Grow Tropical Fruit In The Rocky Mountains

Imagine being up on the top of one of the spectacular mountains in Colorado.  The vista is magical and you can see forever.

But for all its beauty, this is a very harsh environment.  The ground is rock, there is little water, and the weather is extreme.  Only a few sheep with thick coats and nimble feet even bother to visit this kind of place.  And the sheep leave quickly as there is certainly better grazing elsewhere.  Almost nothing grows in this environment.

But I heard a tale of a man who is growing bananas, papayas, and an abundance of deeply nutritious foods in unheated greenhouses up in those harsh mountains.

Could it really be true?

This ‘urban legend’ is spread and then re-spread through organic gardening club networks and alternative farming circles every year.  It is often quietly passed among preppers in their hushed communications.

The tale changes slightly – sometimes the mysterious man is in Iowa, sometimes in Wyoming, and once I heard of him in Nebraska.  The man is usually said to be growing oranges, or grapefruits, or hibiscus – but always something amazingly tropical in a place where no tropical food should exist.

When I ask the teller of the story “who the man is and where does he live exactly?” they usually don’t know for sure.

“But you need to get to him soon for he is very old and all his secrets will be lost forever when he is gone”.

I’ve been urged time and time again to find him and share his information with our community.

While there may be many who are doing this, I think I’ve finally found the original source.  An unlikely fellow who was a ski instructor years ago.  Jerome Osentowaki needed to grow food for himself after suffering from an illness the medical system could not help him with.  That was more than thirty years ago.

Now he has four unheated greenhouses and he has been quietly teaching and continuing research in a tiny community up in Central Colorado.

I am going on a journey to learn from Jerome this summer.  He will be teaching about how to grow food forests – both outdoors and in his greenhouses.  I’ve never met him in person, but I’ve seen the amazing videos of his growing bananas, papayas, and an amazing assortment of foods in one of the harshest environments in the world.

Want to go on this adventure too?  Click here to see the see the workshops and certificates offered.

Here is a short overview video of Jerome and his work – and this shows the technology he is using in the greenhouses.

Here is a brief overview of the part of the full series that I’ll be taking:

Creating Forest Gardens, taught by Jerome Osentowski

Imagine designing and creating a virtual Garden of Eden –  a natural, self-sustaining forest ecosystem of interdependent plants and animals – an environment specifically designed to support human and non-human life. That’s what we’ll be doing in this course! This is a unique opportunity to spend time in the 26-year- old, high-altitude forest garden at CRMPI during the spring season when many of the over 150 varieties of trees and shrubs will be fruiting. We’ll walk through a tour of CRMPI, then settle down to discussing topics like these:

  • Designing a forest garden
  • Implementing the infrastructure (rock wall construction and trellising)
  • Developing the forest, from vines to overstory
  • Maintaining soil with vermiculture
  • Integrating plant/animal guilds
  • Providing water
  • Harvesting food
  • Processing your harvest

Click here to go to Jerome’s website to see what workshops and certificates are currently being offered!

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Marjory


Contributor

Marjory Wildcraft is an Expedition Leader and Bioneer Blogger with The [Grow] Network, which is an online community that recognizes the wisdom of "homegrown food on every table." Marjory has been featured as an expert on sustainable living by National Geographic, she is a speaker at Mother Earth News fairs, and is a returning guest on Coast to Coast AM. She is an author of several books, but is best known for her "Grow Your Own Groceries" video series, which is used by more than 300,000 homesteaders, survivalists, universities, and missionary organizations around the world.


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8 Comments
  • John Wesley

    Personally, I’m not impressed with CRMPI. As CRMPI is so close, I’ve considered going to his workshops, but the price always stopped me. Plus charging $40 per person for tours bothered me.
    Their PDC cost is also at the top end of the spectrum ($1800), made even more surprising because it’s not even endorsed by Bill Mollison or PRI of Australia.

    I agree that CRMPI has some neat greenhouses. If you look at what he has outside it’s not really that impressive, especially considering that it’s one of the oldest PC sites in the USA. How much “outside” system is set up? To me, greenhouses should be a small part of PC, used for propagation of plants and passive uses. When their last greenhouse was destroyed, how much did it cost to rebuild? That cost is covered by growing the exotics and charging a very high PDC fee.

    Also, I understand Jerome has “attitude issues”, which is the nicest I’ve heard it put. Others have not been so tactful.

    Marjory, I hope you learn a lot in Basalt. I think there are good things that they do there. But I don’t see large greenhouses as a sustainable option.

  • MQ

    does the greenhouse at Rocky Mountain Institute have supplemental heating?

  • Exciting! Sounds to me like an awesome opportunity to keep learning about permaculture. Sweet. Have fun, girl!

  • Ah… me too, Marjory.

    Perfect!

    [standing by]

  • Dale Schutte

    There is a gentleman named Mike Oehler who lives in Bonner’s Ferry Idaho. He built an earth sheltered solar greenhouse . He wrote a book that details what he did. The book is titled
    ,of course, The Earth Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book. Dale

    • Hi Dale, I’ve got that book – but haven’t read it yet. Ayahhh. thanks for reminding me to look at that.

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