I have access to fields that I can use free so long as I give some produce to the owners. I work with a group of others growing vegetables and fruit trees. We have irrigation, but I'd like to cut way back.
Eventually, I will be buying a plot outside of town, which may not have irrigation access. (Water rights here in Colorado are hard to get.)
This is a cold, high desert, with large temperature swings between day and night, cold and changeable winters, and a short season.
My primary concern is that it's a LOT of work (and money too) to get this "field" going. I suppose you could consider it a practice run for when you buy property. Why did the trees die on your field?
You mention a hedge around it and how effective it is as a wind break depends on the size of the field. I put up a 6 foot shade cloth in our new orchard, but it doesn't protect plants from wind more than a few feed away. Maybe 10 ft? I'm still trying to figure out where I could plant tall trees strategically throughout the orchard without shading the fruit trees too much, but providing a more effective windbreak and some frost protection.
We have a very similar climate here at about 3800 ft, every few years have nights with single digits to kill off the Palo Verde and other sensitive trees/shrubs. 110 F or so during heatwaves in summer. Add the wind, which is probably the most destructive and it's really difficult to get things going, especially since we get 40+ mph winds about 20 - 25 days/month in April and May when we want to get veggies started. We get rain maybe once a month in April / May (in a good year), without irrigation it's not going to happen. Your season is even shorter, I hope you don't have winds like that.
But, once trees and bushes are established it's hard to kill them by not watering.
I've seen pistachio trees after several years on a vacant property with pistachios. However, they may eventually die as they get stressed during heatwaves and no water for possibly a couple months. Rain and monsoon is different every year. And the quality of the nuts may not be great.
I would not want to try to grow veggies without irrigation no matter what. Even in the BEST year we wouldn't get rain more than a few times a month, not nearly enough water for zucchini or tomatoes. I suppose it's a little cooler in summer in Denver. I'm surprised you have rye in winter, thought everything would be covered in snow, suppose it's like Santa Fe.
I like interplanting and of course shade and lots of mulch and good soil helps. I haul my water from a community well 1.5 miles away in a 320 gallon tank. I "should" get a bigger tank, but it really doesn't bother me enough to make an effort. When it doesn't rain I haul water at least once a day, sometimes twice, and I actually enjoy it. A few minutes of rest
Maybe around 35,000 gallons / month in May and June when we rarely get rain and I know people who use that much in their house and for a few trees.
Almost everything is gravity irrigated, first gravity from the water truck into six 220 or so gallon tanks throughout the property and from there to manifolds with 1/2" poly pipe. No drip attachments, just the drip holes wherever I need water and I redo it in many areas once a year as trees get bigger and when I add more plants.
I'm experimenting with various timers, almost all reduce the pressure too much. In most areas I manually open the valves and if I forget to close it, it's not that big a deal -- at most 200 gallons wasted, and not really wasted, just "deep watered."
I also have a 20 x 40 hoophouse and a "lower garden" with around 7 or so mimosas, several goji berries, chaste tree, AZ reeds and some natives, hopefully will get to planting berries there this fall. When it doesn't rain that garden gets about 300 gallons / week and I used to grow veggies there too, but didn't have enough time this year.
About 10 fruit trees are outside the orchard, 50 ft of grapes, lots of pomegranates, some figs, chaste trees, black locusts, honey locusts, mesquite and palo verdes. And some junk trees like trees of heaven (stink trees). And of course many native plants too.
Speaking of AZ reeds, I'm so happy that a couple of clusters that have not been watered in years are really thriving now after several good monsoon rains. They make great windbreaks, but don't provide a lot of shade so maybe I'll put a few in the orchard. Have to think it through, put them on the north side of trees so they still get sunshine in spring.
Also have some swales and am still in the middle of planting, got a 2nd acre a couple of years ago for the little orchard (maybe 1/4 acre, 12 trees) that serves as veggie garden until the fruit trees provide too much shade. I hope I live to see that!
I started in 2009 and it was very frustrating with the WRONG trees that froze during really cold winters in 2010 and 2012 and we couldn't even get yellow bird of paradise and other plants going that just grow by the side of the road. And then all of a sudden everything was taking off. I know one thing, the more you water (within reason, maybe twice a week in summer), the better and faster even natives grow.
It's a TON of work. I'm very grateful to our WWOOFers, could have never done it by myself. Speaking of which, if anyone is interested in visiting, let me know, the worst of the summer is over.