Hello Zach Weiss
It's exciting to be able to ask you about growing food.
We moved to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada 7 years ago. Zone 4-5, with about 90 - 120 frost free days. We have about 2 - 4 weeks of Spring. Today it is 38 C. but 2 weeks ago we had frost & 2 C. at night. Our coldest temp is -30 C. in winter. Aug is our hottest month, up to 40 C. & our well gets very low. Temp in the spring & fall often changes 20 degrees or more, from day to night.
We had 5 feet of snow last winter, snow starts mid Dec & remains until mid May. Three of our neighbors lost their greenhouses due to heavy snowfall & high winds this winter. The east coast hurricanes usually diminish to level 1, by the time they get to Cape Breton, but we usually get 4 big storms a year and sometimes as many as 12 big storms a year.
Our water table is about 2 feet down, so an undergroundgreenhouse won't work for us.
We have 6 raised beds 4' x 8' in front of our cabin, so they will be easy to cover over with plastic.
We are new to growing food..... Our soil is clay & lots of gravel & boulders & our land is in a frost pocket, behind a hill. We are adding seaweed, leaves & peat moss to stop erosion & build soil. I am not trusting of food compost as GMO's are in our food supply.
We have 100 acre mixed forest with lots of dead spruce from the bark beetle. We have cleared an acre & started planting fruittrees in the base of the stumps & put in a 60 foot hugelkulture mound, 8' wide, 4' tall.
We bought baby black walnut, english walnut, & baurtnut trees, before understanding their large root system will effect nightshade plants, so we will be planting them further in the forest, or giving them away.
We are retired, with limited income ..... so we need cheap options & our energy level is lower than we'd like, so our progress seems slow.
Our 16 year old Son just finished a PCD with Graeme Calder, 3 weeks ago & has ideas for a compressed earth bricks & hay bale greenhouse. He is thinking we will build this in the next 2 years. So we'll be trying row covers this year.
We are all in love with our beautiful forest & are learning about wild foods & wild medicines.
If you have any suggestions for us, we would be very grateful ..... these years are going by so quickly & we want to make good choices for growing food.
All the best to you Zach
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
It sounds like you are in a very similar situation to us at Sage Mountain Center, in the rain-shadow on the continental divide. A very harsh and dramatic climate with a super short growing season. On my property there is between 60 and 90 frost free days.
First off you can indeed still do an in-ground greenhouse, but the siting of the structure will be very important. You could dig down to just above the water table and berm all sides of the greenhouse, effectively raising the frost level in the ground. But that is not at all what I would do in a situation like yours.
Water, clay, boulders, and intense sun; it sounds like you have all of the resources of nature to create a very good micro-climate. As I get to experience more of the Crater Garden we made this spring I am more and more impressed with its performance. The water is the most important element and the place to start. This will provide you security and serenity during the driest times of the year and also recharge your well. Water is the best thermal mass, it stores the most heat from the sun for the longest time. Water also gives off a tremendous amount of heat when it undergoes the phase change from liquid to solid, this provides an extra buffer against frost. The boulders could be set into the terraces like solar radiators and moisture collectors. You could create quite a beautiful and bountiful crater garden with the resources you have described. But this would be if you wanted to do something relatively small scale. With such a tremendous resource of ground water your could create quite a large water landscape. Aquatic systems are 40 times more efficient than land based systems at producing protein and they are also the fastest generators of soil.
Also I wouldn't shy away from the nut trees, they would be a nice way to regenerate your landscape. You won't want to plant your garden under them but they would be a nice productive element to mix into the forest.
Greenhouses are an excellent tool to grow some rare treats but are expensive and short lived. The inputs that go into earthworks are so minute compared to structures, particularly compressed earth structures in my experience. Every dollar you save in material costs you on the labor side.
Creating some Holzer style earthworks is what I would recommend to you and I wouldn't wait to do it. Acres can be treated for a very affordable investment and the result lasts for generations. Not only does it last but it actually gets better with time. The upfront investment pays for itself many times over. If it goes un-maintained for a number of years it will still be productive and viable when rediscovered. A regenerative beautiful landscape that is a living blue print for others.
Working with time and nature is such a beautiful way to live, this would be my main suggestion to you. Watch the water on your landscape and observe where you might be able to store it. Observe the forests and work with your resources to enhance the landscape. Make use of the resources that are available and create the natural systems that will grow themselves.
Is there a nitty-gritty source of information on how water moves through soil in different situations and the different types of ponds and what to think about in deciding where to place them and including the ecological sciencey details? I've read Sepp's book and it was great, but more of a source of inspiration than nitty-gritty. I'm looking forward to Paul's waterworks DVD's as well. I have Matson book on landscaping ponds, but that's not quite what I'm looking for. In a podcast Paul once talked about how the swale pond-building stuff seemed fairly straightforward, not esoteric. Like, just dig a swale here no big deal. Still, it seems like an art of sorts. I know Sepp learned at first just by trying and observing, but I would still love to dig deeper into some of the details in print.
posted 4 years ago
There is indeed a nitty-gritty source of information, in fact it actually has all of the answers; the book of nature. Earthworks are highly dependent on the situation and climate, the best bet is to contact a professional or start small with experiments and test plots until your experiments have proven themselves. Once you are happy with the results and confident with your understanding and forward thinking then you can put your techniques into action on the larger landscape. The design for each site should be totally unique as it site presents its own opportunities.
Even more importantly without an inquisitive problem solving mind it is hard to make a successful permaculture project. People with this mindset are able to create successful projects, those who look for the answers to be given to them from someone else often struggle. I think this is a big part of why Sepp makes his books inspiring, to inspire the mentality of an empowered individual who will answer their own questions through keen observation. He is a bit of a coyote teacher in that way.
We also have a short growing season here, though perhaps not so short as yours.
We heat our houses solely with attached solar greenhouses that we attach for the winter and remove for the summer. Some are fairly steep and have a floor space only about 5 feet wide along the south side of the building, which gives a steep enough surface that snow just falls and doesn't stick much. We don't get much snow because it's a desert, so I guess if there were substantial snow you'd want to shovel it away from the bottom of the greenhouse where it piles up too high. I guess in your climate and latitude you won't get much solar gain in the middle of winter, so I wouldn't expect it would be a heating source for you, but it does reduce the heat loss from the south side of the house, combines the need for heat storage in the greenhouse with transfer to and from the house, and provides a nice greenery-filled attached space through the winter.
Our system is we attach UV-resistant plastic film along the top, roll it down in October, fixing it along the sides and bottom, and roll it back up out of the way in April or May. We affix it along the bottom simply by digging a shallow trench, laying the bottom edge of the plastic in and pulling it tight, and filling the trench back in with soil. We tried various fancier methods but this keeps the plastic intact and leaves no visible structure along the south edge all summer.
Works at a residential alternative high school in the Himalayas SECMOL.org . "Back home" is Cape Cod, E Coast USA.
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