Let's see if I can get this post posted before we lose power/internet again!
So, I'm in Central Texas, zone 8b. We recently purchased a little over 4 acres of very gently sloping lightly forested property here, with a layer of black soil over a thick layer of calcium carbonate. The existing vegetation is mostly oak (either live oak or post oak, I forget which), low scrub they call shin oak, a few prickly pears and yucca plants, and one or two small bushes I think are a juniper variety (but they call them cedar here). Most of the plot has light to moderate tree cover, and the western-most end is mostly grasses.
We haven't been able to do any real soil testing yet, but from the climate zone and the existing vegetation, would anyone have suggestions for food crop/tree guilds that ought to do reasonably well in an area like this? We'd like to experiment with some Mediterranean plants such as olives and pomegranates, perhaps figs and grapes, all of which theoretically can be grown around here. We also have some flowering trees planned for ornamentation and pollinator-attraction, such as redbuds, crapemyrtle, and smoketree. We'd love to grow a walnut or two, maybe black or honeylocust, pistachio or pecan, as well as apples, peaches, pears, cherries, plums... if we can find varieties that tolerate our heat and potential summer drought, or if we can rig up a gray-water irrigation system that will support them.
For shrub-height plants, rosemary grows like wild here, kumquats may or may not survive the winters, and I'm originally from the PNW and I love blackberries, but I'm most familiar with them as highly invasive pests that will take everything over, so I'm not sure how easy to control they are in the drier, hotter climate here. For smaller plants, sweet potatoes, chickpeas and several varieties of beans, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, mustard, broccoli, lettuces, onions, etc... as well as a lot of cooking herbs such as mint, basil, lemongrass, ginger & turmeric, garlic, thyme, and so on. I'd even love to incorporate a little greenhouse for some more tropical trees such as avocado and some other citrus, later on.
How does one begin to weigh which fruit/nut/flowering trees will balance out well with which shrubs and which groundcover, in guilds? We've got to start small, but we definitely don't want to haphazardly pull out trees without having a very clear plan for replacing them with more productive sorts, as the shade is important to us and helps keep the ground cooler and moister, and the more food crops we can get planted quickly, the less we have to rely on long trips to the nearest grocery store for produce, year round.
I hardly know where to start with some of this, or which vegetables require so much sun that they won't function in a food-forest setting, versus which ones will actually appreciate the extra summer shade. Leafy greens maybe? Or will the ground still be too hot at that time of year to get decent results?
Anyone have a good roadmap for starting out from bare, undeveloped land in this sort of climate? Most of what I see online in my own searches seems to be geared toward either more northern climes or tropical food-forests.
I'm in SE Texas grew up in San Antonio. Edibles that grow like weeds here are okra (if you can handle okra), eggplant, and sweet potatoes. When we don't have freak winters, moringa grows great - I prefer the taste of African vs Indian moringa, but both rock. Indian can produce drumsticks (think green beans) 1st yr, African takes longer, but the real goal is the leaves as a superfood - like growing a vitamin plant. Although not edible, cotton also grows great - see if you can find tall cotton, not the dwarf stuff bred for big mechanical harvesters. Both tall cotton and okra are beautiful plants even if you consider both inedible like I do . Of course, peppers, tomatoes, squash, corn and other heat-tolerant plants work well, but - if the seed pack says "full sun" and you plan on growing it in the Texas summer, translate that to "partial sun".
Also, while organic is a great goal, if you are just starting out with poor soil, go to https://growfood.com/shop/ and order the "The Mittleider Gardening Course - New & In Full Color" and a couple of packets of "Natural Mineral Fertilizers - Micro-Nutrient Mix". I typically order 6 at a time, then pick up the additional materials (instructions included) and fill a bunch of Home Depot 5 gal buckets with the easy on/off black lids to fill up. I mix everything up and you have an awesome fertilizer, like Miracle-Gro but way cheaper. The plants really don't care if the nitrogen atoms they need came from carefully crafted organic compost or from crushed rocks, they just care that they get those nitrogen atoms. A prepper friend had a wife who was a Tx A&M Master Gardner specializing in organic fruits & vegetables, she was the go-to person for that specialty in our county and had spent almost a decade growing organic food in their converted back yard (the whole thing was a garden). My friend had a total brown thumb but after becoming a backyard beekeeper he decided to start a trial garden plot next to hers, growing the same crops but following the Mittleider Method to the letter. At the end of the season, his produce was so much larger and healthier than hers. That winter she switched everything to Mittleider.
Oh, that's another thing. We have year-round gardening in the 8b zone of Texas! grow warm-weather crops in summer, cool-weather crops (brassicas, etc.) in winter, and space plantings out so you also have spring & fall planting and harvesting. Not something you have to do, but if you want year-round food production, it is an option you should take advantage of!
You are having some of the same questions we have, and from your description of your site, it sounds like we might be maybe several dozen miles to your east -- we are just outside the northeast edge of Austin on an acre of transitional blackland prairie-post oak savannah. So our soil is quite different from yours, but some of the natives will be the same. Apologies for not going into it more right now, but I just saw this and wanted to dash off a note to let you know we´re here. I´ll write more when I can see that you have read this.
Thank you to those who have responded--Kevyn, you've definitely given me a lot of food for thought. Howard, I'm about an hour, hour and a half from Austin and San Antonio both. Little bit west of Fredericksburg.
(Also, now that I double check on a few different sites, some sites tell me the area we're located in is 8a, others say 8b. I suppose I should estimate 8a for safety's sake, though that hard freeze we had pretty much killed everything down to zone 6-hardy plants!)
I had only heard of moringa in passing before, usually attached to 'miracle pill, will solve all your ills, only 4 easy payments of--' sorts of ads, but it sounds like a good thing to at least experiment with growing. Okra, eggplant, and sweet potato are all things I plan to put in, though I was a little concerned about how sweet potato would react to the layer of limestone under the layer of topsoil, or if I'd need to build everything up into raised beds first. At an initial glance, I thought the soil on our property looked fantastic compared to most of what's in this area... it was black, full of organic material and worms, and moderately moist every time we checked. There's even hints of moss growing in spots (and I can count on the fingers of one hand the places in this area I've seen moss grow). It was only when I started digging to put in a mountain laurel that I got down 6-8 inches and hit rocks and more rocks... if nothing else, we can probably build some nice rock walls over the next 5 years, one stone at a time.
I've had decently good luck in Fredericksburg proper with brassicas in the winter... at least until some sort of stink-bug infestation hit and decimated the beds. I'm hoping to experiment more with trap crops and interplanting pest deterrent crops once we're out on our own property. I've heard amaranth can serve as such a trap, for cucumber beetles in the summer, at least... though I want to harvest the amaranth seeds as well. Does anyone know if planting dwarf/ornamental relatives of amaranth like celosia around the edges will lure cucumber beetles the same way, and help keep them off the taller seed-producing types? Then buckwheat or crimson clover in the winter, to help with the stinkbug brassica pests. I don't really have any experience with trap crops so I'm not sure how thoroughly they need to form a 'border' around the intended crop area, or if they'll just lure the pests over into the crop I'm trying to protect.
Location: Central Texas zone 8b, blackland prairie thick clay soil
Again, I haven´t got back to you yet as I intended, but just quickly, google "mesquite guild." I don´t yet have any mesquites but am growing some of the things that they recommend in such a guild, namely, goji berry, banana yucca, and nopal aka prickly pear. I also think grapes would work in such a guild and they grow well around here. Oregano and mint would work, also the various alliums (multiplier onions and so forth), and then there are the things that aren´t perennial but that either come back from seeds or grow back from a freeze, such as cilantro or sweet potatoes grown as a cover crop for the root layer -- the latter will die off in the winter but come back with warm weather (greens are edible). Another annual cover crop that works well for us is hairy vetch, sown in the fall and coming to maturity in the spring. I think almost all these things would do well in rocky soil.
I´ve tried moringa a couple of years in a row and just can´t ever get it to grow big enough to seem to be useful for anything. I see all the enthusiasm about it and am not sure what I´m doing wrong.
We probably lost all three of our very big figs during the Big Freeze(tm) and probably at least three of our 5 loquats are goners, if not all of them. It just happens that I had taken multiple cuttings of the figs last fall and at least a dozen of them are doing quite well, so I will try them again. At this point I guess we don´t know if the extreme polar vortex thing is going to still only get this bad once every generation or so, as has been the case, or if it will now be more often with all the climate turmoil. If the latter is the case, maybe it isn´t worth trying to restart some of these plants.
Location: Central Texas zone 8b, blackland prairie thick clay soil
Here´s a followup to my previous post here, in case anyone is reading this thread: it is now the beginning of September after the February 2021 freeze, and the above-referenced figs that were killed to the ground are now 8 and 12 feet high, so as long as these freezes don't become very frequent, we should be back in business with figs next year or the year after.
The loquats are coming back more slowly, but they will be ok too.
We had some citrus rootstock that had grown to a huge size over the years and was giving us a whole bunch of bitter oranges, which are great for marmalade and other uses. It also died back to the ground but is also coming back.
Alas, poor Yorick, he knew this tiny ad:
100th Issue of Permaculture Magazine - now FREE for a while