First-Year Changes Seen From Above

Here are “before and after” satellite images that show evidence of our progress as of last winter thanks to Google Maps. Can’t wait till they update them again, because we have done a lot since then!

Before

2013

As of December 2014

As of December 2014

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The Energy Strategy

With the super-abundant solar energy that is available here in the desert, we hope to transition to solar powered everything (cooking, lighting, transportation, technology, etc.) as solar technology evolves.

Coppice stick-fuel that is grown on the site is intended to serve all of the energy needs that cannot be met by the sun. Rocket stoves designed to burn this fuel super efficiently will serve in cases where solar cooking is impractical or too time consuming–there will be rocket stove systems incorporated into each of the kitchen spaces as well as a rocket-stove oven.

The house is already heated quite nicely in the winter through passive solar (sunshine fills the house all winter and none penetrates in the summer).

It is hoped that cooling can also become more and more passive as the property becomes increasingly shaded with trellises and trees. In addition, the installation of screen doors on the house and office will do much to cool the space passively.

Structural Elements

Here is a wish-list of all the structural changes to be made, when and if possible on the site–roughly in order of priority.

-Screen doors to be installed on the east and west doorways of the house and on the western door of the office to allow cooling breezes to passively move through these buildings in warm months.

-trellises buffering all western walls from the hot afternoon sun with deciduous vines planted in order to help keep buildings cool.

-Shutters added to the outsides of all windows in order to keep heat out of buildings when appropriate

-A composting toilet to replace the water-wasting conventional flush toilet.

-All greywater diverted into the zone 1 landscape for below-ground irrigation.

-Create a moveable chicken house and run.

-Build a portable, raised rabbit hutch.

-A pigeon loft will be erected.

-Since all rooftops are going to capture rainwater for drinking, roofs may need to be changed for water safety.

-Three large water tanks installed around the property.

-Build a cold-frame along south side of the house.

-Solar PV arrays on rooftops.

-Install a long, black, solar chimney through the roof on south side of the house to suck hot air out of the house while drawing cool air in from the other side during the summer season.

 

The Design Site

Pre-swales site

Here is a rundown of the site’s basic information as it stands now:

 Size: 1.25 Acres

Latitude/Longitude: 34.1269° N, 116.3186° W

Altitude: 2,700 ft. (822.9 meters) above sea level

Slope/Aspect: Very Gentle Slope, S, SE,  (and small area of SW)

Continental Effect: 115 miles from the west coast of California

Climate: Arid desert

Plant Hardiness Zone: 9a

Koppen Classification: BWh

Soil: Coarse decomposed granite sand with very little organic matter and very little clay.

pH: 6 (I feel mistrusting of this reading and am planning to get a better pH test kit to be sure).

Avg. days above 90F(32c): 150

Avg. days Below 32F(0c): 28

First/ Last Frost: 11/3, 4/4

Wind: Hard winds from S, and SW in spring and fall. Cold winds from N in winter. Light breezes from E and SE in summer

Rainfall: Very rare! 4.6 inches (116.8 mm) per year average. The wettest months of the year are in mid-winter and mid-summer (monsoon thunderstorms).

Structures: There are three existing structures:

-House ( 858 square foot wood/drywall)

-Office (120 square foot, wood/drywall)

-Shed/Carport (wood, at west end of property)

Significant Trees and Shrubs: 1 mature Honey Mesquite, 2 mature Palos Verdes, 1 mature fruitless mulberry shade tree, 1 40 year old female pistachio tree, 2 young male Pistachios, 1 young female Pistachio tree, 2 young apricot trees, 1 Asian pear tree, 3 Jujube trees, 1 young (possibly fruitless?) olive tree and several Pomegranite shrubs.

Natives: 3 mature Joshua Trees, 5 large mature Yucca Plants, numerous Creosote Bushes, Mormon Tea shrubs, White Bur-sage, Button Brittle Bush, Beavertail Cacti, Pencil Cacti and Silver Cholla plants.

The Experiment

My family and I are beginning an experiment on our little piece of Mojave Desert land to see if it is possible, through permaculture, to create a hardy and resilient living system around us, which can begin to provide for our needs more and more, and radicallly reduce our need for inputs from outside our local Joshua Tree area. Beyond this, we hope to see if it is possible to eventually begin to yield enough of a surplus of food, products and information from the system to begin to be able to contribute to the growth of a truly local food culture and economy here. The daunting, yet exciting challenge is to move toward these aims in ways that work within natural limits of this extremely arid ecosystem, always with an eye towards the welfare of future generations of life on this planet, and in keeping with the ethics of permaculture. Our intention is to chronicle the adventure here, for the benefit of the global permaculture community, and specifically those working in arid desert climates.

(Illustration revised January 2015)

(Illustration revised January 2015)