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growing a productive understory?

 
Kelda Miller
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So at my site there are a lot of productive canopy trees: walnuts, chestnuts, apples, cherries, plums, pears. What luck!

But, the understory is pretty blah. Well, like un-productive raspberries, slow-growing annual vegetables, and dandelions. The dandelions are great.

I'd like to increase production in the understory, as well as provide understory plants that attract beneficials for the big trees.

My question is this: many understory plants for good permaculture guilds will have berries with enough sun. I'm thinking especially of currants, gooseberries, and wineberries. And yet there'll all famous for liking shade.

Does anyone know about how many hours of sun each of those (or any others) needs to produce fruit? I'd like to think a couple hours might suffice. If they'll just sit under there and just be green things though, maybe I'll feel more satisfied growing ferns.

It's like planting a guild, but in reverse, without the benefit of sunshine for the little guys for a few years.
 
Dave Boehnlein
Posts: 294
Location: Orcas Island, WA
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Evergreen huckleberries and salal should do it as a last resort.

I don't know the specifics about hours per day. You could do an experiment and plant out one of each type of berry you want to try. In a couple years eliminate the unproductive and replace them with the ones that are working. Don't forget to post your results!

A lot of this type of info is in short supply since growing food in forest conditions is a new concept (even though it's an old concept).

Dave
 
Susan Monroe
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Location: Western WA
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Have you checked any of the Food Forest books for info like this?

Sue
 
Kelda Miller
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Yep, there's a lot of great lists. Edible Forest Gardens. Gaia's Garden. Plants for a Future.

The reason I brought this question up though is that I'm finding out there's a big difference between what can grow in the shade, and what needs sun to really thrive and produce. And that seems like more of an experential question.

For example, I was all set to pump the understory with lots of Ribes, which grow well in the shade. Then Marisha Auerbach was telling me about how it needs sun......if you want a nice fruit set. Darn it.

And then this is of course so region-specific. Plants for a Future I discount so much just because it's based in the UK and sometimes things are just really different over there. And even in the US, if you look at a map of sunlight hours you'll see that the Pacific Northwest just gets So little, So much less than everywhere else.

I have a farmer friend who took a 'Winter Farming' class in like upstate New York or Maine or something. She came back really discouraged because in reality, they get much more daylight in winter than we do. And then snow to reflect it all.

Around here we're figuring out what will produce surrounded by a few months of grayness.
 
Steve Nicolini
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Just taking the information I have gathered from observations of the forest behind my house (In Western Washington), I would agree with Dave.  Salal, evergreen huckleberry, oval leafed huckleberry, red huckleberry, salmonberry, trailing blackberry, all thrive in the shady areas of that forest.  I have seen a few black capped raspberries back there along the trails as well.  False-lily-of-the-valley still has its berries on now.  It is a good ground cover, very pretty.  The edibility is questionable.  I have eaten one berry.  Pretty good.  I read that too many of these may cause stomach pains. 

These are all natives that I have listed.  And a lot of the huckleberries I saw were growing out of decaying logs.  There were also a lot of sword ferns around. 

Oh yeah, Indian plum is back there too.
 
Susan Monroe
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
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Another issue may be the direction the food forest faces.  A site with the tallest trees on the north side and the shorter plants on the south side would provide more sun in the cooler parts of the year, although the same areas would be shaded in summer, often the fruiting time of year (more or less).

I read somewhere that densely stacked food forests can be planted too densely for decent food production, probably just for that reason.

There is a book called West Coast Food Forestry by Rain Rain Tenaqiya that may have some answers, but I have not seen it yet.

Sue
 
Steve Nicolini
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What if you had your tallest trees in the center of the forest?  Everyone would get a little sun love throughout the year. 
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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you mentioned walnut trees, they tend to kill just about anything that grows under them so make sure that you don't put anything under them that costs you money,unless you check first.

as for the raspberries..they do grow really well at the edges of woods, not just south but also east and west edges..i think they prefer west as when i find wild raspberries often times they are on the west side of the woods..blackberries also grow well on the fringes..mushrooms like morels grow in the deepest darkest woods. Also no one mentioned wintergreen..they grow in deep woods..you can grow edible ferns and lots of edbile greens, actually the  shade keeps them from bolting so thatyou can eat off of them for a longer period of time.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Kelda Miller wrote:For example, I was all set to pump the understory with lots of Ribes, which grow well in the shade. Then Marisha Auerbach was telling me about how it needs sun......if you want a nice fruit set. Darn it.

The bigest mistake you can make is that you don't try when someone tells you something! You have to try it and see it for yourself. Of course, here, ribes is doing so much better and faster in full sun, but it also works great in shade of a two huge walnut (not black) trees. In this moment it gets four hours of morning sun and an hour of late afternoon sun. I will plant in in a forest and other places this fall to see how it works.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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lots of plants really NEED less sun then the catalogs state that they need. You can try by trial and error, but check out the sunlight beneath the grown plants first..you might be surprised how much sun might be sneaking in under there.

I'd go to the area several times a day and take something to mark with..and mark any areas that get sun at differnt times of day and maybe how long they are sunny..my woods area has sun in it from different directions for several hours a day, even though it is woods, there are clearings that bring in some sun...it might surprise you.

Most plants only require direct sun for a few hours..so most plants will grow under trees to some point.
 
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