Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lessons From a Mesquite Dune Project

Years back in the middle 1990s, I use to travel California Highway 78 to Highway 86 Junction south  to El Centro California from my home up in the San Jacinto Mountains which was to the northwest of this Highway Junction. I worked down there and the drive was approximately two hours one way. Before getting to the Junction 86 however, on the right hand side driving east just a mile from the junction I noticed there was some sort of planting project going on. Southwestern Native Desert Plants were being installed and remote irrigation techniques were being experimented with. 

California Hwy 78 Looking West towards San Diego County Mountains

 Here is a link to the website of the group responsible for this Mesquite Dune Experiment. It was conducted by the San Diego State University SDSU - Soil Restoration Group.

The reality is that I never really paid this project no mind other than slowing down once or twice and passively giving it some attention. I did stop once and gave a closer look. I was wondering of course what specific species of plants were used and what was the purpose of these plantings. I never saw anyone as I went past to stop and ask. Never the less I was curious, but I have to be honest that it wasn't till some years later it took on more meaning when I thought back on their project.

The SDSU Soil Ecology Restoration Group's purpose
of these studies have included evaluation of the nature of disturbance, soil remediation, seed collection, processing, and storage, dustfall and erosion control, plant production and outplanting techniques, remote site irrigation, plant protection, direct seeding, and the re-establishment of mesquite mounds along the San Felipe Creek watershed region of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  The primary goal of these studies has been the mitigation of off-road vehicle damage, road construction, and mining. Once again , you may read further about this Project which was created by San Diego State University's Soil Ecology Restoration Group.
Here's an interesting map that gives an idea as to actual location. The area is about a mile or so from the Hwy 86 Jct on Hwy 78 and just north of the San Felipe Creek Ecological Reserve in Imperial County California. This map is from the California Department of Fish and Game and just about where you see on this map at about the green Hwy 78 sign is where the Project Habitat Restoration Site is located.
Let me give you an up to date visual of just what the place looks like as of last year June 2011. My wife and I stopped there on our way back from Brawley CA with my brother Lance going back to his home in the Mountains at Ranchita and I took a number of photographs. Some spots not doing so well and other trees were very impressive.
Coming from the Jct 86 east to west with
Mesquite Site on left

photo: Mine
Ignore that masked man behind the Tamarisk Curtain! On a cautionary note: beware of the soft sand road shoulder off the south side of Hwy 78. The US Border Patrol regularly grades it to track illegals. No low clearance vehicle should attempt to park on the experiment side of the Highway.
Notice not all made it but this one is still going as 
are others in background

photo: Mine
As you an see, this little seedling was still hanging on but just barely. Considering this project started in 1995, that's Kool.

photo: Mine
To her left notice what is left of the built up mound structure ? The basic frame was a straw bale covered by the native soil. Not sure why they built them this way other than ease of workload and cutting costs. As time went on the bales would deteriorate. The idea is that blowing sand would catch under the Mesquite tree and build it back up naturally.
photo: Mine
I'd say half the project didn't make it but this experiment was about restoration in remote areas with minimal interference at the beginning for establishment and then letting nature take over from there.
photo: Mine
Now there were some areas where there were great successes as you see here.

photo: Mine
One of the things I noticed about these particular successful tree locations were the fact that they were not in a mound or dune situation. These were in lower water catchments where Thunderstorm Summer Monsoonal Rains coming up from Mexico in July/August running off the road and collecting here in small basins which filled to capacity. This was noticeable by the dried mud cracklings all around the ground.

photo: Mine
The area is fenced mainly to keep people out and I was surprised by many of the Herbivore Protective Guards still left on most all of the trees since the website said these were removed in 1999. Still, some impressive looking trees for an area that receives less that 3 inches of rainfall a year. The the road runoff here may more than double that rainfall table totals. This may effect some accuracy rain data for the remote site location, but if these had the ability to tap into underground water table, then any lack of rain or low rainfall amounts would not be a factor. San Felipe Creek wash is only a couple hundred feet away.

There are some important techniques employed in the way of irrigation they used that I totally agree with and some not. I'm not really into the idea of drip irrigation here on this site location. It's a remote site, they had water tanks up on wooden foundation towers which I actually did observe personally. My problem with that is water being heated up by the desert sun and the research done by Viktor Schauberger (Austria - 1885-1958) who revealed the sun's negative impact on water's molecular cluster structure and it's lack of ability to revitalize and properly hydrate a plant properly. Again, as they themselves stated, these studies have included evaluation of the nature of disturbance, soil remediation, seed collection, processing, and storage, dustfall and erosion control, plant production and outplanting techniques, remote site irrigation, plant protection, direct seeding, and the re-establishment of mesquite mounds along the San Felipe Creek watershed region of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  The primary goal of these studies really was restoration and the best available techniques for success. If that is true then some of the results should bare this out.
 Things the Mesquite Dune Experiment did correct & things not so good.
Deep Pipe Irrigation
The very best techniques I saw them using was PVC Pipe driven deep into the ground near each Mesquite Seedling which actually forces the water very deep underground instead mostly remaining on the surface where Desert heat from the Sun further cooks the water in the tiny drip line system and the majority of it evaporating anyway near the surface. I wrote previously here in this blog about this basic natural phenomena of the Mesquite's natural ability even when dormant in the wintertime to take surface waters and pump them deep down into the subsoil layers of the Earth which has technically been given the new term "Hydraulic Descent". This is actually the best storage treatment to use with regards water. Where else will it go but to be used by the Mesquite tree ?
The reference link for this phenomena is found here:
Below is a link to a PDF on the Irrigation techniques used:
Here are some examples of the deep pipe irrigation's ability to facilitate water into deeper soil layers which in turn encourages deeper root growth and movement down into the subsoil.

photo: Mine
 These same techniques can be utilized with deep rooted native bunch grasses and other desert trees and shrubs. Notice also the technical mechanisms for preventing animals, insects and other debris from entering the pipes ? A solid white PVC cap may also be used.

photo: Mine
Another method would not only allow the plant to stimulate it's taproot downwards, but also protect against hungry herbivores like Rabbits, Squirrels, rats or mice.
Let me offer an illustration of how a hole drilled beneath the root level would be better adapted to not only providing water at deeper root layers, but also creating the best area of water storage to be used by ONLY by these plants. You've got to put your thinking cap on here for a moment and imagine just how viewing elements of nature can be replicated in an actual implementation by human mechanical means to give a great head start at success, which is what everyone wants in the first place. So just a little extra effort for those enthusiastic about a project shouldn't be a problem. See Below:

Take a look at the root zone level deep down. Ideally this is where you want the water to end up and remain stored in the deeper surrounding soil layers for the plant to utilize to the full potential. The Gopher hole beautifully illustrates how this can be done, though maybe not at such a diagonal angle. BTW, I used these exact methods described above back in the late 1970s and they DO Work!!!
Clearly there are a number of means of which are available to humans to make this task much easier and more efficient. There are of course mechanical attachments for smaller garden sized or bigger tractors. In many cases this could be used not only for posting large hollow PVC Irrigation Pipe into the ground, but also for long drilling much deeper slender holes for planting the actual seedling grown in another unique container method which I'll allude to further down.
Some of this may even seem a bit radical, but if the project is important enough and quick success is of the utmost importance, then certainly nothing should be over looked. Humans have excellerated the destruction of our planet's environment. Clearly it is entirely proper to speed recovery along and in the most efficient manner possible and available. It also calls for the need to set aside certain almost religious sacred ideological philosophies of allowing nature to work on it's own. 
Yes, to a degree I also like this point of letting nature do it's work, however humans have excellerated a climatic change of events on our Earth. The normal behavioral patterns of  historical weather patterns cannot be counted on any longer. Removal of vegetation and disruption of plant community ecosystems Earthwide has almost destroyed the cloud formation mechanisms of many ecosystems by result of plant community removal. As already posted in this blog on some of the side pages along the lefthand side, there is major scientific evidence to show that plants regulate cloud formation around the globe even locally. Fast establishment of these plants, getting their roots deep into the earth to tap into it's energy and deeper layers of water and negative electrical conductivity will help to heal what has been lost. We DON'T need half-baked artificial means of fixing horrific weather events that WE (Humans) caused. We DON'T need the inventions of geo-engineering or low-tech weather modification devices  as such has been championed down in Dubai. If they actually understood the mechanisms for which plants create weather and have attempted to replicate these through innovations, then you don't need to create a faked counterfeit. What we need is the authentic original. Start dumping the sub-standard science-based money profiteering technologies and go with what will work the best in the environment and that is nature based high-tech methods. Negative Ions emitted by plants grounded deeply in the Earth and simultaneously releasing into the air volatile organic compounds we call Aerosols which create cloud formation are what we have to bring back. Seriously here, nature doesn't give a crap about anything left or right winged and as long as these two failures bicker back and forth with spitting and poop throwing contests then count on the ecology to continue it's downwards spiral.
Techniques I didn't like, but it's not their fault.
Long time traditional methods of propagation and conventional containerized methods long used are another hindrance to some desert or dryland trees and shrubs re-establishment. I understand this has been the tried and true standard for decades and ALL conventional Retail Nurseries still practice these and successfully. But most of these nurseries are selling to a novice rookie public who most likely will not be replicating nature no matter how many times you preach it at them on how things actually work in the real world. Even if certain gardeners would argue they are NOT novice or rookies, the facts prove they have been doing things in a conventional science-based technological manner for decades and any radical suggestions are going to be water off a Duck's back anyway. Here's what I mean.  Take a look at the outdated conventional ways of growing Mesquite Seedlings for out planting. This may be okay for Joe/Jane weekend Gardener, but not remote planting.

image: Valley Permaculture Alliance

So what's wrong with the picture above ? Is anyone aware of just how a Mesquite Tree root system develops out there in the real world and what step by step observations you would see if you had X-Ray vision to pear into the underground and actually watch how the taproot develops & functions ? So what happens first to seeds from most members of the Pea Family ? Take a look:

 This is Coyote Scat to the left. You may not realize it but Coyotes also eat quite a bit of vegetative seeds as part of their diet. I've seen this same scenario with Holly-Leafed Cherry up in the mountains. Many seeds need to go through the digestive tracts of some animal so that the acids break down the hard outer coating which protects the seed from drying out completely. This later allows rain from winter season's water to penetrate the seed and swell the seed for germination. In the USA, Cattle and other herbivores perform this necessary function. Funny thing is Ranchers never think to blame their own cattle and bad ranching practices for Mesquites spread across the landscape. It's even labeled invasive in it's own habitat.
 Same goes for the Umbrella Acacia or Fever Trees (Acacia tortilis) which I just wrote about in a previous post. They need the same breakdown action of the very hard polished seed coatings in order for water to penetrate and stimulate the germination processes.
Below here is an experiment I have done in the past. Although I have used USA southwestern natives Mesquite and Catsclaw Acacia before, I'm hoping these other members of the Pea Family like Palo Verde will offer the same results. I will keep updating this portion of the article as time and seedling development progress to the point of specialized unconventional plant container implementation which I believe will be a better habitat fix and which will accelerate results and success rates. We'll see!

So what do we do first ? Here's what I have done exactly two days ago from this writing here. We went to Tenerife in the Canary Islands in February 2012 this year. I walked around local neighbourhoods and collected seeds from Poinciana (Mexican Bird of Paradise, Paloverde and other seeds from the pea family there. I wanted to replicate a propagation experimental illustration I have performed many times since the late 1970s.  I actually had this experiment in mind for when I came back from our trip earlier this year, but I've been putting it off until now. To replicate the acid etching necessary for the breaking down of the hard seed coatings, I used two sheets of sand paper with the seeds in between. I then pressed and rubbed back and forth to create scars on this outer coating  which is technically termed scarifying. Take a look. 

Inside my kitchen
After I perform this task, I take a glass and put all the seeds into the bottom. Then taking boiled scalding water I pour this over the seeds and let them soak up as much as will make them swell up. I do this head start method with almost everything I germinate anyways, even for gardens. Let the water cool and set for exactly one day or two. You'll even notice the water tint a little from some tannins that may be present, then it's time to plant, but in a very unique way for this experiment.


First we've got to get out our observational thinking caps and get our replication act together. With the method I use here (glass &  paper towel school boy experiment) this allows the plant itself to illustrate just exactly what the DNA or genetic informational instructions are communicating to us as to it's needs and wants in step by step processes which are in order of importance as to what comes first. This is exactly what I do, but first, what do we know about a Mesquite's needs in such a hostile environment and what allows it to survive such unforgivable extremes in climate ? Take a look:
The above animation is exactly the process you
 observe between the glass jar and paper towel.

Bursage Nurse Plant
In the wild a Mesquite seed will put ALL of it's instructional energy & resources into building a long deep root system. It has a very strong deep penetrating taproot in the wild as do African Acacias and other dryland successful plants. The glass experiment will illustrate and communicate to you what exactly is most important to it. Obviously any lateral side roots will be less important because IF this tree seedling does NOT  first make it to deeper layers in the native soil where at least some element of moistness is available, then it fries when summer heat makes it's appearance which comes rapidly as the season accelerates. Many of the more successful ones will be under some small nurse plant which will shade it that first year. Those in the open have less chance of surviving when Temps are at 40+ C (100+ F) and of course the ever present danger of hungry herbivores. Many plants you see in the wild (like the Bursage above) that look as if they are of little account to you because they have no ornamental horticultural value in your eyes are in reality nothing of the sort. They usually are the necessary process for succession of higher plants to get their start in the environment. The plants in the open are definitely at risk.

Mesquite Seedling emerging from soil - (Musings from Tucson 2012)

The Experiment
 Okay back to next step after soaking seeds. I have an almost two foot tall clear glass vase I used. I pour in warm water into the bottom then lined it with the papertowels which was a bit tricky. You need a fairly even towels placement all around the perimeter and it has to be damp. Only then can you place in and insert the seeds where you want them near the top. I also put a plate on top to allow the atmosphere to be relatively in a constant humid state. Air pockets are okay here. Remember you want to observe everything these roots do. When I first did this experiment with Catsclaw Acacia, the most important thing these plants did was to grow a taproot to the bottom and it proceeded to spiral numerous revolutions around the bottom before any small sprigs of leaf appeared from the actual seed. What does this tell us ? At the time of planting up on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon CA above my mum's place, I had to drill by hand a meter deep hole because that is how long the taproot was. The actual plant with leaves were no more than an inch or two in height when I planted. Again I ask, what does this tell you about container innovations ? Here's are the results so far after seed insertion just less than 24 hours ago as time of typing here. Keep in mind that this rapid germination is a part of the genetic informational instructions which is guiding things from within this plant's DNA that prevent this plant from following  around and wasting time producing leaf growth in an environment that is otherwise hostile and merciless. 

Can you believe this ? 
Again what kind of communication is going on here ?
I'll update this page here as time goes on with more photos. I'll write up a separate page on the side of what I believe will be a superior containerized process for nursery applications for outplanting in a remote environment. Home city situations are not the same for a one gallon root spiraled bound plant. At home a gardener is like a nurse taking care of a patient on life support until the patient can make it on their own. Remote planting has no such pampering privileges. So stay tuned! Special Note Here: I'm going to create a special page and update that on this desert seed germination and propagation experiment. It will be located with the other resource pages in the upper right hand side of this blog. Seed are really taking off now and this should be fun.
Swedish Mesquite Seed Propagation Experiment: What can we Learn from the Plant's DNA Communication ? 
Below here are some projects ongoing and in a way associated with the restoration projects for this area of Tamarisk removal and Mesquite Bosque and other native Riparian Habitat restoration. Besides plants, other wildlife are generally taken into consideration. The Mesquite Dune Experiment also offers ideas and innovations for replacing ALL Desert Agricultural Windbreaks which mistakenly continue to utilize an introduction of Mid-East & North African Tamarisk Tree species which have rapidly gotten out into the wild and taken over many stream, lake and river habitats and decimated whole native plant & animal populations.  Future article already on the draft board for that. Stay tuned and enjoy the photos and links below of things most are not aware of.

One of the sad things to have taken place is the almost disappearance of the once abundant Desert Pupfish ( Cyprinodon macularius ) which had a historic range which included the lower Gila River basin in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. It inhabited the Gila, Santa Cruz, San Pedro, and Salt Rivers as well as the lower Colorado River from around Needles California, to the Gulf of California. Apparently there are remnants of them in the Agricultural drainage of Imperial Valley.

The Deserthas been replaced in many areas by the Sailfin Molly ( Poecilia latipinna ) which is originally found in fresh water habitats from North Carolina to Texas and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Preferring marshes, lowland streams, swamps, and estuaries, the sailfin molly is very common in peninsular Florida.

San Sebastian Marsh
The above link deals with the restoration of the San Sebastian Marsh Delta of San Felipe Creek. The Creek it self upstream has three major tributaries with San Felipe Creek coming from the west out from the mountains around Julian California. The other two are Fish Creek and lower Carrizo Creek and upper Carrizo Wash from Ocotillo California. Just a couple of other links to the San Felipe Creek delta which empties into the Salton Sea. Incredibly in a miniature way it mirrors the delta of the once mighty Colorado River into the Gulf of California, but now is almost nothing more than a dry alluvial fan with a few puddles of marsh. Take a look at these three photo & their links and scrutinize the vast size by clicking the magnifying glass tool on that link. Locals will remember when Hurricane Kathleen came through in September 1976 or 1977 that dumped several feet of rain into the Imperial Valley with Ocotillo receiving 6 inches an hour at the storms peak. The resulting tributaries converging on the San Felipe Creek Delta would have destroyed and wiped out ALL those Farmlands you now see in the picture. The Salton Sea itself rose by several feet which should illustrate the vast amount of water from that storm.

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