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Is this worth the effort? (remediating a junk pile into a garden)

 
Posts: 31
Location: Western WA
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I have lived her for just over a year and spent last summer trying to clear out an area for a garden where not only had plums taken over, but it was a debris pile from former owners- lath, furniture, decomposing firewood, general trash like the cables and pipes from plumbing and electrical upgrades. A lot of things have nails, the tiny ones in the lath are nearly rusted into oblivion but there are so many.  

Today I tried to burn a bit more, a marginally successful effort given the rains of western Washington, and I started getting discouraged about the spot in general.

For one, the arborvitae blocks a lot of sun. They're on the south part of the plot and my husband is totally against removing or topping it because it blocks his view of the neighbors. There are tall trees all around so even in the summer, it doesn't get direct sun for the first and last few hours of the day... not sure if it gets high enough to clear the shrubs.

Next, the nails... how do I not have a problem there?  I'm pretty sure I can just bust up the soggy old firewood into good compost but the nails.

The salamanders are also of great concern. I really want to do right by them but this garbage has to be cleared and for as much as they are settled in, I feel it's important to remove laminate shelving before it gets too deep into the earth. There are LOTs of places for them to go I just don't know how to remove everything while keeping them safe.

Finally, the trees. The original Plum and the ancient, fallen apple hurt my heart. They both produced very little last year and I know there is a possibility that pruning could revitalize them but I'm not confident- the plum has no lower branches left, is being choked by a hose, and has a huge gash of rot in the trunk. The apple is literally sideways. It's sent a lot of branches straight up but again, they didn't produce. I might start with cutting off the half that's in the plot, but the whole thing might roll and uproot entirely with the weight shift.

So I *want* to garden right there but I have doubts about the viability. Maybe I should just start over with trees? There will be plums coming up forever. I have other areas I *can put garden space but this one works for a lot of other logistical reasons.
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potential area for a garden
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potential area for a garden
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potential area for a garden
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potential area for a garden
 
pollinator
Posts: 378
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Sarah,
I hear your frustration. Please know your concerns are shared with those who have faced a tangle of obstacles on a new patch of land to rescue with the dreams of practicing permaculture.

Thank you for posting the photos.

You are correct to mourn the loss of the plum and apple trees. Take heart! Those trees you cull will become the base of your new huglekulture bed, wood chip mulch, and some biochar for nourishing your raised beds and firewood to keep your pepper seeds warm while they are germinating.

You see? The trees might look like a problem now, however you will not be losing those trees; they will become many lovely parts of solutions.

I encourage you to take one task at a time. Start with removing the two trees and place their parts… large logs, limbs, twigs, bark, into sorted piles to be ready when you need them.

Look for any areas on your place that get sunshine and start creating a traditional huglekultur or a raised bed with hugle properties. That way you are repurposing the trees and building soil in order to eventually plant something.

You listed your challenges. Great start!

Consider listing them in the order you can tackle them. Post your list here and allow us to encourage you and cheer on your progress.

You can do this!!
 
master steward
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I will just comment on the nails. If you're burning the material anyway, we have a magnet in a can that allows me to pick up a bunch of nails out of our wood-stove ashes, and then I drop them into a container for recycling.

I agree with Angela - I hear your frustration with having to clean up the mess, but if you plan nice things for the area, hopefully once you have the job done, you will be happier than leaving it as is. If you don't have enough sun for a traditional "veggie" garden, there are less common edibles, like some hostas, that will grow with less sun.
 
gardener
Posts: 1866
Location: Japan, zone 9a/b, annual rainfall 2550mm, avg temp 1.5-32 C
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Sounds like great permaculture to me. You're cleaning up a polluted area to turn it into a productive one. Cleaning up trash piles isn't fun... it's often tedious for sure, but it is important work. So if it's any consolation, I greatly appreciate your hard work in cleaning up that space!

I've also used magnets for picking up nails in trash piles as mentioned above. It works pretty well! Especially where the litter is loose.
 
gardener
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Location: Central Maine (Zone 5a)
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Hi Sarah,
Take heart. In my opinion, even if you did not grow anything there, just cleaning up the garbage will look better, make you feel better, and raise the value of the land.

To me, the only issue is the sunlight. You really want at least 8 hours of sunlight per day for good veggie growth. Last year, my garden was so small because of a huge pine tree, it wouldn't let anything on the other end of the garden thrive because they didn't get enough sunlight. I'm going to build some raised beds on the other side of the house this year I think. Still tiny garden, but more sunlight. So pick a good sunny spot for best growing.

As for the nails, it's already been mentioned, but around here you can buy or even rent the kind of magnets that roofers use. They are on a long handle, so you can just run it along or just above the ground and it will pick up anything magnetic like nails and screws. I have used one when I was cleaning up garbage. They even have some on wheels, where you wheel it around.

Good luck. And everyone likes before and after pictures... I just usually forget the before pictures :)
 
Posts: 590
Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
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"... my husband is totally against removing or topping it ..."

If your place was my place the dead and fallen trees and brush would be gone. The trash would be quickly removed. -But it's not my place. And it's not just your place.

One of the worst mistakes I ever made happened many years ago when I was visiting a friend's place. They were gone for the day. They had a great deal of vines over hanging the garage. Clearly (to my way of thinking) they had to be removed. So I did. The friends got home, and it was not good. My help was their disaster. They were really not happy. I saw the situation one way, And they completely another. I got to go home, ... immediately.

I think all the advice you have received here is fine. It's great. But. The number one bit of advice is to make sure your husband is on board with what you do. Agreements and happiness in your marriage is far more important. Talk things out until you both approve. The approval of folks here matters a good deal less than the agreement of your life partner.
 
pollinator
Posts: 454
Location: WV
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Never give up!  If you're worried about the salamanders, make them some habitats nearby.  I understand mourning the loss of your trees as there was the remains of a small peach orchard below the house when I moved her 33 years ago but it succumbed to lack of light and eventually died out and our mature apple tree toppled in a storm 20 years ago.  

In the olden days it was common to have a dump on  the property and I've unearthed everything from bottles to car springs here and have an assortment of rake, shovel and hoe heads as evidently when the handle broke the former owners just pitched it over the hill.  

Do invest in or salvage a magnet to get those nails up.  During the pandemic I managed to step on a board with nails in it because it was covered with leaves and then when I stepped back, another nail pierced the big toe on my other foot.  Puncture wounds in both feet and a half-mile walk back home was no fun.  Plus tires have a magical way of finding nails.

I agree with Angela in tackling one thing at a time.  I'm actually the worst when it comes to sticking to that rule, but if you have one or two projects to concentrate on, you can actually see your progress and feel the elation when you finish one.  I generally have two going so that if I get frustrated or conditions/supplies aren't ideal for one, I can work on the other.  




 
master pollinator
Posts: 220
Location: Southwest VT, zone 5a slope ~10°-30°
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I often notice apple trees that have fallen over and then resprout vigorously from the roots and horizontal trunk. In time these may grow back into full trees, but the fallen part does seem to hog the energy of them. I wonder whether these wild apples are immortal trees, so long as they aren’t shaded out or their lives cut short intentionally.

I’m not a very experienced apple pruner, but what if you were to slowly prune away the fallen growth to redirect energy toward stump sprouts and graft onto them? I wonder if this could save the tree while taking away the less vigorous parts. Another whimsical idea is to use the fallen apple tree temporarily as a trellis for vining plants like beans or squash.
 
pollinator
Posts: 280
Location: Grow zone 10b. Southern California,close to the Mexican boarder
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I think we all have been there at some point. We bought our 1/2 acre 7 years ago and we are only this year finishing the last parts of our two gardens. I would like to encourage you to do your garden design and layout before you start anything else. Having a visual plan helps when everything looks like crap. The first year we lived here, we tried growing cabbages on the dead land, and nothing came up. This made us decide two things. We decided to make the front yard into a food forest garden and the back into a raised poly culture garden, and a place to start the perennials for the FFG. Having a few raised beds, also let us start growing something, which is also encouraging. So, the first years was spend adding mulch and compost to the FFG, building raised beds, and getting a bunch of chickens who went nuts on the weeds and helped with creating compost.
Before all of that, I sat down and used a gardening planner to plan out how I wanted things and where I wanted them. You can add notes to the plan like sun from midday to late afternoon, or mostly shade etc. I will add my two planned layouts, so you can see. We are in a warmer climate than you, but the principles are still the same. Start with your observation (which you have done), then start dreaming and planning out how you would like it to be. If you are like me, the design will change and evolve as you add more and more things, and get more places planned out and build.
Having a task list and crossing things off on it, also helps. As for your husband, mine was a lot more cooperative after I showed him the designs, so he could visualize the finished project.
When it comes to creating habitats, I can recommend taking the garden master course and the permaculture design course, or watching the videos. I regret I didn’t take the design course, and love that I took the garden master course. The ebook is my garden bible when I run into problems.
Lizards like snakes, like piles of rocks, so they can hide or take a sun bath.
Last, has it been worth it?
YES my family has never been more healthy. My kids know how to grow, pick and make dinner from what’s available in the garden. Food preservation means that we can stretch a crop out over the year, and that we never need to go for take out. My son has Asperger Syndrome, and once we removed processed foods and went organic, he started talking and making friends. He will get his AA in accounting this year, and move on to get his BA while working.
I have a mast cell disorder, which makes me allergic to even trace elements of chemicals or histamines in food. Producing my own food, helps me have fewer allergic reactions and tolerate a more varied diet.
It’s also great for mental health. I start my day (if the weather is good), doing yoga and meditation in the FFG. Listening to the birds, the wind and smelling the flowers and greens is soothing and energizing.
foodforest.jpeg
Food forest design
Food forest design
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Raised bed homestead garden
Raised bed homestead garden
 
gardener
Posts: 3043
Location: Western Slope Colorado.
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It’ll be worth it eventually.  Just start, and then continue.  Take a break when you need to.  Try to define small objectives, so you get some satisfaction along the way.

My sense of humor may not appeal to you, but the way I look at starting with a big mess is:

Just go ahead, you can’t wreck it!  (Except the trees that screen the view of the neighbors…. But eventually you’ll reach some agreement on that too.
 
pollinator
Posts: 100
Location: Schofields, NSW. Australia. Zone 9-11 Temperate to Sub Tropical
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Thank you for posting pictures it helps to visualise your area.

I agree with Angela, using the old plum and apple trees, cut up and placed as a hugel base solves that problem of what to do with the trees. I would tale cuttings first and any that take could be used on the top of the hugel, a hugel would also raise the bed enough to get the sun it lacks now.

There are other plants that can be used further down, someone mentioned edible hostas and I use sweet potatoes on mine as the vines like moist feet (bottom of the hugel), and climb and give cover for other plants, plus you can eat the leaves and tubers. A lot of herbs like mints, coriander and parsley also like shade.

New habitat from some rocks and other bits and pieces in another location where you don't mind them being would help with the salamanders especially if you can relocate some of them when you make them, others then follow to mate, they like being near each other.

Magnets do work on removing nails, I often do it myself after burning old wood palings found dumped along the road in the firepit then I use the ash to mix into my compost.

Your frustration is probably because you are trying to do everything at once so breaking it down will work, I've been overwhelmed many times as I attempted different project over the years and it always helps to take small steps, also if you have like-minded friends or family to occasionally help? I don't know if that's possible but worth a try.

Please keep up updated this has been a really interesting thread and your pictures made it easier to respond to you. Thanks, and hope you find something helpful to take away from everyone.

 
master steward
Posts: 14863
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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When I look at those pictures I see so much potential.

Hugelculture beds, leaf mold, and even wildlife habitats.

Here are some threads on leaf mold:

https://permies.com/t/125311/leaf-mold-awesome

https://permies.com/t/13602/Incredible-Amazing-Leaf-Mold

For wildlife habitats there is a PEP BB (Badge Bit):

https://permies.com/wiki/108150/pep-animal-care/Brush-Pile-PEP-BB-animal

there is also a build a Hugelkultur - PEP BB:

https://permies.com/wiki/98574/Build-Hugelkultur-PEP-BB-gardening

 
pollinator
Posts: 187
Location: North FL, in the high sandhills
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Things that grow in the shade:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPJ-3-3y3g8

1:57 Rainbow Chard
2:36 Sweet Potato
3:36 Rocket
4:28 Lettuce
5:21 Tamarillo
6:58 Kale
7:22 Nasturtium
8:10 Alpine Strawberries
8:50 Radish
9:26 Blueberry
10:28 Celery
11:33 Parsley
12:21 Mint
13:29 Rhubarb
13:49 Bush beans
14:21 Monstera
15:20 Ginger
15:47 Cardamom Ginger
16:19 Chives
18:02 Mushrooms
18:54 Strawberry guava
19:54 Tips to Grow Food in the Shade


https://gardenbetty.com/shade-vegetables/

Asparagus
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrot
Cauliflower
Celery
Chard
Chinese cabbage
Collard
Endive
Escarole
Fava beans
Garlic

Hosta montana
Kohlrabi
Leek
New Zealand spinach
Parsnip
Pea
Potato
Radish
Rhubarb
Rutabaga
Scallion
Sorrel (spinach dock)
Spinach
Turnip
Watercress



https://onegreenworld.com/shade-tolerant-plants/







 
Posts: 33
Location: SE France
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What a wonderful name you haveand you share it with the land which feels like amassive challenge,
Lovely posts - trust your hands as they know what might be good.
Soleil is the sun you have brought us, thank you and bless you and your tribe.
M-H
 
Anne Miller
master steward
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Another shade-loving plants that are both beautiful and edible are hostas:

https://permies.com/t/162078/perennial-vegetables/edible-hostas
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
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Location: Western Slope Colorado.
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Let’s talk a little about shade, as it is a big element at your place.  Please forgive if you have already done your research on shade.  Not all “shade” is created equal.!🌞🌞🌞

There’s shade and then there’s the other shade.  Shade and deep shade (much darker).  There’s “light shade” which might have dappled sunlight on the ground.  High shade and dense shade.  There’s shade a few hours a day,  several hours a day, and there’s shade in places that never see the sun.  

At my latitude near our (northern hemisphere) summer solstice, direct sunlight shines on the north side of the house, and in through the north facing windows.

There are plants who can tolerate NO SHADE.  They want full sun all the time.  There are plants that are rated for full sun, they can withstand the intensity of full sun, but their description will say they need some amount of full sun:  “requires 8 hours per day of full sun” kind of thing.  And so on down the line.  For example parsley will tolerate some shade but prefers “full sun”.  Strawberries want several hours a day of direct sun.  In the shade they may spread as a ground cover, and not bear fruit until some of the plants find their way into some sunlight, and those plants then bear fruit.

I guess my point is, as you work on your reclamation project, begin to become aware of the varying amounts of sun in various locations as the sun moves south and north through the seasons.  Begin to notice what weeds are growing in the varying amounts of light.  And start noticing around the neighborhood what plants are growing in which quality of shade.

It would just be too sad if after all your work, your plants couldn’t grow because they weren’t well placed for their light requirements.
 
pollinator
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Location: zone 4b, sandy, Continental D
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Oh, Sarah, the one sentence that stopped me in my tracks was :"... my husband is totally against removing or topping it ...".
I share Jim's opinion on that. It is very frustrating to have a dream that your partner does not share.
He does not want to top off the trees because they hide the neighbors' house? Yep. I understand that, but on a relatively flat surface, a hedge 6-7 ft tall would also hide them but maybe not cast as big a shadow? [ although I see that you don't have a flat surface].
How does he feel about the trash? If he is not inclined to have a garden, perhaps he is inclined to have a nice looking property, in which case he might help you remove the trash, cull the apple tree. It is also a question of safety: rusty nails/screws can puncture shoes and make vicious wounds, and if other construction debris are there, it may be dangerous for children. Not only is trash unsightly, but there might be chemicals that would make gardening an impossibility. (A trash pile all too often becomes a refuse where *everything* goes!
Does your hubby will have his own ideas about where a garden could be located? or he does not share your enthusiasm about having one? I share your sadness about losing trees, but sometimes, they are beyond pruning/reviving, in which case a better tree could be planted.
It sounds like you are a bit overwhelmed right now about all the work your piece of land needs, in which case I really think that engaging your hubby might be a better pathway. If he doesn't care for this kind of work, but agrees that the work needs doing, it might be a good idea to suggest hiring temporary help. There are many people that would appreciate making a little money on the side in exchange for clearing an area, and it would relieve the doldrums. Once in a while, I have to many eggs and they don't sell, so I go to a pantry. There are folks who may not be available for a full 8 hours job but will work 4-6 hours on a specific project.
My hubby doesn't care about gardening or having an orchard or raising chickens. He will help if a bigger tree needs cutting though. And if I need a tool that does not exist or needs fixing, he is really good at that. A marriage entails a great deal of negotiating. The good news is that we all get better at it with time. Take heart: It gets better.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2152
Location: Massachusetts, 5a, flat 4 acres; 40" year-round fairly even
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I like what others have said here, and I want to add that it's an inside job.  It's easier for me to say this to someone else about their landscape than to see it for my own, but I really believe we're looking at an illusion when we look at our landscape. We're looking through a lens. If we could let go of what we think we see, and make space for more seeing, new information begins to flow in. The sense of obstacles, that's an inside job.  THe sense of abundance is also an inside job.  We can shift our inner reality first and then the outer reality shifts.  The land is telling us things and we are getting the information on a subtle level, and if we can get the surface perceptions a bit more quiet then we can hear what the land is saying to us.

As for the husband, I think I speak for everyone when I say we all have those moments when a loved one seems to be set right against our most important permaculture dreams.  (The problem is the solution.  We could add some of our loved ones into the hugelkultur bed for extra nitrogen (!) but a more elegant solution might be to invite them into the re-seeing process too.  Again, what we see at first glance is more about our own projections than about what the land itself is saying to us.  

If you need a practical step meantime, you could build a steep hugelkultur bed in place of some of the arborvitae and block out the neighbors' view that way, but that would be a lot of work or an excavator adventure.  Maybe even just a temporary section of fence along that area and the plants on outside (south side) of the fence, if you can spring for that.

But the main question, "Is it worth it?" Is one I think only you can answer for yourself. The land can help you find the answer.
 
Posts: 79
Location: Kentucky
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Magnet for nails and other irony objects and fires will help with that,use a garden rake and localized fires to clear an area of woody material so you can find the nails with the magnet easier.You might borrow a metal detector if you dont have one to find buried "treasure" in that trash pile.There are always aluminum, brass or copper objects in junk piles that a magnet wont pick up,you might get lucky and find some money too.

Try to find wood from woodworkers or cabinet shops that are kiln dry to burn in wet areas,once you get truly dry wood going you can put damp wood on the fire to keep it going.

I love finding salamanders around my house and garden,i see it as a sign of me doing something right,use the trees that you cut down to create a new habitat for them to thrive in.Also save some of that apple wood for smoking a Boston butt or some ribs,who needs  a hugel bed when you have apple smoked ribs!
 
Sarah Soleil
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Location: Western WA
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Wow! So many kind and helpful replies 💜😄

Just for clarification, my husband's opposition to topping the hedges is about privacy. The ONE neighbor who could see into our house faces his office window upstairs. The neighbor is a good distance away so the current height is critical.  

I made a rough sketch of my most available area, it's an acre surrounded with tall trees. There's another acre that's fully wooded but I need to build up my skills for that.  

Right now by biggest concerns are the septic lines in the middle of the yard. It was installed before permits were required so there are no records to give me better clues than summertime green grass. The area in red is what's in question here.  

There's a driveway- width flat path, in purple that was made to help grade/terrace because it's pretty steep otherwise. The hill in one of the above photos is very steep, probably 6 feet rise for 2 feet run and taller as the path goes by.  There's a very, very steep bank down to a creek at the back.  

Brown are areas that are under consideration for garden plots but there are no fences anywhere and the deer visit often. Eventually I'll get chickens.

I really do need to make a more solid list. My family is willing to help when they can but between school and work... you know how it is.  This past year has been a monumental effort on my part to just get the blackberries in check with a shoulder that went wrong.  

The lists if shade plants is amazing!  Between the arborvitae and the garage they sit behind, there is some deep shade, less now that the plum saplings have been hacked back, much to the dismay of the Fern and moss growing there, probably 60% of it will get 8 hours of sun in the summer... it really is heartening to think of it in those terms!
Messenger_creation_61f4439b-6a17-415b-b7bb-6d5d2041df11.jpeg
[Thumbnail for Messenger_creation_61f4439b-6a17-415b-b7bb-6d5d2041df11.jpeg]
 
Sarah Soleil
Posts: 31
Location: Western WA
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Shookeli Riggs wrote:

I love finding salamanders around my house and garden,i see it as a sign of me doing something right,use the trees that you cut down to create a new habitat for them to thrive in.Also save some of that apple wood for smoking a Boston butt or some ribs,who needs  a hugel bed when you have apple smoked ribs!



I kept a lot of the plum wood when it got cut back. It's been drying for many months now and I think tomorrow we're going to try it for the first time on some salmon!  
There will definitely be  more than enough Applewood to save.

For the wet fire, I eventually had my son pull out some actual firewood that he wasn't looking forward to splitting due to knots. Next time, once it's not going to intermittently hail and rain, I'll use those logs too.
 
Sarah Soleil
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For context... my actual yard. Junky area is to the right. When it's all tidy and mowed, it very much feels like a park.  
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Thekla McDaniels
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Doing good so far!
 
pollinator
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I didn't read the whole thing, so sorry if this has already been suggested...

Can you try to air-layer the trees, so that you don't completely lose what may be fantastic fruit varieties?  Then if you decide to relocate or remove what's there, you will have another to replace it, or plant elsewhere?  Kind of like respecting the ancestors by continuing the genetics that exist now.

Keep taking pictures...you will LOVE going back later, to see the progress.  (It's hard to see progress when you're in it day to day.)

If something grew there before, there's a good chance it will work there again.  Maybe you can formulate a polyculture to add to the trees, rather than trying to just eliminate them?

My grandfather used to bury empty food cans in the ground where he planted fruit trees (citrus, mango, lychee), I guess so the iron would eventually be used by the plant?  So I would think some old nails in the ground wouldn't be all that horrible.  They do rust eventually...

It's definitely worth doing!  So hang in there.  We are all supporting you in spirit!
 
pollinator
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Hello from your neighbour to the south.  It seems daunting and that's totally understandible, but there's some great advice in this thread!  Try doing a bit at a time, sometimes you might feel able to do more and sometimes less, but just take it in chunks that are more manageable.  Some good ideas for shade plants that can be useful.
 
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Green University by Thomas Elpel
https://permies.com/t/243115/Green-University-Thomas-Elpel
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