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Desert/Semi-Arid/High-Altitude Farming

 
Posts: 102
Location: New Mexico USA zone 6
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I don't know if this is the right place to start a discussion, but I gotta start somewhere.  I'm so frustrated trying to grow a decent garden where I live.  The challenges are high altitude (7000' for me), with semi-arid conditions.  

We have extreme temperature issues (I've recorded a winter low of -35°F and a summer high of 120°F, and  temperature differences of below freezing at night to over 80°F in a 24 hour period).

Half the year it's arid, but the rest of the year there's still not a lot of rainfall.  These days if I get a total of 12" of precipitation it's a pretty wet year.  

I'm experimenting with hugelkultur for the moisture issue, but when it's that dry a major issue is that critters, from insects up to elk, are desperate for moisture and eat everything I plant that I don't have protected. That includes leaves above-ground and roots, too.  

Plus in extreme aridity the air itself sucks moisture from plants and they tend to not thrive until the first rains.

Then there's the short growing season that comes with high altitude.  Frosts end (maybe) in late May, first killing frost in late September.

Greenhouses become ovens.  I'm hoping the Wofati Greenhouse will address that issue as well as some of the others, but I can't grow things like fruit trees inside.

So -- anybody with experience (hopefully success!) have advice for me?  Anybody willing to chew the fat about these kinds of gardening challenges?  

PS  The photo is of one of my apple trees.  It's a dwarf and every year it gets chewed up by either blister beetles or grasshoppers, depending on which appears in greater numbers.  Interestingly, the only other surviving apple tree is standard size and apparently too tall for those insects to get at more than the very lowest branches.  Unfortunately I have not been able to get any other apple trees to grow.  Also, unfortunately the bigger tree, which is now 15 years old, is a Macintosh and requires a pollinator, the dwarf is a Golden Delicious that will pollinate but has never produced a blossom in the 10 years it's been in the ground.

2020_08-01_dwarf-GoldenDelicious.JPG
Grasshopper chewed dwarf Golden Delicious apple
Grasshopper chewed dwarf Golden Delicious apple
 
Posts: 94
Location: Eastern Washington
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That's quite the challenge.
So what plants grow well natively there?
 
Lif Strand
Posts: 102
Location: New Mexico USA zone 6
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Grady Houger wrote:That's quite the challenge.
So what plants grow well natively there?


Locoweed.  Cactus.  Goat heads.  Tumbleweed.  [grin]  But also prairie type grasses, sunflower related flowers, echinacea, bindweed, morning glory.   Jerusalem artichokes but they take a lot of watering.

Much to my surprise, pole beans are doing fantastic this year, with no critter damage.  But the beans are in tubs, and also I put wood in the bottom of the tub as a kind of mini-hugelkultur experiment.  

Gourds, squash, and sometimes corn (with lots of protection and constant watering, but there's always ants).  

Apple trees with lots of water while getting established (though more have died than survived).  I think I'd have a better survival rate with hugelkultur berms to catch runoff -- but I just learned about hugelkultur this past year so we shall see if it makes a difference with the next round of apple trees planted.  

I'm experimenting with goji berry now and also an aronia (chokeberry) bush.  The latter is in a galvanized garbage pail and doing well.  The goji... well. We'll see.

I had a pear tree that lived a few years, produced one pear and promptly died.  I have tried cherry and plum trees, and various varieties of apple.  Also mulberries.  The winters killed all of them.  

I dream of trapping water from floods and growing rice or something water loving and short-season.

 
Posts: 3
Location: SE Colorado
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Good fortune to you. I live east of Pueblo, Colorado, about 4570ft and perhaps 12" rainfall. I do have a domestic well for irrigation, but looking to minimize/eliminate irrigation. The lot has poor clay soil. I'm composting and making cold plant tea fertilizer from volunteer weeds, excepting goat heads. I'm a gardening newbie and have not found anyone around doing dry land farming/gardening. Cheers.
 
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