Finding & Creating Microclimates

The term microclimate describes the climate of a small, specific place within a larger area. This could be a hillside on the edge of a city or an area as small as a backyard or park which can then have several different microclimates of their own depending on how much sunlight, shade, or exposure to the wind the space gets.

For example we live in Hobart, a cool temperate region – think frosty, cold winters with snow on the mountain and mild summers. However we live on N.E facing hillside on the edge of Hobart city where we’re protected from the full force of the wild westerly winds and the chilly southerlies. We only get mild frosts over winter and once we chop down some particularly massive cypress macrocarpa trees on our NW side, we’ll have all day sun hitting both the house and garden. Our property is also above the cool air drainage and harsh frosts that hits the valley floor (full of houses) below us. In summary, it’s a good spot.

Within our property exist several microclimates. We have an area we affectionately call ‘Greece’ as it’s the driest, rockiest place with good warmth while another corner has been named the ‘Tropics’ as it gets the best sun ever and, being lower than Greece, we can channel water to it creating a moist and warm climate.

No matter where you are you can create microclimates to enhance your food production and create super productive landscapes. As we live in a cool climate region we’re completely focused on making WARM microclimates.

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Example A is the gabion wall which we’ve planted a Satsuma Mandarin in front of. This is actually our neighbour’s wall but we helped build it and it sits on our boundary line, so we get to utilise it (yessss). We’re pretty happy to have a N.E facing rock wall acting as a massive slab of thermal mass, catching and storing the sun’s heat and making it available to the mandy.

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One of our other favourite microclimates on our property is actually inside the house (yes, microclimates exist inside buildings too). Our front sun room is 50% glass and we treat it like a hothouse, raising all our seedlings in their each winter for Spring plantings. We do intend to actually build a glasshouse in the garden, but haven’t quite got there yet.

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Propagating with a view

And then there’s David Holmgren and Sue Dennet’s home in Hepburn Springs, Victoria. Having designed and built their own mud brick house they’ve integrated a glass house into their home. Not only does it provide a kitchen garden pretty much in the kitchen, it also produces valuable heat which travels throughout the house, creating a toasty environment.

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Integration of home, garden and heater – beauty in action!

Another technique for the garden is something called hugelkultur, a method for growing food, composting large amounts of organic matter and creating a warmer microclimate all in one – in terms of being multifunctional, it’s pretty up there. Basically, it’s a raised garden bed full of rotting logs, timber offcuts and rich nitrogen materials (manure, food scraps, fine green waste etc) which generate some heat as they slowly compost. Eventually (after years) you’re left with beautiful brown soil. One thing to keep in mind is the type of wood you use, generally avoid (if you can) trees like cypress macrocarpa which are anti fungal and want break down for a looooong time, which is why this timber’s so good as fence posts. Timber that is ideal includes alders, apple, poplar willow (dry) and birch.

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A local market gardener south of Hobart in Cygnet (Kylie Maudsley) is using hugelkulture to take care of the large amount of scrub she’s cut back, including making hugelkulture ‘donuts’ around her young bunya pine. This little microclimate is protecting the youngster from wind, generating extra warmth and providing valuable nutirents, so good!

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Kylie is also growing macadamias, she’s from Queensland and misses the plants from up that way. As you can see below she’s covered the macca with a white frost protection coat, then surrounded the lower half with a thick padding of manure with a final layer of straw bales to both generate heat and insulate the whole shbang.
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A macadamia tree well and truly tucked in

And then there’s water. Did you know that water bodies of any shape and size (from buckets to dams) are effective ways of creating heat sinks throughout your property? On an evening where you’re expecting frost the next morning, you can literally place buckets of water next to frost sensitive plants to help protect them.

Water is a powerful tool to moderate climate, being a heat sink it operates as thermal mass – retaining heat and releasing it when temperature changes occur. This can create a small frost-free area for a longer period around it, thus giving a bit of a season extension.

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Permaculture property, Whole Systems Design, are based in Vermont and are experimenting growing rice in a series of ponds. Yes, that’s right, in Vermont.

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On his farm in Austria, Sepp Holzer has designed water into his landscape on a large scale, helping to creating warmer microclimates for the crops he grows around them.

Furthermore, light is reflected off of the water surface. You can use this to your advantage by growing strategic plants directly around the water body which crave the extra heat. Appropriately placed ponds near houses can also give extra solar radiation for warming the house due to the reflection.

A couple more options for creating warmer microclimates include:

  • Pathways – by having white gravel paths you can reflect light back onto surrounding vegetation. Black paths function as a heat sink and slowly release that heat to the garden directly next to it.
  • A brick/rock wall facing the sun provides the perfect microclimate to grow heat loving fruit trees and crops against it.
  • Small to large glass/hot houses, perfect for propagating and/or growing crops in the ground

The great news is that there is almost ALWAYS a way to grow the crops you’d like to grow where you live. Although I’m not about to try and grow mangoes in Hobart but I will be giving avocados a good go!

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

16 Responses to “Finding & Creating Microclimates”

  1. Sylvia

    Avocardos can grow and produce quite well here in South Hobart -just choose a cold climate variety.
    Regards

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Do you have one growing Sylvia? We’ve heard of a few people who have them around, just not fruiting yet. Great to hear you’ve seen them :-).

      Reply
      • Sylvia

        I have one (a Bacon) that has fruited in a pot but not since transplanting into garden last year (when I removed the flowers to help it concentrate on settling) – hoping that it will fruit again this year. From it’s fruit – I have a healthy baby in a pot and yet to see what it might do.

        Reply
      • Cass

        There is/was a huge Bacon avocado in Valentine St New Town. Owners recently took to it with a chain saw so it doesn’t hang over the road anymore. Used to give lot’s of fruit. Friends lived across the road and had free avo’s when they were there.

        Reply
        • Hannah Moloney

          Damn – there should be fruit tree police to prevent that stuff from happening! Unless of course it was seriously all over the road and genuinely needed a prune…

          Reply
  2. Paul Svenson, Franklin, Tasmania, Australia

    Love all that you are achieving and looking forward to learning more for our family.

    Reply
  3. Esther

    Hi Hannah,
    I’ve been thinking about using my sunroom to raise seedlings and wondering if you’ve had problems with plants getting leggy? I can’t quite tell from the picture but it looks like your sun room would be similar ie. doesn’t have a glass ceiling. Very keen to learn from your experience.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Esther,
      For the plants to actually germinate they need no sun, just warmth – so that’s fine. I then keep them inside until they’re hardy and ready for outside. Our eaves on our windows allows Winter light in beautifully meaning the area we put them on gets great sun. In summer time this room gets no direct sunlight – so it all works out perfectly. Planting seeds in trays instead of deep pots prevents any little shadows falling on the soil as well – if that makes sense.

      Reply
  4. Aleth

    Hugelkultur beds are also a good way of storing water: the rotting logs act as a sponge, storing excess water in the winter and slowly releasing moisture into the bed in summer. It is therefore a good help in warmer areas with dry conditions (e.g. our summers here in north east Victoria).

    Reply
  5. John mccloy

    Hi Hannah,I live in Bridport which has quite a mild climate,i also like to experiment with different seeds.i have been trying to source some macadamia and pecan in shell to see if ican sprout them but to no avail.can you ask Kylie about her seeds as I would like to get some.i used to live in Geraldton and you could buy them by the kilo in the shell at supermarkets.they sprout readily.i also have a sun room with floor to ceiling windows that I use as a hot house to get my seedlings started.i’ve grown mango,tamarillo and edible date palms in it that are now outside under frost cloth.i also propagate tomato and chilli varieties for sale and preserving.i bought two trays of mangoes at woolies last December and made a heap of mango chutney.i planted the seeds in 150mm pots(32) and 31 of them struck.they send up numerous stems (ive had up to 8 from 1 seed) that are individually rooted.i ended up with about 150 seedlings.i’m retired (73) and can spend a fair bit of time on my hobby,it’s good therapy and augments my pension.i hope you can help me out with Kylie but if not i’ll keep looking.tia.john.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Ho John, I’m not sure where Kylie got her plant/seed. She may have imported from a mainland nursery/supplier. You could try Diggers in Victoria. Good luck

      Reply
  6. Fiona Musgrave

    Hi all. I want to inform everyone, that I am an experimental gardner and have several varities of sub-tropical edible plants, including Moringa Oleiferia (Drumstick tree), Tamarind and a number of yet unknown sub-tropical fruit trees…I have started to grow banana’s, mango, lychee, paw paw and sapote. They are all between 1-2 years of age. I have successfully grown rock melons, using store bought rockmelon seeds. Have a recently sprouted macadamia seedling and four species of avocado, all growing in Glenorchy, Hobart. My chocolate sapote and Red Dacca banana was purchased from Diggers and the chocolate sapote has survived outside, against a north-facing brick wall. Banana is inside and yes it is a reddish skinned and reddish co loured banana fruit. The lychee and mango have been growing inside and within a greenhouse, after sprouting outside in summer. The avocados sprouted and are also growing outside only. My avocado’s needed protection from the frost and hot sun. The eldest avocado is around 3-4 years old. I just read about a gentleman who has been growing pineapples for 20 years in Hobart. Wow. He grows them indoors, or in a glasshouse, so i believe. It takes around 2-4 years for fruiting to occur, after cutting the top off of store bought pineapples. (Patience is certainly a virtue). Apparently, we can grow coconuts here too. Sold on Ebay. I am yet to purchase a coconut tree…on bucket list. Research soil types and temperature requirements and you are good to grow anything, especially with the help of a heated glasshouse or by using a dodgy cheap plastic greenhouse, with heat mats, and custom made heating bars, which are placed in your north facing lounge, like I use. Good luck. (:

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Wow Fiona – sounds amazing! Yes, we grow avocados outside here in South Hobart (they’re still young), and know of macadamias, bananas, rock/water melons, pineapples growing around town. I’m more of a tough love gardener and don’t have the patience to pamper things, so mostly grow plants that thrive without lots of attention :-D. Your place sounds magical – awesome work!

      Reply

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