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Growing a food forest mostly from seed?

 
gardener
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The title pretty much says it. I've been doing a lot of food forest activism the last few months, and the demand for trees and shrubs is outstripping supply of what I can propagate, buy cheaply, or have donated. But, seeds are cheap and readily available. Has anyone grown a food forest mostly or entirely from seed? What worked and what didn't? And what was the fruit (and nuts and other food) like? I figure that if the results aren't good (fruit quality wise) we can always graft over it.

Thanks for your ideas!
 
steward
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For my lifestyle, and desert ecosystem, best practice for me has been to grow seeds or cuttings in a nursery in pots, and then transplant into the wildlands. Pretty much any tree I plant has to be irrigated for years to become established. And even then, it might not survive a year without irrigation. In come cases, I have dug volunteers around a seedy species (like walnut) and transplanted one to three year old seedlings to new places.
 
James Landreth
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Thank you.

Do you think it would be possible for you to plant seeds around an area, and if they germinate, simply irrigate them where the come up? There's been a decline in squirrels around here lately, so we have less to fear than normal from their depredation, though there are still other animals around. I do intend to grow some seeds and cuttings in pots as you say
 
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If the wild form is generally of good eating quality, then growing from seed should work well. Plums, mulberries, pawpaws, etc are good examples. I have yet to find a mulberry tree that couldn't produce a tasty berry.

If the wild form tends to be inedible, then growing from seed will probably result in a high rate of inedible fruits. Pears are the only example that springs to mind, although I'm sure there are others. They still should make decent root stock for grafting.

A lot of fruits will fall in-between these two categories. Apples grown from seed are unpredictable. You may have to wait until they fruit before deciding what to do with them. But in my opinion, that's where the fun is
 
master pollinator
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Geoff Lawton's food forests are mostly grown from seed, grown in nurseries and planted out.  Now many of the trees are large enough to produce seed of their own.
 
pollinator
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Most of my stuff hasn't been in the ground long enough to fruit but I've had success planting seeds.  I planted in a bed specifically for that purpose and I planted in pots.  The drawback I see with pots is that they dry out quickly so you have to put them in an area where you make sure to water them.   I tend to forget about pots as I don't have a greenhouse.

When I plant into a bed the only thing I have to do is keep the weeds back until they sprout and then surround with wood chips.   I did a bed last fall and I have about 30 seedlings of various types.  Mostly pear and apple.  I've had really good luck doing hazels with layering I got 7 new hazels this spring and I didn't lose one to
date.

If I were planting apple or pear seeds I would plant a lot of them.  Many of mine did not sprout.  (possibly they will sprout next spring)

Most of my nitrogen fixers were planted as baby seedlings or as cuttings.  I have black locust that is 8ft tall and wide within a short period.   Raspberries and blackberries do well from volunteer runners as do strawberries.
 
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I grow many, many trees from seed, and I normally do as Joseph does.  I started using root pruning pouches lately and I really like them.  I do sometimes plant tree seeds directly in the ground and as a rule, they grow better for me than trees in containers.  The issues for me outweigh the benefits however.  My new area doesn't have water available yet, and watering a large number of trees every other day gets tiring.  I can't control birds eating them, rodent attacks, deer browsing, weeds overtaking the seedlings, etc, etc, so containers all in one area at my residence is a huge advantage.  You can start hundreds of cuttings or seeds in an area the size of a picnic table, and it's very easy to water them when they are all together in one area.  The cost savings from growing with seeds and cuttings is enormous. 90% or more of my trees cost me nothing.  I do occasionally buy 2 or 3 year old fruit trees, but most everything else is propagated by me for just the cost of my time and containers.
 
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been doing this myself , but reading up on it and thinking about it will put you off ---as most of the temperate fruits and nut trees take decades to produce ---so its your kids and theirs that might get to eat something from them---thats if you have started out a bit later in your lifespan----but at least its a way of carbon correction for previous crimes to the enviroment---i am too skint to plant up dozens of selected cultivars that will produce sooner and have a better yield or taste than from wild grown seeds/nuts---but the survivors of my plantings could be grafted onto ---so if i buy just a few of the known ones  and use them as a source of scions---i might get to eat their first crop before i am planted out myself. Also you might have plant out at least 3 times as many of everything you would like to have---- to allow for diebacks and failures along the way ,and do so  each year---even if it seems like there will be too many in later years ---I am also finding out the hardway that somethings will take multiple attempts to get going or establish themselves ---differs from season to season  ---some times a batch will start off well but crap out suddenly---then try the same  thing next season and they will take off and survive , where as last years successful types might not even germinate your next season. This is only from my own small scale attempts , and there can be no such thing as too many trees ---those that dont make the grade for whatever your criteria or wants , will make plenty of leaf mulch along the way and wood for other projects and uses---smoky wood flavour on the BQ
 
James Landreth
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Actually, I've seen seedling fruit and nut trees bear in just a few years. I don't think I've encountered any that took longer than 7, though that could just be in my area. This is a great guide for nuts, including seedlings, though these trees are already a few years old

https://www.starkbros.com/growing-guide/article/nut-trees-how-many-years-until-harvest
 
garden master
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This is something I plan to really experiment further with in the near future.

I'm planning to use seedlings to "fill in" my food forest between the known good fruiting varieties of fruits, nuts, and berries. That way new, potentially great tasting and locally adapted varieties can be bred, and at the same time they are shading out undesirable things from growing in the food forest.

One thing that I've done recently that has been a huge time and labor saver for me, is to have a nursery and seedling bed right beside my food forest. Seeds can be direct sowed into the bed or small seedlings can be put there to grow out a little bit. By growing right near their permanent location, seedlings can get used to the similar soil and climate, and seeds can be selected for the most healthy and vigorous growers in that particular area. This also makes it super easy to transplant into the food forest, no hauling long distances, just transplanting them into their permanent spot in the food forest!

I've made a bed like this about 4 ft wide and 12 ft long that can be easily accessed from the sides and provides a good growing area.
I plant the seeds really close and the seedlings or transplants just a few inches apart. A lot of plants can be growing in this area this way.

I put a shredded leaf mulch on top that helps retain moisture, limit weed growth, and build soil fertility, so it hasn't required almost any maintenance since I put it in. I put a 4 ft fence around it which has kept out deer, rabbits, and other nibbles. I haven't planted any nuts yet though, which might attract some other critters that could climb the fence. I'd like to eventually put a thick hedge of black locusts and other thorny plants around it to mostly surround it and maybe partly shade it also.

I think a seedling food forest is a wonderful permaculture endeavor that can be combined with existing fruiting varieties along with creating awesome new varieties!
 
James Landreth
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Steve, do you have to worry about critters eating the seeds? Is that something you th will be a concern?
 
Steve Thorn
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James Landreth wrote:Steve, do you have to worry about critters eating the seeds? Is that something you th will be a concern?



I planted some peach seeds James, in another smaller bed that was the first one I made, which is about a 3 ft diameter circle bed. I've seen squirrels eat the peach seeds when they've gotten some of my peaches before, but they haven't dug up any of the peach seeds that I've planted as far as I can tell.

I just pushed them down into the soil and covered witha shredded leaf mulch, and this bed has some small branches mixed in too. This bed doesn't have a fence around it either since it is just seeds that are planted for next year.

I'm thinking the mulch and twiggy limbs may be discouraging them or masking the smell.

They could just be waiting for winter time to dig them up and thanking me for doing the burying for them.
 
gardener
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This year I'm trying to grow some plums from seed. I got some seeds from a plum growing wild that I just love. It has a great flavor, very firm and gets no watering or attention. Plus it is growing just about 10 feet from saltwater. The plum is growing wild at one of my restoration sites that used to be an old homestead and it is likely an old cultivar. When I was having a cultural resources survey done the guy got excited about all the old fruit trees growing there.

I planted the seeds next to one of my hugel bed hedgerows. I'm using little covers that a friend of mine uses to protect his acorns from being eaten. Seems to work for the acorns so I thought I would give it a try since I already have several of these covers sitting in my shed.

I will post some updates about it in the spring. I have some other seeds from some plums growing in a neighbors yard. I'm going to give those a try too but I might not protect them and just see what happens.

I want to grow a lot more fruit trees from seed but I'm just starting to test it out. I have plans to grow 100+ fruit trees from seed in a future food forest but that is several years away. Figured for now I would just start testing different types of fruit trees.
growing-plums-from-seed.jpg
[Thumbnail for growing-plums-from-seed.jpg]
 
James Landreth
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Thank you Daron! My impression is that plums and other stone fruits come true more or less. I've got tons of Italian plum seedlings coming up and I plan on transplanting them for these community food forest projects. I bet they'd make good rootstock. I'm hoping apricots will take on them too

Food in the store is getting so expensive. I live out in the country and people are very poor. A lot of them don't know how to grow food. I asked yesterday or so on a Facebook group how many would be interested in getting help or helping out with starting a food forest and the number of responses were overwhelming. I've never seen that much interest from these people ever, in anything
 
tony uljee
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Fruit is nice to have but for eating it falls into the sweet treat side of the meal , i find making jam a boring waste of time and sugar ---whilest i do like making ciders ---unfortunately you cant exist on cider or perry alone---i have tried  quite a few brief and even a couple of lengthy experiments on this but the end results were failure---recovery was achievable with cups of tea ---which i am trying to grow ---and toast ---with a smear of butter and black currant  jam---(my wife makes jam) The toast or bread side of this is what i am aiming to grow from trees , i dont have enough land to grow a large field of staple grain food crops , maybe a small experimental brewing  patch of it--- but not every year and  with my climate would need to be oats or barley----and then i have to try and harvest it. So i have started out a longer term before harvest than grain i admit ---with acorns , the sweeter portuguese/spainish  ballota type ,its edible straight from the tree ---taste wise from selected trees in those countries---planting out from scratch like i have its a gamble as the acorns i bought where from the right type of oak but i wasn t able to taste test a sample from each tree they were harvested from---the random taste test i carried out yielded 50% bitter astringent to sweetish. But all acorns need to be processed by cooking to unlock their nutritional value for us humans---but they do have potential to provide a lot of it and a few trees could provide more staple food than crops---harvesting is more diy friendly with less machinery---storage long term is also achievable without a lot of preserving like canning or jars. To add a bit of potential genetic s to the mix i have also started some burr oak  and would like to source some emory acorns to my experiment
 
tony uljee
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Around this part of my world, i have only met 2 people who knew of the food forest concept and were working towards creating their own , online i dont think i have been able to find half a dozen sources of real actual working/producing food forests, they are  rare or uncommon in todays world --i dont know , the nearest thing to it ,that i can find in my locality are a few remnant apple orchids dating back 50 years or so .Some people had wild hazel nut and damson , plus sloes , but these are very rare and seldom found  . They are a very long term project even if you have a few varieties that produce after 7 years ---many of the nut trees are totally unproven around the area, some good work is being done by irish fruit and nut , but its a longway off before the concept is working well enough . I wonder if i am daft -as its only a slim chance i will reap any harvest --and that i doubt if any of my kids will stay around the area or even in the country---who am i planting this all up for ---some numpty with a chainsaw and bull dozer to clear the spot for a modern house in a few decades to come---hopefully  i meet up soon with a success story and  i can get to dream again of a forest full of food and nibbles.
 
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:If the wild form is generally of good eating quality, then growing from seed should work well. Plums, mulberries, pawpaws, etc are good examples. I have yet to find a mulberry tree that couldn't produce a tasty berry.

If the wild form tends to be inedible, then growing from seed will probably result in a high rate of inedible fruits. Pears are the only example that springs to mind, although I'm sure there are others. They still should make decent root stock for grafting.

A lot of fruits will fall in-between these two categories. Apples grown from seed are unpredictable. You may have to wait until they fruit before deciding what to do with them. But in my opinion, that's where the fun is



If you are into making cider, pears from seed could still be all right. There are some feral pear trees around where I live (planted by birds who ate domestic pears) and our local cidery has been making excellent perry with the fruit. It's one of their first to sell out every time they make it. Apparently pears are like apples in that the smaller, more intense varieties make more interesting cider than the big sweet eating ones.
 
pollinator
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My food forest is still a sapling. Most were planted from seed--three apple trees, six almonds (because I know a few will die over their 2nd winter--six came up of the original dozen) plus currants, filberts (only one--the other died over the summer) and other various bushes centered around a grafted walnut. I didn't put the walnut there, Mom planted it. I do have extra apple trees to put in if those die.

This is the first summer for the almonds, 3rd year for the apples. An apricot and peaches will eventually form a peach tree hedge around one edge. I have two seedling pears and a grafted almond out front (the parent of my seedling almonds), not really a part of the food forest. Yet. So I can't say what the fruit is like, but I enjoy seeing the food forest grow up. One of the seedling almonds looks more like a peach, so I'm interested to see what kind of fruit it gets. If it is a cross, the parent has to be a nectarine. I already have two plums, so I don't want more.

Apricots almost always die back their first year and re-emerge from the root with multiple stems.
Peaches will take on a bush form unless you brush off the lower leaflets on the stem.
Almonds seem hardy enough to take both summer, winter, and transplant
Apples seem really hardy, as they've survived my neglect for multiple years
Pears are finicky and demanding. I keep planting them, and they keep dying.

I just put seeds where I want a tree and wait to see what comes up. The first winter is the test most of the seedlings fail.

Anyway, you don't have to wait years to find out what kind of fruit you have. You can always graft into an older, established tree.
 
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Daron Williams wrote:I planted the seeds next to one of my hugel bed hedgerows. I'm using little covers that a friend of mine uses to protect his acorns from being eaten. Seems to work for the acorns so I thought I would give it a try since I already have several of these covers sitting in my shed.


I love that cover idea, Daron. Is that a section of flexible drain pipe with a small piece of wire mesh fencing zip-tied to the top? I'd like to copy this idea not only for planting tree seeds directly but also seeding things like tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, etc. outside in the fall to cold stratify in the ground and come up first thing in the spring, inter-seeded with winter greens. We've been wanting to do this but fear our voracious rodents (kangaroo rats, packrats, ground squirrels, etc.) would just dig everything up. (Ants, too -- they seem to steal seeds as well as eviscerate root structures and eat through stems -- but I don't think this would stop them, we'll just have to keep dealing with each ant mound individually I guess.) Anyway, maybe we could use it for getting roots started under trees, too (I'm thinking horseradish at the moment, but other things that propagate by root cutting, too). What do others think?
 
Lauren Ritz
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Beth Wilder wrote:

Daron Williams wrote:I planted the seeds next to one of my hugel bed hedgerows. I'm using little covers that a friend of mine uses to protect his acorns from being eaten. Seems to work for the acorns so I thought I would give it a try since I already have several of these covers sitting in my shed.


We've been wanting to do this but fear our voracious rodents (kangaroo rats, packrats, ground squirrels, etc.) would just dig everything up.


It might seem off topic, but I think I figured out part of the gopher problem. I had a whole bunch of horseradish growing where I didn't want it, so I dug up the roots and ground them. Then I poured it down any gopher hole I found, or around the mounds, or around any plant they ate. It seems to have worked. I haven't seen a gopher mound since late spring. Something to think about, anyway.
 
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Daron Williams wrote:I had a whole bunch of horseradish growing where I didn't want it, so I dug up the roots and ground them. Then I poured it down any gopher hole I found, or around the mounds, or around any plant they ate. It seems to have worked. I haven't seen a gopher mound since late spring. Something to think about, anyway.



I am going to try this with our overwhelming vole problem! Thanks for the tip!
 
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