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'Building' microclimates

 
Kate Nudd
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Throwing out a question for Aranya and others,too....
I am looking for ideas on how to build microclimates into a permaculture design to extend growing season and/or grow non-area climatic plants?
I am in Canada zone 3 to 4.
Thanks
 
Aranya
Author
Posts: 42
Location: Seaton, Devon, England
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Hi Kate,

Well, you have two main areas to work on - creating indoor growing spaces and improving outdoor microclimates. The former will likely be a smaller and more condensed strategy compared to the latter which better suits a scattered wider area approach.

Your indoor area will involve the most investment of energy & resources, but also be your most used, being on the zone 0/1 edge. There's some good patterns around now for creating bioshelters and the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute have made some very efficient growing structures at high altitude with significant thermal mass and underground heat storage - well worth you looking at what they have done: http://www.crmpi.org/CRMPI/Home.html

On a small scale outdoors, sun facing walls can be valuable heat stores, hedges and fences good shelter from the wind. Not everything wants to be in the sun either - cool damp areas are great for fungi. Building soil and adding mulch provides better insulation from both the heat of the sun and the cold of the winter. Snow is a good insulator too of course. We have this tendency to flatten everything for machinery, but uneven means more edge & more microclimates, which in turn lead to greater diversity and a more resilient ecosystem. We placed an apricot tree next to a water butt on the wall of our home to take advantage of the heat stored in both and it's amazing how the frost diminishes as it nears the wall.

On the larger outdoor scale, it's worth checking out the work of sepp holzer, who grows lemons amongst many other things at 3,500ft in the Austrian alps. He is a master of microclimates. He uses earthmoving equipment to create terraces and ponds, increasing his heat storage further with the use of boulders - often in the ponds themselves. Of course, much depends on your situation & what the key limiting factors are. If wind is an issue, then planting windbreaks & looking for naturally sheltered spots will be important. If frost is an issue that reduces your growing season, then look to open up those cold sinks (cut gaps into hedges?) or divert the flow of cold air down slopes away from your site where possible. When it gets really cold it won't make a difference, but on those spring an autumn edges it can really help.

Maybe some other folks from your zone can share their own experiences too?
 
Peter Herrel
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I too live in Canada! I have a very small area to work with, but one of the things I'm trying out for an early spring start is using my south east (mostly east) facing wall and placing a raised bed right up against it. What's special about this bed is the large rocks I'm goin to be bordering it with. They are going in 2 deep and hopefully should provide enough thermal mass to make a difference. It is a small bed, totally blocked from the prevailing winds by the townhouse.

I'm also trying to come up with a design for the west facing porch, but I want to capitalize on the shade from the railing and roof. Any ideas on keeping an area hit with lots of wind moist and cool? Vines?
 
Cris Bessette
gardener
Posts: 780
Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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Kate Nudd wrote:Throwing out a question for Aranya and others,too....
I am looking for ideas on how to build microclimates into a permaculture design to extend growing season and/or grow non-area climatic plants?
I am in Canada zone 3 to 4.
Thanks


I've been into microclimates for a few years for growing citrus in zone 8a, there is a lot of neat tricks thought up by cold hardy citrus and tropical plant enthusiasts that I imagine would work just as well for extending seasons for practically anything.

pools of water, hills, rocks,walls, interplanting with hardier species are all common methods and materials

Zone 3 and 4 are pretty short season areas so you might need to go a bit further than microclimates and actually build protective structures, for example, growing things in pits with transparent / translucent covers.
 
Kate Nudd
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Aranya,thank you for your input. I had heard of the CRMPI and am now reading/watching through their web information.
I realize now that setting up a piece of property will take much more observation and preplanng. Getting to know its natural rhythms.
I need more time and reading to understand the usage of swales and contour and ponds for microclimates.
And a four season greenhouse is very appealing.
Cris,thanks,I had not heard of interplanting with hardier species to aid a microclimate but that makes sense.
Lots more reading,learning and experimenting ahead for me.
Thank you all for your replies.
 
Rion Mather
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Check out the books by Eliot Coleman on year round gardening. It is possible.
 
Cris Bessette
gardener
Posts: 780
Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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Kate Nudd wrote:
Cris,thanks,I had not heard of interplanting with hardier species to aid a microclimate but that makes sense.

.


One specific case I can think of is in Alabama where citrus farmers at the edge of the normal citrus region plant
their citrus trees under pine trees for the microclimate which helps keep frost off of leaves and also helps prevent heat
loss to the open sky / windchill factors. Obviously there is some loss of sunlight, but its worth the protection in trade.



 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Rion Mather wrote:Check out the books by Eliot Coleman on year round gardening. It is possible.


I bought and read this book, and I think it isn't quite what I was looking for. I don't recommend it. It would be what you want if you're looking for winter market gardening of veggies with a heavy emphasis on "market".

If you're looking for solutions for trees or non-leafy green veggies, you'll be hard up. Likewise if you're looking for tricks with rocks or walls or using water to your advantage.

The book kinda boils down to floating row covers (gardening fabric) inside a cool or cold plastic greenhouse. And outdoor movable hoop houses. And two or three hardy species that were new to me.

I have a feeling that the book on microclimates for permaculture design has yet to be written.

William
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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The book has been written it's called the natural world. Fall is the best time of year to search for warm micro climates. Look for as many as you can even if you don't think you can use it in your situation. Then add together the ones you observed worked best and you can replicate the results Ina specific spot on your property.

Don't forget other plants can create microclimates better than what most people think of like rocks. I have citrus growing in winter lows of 10-15f because of the spot and companion tree. A great example of that is the pine trees and citrus mentioned above.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Jordan Lowery wrote: I have citrus growing in winter lows of 10-15f because of the spot and companion tree..


Can you give more details about this? Thank you.

 
Rion Mather
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William James wrote:
Rion Mather wrote:Check out the books by Eliot Coleman on year round gardening. It is possible.


I bought and read this book, and I think it isn't quite what I was looking for. I don't recommend it. It would be what you want if you're looking for winter market gardening of veggies with a heavy emphasis on "market".

If you're looking for solutions for trees or non-leafy green veggies, you'll be hard up. Likewise if you're looking for tricks with rocks or walls or using water to your advantage.

The book kinda boils down to floating row covers (gardening fabric) inside a cool or cold plastic greenhouse. And outdoor movable hoop houses. And two or three hardy species that were new to me.

I have a feeling that the book on microclimates for permaculture design has yet to be written.

William


My comment was in response to Kate mentioning a four season greenhouse. Well, I got a lot of ideas from Coleman and Maine gardeners that use greenhouses. I guess you take from it what you need. The winters are so harsh here that it is impossible to garden outside all year round.

 
Spud Smith
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Hi all,
I have seen people use trench composting to warm up an area. I saw a woman in Central Oregon dig a couple of tranches about 2' deep by 3' wide and fill them with grass clippings and horse manure. She then planted her veggies between the trenches, the heat given off by the material in the tranches created a micro climate.
I suppose you could build a simple plastic hoop house over the whole thing and capture even more heat.
Running a couple of rows of straw bales about 12" apart and filling the space between with chicken or horse manure would make for a nice warm microclimate. A hoop structure over the rows of bales would make the hole thing work even in winter. The straw bales will give off enough heat to kill any plants planted if you don't wait long enough for the decomposition to slow down.
I have grown tomatoes for years in straw bales.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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I'm in zone 4/5 and we had a killing late June frost this past summer that wiped out the entire fruit crop ..a few odd things made it but most were dead.

I did discover that things that had some shade in the morning from the morning sun did better than things that did not, so I'm thinking I need to have some shade for early morning sun protection from frost..planting on a slope also diminishes frost, or near water.

you can cover smaller things to keep them alive in frosts, but it is a huge hassle..and year round covers mean irrigation and poor sun. I have a small greenhouse, coldframes, etc..which are helpful.

suntraps are qutie helpful for mroe tender plants but also having lots of companion plants is very helpful as well.

I love windbreaks and trellis trap the wind and warm up in the sun.

 
John Seay
Posts: 26
Location: Richmond, Va
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I've been thinking of a way of making a zone 8 food forest here in zone 7. I'll try to explain it even though it seems quite simple.

My land is slightly sloping to the south. A pond that has southern exposure. The north side of the pond is where the food forest will be located. I was thinking of putting a large hugelbed that is *Horseshoe shaped surrounding the food the forest. Evergreens planted north of the hugelbed and mixed in with the food forest. Using boulders on the edge of the pond and mixed within the constructed zone 8. My humanure/coffee compost will be kept within as well. I'm still researching the best mixture of plants; but that is the rough plan.


*apparently the letter that comes after T is not allowed on these forums.
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1086
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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We live in the northern central mountains of Vermont which is a lot like much of Canada. We have been experimenting with building micro climates for decades. Everything from terracing, ponds, rock walls and strategic tree plantings to greenhouses. We envision eventually building a 'Ark' which is a set of nested greenhouses. On the outside is the animal shelter greenhouse. This provides a tempered climate for the next inward greenhouse to sit in where we grow plants and some animals. Within that we plan to have a very large tank of water for aquaculture.

Big issues for us are the cold, short growing season, wind cooling, wind load and snow load. It tends to get very cold in the winter, down to -45°F and regularly down to -20°F. The outer greenhouse being structural protects the inner greenhouse. The inner greenhouse is in a tempered environment from the animal heat and wind shadow as well as having more insulative glazing and the large body of water to temper it.
 
Jackie Frobese
Posts: 10
Location: New Hampshire, USA zone 5/6
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Jordan Lowery wrote: I have citrus growing in winter lows of 10-15f because of the spot and companion trees.


Jordan can you share what species/cultivars you are growing?

I'm wondering if it is worth my time to grow from the seeds of a lemon from the supermarket, or if there are better lemon options out there.

Also, I'd be really happy to maybe get some seeds from someone having success with citrus in temperate zones no matter the variety.
 
Martin Bishop
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If you want to extend the Summer Crops, reflection, and retention are your friends.

Retain heat with large rocks, Cold Frame Boxes etc.

Reflect sunlight with bright yellow straw bales, water

Block wind from carrying built up heat away.

One great way to do all of this is build a cold frame box from straw bales on all 4 corners of the garden area. Then get an old glass sliding door as a free give away, and lay it on top of the straw bales. You will need to set it up in such a way possibly at an angle so that it gets the most sunlight.
 
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