I have a hundred acres in the St. John Valley of Maine's Aroostook County, not far from the Canadian border. Except for about thirty or forty acres in the southwestern part of the property, which is a cedar swamp, I am told that it was all in potato production thirty years ago. Currently, we have one field, and another that we own part of, that are leased to a potato farmer on a year to year basis, the rest has grown into a woodlands, with several small clearings and an old, ungraveled, logging road that has grown up into ferns and saplings, which amounts to a long clearing. My property is bordered on the northeast and east by a small brook. With mountains on two sides of our property, we get a fair amount of runoff each year, resulting in a couple of seasonal streams running from west to east, joining the brook. Last spring, summer and fall were very rainy, so these streams continued running throughout the season. A seasonal gravel road runs through the property, with the bulk of our property on the west side of the road. The road becomes a snowmobile trail in the winter. The potato fields are both on the east side of the road. In a wooded area between the potato fields, I have cleared a small area on which I have placed a cabin, which I'll be completing in the spring. We don't live on the property, nor are any utilities available there; although drilling a well is on the agenda for the near future. My wife and I live about three hours to the south, near the geographic center of Maine.
I have been doing some reading on forest gardens, which is what led me to this forum. I have a few other books as well, but most helpful has been the two-volume set, Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke. I am not planning on creating a forest garden on a large scale, since I already have a forest (woodlands, actually), and don't plan on doing a lot of clearing. However, I do plan to clear small areas, and make use of some of the clearings that I already have, planting perennial crops as I can, beginning this year, and adding others in subsequent years. Our land borders on several hundreds of acres of undeveloped woodlands and forest on the west and south, and a couple of hundred acres, at least, on the other side of the brook, which would be east of us. To the north, the nearest house is almost exactly two miles away, where the land is mostly agricultural. I put a wildlife camera in the woods last spring, buying another one during the summer, and they picked up at least four individual bears (one that was there throughout, with three others showing up during mating season), some moose, and white-tailed deer, all of which I would be pleased to share my land with.
For that reason, I don't want to do any aggressive cutting on the west side of the road, although I'll be doing some selective cuts, with the intention of doing some planting in various part of the woods. Over the past months, I have been adding plants to a database that I'd like to have, and which will grow in our hardiness zones, which borders on zones 3 and 4, paying particular attention to those that are native to Maine, and especially those that are similar to plants that are already growing on our land, such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. So, I'm looking at the species that I already have and comparing them to those that I'd like to have, and plugging in compatibilities. My intentions are to have sufficient edible perennials growing in the area to be able to supplement our diet while we're staying on the property in the spring, summer and fall, and to encourage the wildlife to remain in the area, limiting our activities on the west side of the road, where the bulk of our land is, to doing some targeted planting there, protecting them from wildlife damage as much as necessary, at least until they have are well established. Otherwise, I am perfectly happy to share with the bears and other critters.
Although I do intend to get some plantings in this spring, I still have a lot of assessment to do. We have had the property for less than two years and I was in cancer treatment for much of the last half of last summer, so I haven't even walked the entire property yet. I have a pretty good idea as to many of the trees, shrubs and herbs that I'd like to have, although I may learn that some of them are not appropriate for one reason or another, but I would be interested in any ideas that anyone here might have. I am looking primarily for low maintenance perennials, although I will be available on the property until the snow comes. Currants would probably do well on our property, for example, but they cannot be legally sold for planting in northern Maine. I am not a fanatic about native plants only, although it certainly makes sense that natives are more likely to grow well there, and to play well with others.
At some point, perhaps in a couple of years, after I have finished with the cabin, we have a well, and I've established some edible perennials in other parts of the woodlands, we might want to take our potato field back and begin a more complete forest garden on this cleared land, but probably not for a couple of years. That would be a good place for it, since it has a permanant brook not too far into the woods behind the potato field, and a couple of runoff streams on both sides of the field.
You can see some of our property on my Petra, Maine Wildlife Photos site at http://www.petramainewildlife.com, which features photos and video taken by my wildlife cameras during the spring, summer and fall of 2011, and which will be continued in the spring of 2012, with three, and possibly four cameras in the woods. I would appreciate any ideas, suggestions or criticisms you might have. I do not claim to be an expert on any of this stuff, although I grew up on a small farm in the UP of Michigan, which has a climate very much like that in Maine, so I'm not entirely clueless. Still, the forest garden concept is new and fascinating, and I haven't even finished my reading on the subject yet.
That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it, unless someone yells at me or something.
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