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Lawn to Food Forest

 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
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food preservation forest garden fungi
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Hi All,

I am converting my back lawn to be part of my food forest and I am hoping to get some feedback from you all. Attached is a picture of what I am planning on doing.

First I am converting my lawn sprinklers into a drip system. I hope that I don't have to use it often, but here we get anywhere from 5 - 6 months without rain.

Second I will dig trenches and fill with old rotted wood and recover with the dirt from the trench. Making hugelkulture swales. Shown in dark blue.

Third I will cover the lawn with cardboard and about 8 - 12 inches of really finished compost.

Fourth I will plant my bare root trees (fruit of some type - light blue color) and berries (blue berries and others - purple color). I plan on placing a log underneath each tree and bush.

Fifth I will seed with a cover crop (mostly legumes) and then add a layer of 4 - 6 inches of straw.

Once the cover crop grows up to a good size I will chop and drop and get ready to start planting other perennials. I haven't figured out my guilds yet, but I figure I have some time while the cover crop is growing.

Am I missing anything from this plan? How long should I let my cover crop grow (is 6 months enough time)? Any help is much appreciated

Brian

Lawn-to-food-forest2.gif
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Picture of Lawn with plan
 
Matt Saager
Posts: 48
Location: Oregon - Willamette Valley
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I am not an expert by any means... but here are some thoughts to consider.
- Given the size of your yard, you might arrange your hugel beds in an interlocking keyhole arrangement to maximize the sun exposure. It hard to tell from the picture, you might have already taken this into consideration.

- Your fruit trees would benefit long term from some nitrogen fixing trees/bushes. You might consider adding some as an understory, by keeping them pruned short.

- The length of time on the cover crop depends on the quality of your soil. If you are bringing in compost, your soil should be reasonably good to begin with, you should be able to plant everything from the beginning. As you will already have fertile soil and don't need to improve it dramatically.

- Have you considered incorporating animals into your system. It would seem chickens and/or rabbits would be a viable option for you. They could provide you eggs, meat, long term soil fertility building.

- You will probably get many comments about being careful with the compost and the prevalence of long-lived herbacides. This is certainly something to consider and be careful where you purchase the compost.

Nothing earth shattering... just some miscellaneous thoughts.
Sounds like you have a plan. Best of luck.
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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Thanks Matt. I hadn't considered a keyhole arrangement for this setup. I will have to play with creating a keyhole hugel design for that space. It seems like it would offer me more hugel beds in the space. Which should really help with water retention over the dry months. Great suggestion.

We will probably add chickens into the mix sometime next year. Our goal is to have the chickens free roam on our property (roughly 5 acres). I just need to train my dogs to protect the chickens

The compost I am using is from our local landfill. I used it last year for my annual garden and it worked really well. I have gone back and fourth with not using the stuff from the landfill, but unfortunately my compost piles will not produce enough compost in the time I need it. One month from now (have to get bare root trees in by January). Poor planning on my part as I have access to a good supply of horse manure.
 
Alder Burns
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The way your post reads it sounds like you want to seed a cover crop and then mulch over that seed with 4-6 inches of straw. That will almost certainly smother the seedlings. I'd say cover crop or mulch, but not both at the same time.
Are you going to grow any vegetables or other annuals? I have found that the best way to get to food forest is to simulate succession and start out with gardens....sheetmulched, hugelkultured, double dug, however you want....and along with the vegetables, start planting young trees and perennials in with them. The trees etc. will benefit hugely from the attention and water directed primarily at the annuals, and you will get multiple yields from one area over time. Over 3-5 years the trees and perennials will fill in more and more of the space and so you move the vegetables to the next section.....
 
Sheri Menelli
Posts: 135
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Hi,

I'm a total newbie to permaculture - also converting my entire back yard from grass to edibles, nitrogen fixers and polyculture.

I know everyone talks about how great straw is but I am now a bit concerned about it. Another friend who knows far more than I do on Permaculture mentioned how many pesticides they use on it. So, I still have straw in my yard and it is too late to get rid of it but I don't think I'll buy more unless I can find an organic source for it.

Sheri
 
Kris Minto
Posts: 137
Location: Ottawa, Canada -- Zone 4b/5a
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Sheri Menelli wrote:Hi,

I know everyone talks about how great straw is but I am now a bit concerned about it. Another friend who knows far more than I do on Permaculture mentioned how many pesticides they use on it. So, I still have straw in my yard and it is too late to get rid of it but I don't think I'll buy more unless I can find an organic source for it.

Sheri


I personally use wood chips I got from a tree company since they hold moisture and are far more less likely from being sprayed then straw. The best part is you can often get it for free or very cheap and they will deliver to your place.

Kris
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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Thanks Alder. I am thinking about a mix of vegetables and herbs (lots of multi-function types).

Thanks Kris. I have a large pile of wood chips (enough to cover that area). Fine suggestion!

Good luck Sheri!
 
Cris Bessette
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Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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I like that this section of your yard is sunk below the average level, and that there is a block wall to the rear.
This will make a nice micro climate area.

I don't know what kind of lows you see in the winter there, but this micro climate will help to moderate temps and keep marginal things
going later in the season.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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I would cover that back wall with fruit trees or vines/grape at the very least
http://www.onegreenworld.com//index.php?cPath=1
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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Thanks for the suggestion of vines. I will have fruit trees that will be in the middle of the lawn. I will look for some type of fruiting vine that produces quickly (years 1 -2) and get a few years of good crops before the fruit trees shade it out. Any suggestions on an early producing vine for my zone? That wall is SW facing so it gets full sun all day long. Grapes would be one of my first thoughts. I do have good producing grapes already on the property so something different from grapes would be nice. But I can always make raisins with the surplus.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Check out the link, it has yrs to harvest data for each vine
http://www.onegreenworld.com//index.php?cPath=6
Akebia
China Blue Vine
Cinnamon Vine
Cross Vine
Dutchman’s Pipe
Grape
Honeysuckle
Hops
Japanese Hydrangea Vine
Jasmine
Kiwis
Passionflower
Schisandra Vine
Tasmania Vine
Trumpet Vine
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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I think i will do a mixture of Kiwi's and Akebia. I know Kiwi's do really well in this climate and should be a good producer. I have never grown Akebia, but I am interested in their fruit. They also seem to tolerate partial shade so they may do well after the fruit trees grow to maturity. Thanks for the suggestions.
 
Lacy VanCam
Posts: 42
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We have been working on a similar project for a few years. You can see what we have done to our yard at www.vancampenurbanhomestead.wordpress.com . We have converted our entire yard (front and back) into gardens (mostly of the edible persuasion). It was a lot of fun, and in a few years the trees will be mature and producing loads of fruit. My only advice is to really watch your yard to see where there is light, shade and micro-climates (or opportunities to create micro-climates). Have fun with it, and remember you need to make mistakes to learn.
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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Thanks Lacy! I looked at your site and your gardens look awesome. Hopefully soon my yard will be as useful. I am digging the trenches to place the Hugel beds. I hope to have them done in a week. I will be planting my bare root trees and shrubs in a couple weeks.
 
Lacy VanCam
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Awesome! We are under a few inches of snow right now... so I have to admit I am a little jealous... Have fun, and let us know how it goes!
 
Andy Reed
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Before you plant your fruit trees establish more water harvesting features. Plant the trees in dug out depressions that will be at least the size of the drip line of the mature trees. For 6 months without rain you really need to harvest every bit that does fall. I'd look at ways to achieve this to reduce your need for pumped groundwater.

Greywater irrigation and roof rainwater harvesting systems would also be a good idea, but I would start by digging out depressions to plant the trees in. Swales are great but in your situation depressions are also appropriate.
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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Thanks Andy. I will see how much of a depression I can make for the trees. With depressions and hugel swales I hope to be able to have enough water storage to last our 6 months of no precipitation. I plan to replicate this type of system in other areas of my property as well. Luckily the rest of my property is accessible by tractor and I can dig the swales and depression with a backhoe. I am digging this one by hand and it is time consuming. I look at it as my new year exercise regiment.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Everytime i walk in forest garden here in cold climate i wish i could use lots of woody n-fixer for woody mulch. Well, i can't. We don't have much here, those existing are not fast growing really. So, if i were you i would use lots of woody n-fixer, not just for N, but for woody mulch for building soil capable of water retention. Bonus is lots of shade in first years when there is lots of empty space. With little rainfall you need shade! Wish you a happy forest gardening!
 
laura sharpe
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I think what i see in the area is just a photo trick and not real but if the entire garden slopes to that wall you should consider making sure that it is sloped away from that wall. I know some would speak of putting a swale in but you will get all the water from the higher ground around it and the garden really isnt large enough, in my opinion, to support holding water in it.

Once you are done with the forest garden, the soil will be good enough to hold plenty of water
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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Tal - Great suggestion! I will be planting a number woody n-fixers. I am thinking about some black locust trees that I can chop and drop after a few years. I will also be planting a dense understory cover crop with lots of N-fixers. With the hugel swales I will need to compensate for the nitrogen loss as the hugel swales decompose.

Laura - it is a little bit of a photo trick. The lawn slopes down from the upper wall to the lower wall. I am very worried that I have too much drainage. There is a french drain under the upper and lower walls. Plus two drains in the middle of the lawn. I will be removing the two lawn drains. Unfortunately, I get no water from the upper ledge as it is removed by the french drain. My hope is that the swales will allow for most of the water that falls on the lawn area to stay and get captured by the organic material and not make it to the lower french drain.
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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I have a question for you all. Unfortunately the there is very little soil underneath the existing lawn. In many places, the sod and soil only goes down 3 to 4 inches before I hit a lot of shale. The layers that I will have at time of planting are the following:

- 3 to 4 inches of sod and soil
- layer of cardboard
- a dusting of ash (oak from my wood burning stove)
- 8 inches of finished compost
- a layer of straw

Will I have enough soil to be able to get the food forest started? I will be digging holes for the trees and shrubs and providing additional soil. But I was hoping not to have to import a lot of soil to the overall area. Is there anything that I might be missing from the layers above?

I have a feeling I will be building up the soil for quite a few years.
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
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food preservation forest garden fungi
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Here are some picture updates. I have dug all of my trenches and have started to fill them up with rotted logs. Next step is to cover with soil and cardboard.

20130115_101242.jpg
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Looking down at the lawn
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Side view of the Hugel Swale
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Looking good. Dont forget the mulch on top.
 
laura sharpe
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your doing the right thing for getting more soil to the location. You know the worst thing that happens is something dies....i would plant the trees and allow them to find a way around and through the rocks. If it doesnt work out well, you have gained knowledge of your sight. Nothing you do will be a complete failure, we all learn how to work with our land by experience.

You are doing well
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Black loctus spreads by underground shoots, so when you will cut it it will grow everywhere, specially on that small area. Yes, that's what you want to build soil and to have mulch, but, the problems are with thorns, it's a pain in the ass to work in there. Not so big as with honey loctus, but still big enough. Done that, black loctus is actually one of very few n-fixers trees here, and it's invasive. In one way it's great for soil building, but again pain in the ass. If i were you i would choose something else, you have options with legume trees and bushes that coppice and pollard well and doesn't have thorns.
Brian Vagg wrote:Tal - Great suggestion! I will be planting a number woody n-fixers. I am thinking about some black locust trees that I can chop and drop after a few years.
 
laura sharpe
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wow i just figured out i grew up next to a black locust...lol

i always though to it as a honey locust with thorns.

Peas, bean, alfalfa are all good n-fixers. I know everyone loves the perennial but I like beans and sprouts! Alfalfa might be good for yu for the deep root roots, nothing like a plant to break up rock.
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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Hi All,

Thought I would provide an update to my lawn to food forest project. The food forest is 3 years old. Below is a picture of where it stands now.

How i finished the project (since the last update):

I filled the hugel trenches with some well aged and slightly broken down oak. I covered the trenches with dug out soil and sod. I then covered the entire FF with cardboard and 6 in layer of oak wood chips.

What I planted

2 Plum Trees
3 Autumn Olives
12 Blueberries
Comfrey
Yarrow
Jerusalem Artichokes
Horsetail
Mint
Thyme
Artichoke
Sage
Oregano
Lavender
Catnip
Onion
Garlic
Asparagus
Geranium
Assorted Wildflowers and Shrubs

What worked well

We have had an amazing amount of growth given the starting conditions. We had about 3 - 4 inches of sod / soil before hitting scrapped earth / bedrock. I really believe that the 6 inches of wood chips and hugel trenches kick-started the soil biology. We have also been chopping and dropping most of the biomass created by the Food Forest.

I am most impressed by growth of the plum trees. In year one both plums were heavily browsed by the deer (until I put cages around them). They bounced back quickly. Now they are looking better than some of my 7 year old plums. I also am a big fan of the Autumn Olives. They are fast growing and put out a heavy fruit crop last year. We are still enjoying our Autumn Olive puree

I am very happy with the some of the aggressive growing plants like mint and horsetail. They want to take over, but they are easy to chop and drop a couple of times a year. We have also started selling tea's and the food forest is providing all the mint we need.

What didn't work so well

We have had poor growth from our blueberries. They have grown a little and produced meager crops. I planted the blueberries partly into the hugel trenches. My suspicion is that the trenches went somewhat anaerobic and the blueberries where affected. When I dug the trenches it was through clay and rocks. I will take some soil samples and observe the biology (via microscope) to see if that might still be the case

In late summer and early fall the deer look at the food forest as a food paradise. Their browsing is quite intense. I have able to slowly mitigate that by creating a hedgerow of plants across the top of the food forest. Unless they are really hungry they seem to not like being confined by the hedgerow. They also don't like desert marigold and seem to avoid plants that are close by. Desert marigold is very pungent (somewhat overwhelming) and I wonder if it confuses their sense of smell. I will be planting more and testing this hypothesis
20160226_113555.jpg
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3 year old Food Forest
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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One other benefit I forgot to mention. The food forest is close to our back patio. Summers here in Northern California are really hot and dry. We noticed last year how much the food forest has raised the humidity and provides a cooling effect. It is quite noticeable.
 
Vester Stevens
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I'm a firm believer in ruth stout's mulch method. Use hay instead of straw, and if you can find it, use moldy hay, about 6 inches deep. It's better at moisture retention and contributes to better soil improvement. Once you have your perennials in place, following Stout's and Fukuoka's methods will greatly reduce your garden work.
If yuou don't have them in your library, you need to obtain their books. They are short, concise, and easy reads.
 
michelle salois
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Brian Vagg wrote:Thanks for the suggestion of vines. I will have fruit trees that will be in the middle of the lawn. I will look for some type of fruiting vine that produces quickly (years 1 -2) and get a few years of good crops before the fruit trees shade it out. Any suggestions on an early producing vine for my zone? That wall is SW facing so it gets full sun all day long. Grapes would be one of my first thoughts. I do have good producing grapes already on the property so something different from grapes would be nice. But I can always make raisins with the surplus.


that wall could be good for hardy kiwi! they are so big and heavy so I've been hesitant but that wall looks perfect!
 
Julia Winter
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Your food forest looks great! I would advocate for the "non-hardy" kiwi for your location.
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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Vester Stevens wrote:I'm a firm believer in Ruth Stout's mulch method. Use hay instead of straw, and if you can find it, use moldy hay, about 6 inches deep. It's better at moisture retention and contributes to better soil improvement. Once you have your perennials in place, following Stout's and Fukuoka's methods will greatly reduce your garden work.
If yuou don't have them in your library, you need to obtain their books. They are short, concise, and easy reads.


Stout and Fukuoka books are on my library list.

I do have a couple of bales of moldy hay, but I have an ongoing concern with the hay I have been buying. Finding sources of organic hay has been problematic. I have concerns with using the moldy hay without it going through a compost cycle. I wonder how other people have addressed this issue?

I think what I might do is identify a couple of plots where I will put the moldy hay as mulch. Before placing the moldy hay I will do a soil biology survey and continue to monitor after the hay has been placed. If the soil biology improves (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, etc) my concerns will reduced. If the soil biology decreases then composting may be my only option.
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
5
food preservation forest garden fungi
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Thanks Michelle and Julia for the hardy kiwi suggestion. I am really leaning towards adding them to the food forest
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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