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(really) High Altitude Fruit Trees

 
Danny Smithers
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Location: Florissant, CO
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I've got some resources and approval to construct a food forest at the school I work at. The school is at an elevation of 9440' above sea level-it is in Cripple Creek Colorado. I'm surrounding the whole food forest and garden area with Holzer-sized hugelbeds and will be utilizing the microclimates to bolster the growth. While I can find and surmise the success of various species, I have a very specific question. What apple, pear, plum and cherry trees has anyone had productive success with above 8,500' feet in a temperate climate? I am not looking for conjecture and possibility on this particular thread. I have a lot of ideas, but I would love to know of anyone who has productive fruit trees at this altitude (without a greenhouse or coldframe), and the conditions in which they produce.

Thanks for any thoughts on this.

 
Robert Jordan
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Location: Dublin, Ireland
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Hi Danny,
You refer to Holzer. I recently read his "Permaculture" book and he lists fruit tree varieties that grow well, in his environment, which would be similar to yours, if not quite as high. Might help.
RC
Dublin, ireland
 
Miles Flansburg
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Sounds like a great project Danny!

Maybe the folks at the rocky mountain permies institute would have some good info for you?

http://crmpi.org/nursery/
 
Rebecca Norman
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The first thing to do is prowl your neighborhood and region to see what thrives there. If you see healthy fruit trees, try to ask the owners if they are doing anything special for them or the variety just does well there.

In my experience, plants don't seem to care much about altitude per se, but much more about minimum temperature (for which you can use USDA Zone), and all the other things like amount of sunlight, water, humidity, soil type, and for some types of plants, seasonal day length.

Here apricots, apples, walnuts and mulberries thrive, and there are a few pear trees, and in the lower (warmer) parts of our region, peaches, almonds and cherries. But you need to check your own neighborhood.
 
Ann Torrence
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Another question that might help with sorting-is this a year-round school or traditional fall start? Having a bunch of summer apples won't do any good if the kids don't come back until September, or would it?

If you haven't already, take a look at what St. Lawerence Nursery has to say about extreme northern climate fruit. It looks like they've taken their catalog down for the season, but you might be able to get them to send you a paper one. Not sure I buy all their argument about only full-sized rootstock, but I would be looking at the Russian rootstocks, like Antonovka or B118 over the M series for apples unless you have other issues to solve. Fedco Trees out of Maine also sells some trees on Antonovka rootstock, but they are done shipping too. There's a nursery in Santa Fe, ~8000', Tooley's Trees, but I haven't visited nor bought anything from them. The varieties they have on offer might be a good place to start. They are still selling trees until August.
 
elle sagenev
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My best advice is to look at what your local university has put out. I'm in Wyoming, not quite as high as you, our university put out a 9 page booklet with advice on what kinds of fruit trees and bushes to purchase and how many to purchase for the best crop.

When I was looking at grapes I went to our state grape growing society for advice on what kinds to buy.

Those are your best bets!!!
 
Rebecca Norman
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I forgot to mention, please be careful before going whole hog for hugulbeds in a high altitude place. High places are often arid, and there are some rumors that hugulbeds perform worse than flat or sunken beds in extremely arid sites. So look into that before you build more than one hugulbed.
 
Danny Smithers
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Location: Florissant, CO
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Thank you all for your very helpful thoughts. I thought I would get a reminder in my email when people responded, but I didn't so I haven't checked back on this thread for a while. So I'm going to respond to all these comments in one shebang.

Robert
-I will definitely check in to Holzer's book for some guidance, I am working with a more experienced Permie than myself now, so I have some good consultation coming in as well.

Miles
-I have relied heavily on the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute's species list so far... but those 2000 feet of elevation change do make a big difference. The fellow permie I'm working with on this has also spent a lot of time at CRMPI so she will have some good insight on their techniques as well.

Rebecca
-Up here with our soil conditions, there really aren't a lot of fruit trees around. The apples survive, but don't necessarily produce much (if at all). And you are right the actual altitude isn't the issue so much as the conditions that the altitude produces--extreme temperature swings/extreme sun, short growing season and ample wind--it snowed a bit in early June. I really don't have much to go on--when I bring up growing fruit trees around here to many of the long-time locals, the response is "you can't", which of course makes me want to prove them wrong. Berry shrubs can do quite well up here though, so they will be heavy in the mix...

And on hugels in arid regions. It's too late, I have gone whole hog on hugels--we are in the middle of installing about 230 feet of them and they are 5-6 feet high, but really their main function is as a windbreak so a sunken bed would not really be effective unfortunately. I am trying to turn the entire garden/forest area into a microclimate that is protected from the wind and captures heat for the cool nights. The beds are sun scooping an area
toward the trees and I'm hoping their thermal mass will keep some heat for the evenings--rocks will be involved as well. We are covering them with 60 tons of topsoil and we have irrigation capabilities, so hopefully we make them highly productive. I think it will just be a matter of finding the right kind of plants to thrive on them. I've made a couple small hugels up here and they have been successful, so I think we will be in good shape (I've got at this point right. I'll update everyone on the progress, so maybe we can put that question to bed if nothing else.

Ann
-Thanks so much for this, I will definitely take a look at those resources. I will only be able to do fall plantings this year anyway as the site won't be ready for tree-planting until late-July or so.

Danielle
-I have gotten some advisement from our local Extension Office, but they don't really have tons of information on fruit trees for this altitude unfortunately, everything is just going to be a bit of an experiment up here I think. Idaho's Extension office actually had some of the best information.

Again I just want to thank everyone for the insight and I will make sure to check all my threads to make sure I'm not missing responses out there somewhere. As soon as I finalize my tree/shrub list, I'll post it here and keep everyone updated on the progress.

I've attached an image of the progress so far... Please enjoy the juxtaposition of permaculture techniques with the open pit gold mine in the background.
hugel.jpg
[Thumbnail for hugel.jpg]
 
Rebecca Norman
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Good, since you can irrigate if necessary, you shouldn't run into a real problem.
 
Danny Smithers
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Location: Florissant, CO
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Rebecca Norman wrote:I forgot to mention, please be careful before going whole hog for hugulbeds in a high altitude place. High places are often arid, and there are some rumors that hugulbeds perform worse than flat or sunken beds in extremely arid sites. So look into that before you build more than one hugulbed.


I have heard of these concerns, and I have come across contradictory opinions on the topic. The main source of evidence I am using to go about is project is Paul Wheaton's video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sso4UWObxXg ) that comes from Dayton, Montana. In the video they build hugelbeds similar in size to what we are building, and then they show the un-irrigated beds with lush growth on them later in the season while the distant hills are dry and parched. Dayton gets about 15 inches of rain annually and our location's average rainfall is about 18 inches. Our average humidity levels are also comparable. I am worried I'm missing something--is there any glaring reason why we will have a much more difficult time with our raised hugelbeds than the beds being shown in Paul's video? We will definitely have to deal with more wind, but I'm working to mitigate that factor. We have irrigation available, so I'm thinking the worst case scenario is that we have to irrigate more heavily the first few years and then that need will dissipate as the wood breaks down. I appreciate your comment and I'm just trying to put my own mind at ease I suppose.
 
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