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Design ideas for a sunny, north-facing slope?

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Hi all,

I'm looking for ideas on how to grow fruit trees, vegetables and berries on a very sunny, northeastern-facing slope (northeast edge is low, southwest edge is high). Most of what I've read online assumes that anything north facing is shaded, but in our case, we chose this slope because it is the sunniest part of our property. It's an old horse field with few tall trees around the perimeter. The area we want to plant in is about 4,000 sq ft, deer fenced. The mild/moderate slope has good drainage, even though the soil is compacted. The north (bottom) end of the slope has a very shallow, seasonal watercourse that runs just about 10 feet beyond the fence line. More soggy than flowing in winter months; at the fence's edge, water is visible in post holes at about the 2 foot mark in winter/spring. A south-facing hill rises up on the other side of watercourse, meaning there is a very little valley between the two slopes. In the winter, the air in the valley is cooler than higher up the slopes.

I'm very new to permaculture (design) and am trying to make some decisions about where to site the fruit and nut trees we want to grow in this space. Some have suggested growing them higher up (southern end) on the slope because the drainage is better, and keeping them small so they don't shade the areas beyond them. Other logic might suggest planting them closer to the northern border, so they act as a bit of a wind block and don't prevent sun from falling on the rest of the slope/growing area. They could be at risk of having wet feet, though, if they are too close to the northern edge and water course. (We are growing apples, pears, plums, cherries, hazelnuts.)

Keep in mind this slope gets an immense amount of sun in the summer and has no current sources of shade. I am on the east coast of Vancouver Island, which experiences wet winters and very hot, dry summers (no rain for months on end).

My questions:

- Is having the orchard on the slope the biggest priority, therefore I work around the shade they create for other plants?
- Is having the orchard along the northeast edge a priority, because it will block the wind while maintaining sun on rest of slope?
- Does either work and there are other more important considerations to factor in? One things is that we cannot move the growing area, for now, as the south-facing slope is more treed and extremely rocky.

If anyone has ideas or great resources for how to think through this design question, I'm all ears. Thanks!

Posts: 6623
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Sounds like an interesting piece of land with an equally interesting land scape.

First thing to do is water management (l listed it second but it should be first on your list of things to do). By getting the earth works done first the rest is a lot easier to get right.

What I would do is first make a drawing of this area and then take the time to place lines showing the sun's travel on that drawing, at the same time I would be logging duration of sun light.
If you make two drawings you can place a grid over the first one for writing in how long the sun hits each square of the grid, this will end up giving you a sun light map that shows where the sun travels and how much light each section of grid receives per day.
With that data you can then begin to figure out which plants you want to grow as well as where the best spot for each of those plants is and you can mark those on your grid too.
Once you are done with that, the rest is just a matter of putting the plants in the right spot of the grid.

The other drawing will be used for mapping rain fall flows, so you can determine how much earth work to do prior to planting so that you have the water controlled and don't loose any of the work of planting because of bad water management.

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Location: Central Texas zone 8a
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I am way south of you, where freezes rarely last more than a day. So this may not apply to you but might have benefits for others on a broader scale.

I look at frosts and freezes like rain. It comes down from the sky, rolls down hill, and collects in the low areas. Because of this i plant on the slope. I want to keep my trees from being under water (under frost).

I also believe i get more frost protection on the north side of my house because of the slope. The frost, coming down the hill, hits the south side of my house and has to flow around it.

I guess it comes to which problem you're solving. Wind vs frost. Dry vs wet. Thin topsoil vs deep topsoil. My low areas have topsoil up to 6ft deep. On the slope in can be inches or nothing.  Finding slope with topsoil is what i look for.
Sutton Eaves
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Thanks Wayne. There are a few problems to solve:

- Frost, like you said
- Most of our wind comes from the west and almost never from the north, which I believe means the northeast facing slope is largely protected on that front
- Definitely wetter at base (north edge) of slope
- Soil is pretty poor throughout so I'm going to have to build it up in any place

Can you imagine, in this context, what would be optimized for the northern or low end of my slope? I currently have raspberries there, followed by veggie beds as you head up the slope, followed by open space, followed by a fruit-tree guild towards the top of my growing area (which is only about 2/3 of the way up the slope). Raspberries seem pretty darn happy, but they've only been in for a year...

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