Permaculture Nursery Strategies in High Desert Climates

Discussion in 'Designing, building, making and powering your life' started by neilbertrando, Feb 10, 2010.

  1. neilbertrando

    neilbertrando Junior Member

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    Hi all,

    We're currently designing and building a small scale permaculture nursery in the High Desert of Reno, NV.

    Some brief climate info is precip range (2 -16" per year or 1 - 40 cm per year) much as snow between Nov. and May, snow events can be as large as 18" or 46 cm in 24 hours, max temp (110 F, 43 C), min temp (-14 F, -25.5 C), Wind max 110 mph with several 60+ mph events each year, soils are generally low OM and often composed of weathered granite and glacial till but can vary from clay to diatomaceous to sandy.

    We're looking for resources, references, and suggestions for strategies to overwinter our potted plants and keeping them alive and thriving. One of our main concerns is cold damage to roots of plants in pots.

    Our available space is ~1500 square feet (140 square meters) over which we are planning to build a post and beam shade structure with shade cloth initially and developing into a deciduous vine trellis (grapes, etc.) with a tall canopy tree planted to provide shade after several years.

    We plan to have the nursery stock in pots on tables with a gravel and/or woodchip mulch groundcover. We're considering storing water under the tables to provide thermal mass. For winter insulation, we're also considering a sand or straw insulation layer around the pots on the tables.

    Due to space limitations, we're not thrilled about the idea of submerging pots in the ground, although this could be an option. Also a structure like a tunnel house is not high on our list of desired options, however we're open to the idea if it is truly the best and most sustainable option for our context.

    Our current nursery operations plan is to plant an propagate as much of our stock as possible now and transition to a totally local production of all our stock over the next 5 years. To facilitate this, we have planted the scion we are interested in either on site or at other local sites and are researching the best methods for supplying rootstocks locally. Our plan is to cooperate with current local producers so we do not double up the market for a specific plant (for example there is a local apple specialist so we will not be devoting much to apples rather directing interested people to him instead) also, our local forestry dept. sells Robinia, caragana arborescens, and other useful sp.


    If it helps here is a quick list of our current and planned nursery stock items.
    Friut Trees:
    Apricots
    Plums
    Jujubes
    Asian Pears
    Mulberries
    cold hardy fig

    Fruiting Shrubs:
    Cane berries (black, rasp, logan, boysen)
    Gooseberries
    Currants
    Elderberries
    Serviceberries

    Fruiting vines:
    Grapes

    Nut trees:
    hazelnut
    Pecan
    almond

    Support trees:
    Albizia julibrissin (silk mimosa cold hardy var.)
    Maakia amurensis
    Sophora japonica
    Gymnocladus dioicia
    Cercis canadensis
    Cladastris sp.

    Support shrubs/small trees:
    Elaeagnus umbellata
    Elaeagnus pungens
    Elaeagnus multiflora
    Hippophae rhamnoides
    Amorpha fruticosa
    Ceanothus velutinus
    Caragana pygmaea
    Lespedeza bicolor

    Support herbs and groundcovers:
    Comfrey
    Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
    Baptisia australis


    Any information or direction would be much appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Neil Bertrando
     
  2. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    You like a challenge?
    Have you enough water?
    No carob varieties?
    No dessert food plants?
    Australia has desserts, but not "high" ones Our highest peak is about 4,000 m
     
  3. Aaronj

    Aaronj Junior Member

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    I live in Colorado with a very similar climate. I have been overwintering plants in my small nursery in several ways.

    One is just leaving them out in the weather, really winter hardy plants seem to be fine as long as they don't dry out.
    I have also grouped some together and covered them in mulch.

    Have you thought about creating snow fences? Its an idea I have been playing with: Build a swale type structure with a fence on the mound, so the swale is in the shade. Behind the fence snow will accumulate and bury the seedlings. As long as they remain buried in snow they will also be insulated from extreme cold. Plus the swale, if connected to some sort of water catchment could provide a boost of water in the spring. And the sun side of the fence could be planted to useful species.

    Tricky when most of the moisture comes in winter when nothing is growing. Here the snow falls and then melts or evaporates in the intense winter sun.

    Just out of curiosity, what type of fig do you have? And have you had success with them in Nevada? I have a fig that gets frozen back each winter, mine never produces, but I have heard that some of the Brown Turkey varieties will produce on first year wood after getting frozen.

    Have you thought about including:

    Silver Buffaloberry. (Shepherdia argentea) - Nitrogen fixing, native, good drought tolerance, and cold tolerance, with nutritious berries.
    Wolfberry (Goji berry)- Lycium barbarum - High protein berry. Very cold tolerant, and some drought tolerance. (I left my seedlings out all winter with no protection and they are fine.)
     
  4. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Welcome to the forum Neilbertrando!

    Good stuff you're up to. My climate is similar here in eastern Washington, dry-windy-cold winters-hot summers. I have a small mature orchard with apricots and almonds that do very well with lots of mulch and minimal watering. There's also a type of currant (Buffalo currant I believe) that is thriving. Was given some Pinon Pine seeds and some sort of wild plum seeds (large marble sized plums, very sweet) that were planted next to a stone wall patterned after the "talus garland community" described by Kyle Chamberlain in this article: https://permaculture.org.au/2009/11/02/rethinking-water-a-permaculture-tour-of-the-inland-northwest/

    Aaronj, it's very interesting you mention snow fences! The previous two years have been very snowy/windy here so this last fall I put up a trial snow fence to do just as you suggest. Alas this has been one of the mildest winters in recent history here and almost all the precipitation has been in the form of rain. However I'm still game and will expand on the concept next winter. = )

    Keep us up to date on your progress!

    Bill
     
  5. insipidtoast

    insipidtoast Junior Member

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    As I mentioned before in an email that was either ignored or not properly sent, I am living in Reno right now and would be interested in helping out if you're open to it.
     
  6. neilbertrando

    neilbertrando Junior Member

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    Thanks for all the info everyone.

    I'll look more into the info provided and post some results when we get them.

    to address a couple of the questions:

    like a challenge: we're getting started where we are. and I guess each challenge is an opportunity
    enough water: definitely an issue. we've built a windbreak and shade structure to minimize evaporation. right now we have municipal water as backup as well.
    carob: too cold here
    desert plants: some of these are available at the local division of forestry nursery: any suggestions are welcome, I love to learn about new plants and resources (we get to -10F (-23 C), some nearby areas -20F (-29 C))

    shepherdia argentea is supplied by our local division of forest nursery
    goji (Lycium barbarum) is one we're interested in and have started a flat from seed. we'll see how it goes.

    I'd love to connect with anyone here or nearby. email me personally at [email protected]
     
  7. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    How are you progressing?
    Spring been kind?
     

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