Planting Days Are Here! (Al Baydha, Saudi Arabia)

by Neal Spackman

This week the project started planting the swales with 1000 very hardy desert trees. The team is working in shifts of laying drip line, digging holes, manuring and mulching swales, putting in compost, planting, mulching again, and then adjusting the drip emitter.

I knew I had selected good species when the team had their own name for every variety I brought. These are our pioneer trees that will fix nitrogen in our soil, establish wind breaks and shade, strengthen the soil’s fungal network, and help establish greater soil biodiversity. In short, they perform the functions we need before we can expect fruit trees to thrive in Al Baydha. We’re planting Acacia Senegal, Zizyphus Spinachristi, Parkensonia Aculeata, Sesbania Sesban, and Albizia Lebek. Additionally, I’m harvesting local prosopis pods that we’ll plant later in the winter, and getting some Leucaena Leucocephala seeds sent from Trees For The Future.

It’s been wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the team as they see how all the earthworks have laid the foundation for the beginnings of a forest. Something has clicked with them in understanding the big picture of these systems and how they interact with the local environment. Most of them have asked to take some trees to plant in their courtyards.

These trees will prepare the site to support moringa, date palm, citrus, mulberry, pomegranate, and fig trees, which we plan to plant in October 2013. We plan to drip irrigate them until 2015, at which point we will pull the irrigation off with the expectation that our forest will be able to live off the rainfall coming from the mountain.

Swales are spaced about 20 meters apart, which is the height of a mature date palm. Spacing swales according to the overstory height maximizes shade between the swales.