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Forest garden planning

 
Ryan Mitchell
Posts: 38
Location: Charlotte, NC
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Hello Eric!

I have your Perennial Vegetable book and both books of the Edible Forest Gardens (up next after the book I'm reading now). I wanted to ask about forest garden planning.

Could you talk about your approach to placement of plants, tree, etc when starting a food forest. geoff lawton talks about placing fruit trees, nitrogen fixer trees, and other types of trees intermixed, then all your understory things. He also mentions overplanting because they don’t all make it and obviously you want plants next to each other than benefit each other. How do you decide what goes where, the spacing, how many, and density of plantings? What guides your decision when making small gaps in the canopy to allow light to grow understory crops?

Are there any tools (software or web based) to help with mapping, forest gardening planning etc that you'd recommend?
 
Kay Barry
Posts: 8
Location: Pendleton County, WV. Zone 6A
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I'm very interested in the answer to these questions too!

Kay
 
Eric Toensmeier
Author
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Well let's see… the variables that impact that kind of decision include scale, budget, and intensity of management. I'm starting to see the outlines of a pattern language for forest garden establishment and management, here are a few thoughts.

First, take care of rainwater harvesting, your occasion, earthworks, wildlife or livestock exclusion fencing, and other infrastructure needs.

At a backyard scale you can do an “instant succession” where you sheet mulch heavily and plant out everything at once in its final location. Of course, you need to wait to plant things that require shade until it is present. This is how I did most of my backyard, which is only 1/10 of an acre. When you have that little land and you want 200 species or more on it, and you want a heavy emphasis on the herbaceous understory diversity and productivity, this is an excellent strategy.

Larger-scale plantings often start with the woody species and add the understory later. Martin Crawford has done this with great success, rolling out landscape fabric to kill the grass under the trees once they are ready to go, and then planting heavily with herbaceous species that he propagated in his nursery. Geoff likes to plant a lot of the initial understory from seed which I think is a great idea also.

Lately what gets me excited is thinking about planting out the trees and shrubs on contour or keyline water harvesting layout and then planting in strips between those rows using prairie restoration techniques. Books like A Practical Guide to Prairie Reconstruction by Carl Kurtz lay out the techniques for using tractor–drawn seeders to plant a diversity of prairie species. You could use prairie natives as there are many excellent useful ones, or you could experiment with mass–planting food forest understory species from seed. Some but not very many are available in the kind of quantity of seed you would want. Examples might include perennial sylvetta arugula, chicory, clovers, sorrells, and more. Some species you might need to grow out your own seed to get to that kind of scale.

You can also think about successional issues. For example, there is a couple of years where there will be full sun in the understory and that is a great time to capture that light and convert it into annual crops, perennial scallions, strawberries, and other short–lived sun–loving crops. You also might use Lawton's lovely technique of planting out vast amounts of nitrogen fixing species for chop and drop, between fruit nuts and other cropping trees planted on their long–term spacing. I'd love to meet someone who has done this in cold climates, please post!. I think one of the most promising woody plants for this technique in the US would be false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa), which is widely adapted, native almost everywhere in the US, and easily grown from seed.

In terms of spacing long–term productive trees, I typically want to see them spaced such that their canopy edges will just touch when they are mature, or preferably half again as far apart. Martin Crawford recommends that wider spacing to allow sufficient sunlight. In high and dry areas like Colorado more shade is desirable, do you would want them closer together. Depends what you want to grow underneath and how much light it wants (ginseng, ramps, and mushrooms full shade, while gooseberries, Turkish rocket and hazels part shade).

My thoughts about spacing are based in part on my experience being smaller–scale. I like to plant grafted varieties which tend to be fairly expensive, so I want to baby them. If you are growing seedlings, cheap wholesale bareroots, or mass–grafting your own, you might put them closer together figuring a fair amount will die. Certainly some of my pampered babies die as well, but I often try to replace them with something of the same mature canopy width.

I'm afraid I'm terrible with design software though I've seen people do excellent work with several programs. Could some other people chime in on that? I do all my work on paper.
 
Joshua Finch
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We've used most of the strategies that Eric talks about here. They have worked very well for us. We have healthier trees and a budding mini-ecosystem with lots of small wildlife (our main garden is fenced in, so no deer to contend with).

The first year we did soil preparation and a large annual garden to get a handle on the microclimates created by the existing 'ornamental' trees on the property. Then in the fall, we planted out a mass of nitrogen fixing species along with annual cool season crops. This spring, we planted out more perennial nitrogen fixing cover crops as well as nectary plants. So the idea is to utilize the available sunlight to produce as much nutrient-diverse biomass as possible to rehabilitate our soil. During the course of the next few years, we will phase out more of the nitrogen fixers in favor of nectary and crucial habitat plants. By 2015 we should have deeper, more fertile soil in which to plant the more expensive perennial fruits and nuts. We will have as many niches for beneficial organisms already filled so that we have, in addition to living soils, another layer of support for those expensive plants.

Obviously this isn't a homestead, just a large suburban lot, so if you need lots of food immediately I wouldn't follow this prescription of soil building. You can see the results of our actions in this thread on PRI's forum. Jump to page 3 to see a small sampling of the images from the slide shows.
 
Isaac Hill
gardener
Posts: 356
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
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Nice that you mention Amorpha fruticosa Eric! I just found it blanketing the edges of the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh this spring and took some seeds to plant. Pretty much every single one germinated and now I have about 50 plants up at Three Sisters Farm and 4 growing in my forest garden at home. I've been interning with Darrell Frey at Three Sister's Farm and we're going to install a food forest on the farm dominated by American Chestnut, Persimmon, Cornelian Cherry and American Plum (plus some apple and pear trees that were already there) and plant out the Amorphas like Geoff does. I'll let you know how it turns out, I'm gonna start digging the swales and planting the Amorphas in a couple weeks.
 
Paulo Bessa
pollinator
Posts: 352
Location: Portugal (zone 9) and Iceland (zone 5)
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You also might use Lawton's lovely technique of planting out vast amounts of nitrogen fixing species for chop and drop, between fruit nuts and other cropping trees planted on their long–term spacing. I'd love to meet someone who has done this in cold climates, please post!


Eric, here in Iceland, we have a lot of one "invasive species", the Nookta Lupin, which grows extremely well and very adapted.

It grows fast under our cold summers, stand perfectly well our dramatic spring freezes, and it grows by rivers as well as it grows widely in our sandy highland deserts (too wet or too dry seems not to be a problem for it).

So, not only I grow it in the edges of my garden, but I often pick large ammounts of it and dump it as a mulch, in compost, as green manure, etc. Other than the lupin, I also use a lot of poplar leaves to create a better soil structure, and also yarrow (since it seems to greatly enrich soil).
 
Eric Toensmeier
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so nice to hear about what people are doing. Please don't ever hesitate to send me an e-mail with questions or even better photos and reports about what you're doing. Paulo, you could go out and collect huge amounts of that Lupin and use it as mulch or compost. Isaac, I'm really glad you're using Amorpha for that technique. I've read that in the Southeast it can be coppiced up 4 times a year!
 
Ed Colmar
Posts: 47
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Ryan Mitchell wrote:Hello Eric!
Are there any tools (software or web based) to help with mapping, forest gardening planning etc that you'd recommend?


I built this site to help with garden mapping and sharing. Please feel free to use it.

www.plant-life.us

See my garden in my sig below.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3646
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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bee chicken fungi solar trees
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Ed, that site looks interesting.

For a larger scale I recommend starting with a Google maps/Earth image and then use desktop publishing software. Here's my plan from this spring:
Plan spring 2012></a>

I have comments which I can view or hide for various elements. It helps if you can change the opacity of elements so you can see what's underneath.
 
D Graves
Posts: 13
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Hi

CJ - which desktop publishing program are you using?
 
D Graves
Posts: 13
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Ed Colmar wrote:
Ryan Mitchell wrote:Hello Eric!
Are there any tools (software or web based) to help with mapping, forest gardening planning etc that you'd recommend?


I built this site to help with garden mapping and sharing. Please feel free to use it.

www.plant-life.us

See my garden in my sig below.


Hi Ed, I logged in but when I try and create a Profile I get a Server Error - can this be fixed? I would like to try using your site please.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3646
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
78
bee chicken fungi solar trees
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I use Pages on the Mac but at this point I'd guess that most programs could do it. Import the image, make your elements to scale then set the opacity so you can move them around and see whats underneath. This is good for the big picture but not so good for clustering layers of plants.

Mr Graves wrote:Hi

CJ - which desktop publishing program are you using?
 
Ed Colmar
Posts: 47
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Thanks for the bug report.

I will look into this. I hadn't seen this one before.
 
Ed Colmar
Posts: 47
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Fixed.

If you see anything else that does not look right, please email me: edcolmar@gmail.com

Thanks so much
 
Jennifer Smith
Posts: 714
Location: Zone 5
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If anyone wondered what happened to me, as I used to be quite active here on permies... We recently started from scratch. After a house fire where we lost all of our stuff, we bought some bare land. I picked it cuz it lays nice.
Problem is I don't seem to have the ability to visualize. We brought with us our 12 horses, I know right!? Who needs 12 horses? We now have six horses and the beginnings of a home.
I read a lot and know there is no cookie cutter recipe for guilds and food forests....but I do wish there was. Am I alone? Does everyone have more imagination than I?
It is such slow going, time, labor, and dollar intensive to set up. I hope I an on the right path.
 
Joe Moraca
Posts: 10
Location: White Springs Florida 32096
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Do you have experience using google earth for planning water flows on a larger property? I am wondering how accurate the elevations are. My property - 21 acres in North Florida - is slightly "wavy" with maybe 10 feet in difference in elevation from low to high. It is mostly thick woods so hard to get longer views but I can see some areas that are higher / lower. I don't want to cut lots of trees but would like to channel water (swales) to a pond I want to have somewhere on the property. There are a few open areas that I am planning on turning into food forests.

So far my plan is get familiar with the land for this year (I just closed a few weeks ago) then start some basic works.
 
Dave Hartman
Posts: 51
Location: Off grid in the central Rockies of Montana (at 6300') zone 3-4ish
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Hello and welcome, I very much look forward to attending the forest garden design workshop here in Montana.
 
Jennifer Smith
Posts: 714
Location: Zone 5
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Congratulations Joe. I lived for a while on the Alabama side of the Florida state line. Quite flat compared to here. Here we are on rolling hills, no real flat but where we dug in to build house and barn, one connecting unit. Best time to check out water flow and puddling is while it is raining, which it did a lot while I was there. I had perennial sweet potatoes but no luck at all with rhubarb. If I ever get down that way again I plan to get starts of the bi color, or shrub, lespedeza.
 
Kim Peterson
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I am excited that Dave is coming to Helena! I am just starting out and trying to learn as much as I can about permaculture. I have 1 acre of flat nothing right now. I planted a few fruit trees last year. I have so much work to do.
 
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