Hi guys, I'm in the early stages of planning a food forest growing area but need a little advice on the best way of establishing healthy soil and eliminating the grass.
I live in Tasmania, Australia. A zone 9b for you Americans . I have quite heavy clay soil, it's quite a damp spot. I've thought about using woodchips to mulch the whole growing area, but acquiring free wood chips in my area is near impossible, so that's not an option unfortunately. I do though have access to plenty of fallen leaves that I can take throughout my bushland, these aren't deciduous leaves, they are mostly acacia and eucalypt and can take a while to break down. I can also find pretty cheap hay and straw. The area I would like to initially establish is roughly 450 meters square or 4800 square feet.
Would it perhaps be better to just prepare particular areas where I want to establish perenials and a few raised beds, instead of working to eliminate all the grass and improve the whole area?
Also, I mostly see people heavily mulching growing areas with sandy soil, but not so much clay. Not sure if there is a better method for clay?
I'm on clay, working to turn a turfgrass lawn into a food forest. Also, like you, in the early stages I did not have much access to wood chips, though I have found a source now. Heavy mulching on clay soils is a perfectly fine strategy—clay soils tend to get compacted and lack organic matter, so mulching can (over time) help lighten them and add the OM they really need.
I would definitely suggest focusing on one smallish area at a time, not trying to kill all the grass at once. And I would try to be as thorough as possible about removing or killing the grass that is there. I have several areas of my lawn that are infested with Bermuda grass, which can't be killed with a layer of mulch, no matter how thick. I wish I would have thoroughly cleaned the area before planting my fruittrees there—I'll be dealing with the grass forever now. My advice would be to patiently learn what kind of grass you have there and commit to completely removing it, section by sections. That can be labor-intensive if it's something vigorous like I have, so best to go slow and do small areas.
You need a lot of wood chips and wood grows very slowly. I planted trees for leaves, not for wood. I mulch my vegetables using half composted tree leaves, grass clippings, straws, and weeds. I let my grass grow tall and harvest it before it self seeds. I will never mow the grass unless it has at least 6 to 12 inches tall. This way it can conduct photosynthesis much more effectively. Grass grows very fast if you don't mow them too often. This way they will produce a lot of organic matter. Some people use wood chips to cover the ground. But I think it is a serious waste of solarenergy. You don't see wood chips lying anywhere in nature. I would let everything grow everywhere and harvest everything for organic matter. You can also grow vegetables right underneath some trees to take advantage of their afternoon shades. This way you don't need to compost any tree leaves. Plant native fast growing trees that can fix nitrogen.
I would say focus first on plants which do well in poor soil & maybe try getting some seedlings of keystone tree species to plant, if there aren't any that do well in such conditions. You don't really need to work that hard to supplement poor soil now, excepting whatever it would take to retain moisture. The grass will go away by itself the further into the project you get. Just keep it low.
My strategy is to cover areas with cardboard to get rid of weeds and top with wood chips or aged wood bark. I can't get free wood chips here either, but I have trees removed yearly, the branches get chipped and the trunks are used for fire wood. The aged wood bark I have to buy. While putting in perennials and fruit trees that can handle poor soil may work for some, my soil is too poor for that, something that I had to learn the hard way, lost a lot the first year. At this point, I don't plant anything in an area until it's been prepped. My soil is full of clay and rock, topping with organic matter is critical for me. I advise taking it slow.
Living a life that requires no vacation.
The world's cheapest jedi mind trick: "Aw c'mon, why not read this tiny ad?"
3D Plans - Tiny House Cob Style Rocket Mass Heater