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2020 Forest Garden Plan.

Posts: 156
Location: Rutland VT
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Hi Permies. I have been working on the plan for my first forest garden, and would like all of your input.

    The area I am planting is 45’x65’ located in Rutland Vt zone 4b.  It is completely level, with good drainage as I have not seen any puddling over the last year.  The plot is oriented east to west along its long axis.  There is good light from sunrise until late afternoon, where the trees across the street block direct sun for the last few hours in the summer.  

  My goals with this garden are to grow a variety of fruit and nuts (trees/bushes), practice pruning and coppice skills, and to create a beautiful space.

    The mulberry and black locust trees are going to be on a coppice rotation. The mulberry, to keep it at a manageable size for harvesting berries. While the black locust is for fertilizing via root dieback, and to get timber for wood handles up to maybe fence posts

   I have chosen to make a main path meandering through the edge of the garden, and a smaller path in the northEast corner. My idea was to create a bigger sense of space by having lots of isolated stretches of path, thus creating “rooms”. Something I’ve heard about in Japanese gardening theory. Also these two paths will connect on the east side to the larger yard as a whole.

  My concerns are mainly around my spacing of trees. I have given space for most trees to have a 12’ diameter canopy or bigger, with the crowns just touching.  The understory will be planted out and herbaceous plants added over the next few years as the trees become established. I am confident this will be enough room for pruned trees to grow in, but I am nervous.

   I also have one spot where I am seriously testing the personal space of trees.  I am going to put a cherry tree over a heavily pruned peach over an elderberry bush.

  So without rambling on about this for pages, what do you all think?  Have I made good spacing and placement decisions?  Does this plan look feasible?  

Food Forest Plan
Food Forest Plan
Position in larger yard
Position in larger yard
Posts: 65
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I'm a novice, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, or maybe a whole tablespoon!  

Am I correct that the squares are 2'x2'? If so...

PawPaws are happy with partial shade, so they'd probably be ok.  And the mulberry isn't over the driveway, so you avoided that cardinal sin!

The Google satellite photo shows shadows extending on the south end, overlapping the red rectangle; therefore I'd be concerned about cedar trees shading out the pear and others at the southern border as they continue to grow in height.  I would scrap those for more of a savannah feel and more sunlight hitting the dirt.

The NE corner also feels tight for harvesting, as do all the apricots, whose tree canopies are missing, yes?  It also looks like some tree canopies are missing on the Eastern grouping?  Pepper tree seems tight, too.

Sun=fruit and life, so that would be my concern with tightness given Vermont's latitude.

Have a free source of a ton of mulch?  That might mitigate the soil competition.

Is the financial risk of loss acceptable?  And can you proceed *knowing* that you may likely have to cull several trees you've nutured for years, which may be in their prime of life? 😬 That's hard to do, I hear.

If it were me, I'd cut back planting by maybe 25% for a safer bet.  Regardless, the credit belongs to him or her with their hands actually in the dirt!  The dreamers of dreams who make them into reality!  Keep everyone posted!
Posts: 6686
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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George has given good advice.

Cherry trees are going to compete with the peach for sunlight if you plant them as close as your drawing shows.

If you have not researched the growth habits of the desired trees, you could plant yourself into a situation where you have no or very little harvest, especially when talking nut and fruit trees.

Mulberry trees can get up to 50 feet tall and their spread is around 60 feet at full height. Trunks in the first 7 years will be easy to rot if any leaves find places to lodge like branch crotches.

I agree with George about reducing the numbers for better air circulation and distance between trees.

Posts: 21
Location: Hengelo, The Netherlands
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Hi Brian,
I think you're right to be concerned about the competition and I agree with the advice given by George and Bryant. Though pawpaws are fine in part shade (young plants even need protection from too much sun) and sour cherry is shade-tolerant, the other varieties you want to grow need sun to thrive, avoid disease and ripen their fruits well. The amount of sun they receive will influence the sweetness of the fruit: while you can grow cooking pears in part shade, dessert pears need lots of sun to bear delicious fruits.
That being said, the size of fruit trees is mostly determined by the rootstock and if you want to grow a large variety of fruits and avoid too much competition, you might opt for dwarfing rootstocks for some of your trees.
Also please consider this: when you want to grow a varied herb layer, there has to be enough light under the trees as well. For this reason, wider spacing of trees is often recommended for forest gardens.

If you're interested, here's the design of our forest garden :
There are also several videos about how we design the herb layer on our YouTube channel.

I hope that helps!
Greetings from the Netherlands!
Brian Jeffrey
Posts: 156
Location: Rutland VT
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Thanks everyone for your input.

I have been tweaking my design to get more light to the plants that need it. I swapped the position of the North pawpaw and the South pear. The pear should get much more light now, and even though the south side has tall cedars next to it, I have high bush blueberries there now and they pump out fruit.  To my knowledge they are supposed to have full sun, so I am going to see if the adjacent plums get enough light to prouduce even a handful of fruits.  I think at the very least this plum will flower and help pollinate the north end plum.  The raineer cherry has been given its full space to itself.  All of th apricots and peach trees I was planning to try from seed, will be incorporated into other yard planting.  The tree crowns are all just touching, I am confident I can prune and train them to stay within their 12' circle footprint. The mulberry is getting a 16' area to grow.  

Speaking of the mulberry, I don't know if I described my plans for it adequately.  While I have never done this myself, I have read that a mulberry can be coppiced to around 4-6 main branches on a 3 year cycle.  This will keep the tree at a smaller size while always having a couple branches at fruiting age.  The black locusts on either side will also be coppiced (maybe on the same 3yr rotation).  I think this will keep enough light penetrating to the understory as well as the surrounding fruit trees.  I drew a time lapse picture to try and show my thoughts.  

 I am a fan of the YouTube channel by James Pigioni.  He has a similar sized plot and spaces his trees just a couple feet apart at the crowns.  While he gets large harvests of fruit, I am willing to get a little less total harvest in order to have a larger variety.  And I just really like the feel of groves and tree clumps :)  

I think I got a lot more light and elbow room in the plan now.  But what do you all think?

 I really appreciate the kindness and wisdom everyone here shares.  Thanks for all your ongoing support Permies!!!
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Current plantings
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New Design
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Coppice cycle
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