Observing the Land

Our dog Neville surveying his kingdom.

When we got our land, only the central area was fenced, the rest is open to the local wildlife. So I have spent my first years mostly in observation of this space. This has been a very long time coming, so the wish to jump right in was so strong – but I knew that with this land at the north side of the mountains overlooking the vast high desert, I needed to really observe the Sun, the winds, the trees and plants already growing, as well as the animals that live here…

What we have is a perimeter of trees, many in bad shape – as the property had been empty for 2 years. Diseases and even gophers are slowly taking them down. Some trees have been planted too closely to the fence line, which may be troublesome in the years to come. No real micro-climates except underneath certain trees, but due to a single surrounding tree line, the West facing side knocks out the coolness of the morning during the Summer.


Here are the key areas of observation:

Sun and Shade
Where the Sun rises and sets across the land is key. As we are very high up in elevation, the difference between Winter and Summer sunrise is enormous. The areas along the north side of the house get no Sun at all through the Winter, and the West facing kitchen heats up insanely in the Summer. This is helping me decide on how to begin making a plan on shade.

The winds here are significant. I’ve had to really study the direction of the Summer winds as well as the Santa Anas, as they come from opposite directions. Some serious wind breaks need to be planted on the SW side.

Microclimates are locations where features of the land, such as topography, materials and water bodies create variations in temperature. Microclimates can really help small gardens or nice shade areas. My goal is to find ways to begin creating microclimates, using the assets of the property itself: an inexhaustible supply of rocks, tree branches from the trimming of the trees, dirt used from shaping one area and moving it to another, as well as building ponds and slowly creating more shade and wind break.

Moisture is key to plant growth, and if I can harvest from the weather and through the water usage in the house, I can reduce our reliance on water supply systems. This is incredibly hard here, so I need to create rain catcher systems on the roof, as well as put in a greywater system to automatically water the tree line from the sinks, showers and washing machine. One of the key selling points to this place was that the kitchen sink had been rerouted for greywater, which I’ve been able to use to water everything out back and get existing trees and shrubs stabilized. I hope to continue moving forward on this over the next few years.

The soil here is actually a mix of decomposed granite with sand and a tiny bit of clay. Not much organic material due to low amounts of plant life here. So the need for compost and soil amendments is key to be able to grow anything.

Joshua Trees, Scrub Oak, Manzanitas, Junipers, Wolfberries and all kinds of Sages and desert herbs dominate the land. What they all have in common are deep tap roots and the ability to withstand extreme elements. A number of very weakened fruit trees are left, which will probably go in the next couple of years, and I’ll be planting trees like Palos Verde, Mesquite and Pepper Trees to be planted over the next few years.

Local Resources
The community here is small, but there are many animal ranches here, so I have access to organic materials for adding to the soil such as chicken and horse manure. I also have neighbors with tractors, local plumbers, electricians and handy people of all kinds.