Deep Mulch Method for Building Soil in Deserts

Yesterday I watched a video on how to build healthy soil in desert areas such as Arizona. A lot of our readers are building earthbag houses and gardens in similar environments since land like this is often quite affordable.

The forest garden in the video looked fantastic, however I was shocked to learn the owner has been applying 4’ (yes 48”) of wood chips and grass clippings every year for almost 30 years! That’s mind boggling. While this method obviously works, it is very labor intensive and it’s not scalable. There’s not enough wood chips to supply thousands of homeowners in desert areas.

I’d suggest getting Brad Lancaster’s bestselling book Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond to learn of additional ways to build soil in desert areas.

Here’s one other option. I’d probably shape the land in advance with one or two mini-excavators: one to dig trenches for hugelculture beds on contour and to sculpt shallow swales in between (remove some clay), and a second excavator with a big auger to drill tree holes several feet apart until the site looks like Swiss cheese. Export all this clay and fill the swales and tree holes with mycorrhizal rich compost/top soil mix.

In between your new fruit and nut trees, consider planting fast growing soil busting/nitrogen fixing trees and plants to build soil and help shade the slower growing fruit trees. These can later produce biomass by chopping and dropping leaves and branches, and they can be removed when the main trees get larger.

For more free information, search our blog for keywords building soil or degraded land. There are quite a few examples now of people who have restored the worst soil imaginable. My example above is a bit extreme (machine intensive) but it would speed the process and get you off to a good start to establishing a forest garden or similar type of edible landscape around your home. You’d definitely save many hundreds of hours of very hard work. You could rent the machines to save money.

Kentucky-grown hemp will insulate the walls of this house

“Hemp enthusiasts attending a two-day workshop in Lexington began working Friday on what is touted as the first house to be insulated with Kentucky-grown hemp.

Participants in the “Building with Hemp” workshop, which coincides with Hemp History Week, learned about the history and uses of hemp before getting their hands dirty making insulation from hemp for a house under construction at 168 York Street.

“There’s a lot to be figured out, and I think this house gives us the opportunity to look into that,” said Josh Hendrix, director of business development and domestic production at CV Sciences, one of the partners for the workshop.

Hendrix, who grows hemp on his farm in Mount Sterling, said he hopes to one day build a guest house on his farm using hemp as a building material.

Kris Nonn, director of design and construction at North Limestone Community Development Corporation, organized the workshop along with Hendrix.

“What we’re trying to demonstrate is how a locally-sourced product can help the local economy,” Nonn said. “There’s a potential for jobs, for green jobs specifically.”

According to Nonn, hemp is an “insulation alternative that doesn’t have major drawbacks.”

The material, known as “hempcrete,” is hypoallergenic, resistant to fire and insect damage, and “allows moisture to move through it,” according to Nonn.

Read more here:
Special thanks again to Alex and Gail who keep finding good stories for us to enjoy.

Worst Places to Live with Minimal Building Codes: Fracking, Oil, Mining Regions

We have a whole series of articles about the best places to live with few or no building codes in the US. The other day I came across a video about oil shale fracking called Shale Cowboys. Then I remembered that the current Administration is pushing for US energy independence using oil shale and coal deposits. These areas would be among some of the worst places to establish a sustainable homestead in my opinion. Once the water table is polluted then the area is basically uninhabitable for the foreseeable future.

Map of US oil shale deposits

Map of US oil shale deposits

Image source:

Earthbag Dome Building Online Calculator

“I would like readers to help validate a part of my PhD research. In this phase, I created an online tool to design earthbag/SUPERADOBE volumetric domes. Please try it and fill the form about your experience.

The earthbag dome online calculator is available at (Sound is very hard to hear.) I´d appreciate if you can share with your contacts. PS: It doesn’t work on cellphones, just computers.”

Related: Earthbag Dome Materials Calculator