I'm doing some research for my Mother. She is ready to start building her food forest, but we do have some concerns.
I'm around zone 7 in North East Georgia. The soil is red clay, I don't know if I should refer to it as soil?
It is hard packed. We are thinking of starting Hugelkulture beds. Any ideas on where to get wood?
There are only 6 trees on her property. She has 1 acre.
Also, we are trying to figure out what to plant. How do we get started?
I am finding it very difficult to find information. What is a person to do without knowing to begin with?
If you have any specific ideas or advice that would be wonderful. I'm also interested in resources to research this information.
Also, if you need any other specific information about our situation to help, just ask. I don't know what else to include?
Hi, Allibeth. I've been having good luck farming/gardening in extremely heavy clay here in eastern Kansas. I can recommend planting a lot of daikon radish the first few years; whether you harvest it or not it will loosen and add organic matter to the soil. Each plant will be about 12-18" across, so space them accordingly. I've also had great luck with tyfon (also called Holland greens) which have both tasty leaves and a turnip-like root which (like the daikon) can be harvested or left to rot. While neither of these crops add nitrogen, they improve the soil by adding organic matter.
You can sheet mulch before planting the radishes or after they germinate, and that will help as well. This is a great time of year to harvest enormous quantities of ragweed from your own or neighbors' property (or even public parks) for sheet-mulch material, since it hasn't yet gone to flower. If you can loosen the clay with a spading fork or broadfork before piling on the ragweed, so much the better.
If you have to move any of the clay for any reason, I highly recommend running it through a compost pile before putting it back on the ground. I have a strict policy of always improving soil before putting it back on the ground, because it's so much easier to improve while it's mobile!
I can't speak to hugelkultur as I am waiting a few more years to see whether it's a proven technique or just a fad.
My perspective is from further south, so I'm sure there are many northern plants that would work in your locale that I haven't listed. If it were me, I would plant as much comfrey as possible right away, and that will serve as your mulch and fertilizer instead of making trips to town to buy them. Good luck and keep us updated on your progress!
Certifiable food forest gardener, free gardening advice offered and accepted. Permaculture is the intersection of environmentalsim and agriculture.
Allibeth- we are in central NC and have heavy clay soil that is probably the same as yours. Study succession and if you have the funds or know someone who has the books "Edible Forest Gardening" by Dave Jacke, I would highly recommend them. While there is a lot of information out on the web, I found it very helpful to have a singular voice through the books to become grounded in the ecological principles at work.
Since you do not have many trees, consider moving from field to forest slowly. I would avoid planting any fruit trees or shrubs if your soil is as poor as ours was- little to no organic matter, hard packed, etc. Even if your nutrients are up, I would seriously wait another three years before investing in your food production. In the meantime, follow the advice of others and plant polycultures of soil building plants.
Brassicas, native nitrogen fixers (here are some of the plants we ordered this year)- herbaceous, shrubs, and trees, root crops, etc. We are focusing on filling out our nectary calendar (diverse plantings for insects of all kinds, with blooms as long as possible) and restoring fertility. This takes a lot of the pressure to "produce" off of your shoulders while you heal yourself and the land. I say heal yourself because permaculture requires sacrificing a lot of the "common" knowledge/baggage we have learned about maintaining landscapes. As you observe through the first few years (we are on year two now), you'll become more comfortable with the idea of letting go and trusting in the way nature works.
Anyway, thats my 2c.
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