Plants for Horrible Soil?
We live in a desert. A horrible, dry, droughty, chalky, extremely alkaline, heavily compacted desert. It is so dry and hot here, even our wild cactuses are dying.
There's also ridiculously high levels of arsenic and uranium in our soil, and I'm not entirely sure I'm not living on top of a toxic waste dump. Our water is too dangerous to drink.
Soil pH is a whopping 8.9, and our water is about the same. I planted some sunflowers and beans and herbs in pots, and I have to water them about three times a day to keep them alive, mixing a little bit of vinegar in the water and testing it each time to make it mildly acidic. Otherwise, we end up with salt buildups on all the pots.
Our soil is mostly sand and rock and calcium carbonate here, and the levels of arsenic, lead, and uranium are ridiculously high, so I've been told by the neighbours (after they laughed at me for trying to plant things), to wear a good dust mask if I'm digging in the garden to keep myself from inhaling the dirt while digging to prevent radon inhalation as a byproduct of the uranium decomposition). I've heard that brake ferns can clean up the arsenic, but I'm looking for a way to counteract the uranium and alkalinity in our soil, or find plants that will grow here. I know that I can help nurture the right kind of bacteria by adding acetic acid to the soil, and that would help change the uranium isotopes, but I'm not sure what would happen with the arsenic there.
Is there anything I can do to help things along? Any soil additives? Keeping in mind that we haven't ridiculous amounts of money to spend on this, and I've a passion for chemistry (difficult solutions with household products are AWESOME). What about plants that could grow around here? We have LOTS of Larrea tridentata, but I hate them passionately, as they seem to shelter all the rattlesnakes. There's also prickly pears, but they haven't flowered in more than a year, and are all dying, slow, painful looking deaths.
Ideally, I'm looking for a plant that would grow in this soil, that is drought resistant, low maintenance, and would help improve the soil. Any suggestions?