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food forests in shrub-steppe?

 
Deb Berman
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I have a question for David Jacke: What do you think about building food forests in a region where the native ecosystem is shrub-steppe, or steppe-prairie, in other words, not a forest ecosystem? Should ones permacultural designs follow a temperate forest model, or should they be instead an analog of the native (non-forest) system, mixing native edibles and well-adapted non-native edibles? ( I am not talking about restoration, which is a separate question.) Suvia Judd in North Idaho
 
mike dunn
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Location: New mexico (but looking to move)
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Deb,

I know this is an old topic. I'm just wondering if you ever got a reply on this or have explored this question further.

On a related note, I'm interested in learning if others have explored a Mark Shepard style system but in the Palouse or the Palouse transition region (e.g. around Troy or Deary). I've been learning some on my own with my primary references being Dave Jacke's two books, Restoration agriculture, and information from the Pitkin Forest Nursery. Thank you,

Mike
 
Deb Berman
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It's something I keep thinking about. Here in the Palouse we can easily do Mark Shepard -type systems, using native tree and shrub species and their analogs. We have been planning a similar system ourselves (been delayed by land tenure issues but hopefully this spring...). Also someone who is taking my PDC which starts tomorrow is very inspired by Mark Shepard and wants to do a similar system on their farm in Deary. The Palouse was/is naturally a savannah (to the best of our knowledge), so it fits pretty well.

When you get out to the Columbia Basin (in the shrub-steppe, as opposed to the ag-steppe which is what I call the current Palouse wheat monoculture), it seems less clear. There really aren't a lot of trees except along waterways, and most of our perennial systems are tree based. Sagebrush can act as a nurse plant for some tree species, as it is a very efficient hydraulic pump, and earthworks can be put in place for water harvesting, but we are still trying to do the thing that humans always do of trying to superimpose our (usually European) desired ecologies on native ecosystems that are already functioning well and producing plenty of food only we are just ignorant of what it is. So it seems to me that the place to start is to learn about what the native shrub steppe has to offer, and then go from there. Curious about what other people think of this.
 
mike dunn
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Location: New mexico (but looking to move)
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Thank you for the reply and the information. (you must be well organized to reply to a random e-mail prior to a PDC)

I was thinking a Shepard type system would work well in the Palouse but I'm pretty low on the learning curve so between not being able to find someone who was already doing it and the current agricultural practices leaving less evidence of Savanna I was uncertain. I hope to take a PDC in the near future. Your hypothesis on how to start working with the shrub-steppe makes sense to me, hopefully some more experienced folks will chime in.

Best Wishes,

Mike
 
Barbara Greene
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Location: Tonasket, WA
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Hi Deb,

I met you at the NAPC in August, and find your advice here very helpful! I am embarking on our shrub-steppe land planning here in North Central Washington and there is a great deal of sagebrush, scattered underneath Ponderosa pine, Aspen and other larger shrubs. The land has been grazed for the last 100 years, which I am guessing has selected for the current trees, shrubs and forages. I must certainly begin learning more about these sages, but I thought I heard somewhere that sagebrush had some allelopathic effect ? Is this true? You mention that it is a good nurse plant for some trees, I would be interested to learn which species (after your PDC is long over of course!)
I will stay tuned to this topic and as I gain any little experience, I will certainly share it here.

Thanks,

Barbara Greene
 
Will Meginley
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Location: Concord, New Hampshire
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Barbara Greene wrote:I must certainly begin learning more about these sages, but I thought I heard somewhere that sagebrush had some allelopathic effect ? Is this true? You mention that it is a good nurse plant for some trees, I would be interested to learn which species (after your PDC is long over of course!)


I had never heard of this effect, personally, and it isn't mentioned in the USDA NRCS's plant fact sheet for the species. However, I googled "artemisia tridentata allelopathy" and came up with this article, which seems to show you're correct. For what it's worth, however, I've been a wildland firefighter for ten years now and have probably spent at least a good 30% of my career tromping through sagebrush fields. In my experience there's usually a lot more growing directly underneath the sagebrush canopy than in the areas between the plants. I would say try it and see what works. Perhaps grow the stuff up a bit in pots first and then transplant next to the Artemisia rather than starting it from seed within the effective range of the chemicals.

Interestingly, the Forest Service's Fire Effects Information System entry for sagebrush mentions it being high in phosphorus. Perhaps water isn't the only thing it's mining with that taproot... Might be a good chop and drop species. Save some for the sage grouse, though!
 
Deb Berman
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That's really interesting. The reference about sagebrush as a nurse plant that sticks in my mind was one which was about growing pinyon pines. It said they needed to have a sagebrush as a nurse plant to get established. As a general rule conifers like to germinate and have their baby years in mineral soil, so maybe one of the reasons pinyons like to grow next to a sagebrush is that the allelopathy that prevents those grasses from growing ensures them a mineral soil spot to get going in.
 
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