do it here.
    Good thing you’re starting early in the year and you have some time to plan and research.

  7. Not alot to do around here, that is for sure. Of course when I lived in Denver there were things to do, but no one ever went out and did much because it was too expensive, sixes I guess.
    If I am fast enough I may be able to stake out the north side of the orchard. That is the side the sidewalk crosses. The area slopes UP to the south so it is also the ‘wettest’ area. There is even a drainage ditch on that side of the sidewalk. I should send pics, it really is the perfect spot for a hoophouse. Of course another teacher has it scoped out but since she already has exclusive access to both greenhouses…
    Pinon grows not far from here but up here on the mesas there is a whole lot of nothing. There is alot of open dirt, some tumbleweed, sagebrush and that kind of thing.
    I have only been here since October, so I am the new kid on the block (literally, we have staff housing on campus).
    The idea of growing citrus is intriguing. The alps are a formidable place to grow much of anything, besides cows. I was chased by a herd of swiss cows once, an interesting experience. LOL
    I am also looking forward to doing some solar energy projects and maybe even semi-enclosing the back of my housing unit into a passive solar heating unit/greenhouse since it faces south.
    So many plans, so much need for administrative approval.
    Thank you for the suggestions. I am already talking to some of the local women about permaculture possibilities. We will see what we can get going her.
    Here’s hoping,

  8. Laura, since you just got there in October you definitely need to be talking to the locals.
    You’ll never grow citrus there (unless you have a heated greenhouse or have dwarf trees that you bring inside in winter), but you CAN have a wide variety of HARDY plants.
    Sage is a good start. The reason why nothing grows there now is because the wind, sun and cold don’t give seedlings a chance.
    I just read some of the reviews for Sepp Holzer’s book at Amazon and found this most interesting:
    “… He keeps telling that he has been watching the nature for 40 years, but he doesn’t give the recipes for his plant mixtures. Instead, he suggests that one should observe nature and experiment for oneself.
    I bought the book precisely to learn from his experiences, instead of having to spend years observing nature myself. …”
    Obviously, the reviewer has no understanding of nature whatsoever and maybe never left his birth place. We HAVE to observe nature where we want to garden (temperatures, wind, soil conditions, etc.) and it’s not as simple as copying/pasting some other permaculture project.
    And since you mention Colorado, I remembered
    I saw a video about the TROPICAL plants in their greenhouse way up high and looked into doing something similar here, but it would have been way too expensive and too big a project for “now”.
    However, they have lots of great examples and you just have to see what you can apply to your situation and budget.
    The good news is that you have lots of TIME to research πŸ™‚
    And if you have enough time to maintain your own blog here, I’d love to set it up for you.
    This is a “multi user” installation of WordPress and you could have your own blog with your pictures, questions, answers …
    I hate to see our discussion lost in these comments where few people will find them.
    Please let me know,

  9. I met a couple last week who are experts on permaculture in this area. I am so excited to spending some time talking with them. They suggested some information resources that I am eagerly trying to track down (from Indonesia, but principles are intact and the materials are supposed to be excellent for teaching).
    I will try to post frequently, and maybe we can all learn and/or grow together.
    Since there is a fruit tree orchard on the school property I am beginning to look into fruit tree guilds for this area. I will try several and see how they do.
    Seed catalogs here I come! (Digital of course)
    Have a fabulous day!

  10. I just placed a $100 seed order last night, and all I wanted was the new Indigo Rose tomato at
    I’m interested in the orchard too because the winds must be as ferocious as here. Are the trees producing already?
    We just got a cherry and an olive tree.
    And took a bunch of rosemarie cuttings on Saturday and have to finish planting them today. Last year we had pretty good success getting roots.
    That’s a hardy perennial you might consider as it grows great here and might survive at your altitude too.
    I also ordered a bunch more herbs as I’ve been amazed how well they do.
    You have a great day too!

  11. Welcome to sunny New Mexico, Laura! This place is full of wonderful people and extreme diversity. You will not be bored if you start to talk with people and share your interests as you learn from them about their’s. There is a lot of wonderful wonderful projects you can start without greenhouses. Botany, too, does not need greenhouses here. There is plenty to do and discover outside any time of the year. There are a few desert misnomers to guide you through: Solar is fascinating, but not as predictable or as powerful/environmentally friendly as wind power can be here. Christine is correct about the citrus. Stone fruits and nuts do better here. Apples and pecans, small apricots varieties, and cold hardy cherries should also do fine on that wet slope you were discussing. Wild Plants of the Pueblo Southwest will give you some wonderful historical aspect to teach your students about and to experiment with gardening through. Growing a 3 sisters garden teaches a lot of basic sacred truths and is quite a wonderful outdoor project at the end of May: google it. What you can teach that botany does not and is along similar lines, but even more imperative to this region is how to remedy/avoid erosion and desertification. How to keep riparian zones safe, and induced meandering techniques that clean and repair our waterways with techniques your children could do with your supervision/guidance. Quivera Coalition/Bill Zeidiek would be happy to guide you through that technique. Carrying capacity and watershed/topographic understandings are also good topics for your class, here. Remember that the mesa’s harsh environment for growing stems from these things: Overgrazing/ WIND/ sun/ lack of proper use. Wind creates topsoil erosion and blows plants over. create a wind barrier and begin to put food back into the soil because topsoil will not form on its own at first up there. The sun is so strong that even “full sun” plants should be 33% shaded. The locals have wonderful insight. I am glad you are dialouging with them. Hopi have some wonderfully magical processes.

  12. Thank you so much for all of the information.
    On the update side, there is a runoff trench developing on the east side of the orchard. I am going to try to get my kids out there to redirect that water so that it benefits the orchard and reduces topsoil loss.
    I will try to contact Quivera Coalition for info on how best to accomplish this.
    Thanks and have a fabulous day.

  13. Another update:
    I spent the summer working with a local, native permaculture group. It was absolutely amazing and I am so grateful for them. I am going to revise my curriculum so that I will teach Env Sci via organic farming/permaculture. We did meet a Quivira Coalition guy during my summer permie course (he was an instructor for the day)and learned a whole lot from him as well. I am so excited to get started on my schoolyear! To top it off, the tribe is working on supporting traditional and organic practices all over the rez.
    Perfect timing for me,
    Thank you all and have a fantastic day.

  14. Laura, thanks much for the update, was wondering what happened to you.
    It’s fantastic that the tribe is supporting traditional and organic growing.
    I’d LOVE to see a “home study course” that people could follow on the web or some kind of website that documents how it works so that a LOT more people can learn how to grow food in the high desert.
    We need resources such as affordable fast growing trees and shrubs that do well here and don’t freeze in the harsh winters. It is very sad that the state of Arizona does absolutely NOTHING, unlike Idaho where they give away free trees and NV has the state nursery.
    Anyway, great to hear from you and please keep us updated!

  15. OK, so here is where I am today:
    I have the orchard in pretty decent shape.
    I have some locally adapted grapes to put into the planting area. I will use it as a bit of a wind break and teach a bit about viticulture (after I learn of course) for “eating” grapes.
    I have planted some donated chaste trees along the SW fence line as a wind break.
    I am looking forward to putting in some lasagna beds and growing alot of veggies. The idea with the veggies is to grow locally and organically with an eye toward becoming our own farmer’s market. The access to fresh food is otherwise difficult at best (70 miles or so to a full service market, a very few fresh fruits and veggies at local stores and certainly not organic)
    I should begin talking with tribal officials soon to gain their approval. I know folks around here are watching me and seeing how my projects are progressing. If what I am doing catches on, it will spread through the villages. While that seems amazingly positive up front, and is mostly, it will ultimately cause some problems with water usage. Issues like outside seeds will also have to be addressed.
    Are there other issues I should consider before I approach the tribal officials? I would like to make sure I am not being short sighted and I DEFINITELY don’t want to end up creating a problem down the road like so many short-sighted pahanas before me.
    Thanks for your advice and encouragement,

  16. Hi Laura, can’t believe how time flies and I “almost” forgot about your post. I had to move my websites to a new web host twice and it’s been hellish.
    You really accomplished a LOT last year! Being even further away from supermarkets than we are, a local farmers market sounds great. I just finished painting our farmstand with linseed oil and it’s finally ready to be moved to the pizza place at the paved road.
    We’re also bringing in organic food from Azure Standard and hopefully other sources since there’s so much we can’t grow here.
    With regards to water use, have you looked into gray water systems? A must for trees and shrubs and once the veggies have some shade and wind protection and the soil has been improved to hold water and is mulched well, they need a lot less watering.
    Also consider water catchments, swales, etc.
    I hope you’re staying warm, it got down to 15 F here and I’m still fixing faucets and pipes.
    Have you submitted your proposal?

  17. It turns out that the person I need to get all of my plans by is the school maintenance director. To do that I am going to have to educate him on permaculture principles. He is concerned about safety, attracting coyotes, and water usage.
    I have dug 2 lasagna beds (4 x 50) and will put in t-tape to irrigate. It is incredibly low flow (.64 gal/hr/100′) and so it shouldn’t use too much. Especially under mulch!
    The bees I might get as long as I give the honey to the Kivas, and the chickens, well, I am going to have to find a way to get around attracting coyotes.
    We have begun digging water diversion trenches to redirect water coming off of the parking lots and the building, at least what we can get, into the growing area. We will use some rock structures to help direct the water. So long as we do not have a holding pond of any kind I shouldn’t have to safety fence it.
    So many things to get in order, but it is coming together nicely. The kids LOVE working out there. The more mature the system gets the better a teaching tool it will become.
    Right now, I am looking into doing some research on below-grade growing. If I plant in keyholes 2 feet deep or so, will that save the plants from wind damage and higher wind-driven transpiration? Will it help to collect and make use of the very low rainfall we receive? If I lasagna the bed it should have drainage and nutrients. I may just have to try a few and see.
    I am glad that most of the cold has passed. We will get another reminder or two that winter isn’t quite finished with us, but the deepest cold is over. NOTHING like the cold I have lived with most of my life though. I don’t miss double digits below. πŸ™‚

  18. Hi Laura, sorry for the late reply, been so incredibly busy. And you’ve been busy too!
    I also am in the process of installing t-tape, finished the hoophouse a few weeks ago and so far it’s working great. I have a little 200 gallon tank right outside the hoophouse on about a foot higher elevation and when I first tried my new pressure gauge I thought it was defective — the needle didn’t move at all. Then tried it on a pressurized faucet and it worked fine, so I basically have zero pressure at the hoophouse, but the t-tape works great even when I water all sections simultaneously.
    Make sure you use the recommended filter, mine already plugged up once, but all I had to do was open it and a bunch of gunk came out and it worked again.
    I just recently got done fixing frozen irrigation pipes, it got down to 3 F in the hoophouse. Surprisingly, lots of chard, radiccio, lettuce, mustard etc. survived and are growing like crazy. The hollyhock is about to flower and the calendulas came back from roots or seed.
    Regarding below ground growing, it sounds like a really good idea. The hard part is preparing the planting area, planting, cultivating and harvesting. I tried it in one bed and don’t know why nothing has done well there. In part critter damage, but it’s almost like that spot is cursed. I just replaced the olive tree in the middle that got killed by the gophers with a plum tree.
    We’ve been talking a lot about soil amendment at our gardening club meetings and I’m finally starting to post at our blog:
    You might want to read the post on Azomite and I really want to post a lot more, as soon as I catch up with paid work and of course the gardens.
    Regarding coyotes, they’re not big on veggies, but they might come for the water if there is no other source close by.
    It sounds like you’re doing great!

  19. I have obtained a list of nitrogen fixing plants for Temperate Climate Permaculture. I have gone through the list and eliminated any that need water or that aren’t find of altitude. This is what is left, does anyone have any experience with these plants??
    Gray alder, Japanese pagoda tree, smooth alder, false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa), pygmy pea shrub, sea buckthorn, groundplum milkvetch (Astragalus crassicarpus), Huang Qi (Astragalus membranaceous), painted milkvetch (Astragalus pictus-filifolius) which I believe is native to my area, sweet vetch (Hedysarum boreale), lupines esp. angustifolius, prairie turnip (Psoralea esculenta), two-flowered pencil flower, white clover, and butterfly pea (Clitoria mariana)
    Let me know if you have tried any of these and how it went. Perhaps I will be able to post how it went in our orchard this fall.

  20. Hi Laura, good to hear from you, it’s been a while. Thanks for posting the list of nitrogen fixer. I just got some lupine seeds, so have no experience yet. I had some white clover once, but can’t remember how it did. There’s some clover in our hoophouse that might be it. I don’t know the other plants, but I’ll look them up. You’re even higher than we are,
    Where did you get the full list?
    I started our list of nitrogen fixers at the forum:
    Been too busy to work on that, but hope to expand the listing soon.
    Are the yellow bird of paradise not hardy enough for your elevation?
    We just bought the neighboring lot, another acre, and are just getting ready to do the design — I’m very excited about that.

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