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Alpine Botanic Research Farm

 
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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Hello everyone,

     I thought I would share my project in the Colorado Rockies in the hopes of inspiring others as well as seeking and sharing knowledge. I am a recent graduate of MSU Denver through their Urban Ag. program, focusing on blending ancient farming techniques, such as terracing, with modern technologies such as 3D modeling and aerial data with small unmanned aircraft.

The property is an 80 acre rectangle ranging from 6500'-7500' in elevation, a few miles from the town of Pine, Colorado, and borders Pike National Forest, about 35 minutes from West Denver down Highway 285. It is comprised of south facing steep slopes giving way to what used to be rolling meadows (they are mostly barren now or overun with mullen) and eventually a steep cut creek basin (it is more of a babbling brook but water runs 365 as it is a drainage way for the valley into the S. Platte River about 500 yards to our South). The area was devestated by the Hi Meadow fire of 2000 and viewed as undesirable due to the burn scars and the steep slope. With great devestation there is also great potential. Below are 2D photos of the area before the fire and as it stands today.

I have been inspired by areas like the Loess Plateua, the Ethiopian Highlands and Jordan where marginal lands that have been prone to desertification have been restored to productive lands. My goal is to design this property into a working example available of what a high alpine permaculture example can be. It is being styled in the design of a botanic garden that affords the opportunity for overnight camping for the nearby areas of Denver and Colorado Springs and allow them to learn about permaculture in an Alpine environment, reconnect with nature, walk along trails and relax away from the city.

As of now I have been developing the property for the past 6 months with the help of a friend from my program at MSU, and the gratuity of my northern border neighbor for allowing me to borrow some of his equipment without having to rent it from Home Depot. So far there are about 1200' of roughed in terracing over 3 stages, and a 4th stage laid with fallen burnt timber that measures an additional 465' that will be roughed in by the end of the week (the news promises snow and cold temps this weekend as my motivation for this deadline). The terraces were flagged on contour with an A-frame level, and so far so good in regards to being on contour and properly spaced at 100' intervals. Image of two of four stages below and a closer view from on top of one of the rock outcroppings. Native trees (ponderosa pine, aspen, or some other pine) will be planted on the downslope of each terrace cut, and each terrace will be further widened to allow for a drainage ditch to be dug to collect and hang water temporarily upslope of the cuts, supplying moisture to each 100' wide pasture beneath it.

I will add more updates as time progresses, but for now I am just building more terraces with hand tools (mattock axe), and collecting hundreds of burnt timber logs to be spaced between each terrace at the 50' interval to serve as hugelbeds that will be seeded with horse manure from a farm in Lakewood, CO that I will truck out and haul up in a dual bucket yolk upslope. Attached are additiional images of a 2D ortho when I first began carving terraces and the digital elevation model I made from it. I hope to use new software in the future to measure the soil measure content as well.





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Pre Burn
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Post Burn
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Aerial View of first rough cuts, additional cuts went 100' below and 100' above but not pictured
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The Western Slope, approx. 25-30 acres
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The Western SLope, approx. 25-30 acres
 
steward
Posts: 4618
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
441
hugelkultur forest garden fungi books bee greening the desert
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Thanks Perric !

We took a drive through some of that area about a year after the fire. Just devastating. At the time I wondered if someone might go in and cut the standing burned wood and lay them across the slope to try and stop erosion but it looks as though most of the area has just been left to nature . I am glad to see that she is beginning to grow at least a carpet of grasses.

Will you have any help from the conservation district or forest service as far as getting young trees to reforest?

Will you be seeding any areas with different plants, shrubs or trees?

Are you seeing any mushrooms at work?

Will you be keeping it in a native state or will you introduce any fruits like hazels or serviceberries etc.?

Can you use the brook water or build dams of any kind to slow the water and spread it?

Sorry for all of the questions but I think this will be a great project !!
 
Perric Falcon
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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Miles Flansburg wrote:Thanks Perric !

We took a drive through some of that area about a year after the fire. Just devastating. At the time I wondered if someone might go in and cut the standing burned wood and lay them across the slope to try and stop erosion but it looks as though most of the area has just been left to nature . I am glad to see that she is beginning to grow at least a carpet of grasses.

Will you have any help from the conservation district or forest service as far as getting young trees to reforest?

Will you be seeding any areas with different plants, shrubs or trees?

Are you seeing any mushrooms at work?

Will you be keeping it in a native state or will you introduce any fruits like hazels or serviceberries etc.?

Can you use the brook water or build dams of any kind to slow the water and spread it?

Sorry for all of the questions but I think this will be a great project !!



Mr. Flanagan, I can't imagine what the burn looked like so recently after the fire, I did not even move to Colorado until years after it let alone venture down into the area. You are correct both in that it would have been a good idea to lay the timber and in that not many plots did so. I have seen some reclamation attempts that have laid timber per forestry and NRCS suggestions nearby, but they are not common (most of our neighboring parcels look untouched). I did see a nearby BLM parcel where they used heavy machinery to dramatically terrace a burned mountain face from what I believe was the nearby Buffalo Creek fire a few years later, but I believe this was more of a last resort to control extreme erosion then a reforestation method.

I have registered with the farm agency and have been working with my local NRCS agent who is great, but some of her associates have recommened mass roundup sprayings to control cheat grass which I am not on board with. Other then that they have been extremely helpful but their discounts on tree seedlings, grass mix, etc. are neglible compared to some of the local wholesale seed suppliers. I am awaiting a shipment of native tree seeds and nitrogen fixing cover crop to plant out the terraces and pastures between this spring. We will start with native coniferous due to their slow growth rate but also their abiltiy to retain the terraces long term and provide wind cover. I anticipate introducing cold hearty non native fruit trees, etc.  although some of my colleagues have offered push back towards this and favor a native only approach. I believe as a research farm however it is necessary to push the envelope and test different possibilities.

I am seeing fungi at work in the decomposition of the timber however my goal is to suplement it with mycelium cultures and compost teas once the hugelbeds are complete as well as seeding the pastures between terraces. The water in the brook can not be used due to strict Colorado Water Rights however the NRCS does have supplemental irrigation plans for us in the future as we do have a small acre footage alotment per year on the property, approx. 650,000 gallons. The NRCS also mentioned grants for bee keeping and pollinators and native wildflowers which we are very excited about. In general once the terraces and hugelbeds are completed in the next few months they will be progressively planted out with nitrogen fixing ground covers, trees on contour beneath each terrace, and then transitioning certain pastures to productive food forests and rotating others out as highly productive pastureland/silage producing fields.

I appreciate the feedback and questions sir, I will post some images of the hugelbeds and terrace progress shortly.
 
Posts: 22
Location: USDA Zone 3-4/Sunset Zone 1a/in South Central WY
12
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Hello Perric!

Have you been over to and/or seen information about CRMPI in Basalt, CO? They are on a mountain side and have a mature food forest planted there. They might be able to provide information about planting techniques and plants that will do well on your property.

About the native vs. non-native plant controversy--most plants migrate to where they function best and so, determining what is actually "native" depends on the when, not necessarily the where. What your goals are for the property should help determine what you are to plant. If you want food and a somewhat sustainable future, then the trees, shrubs, and perennials that can grow in your altitude/temp/moisture area would be the most relevant for you. If you are just trying to restore the original flora, then "natives" are the way to go. Personally, I use a mixture of both--trying to find the natives that produce food in my Zone 4. However, I'm prone to try some non-natives for their productivity and taste!

Best wishes to you on your adventure.  If you are ever headed to Wyoming, send me a message!

- Kani
 
Perric Falcon
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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Kani Seifert wrote:Hello Perric!

Have you been over to and/or seen information about CRMPI in Basalt, CO? They are on a mountain side and have a mature food forest planted there. They might be able to provide information about planting techniques and plants that will do well on your property.

About the native vs. non-native plant controversy--most plants migrate to where they function best and so, determining what is actually "native" depends on the when, not necessarily the where. What your goals are for the property should help determine what you are to plant. If you want food and a somewhat sustainable future, then the trees, shrubs, and perennials that can grow in your altitude/temp/moisture area would be the most relevant for you. If you are just trying to restore the original flora, then "natives" are the way to go. Personally, I use a mixture of both--trying to find the natives that produce food in my Zone 4. However, I'm prone to try some non-natives for their productivity and taste!

Best wishes to you on your adventure.  If you are ever headed to Wyoming, send me a message!

- Kani



Hi Kani, I have not been for an in person visit but they were one of my first inspirations to pursue this dream of an alpine farm/food forest. I love the methodology that everything is experimental as far as what will flourish on the property. I very much like your perspective on "native" depending more on when then where. I am more interested in a long game sustainable future, and I agree there are just too many tasty non-natives not to have them on location. I am awaiting an order of a variety of coniferous and deciduous tree seeds to start germinating and stratifying for hopefully a fall planting at the end of this season. I will add some pictures with varities once they establish a bit.



I was just in Wyoming last week! We were driving up to Montana to see my folks. Next time through I will be sure to give you a holler.
 
Perric Falcon
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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Here is a quick update of whats been going on the last few weeks. More log laying for terraces and hugelbeds and the pastures are starting to clean up and reveal themselves! I spoke with my local tax assessor and to qualify for agricultural taxes (it is already zoned Ag. but the tax assesors view it as raw residential land). At 80 acres I can not afford the taxes that come with it as a residential property. It takes three years of documentation to qualify for ag taxes here, and  I have been working with the NRCS since last year following their pasture management and forest mangement program for the site, clearing invasive weeds, and cleaning up burnt timber and hauling it into terrace locations on contour. Despite all of this, the tax assessor told me I must have a few livestock by March/April when she comes out for her inspection of the property. I wanted to wait at least 1-2 years before introducing sheep to let the pastures really improve, but I feel like my hand is being forced a bit. The good news is because of the terraces and hugelbeds, there are roughly 13+ pastures that have been created and are +/- 1 acre. My plan is to highly rotate them throughout the pastures each day, and thus not have to rely solely on trucked in silage. I am excited to have manure at least, and we already have a 200 square foot loafing shed that can be fully closed and secured at nights. I just need to start working on some fencing of their main area near the shed. We are looking at Lacaune sheep and North Country Cheviot as we are more interested in milk then meat.

Attached below are pictures of a hugelbed, the view of the terraces and hugelbeds from below the slope, and also some cool fungi growing on one of the logs that I was hoping someone could I.D. or at least confirm it is a good sign of fungi on the propety.

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Perric Falcon
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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We received our first major snow storm of the winter season, and I managed to take some photos showing the terraces and the swales for the section I have been working on. If you look closely enough you can begin to see the delineation of the pasture system. I dont have a close up photo but either the wind drifts or the shadowing effect of the beds and terraces have created an upslope backlog of snow, 3-6" where the downslope is relatively uniform at 2" until the next bed or terrace. I was very happy because it appeared to me to be a good example of how these sytems will work together going forwards.

I am going to look at North Country Cheviot sheep tomorrow just east of Denver to put a down payment on 4 female yearling ewes that we will pick up in March. The amount of fencing we will need to keep them out of the new tree seedlings is overwhelming... but at a substantial initial investment we will be able to heavily rotate between a number of pastures throughout the season versus keeping them in a singular grazing area and having to rely on portable fencing options for the marginal areas upslope.
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Perric Falcon
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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Here is a short birds eye, or nadir shot, video of some of the terraces and the first segment of hugelbed in the snow just for fun and viewing enjoyment. You can see a big difference in the beginning pasture segments between the terraces where there is no hugelbed yet and thus a ton of burnt timber still down where after the rock outcropping you can see a faint resemblance of a baby hugelbed and the pasture looks much more in shape.

 
Perric Falcon
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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Here is a quick aerial update to show that the hugelbeds and terraces are coming along. Looking at the bottom terrace, you can see the first substantial portion of hugelbeds, sunbstantial enough to be rendered at over 200' above ground level at least ;)

Its also very interesting to see how the snowcover patterns, and thus drainage and erosional patterns, evolve over time. I don't map the area on a timed basis, rather when I think I have made enough changes/progress to justify it. The maps also confirm what the photos are showing me, which is slow and steady progress. Ideally over time and with each snow/rainstorm the erosional issues will beging to be remediated. Next up is more burnt timber cleanup and terracing and 4 Cheviot yearling ewes will be on the property March 15th. I will update with fence progress and loafing shed soon as they come together, just need the temperatures to warm up a bit.

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2D Orthomosaic
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2D Digital Elevation Model
 
Perric Falcon
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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Well we had a break in the weather and some of the snow melted enough to start driving in the t posts for the corners of our first pasture. We had planned on building a fire on each center post to boil water to pour on the other two until the permafrost layer was melted, but with some brute stength and ignorance we drove in 9 of the 12 posts we needed today for 3 of the 4 corners without having to boil any water. Apparently it was much softer ground then I was anticipating despite the snow and rock.  We are using some of the sheep panel fencing to reinforce the corner posts where the t posts will serve as skeletons for stone gabions since we have such an abundance of ground cover stones to secure the corner t posts. I know its not very conventional but its the materials we have on hand and its a great way to clear some rock from the field. The baskets pictured below we are sliding over each t post, the center posts being a diameter of 2.2' (7' circumfrence) and the outer brace posts 1.5' in diameter (5' circumfrence), and filling with said nearby rocks. Now that the corners are in, I have about two weeks to slam in the 90 or so t posts in between each run and get these gabions filled up as our sheep are due for pickup March 15th.

On another note we also have half a dozen guinea keets that we will pick up around the same time and brood box at home until they are ready for some tick control in the late spring and summer.
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three corner posts without their baskets, and some log timbers that will be the lower of two H braces
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my lovely farm partner and lifetime love
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working away, couple of burned out trees and then the green lush forest behind me
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rough fence outline, about 1,500' in perimeter
 
Perric Falcon
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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Here is the first t post braced by the gabion and all filled up. The wire sagged in some places and its far from perfect but it looks pretty good, the other option is using welded wire to make the baskets but I dont know if that would sag any less then the sheep wire. We will be using H braces with 3 gabion posts in the corner, this is just a middle brace for a long stretch of wire. Sheep panel wire will be stretched between gabions, and two strands of hot wire will be run on top of the gabions where the t post is sticking out still.
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Perric Falcon
Posts: 36
Location: Pine, Colorado
5
earthworks sheep greening the desert
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Well after realizing our gabion post was absolutely atrocious, I went back to the drawing board. I used a stronger steel mesh for the gabion basket instead of the sheep wire, and took much more care in arranging the stones like puzzle pieces, and filled the inside with crushed granite to help it compact better. This is the first H-brace finally completed of our primary sheep pasture.
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this was not enough stone, many more trips were made....
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starting to look like something as the snow falls
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Inside pasture view, almost filled to the brim and finished
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Outside pasture view all filled up!
 
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