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How do I grow food in the microclimate between desert and forest mountain  RSS feed

 
Jack La Fey
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Are there constraints on the kinds of fruits and vegetables I can grow at this 6,000ft altitude? I'm also unsure if the native plants will complicate the soil preparation. I have Gamble Oak, Pinion, Ponderosa Pine, Rabbit Brush and a slew of delightful cacti. Are any of these incompatible with conventional food crops? I have sandy loam soil that I aim to cover with compost, then wood chips. Is there anything further I might do?
Thanks
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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My climate might not be quite as dry as yours, but I have had good success with buried wood beds, basically hugelkultur but sunk somewhat into the earth.

 
Maura Will
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At 6,000 feet I think you should build some sort of greenhouse. It could be partly underground (walipini, etc.), attached to the south side of the house, and or a more traditional greenhouse (hoop house or more expensive model). Otherwise your choice of plants to grow is likely to be too limited and you won't have the advantage of starting seedlings in the greenhouse and transplanting. Besides the weather has become strange and somewhat unreliable everywhere.

The slash from the trees you mentioned and the shrubs should be fine in hugelculture. The pine is not ideal, but some branches, etc. mixed in with other material should be fine. You may need a drip line or soaker hose on the berm for a while while you are establishing young plants.

Where are you? Mountains in N. California?
 
Jack La Fey
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South central Colorado. Thanks for your help; I'm much obliged.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I can't recommend highly enough the rainwater harvesting books by Brad Lancaster, especially Volume 2. http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

Also has videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ-FBAmvBw
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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check out the "mountain" coded seeds in the catalog. order the hard copy, and try and get a couple old ones from them too.

http://www.nativeseeds.org/




look up manure coldframes, might be good for creating compost in spring and fall
 
Alan Stuart
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http://www.amazon.com/Growing-food-southwest-mountains-permaculture/dp/0971956502/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331856676&sr=1-10
Growing food in the southwest mountains: A permaculture approach to home gardening above 6,500 feet in Arizona, New Mexico, southern Colorado and southern Utah
 
Ardilla Esch
pollinator
Posts: 229
Location: Northern New Mexico, Zone 5b
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I live in pretty much the same ecosystem. 6500 feet in northen New Mexico in piñon, juniper, gamble oak, few ponderosa.

You can grow most things, but it can be a challenge. The main limitations are: alkaline soil, scalding sun, dryness, wind, late summer hail storms, occaisional intense cold snaps. The biggest things you can do are use plenty mulch, basic water harvesting techniques (swale & berms etc.), use nurse plants. Nurse plants help a lot with trees and shrubs since the wind and sun can set them back. Faster growing nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs work well (goumi, siberian pea shrub, NM locust).

I've used all the local wood for hugelculture. Piñon rots very fast when in contact with soil. Ponderosa and juniper are slower but still work o.k. You will find some people that predict doom with using juniper and other conifers. It works fine, and if that is what you have why not use it?
 
Bill Sullivan
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Location: New York State about 25 miles south of Syracuse.
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Jack La Fey wrote:Are there constraints on the kinds of fruits and vegetables I can grow at this 6,000ft altitude? I'm also unsure if the native plants will complicate the soil preparation. I have Gamble Oak, Pinion, Ponderosa Pine, Rabbit Brush and a slew of delightful cacti. Are any of these incompatible with conventional food crops? I have sandy loam soil that I aim to cover with compost, then wood chips. Is there anything further I might do?
Thanks
I think I would put the wood chips below the compost as wood will break down by the use of fungi and have a better ability to reach moisture using an extensive web. The compost is mostly bacteria and may be most beneficial to the plants root system in useful nutrients and nitrogen fixation. Just my 2 cents.
 
Varina Lakewood
Posts: 116
Location: Colorado
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I've seen tomatoes, cukes, eggplants and dill grown successfully in a greenhouse at 6.000ft in New Mexico. Outdoors, leeks, carrots, corn and other stuff. Apples do lovely. I know that lavender does fine at 5,000ft in N. Colorado, but grows riotously at 6,500-7,000ft (?, not positive on exact altitude, as it was a friend of a friend) in S. Colorado.
Gooseberries are native to the Colorado mountain forests, so they should do fine. Also, peaches (recommend the cascade peaches or the flamin' fury line of trees), the wild plums, cultivated plums, cherries (sour are hardier), and apricots should do fine. I'm not positive, but I think some of those native trees might suppress other plants, so you might want to not plant too close to them.
You may need an innoculent for beans and peas the first year, depending on your soil. Mine at 5,000 didn't need any. Potatoes and tomatoes and squash do fine here, as do alliums, though the perennial alliums do better (such as shallots, chives, and the native Nodding Onion). Once your soil is built up and richer, I'd say the annual ones will do like they are supposed to as well.

Melons are a little trickier. They grow fine, but they are finicky about soil/moisture/heat in producing good texture and flavor and ripening properly. I recommend the Van Doren Moon and Stars, and the Old Tennessee, and possibly the Noir de Carme and Golden Midget. Haven't had any luck with others so far.
Pumpkins and winter squash do fine, as do corn, beans, peas, grapes, raspberries, leeks, blackberries, and strawberries. Blueberries, but they don't like alkaline soil, so you'll have to amend for them.
Mostly, just look for short season stuff. At 6,000ft, you have a shorter season than I do at 5,000ft, but you'll have to watch out for things that stop producing when the temps soar into the upper 90s or drop into the 30s. Striped German is a good heirloom tomato that works for me (though I have clay loam), as are Great White and Stupice. Kale and Lettuce will thrive, but you'll want to interplant your lettuce with taller plants to prevent it from getting tough and bitter.
So not really a lot of restrictions, other than not trying to grow tropicals as perennials, or selecting varieties that only thrive in cool, wet, temperate conditions, that kind of thing.
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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thanks for that !

I LIKE burying pine, it helps with the alkalinity issues out here!
 
Rich Pasto
Posts: 100
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was guessing you are in Colorado as well. Dont knock your sandy soil too soon. Well draining soil is something I wish I had more of. Some good yard waste compost will help amend it gently. My advice is against the wood chips. Wood is the super mega version of the dry browns needed in a compost pile. The cellulose will consume almost all of the nitrogen in the soil, hindering your plant growth.
The abundance and relative cheap cost of all these wood chip mulches is due in large part to construction waste no longer being accepted in landfills. So keep in mind that a lot of the wood chip mulches have some amount of pressure treated wood in it. You can use 3 inches of yard waste compost (again with the use of construction waste for 'compost' as well), three inches of shredded leaves, 3 inches of dried grass clippings. There are more options out there too. All of them will act as an effective weedblock and retain moisture. An added benefit is that compost has good microbials in it that will help your garden, and stuff like shredded leaves will attract earthworms who will work and fertilize your soil.
When woodchips are used as mulch, they do a really good job at retaining moisture. So well in fact that crazy fungus and molds will take up residence. Some of the fungus known as artillery fungus actually shoot the spores several feet, and they are pretty difficult to remove from a house or anything else. take your woodchips and compost them for 2-3 years, then you will have some good stuff!

I used row covers and hoop houses to extend the season on the front and back end here in the springs. They work OK in the spring, and much better in the fall. This year we are going to try some hotbeds inside a cold frame to see about getting fresh greens all winter. Our cukes and squash, zucchini do well on their own from store bought plants (our dogs ate the seed started plants this year) and we had to give a lot of it away last year.

on edit: I found out yesterday that my wife's boss has over a dozen peach trees here in the springs that do fabulously
 
Daniel Morse
Posts: 265
Location: SW Michigan
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When I lived in the high desert in California I took the spaceship attitude. Everything I planted was in container or protected. I made my own climates. It was very hot, very dry and very windy. Water cost an arm and a leg too. Unlike L.A. where they dump it all over. I mainly planted for spring and winter. High summer was too hot. We were at 4500 ft. many of the local old people gardened too. Amazing what you can do with almost nothing.

It was all about the water and temp. We had to "build soil" in the containers. Or buy it. You can grow a lot in that sun or in a protected area. Good luck.
 
Matt Middleton
Posts: 6
Location: Monument, CO
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I'm in CO as well (Monument, approx 6,900 ft) and have just begun what I imagine will be a long process of trial-by-fire coversion of my back yard into what I hope will be a productive food growing area. I'm still relatively new to gardening in this area and from what I understand, the conditions can be a huge challenge along the Front Range. I know that it's possible, but it's likely going to take a good deal of effort and failures to figure out what works in your particular microclimate. We bought a new house that backs to open space (gotta love that protected preebles mouse), but our back yard is basically a blank slate - and by "blank slate", I literally mean blank. My current efforts are focused on building soil and converting my planting areas to hugelkulture beds. I figure that by the time spring rolls around, I will have been able to learn much more about permaculture and have developed a more thought-out plan that addresses some of the challenges that this area presents. I know that wind screening is going to be a major focus of my efforts, as the spring and fall winds here can be a real challenge.

Good luck and let us know what you try out.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
184
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Here's a Rocky Mountain food forest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehBQUJJwQpE

http://crmpi.org/CRMPI/Home.html
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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i didn't read all the posts and I'm not familiar with your area, but I would think that if you were to save the trees and brush that you have you could use it as windbreaks and nurse plants for the new plants that you need to put in, unless of course they don't leave you room for your plants.

I would really check around the areas similar to yours and see what people have been able to grow, hopefully someone here will suggest..but I'm thinking that you probably should be able to grow a few deciduous fruit trees and bushes, like maybe apples, cherries, pears, possibly peaches and plums and grapes? Also maybe some bramble berries and blueberries.

use the existing plants to create suntraps and windbreaks, maybe put in a swale on the south side or downhill side from each of the trees and make a place to plant your baby tree or shrub..gathering all kinds of organic matter to put into the swale area.

 
Amit Enventres
Posts: 458
Location: Ohio, USA
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dog fish food preservation forest garden fungi solar trees urban woodworking
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Hey Jack!

Good news! many of the plants in that ecosystem are edible. Oh, and pinyon pine is marketable at a high price. I found a few really useful books at my local library on edibles in that and similar landscapes. If I were you, I'd check it out.
 
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