Create a Food Forest Basics – Temperature

When I found out my property was for sale, I went online for some basic information even before I came to the site.

I pulled up the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone close and cand it showed the general area is zone 6.

I searched weather statistics for the nearest town for general high and low temperature for each month and that gave me season length. In my case, noting that I have cold nights well into spring, I will have a harder time with garden plants that need more heat, like tomatoes and other tropical annuals… no sweet potatoes! So I could see this property has a short season with cool mountain nights.

The most interesting thing about temperature is that most properties have a lot of temperature microclimates. That is where species diversity can be pushed.

A microclimate is a spot that has a different temperature zone than the surrounding area. I have temperature microclimates from zone 5 to zone 7. This variation is most effective for smaller plants like shrubs and the herb layer.

My property has existing microclimates from zone 5 to zone 7.

The largest warm spot I have is an opening in the forest that faces southwest.  In winter the mule deer come to sunbathe and are protected from cold winds by evergreens.  They maintain the opening themselves by eating the shrubs and tree seedlings down.  It has grass and wildflowers where the deer lay down to relax.  They are a small group, a half dozen, and they show up about 2 pm and leave by 4 pm.  I put protection around one oak tree on the north side.  I want it to grow to full size and provide more acorns for winter forage.  I will protect it from deer predation until it is large enough to grow branches above mule deer reach which is 5-6 feet. This is a natural (free to me) microclimate.

People also create microclimates with buildings and plants.  My neighbors built a three walled shed on their property which opens toward their house so they can keep an eye on the horses.

Problem is that the opening scoops in frigid winter winds.  The wind drives snow in and pushes it into deep drifts inside that are slow to melt because it gets no southern or mid day sun.  It is the coldest microclimate on their property and the horses refuse to go inside.

In the early morning I see their two horses sheltering leeward of the east wall catching the morning sun and warming themselves.  As the morning passes they shelter against the south wall and warm themselves.

This is a good looking building but it creates the worst microclimate for their horses.  Sensibly, the horses do the best they can with what they are given.

Horses can move around and find a better spot for themselves.  Plants are stuck where you place them.

I placed my Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens) on the south side of a small berm that blocks harsh winds.  They are in evergreen shade so they don’t get extra warmth.  Their worst enemy is harsh winds that dessicate their larger leaves, but they are fine with cold temperatures.  I planted them over a year ago right before it rained and have never given them further care.  They will survive even though that microclimate is zone 5. They are growing well and I expect they will naturalize in that spot and add new plants through seed production.  I hope the birds spread them on my property and well as surrounding areas.  Placed on the front line where there is no windbreak, they would not survive the first winter.

Heated buildings like home leak enough heat to the outside that beds around them can stay warmer by one or two zones on the south side.  A U-shaped house with a stone or concrete patio facing south that absorbs heat all day will release heat all night.  Great for tropical annuals like tomatoes.

Be aware of small microclimates on your property.  No matter what the temperature microclimate is, there are  plants that will fill that space.  It will help close the circle.


About rebeccatreeseed

I am a naturalist raised by naturalists. Treeseed is my earned name, while Rebecca is my birth name. I am of Northern European descent, with a quarter Irish.quarter thrown in. I suspect I was a product of northern invaders into Ireland into Ireland. but hard to say since DNA disproved the family story about Apache blood! I have found some odd ancestors to replace them. Last year I bought 5 acres of pinyon-juniper forest on the side of a mountain in Santa Fe County, New Mexico. I am fulfilling a lifetime dream of a cabin in the mountains and a food forest that will feed me and local wildlife. I want to share this new phase of my life with others that might be interested.
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