Drylands Permaculture Resources

“The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
– Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer, philosopher and poet from Work Song, Part 2, A Vision

You may review and print the complete set of resources shown below via this PDF: Click here to download

1. A Vision by Wendell Berry:

2.Composting Recipe:

  1. Good composting depends on correct layering, enough air circulation and enough moisture. It’s not rocket science but it does help to understand the basics. You can use a compost tumbler or just make a pile right on the ground.
  2. First put down a layer of brown, dead material (carbon). This can be dead leaf, cardboard, straw, cut-up dead palm leaves, newspaper, shredded paper.
  3. The next layer is green, living material (nitrogen). These can be cuttings from your garden and kitchen scraps. Eggshells are fine, just crunch them up first. Coffee grounds are good too. Some meat and oil are ok in a tumbler but not on the ground because it will attract insects and animals. Ration of carbon to nitrogen should be about the same. This ratio can vary depending on your information source. Again, it’s not rocket science.
  4. Next a light layer of aged horse manure. It should be at least a year old.
  5. Continue on with this layering until you have filled your tumbler about 3/4ths full or your ground pile is high enough to still be easy to turn over. In between adding layers to your on the ground pile, you can cover with a weighted down cloth tarp to hold moisture(not plastic, you want the air circulation to be unimpeded). About once a week wiggle a pitchfork into and all around the ground pile to aerate it. Your tumbler can be turned once a day or once a week depending on how quickly you would like it to work. More turning equals faster composting. Speed of composting also depends on the weather.
  6. Keep your compost moist but not soaked. It should feel damp like a wrung out sponge.
  7. In about a month turn your ground pile over so that the bottom is now the top. Turn again in another month.
  8. Your compost is ready when it looks like sweet smelling earth!

3. Seed Balls for Desert Ground Cover Restoration

Seed Mix for Joshua Tree, California (1 oz of each)
Native Wild Flowers:
Abronia Villosa – Sand Verbena
Baileya Multiradiata – Desert Marigold
Salvia Columbariae – Chia
Sphaeralcea Ambigua – Desert Mallow
Eriogonum Fasciculatum – California Buckwheat

Native Grasses:
Achnatherum Speciosum – Needle Grass
Achnatherum Humenoides – Indian Rice Grass
Seeds can be purchased from The Theodore Payne Foundation (online) or gathered
locally. Gather responsibly so that you don’t take all the seeds from any one plant.
A number of these plants will also provide food for the Desert Tortoise.
Landers, California Seed Mix:
All of the above minus Desert Marigold and Needle Grass

Seed Ball Recipe:
5 parts dry red clay (Laguna Clay Co. – can order online)
– Do not use white or grey clay. Both have a mineral content that inhibits germination.
2 parts compost
1 part endo-mycorrhizae inoculum soil
– This soil can be gathered from underneath local native shrubs such as Mormon tea, Wolfberry, Desert Broom, alkali Goldenbush, and California (aka Eastern Mojave) Buckwheat. These soil microbes are very sensitive to light so be sure to store the soil in a light proof container. Best to use this soil as soon as possible after digging it up.

Thanks to Ken Lair for this info.

½ part seed mix

  1. Put all together in a bowl and mix thoroughly with hands.
  2. Slowly add water while mixing by hand until small balls form that will hold together. Don’t make too wet.
  3. Pinch off small pieces and roll into balls with your hands. Balls should be about the diameter of a penny.
  4. Place each ball on cardboard and let dry for 48 hours.

If you use a level ice cream scooper per part than this will make approximately 50 balls.

Broadcasting the seed balls:

The beauty of seed balls is that you can put them out on your land at any time of year and that they do not require irrigation. The seeds will be protected from wind and insect and animal predation until the right amount of rain comes to dissolve the balls and begin germination. The dissolved ball itself provides a kickstart of nutrients for the seedlings. To further help with the kickstart, dig small, shallow basins (approx. 6” diameter, 2″ deep) in the soil and place a single ball in each basin. This can be done very quickly with a garden hoe. The basins will help collect and hold moisture during a rain. Put the balls at least 10’ apart. Desert plants need room.

This is not a quick fix. You are working with nature and nature takes its own time. Practice patience.

To take land restoration one more step, identify invasive plants that may be growing on your land and pull them out before seeds set. As long as there are no seeds you can drop the plant right on the ground for mulch.

4. Local mesquite guild

Mesquite guild use list:

A – Mesquite

  • Nitrogen fixer
  • Pollinator attractor
  • Windbreak
  • Forage for animals
  • Migrating bird attractor
  • Highly nutritious flour made from ground pods
  • Sweet pods make excellent molasses
  • Tools and furniture from wood
  • Excellent firewood
  • Many medicinal uses

B – Banana Yucca (Yucca Baccata)

  • Major food source – the stalk and the blossoms
  • Leaves provide fiber for cordage but Mohave Yucca was mainly used by indigenous people to make rope.
  • Soap also made from the leaves.

C – Prickly Pear (Opuntia Lindheimeri)

  • Highly nutritious fruit
  • Young new paddles can be sliced and eaten
  • Forage for animals
  • Groundcover that suppresses grass and controls evaporation

D – Chuperosa (Justica Californica)

  • The Diegueno tribe was known to suck the beautiful bright red flowers for their sweet nectar.
  • Pollinator attractor
  • Hummingbird attractor
  • Groundcover that suppresses grass and controls evaporation

E – Turpentine Bush (Ericameria Laricifolia)

  • Beautiful flowers
  • Ground cover, keeps soil moisture evaporation down
  • Wildlife attractor
  • Groundcover that suppresses grass and controls evaporation.

F – Four Wing Saltbush (Atriplex Canescens)

  • Nutritious flour made from seeds
  • Forage for animals
  • Soap made from leaves
  • Medicinal uses
  • Groundcover that suppresses grass and controls evaporation.

G – Western Mugwort (Artmesia Ludoviciana)

  • Used a as ceremonial plant by many indigenous American tribes
  • Said to be a dream potentiator if put under one’s pillow at night
  • Dried leaves make excellent tinder for fire making
  • Many medicinal uses but contains the toxin Thujone so must be prepared knowledgeably.
  • Spreads vigorously. Especially good groundcover that suppresses grass and controls evaporation.

H – Wolfberry (Lycium Fremontii)

  • Edible fruit – our native Goji berry
  • Forage for animals
  • Bird attractor
  • Groundcover that suppresses grass and controls evaporation.

5. 8 Principals of Successful Rain Harvesting:

6. The A-Frame Level

See pages 9-10 of the PDF download, click here.

7. Recipes For Locally Harvested Foods:


  1. After picking the olives, discard any that are soft.
  2. ​Score each olive along the side with a knife.
  3. ​Submerge the olives in a brine consisting of 1/2 cup of Kosher Salt to 1/2 gallon of water.
  4. Change the brine weekly.
  5. After about 8 weeks, begin to taste the olives for curing.  Eventually, the bitterness will be leached out by the salt.
  6. ​Jar the olives in fresh brine (boil the jars and lids for 10 minutes to sterilize).
  7. ​Into each 1/2 gallon of new brine mix 1 tsp of Citric Acid (obtainable from Health Food Stores).
  8. ​Optional but very desirable—After the olives and the brine, into each jar put 1 Tbl of Olive Oil and 4 Tbl of Red Wine Vinegar.

(Generally, use 1/2 cup of Mesquite Flour to 1 1/2 cups of regular Flour in any recipe that calls for 2 cups of flour.  The possibilities for adapting mesquite flour to standard recipes are endless).

Ingredients:  6 Tbl of room temperature butter; 3/4 cup of sugar; 1/2 tsp of salt; 3 tsp of baking powder; 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, 1/2 cup of mesquite flour; 2 eggs; 1/2 cup of milk

  1. Preheat oven to 400.  Grease a 12 or 24 muffin tin.
  2. ​Cream butter and sugar with wooden spoon or mixer.
  3. ​Mix together the salt, baking powder and flour.
  4. Beat the eggs into the milk.
  5. By hand, alternate mixing the flour mixture and the milk/egg mixture into the butter/sugar mixture, until batter is lumpy, not smooth, and thick but moist.  Add a little milk if too dry.
  6. ​Spoon batter into muffin tin.  Bake 10-15 minutes for mini-muffins and 20-30 minutes for regular size muffins, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before removing from tin.  Serve warm.

Go to www.desertharvesters.org to learn how to harvest and process Mesquite pods.

Nopales (Cactus Paddles) taste like tangy string beans.  This recipe adopts that. Nopales are available in the supermarket three ways:  spines on, spines off or cut into chunks. To de-spine, hold nopales with tongs and cut off spines with a sharp knife.  Then cut off around the edge. Some people don’t like their texture, which is like okra.  One way to handle that is to roast them in little pieces on a baking sheet with some drizzled olive oil, salt and pepper, at 375 for 20 minutes —the gooeyness bakes off.  They can then be tossed in a salad, etc.  Another way is to cook them in a casserole, where their texture melts into the surrounding juices—this recipe.)

Ingredients: 2 slices of high-quality sandwich bread, torn into quarters; 2 Tbl of unsalted butter; 2 Tbl of grated parmesan cheese; 6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed; 2 tsp of all purpose flour; 1/8 tsp of red pepper flakes; 1 tsp of minced fresh thyme; 1 1/2 lbs of nopales, cut into stringbean shapes; 1-1/2 cup of vege or chicken broth; 1/4 cup of jarred pimento, cut into small pieces; and about 5 sundried tomatos packed in a jar, cut into small pieces.

  1. Process the bread in a food processor to fine crumbs, about 10 1-second pulses.
  2. Heat 1 Tbl of the butter in a 12 inch (pref nonstick) skillet over med-high heat.
  3. When melted add the breadcrumbs, and cook stirring frequently until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a medium bowl and add 1/4 tsp of salt, 1/8 tsp of pepper, and the grated cheese.
  5. Wipe out the skillet.  Add remaining 2 Tbl of butter, the garlic, and 1/4 tsp of salt.
  6. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until garlic is golden, about 3-5 minutes.
  7. Stir in flour, red pepper flakes, thyme and nopales.
  8. Add the broth and increase the heat to med-high.
  9. Cover and cook till nopales are partly tender, but still crisp at the center, about 4 minutes.
  10. Uncover and add the pimentos and sundried tomatos.
  11. Cook, stirring occasionally, until nopales are tender and sauce has thickened slightly, about 6 minutes.
  12. Off the heat, adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste.
  13. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle evenly with the bread crumbs.  Serve.

Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Ice Cubes

Cactus fruit usually ripens in late August through September in our area. With long handled barbeque tongs, pull-twist the fruit off the paddles. Ripen fruit should come off easily. Place all in a wheel barrow. With a long handled stiff broom, roll the fruit back and forth. This will knock off most of the big spines. Cover the fruit with water, swish with broom and drain (use the water to irrigate some plants!). Package the fruit in large zip lock bags or other containers. Freeze for at least 2 weeks. Freezing changes the composition of the fruit so that when thawed,
they are soft and mushy. Thaw when ready to use. Slit each one open on the side and place several at a time into a cheesecloth-lined colander. Press with potato masher. Pour liquid into ice cube trays and freeze. Add cubes to juice and  Smoothies. Also makes killer Margueritas.

8. Recommended Books:

  1. Introduction to Permaculture – Bill Mollinson
  2. Gaia’s Garden – Toby Hemenway
  3. Tending the Wild; Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Resources – M. Kat Anderson
  4. Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Vol. I and II – Brad Lancaster
  5. Create an Oasis with Greywater – Art Ludwig
  6. A Pattern Language – Christopher Alexander
  7. The Humanure Handbook – Joseph Jenkins
  8. Gathering the Desert – Gary Paul Nabhan
  9. Tree Crops; A Permanent Agriculture – J. Russell Smith and Wendell Berry
  10. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyons West – Michael Moore
  11. Temalpakh; Cahuilla Indian knowledge and usage of plants – Lowell John Bean and Katherine Siva Saubel

Informative Links:

9. How to make a worm bin:

You may review and print the complete set of resources shown below via this PDF: Click here to download