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Convert existing forest to food forest

 
Kevin Swanson
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I've read volumes 1 and first half of volume 2 of edible forest gardens. I'd like to begin converting my 3 acres of forested land which currently consists of sparse white pines, oaks, dying crab apple, maples, and cedar. I don't really know how to approach thinning the existing forest in order to plant the food trees that I ultimately want to have throughout the forest. Can anyone point me towards a specific chapter in the above books? Or maybe at least provide some guiding ideas?


Thanks for reading!
 
tel jetson
steward
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Location: woodland, washington
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tell us a bit about the land and where you're at. slope? aspect? rainfall? dirt?
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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planting fruit and nut trees in an existing forest works better than in a meadow or field, as the meadow or field is bacteria based and your woods in fungi based, which will feed the roots of your trees.

Look for a place where the sun gets thru the canopy for your seed or baby tree, and carefully dig where there are not other roots from other trees..put some of the topsoil down in the hole where the roots will be and if you have some rotting wood, stick it in there also. When your tree is in and watered, put some mulch of the forest duff around the tree and if there are some log pieces that are rotting, sit them near the trunk to feed and protect your tree. if you are able to, plant some dynamic accumulators, some nitrogen fixers and throw in some wildflower seeds that will bloom in the conditions of moisture and sunlight, so esp those that will be blooming just before your fruit tree blooms, so that pollinators have been drawn into the area.

also look around for some places where trees have died, and are still standing, and plant some vines at the base of those stumps ..and maybe innoculate the stumps with some fungi if they are freshly fallen, still green.

remember that there are a lot of things that grow naturally in forest settings, like bramble berries, blueberries (need a little sun), leeks, nettles, etc..that a can be seeded in for a crop..and also you can put some seeds of some of your vegetables in proper places in the forest (sunny or shady spots depending on needs) and they should grow nicely.

good luck
 
Kevin Swanson
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Brenda thanks for the response.

I like your suggestion of planting into existing spaces that have enough sun. My end goal is to be as self sufficient as possible. With that being said I think that I will need to thin the existing forest if I am to accomplish this. I'm thinking of creating gaps and clearings so that I can implement fruit and nut species to meet as much of my food needs as possible. The trees that I take down will be used for fire wood, mushroom production and hugelkultur.

None of the patterns in edible forest garden really address removing or thinning in order to plant desired species. They actually encourage you top shy away from doing this. In theory I understand this but it is not practical for me because the land my house is located on is mostly forested. Have others encountered a similar dilemma? Thoughts and suggestions?
 
tel jetson
steward
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Location: woodland, washington
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some oaks make food. some are good for building material. crabapples are food, and the wood is good for smoking. maple trees make food. cedar makes building material and fiber. white pines make good building material. all of them are good for firewood. the hardwoods are good for mushrooms. the hardwoods are also all good candidates for coppicing.

point is, you may have a decent start on your food forest already. every situation is different, so don't feel like your project has to look like somebody else's or like a conventional orchard. that isn't to say you shouldn't thin trees, just that thinning isn't the only way to get useful stuff from the land. and food isn't the only thing we need to get by.
 
Kevin Swanson
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Tel I agree my existing species certainly have uses, I don't plan on eradicating any. I just want to increase the food production as it is currently lacking, at least in food that I am interested in eating.
 
Kris Minto
Posts: 137
Location: Ottawa, Canada -- Zone 4b/5a
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I would suggest you start with no more then an acre and expend as you go along in the future. The easiest thing to do is start by identifying what you have and where it is located on the property. Cut down any trees which are dying or being crowed out by other trees and clean up the ground of any large item. You will then have to start planning where you would like things to go and that will determine the areas you will need to thin out. Remember to work with what you have so if there is a section of the forest that is not very dense, maybe use that to setup a pond or some fruit tree with vegetable. Keep referring to the 7 layers and the zones in the book and check out the Forest Garden by Martin Crawford which I found to be easier to refer too.

I know this may not be to helpful but it is very difficult to advise someone without lots of pictures, a lot survey or seeing it in person.

On a side note, make sure you keep any cedar tree in tack and only cut the branches off. The full tree trunk make for great rot resistant fence post if you are planning on having animal in the future.
 
Kevin Swanson
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Brenda thanks for the response.

I like your suggestion of planting into existing spaces that have enough sun. My end goal is to be as self sufficient as possible. With that being said I think that I will need to thin the existing forest if I am to accomplish this. I'm thinking of creating gaps and clearings so that I can implement fruit and nut species to meet as much of my food needs as possible. The trees that I take down will be used for fire wood, mushroom production and hugelkultur.

None of the patterns in edible forest garden really address removing or thinning in order to plant desired species. They actually encourage you top shy away from doing this. In theory I understand this but it is not practical for me because the land my house is located on is mostly forested. Have others encountered a similar dilemma? Thoughts and suggestions?
 
Bob Dobbs
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Not sure what part of the country you are in, but the eastern woodlands ecosystem is pretty much shot as a stable ecosystem, losing both their keystone plant species (chestnut) and animal species (native americans). I'd start by first eliminating any invasives (obviously) but I would also thin seedlings from existing trees. I can't stress killing the invasives too much, I have several apple trees at my mothers property that are simultaneously endangered varieties and strangled with japanese honeysuckle. Kill english ivy like the evil bastard it is. And keep in mind that you are increasing, not decreasing biodiversity. Personally, I make hard choices like removing the southern red oaks and keeping the white oaks, etc. I have to take the same attitude toward killing the trees as killing chickens: a moment of silence, a quick om mani padme hum, and slice. Use every part. And your conscience is clean.
 
Nicolai Barca
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Hi Robert. I have been trying to incorperate fruit trees into the forests out here in hawaii and it has been a learning experience. In a nut shell there are very few plants that will work in a few situations. As stated, light gaps are an option however there are things to consider and you will not likely establish your trees very easily.

Part of the idea with growing a "food forest" is that you are in control of your resources. This is very important. You start off with open land, ammend the soil if needed, and plant about 90% NTFs and 10% fruit trees. As the system ages, you constantly prune back the NFTs to mulch and feed your desired long term canopy which eventually outcompetes the NFTs and grows from 10% to 90% biomass as the NFTs shrink from 90% to 10%. You mimicked the way nature builds a forest and tweak it to make your own.

Starting a food forest around existing trees will be more difficult because existing trees can send in roots that can outcompete your desired trees roots. Therefore, you are not as much in control of your resources and that is a big challenge.

What I found works in situations like your where you dont want to clear all trees is to figure out what late successional trees can succeed in the present situation. Late successional trees tend to:
1) have dense wood, 2) grow slow, 3) be shade tolerant to some degree, and 4) produce few but large seeds. This is opposed to Early successional trees which tend to:
1) have soft wood, 2) grow quickly, 3) be shade intolerant, and 4) produce many small seeds.

So in Hawaii I found that a few things worked. Avocado successfully grew up through and overtopped common guava when growing in deep soil in valley bottoms. But as a heavy feeder, avocado (and practically all trees with large fruits) did much poorer on steep slopes where soil was less developed. Mango grew up through most forests eventually becoming the dominant canopy, even if it took 10 years or more to reach the canopy. Avocado, mango, and breadfruit all seemed to succeed under large albizia overstory and in theory, one could kill the albizia standing and be left with just the dense fruit tree planting. A few others also worked but the list was generally small. Most trees did not succeed in most situations and were outcompeted by existing tree's root systems, even when fertilized and in light gaps.

Bottom line, to be successful, you either need to clear enough land to be in control of your resources, or you find the few species which can fill the successional nitch and naturally succeed what vegetation is already there.

Thats what I've found.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Create a desired layout for your homestead and after that clear out your homesite (50ft by 50ft).
The clear out a 50ft feet space around it and plant your fruit/nut trees. you will now have 100ft by 100ft cleared out. Once that is done.
Do another 50ft square outside of what you have already done (150ft by 150ft). Rinse and repeat as needed.
This way when you fall the tress they dont damage you newly planted orchard. You dont take clear more than you can manage and become overwhelmed.
You also dont give the weed a time to establish themself. you limit soil erosion etc.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Do you have any forest edge? If yes, that's probably the best way to start, lots of support woody species for mulch and soil building, shelter where you can manage the succession easier that in a forest. Any small clearing in the midle of a forest will grew back with nearby canopy really fast and shade out your trees.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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patterns tend to be suggestive, in helping design, but once there is already something on the property design is generally what "works".

when leading into our existing forest, i took the path of least resistance thru in the directions I wanted to go..in otherwords where there were gaps, or smaller trees of little value, and I used a mower and chainsaw and pruners to make trails..and keeping them clear.

as you do this you'll find also areas where trees are dead or dying in many cases. Those are contestants for removal and replanting those areas, esp if the sun reaches those areas. Your trails will also open up some sunshine to the area..which means you can plant on the sunny sides of your trails.

remember there are other plantings you can put in that are smaller than trees, bushes, vines, shrubs, herbs, bulbs, etc. And also you should note that a lot of plants actually do better when not in full sun...although some do require full sun or fullish sun for at least part of the day to thrive.

also if you have open areas on your property you have "edges"..edges are the best place to grow a lot of things.

I have the house and some open land near it, and then North of there is woods..so there is a lot of edge on the south edge of the woods where I have planted fruit and nut trees, shrubs, and perennials
 
T Gar
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IMHO (a PNW perspective):
1. This is your chance to LANDSCAPE- swales, ponds etc. Think of how you want to manage water/air flowing over your land. When you have your desired tree mix you won't want to do big digging. Plant your sweet new swales with your favorites!
2. Thin your trees. Leave the big healthy ones. They will be the best producers of everything...firewood, timber, acorns etc. 10'-15' on center depending on soils. Thin wider for more edges. The little beggar trees are just stealing sunlight, soil, and water. Thin more and limb up to 15' high around the house for fire safety.
3. Plant the trees that you want to eat from in your new sunny gaps.

Remember, trees are only 1 of 7 layers of the food forest. You could plant zero trees and instead plant: blueberries, currants, grapes, hazelnuts, herbs of all sorts, etc.

Also, don't fully clear out all your down wood. Leave a few logs and snags. About 3 per acre will create wildlife habitat for all the birds, bats, and bugs that you will be needing to clean and pollinate.
 
laura sharpe
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I believe you really much figure out where you want to put things and what you need. Do you need swales or a pond etc. I think how much of your canopy you would like to open will become clearer to you.

Maybe a photo of the land could help...

 
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