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Need advice on starting a tropical food forest

 
master steward
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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Thanks for the reminder!  I acquired many of the plants and I've had them in pots the last year and a half.  One slight hangup is that my greenhouse isn't naturally maintaining above freezing temps :(   Unless I add a heater, it gets down to 20F in there on the coldest nights.  

To skate by last winter I made a mini greenhouse inside the main greenhouse and moved all the nervous plants in there.  Last winter I still had hope of the greenhouse staying warm enough, this year I suffer under none of those illusions.  This winter I did make a temporary greenhouse for them but the quantity of plants will have to decrease in the future.

As for my list of plants, here's what happened:

bananas - they grew well in the ground.  Last year they got 8' tall before dying in the cold.  They actually made it down to about 32 before dying.
avocados - they are growing slowly but seem healthy
mangos - it's struggling and looks like crap but isn't dead yet
pineapples - they stay alive if I keep them warm but haven't fruited in two years so I'm not wasting space on them any more
cinnamon - didn't try since I felt I needed to put them in the ground
dragonfruit - grew slowly (1 foot in first year) but died before I had the mini greenhouse set up
ginger/turmeric - Grow ok in the summer but didn't come back up in year #2.
loquat? - didn't try
papaya? - I planted Mountain Papaya seeds in the ground and a couple grew but died come winter
miracleberry - it struggled for a half a year and died
vanilla orchid - it was doing great but died before I had the greenhouse set up
yagrumo? - didn't try
lemon - they do fine.  Harvested 5 lemons this year
mandarin - Growing well but no fruit yet

My current plan is to reimagine the greenhouse as a Mediterranean greenhouse with plants that can handle 15F.  Need to figure out that list this winter and make my plans.  Along with that I'll have a small part of the greenhouse that can be cordoned off with poly to keep warmer for winter growing.  The lemons and maybe another citrus will hide inside the edge of that area for protection while not taking up too much floor space.
Late-in-the-first-summer.jpg
Late in the first summer
Late in the first summer
Ginger-banana-pineapple-papaya-grass-extension-cord.jpg
Ginger, banana, pineapple, papaya, grass, extension cord
Ginger, banana, pineapple, papaya, grass, extension cord
Lemon-in-foreground-mango-on-blue-barrel-other-stuff.jpg
Lemon in foreground, mango on blue barrel, other stuff
Lemon in foreground, mango on blue barrel, other stuff
 
pollinator
Posts: 302
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Did you think about having a small meat chicken house inside the greenhouse? They don't need a lot of space and they will add some heat to maybe keep things above freezing. After 4 months of doing heating they can go into the freezer as a good measure for irony
 
Mike Haasl
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No, I didn't really consider chickens.  I think I need about 100,000 BTU of energy on cold days to keep it above freezing.  I suspect that's a lot of chickens
 
gardener
Posts: 1913
Location: South of Capricorn
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A few ideas looking at your list of stuff, from zone 9b:

avocados & mangos - if you can keep them pruned to a size where they fruit and also can be moved in and out, I think you might be okay. Especially with the avocados. Mangoes are a tad more sensitive but avocados live through frosts here. I don't have a source, but I read years ago that there is a fruiting avocado in WI somewhere. Maybe worth checking out.
pineapples: I don't think you have a shot. Their season is so long. My uncle has them, he is probably two zones hotter than me and never frosts, and it is just barely warm enough to get a small stunted pineapple every once in a while. They need hot all the time.
dragonfruit: same as pineapple, growth is so slow that interrupting for seasonal cold means it's practically impossible
ginger/turmeric: probably worth trying again, especially turmeric (if you're so inclined). They will do decently enough over a hot summer, and you can also do them in containers to extend the season a bit.
loquat: you should try, if you`re so inclined. They do well with cold, maybe not wisconsin cold but they're a nice plant and I could see you getting one in a barrel to move in and out. The fruit is nothing exciting, compared to a WI apple, say, but it does have medicinal uses and it's pretty enough.
vanilla orchid: my dream, but they need total stability with no fluctuations. I don`t have time for that, not sure about you
lemon/mandarin: both should do just fine!
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Tereza!  I think I could keep the avocados and mango to a 3'x3'x8' high shape.  Would I get much fruit from them if they were kept that small?  Any bigger and they'll take over my mini greenhouse.
 
Tereza Okava
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Location: South of Capricorn
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I think you're going to have to try it and see. With good dirt and fertilizing i don't see why not! I may be mistaken but I'm pretty sure i read David the Good suggest dwarfing all sorts of trees with some yields; i mean a small tree has fewer branches so you're not going to get buckets but why not (I'm trying hard pruning in my yard with guavas, jackfruit,  and avocado, but it'sstill early days). And mangoes are routinely kept small in farm operations, pretty much the same as apples, otherwise the fruit is out of reach. My aunt has one thats not much taller than me that was just covered in blossoms last time i went there.
 
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I did not see an outside picture of the greenhouse.

Did you berm up earth on the north side of the greenhouse for insulation and thermal mass?
 
Mike Haasl
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Here's a thread all about it: Mike's passive solar greenhouse

I didn't berm earth up on the north side due to an access path being in that area.
 
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Mike,
The video of my Texas greenhouse was taken years ago before many of the overstory trees had grown in. Calling them "overstory" is not always describing the current height, sometimes I was using it in context to describe the natural growth pattern of certain species. The over story trees are now about 35 ft tall and shade out as much area around them as I will allow through pruning and yearly height and canopy maintenance that is necessary to grow a food forest in a greenhouse. I hope that disambiguates what you saw in that old video.
Best,
Foxxotron
 
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