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Are unharvested food forests problematic?

 
pollinator
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I'm thankful to have the opportunity to reforest a field, with not a lot of pressure to generate revenue from the crops. This ~10 acre field is currently left as meadow then cut for hay.

I plan to plant trees in pulses - a bunch of nitrogen fixers, a bunch of nut trees, a bunch of fruit trees - slowly building up nuclei that merge. If deer pressure is too bad, then the process will be even slower as I'd plant with tree tubes. I'll also plant pioneer species and biomass hedges like hazel, willows, and poplars to help bring about healthy forest.

One thing I heard in opposition to Mark Shepard's large scale Restoration Ag is that much of the crop is left unharvested, and because of that, problems come up with pests like the chestnut weevil.

I could see how a concentration of one crop left unharvested could result in 'unbalances' in a natural ecosystem, as nature does its best to use the crop. On the other hand, if there's sufficient diversity and texture to a food forest, it's hard to see how excess crop is any different than the 'wild' pulses of nuts and other nutrient-dense plant parts emerging and receding in the woods.

What do you think I should be aware of when planting a food forest over time, considering it may be scarcely visited at times? (I probably won't live on site and there's no infrastructure yet so the woods may grow to their own devices for some time.) Will it be a problem to have an abundance of food neglected by humans? Or is that just a bounty waiting whoever will pay attention to it, hopefully helping wildlife and ecology overall along the way?
 
pioneer
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R Spencer wrote:

What do you think I should be aware of when planting a food forest over time, considering it may be scarcely visited at times?

Or is that just a bounty waiting whoever will pay attention to it, hopefully helping wildlife and ecology overall along the way?



I don't think that you will find "scarcely visited" to be the case at all.  It will probably have the opposite effect, and be visited a great deal, even if the visitor isn't you.   I think it will do as you mentioned, and feed lots of wild things, to their benefit. I wouldn't have any misgivings about proceeding as you have planned.
 
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May give you an opportunity to see what thrives naturally.  If some pests damage too much of one thing vs. another - cultivate what does better naturally.  Deer will eat all sorts of things - you may benefit from putting wire around small trees so the deer don't eat the tops off before they get started and to tall for the deer to eat the tops off.  With a large area, you may also put in some food plots that are easily accessible for deer, then they might go for the food you set up for them, and not eat what you want for yourself.  
 
gardener
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I've thought about this in an urban setting.
Unharvested fruits would feed birds and squirms,  but also rats and flies.
Livestock is usually the answer, but if they are either but allowed or you can't be onsite to care for them,  I do see an accumulation as a problem.

Sometimes pest pressure and disease are treated as positive forces, pushing our crops towards resilience.
I am sceptical because the strategies that resist disease and pests can be at odds with what makes for a decent crop.
A nut that is bug proof might also be inedible.
In the short run we can't depend on evolved resistance anyway.
I would plant diversly and let the chips fall where they may.
If 90% of the crop is lost to pest and pestilence, 10% still more than nothing.
If you can get a small return while not tending to the land in the interim, that beats getting a small return from intensive management.
 
master pollinator
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Whenever my brother comes to Canada to work, his wife and In-laws in Mexico allow all fruit to fall, and they buy food at the store. This hasn't hurt yield. Every year there's lots more, and sometimes he's there at harvest time. I'm sure that wildlife eat some of it, but he said there's quite an accumulation on the ground, that simply rots down.

It seems to have built a certain amount of resilience, in him at least. That would happen exactly one time with me.
 
gardener
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I would suggest you look at local farms in the area and avoid planting trees that someone near-by is running as a commercial mono-culture. The "old-school" farmers will be annoyed with "unmanaged" trees that they will believe are impacting their profits by being a source of pests, even if this is not true. After all, your "poly-culture" will be supporting predatory insects as well as potentially damaging insects, and by planting a wide variety of species as you've planned to do, your food forest should be self-regulating to some degree. Doing research on the trees you plan on planting, determining their common pests, then determining the predators of those pests and planting/managing for the needs of those predators, should go a long way to keeping your new forest and your neighbors happy. I'd keep a journal or Xcell document of your research so if any neighbor tries to complain, you've got 'back-up'!

The reason I wrote "planting/managing" is that predatory insects need homes as well as food. I've found over-wintering ladybugs inside logs we were splitting for firewood that were punky in the center! Insects world wide are in decline, as are amphibians (which can also control pests), so thinking of habitat for them in your system is as important to the planet as planting carbon-absorbing trees.
 
R Spencer
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Thanks for the feedback and encouragement folks!

Jay Angler wrote:I would suggest you look at local farms in the area and avoid planting trees that someone near-by is running as a commercial mono-culture.



Jay, what do you mean by that? Are you referring to where I source trees from, as in get them from local farms and don't plant them from commercial monoculture kind of sources?

Many of the trees I will propagate myself or seed directly from my own harvests. There are also good deals on conservation trees, e.g. bare roots in bundles of 25, through the local Soil & Water Conservation District that I'll probably plant. Also transplanting seedlings from the nearby forest out to the field edge could work! The forest is transitioning between late first-stage succession and into second stage with young hickories and maples.
 
Jay Angler
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Jay Angler wrote:
I would suggest you look at local farms in the area and avoid planting trees that someone near-by is running as a commercial mono-culture.

R Spencer wrote:
Jay, what do you mean by that? Are you referring to where I source trees from, as in get them from local farms and don't plant them from commercial monoculture kind of sources?  

I know of a situation where someone bought a small orchard which was right next door to a commercial apple farmer. The farmer asked the new owner what his plans were, and when the owner said he was just going to let those trees "grow wild", the farmer insisted on the right to come and spray his trees to protect his own farm. That would have been over 30 years ago, and I know that attitudes change, but I'm not convinced that the same thing wouldn't happen again, and that's what I was referring to. Thus, what I'm suggesting is that if you have a near neighbor with a commercial "apple" orchard (substitute whatever crop is appropriate), try and plant nuts, plums and service berries, rather than apples. Or, at the very least, hide the few pest-resistant varieties of apples that you do plant, well surrounded and disguised by trees that don't harbor the specific pests that would irritate your neighbor. This is in *no* way suggesting that I support the planting of what is currently seen as a typical "modern orchard" although even some non-permaculture farmers are starting to see the light, it's just that to spread the idea and benefits of permaculture, we need to work *with* our neighbors and their ideas when possible in the hopes that they will learn from us rather than reject permaculture out of a fear reaction.
 
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Having a nearby grower insist on spraying your trees is insane.  He owns his land and you own your land; if you were to insist that he not spray, he would think you were crazy.

BTW, the birds around here (US, Pacific Northwest) do a lot of planting of acorns and filbert's, and they don't seem to care what I think.
 
R Spencer
pollinator
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Sue Monroe wrote:BTW, the birds around here (US, Pacific Northwest) do a lot of planting of acorns and filbert's, and they don't seem to care what I think.



I'm leaning toward seed collection and dispersal as a way to reforest super low-cost and therefore any success rate is better than nothing. That wouldn't do the trick for a more intensively managed nut grove, but for a slow and low cost food forestation project, seeds might be a key component? I'm not sure, but squirrels sure are champions of trees for better or worse!
 
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planting trees in a pasture or hay field with deer roaming around, i planted trees in winter, just let seedling fight with the weeds, in my opinion it makes the trees stronger, and they are doing ok, there is a deer highway through middle of field and moles took a few seedlings but i planted them way to close knowing there would be some loss. for the most part the weeds protected the young seedlings. dont have to use fuel and machines to keep grass and weeds mowed, huge savings in money and labor. in half dozen years when there might actually be a crop to harvest then it might be time to do some mowing. if you want fruit trees do your homework as to whats involved to get a crop without the use of all kinds of nasty chemicals.
might check with your states dept of forestry see if they have seedling sale program, many states have this and wildlife species that are naturally adapted to your area of the country is what they will have for a fraction of the cost of buying from local nursery. some states have fruit and nut trees that can provide you with crop that wont need chemicals and provide you with nutrition for many many years. Remember to way too many trees so the wild critters can eat too
 
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R Spencer wrote:What do you think I should be aware of when planting a food forest over time, considering it may be scarcely visited at times? (I probably won't live on site and there's no infrastructure yet so the woods may grow to their own devices for some time.) Will it be a problem to have an abundance of food neglected by humans? Or is that just a bounty waiting whoever will pay attention to it, hopefully helping wildlife and ecology overall along the way?



Don't know why stuff would go unharvested, that's wasted resource, particularly water and time. The former is a rare resource here and will become so elsewhere in the world as climate changes and population grows.

Fallen fruit, etc becomes a disease issue without carefully planned animal and human  inputs.

The idea is to make it as efficient and accessible as possible, internal inputs only, and maximise outputs (crops). Using tools like keyline, intercropping, compost, vermiculture, manures, stubble retention, etc. Anything that gets carbon and water into the soil, and increases soil biota.

The main part is to organise the property into ZONES so all short and medium term areas are easily accessible. Zones 5 & 6 are typically not visited regularly (timber production/habitat).

Some people misconstrue Restorative Agriculture methods as being less labour intensive - hardly, workload remains high for quite a while, it's redirected for sustainability purposes.

If in doubt, listen to some of the statistics from Farmers:

'For every tonne of carbon, soil can hold 30 tonnes of water'.

https://www.abc.net.au/landline/future-soil:-excess-carbon-regenerating-soils/11490464?jwsource=cl
 
R Spencer
pollinator
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F Agricola wrote:Don't know why stuff would go unharvested, that's wasted resource, particularly water and time.



Only because it's from perennials that are being planted to make the world a better place, not necessarily as a farm enterprise.

Know the saying "20% of the work, 80% of the yield"? I'm thinking more like 10% of the work, and anywhere from 0-60% of the yield depending on the year because I and other humans might not go intensively harvesting in an area where there's a bunch of nut, fruit, fiber and support trees growing.
 
Sue Monroe
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F Agricola: "Don't know why stuff would go unharvested, that's wasted resource..."

You're speaking of theory, not reality (there's a lot of that online).  Many people who only write and talk about doing things, dwell on the expected perfection, which usually doesn't happen in Real Life.  

High winds, an early frost, an attack by birds, insects or animals, the farmer gets sick or injured, many things can cause a crop to fail or go unharvested.  Mother Nature doesn't give a fig about your plans or expectations -- she has a very peculiar sense of humor.

"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst" is a saying that is almost 460 years old, but is applicable to this day.

 
Jay Angler
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F Agricola: "Don't know why stuff would go unharvested, that's wasted resource..."

Anything that biodegrades and feeds the young forest is not a "wasted resource". The microbes and worms deserve the fruit and nuts just as much as humans do! Birds that harvest berries on my property that I don't get to, often leave "deposits" of phosphorus-rich poop, which in turn feeds the eco-system.
 
Seriously? That's what you're going with? I prefer this tiny ad:
Heat your home with the twigs that naturally fall of the trees in your yard
http://woodheat.net
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