I live at about 4000 ft elevation in NW Montana outside of Missoula. My 10 acres is a mountainside. Southfacing. I've been thinking about a forest garden, but it's rough here. We generally don't see the end of frosts until sometime after Memorial Day and we can see a frost occasionally before Labor Day. I don't want to grow mushrooms because I don't have the confidence.
One person suggested that I look around to see what already grows here and cultivate it. In a nutshell: mullein, arrowleaf balsamroot, yarrow, common mallow, globe mallow, glacier lillies, Juneberry, snow berry, oregon grapes, a couple of elderberry, I think we have wild black cherry (not sure on this), and plenty of knapweed. We have white pine ponderosa, and a number of conifers. Yeah, really limited.
I realize the elderberry is popular but I'd do better going into the state forest to pick them. Mullein is somewhat popular, but heck, it's a huge weed here. And if I do manage to come up with a variety of crops, I'm not sure who would be interested in buying them from me.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Places to find information?
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It may seem like there are no good plants to grow in the north country, but just watch some Sepp Holzer videos to see that many things are possible to grow, if you only know how. Fall is the best time for developing your infrastructure. Short growing seasons are a challenge, but many of the best fruits can only be grown in cold climates.
I grow a lot of apples, some ripen in the middle of summer, then there are others that ripen in the late fall when night time temps are in the 20's(these are still green) and everywhere in between.
Raspberries, grapes, service berries, currants, blackberries, gooseberries, choke cherry, Nanking cherry, comfrey, brassicas, walnuts, etc. etc. etc.
Welcome to the club! I am in a very similar climate here, in North Idaho. The description of your property matches mine pretty well.
There seem to be several other people from Montana on this forum, search for their posts for ideas. Also, search for Michael Pilarski - he apparently is successful growing a food forest in our climate.
And do not forget about quality fence, and a greenhouse for the tomatoes!
You could also watch some of Ben Falk's videos on youtube. I think he is in zone 4..?? Two that I recall him talking a lot about in his videos are.....sea berry and black locust. I'm also recalling from his videos/book....elderberry, aronia, currant, gooseberry, blackberry, raspberry, bush cherry, schisandra berry, autumn olive, honey berry,....then there's the trees too.
My Food Forest - Mile elevation. Zone 6a. Southern Idaho <--I moved in year two...unfinished...probably has cattle on it.
You can grow all kinds of great stuff in Zone 4. Just think, people in zone 8 can't grow a lot of the things you can. So look a the bright side.
I'm Zone 4 @ 7,500' with 11 to 15 inches of rain annually (pretty dry). I have around 65-70 frost free days a year. I'm growing everything I can think of for my climate. Aronia, saskatoon, seaberry, gooseberry, buffalo berry, currant, Korean bush cherry, goji berry (which despite it's zone rating is doing just fine here), goumi berry, honey berry, blueberry, apple, pie cherry, etc. I also plan to buy hardy varieties of plum, apricot and hazelnuts. And if you're feeling lucky, try one the hardiest peach trees like Reliance. Why not give it a shot, you only live once.
You could also plant comfrey, horseradish, lemon balm, bee balm, wild arugula, asparagus, asparagus, asparagus, chives, strawberry, chinese perennial leak, rhubarb, lovage, all the mints, echinacea, sea kale, sage, french tarragon, etc, etc.