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Converting a black locust woodlot into a food forest

 
Pe Norris
Posts: 3
Location: Central Missouri
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Good day,

I'm what you would call an extreme novice in permaculture, but I've been doing as much reading as I can and I was wondering if someone could give me feedback on my plans.

Some background. My wife and I purchased a historic home in central missouri with 5 acres on it that hasn't been looked after in almost 15 years. We've been working on reclaiming an old garden area, but I'm setting my eyes on the 3.5 acres of forest. Currently it's about 80% mature black locust, with the rest being elm and black walnut that are all almost perfectly straight and form the canopy at about 50-60ft high. Most people around here hate the BL, but after reading on this site and others I'm seeing the light their usefulness. I'd like to thin them out though to plant some under story productive trees like pawpaw, hazelnuts, persimmons, plums, and maybe some sugar maple, but I need to let the light in. Since Black locust coppice so well, I was wondering if it would be possible to use the regrowth from the coppice as green manure for the productive trees? I know the woody material won't decay but maybe the leafy material will add something back to the soil?

Also, there are tons of fallen black and honey locust on the forest floor that just won't decay. Are there any mushroom innoculations that can hasten these logs back into the soil?

Thanks so much,
-Paul
 
Jonathan Allen
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Good morning Pe,

I am not sure about Black Locust trees as they are not prevalent in New England forests. I think that you need to have a watch of the Back to Eden video. In that video, http://backtoedenfilm.com/ , Paul Gautschi speaks how he made changes in the way that he gardens using wood mulch as the key ingredient to success.

Cheers!
 
Jose Reymondez
Posts: 137
Location: Galicia, Spain Zone 9
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I always hear on this forum that Black Locust takes forever to rot because the wood has natural fungicides but I've never been around Black Locust so I wouldn't know.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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One year old growth of black loctus will rot, don't worry. It's those logs that are a problem. So, let the light in, and then coppice every year or two and you will have a great mulch. I don't know your climate. You need to know when hot and dry time is over. You need coppice just before cool, humid, rainy time comes. I suppose you will do it before fall/winter, then let it grow in the spring for summer shade and coppice in the end of summer when there is still some green stuff on trees. You can also probably coppice in spring or summer but not so much!
 
Pe Norris
Posts: 3
Location: Central Missouri
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Tal, Thanks so much for the reassurance. Those logs are going to become flooring, so I have a great use for them. I'll certainly have to watch the coppice and mulching times, but I think that's going to be a play it by ear thing around here.
Thanks so much
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
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Location: zone 6b
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You might be able to sell or trade the wood you coppice, too. For garden stakes, fence posts, etc. I know a lot of people who would rather use natural wood than the pressure-treated stuff that leaves poison in your soil. If it's fairly straight it can also be used for rustic furniture.
 
tel jetson
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Location: woodland, washington
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Pe Norris wrote:Are there any mushroom innoculations that can hasten these logs back into the soil?


honey locust: yes. black locust: probably not.

I believe maitake/hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) does well on honey locust.

and have fun making the flooring. should last just about forever, but black locust isn't a whole lot of fun to work with once it's cured and dried out a little bit. fresh isn't so bad, but it will probably twist and turn as it dries.
 
Pe Norris
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Location: Central Missouri
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Tel, you sound like you've been down that road too. Care to offer any advice?
 
tel jetson
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Pe Norris wrote:Tel, you sound like you've been down that road too. Care to offer any advice?


I don't have a whole forest of the stuff, just a handful of trees and I mostly use it for firewood. I also use it for rough building, like trellises and fences. things that look fine without having any milled surfaces on them.

I've never tried planking any up. I know that folks do make dimensional lumber out of it, and I believe xylophone keys are sometimes made of black locust. it's somewhat popular for sill plates because of its rot resistance. in my experience, it's strong, but sort of brittle. I would guess that it will make great durable flooring, but that it will take a lot of work. either cut it green when it's still easier to work and then stack and sticker it really well for a year or two, or be prepared to sharpen your tools a lot if you mill it after it's dry.

if you use logs that have been down a while, they might be done moving, but they also might have a lot of checks. but they might also be beautiful and clear straight grain and free of checks. I believe there's a fair amount of variability in the wood depending on the conditions it grows in. depending on who you ask, either grown in a swamp is best, or grown on a rocky mountain is best. I only have black locust grown in a sandy flood plain, so I can't speak much to that.

I guess that doesn't amount to much advice. black locust is one of my favorite plants, and I plan to use it for more woodworking in the future.
 
frank larue
Posts: 57
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i think you've got the right idea with coppicing your trees. the leaves will indeed rot down quickly and provide an excellent mulch. small wood will rot quick enough, as mentioned, and larger pieces can be used for additional benefits like animal shelters, arbors, and general habitat. i have a buddy that makes her own tool handles from black locust. it's resistance to rot, along with a rubbing of black walnut hull oil (apologies i don't know the processes), and it's density makes it a decent resource. i don't have any experience with this personally, but for the sake of experimentation. another suggestion a friend mentioned (and i think i read it somewhere) was to cover plants you wanted to protect with black locust for its thorns.

before going after thinning the whole space i'll pass on something i wish someone told me. don't create gaps you can't fill. an opening invites a new group of species if it isn't prepared and filled with what you want to grow there. i learned to pick patches of varying sizes based on site conditions (sun, wind protection, microclimate, access to house, access for mechanical equipment). in pennsylvania a poorly planned gap will give you barberry and huckleberry thickets that take at least a couple seasons to struggle with. grow for seed and division. i've bought new species by seed and seedling and done my best to propagate from these. aside from the financial benefit there is the more important experience of protracted observation and learning from the land. on top of that you end up cultivating the plants that do well with your conditions (juglone and nitrogen-rich). one small gap patch established will give you several more the following year and so on.

another wonderful thing about black locust is its relatively open crown if given space. i would look to coppice leggy trees and keep open ones to cultivated your partial shade varieties. when opening a patch i consider the middle, the edge, and 5 to 20 meters into the understory. i'd say when creating a new clearing i spend the majority of the work and hand planting on the edge. i've learned to focus on shade plants more because they are harder spaces to establish. as you open more light into gaps from previous seasons the shade plants will move themselves, effectively filling the increasing perimeter for you. i'm by no means an expert on this, just a dabbler a few years deep in trial-and-error, but i hope my perspective can be of some use.
 
Renate Howard
pollinator
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Location: zone 6b
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I was just thinking with envy about your black locusts! I'm trying to plant a hillside garden and I know from previous experience that during dry periods I can have a terrible problem with the rainfall just running off before it can soak in. If I had a rot-resistant wood, I could make mini berms to stop the water from flowing down the hillside so it can soak down to the roots of the plants, like every 3 feet or so. I'm using rotting pieces of our fence but I think they'll only last a season or two.
 
Guarren cito
Posts: 79
Location: Zone 4A
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Another thing to consider is to thin some black walnut and sell the wood for timber. I hear it is extremely expensive and if you post a picture on Craigslist or something you may get some responses. Black walnut also produces a chemical called juglone which is a growth inhibitor for many plants like grass, etc. there is a list of juglone tolerant plants out there. This makes for a very stable guild of plants as there are many productive plants you can grow under it like a lot of berries and tomatoes, etc. black walnut is an excellent tree!

Back locust is also excellent, it is fast growing where the walnut is slow. In addition to nitrogen fixing it is also a dynamic accumulator which means it draws nutrients up from the subsoil and puts it in the leaves which turns to mulch. Black locust is a pioneer plant because it is fast to fill in gaps in nature, it fixes nitrogen and accumulates calcium, which are two nutrients most commonly missing in the soil. I have a small stand of mature black locust and the soil is black black black.

Where you are thinking about coppicing the black locust for mulch you may want to consider that a large tree makes more leaves than a bunch of little ones so you will get more mulch out of one mature bl than a bunch of saplings. It is worth it to coppice just for firewood and the usefulness of the wood.

The logs do take a long time to rot and you may find better use for them with something else like hugelkultur. Black locust heartwood takes seventy years.
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