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Monday, April 18, 2016

Permaculture questions and discussion


Quite often we receive letters on a variety of subjects.  Answering them is fun and sharing them sometimes is a good thing.  Here is another one. 

We live in NW New Mexico, in zone 4b-5a (elevation: 7000 ft); it snowed 6 inches yesterday/this morning.  Our soil PH is about 7.5, and I use the term “soil” loosely, as it’s quite nutrient poor (love the high desert climate; its soil … well … it’s a challenge).   We moved onto our homestead property last April, and got do to a bit of gardening last year (although it was late to be starting seeds; I couldn’t resist).  Veggies and herbs did pretty well, poor soil considered, until they were eaten by elk in the early fall.  All in all, last year was “the year of observation” to learn the sun, wind, water, etc. patterns;  we’ve selected a site and are now moving forward with the first steps of our orchard/food forest.   We’re looking at the big picture: a long-term orchard for our own consumption and food preservation, pollen producers for future bees (next couple of years), possible food production for chickens (arriving next month) and wildlife.  We found a year-round spring directly adjacent to our property, which accounts for the bear, elk, mountain lions, coyotes, rabbits, turkeys, owls, hawks, and you-name-it living on the property.
While obviously I’m able/willing to do some soil amendment and such, I’d ultimately like to create a sustainable situation without pretending I live in zone 7, have dark, rich, Midwestern-US soil, and that it rains a lot here.  Bottom line is that we’ve got high desert temperature fluctuations, poor native soil, an average last-hard-frost date of May 25, and an average growing season of 130 days.  I feel sorry for, but refuse to emulate, those in our community who cry about their apple, peach, almond, etc. trees “blooming pretty” but failing to produce fruit year after year.

Sorry for the rambling, but I wanted you to sort of get a picture of our situation.  We’re looking at Jiovi’s food forest plants collections, and keep coming back to collection #3.  What are your thoughts about those plants given our location/situation?  I’m also considering buying some goji seeds to germinate and grow indoors until planting them outside next spring.  I’ve got a south-facing passive solar wall of windows, in which I successfully grew (and harvested!) tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and lemons all winter, so they should be pretty happen inside until hardened off and planted outside.  I am lucky, indeed, but want to think hard about starting the food forest so that I have a maximum success.
Many thanks,


8:15 AM (4 minutes ago)
Hi from jiovi and Foxgreen Farms,

You have some challenges.  We have them too.  About 12 miles from the on-grid farmhouse, the "wilderness" location of Foxgreen Farms has poor soil and a similar climate.  After removing the trees and shaking all the stumps to save what soil there was, I planted a field mix of grasses and clover.  I would skip the grass in the future except for annual varieties.  That all depends on your future use.  The clover does more to  build the soil and the grasses can get weedy.  Having said that their roots are fibrous and repeated cutting of it all is building the soil. You could always plant grasses later if you want forage. Not sure if you have access to wood chips cheap.  If you do they are great to use for mulch and biomass the fungus/mushroom/worm love.  

The plants.  All of the plants in the collection are good for your area regarding zone temps.  The elderberries, seaberries, nanking cherries, and service/juneberries can all take a little shade.  Not too much but a partial day is fine.  The others like full sun best.  As far as bee forage, the black locust might be a good addition.  Here is a great resource for bee forage  Black locust is highly rated.  

For chickens, the siberian pea is one they like.  Honey locust too.  The honey locust isn't as good for bees but it has all the other qualities black locust has, except for the honey potential.  It does have far more use when it comes to food production for people (small pods) and especially animals.  It's very productive.  

As far as animals, my challenge is moose.  Having said that, they don't do too much damage and definitely have preferences.  There are tons of ideas about deer etc protection in the garden.  One of the best things is to change-up the site.  They don't like differences, it spooks them and as long as there is food other places, they will choose not to be where they are uncomfortable.  A dog being around helps.  Just it's presence is good, it doesn't need to be out at night.  The other thing is placing, say, 5 gal buckets around and moving them randomly to different spots.  Again, the new things in the animal's eyes makes them uncomfortable.  I think I might set up a clothesline type thing or two, and hang buckets and some reflective tape.  I could just slide them up and down the line.  That in combination with a solar or battery powered motion light or two might help a lot.  Those things wouldn't be as effective when they are super hungry in the fall and winter.  

Another animal problem we have had in the past is mice.  Deep snow over a long period has them tunneling on the ground surface and they can chew a ring around the tree/shrub.  A hardware cloth ring, tree tube, or a spray made from garlic and hot pepper works.  The garlic and hot pepper needs to be reapplied so if the snow is deep, that wouldn't be practical in the winter.  

The only other thing I can think of is enhancing a habitat away from your plants they like.  When I thin the forest or clear a field, I keep in mind the sun and new sprouts from the stumps.  More of them and, again, the animal will prefer to stay away and eat that stuff.  

It's always a good idea to test the soil so you know, in detail, what it needs.  As you know, soil farming is the key to everything doing well.  Once the soil has the biomass and dampness it needs it is largely self regulating.  Consider having lots of comfrey growing.   Chickens like it, it is a bioaccumulator, and multiplies like crazy....a good thing for such a useful plant. 

I am just thinking of the top of my head so I hope I have helped some.  One of my goals for jiovi plants is to have them specifically successful in cold climates.  The only one which is still a question mark in my area (zone 4-5) is the Paw Paw.  I think it will survive but the fruit production might be minimal.  

The collection is a good one.  If you want to adjust it in any way.... add plants, change plants, etc.  send me another email with what you want.  I'll price it out with as much of a discount as the collections have or more.  I would be glad to customize it for you.  Keep me up to date on your efforts and adventure.  All the Best - Tom

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