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Permaculture in the forest...and coping with Douglas Fir

Posts: 67
Location: Kalispell, Montana
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I am new to this forum, and have been thoroughly enjoying reading through the threads for the past few days. I feel my inspiration returning, along with the spring weather! Woohoo!

We (fiancee and I) recently purchased a small house on 1.5 acres, butted up against the (badly managed) Jewel Basin wilderness/National Forest in Northwest Montana. We purchased this place on a shoestring, with the intention of turning it into a small-scale homestead for our family. There were very few properties available in our price range, and fewer still that would have any hope of producing food. This place seemed our best option, so we took the leap.

This property has a few things going for it, many things which need improved, and a few things which make me worry that we made a huge mistake in our purchase. The good things going for the property are that the house is small and efficient, it has an excellent well with wonderfully sweet water, it has a seasonal creek and decent pond, it is already well fenced, and the neighbors are decent folks geared toward self-sufficiency in varying degrees.

The thing that makes me worry the most is that the property is quickly being overtaken with Douglas Fir, which is choking out most of the other trees and vegetation, aside from the huckleberries. The non-conifer trees still on the property are in various stages of death. We have a small clear lawn behind the house, upon which we have started hugelkultur beds, and a large clear front yard with the creek and pond. I love looking out the windows and seeing forest, but after doing some research, I have come to realize that the lovely forest and the giant, majestic Doug Fir trees are going to make it damn near impossible to grow anything worth eating. What to do? Do we 'work with nature' and simply allow the Doug Fir to be, while making the best of the small bits of clear space available to us, or do we cut the Doug Fir, reap the lumber to build some much-needed outbuildings, and set about recovering the soil fertility in the dead spaces under the conifers? Is this even possible to do? Also, I might add, we currently have very few places that receive consistent sunlight, due to the conifer encroachment. The aforementioned lawn spaces are the only places that get sun. So, on our 1.5 acres, we have, at most, one sunny patch which is 75' x 35', and a partially shaded space about 100' x 60'.

Here are some photos of the property: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2505925767107.2148866.1221922094&type=3&l=4d934d0566

Any advice would be appreciated.
Posts: 63
Location: OR - Willamette Valley
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I'd cut 'em down (says the logger's daughter). They are big light hogs. Here where I live, the only thing that kept the firs from swallowing the valley back in the day, according to what I have read, is regular fires, so I suppose as far as working with nature, you could consider yourself a fire replacement. Forests need the occasional meadow, the edges are where all the good stuff happens. With 1 1/2 acre, you really do not have enough room for firs and anything else, and I'm going to assume you can step across the line into the wilderness to forage so there's no real need to work them into your system. As far as soil fertility, it shouldn't be too tough. Maybe you can treat your stumps as instant hugelbeds They aren't like black walnuts that chemically inhibit other plants, they just hog the light. If it's any encouragement, the clear-cuts around here grow brush like crazy starting almost the instant the trees are logged. The only caution I would give, is that they do not grow back quickly like flowers. Envision what it will look like without them, consider whether there are any that are best kept, since you can't just change your mind and put them back, and then cut anything you don't need.

Cute place BTW, and being next door to a National Forest - awesome.
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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I'd go out from the dripline and build some raised beds with NON acid soil, put in those beds some lime and wood ash to sweeten the soil, lots of compost and good organic stuff..and plant those with your shade tolerant food crops..

also some fruit trees will tolerate acidic soil, esp if they get some lime..apples are one that really comes to mind that does well with some acid..the prunus and pears prefer more alkaline, but if you feed them the lime and ashes, they'll probably get along just fine..in a raised bed..

most garden vegetables will do OK in acidic soil, esp potatoes..they like acid soil..some other trees and berry bushes and shrubs will do ok, esp brambles..put the brambles in a trellis system along a property line or where a hedge will be helpful.

save your real alkaline lovers for the other part of the property, and your sun lovers..

but don't feel that you can't use the edges of the pine forest as long as you add some more alkaline soil on top of the acidic stuff..
Posts: 145
Location: NW MT Zones 4/5 Rollins Mt
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Since your kind of in our neck of the woods,, welcome...From your pictures it looks like what you have is the standard Montana wooded property..Looks like some of your trees are part of the landscape and a privacy factor from the previous owners.Typical landscape here..I would suggest you do figure out how you would really like to have your layout on the property.Then study the lighting to see what trees you wish to remove for that aspect.Keep in mind that in our mountainous area deciduous trees are not the norm for wooded area's.. We have a huge problem with Mountain maples dropping seedlings everywhere..Being near the National forest can become a challenge, between fire control issues, thinning and logging issues and such..We have friends up by West glacier, who border to two sides by national forest,, they came in and clear cut next door to get a grip on diseases.. and also for fire control,, it is not near as pretty anymore...
We garden on a slope with limited lighting since our neighbors to the east have never trimmed their wooded area,, our hillside we have been taking out trees as needed ,,more so because of disease,, which I would recommend you look at all the trees on your property first for signs so they can be removed first,, Then study how you wish to do your layouts,, and go from there.6 hours of sunlight will produce an alright crop of food.Filtered sunlight will also work..If you want to get more technical you can buy a light meter and check that way,But it is really so much better to begin a journal based on the sun movement through your property for a full year. So you can really know.you need to really figure out the summer sun areas as well that is far more important then what is out now for the gardens,,,,.If there are particular trees that seem to shade in all areas , mark them out for removal..Lets change your thinking here ,, there are no dead spaces in the wooded areas,, they are very easy to get changed over to usable,,we have fruit trees and other shrubs growing very nicely as understory plants with tall evergreen trees,,
If you have questions your more then welcome to e-mail us as well if you think we can offer help...
of the
Happy House
Rollins Montana
Posts: 476
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
cattle forest garden trees earthworks food preservation
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I think "thinning and opening" are the important points -- for the fir tree stand you have, encourage it's strongest points: the mature straight trees. Then work to your biggest priorities around that.

You can thin out some younger trees, bent trees, and also lower branches on the keeper trees - it's amazing how much some areas get opened up for light when you remove all the branches within 30' of the ground.

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