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Pine woodland to forest garden  RSS feed

 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
Posts: 9518
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
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We're in the process of buying an acre of pine woodland on a north-facing slope, which I expect will offer a completely different set of challenges to the flat, open, sun-trap we have been working with until now.  So far, our main problems have been thin soil, too much sun and too little water in the summer, and water-logging in the winter.  But this bit of land should be shadier and cooler in the summer and less likely to waterlog in the winter. 

But I need ideas on how to develop it into more of a food forest.

Most of it looks like this...



But there is also a patch of old cork-oaks along the lower edge bordering the access road. 



I'm thinking of raiding the pine-needles for mulch for the veggie garden, using some of the larger pine trees as firewood, and a few others as hugelculture material.  This should open up enough space and light to establish a few other trees and plants, if I can choose suitable ones and find a way of making bone-sauce to keep any bark-chewing critters away. 

But what edible or useful plants will grow around pine trees?  Or should I start by thinning out the pines near the cork-oaks where maybe the soil will be more favourable to other plants? 

I'm in zone 9, mediterranean climate.  Any ideas and suggestions welcome.

 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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Wow is that beautiful or what? Is that a rock wall along the road, I wish I had a rock wall.

I think I would read up on what pine does to soils, I'm sure it acidifies them..so you might want to work with things like blueberries, cranberries, wintergreen, etc.

The oak area might be less acid? but I'm not too familiar with the climate. I think I would do a lot of soil testing first..
 
Hugh Hawk
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
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Cool.  Is it fenced?  You could run chickens in the top 80% with forage trees and shrubs and in the bottom 20% have your cultivated garden.  I expect there would be more of an accumulation of good stuff (soil, water, etc.) at the bottom.  Chickens would accelerate the process of moving stuff down the hill too, and turning it into something useful for the garden.  You'd just have to feed them at the top.

Mulberry and fig are things that come to mind which can be easily and cheaply propagated en masse from a single parent tree.  They are also great chicken foods.  I think they would require a decent bit of light though, not full sun but probably more than what is in the pictures, so you might have to do a bit of thinning.  Tagasaste is easily raised from seed too, and could be a good nitrogen fixer and seed crop for the chickens.  Acacias likewise.

Just one option you could think about, I guess it really depends on your desired amount of time/money/effort to spend, and what sort of yields you can easily use/sell.

There seems to be disagreement on the effect of pine on soils.  The easiest way is just to test for pH yourself in a few spots, rather than speculate.  I'm sure many people here would be interested to know what you find out.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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seems to be quite a bit of sun getting to the ground level.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Two food crops that do very well in shade/open shade are Pawpaw trees, and "ramps" (wild leeks).

The pawpaw fruits have a taste/texture like banana custard.  Once picked, they have a very short shelf life (1-2 days) but can be frozen.

Depending on how many oaks you have, the acorns (mast) are a great way to finish hogs.  The best hams come from mast finished hogs.

Beautiful looking piece of land.
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
Posts: 9518
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
785
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Thanks for all the replies! 

The land is not fenced, apart from the stone wall along the lower edge.  I'd like to leave it unfenced, too, so it blends with the neighbouring bits of woodland.  We have huge predator problems so I think we might keep all chicken raising at the main farm where we already have a pretty serious electric fence system in operation to keep predators out.  This patch of woodland is really going to be an extension of the farm, not a replacement for it, so it needn't provide *everything* we need, just supplements. 

The main things we want from it are...

Firewood, which my other half wants to pull out with his new donkey.  So we'll have to make sure there is always easy access to pull stuff out without flattening anything. 

Wood for hugelculture.

Pine needles for mulch.

A field archery range for my son.

Shady spots for making beds to raise young trees.  Shade-houses just don't cut it as the heat is so intense in the summer, but hopefully the worst of the heat will be filtered by the canopy.  As Brenda noted, there's still quite a bit of sun filtering through so there should be enough to keep stuff growing. 

A good range of other trees, probably things that provide food but don't need picking daily so it's not essential to visit every day to avoid waste.  Maybe nut trees, medicinal trees, or more long term timber trees.  I'd actually like to raise at least one of each of the trees from the Celtic Ogham as I think it would be very educational, and kind of nice.  That would include birch, rowan, ash, alder, willow, hawthorne, oak, holly, hazel, apple, blackberry, ivy, reed, blackthorn, elder, elm, gorse, heather, poplar and yew.  Some of those are stretching the definition of 'tree' a bit, but I think it would be nice to give it a go.  Then things like mulberry, fig, pawpaw, almond, madrono, walnut.  Also juniper and some different pines for pine-nuts.  And holm oaks, which give loads of huge, edible acorns for both human and animal feed.  The cork oaks seem to have far fewer acorns and they're much smaller and not such good eating.

Berries, such as blueberries.

Ground cover - not sure if it's damp enough year round for ramps, but I'll give it a go!

And then some kind of mushrooms to grow in the pine stumps after we cut for firewood. 

At the far end of the land, it drops to a little grassy area with a few olive trees.  The plan is to let extended family build a log-cabin there and use it for holidays and emergencies and I'd like to establish a nice 'walk' through the wooded bit starting and finishing at the grassy bit so they can learn about the trees, harvest stuff, maybe shoot a few arrows off, and learn about living in harmony with the land. 

As some of you know, I spend most of my time stuck indoors in the village looking after the old man.  The farm is 15 minutes walk away, but this new land is only 5 minutes away, which for me would mean that if I manage to escape for only half an hour I could still have twenty minutes bumbling around clearing my head, which for me makes it worth the purchase price in itself!!

Now I think I'd better go find myself a soil testing kit... 

And a couple of old cauldrons for making that bone sauce! 
 
Lolly Knowles
Posts: 159
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Burra, I'd be interested to hear how that bone sauce turns out. 
 
Marcella Rose
Posts: 95
Location: Central Texas, it is dry here.
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Beautiful!!!  Wow...and the moss is so pretty on the trees.

Does the area get alot of rain?  If not, I can list some drought tolerant species, many of them will work really well in Zone 9. 

Just in case the soil is acidic, I found this list of plants that like acidic soil:  http://www.crescentbloom.com/plants/lists/acidic%20soils/index.htm, I recommend the strawberry tree...YUM!
 
                  
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As some of the folks said earlier you should get some chickens in there. Pine needles and evergreen trees are acidic so using the needles for mulching is not the thing to do, but if you mix it with chicken poo or urine if you have a composting toilet separate the urine and use it to neutralize the acidity, this will also make them decompose quicker.
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
Posts: 9518
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
785
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The pH thing definately needs to be researched! 

Everybody around here uses pine needles to mulch their veggie gardens, and so far I've neither seen nor read any evidence to suggest it raises the pH at all.  I've read of studies where they've measured the pH after several years of using pine needle mulch and there's been no difference.  And I've read that the reason soil found under pine is acid is because pine is on of the few things that will grow on acid soil, so it tends to get planted there.  And also that when pine is cleared, most of the base material is removed with the wood, leaving the more acid stuff behind, so maybe it won't apply on a more natural woodland that's never been clear felled.

Actually, the more I read, the less I was convinced either way, so I guess the only way to be certain is to experiment for myself.  I've sent off for a pack of 80 test strips and intend to take a lot of readings as soon as they arrive, both at the farm and in various places in the pine wood, and then at intervals differnt places and under different conditions over the next few years.  Watch this space...

Eden - that 'moss' on the trees is lichen!  I was really suprised to find so much around the place when I moved here as I thought it needed damp conditions, but it actually only needs wet weather to reproduce and seems to cope amazingly well with our super hot and dry summers.  We get more than enough rain, sometimes weeks on end, over the winter to ensure it can reproduce as much as it wants!  I was taught as a young girl that you could always tell which way was north by seeing which side of the tree had most lichen growing on it as the south side got more sun and would dry out so the lichen didn't grow there.  Different lichens, and a load of moss, grow along the north side of the stone wall and its bank.  I'll get some close-up shots when I get a chance 'cos I think mosses and lichens are beautiful.

That list of plants that like acidic soil is going to be useful, pending the expected result of the pH tests.  Strawberry trees are what I call madrono - I guess we should all start calling them Arbutus unedo, but then I guess no-one would figure out what plant we were on about.  They grow really well here, if you can get them started off.  My son absolutely loves the fruit.

I'll keep you all informed of any progress with the bone-sauce too.  I've started saving bones, but I need something to 'cook' them in so I'm trying to twist my other half's arm to go to a little shop we found in a village a few miles away with a row of old cauldrons outside, which are presumably for sale.  I think they'd be just the thing for my experiments!   

 
Albert Johnston
Posts: 10
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It's great as it is now. I had a similar challenge. As an experiment, I cut down a lot of young oaks to thin out the area. I ended up with more invasive weeds and vines. The beautiful mushrooms I had photographed the year before were gone. I had no use for the young trees besides chop 'n drop. 

As a less invasive alternative perhaps you could ring a few trees. Let them become snags and harvest the fallen limbs for firewood or mulch. Perhaps to amend some hugelkultur. Then in a year or two when there is plenty of sun in the summer plant some plum trees. If you can grow elderberry give that a try. There really is no limit to the "experimenting" you can do.

If you can fence it off you could run chickens through the area  several times a year.
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
Posts: 9518
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
785
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Well my soil pH test kit arrived, so I took a load of soil samples from different areas and brought them home to play with.

Soil at the farm - 6.5
Soil on the grassy bit next to the pine woodland - 6.5
Soil under the oaks - 6.5
Soil between the oaks and the pines - 6.5
Soil under the pines - 6.5

I freaked a bit and thought my test strips were no good, but after playing around with wine and vinegar and washing soda and tap water, I decided that the strips were working fine, and that all my soil does, indeed, seem to have a pH of 6.5.

So it seems that I don't have too much to worry about on the acidity side of things.

 
Marcella Rose
Posts: 95
Location: Central Texas, it is dry here.
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Yay!

I am really excited to see what you do with this piece of land. It is SO beautiful already and I am sure you will make it even more beautiful as well as functional.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Just having a tranquil place that close to your work will pay for itself quickly. A peaceful mind is a productive mind.
I have always contended that stress kills more people than high cholesterol does.

 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
Posts: 9518
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
785
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Well the contractors arrived on the bit of woodland next door yesterday and clear-felled it.

Thank goodness we had our offer accepted before they got in touch with the seller else this bit might have gone, too. We're due to do the final signing on Monday so hopefully it's safe for our lifetimes at least. It was very sobering wandering around between the trees and realising that if we hadn't decided to throw caution to the winds and blow the money we'd saved for the old man's funeral on the land, then the trees might have gone by now. Just have to keep the old man going till we've saved up some more, I guess...

On the plus side, we found a parasol mushroom growing along the stone wall, the first we've ever harvested from any land we've owned (or nearly owned...) and triumphantly brought it home to serve with one of the guinea fowl that seemed to have undergone some kind of hormone shift which was making the male attack her constantly. Figured we ought to eat her before he tore her apart.

 
Adele Fike
Posts: 6
Location: South African
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To me oaks = truffles. Can't you innoculate the roots of your oaks with truffle spores? Could bring in a pretty penny somewhere down the line....
 
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