On our new homestead we have 1/2 acre of grass and weeds plus a few trees that's been watered a bit during the summer, plus 3 acres of grass and weeds that has not been irrigated and not much done to it except mowing to reduce fire hazard.
We want to develop a food forest and some good pasture, but not sure where to start. We don't have irrigation during the summer yet, so are thinking it would be good to plant some green mulch during the rainy season. But how do you plant new species in an area that is already covered in (now dry) grass and weeds? Do we need to till the grass and weeds? Cut it short and broadcast seed? I imagine sheet mulch would be good for the areas where we want to plant our garden next year, but 3 acres of pasture would be too much area to sheet mulching.
Also we are wondering when is the best time in our dry-summer climate to plant fruit and nut trees and perenials in the future food forest?
We are in Southern Oregon. We would truly appreciate any advice since the rainy season will (hopefully) be here soon and we're running out of reading time. I learned soooo much in my PDC, but it was short on practical advice such as this.
what you plan on growing for one depends on how you broadcast the seed.
i would plant trees in the fall/early winter. this way the roots "follow" the rains as they seep deeper into the soil. in the spring limit watering and they will concentrate one those deep roots for support. over time establishing themselves as water independent. if they need water, give them lots and lots of water, every now and then rather than daily, or even weekly.
The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
I find the best planting time for most perennials is autumn, due to our hot dry climate here. Since the winter is relatively mild (generally no frost), it gives plants a good chance to get established and have a bit of water (particularly if you have no irrigation). I have found the advice on seed packets is often misleading.
Deciduous european fruit trees (apples, pears, stone fruit etc.) are probably best planted during winter from bare rooted stock if you are going to buy established trees. If planting them from seed (maybe a better idea) I would do that in autumn for the reasons mentioned already. Citrus are usually planted in spring.
Pasture is not my area of expertise, but you probably have a few options. Just broadcasting seed into existing weeds is unlikely to grow much, so either tillage or some sort of variation on Fukuoka methods. Maybe you could try seed balling?
I'd probably seed ball during autumn while temps are still ok for germination, then mow directly after, and not leave too much residue on the ground which would stop the seeds from growing. I'm sure others on this forum could give better advice on this particular aspect.
Martin Crawford talks about large scale planting strategies in his forest gardening book. One method he uses is to roll out woven landscape fabric for a season to smother and kill the grasses and weeds already present. At the end, he moves the fabric to the next section, and plants in the section he just killed. This way takes several seasons to progress through a large area, but he was able to do it by himself.
Buckwheat has a reputation for being able to smother competing weeds, so maybe you could plow and then immediately sow buckwheat. That could be done over a large area all at once, but I don't know if it could kill the existing vegetation as reliably as the landscape cloth.
For planting trees, I'd say plant shortly after end of the dry season, so the plants have as long as possible to establish roots before the next dry season begins.
I'm working on a similar sort of thing on 2.5 acres and using many of the techniques mentioned.
I sowed 50# buckwheat across ~1/2 acre in mid summer. I cut the grass to 2" right after seeding. The seed germinated well but most of it didn't get really large, the lowest, wettest spots did very well. Buckwheat seems to be a negative allelopath towards grasses, as other areas cut at the same time but not seeded are much taller. Many other beneficials are doing fine with the buckwheat (yarrow, yellow dock, wild strawberry, wild carrot, dandelion, etc.). So the overall goal of reducing grass while maintaining diversity was somewhat successful. All the buckwheat has gone to seed, and this week I'll be seeding white ladino and red clover and cutting to 3". Soon after seeding the buckwheat I also planted 60 Comfrey root cuttings, all of which are now 2-4" above ground and growing fast. In the spring I'll be spreading lots of seed, mostly from wildharvested edibles/medicinals on the property or in nearby forests (sochan, bee balm, anise-hyssop, burdock, wild carrot, etc.)
Amongst this large scale grass war, I'm going to start cardboard mulching small sections (10'x10') to plant fruits, nuts, and companions this autumn and annuals next spring. I've read about the moving landscape fabric working very well, but cardboard is free. My annuals are mostly going to be gourds, pumpkins, watermelons, sweet potatoes to continue shading out the grass while providing some yields. I would highly recommend sweet potato, I made my own slips last spring and succesfully killed a lot of grass in a suburban lot with ~50 plants made from $3 of sweet potatoes. They grow in poor hard soil, the leaves are edible, the tubers are super nutritious, and even if you don't dig them all up they break up soil and add tons of OM. I'll also be planting large areas of sunchoke + groundnut + various groundcovers.
Additionally, I'm dragging fallen logs out of nearby woods to accentuate the contours in the meadow, and aim to achieve a sort of lazy huggelkultur by piling biomass over the log piles on contour. There's also a system of narrow trench ponds going in across the full 2.5 acres. Well, better get back to work!