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Forest Garden in High Desert of Southern Idaho

 
Steven Feil
Posts: 240
Location: South Central Idaho
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First of all, I am not really certain what a Forest Food Garden really is. It is a totally new concept to me. I can sort of envision what it might be, but fall short in how it would be implemented on a sustainable basis.

I live in Southern Idaho in a zone 5/6 climate blend. Coldest temp we have experienced since we moved here 7 years ago was -2 degrees. The longest really cold spell we have had was a two week near zero low period this last Winter. Temps seldom get over 100 but we can experience several days of 90+. Our property, 1.6 acres, lies on a Western slope. We have WONDERFUL sunsets. It is terraced on 4 main levels with a couple of smaller sub terraces. The prevailing winds are out of the West as well. There is a small pond on our property that is fed by a year round seep. It is slowly being filled by sediment though. Not sure how long it will take to fill as it is 17 feet at the deepest.

So, what is possible with a property like this in the climate that we live in?

We are currently gardening in raised beds. We have planted several fruit trees. The nut trees that we have planted do not seem to be doing well. I am also planting several different medicinal herbs around the property. I am focusing on local natives and bringing them here.

Sage brush is plentiful on our property, as is Elm and Russian Olive, both of which are trashy and invasive. The elm seems to be the worst.
 
mike mclellan
Posts: 93
Location: Helena, MT zone 4
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Steven,
Having inherited a couple dozen 35 foot (11 m) Russian olives I agree with how gnarly and nasty they are. However, consider how they may be placed. One example is on the west side of your property, they are pretty tough against the wind. Are they away from the house such that they may actually be helping stablilize the site while fixing nitrogen? The fruits feed birds- I see the robins picking up the fallen berries now after a cold snap the last four days. I cut many of the olives as they were overgrowing more desired (in my plan anyway) blue spruce which are bird havens. Those branches and trunks are all now buried in hugelkultur raised beds. I had the stumps ground and somewhat surprisingly, I had loads of suckers sprouting from the roots. I cut them last fall. Since this plant is fixing nitrogen in the soil, I figure to let the suckers grow for the season and chop them again. The year-old sprouts aren't spiny yet and quite flexible. I figure to let them fix nitrogen until they run out of steam and die. Most of the olives on my place are 45-48 years old. Several that I took down were suffering various forms of rot so it appeared they weren't going to stand too many more years anyway. The smaller branches went through the chipper and became part of the mulch on the same hugelbeets containing the parent trunks. Plenty of growth of desired plants on these beds during year one and I'm expecting even better this year. I believe this was trying to make the problem (overgrown or dying Russian olives) into the solution- fodder for hugelkultur beds.

I had a few enormous elms and/or elm stumps on the place as well. I'm assuming you're talking about Chinese/Siberian elm. Not exactly my favorite either with all the dead wood that accumulates every year. My elms in Casper used to suffer badly from broken branches in Wyoming's land hurricanes. Up here, most died in the intense early season cold spell that affected the east side of the Rockies from central Montana down to at least as far as Colorado Springs about four years ago. However, once again, can you not start to use trimmings for chips? Gather the fallen leaves and move them where you need them for mulch. I had some huge Chinese elms when I lived in Wyoming and that's pretty much the duty they performed in addition to most welcome summer shade. All of mine here in Montana were killed by the cold spell and were standing dead leviathans. They are all in hugelbeds now. Again, I don't think these are very long lived trees so as some show signs of dying back, those are your first candidates for removal, and making use of the wood for hugelkultur, firewood, and the branches for woodchip mulch. Eventually your plan for your property may involve removal and replacement but at least let these two "less desirable" trees help you in establishing greater things for your land.

A tree that might serve as a decent replacement in some places could very possibly be the black locust. I know it's used in Idaho in mined land reclamation so it clearly can handle the dryness and alkalinity common to sagebrush country. Amur maackia tree is another nitrogen fixer you might be able to use in your long term planning. Again, tough as nails but more slow-growing than black locust. Both could serve to help in soil building by fixing nitrogen, adding leaf litter and such. Check out the black locust section on the forums for lots of ideas how people are using them in their long term permaculture plans. Using these nitogen fixing trees, even including some of your Russian olives in "strategic" locations could allow you to begin modifying your site for more desired fruit bearing species. Consider Caragana (Siberian pea shrub) as a nitrogen fixer that grows in shrub form. Many people here in the Helena Valley and other places in Montana use this in shelterbelts/windbreaks. It can take the dryness and alkalinity of your site. It was popular in Wyoming and Nevada when I lived there.

I would urge you not to be too quick to take all the sagebrush, either. Its extensive root system causes it to serve many surrounding plants by providing "hydraulic lift", pulling water from deeper subsoil to the topsoil where other plant can access some of the water. Consider how some areas left to sage and any native plants associated with it may serve the greater good on your property. Pockets of sage on the place could well serve as habitat islands for many desirable species of insects and birds. Besides, the smell of sagebrush after a rainstorm is IMO one of the most pleasant odors one can experience. Poor folks back east will never get to enjoy that they we do out here in the west.
Hope this helps. I've lived in sagebrush country for the last 38 years and wouldn't trade it. Getting things to grow is often a huge challenge.
 
Steven Feil
Posts: 240
Location: South Central Idaho
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Russian Olive: I did not know that they were nitrogen fixers. Yes, I know the wildlife likes them for roosting (thorn protection) and feeding (berries). A member of our church even made a bread with the olive meat. He said it did not taste too bad. As long as I can keep the SEEDLINGS properly culled (population control, do they make birth control for trees?) then they are OK in some areas.

Elm: I am guessing that they are the species that you mention. Again, the seedling population is the issue here. They proliferate even worse than the olives do. I have not had too much problem with branch trash with these. WILLOW is the big culprit for this honor. I have found Elm to be VERY difficult to chip, at least when green.

I am interested in Hugelkulture but do not have much in the way of soil for covering the beds once formed. Also, most of my material is branches that are big and airy. They do not compress very well. We have a defunct irrigation ditch at the top of our property that we were hoping to do this in. The branches (mostly thorny olive) just made a big, open pile that would not compress very well. I was NOT going to go jumping on those thorny branches either!!! Then the issue of getting enough soil to the location became an issue as well.

Black Locust: Yes, they grow here and grow well. Don't they have a similar issue as the olive in having obnoxious thorns? The only thing I can think of is that they grow taller with a more established trunk and they also have sweet smelling flowers for a short time.

Willow: we do have several willow on the property. They are our best chipping candidates. We don't have a very big or powerful chipper though, so that limits us. Takes a lot of time an effort to get the chips as well. THESE are our big trash tree. The wind just tears them up.

Lat and Long for google earth for my property
42.625886°
-114.768006°

In the past we have routinely burned our dead weed residue that was raked up and branch trimmings. This last winter I identified two locations on our property to do some LONG term composting. One location is near our pond and the other is an abandoned irrigation pond up a level and behind our house. Both are hidden in the google image. We are layering the weeds, smaller branches, horse manure and some composted greenhouse soil in these areas. Hope to have some decent growing areas or at least a source of compost for other areas in a while. The larger branches are being cut into lengths for use in our rocket stove. I am guessing there will still be some material that will need to be burned, but not nearly as much as before. Some would have been good for Kugel, but again, getting it buried would be an issue.

Hope to keep this conversation with you going, and hopefully someone else will chime in with ideas.











 
mike mclellan
Posts: 93
Location: Helena, MT zone 4
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I know what you mean about seedlings. I pulled a couple hundred olive seedlings out of one particular area where I started a fruit tree/raspberry/strawberry guild last year. Not too bad as long as one does stay on top of them.

I ended up cutting my branches by hand. Tedious to be sure but they stacked much better. I ended up having soil brought in for my hugelkultur beds as we have a fairly high water table and I didn't want to excavate out soil down to the permanently damp capillary fringe.

I planted 30 black locust saplings a couple weeks back and didn't find the spines to be an issue at all. The spines are stipular, arising from the eventual crotches of the branches. They are not throughout each branch like Russian olive. We'll see as these mature. Plus, black locust wood has more uses than Russian olive so I see that as a plus for the BL.

Same can be said of the elm. They are prolific, aren't they? Hated it when they'd have an abundant seed year. Always prayed for a pretty hard frost in WY when they were blooming! I guess it's a matter of diligence when those little things start germinating by the carload. I used a collineal hoe to cut off the seedlings as there could be hundreds at a time in a given area. It definitely sounds like Siberian/Chinese elm to me. Was told that they were quickly inserted into the intermountain country when the Duthch elm disease killed off most ot the American elms in the 1910s and 20s. Definitely a trade down, IMO. Again, the longer term issue for you is are the elms (at least some of them) in place where they can serve the greater good? If so, manage them according to your plan. Using Google Earth it appears as if the elms are largely south of the house, right?

The large brown area SE of the house and due east of the elms- is that sagebrush? It appears to be a slope. Is there potential to capture runoff in a swale and berm or even a couple. These could conceivably help water a fruit producing area. It looks like youv'e got a mass of olives east and NE of this sage area and downslope. Wow, that could be quite a tangle. However, those trees, with some judicious pruning and/or removal could provide more fruit tree/ nut tree area. The olives could stay at least for a few years as the others get established.

As you said, I can't see the pond but to have live water on your place is huge. With your milder climate than up here, you might consider what kinds of perrennial aquatic vegetable plants you could establish there.

Gardens on the second terrace below the house judging from the east-west rows. Are those fruit trees adjacent to the garden on the NW side. Keep your compost area(s) close to these ares to keep your work load more reasonable. I'll bet with all your trees you have quite a variety of birds condsidering the alfalfa/grass field to your north and the other ag lands around you. Is this something you'd want to enhance?

Just from the air, it appears you have quite a bit going on there now. I hope you are enjoying the planning and implementation. Nature rocks!
 
Steven Feil
Posts: 240
Location: South Central Idaho
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Here is an outline of our place. Hope that helps a bit. I will come back after church and answer more of your questions.
Land-Plan.jpg
[Thumbnail for Land-Plan.jpg]
Land Plot
 
Steven Feil
Posts: 240
Location: South Central Idaho
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Thanks for your time. I guess I will move on.
 
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