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Forest Gardening on the Plains

 
pollinator
Posts: 308
Location: OK High Plains Prairie, 23" rain avg
54
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I believe I must create forest gardens but I am ambivalent because of ticks, chiggers, and coyotes. My place is on the Southern Great Plains - it's pasture cut with deep gullies and some shallower ephemeral low water creeks. The gully and creek area are the only forested areas, the rest is pasture. I've heard chiggers like moister areas and ticks can drop off trees onto me - ick!! I'm allergic to chiggers so bites for me are a 3 month ordeal. The coyotes run the gullies and creek beds from dusk to dawn and I have decided I like their company so I don't really want to intrude on their space which I think of as zone 5.

Because the plains are prone to wildfires and need controlled burns I think planting trees by my tiny house in the higher pasture areas is not a great idea. Also, the wind blows a lot and most of the time and I will not be irrigating. That leaves planting in the lower, treed, moister areas. Because of wildlife and livestock, I will have to fence in any gardens I build. I'm sure there are a number of microclimates if I'm willing to grow in separate areas.

I won't put the house in these lower areas as it would be too far to build a road to. There seem to be a lot of obstacles to forest gardens on the Plains. What strategies can I employ to make forest gardening on the Plains easier and sensible?
 
pollinator
Posts: 385
Location: Canadian Prairies - Zone 3b
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Respectfully, it almost seems as if you have talked yourself into a corner.

I get it, though. Prairies / Great Plains are tough, daunting, demanding environments. It's difficult to bring them around to your vision without making modifications. That will certainly require tenacity. Everything will seem to be against you for a while.

I feel you have to work with what you have, and not pine for lush PNW food forests. As you noted, these are not natural, pristine areas any more. The modifications you make may well improve and diversify the ecosystem around you.

Are there preserved natural areas where you can observe the area's natural ecosystems before grazing? That might be an inspiring idea book you could build on.

As for me, I think shelterbelts are the foundation for everything else you can do there, especially since you are not inclined to use the gullies and ravines. There is a reason why shelterbelts are a big deal to prairie dwellers past and present. The wind cover, shade, habitat and moisture retention make other things possible. I suggest you talk to the local agricultural authorities and the university in your area. Somebody knows what will work.

My 2 cents.

[Edited for typos.]
 
Posts: 86
Location: Saskatchewan
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I live on the great plains in Canada and face a lot of the same problems that you are facing. Regarding grass fires we have had two in the last two years which is very rare around here as essentially all wild fires have been stopped by man and there is no longer a raging fire that sweeps through every year or so. What I have learnt from those fires that bald grass prarie is scary and very hard to impossible to stop a fire on a windy day. The other fire actually went through a small wooded area and it was much easier to control and contain, once the deciduous trees get to be a decent size fire doesn't really hurt them.

The winds can be brutal and never ending, it seems this spring everyday has a wind of over 70 km/h. It whips trees around and dries out the ground unforgivingly. I have planted many coniferous trees because once bigger they help greatly with the wind but found that if planted anywhere the wind can get to them while young they dry out and die but if kept under shade of another tree they do much better.
 
denise ra
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Location: OK High Plains Prairie, 23" rain avg
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Douglas Alpenstoock wrote
"Respectfully, it almost seems as if you have talked yourself into a corner. '

I know, right? It's why I posted, hoping others could help me get my nose out of the corner. 😁
 
master steward
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Denise, I feel that you might want to consider a winter garden to get you started.

I would guess that you probably have some prickly pear.  Rosemary and sage will work also.

Here are some threads that might help:

https://permies.com/t/138768/Water-Plants-Trees-Drought-Conditions

https://permies.com/t/117724/high-desert-hard-mode-gardening

https://permies.com/t/114768/Starting-Fruit-Food-Forest-desert

https://permies.com/t/96852/permaculture-projects/Starting-Food-Forest-soil-crazy

This lady gardened in an area much like yours:

https://permies.com/t/120/49834/Prickly-Pear-perfect-permaculture-plant#5412

https://permies.com/t/40/29038/piece-advice-desert-permies#482299
 
Douglas Alpenstock
pollinator
Posts: 385
Location: Canadian Prairies - Zone 3b
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Okay, since you want us to talk you out of the corner, let me jump on my rickety soapbox and rattle on about what I would do. FWIW, as always.

Look at the prairie landscape. Where does anything but grass thrive?

It's in the ravines and gullies. That tells you where the wind cover is, the water is, the micro-climates are found, and where a complexity of plant life will thrive.

There's already a food web down there. The coyotes aren't looking for scenery, they're looking for lunch. That food web may not feed you. But I think you have the right as a living thing to modify parts of it for your own needs. (Not all of it though.)

I'm not sure how long you've been on that land. The first year, at least, is about a few experiments and watching, watching, watching the sun exposure, the wind, the movement of water, the progression of seasons. Let the land tell you what is possible, and where.

And while you do that, there's nothing wrong (IMO) with a heavily mulched conventional garden and making a giant food forest for the native pollinators who will be your best friends going forward.

And frankly, you can buy mosquito suits that will keep the munchies off you. I believe you need to get down into the weeds to see what's really going on. You can do this!

[End of speech.]
 
gardener
Posts: 2792
Location: Southern Illinois
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Denise,

So my understanding is that your initial post boils down to two opposing concerns.  Firstly, you appear to really want a food forest.  Secondly, you are concerned about the food forest becoming a fire hazard (as well as a home to unwanted creepy crawlies).  Did I get that about right?

I did once have a fire that jumped out of the pit and set some tall grasses alight.  We actually had a little grass fire burning and I could not keep up and the fire department was not going to arrive before it reached a grove of trees.  I was really concerned.  Fortunately a neighbor got a hose out in time before it could spread too far, and in the aftermath, I noticed something that really struck me:  although the fire did reach some trees, it actually extinguished itself before going under the trees.  As it turns out, the grove of bushes/trees I was worried about were never in danger.

After the fire was out I examined the places the fire didn’t go.  Basically it only spread where the grass was tall and dry.  Just under the reach of the trees’ branches was heavily shaded and the grass just did not grow.  There were some ground covering plants but they were very short and green.  Basically the trees had created their own fire-defensive zone right around them.

I am wondering if you could go ahead and plant a food forest, but keep it away from your house and keep a broad, mowed path around as a fire break.  If you really wanted to go crazy, you could plant some low growing grass or other ground cover just to keep tall grasses down.

Anyhow, this is just a thought I had about how you might be able to have your food forest and have fire safety as well.

Please let us know what you think.

Eric
 
Anne Miller
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I don't know if this will be of any value though the information might be useful.

Where I live, the ranchers use their tractors to till a wide strip along their fence lines to use as a firebreak.
 
Eric Hanson
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I would think a plowed or disked strip would make a great firebreak.  I don’t know if this is possible for Denise, but it’s a great idea.

Eric
 
denise ra
pollinator
Posts: 308
Location: OK High Plains Prairie, 23" rain avg
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Mark Dube wrote

this spring everyday has a wind of over 70 km/h. It whips trees around and dries out the ground unforgivingly. I have planted many coniferous trees because once bigger they help greatly with the wind but found that if planted anywhere the wind can get to them while young they dry out and die but if kept under shade of another tree they do much better.

Good info, thanks.
Anne Miller, good links. Especially Deb Rebel's post in this thread: One piece of Advice. Winter Gardening sounds like a good idea and Bryant RedHawk's reply in this thread Fall Garden was helpful about knowing what to plant. Also some talk of Elliot Coleman's books; I used to have one around here somewhere. Winter gardening could really be the ticket as it's 95-100F in June, July and August. I tried to find info on autumn wind speed and direction but too much tornado info comes up and that is making me anxious.
Douglas Alpenstock, yes, observation is key, I hope to live there this fall and winter. Shelterbelts, I don't see many now but I will ask the Extension agent about them. Water in summer would be an issue if I'm not here.
Eric Hanson, When they do controlled/prescribed burns here for pasture regeneration they often plow a strip for a firebreak. I'm thinking about putting in a narrow loop road around my tiny homestead for this reason. It will need to be somewhat vegetated otherwise the winds will cause me to eat a lot of dirt. The wind commonly blows 20mph just about daily.

I worry about the water quality in the shallow ephemeral creeks and gullies because I have seen what looks like oil in the water. It probably is oil as I am in the gas fields of Western Oklahoma. I don't think there is any getting around it, though possibly I can plant some remediation plants upstream of my food forests. Projects within projects!! :0(

To summarize:
I will look for a likely spot in the gullies or creeks to plant a food forest guild and fence it off. I can plant some in July or September when I'm there. I'd like to get gallons of local seeds/fruit pits and poke them in the ground willy-nilly too. I haven't seen squirrels, I wonder what else would bury the fruit pits if I just dump them in the gullies? If I could get discarded local fruits I'm sure the coyotes would eat them and 'plant' them.
I will research "winter gardening". I don't know if I will have water this fall as I've gotten in bed with FSA, NRCS, and the local Conservation District and am waiting to see if they want to help me $$ with water infrastructure for livestock.
Observe...luckily I like to wander the place.




 
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