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Starting a food forest in a forest?

 
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Hey guys! I've been lurking for years, finally made an account because my partner Madi and I have bought 4 acres near the New River Gorge in West Virginia.

We have loved the subject for years but barely dipped our toes into traditional gardening, yet alone permaculture, due to a nomadic lifestyle. We are vegan, but do have pets and love animals, just trying to avoid the animal husbandry thing.

We do plan on building an earthbag/strawbale house onsite and maybe a few tiny house sites for guests but our main focus we need help with is the food forest.

The property has a year round creek that deposits plenty of sand, as well as several sloping terraces with heavy watershed on about 2.4 acres... (I'm thinking these areas I'll have to control the water the most so maybe a few ponds and meandering swales may be necessary) hoping  for hydroelectric possibilities in the future as well...

With the remaining 1.6 acres of gently sloping woodland being mostly oaks, a few evergreens, some tulip poplars and maybe a type of maple? I've gotta identify my trees and plants better so I'm not positive. The ground is mostly all briers we are trying to take out.

There are a few trails in place and we are working to make more that surround our property and follow natural features like the creek.

We see alot of resources about starting a food forest in the suburbs, but not alot about starting one in a forest. We know we will have to remove some trees if we want any sun loving fruit trees but would appreciate any advice or resources on the topic.

Were not sure what we wanna plant yet, but we know it'll be mostly shade loving stuff.

Madis Mom is having parts of her land logged and almost had ours logged before selling it to us. We dodged a bullet there, but are now slightly overwhelmed with the task of clearing what we need ourselves.


With it being the end of summer, do you have any tips to get ready for the planting season next year?

Thanks for reading, have a great day!
Regenerating-Understory.jpg
Regenerating Understory
Regenerating Understory
Dog-cooling-off-in-a-stream.jpg
Dog cooling off in a stream
Dog cooling off in a stream
 
master gardener
Posts: 783
Location: Coastal Salish Sea area, British Columbia - USDA zone 8-9
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Welcome James!

It looks like you have a fun place to play with. Good for you!


Some random suggestions i have is. Have you considered planting the trees you would like to into the briers. This could potentially provide protection from animals. I believe you would need to keep the area clear around the planted tree. This follows what would happen after many years of a brier patch being there. You would just be encouraging it to happen.

Another thing i suggest would be for you to take a look at our PEP program. In particular it would be this one Wood Land Care

  It has some forest management in it. Plus you can earn a badge for it! Another one which i would suggest would be Foraging


You can always take it easy with the "land clearing" no need to rush and do it all at once. Maybe stake out a 100' x 100' area to start working out a plan for and than move on from there. it could be even smaller scale than i suggest.  The thing is the forest is already doing plenty as it is, which is a good thing :) So it sounds like you are mostly looking to encourage what you would like from it. What a great situation to be in, in my opinion.

Cheers
Jordan
 
James Sparks
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Thanks for the reply, I appreciate the wisdom.

I'll make it a priority to learn more about my forest before focusing too much on clearing it. Luckily we have our living situation figured out for the time being so it's no rush to pick a site or dig in so to speak.


I'm intrigued by all the pep stuff thanks for the suggestion, I think woodland care would be a great start.

I like the idea of using the briars to fend off deer I will look more into that.

Loving this site!
Thanks again!
 
pollinator
Posts: 406
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All that shade is a disadvantage for many plants and fruit trees, of course, but the soil in that forest (plus all that wonderful water) is going to almost outweigh it!

I'm afraid I don't know much about all this, but I wanted to say "Welcome!"
 
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Location: Fennville MI
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This is a subject near and dear to my heart. It's also one that gets very little attention in the field, that is, not very much gets written about it. I think there are a couple of reasons why. One is that people look at an extant forest and move directly into either "Forest Management" mode, or into "Clear cut and start from scratch" mode. The thing that makes it so near and dear to me, is that my wife and I bought twenty acres of forested land in SW MI about four years ago. We've been living on it since May 2017 and most of my work has been focused on getting our house built, still in progress. As far as I can tell, this land was cleared in the first quarter of the twentieth century but has been left to its own since then.

So we've got an unmanaged mixed hardwood and evergreen, largely wet, woodland to try to develop into a productive permaculture design. One of the most important first steps is just identifying what you have. In our case, for example, we have witch hazel in some areas - we'll try to do some things to favor that and not remove it. We've got a tremendous volume of sassafras, which has a number of uses, but we're way in excess of any need. I'm being quite ruthless about removing sassafras and using the lumber for raised bed frames, hugelkultur, some for green woodworking. Tops for chop and drop. We've got Smilax  (brier) species here as a major portion of our understory and I really don't like it and want it gone, preferably replaced with something more productive in my view. We're willing to keep animals and use their labor for our benefit, so we're planning to utilize goats and pigs to help with controlling the smilax.  Blueberries abound in the highly acidic soil. They're one we want to keep, but perhaps it's not so much keep the ones we have as add in more productive cultivars. We've got Beech trees, and I'm working to manage around them to encourage and promote their success. The major canopy trees are oaks and maples, with the maples being uncertain species but Not Sugar maple. The forest density is excessive and at the very least from a forest management perspective it needs to be thinned. So there are some species we want, some we would rather not have at all, some that we don't need in the volume we have - and all of which tell us things about what will grow here and succeed.

We have significant vernal pond areas - too much. One of our plans is to create a couple of ponds, one fairly high capacity, and hopefully through providing this avenue for the water to move we can reduce some of the spread of our above ground water table.

Forest gardens are, in a real sense, all about "edge" - it's the edge species that are generally most productive, the widest variety thrives, etc.  so when working to transition an existing woodland into a food forest, I believe it makes sense to begin with planting chosen selections into the edges of the existing forest. It's also entirely appropriate to identify areas that are ripe for conversion from forest to meadow within the forest, creating more edge area to work with.

This is a very good time of year to begin identifying your trees and making selections about which ones you want to take out, which you might choose to coppice or pollard, which you want to preserve and promote.  Coppicing is a task done when trees are dormant, and it's a good plan to dedicate some portion of a woodland to coppice for a number of reasons. Among the arguments in favor of coppicing, it extends the life of the tree, it provides a cyclic production of new growth that can be used for anything from fuel to fodder to building or crafts and is phenomenally sustainable.

Take away notes: Identify what you have growing now and both select what is beneficial that you want to keep and use the information to help you select productive plantings that are suited to your situation (Lots of thistles growing wild? Might try cardoon or artichoke, both thistle family edibles).  Work at the edges and to create edges. Evaluate your water situation and develop a plan for water management.  Manage the forest well, working to improve the health of the forest itself and simultaneously of your food forest within it.
 
pollinator
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What I've found through experience on multiple sites is that in anything resembling a forest, or even a thicket going toward young forest, is that trying to "tuck in" useful plants here and there in it and expecting them to succeed is likely to fail. There is a lot of competition from the surrounding stuff, both above and below ground, and there is the necessity of fencing each and every plant from animals.  In most climates you will have to get water to the new plants if there is a dry spell for at least the first year or two.  This extra watering then attracts more roots to grow into the spots from all around.    So by trial and error I've learned to think, and to work, in patches rather than isolated plants or even small guilds of plants.  You want to open up a clearing big enough to let some sun hit the ground....most of our useful food plants, even the trees, either need this or will benefit greatly from it.  A good way to proceed is to simply fence the whole clearing and start an annual garden in there.  While that's going on, plant out your perennials and fruit trees and so on right in there among the veggies, corn, etc.  Keep on planting veggies in there until the perennials start to fill in the space.  Eventually you quit with the annuals and have the food forest in place.  The new trees and such will benefit hugely from the addditonal water and attention primarily directed at the annuals.  If you want more useful trees, etc. or more veggie area then you make a new patch adjacent, or at a distance, and start the process over again.
 
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Alder Burns wrote: I've learned to think, and to work, in patches rather than isolated plants or even small guilds of plants.  You want to open up a clearing big enough to let some sun hit the ground....most of our useful food plants, even the trees, either need this or will benefit greatly from it.  A good way to proceed is to simply fence the whole clearing and start an annual garden in there.  While that's going on, plant out your perennials and fruit trees and so on right in there among the veggies, corn, etc.  Keep on planting veggies in there until the perennials start to fill in the space.  Eventually you quit with the annuals and have the food forest in place.  The new trees and such will benefit hugely from the addditonal water and attention primarily directed at the annuals.  If you want more useful trees, etc. or more veggie area then you make a new patch adjacent, or at a distance, and start the process over again.



Nice! Sounds like traditional swidden farming practices in the tropical forest. That's why the percentage of economic plants (food, fiber, medicinals, entheogens, construction and tool materials...) in parts of the Amazon forest is reported to be notably high. Generations of local forest residents clearing land in patches and planting successions of annuals, perennials, trees and vines, often leaving biochar along the way. It makes sense to adopt the forests' own patterns of patch clearance and recolonization.
 
pollinator
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Seems like you're on the right track not trying to impose your will right off the flip. Don't be afraid to spend the first round of seasons just studying. You'll start to notice what works, and what you can promote with a gentle hand. You'll also notice what's glaringly invasive and will be an problem for you. Study the sunlight as it changes through the year.  

A few examples: I notice that gooseberries grow just fine near hackberry trees. That honeysuckle does well anywhere and could be replaced with honeyberries in small patches at a time. That woodbine will sneak its way underground and run rampant through garden beds if left unchecked.

Use technology: download google earth pro and use the timeline tool to look at past satellite imagery. They're all date stamped and helps you see what different seasons look like and how things have changed over time. Print off satellite photos and make notes and drawing.

Get a brushcutter (saw blade) adapter for your weed wacker and establish trails in the path of least resistance in the winter/early spring (or expand on natural game trails.)  

Kind of a random response, sorry. I'm in year 2 of forest living and this is some of what I've learned so far.
 
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Location: Indiana, USA
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Congratulations James, you and your partner must be so excited!  I inherited some woods when I bought my property too.  When I first moved in, I was kind of gung-ho to start clearing things out.  But luckily I didn't, and now I am so glad!  I encourage you to invite someone out to walk your property with you- perhaps your friendly local NRCS (natural resources conservation service) representative, or an arborist, or a master naturalist, or just a friend who can identify trees really well.  Make notes about all the trees and plants that you currently have.  Google each one of them thoroughly, making sure to check out their PFAF profiles (pfaf.org) and their USDA plant profiles (https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PRAM).  You might be surprised and delighted, as I was, about the fantastic useful trees and plants that you already have.  In addition, the species already present on your land can tell you a lot about your soil and your microclimates, which will be really useful to you when choosing which new species to add to the forest.  My woods came pre-loaded with wonderful beech nuts, hickory nuts, walnuts, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, and many other species.  If you're itching to begin cleaning it out, start with the invasives that are likely present and hogging a large amount of space.  Learn how to identify bush honeysuckle, and clear cut all those bad boys.  If you have Autumn Olive and White Mulberry, those are both problematic invasive plants too, but they do provide food, so I would probably wait to remove those until I was ready to replace them with something better.  You'll probably want to start ridding your place of irritating plants like poison ivy and virginia creeper.  If you don't know what kind of briers you have, make sure to get an ID before removing them.  They might be great edible plants like raspberry, blackberry, greenbrier, etc.  Walk your woods regularly to see what kind of mushrooms grow there and where they grow, and learn how to identify the useful ones.  That'll keep you plenty busy the first year or two, especially if you have day jobs.  If you're itching to start growing something right away, perhaps consider inoculating some mushroom logs!  By the time you're done with those tasks, you'll be so much wiser and you'll have a clear understanding of your land and you'll be able to make a much better plan than anyone could help you make right now.  

After you identify the parts of your woods that you plant to keep permanently shady, you could look into planting things like ginseng, ramps, and ostrich ferns for a start.  And maybe growing a lot of mushroom logs, after you've practiced growing a small number of them.  They're a little harder than you might expect them to be, because you have to remember to water them regularly for a really long time before they fruit.  But if you learn to do it well, it can be a great crop.

Enjoy!
 
pollinator
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If you want to build a house, you are just going to have to clear cut that 1/4 acre of land. As humans we require resources from our environment both local and offsite.
If you want a food forest you are just going to have to clear cut another acre. But that still leaves another 3 acres that you can leave natural.

You can also keep honey bee, chicken/duck, a spring fed fish pond, and I hazard to say some goats in a pen. All of those are fine in the shade, as long as you buy your feed/hay vs buying the meat directly from the supermarket.
 
pollinator
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Yes, you need to clear some land for your house.  How much depends on the size of the trees and your risk for fires and blow downs.  You need to clear cut an area for a typical garden, but you can thin a larger area for a forest garden.

I plan to take advantage of any full sun areas I create for paths and driveway, plus plant LOTS of herbs and medicinals anywhere and everywhere.
 
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S Bengi wrote:If you want to build a house, you are just going to have to clear cut that 1/4 acre of land. As humans we require resources from our environment both local and offsite.
If you want a food forest you are just going to have to clear cut another acre. But that still leaves another 3 acres that you can leave natural.

You can also keep honey bee, chicken/duck, a spring fed fish pond, and I hazard to say some goats in a pen. All of those are fine in the shade, as long as you buy your feed/hay vs buying the meat directly from the supermarket.



I think it should be noted when a poster of a thread mentions being vegan. Using animals for farming was not desired. Still, it can be recognized that leaving animals on the land can be of benefit to it, without using them for any products. I am glad seeing all this information in responses which can help, I think using land where needed vegetation which is of use will grow is desirable and important in going in a sustainable direction. Identifying what grows there naturally already is good thinking, I was glad to see it pointed out, and will remember that and ask questions about that if they come up.
 
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Fantastic! Sounds like a great adventure you're setting out on. Have you heard of Hugelkultur gardening? This is a method that would suit you very well as it is a Raised Mound made from forest timbers, initially from the Black forest area of Germany where they had lots of forest but little growing area.
Autumn is a great time to set up a Hugelbed if you want it to be ready for planting vegetables in the Spring - and it looks like you will have plenty of wood and forest clearings to get it started!
You can read all about the Hugelkultur method (a type of raised bed gardening) on my blog where I also have a link to my book on how to build a Hugelkultur
All the best - looks like you are going to have a busy fall/winter :)
 
pollinator
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I don't have an answer to your specific question, but I did see a red flag you should at least consider.  If neighboring lots are being logged, your water source may move, become silty, get blocked by something... Assuming Madi's mom will let you look, I'd recommend walking through your upstream area and thinking about what the impacts might be in coming years.  You also may want to hold off on any permanent work until you've seen a year's worth of the new behavior.

But congratulations!  This sounds like a great new adventure!
 
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what about a tree house. puppy dog looks happy
 
Ruth Stout was famous for gardening naked. Just like this tiny ad:
Rocket Mass Heater Manual - now free for a while
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