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Hi From Denver, CO  RSS feed

 
Tommy Kilpatrick
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Hi all,

I'm never good at these introduction things, but figure I have to start somewhere, so here goes...

Over the last half of 2014, my wife and I downsized from a 2200 sq ft house with an oversize 2-car garage to a 424 sq ft condo with no garage near downtown Denver. We're still working on getting rid of stuff that's in storage units and trying to get our possessions under control, but getting there much faster than when we actually had room for all of it at home!

We're eager to get started doing something that feels productive, instead of just things that feel liberating (not sure if that makes sense?). To that end, we are planning a small indoor aquaponics system in our living room. While I agree with Paul that aquaponics is not permaculture, I also don't have much experience keeping plants from dying a slow, painful death, so I think it's at least a start. Also, we have no yard, patio, anywhere at home that is outdoors to have anything grow. Which segues nicely to my next item...

We own 10+ acres of mostly south-facing mountainside/mountaintop property less than an hour away from home. We are currently awaiting the combination of our three separate parcels with the county and will have a new survey done so we know exactly what we actually own. The property is around 9500 ft in elevation, completely off-grid and mostly all covered with trees, primarily douglas fir (I think), maybe another species or two of evergreen, and aspens.

We have two big goals to start with.

1) Figure out how to get some soil built up there. On the south face, it's pretty much rock with decomposing evergreen needles and trees. Not much in the way of ground cover growing, and rock is visible between patches of organic material. It's a bit better on top and the north side, but not much, and I haven't been able to stick a tent stake into the ground more than an inch or two anywhere I've tried without hitting very solid rock. I'm starting from scratch, and want to figure out the best way to build usable soil without a thousand dumptruck loads getting imported to the site. I feel that this, water availability, and the climate are our biggest challenges to growing food there.

2) Build a small house/cabin for us to live in when we want to. We plan to keep the condo for the foreseeable future, and would like to have the ability to seasonally live at whichever place we like. Because we're so close to Denver, building codes are basically what we have here in town, so no wofati for us. We are comfortable living in 424 sq ft here, but I think the sweet spot for the cabin will be about 700-900 sq ft. Because of the location, we want marketability in case we love living off the grid and want to sell and buy bigger land in a location more conducive to homesteading and permaculture. If we build something too wild, it would just sit on the market and we would lose potential profits from our sweat equity. That doesn't feel smart to me.

I've been lurking here for a few years off and on, more and more recently. I'm on podcast #121 as of today (started at #1 after listening to 10 or so recent ones and realizing I wanted to hear the story unfold) and knocking out 2-5 of them a day in my quest for knowledge and perspective. I really dig the way Paul communicates and the folks he surrounds himself with, and the podcasts are easily digestible so that's working out well for me.

Not sure what else to say, but I plan to get a few focused posts going in appropriate forums on here to address my unique challenges soon. Hopefully I can learn what I need and maybe even help out folks with things that I do actually have experience with.

I'm attaching a pic from our property for your viewing pleasure.

Thanks to anyone who might have taken the time to read this!
Tommy
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The View
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Thin soil
Plant seeds and graft a named cultivar on top of it, that way your fruiting plants will not topple over easily.
Focus on fruiting shurbs and less on huge fruit trees.
Amend you soil with rock dust and activated biochar to reduce your water needs.
Avoid cutting down too much of the current vegetation that is already there at once. Do the cutting/planting over a 7 year period

Cabin Idea
24ft by 36ft
Six rooms in a 3 by 2 configuration each 12ft by 12ft

 
Bill Bradbury
pollinator
Posts: 684
Location: Richmond, Utah
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Hey Tommy,

That looks like a great spot!

I would start by thinning out 75% of the Quakies and use them to start hugelbets. They won't grow well and will be susceptible to disease at that density.

It looks like you have what you need on site to build your cabin, but at that elevation, you better insulate well! If you want to build the cabin yourself and don't yet have the wherewithal to build and design it yourself; take a look at the workshops that Jay C. White Cloud and I are starting up. We are looking to work with people just like yourself to build beautiful natural homes that are highly efficient and harmoniously integrated into their environment.

All Blessings,
Bill
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Posts: 4028
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
172
bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
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Howdy Tommy, welcome to permies!

Have you walked the whole ten acres?

My property in Wyoming has large stands of aspen and the soil under them is awesome, I am wondering if it is the same on your land also?

Any water on the land? Snowmelt that can be captured and spread out with swales?

How is the access ? Year round?
 
Tommy Kilpatrick
Posts: 14
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Thanks for the ideas!

S Bengi - I don't quite understand what this means -
S Bengi wrote:Plant seeds and graft a named cultivar on top of it, that way your fruiting plants will not topple over easily.
- could you explain a little more? As for cabin plans, we're going with a pretty open plan with windows placed to take advantage of the different views, as well as some solar gain. Similar to the image you posted, but rearranged so that the living area is along one long side so views from three different directions can be enjoyed from kitchen/living/dining area (which will be pretty much the same thing) and the bedrooms and bathroom are along the back long wall. It's something we will enjoy, and have appeal for renters/buyers in the future if it goes that direction.

Bill Bradbury - Thanks! We're really excited to have this piece of property, and looking forward to what we can do with it as we go through this adventure. The Aspens are a bit away from the proposed home site, I just put that pic up to show off the view a little bit. The majority of the property looks more like the pics I'm attaching to this post. Looking around, all of the trees seem like thinner, more spindly versions of what I see at lower elevations around here. Would thinning the Aspens allow the remaining trees to get bigger?

Unfortunately, the way the codes are around here, I'm thinking we're just going stick built for this one. I know it will go a lot quicker and more smoothly with the county that way. We won't be able to do everything we want with growies and livestock anyway, so we're likely to make something nice and marketable and sell it for a tidy profit to fund a larger, more suitable place down the road. Or we could keep it for a nice vacation spot to use sometimes, rent sometimes. Leaving options open at this point. We are going try growing a bunch of different stuff to see what we can make work with the elevation, seasonal cold and lack of ability to water anything (indoor only household wells are all that can be permitted).

Miles Flansburg - Glad to be here! I've only walked the original 4.36 acres. We bought 3.06 acres which, when surveyed, turned out to be 4.36 acres (score!). I walked it a few times and started planning within its confines when the county offered to sell us two other adjacent parcels of former BLM land. One is supposed to be 5.66 acres and one is supposed to be .65 acres. We actually just got the paperwork signed and notarized today for the last parcel, so after the county does their magic we will have another survey done and I'll go check out what we have now.

The aspens definitely have more stuff growing under them and the soil seems a lot better there. That little acre or so of aspens is at the far south end of the property a decent ways from the home site. I'll definitely plant stuff down there, but it won't get daily attention so I'm hoping to focus any real effort close to the house, which looks more like the attached picture with the tent in it. Mostly rock covered with needles.

I haven't seen any water or places where water gathers and runs. I have a feeling everything just soaks down into cracks in the rock unless there's a ton of rain dumping. Of course, a good deal of our precipitation will be in the form of snow. I've been there once in the rain, but it wasn't more than a light drizzle. That likely just soaked into the organic material on top and made a little mud here and there. I'd like to do hugel beds and would like to do swales, but I'm not sure how that works when I can't dig. our property is an old mining claim that was never mined, but there are a bunch of test holes where they looked for gold or silver. Most of them look blasted, so I have little hope of anything without importing tons and tons of soil and building up.

Access is 5 miles of county maintained dirt road, then about 3/4 mile of unmaintained, but pretty good jeep trail. There is a guy living above us who plows the road when needed to get to work (he works every day), so access is great to difficult, but year round. I have a 3/4 ton 4x4 truck with snow tires and chains so we should be good there.

Thanks again everybody, for the warm welcomes and thoughts!
Tommy
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Slope
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Build site-ish
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Tate Smith
Posts: 53
Location: Cheyenne, WY
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forest garden greening the desert hugelkultur trees
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Hey Tommy,

I also fear your swaling and hugelkultur ambition may be a little unattainable using traditional methodology. However, I think I have a solution!

We have had very good luck getting stuff to grow and getting some OM started into our soils where otherwise there is none, cutting down cedar and piling in brush piles on contour. I think the same practice could be extrapolated to your situation. Since you can't dig down, you have to go up. Since you don't have soil, you've gotta use trees! What you could do is plan out parks to open up the canopy. This will do a few things, allow more light to get to your future growing space, it will also create a nice big hole is the canopy so when the wind howls and it snows in the winter time, it will catch more snow than usual. Again, more water on the future growing space. There are plenty of other ecological functions that come with having a diverse canopy structure, but those two are the most pertinent I could think of for your site.

Before you get to cutting, need to map out trees that are close together and on contour from tree to tree across the hill side. Mark these trees with a funny color, cut everything else uphill for the distance you want your open canopy (it doesn't have to be every tree in the park space, but that all depends on your goals). Then take the logs and start stacking them like a log cabin, bracing against your contour trees. For longer stretches between "berms" stack the trees higher and have more contoured support trees. It will end up looking like your preparing for an invasion by some native war party, but I think you will end up have a really good catchment system to catch soil and water. As you have the time and energy, you could also start filling in uphill of the "berm" with your aspen material, inoculate in there all those good wild rocky mountain mushrooms to get the soil building process going. Lots of work, but it'd be fun to do and see completed I think!!

 
William Hendershot
Posts: 18
Location: Northern Colorado 7,500' Zone 4
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Hi Tommy,

I live over by Estes Park so I think we have similar situations.

A couple things I've noticed on my land:

I wouldn't recommend cutting down the Aspen, as they seem to help retain what little moisture there is in this dry, high elevation environment. Plus, when you're getting new plants started in the ground the sun is so intense at these elevations that a lot of plants will just get scorched and dried out if they don't have some shade for protection. And it turns out Aspen has nice dappled shade which is great for allowing enough sun through, while not completely shading things out (This is assuming it's not a dense stand of Aspen that your working with, since that situation will have solid shade instead of dappled).

Since it's so dry around here, I haven't had much luck with hugulkulture. It just seems to dry out too fast. I think it would be a better idea to plant wood underground so it wouldn't dry out so fast, but that doesn't sound like a possibility with your shallow soil. I also like Tate's idea of cutting conifers down for brush piles on contour, especially for the long term.

Another idea for building soil is wood chips. If you have a tree service in the area, and if you don't live too far way, they're usually happy to dump tons of wood chips on your property. It's usually wood chips from conifers, but that's much better than no soil at all. Another option is to get a good wood chipper, and take down some of those coniferous trees on the property (which also helps with fire mitigation).

Some fruiting plant ideas that have worked well in this area: Seaberry, Buffaloberry, Goooseberry, Currants, Goji Berry (has done surprisingly well here), Goumi, Honeyberry, Alpine Strawberry, Aronia, and Saskatoon. Herbs inc. Thyme, Oregano, Mints, lemon Balm, Lavender, Sage, Chives, and French Tarragon. Covercrops/Nitrogen Fixers: Hairy Vetch, Birds Foot Trefoil, Lupine, and I've found Dutch White Clover can do ok in this environment if somewhat shaded and well established.

Fruit trees are doable but they take a little TLC. I agree with S Benji about starting fruit trees from seed. Once that seedling is one or two years old, then graft specific cultivars onto it. Fruit trees from seed tend to be stronger, more drought tolerant, and more well rooted than plants from nurseries. I would especially stay away from dwarf trees/rootstock. What your looking for are fruit trees that bloom late (to avoid late spring frosts), and that fruit early (to avoid early frosts). Although recently I've found the fall growing season to last longer and longer each year. I would try Apple and Apricot, and maybe Plum.

Once established (a couple years), I've found all of these plants to be pretty drought tolerant.

 
Tommy Kilpatrick
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Wow, great information, thanks folks!

Tate Smith - Thanks for the wood and brush pile on contour idea. That sounds like a great plan for catching stuff that normally just washes away and creating some soil. Lots of detail, too. Just what I need!

William Hendershot - I was hoping to hear from folks in the area! Yeah, the aspen seems to have the best growth under it, which leads me to believe that the soil there is a little better and that it retains more moisture. Good thoughts on the dappled light. The sun can definitely get harsh up there.

I've thought about using some of my cut trees (we've taken down about a dozen so far to have a place to park), a trailer load or two of wood chips, and whatever other organic matter we can come up with and making a big composty thing. I'd like to not have to import everything, but a few loads of stuff to get things kickstarted shouldn't be a big deal, I think. I'm driving up there anyway, might as well put the truck to work, right?

Thank you SO MUCH for the list of plants that are working for you. That is definitely one of the things I was hoping to get out of this thread.

I'm still confused about grafting cultivars. I just really don't know what that means. I understand grafting, but am lost at cultivar. Lots to learn still...


Thanks again for the information, we can't wait to get started on some of these great ideas!
Tommy
 
William Hendershot
Posts: 18
Location: Northern Colorado 7,500' Zone 4
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If you haven't started apple trees from seed, here's a good demo. How to grown an apple tree from seed (hopefully that link works) I've had good results with starting apple seedlings in pots, but you want to make sure they're not in the pot so long that they get root bound. Otherwise you can start them in the ground, but it's a little harder to keep track of them, at least it is for me. By the way, if you're planning on germinating apple seeds this year, I would do that ASAP for this year's growing season.

Or if you don't want to start apples from seed you can always order rootstock from someone like Burnt Ridge Nursery.

After you have a bunch of apple seedlings ready to go, and they're about the thickness of pencil or a little less, then you're ready to graft. Now you need scion wood (cuttings) from apple trees that you think might do well in your environment. You can get scion wood from some orchards, you can ask for (or trade) scion wood from people on Permies and NAFEX (North American Fruit Explorers, Join their facebook page if you're on the FB), or you can cut your own scion wood from any local apple varieties in your area (with permission of course).

So when I say cultivars I mean apple varieties that you might buy in a store; Granny Smith, Red Delicious, etc. but in your case you'll want to find late blooming/early ripening varieties. I mostly work with a tree I found here in town. I think it's a "wild" apple but it's actually not bad tasting, and if it grows, blooms and fruits in this environment then you know you have a winner. This spring I'm also ordering scion wood from Masonville Orchards (near Loveland, CO). I'll be trying Wealthy, Pristine, Fameuse (snow), and Gravenstein, I would also like to try Redfree but Masonville Orchards doesn't have that available.

And if you're going to take your own scion wood from a local tree, do it ASAP (and it may already be too late in the Denver area) since you want to take cuttings while the tree is still dormant. If you want to try a local tree I found here in Estes I can send you some scion wood, but keep in mind it's not the high quality "dessert" apple that you might be used to.

Hopefully that answers your question and hopefully the answer wasn't too long winded!

 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Plant seeds in the ground and not in a pot. You want to plant 100 seeds and only have 1 survive, with utterly no care for 2 years. This hardy plant will most likely give a fruit that is tiny, hard, sour, and just pretty much disgusting, to fix this we will get a graft on a delicious tasting branch onto the seedling.

So the word cultivar pretty much means a know delicious fruit producing branch.

Alot of seedling produce delicious fruits. (The prunus family: peach, plum, cherry, etc......most berries, juneberry, currents, gooseberry)

For the berries (max height of 6ft at maturity) You can probably get away with buying bareroot/potted from the nursery and planting them in your super thin soil.

Check out this link you might find a few interesting idea that you like.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1fuTe-_RqYbJzydin5nLpcRjuNRXDdT7NMoJ4EbpsJAo/edit?pli=1
 
Tommy Kilpatrick
Posts: 14
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William Hendershot - That explanation was perfect, and the link worked fine. Detailed information is never too long winded. Thanks for taking the time, I understand much better now.

S Bengi - I definitely plan to start fruit trees from seed and figured not many, if any, would live so I'll plant a ton of them and keep my fingers crossed. I like the idea of letting them survive on their own before putting effort into grafting and then watching them die. Thanks for the doc link, I'll check it out.
 
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