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tundra food forest

 
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I need help starting a homestead and permaculture landscape on about 5 acres in Alaska. I'm on  serious budget so I'm going to have to compromise.


I've been saving up for a year and can actually afford most of what I need. I would like to know what kind of solar panels I need to power my home that's no where above $2,000. Also need help on what solar refrigerator to get.
I'm still deciding on how I'm going to set up my house, I can't decide between earthbag home or shipping container, if I choose earthbag What would be the best size in sqft to give me the minimal price but being able to store all what I need?
 
gardener
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Congrats on saving up and welcome to Permies! You have a lot of good questions.  I think what's best is based on a lot of factors yet unknown to us. I know when we started up there was a cost associated with learning (i.e. finding out we made the wrong decision and have to do something else). The good news is we were saving more so we kept bouncing back faster and faster.

When I make decisions, I try to use the tools from Alan Savory's holistic management decision making (at least how I remember being taught it.)

I suggest inventorying your resources. I.E.  I assume you have land. Do you have dirt? What type? Do you have tools to move the dirt? Do you have snow and ice? Is there permafrost? Do you have trees or shrubs or any on-site foliage? Transportation: what are your options for hauling to and from the site? Seed? Do you have enough to live on and a place to grow it? Water sources? How much snow and wind do you get? How much sun? How close is the closest shipping place where imports and exports can be exchanged? Etc. Answering those will help a lot in answering your questions.
 
master pollinator
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You're probably among the best environments to operate an ice house, so that you don't have to have electrically-powered refrigeration.

I think the much larger question will be determining what can be grown in your location. Native people relied heavily on wild-caught meat. Brassicas and some leafy stuff can really grow quickly during the long days of summer. So whatever the land produces, will tend to come very quickly and then a long stretch where you would have to rely on stored resources.

Do you know of any other examples of anything that you would consider a food forest in Alaska?
 
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There are some alaskan permies here whoi may turn up and offer their 2 cents.
I'm in continental Canada so I get your situation and establishing a homestead is tough in such short bug infested time.

Personally I would be focussed on securing a year round water supply as my number 1 priority, followed by a reliable source of heating, and then a well insulated shelter. The last thing you want to be doing is chopping through feet of ice with an axe when it's -30 and blowing just to get a drink of water.

Since your specific question is in regards to shelter, I would personally go with an insulated shipping container. It's a literal haul in and drop in place solution that requires a fraction of the labor needed to get you moved in there compared to earth bag. It will get you through the first few years and once you're more established you may transition to earth bag or something different. Then it can be a valuable outbuilding / workshop / storage shed.

Think long term and resist the temptation to have permanent infrastructure immediately. You need time on the land to learn about how energy flows, where resources are, and all the microclimates that exist.

BTW now is a perfect time to be collecting perennial plant stock in the form of cuttings, etc. I would be hustling to establish the big 3 I already wrote about, and setting up a nursery, and scouring the countryside for cuttings and rootstock. Currants, haskaps, seaberry, russian olive, siberian pea shrub, cold hardy apples, plums and cherries, serviceberry, nannyberry, elderberry, rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus...

I'd be establishing a stick-wood / wind break hedge coppicing system now too. Alder works and it fixes Nitrogen. Hazelbert is a zone 3 nut bearing shrub that may also work. Either way the aim is to have a multi-functional system for growing wood that can be paired with a rocket mass heater that is designed to burn fast growing sticks as opposed to mature trees.

And I'd be sourcing seed of perennial food trees that require cold stratification so next spring I will have these seeds sprouting. Siberian pine nut seeds is an example.

All of these young plants can be kept in pots for 2 years before planting out. By then you will hopefully have a good idea about where to plant what, and have some tree growing landscape features in place to give them a great start.

I'd be putting in potatoes, peas and beans in your immediate spare time lol!

Notice I haven't talked about electricity or solar power.  I figure humanity got by without it for millenia so a new homestead can get by for a season or two. There are other more time sensitive activities and believe me, you don't have any time to waste. Summer is super short. when everything freezes solid in a few months, you'll have plenty of time to shop for solar panels and batteries.

 
Nick Kitchener
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You know... the more I think about this, and now it's weighing on my mind, I wouldn't even go the shipping container option unless I was really well financed. People get by just fine through Alaskan winters in a heavy canvas tent and a wood burning stove.

You'll drop 5K on a shipping container and probably another 5K converting it (and a month of work).

Check out Mike Oehler, and Walipinis. Mike built a lot of cold hardy homes for pennies before he died, and there are some videos on Paul's youtube channel. Unless your land is on Canadian shield or muskeg swamp, there is no reason why you can't build something semi-permanent quickly and cheaply which can then be used as an animal shelter when it's time to bring them onto the land.
 
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Alaska is not solar-friendly; by the time you’re up in tundra country, you have months when there’s effectively no useful sunshine at all.

I also agree with Dale’s observation about refrigeration. It’s of little use on the tundra. Eight months of the year, your porch, or a cold corner of your kitchen, will serve; the rest of the time, a box engineered to deter bears and wolverines, dug somewhat into the cold ground, is sufficient. If you’re VERY fancy, an ice house is the long term permaculture solution.  I would place mechanical refrigeration FAR down a long list of luxuries.
 
Dan Boone
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Another thought is that true tundra is treeless, and for a reason.  It's either entirely treeless, or it has small trees (willows, black spruce, alder, perhaps juniper depending on elevation and latitude) in the sheltered ravines and drainages.  It may be tundra because it has permafrost near the surface, preventing drainage, in which case it could be a tussock swamp in the summer: tufts of grass with muck on top of ice, sometimes with several inches of water between the tufts.  In short, a very very very challenging place to grow trees of any kind.

Details, as always, depend on the actual plot of land available to you.

However, "tundra" is sometimes used loosely.  I grew up in the taiga country along the Yukon river east of Fairbanks.  Taiga is a catchall word, meaning something like "land of the little sticks" in one of the native languages.  You'll find some tundra in taiga country, where soil drainage is bad or once you start climbing any hill or mountain; but there's also a lot of taiga forest, which is usually black spruce, alder, cottonwood, a little birch and aspen.  It gets more forest-y near the drainages.  If you're in the tiaga, you've got something to work with: wood for firewood, wood to build shelter, vegetation taller than your knees, more kinds of wild berries to play with and emulate in your food forest.  The possibility of *growing* a food forest.

I personally wouldn't try to settle out on the tundra.  Nobody does; historically, almost nobody ever has.  People settle tundra edges, along rivers, seashores, mountain foothills, and other taiga spots with resources to offer; then they roam deep into the tundra to hunt and forage.  But with no fuel or timber, the true tundra is fairly inhospitable to settlement.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Dan, what did your family grow? Did you grow any annuals? What about woody things? Did you hunt and gather things? Which activity did you find to be the most productive?

I'm guessing it was fishing and hunting.

In the Yukon, I found an abundance of berries growing wild. If a real effort was put toward gathering them, I could see getting a year's supply stored up in short order. I saw people bring in enough fish in one day, to carry them for months. So any meat production system would be competing with that.
 
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Alsunnder McMorrow wrote:  I would like to know what kind of solar panels I need to power my home that's no where above $2,000. Also need help on what solar refrigerator to get.



Welcome to permies!  Our solar forum will help answer some of your questions about solar:  https://permies.com/f/109/solar

If you don't find the answers then please ask!  I am sure someone in that forum can help.

I'm still deciding on how I'm going to set up my house, I can't decide between earthbag home or shipping container, if I choose earthbag What would be the best size in sqft to give me the minimal price but being able to store all what I need?



We have a couple of forum that might help answer these questions;  Here is our Building Forum:  https://permies.com/Natural and Off-Grid Building

It is divided into several sub-forums that might interest you:

https://permies.com/f/79/earth-bag

This is where you might find information on shipping containers: https://permies.com/f/141/Tiny House  

Again, if you don't find the answers then please ask!  I am sure someone in those forums can help.


 
Nick Kitchener
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Sepp Holzer has this crater garden concept that works in the Siberian taiga which is essentially the same as the boreal forest in North America.

By digging down (provided there is no bedrock close to the surface), you create a microclimate, as well as drainage into a pond at the bottom. A big challenge in this climatic zone is that it's mostly bog in the summer time.

Having soil that isn't water logged is a great asset so crater gardens, berms or chanapa systems will be beneficial. Sort of crazy but a lot of permaculture research is based on climates that are arid / dry land where capturing and retaining moisture is a big deal. In this zone, the situation is the opposite, and it's complicated by hard pan consisting of either permafrost or bedrock which is a big reason why it's so water logged in the first place.
 
Dan Boone
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Dan, what did your family grow? Did you grow any annuals? What about woody things? Did you hunt and gather things? Which activity did you find to be the most productive?

I'm guessing it was fishing and hunting.

In the Yukon, I found an abundance of berries growing wild. If a real effort was put toward gathering them, I could see getting a year's supply stored up in short order. I saw people bring in enough fish in one day, to carry them for months. So any meat production system would be competing with that.



Dale, not in the tundra but in the boreal forest / tiaga, we had a garden and greenhouse where we grew a ton of short-season salad produce (85-90 days).  And, yes, we harvested a lot of berries.  But in terms of calories, it was fish (salmon from the Yukon), meat (moose, caribou, and small game, primarily snowshoe hares and game birds like spruce grouse), and root crops -- 600+ pounds of potatoes per year, plus a few hundred pounds of carrots, turnips, beets, and rutebagas.  At that time there were no domesticated perennial food crops known to us that would survive up there except chives and rhubarb.  Certainly no fruit or nut trees that we knew about.  The growing of grain (primarily barley) was known as a historical practice, but far too difficult and expensive to bother with when it could be imported more cheaply and easily.  Most people didn't keep animals because of the need to keep them in stout barns/stables several months of the year, with very high feed costs on imported feed.  While meat/fish could be hunted in great quantity in the wilderness.

 
Dale Hodgins
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I met a guy in Dawson City, Yukon at a farmers market. He had excellent cabbages and potatoes. He pulled his soil into hills after using clear plastic to make it thaw earlier in the spring. The long days and almost complete lack of pest species, meant that he got to harvest almost everything he planted. Deer don't bother potatoes. All of the leafy stuff was behind a good chain link fence.
 
Dan Boone
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I met a guy in Dawson City, Yukon at a farmers market. He had excellent cabbages and potatoes. He pulled his soil into hills after using clear plastic to make it thaw earlier in the spring. The long days and almost complete lack of pest species, meant that he got to harvest almost everything he planted. Deer don't bother potatoes. All of the leafy stuff was behind a good chain link fence.



Yeah, where I grew up was about 150 miles from there, on the Alaskan side.  My mom didn't have the trick of using plastic to thaw the potato beds, and we did have one potato bug and several things that chewed on the cabbages, but they didn't eat much.  Usually we planted on May 15 and lost the plants to hard freeze and snow during the first week of September.   We got great crops but would have done better with season extension.  Mom did use some cloches for some things (there used to be 5 gallon plastic cubes used by the summer fire fighting crews for transporting drinking water that wound up in our town dump that she would salvage and cut in half for this purpose) but never had enough.

Our garden wasn't fenced.  We'd have shot any moose that came in that close, caribou were not seen in those parts at that time (the herd was in decline from hunting along the Taylor highway), and there were no deer.  I wasn't aware Dawson had deer either, but it is in a different biome; I was told as I child that they have chipmonks in Dawson, and those don't exist in interior Alaska, so why not deer?
 
Dale Hodgins
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It was a big fence and I assumed it was for deer. Might have been for moose, bears or people. Actually, moose are the biggest member of the deer family although not normally referred to as such.
 
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