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Forest garden in the forest?

 
pollinator
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Hi everyone,

I would like some advice. Me and my partner are currently in the process of buying a piece of land by the coast in mid-Norway. Our dream/plan is to turn a part of this land into some sort of forest garden. The only thing is, there's forest on it already, and most of the things I've read on establishing a forest garden assume the starting point is (at least partially) bare land. So. What does one do?

The idea is to pick out the biologically least interesting/diverse piece of the land (youngest forest, etc.) and start improving the soil and planting stuff we want to eat, thereby hopefully also increasing its biological value. Of course this will mean planting non-natives, as most Scandinavian forests are quite poor in edible species, especially as trees go (Where the total number of native species is tiny anyway. Damn you, Ice Age! Damn you, Alps!) So we have to find good edible species, preferrably mostly shade-tolerant ones, with a minimal risk of going invasive. Then, as we'll need firewood, wood chips and feedstock for making biochar, we'll start gradually thinning out the original canopy in our designated garden area, thereby also creating space for our planted edibles (and nonedible native broadleaf trees. The forest in this area is mostly made up of Scots pine and Norway spruce, with a big moose population apparently hindering the growth of new broadleaves.)

We're thinking of a mainly two-part garden, one part with more closed forest, and one part consisting of (highly) mixed coppice. In the future we hope that the latter part will provide at least most of the wood we'll need, as well as habitat for the less shade-tolerant plants we'll grow.

The land is in a south slope, bordering a quite big lake and 1-2 km from the sea. From the zone maps I find online, it looks like we are hardiness zone 7, maybe even bordering 8. Can that be true? In the Norwegian system (which runs the opposite way, 1 being best and 8 being worst) we are zone 4, bordering 3. There is a tiny stream on the land, as well as the lake, giving us the opportunity to maybe grow some wetland plants (Cattails, yay!) Otherwise we're thinking of a lot of nut trees, like hazel (native), hickory (apparently it was native before the Ice Age) and monkey puzzle (absolutely not native). We also want as many hardy, shade-tolerant, non-invasive root crops as we can, as well as some nice fruits (kolomikta kiwi, Cornelian cherry, blue sausage fruit, possibly American persimmon) Yeah, we'll have apples too, but most of the common fruits have the drawback of not being very shade-tolerant... These are not all the ones we've considered, but just a hint at how our thinking goes.

So, what are your thoughts on this? Any input is welcome (plants we should try, techniques to make it work, etc.) And if anyone has tried something similar, we'd love to hear all about it!
 
pollinator
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Coastal Norway is indeed 8 but remember that that is ONLY the minimum winter temperature, heat zone wise it's going to be 1-2 as well. Beware American guides on what will grow in each zone, they will not be very applicable to your climate. Hazel would be a good start it works for firewood, charcoal, chips, animal browse and you can get nuts. Deer unfortunately love to browse on it as well so it would need protection.

A lovely root (it takes a while to grow) is the pignut Conopodium majus It's a plant of open woodland so it is pretty shade tolerant.
 
Eino Kenttä
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Thanks Skandi! Yeah, I noticed that minimum winter temperature is the only parameter taken into account in the USDA system. A bit limited. The norwegian system probably gives better guidance, but then again some plants have probably not been grown enough in Scandinavia to be assigned a suitable zone under that system... Well, I suppose we'll just have to try all the interesting species that might work, to see what actually does.

Pignuts are definitely on the list of plants to try. I've never eaten them, but they sound very interesting. Some other root crops we're thinking of trying are Lilium martagon (martagon lily), Myrrhis odorata (sweet cicely), Campanula rapunculoides and latifolia (creeping and giant bellflower), Stachys palustris (marsh woundwort) and Sium sisarum (skirret). We'll also be growing more standard stuff like potatoes and sunchokes.

Yep, deer protection worries me a bit, especially if we'll be coppicing... We'll see how we solve it.
 
Skandi Rogers
pollinator
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Eino Kenttä wrote:

Pignuts are definitely on the list of plants to try. I've never eaten them, but they sound very interesting..



I have they are pretty common down in southern England where I grew up, I had great fun as a child digging after them with a sharp stick (it takes some time that way) they taste pretty much like a hazelnut, I've only ever eaten them raw I never had enough patience to gather enough for cooking. I grow Burdock here as well it can spread but I wouldn't call it invasive, I like the taste of that as well, it reminds me of globe artichokes. another fun one is Silverweed Potentilla anserina It's probably native and can manage with shade.
 
Eino Kenttä
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Burdock I have eaten, and that's also on the list. It's also native, so no problem if it spreads a bit. There's a species (Arctium nemorosum) that grows in the forest rather than open ground, so it should be shade tolerant. I read somewhere that you can sprout burdock seeds to have greens in the winter. That would be nice (if they taste good, that is.)

A root vegetable that tastes like hazelnuts? Neat! Have to have that...
 
pollinator
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I'm not sure how close this list of plants that grow wild in the Canadian Northwest Territories will be to your situation, but for what it's worth maybe this will give you some ideas. I think they would be hardy to a colder zone than yours, but probably similar latitude and daylength. If you look at the bottom of the web page it gives links to NWT berries and mushrooms, which include many species that grow well in shade. These, or your local equivalents, should do well at your site.

https://northernbushcraft.com/guide.php?ctgy=edible_plants®ion=nt

 
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Congratulations! Best of luck with your projects.  Yes, there's nowhere near enough information about developing forest gardens within existing forests. I've been told not to expect so much help (none! ;) ) when I've mentioned that all the models seem to be about building from grass land into food forest. The people telling me this all have many models for their work, because they're starting with no forest. Which is all to say that I feel your pain ;)

My wife and I moved on to twenty acres (a little under ten hectares?) of wooded land about four years ago. I feel there are two things that must be understood when you're working with an existing forest to develop a forest garden. The first is that you are years ahead of people starting from open land. Your soil is already forest soil, made for perennials, the primary plants of a forest garden. You won't have to spend years developing the proper soil. Nature has done that for you. The second is before you start planting or changing anything, get a good inventory of what you already have. Our site has been forested for about one hundred years, no real estimate of how long it was cleared prior to that, but our region's natural state is primarily hardwood forest. What we have now is predominantly oak and maple, with some evergreen conifers (white pine?), black cherry, beech for our overstory trees. Understory includes blueberry and witch hazel, herbaceous layer has nettles, chickweed, watercress, wintergreen, ferns, assorted mosses.

The inventory of what is already growing will tell you a few things: our blueberries are evidence of an acidic soil, the ferns, mosses, watercress, all speak to how wet our soil is. That we have native or naturalized blueberries says we should do well with varietals, if we choose to add them. Beech trees produce a good quality nut, and I am working in our forest to favor the beech trees we have.

We also have existing grapes, again presumably native, and I have collected cuttings and am attempting to grow some of these in locations of our choice. Working with what we have ;)

Development of guild systems in already extant forest is much more a matter of adding in to what is already there than of picking what pieces to assemble.
One technique to work with in developing a forest garden within an existing forest is Selective Clearing.  What I mean by this is determining a location that will be accessible and suited to your active cultivation, something in Permaculture Zones 1-3, that you will be able to visit on a regular basis and provide care and attention, and then picking a spot to create a clearing. On our site, we have some areas that are largely sassafras trees. These have their useful qualities, but we have them in excess. Clearing a small area, as much as a 30x30 meter square, won't damage our sassafras population, but will provide a clearing, and an edge effect, in which to plant a variety of productive plants that will thrive in the edge environment. By having this in a frequently visited zone you will be able to give the new plantings the attention they need to become established and thrive.

   
 
Eino Kenttä
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Thanks Andrea! Great list. And yes, more than half of the plants on it (or their close relatives) grow wild around here, so the zones probably match quite well. A lot of neat ones that don't, too. The groundcone looks really cool. Wonder if it's advisable to introduce a parasitic species though... I'm tempted (if nothing else because it's beautiful), but it feels like the kind of thing one might regret.
 
master gardener
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Hi Eino,
Sounds like a great project!  You're probably just a little colder than I am on Skye here, with similar summers perhaps.  It's the lack of summer heat that catches us out I'm afraid.  I get around it with a polytunnel (indoor gardening is great!)
I assume you're familiar with Stephen Barstow's work on Edimentals?  I guess if he can grow it you've got a good chance there too.
We have conopodium majus wild here.  In my opinion it is much nicer cooked than raw.  I don't bother with it much - only when I'm digging it up anyway - I think it takes several years to reach a good size, and then you kill the whole plant by eating the tuber.  It grows all over and is happy with grass competition.  I think it may even prefer undisturbed soil....Another underrated native is marsh woundwort (stachys palustris), nice tasting roots, although they're not supposed to be that nutritious (one of those with undigestable carbohydrates).  Skirret seems to grow well here, but doesn't set seed.  Scorzonera can also be grown as a perennial.
I would recommend good king henry (chenopodium bonus henricum) as a useful green vegetable, and perennial kales as well do well for me here.  Globe artichoke and cardoons seem to do OK, but really would prefer a bit more heat.
I'm experimenting with various Japanese and Korean "mountain vegetables" but am still at a very early stage of trying them out, establishing them before I harvest much.  Hopefully can try some Hosta shoots this spring.
Lots of exciting aquatic edibles to try there as well.
I suggest that edible fungi may be worth thinking about.  You may already have some on your woodland of course.
Keep us posted!
 
Eino Kenttä
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Thanks for the tips Peter and Nancy! Nice to know someone else is doing this.
Yeah, we also have a fairly acid soil, but I suppose we'll have to do something about that in our designated garden area, since many of the plants we want to grow prefer neutral soil. Maybe biochar can help, or seaweed. But even since our forest is dominated by conifers, I suppose you're right that we have a head start (loads of organic material around, no need to bring it in from outside, plus developed fungal and insect communities). The only thing I'm a bit worried about is to cut too much and damage the existing forest ecosystem (hence the idea to make our garden in the youngest part of the forest). Well, we'll see.
Ooh, I hope we'll have loads of mushrooms! Apparently there's a place not so far from us where they have found black chanterelle/horn of plenty. Once our hazel bushes take, I'll try to inoculate them with some of that.
Yep, we're just a tiny bit north of Stephen Barstow's place, so probably anything that works there will work at our land as well. Maybe we'll go visit him some time. Would be cool to see his garden for some inspiration, if nothing else.
 
pollinator
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I have proven to myself again and again the hard way that it is nearly impossible in many cases to "tuck in" desirable plants into any kind of existing forest or shrubland and expect them to succeed.  What's already there is already established and will overwhelm the new plants more than likely, competing for water on drier sites and sunlight everywhere.  Most common food plants, including fruit and nut trees, need some direct sun to thrive.  In addition, new plants will often need supplemental water during dry spells, if you have them, and fencing against animals.  I have found it far better to think, and to work, in patches....clearings large enough to let sunlight hit the ground.  Make them large enough to hold several mature trees of your choice, as well as infill shrubs, perennials, etc.  That way you can fence the entire area and direct irrigation to it, etc. rather than keeping track of a bunch of scattered small plants.  An excellent way to do this is to just plant gardens in these patches...annual veggies, grains, etc. and then plant your perennials and trees among these.  The new plants will benefit hugely from the additional attention primarily directed at the annuals, and when they fill in enough to shade the annuals out, you move on and start a new patch somewhere else and keep going till you have as much food forest as you want.  This is working with succession, rather than against it.
 
Eino Kenttä
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I have found it far better to think, and to work, in patches....clearings large enough to let sunlight hit the ground.  Make them large enough to hold several mature trees of your choice, as well as infill shrubs, perennials, etc.


That is, sort of anyway, the idea with the coppice/open ground part of the garden. We're thinking of an area of short-cycle coppice (say on a 4-year cycle) with "islands" of longer-cycle coppice (cut when ready, at the same time as the surrounding short-cycle) and standards/permanent trees. For example, apple and other sun-loving trees could form their own "islands" and benefit from the fact that the short-cycle coppice never has time to reach their height. Herbs (annual or perennial) with larger light requirements can also find habitat here. The coppiced wood (what we don't use for firewood) can be used to make biochar and woodchips to improve the soil, both in this part of the garden and outside. As for the more shaded part of the garden, I imagine we might start making it on the edge of the clearing and slowly working outwards. We'll have to cut some trees there as well, to provide some light, but the idea is to have mainly shade-tolerant plants in that part (I'm thinking things like ostrich fern, hostas and ramsons, plus some climbers.) Supposedly, hickory trees are fairly shade tolerant, maybe this will be their place. All this is just me dreaming (the actual garden will probably not turn out anything like this) but it's fun imagining.

Nice idea to grow annuals among the establishing trees! I wonder... We have some landrace grain seeds stashed in the freezer. It might be possible to co-grow grain with short-cycle coppice, somehow. And potatoes etc, definitely. The first year after cutting, the coppice shoots should still let in enough light for at least some "ordinary" crops... More dreaming, but it would be cool.
 
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Eino Kenttä wrote:Thanks Skandi! Yeah, I noticed that minimum winter temperature is the only parameter taken into account in the USDA system. A bit limited. The norwegian system probably gives better guidance, but then again some plants have probably not been grown enough in Scandinavia to be assigned a suitable zone under that system... Well, I suppose we'll just have to try all the interesting species that might work, to see what actually does.

Pignuts are definitely on the list of plants to try. I've never eaten them, but they sound very interesting. Some other root crops we're thinking of trying are Lilium martagon (martagon lily), Myrrhis odorata (sweet cicely), Campanula rapunculoides and latifolia (creeping and giant bellflower), Stachys palustris (marsh woundwort) and Sium sisarum (skirret). We'll also be growing more standard stuff like potatoes and sunchokes.

Yep, deer protection worries me a bit, especially if we'll be coppicing... We'll see how we solve it.



Creeping bellflower is the most difficult plant to control - please consider it with extreme caution.  It takes over every garden, works itself into the roots of every plant - even shrubs and miscanthus - and it's roots are super deep.  Like comfrey, it seems to be impossible to dig it out once it's established.  It's spreads both by seed and creeping roots.   In short, it is the bane of my existence!
 
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