I’m new to the forum and was hoping to get some practical advice for planning my orchard/garden that I will be building this spring. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! I apologize in advance for the length of the post, I’m not sure how much information to include.
I live off grid on the western slope of the Big Horns in Wyoming. I’m in zone 5 at approximately 6300-6500’ elevation. All power is solar and I have a water well. The water is pumped uphill to storage tanks and then gravity feeds back to the house.The property is south and west facing and is on a slope of 6-13 degrees depending on which part. A fire in 1996 took out most of the trees except for some of the very large ponderosa pines and cedars/junipers. Nothing has grown back except range grass.
There is a natural basin and the drainage that runs from that across the property (east to west) until it runs off the cliff into the canyon. It’s not a creek or a ditch, no running water, but it does catch the runoff from the snow in the mountains above and seems to soak into the ground. This area (about 150’ wide and 1000’ long) stays green well into July, filled with wildflowers all summer, when everything surrounding it is dry and brown. It is protected from the north wind by the hill that has the water tanks on it.
I’ve purchased 22 fruit and nut trees 5-7’ tall (apple, pear, cherry, apricot, peach, plum, nectarine, figs and hazelnuts) that should produce this year, and 70 berry bushes (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, lingonberry, mulberry, cranberry, chokecherry, goji berry, kiwi, and green table grapes). They should arrive at the end of April. Anything else I plant will have to be grown from seed.
My idea is to plant the fruit trees and berry bushes throughout the basin and drainage interspersed with each other. This will allow me to tap into the water storage tank and gravity feed irrigation as needed in the later summer months, but take advantage of all the natural resources (windbreak, sun, runoff water, etc) as much as possible. I would like to have a no till garden in this area as well to produce as much food as possible during our short growing season, and do it as organically as possible.
The only animals I have are 18 chickens currently.
Should I use fruit tree guilds or more of a food forest model?
Should the garden be separate or inter planted?
Should the garden be in rows and companion planted or companion planted in guilds?
Should I plant cover crops and food plots for the deer, chickens, wild turkeys etc outside of this area?
I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions of what you would do if this was your project! While I’ve read many books on all of this, there is no substitute for experience! Thank you all in advance for your help!
Pics of the area in summer and winter included. It’s the part between those two hills.
Hi Lee Ann, what a gorgeous bit of land! Sounds like quite an exciting project.
The answers to your questions are really a matter of preference and design. I think the best place to start is to walk your land over and over and visualize your various options in the landscape as it relates to your life and the relative position of your home. Maybe the answer to some of those questions is both! There are so many things to consider like prevailing winds, sun exposure, waterflow, and so much more. It seems you've done most of this already, so the next thing to do is come up with a matter plan where it all fits. Maybe you want a neatly arranged orchard guild out your back door that transitions to a food forest further out, it just depends on your design.
You mention water flowing just under the surface; do you want to put in some dealers, it a pond to harvest some of that water? This will dramatically repair your plans. I would say grab a whole stack of blank paper and start brainstorming! Permaculture is at the confluence of the flow of life and the flow of resources.
So location, location, location is important in building a permaculture food forest. Your design would be very different from a tropical location, or a Mediterranean location. So any research you do on it, make sure you are looking at locations/zones similar to yours.
Assuming you've researched what fruit trees can make it through your winter, and bloom at the right time when it's not freezing, then building guilds of other food plants that help those fruit trees is the idea. You've probably seen the various vertical layers involved in building a guild; Deciduous canopy trees can offer wind protection and shade when it's hot, and mulch from dropping leaves. Nitrogen-fixing plants can help improve the soil. Ground covers bring in beneficial insects and shade the soil so it doesn't dry out. How far down does the soil freeze in winter?
That rock outcropping there, does that mean there's rock under where you intend to plant? How far down can you go and just get soil? Fruit trees and other trees/bushes will have a mirror image of their roots going underground. If they hit rock and can't get through it, it might make them vulnerable to being blown over in a winter storm when they are mature, or to be sitting in water that sits on top of impermeable rock.
Knowing where the water table is, is important. How far below the surface that runoff is makes or breaks fruit tree roots. You might want to look into either draining off or controlling the ground water to make sure that water is not sitting there for very long, or planting to the side of the lowest draining point. Storing water in a pond uphill from your plantings, or downhill from your plantings would be determined by how much standing water there is in spring/summer, how you want it to seep the rest of the year.
Using as many native plants as you can makes it a lot easier, ones that work in your type of soil, whether it's loamy or clay.
Have you looked into how Sepp Holzer does his alpine gardens with ponds and berms?
Don't fall for the My-Place-Is-Special, It-Won't-Happen-Here Syndrome.
The wind blows from the north/northwest 90% of the time. The bowl and natural drainage runs downhill from east to west. There is no standing water, it all seeps into the ground. The driveway is on the north side of the bowl and drainage and we have cut water bars in it diverting the runoff that usually runs down the driveway, into the bowl/drainage. Otherwise I end up with a 2’ ditch in my driveway. There’s a nob hill that runs approximately 600’ and is about 100’ higher in elevation than the bowl and drainage, I believe that will block most of the wind. Sun exposure is full sun in the bowl/drainage area.
While there are large rock outcrops running on both the north side and the south side where the soil is fairly shallow (3-5’), the soil depth in the bowl/drainage is approximately 15’+ (haven’t dug any deeper). The soil is mostly sand (70%), clay (10-20%) and silt (10-20%) based on a shake jar test. Since the fire in 96, nothing has been intentionally planted, and the area has not been tilled, mowed, or grazed. The wildflowers and native grasses grow during season and are covered with snow (3-4’) in winter for about 3-5 months and the process starts over again with snow melt and runoff beginning usually at the first of April. I intend on adding compost, newspapers, manure, etc to the areas where I’ll be planting followed by straw mulch. Manure and straw are in abundance where I live due to ranching operations. Ponds for collecting water require a permit from the state engineer, etc and I’m happy to not get involved with them. I’ve had the area topo mapped and am considering swales to capture and hold more water.
My canyons on the property are very lush and diverse in the bottoms. I’m hoping to transplant some of the native trees and plants from them up to this area (aspens, elms, gooseberry, chokecherry, etc)
I’m picturing something like the pic below of the Eden project in the UK for the garden. Planting poly culture fruits and vegetables in the bowl, with the fruit trees, flowers, herbs, berries interplanted as a guild/food forest around the garden as a border and then continuing down both sides of the drainage as it gets steeper. So, almost like a keyhole if you were looking at it from above, although it will follow the natural contours of the land so it wouldn’t be straight lines.
Thanks for your help! Please keep suggestions coming. I’m certainly open to criticism of my plan as it evolves, telling me why something would be a bad idea, hidden pitfalls, or better ways to do it, things I might not have considered, etc
Sounds doable, Lee Ann. About the ground water, it's not that it's standing on top, but if it's really close to the top underneath, saying at about 1 foot, it can affect fruit trees and fruit bushes if it's there for too long.
A couple of things you might want to look at....
- YouTube videos by Permaculture Magazine. There's a couple who have a permaculture garden in England with great videos. They incorporate Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, etc. Their food trees and food bushes run along the sides of their garden, planted together to help each other, with a big meadow going down the center full of plants that bring in beneficial insects. Sometimes the randomness of a food forest design messes with my head, so this seemed more straightforward to me, and doesn't entail a lot of mowing, just enough to keep a couple of pathways open.
One great permaculture feature is the most amount of growing space with the least amount of pathways.
- YouTube videos by Dirtpatch Heaven, a woman who uses waist-high hotbeds with hoops and plastic over the top where she grows greens through a frozen winter. She uses hugelculture techniques with wood in the bottom of the beds to hold moisture and add to the soil critters, manure for heat, and working compost piles in the hotbeds. These also work well if you don't yet have a fence around your garden.
Don't fall for the My-Place-Is-Special, It-Won't-Happen-Here Syndrome.
You have to irrigate in Wyoming. You just have to. I tried it without. Also, lots of pests. You'll need to get those under control before any trees can survive. I've such high pest pressure I've almost 0 survivors. They are exceptionally attracted to nut trees. They are gone so quickly I don't even know what happened. They're also assholes. I don't know how many of my wild plum trees were snapped off right above the collar but not eaten. It's like they're giving me the finger.
I shouldn't be so down on you. You're farther north and there are german apple orchards up there so you might be fine.
Howdy Lee Ann, always great to see more Wyoming permies! Protect any trees you plant, from deer and antelope ! Pallets are free and work well. Any swales on contour will help and mulching will help too. Those rock outcrops seem like they might create a warmer microclimate? Might be good for an underground greenhouse back wall? Have you contacted the local conservation district for tree and shrub purchases? They have all sorts of good stuff , cheep. Also there is a university professor who has the "Wyoming Apple Project". Check that out. You might be able to score some antique apple varieties.