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Food Forest from Woodlands

 
Jay Peters
Posts: 74
Location: Montreal, QC mostly. Developing in Southern New Brunswick, Canada.
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Hi All,

I've recently purchased property (deal just closed!) in Southern New Brunswick. I'm looking for examples of other folks who have planted food forests in similar climates (so far I've seen Trevor Philps on here and found the website for the Falls Brooks Centre in Knowlesville NB but I'm interested in seeing as many examples as I can. I've already posted a similar thread in the great white north/regional forum looking for nearby examples, but I'm seeking info from anyone with similar climate or knowledge of how someone dealt with one, here. For clarification on what that climate is: I've purchased in what is classified as Zone 5a/b - the winters are long (it gets real in December, lasts until May..though it seems to shift later every year), but being only about 15-10km inland from the bay of Fundy they don't get as cold as most of the rest of the country and the snow tends to stay about 5 months of the year in treed areas.

I'm pretty new to the basic idea of permaculture though experienced with many components of it where it overlaps with regular old rural living. Loving this board, community and all the info within. I'm not a gardener..yet..and am trying to absorb as much info as possible so I can start in on this food forest, and have it producing sooner rather than later. Any recommendations for books or other resources on creating Food Forests in this kind of climate would be welcome!

Enough Preamble! For the questions!

How do you transform Woods into Food Forest?
Most of the stuff I've seen regarding designing a food forest using permaculture principles assumes a certain amount of rehabilitation of former monoculture farming, pasture OR at least using land which already has large cleared areas. geoff lawton for example - I love his videos and everything I've read but he seems to always be starting from a partially treeless landscape. I have NO cleared space except a few small meadows and wetlands and would love to know how others with similar properties proceeded with transforming them into productive and abundant food forests. I've thought that selective clearing using the timber for Hugelkultur might be an answer..? Could one take advantage of what trees are already grown/growing without harvesting them? In various areas of my 50 acres there are pine, birch (generally young), cedar, maple, ash, some oak, various spruce varieties..which would be of most use in a Food Forest situation? It seems obvious to me that any of the more mature hardwood would be worth letting live to further maturity for the time being, acting as shade, providing mulch, drawing water up etc.. The cedar is mostly located in a very wet cedar swamp which I don't intend to do anything with other than harvest cedar from occasionally for construction (not a suitable area for food forest anyway..right? swamp?). Some of the spruce and pine are quite mature and will be used in construction as well down the road, but those big ones aren't in the areas I'm thinking will be prime 'food forest' zones. The birch could make decent firewood down the road or could be used in Hugelkultur - there's lots of it...some could remain if useful in a Food Forest area, or for just the first few years of a food forest. So could much spruce or pine. Thoughts?

Earthworks?
Its hard to cut swales into the ground when its covered in trees but is it worth cutting down and starting from scratch, reworking the earth to hold more water when the trees on site are doing fine? I'd love to know how others who started with woodlands have developed them into functional food forests. I wouldn't be starting with too much space at first (1/2 -1 acre, expanding as time goes) so maybe cutting down all but the healthiest, most useful (in a food forest context) trees and doing some earthworks around them, and then planting would be the right way to go...? Again - which of the varieties mentioned previously are most useful in a food forest situation?

Varieties of Trees/Plants?
What are folks in similar climates with similar winters growing in their food forests? What varieties are thriving in what combinations? I know I shouldn't have a problem with apples, garlic, and all kinds of wild berries but that hardly constitutes of fully functional food forest.

Micro Climates?
I'm not expecting anyone in NB is growing citrus but has anyone tried creating a sepp holzer type micro-climate to help grow fruit that wouldn't otherwise make it up here? What can that kind of construction achieve in a climate with a long and serious winter?


Who's done/ doing this?


THANKS!!!
j
 
Adam Klaus
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gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Hi Jay,
Well thought out questions, always a good starting place. I'll preface my thoughts by saying that I live nowhere near NB, I am in Western Colorado. But I do deal with a serious if not severe winter here, zone 5-6 with 3 months snow cover. And I have done a lot of experimentation on tree planting over the last 8 years. Food forests are still more of a goal for me than an achievement, so take my advice with a healthy pinch of salt.

In your situation, I agree to leave your largest decidious trees intact. In thinking about areas to create clearings for gardens, I would myself try to find areas of decidious trees that are not at full maturity. I think the soil will be much better under decidious trees than under the evergreens. So if there are dense or overgrown areas of birch, maple, ash, or oak, these would be the spots I would think to clear and begin replanting. Try to avoid low-lying frost pockets with poor drainage at all costs.

Starting out, I would be very conservative on planting things that are appropriate for your climate and soils. I tried at first to plant many marginal species, particularly nut trees, with very limited success. Over time, I have instead focused on the plants that will absolutely thrive here, and that coincidentally have a history of commercial cultivation in my valley. Enjoy the satisfaction of success first, then aim for the stars with ambitious plans. Microclimate modification is not easy nor straightforward, and all it takes is one extreme climate event and your dream gets wiped out. IMHO, microclimate modification works better in more moderate climates, and is less effective at holding back deep, prolonged winter freezes. I would figure out what perennial crops have a historical record of being grown in your region, and start there. I think you are thinking along the correct lines with apples and berries, start basic and simple.

I think your most important initial decision will be the exact site to utilize on your land. Fertile soils, good air and water drainage, southerly exposure. I might wait to begin extensive earthworking, that can come later. Start small with success, and the plan will slowly grow from there. Slow and steady wins the race when you are starting out from scratch. And much better to have a small, well-tended garden than an overgrown monster.

Enjoy the path! Farming in harmony with the Earth is the most satisfying pursuit I have enjoyed. Hope you find it too, please share when you do.
 
                            
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Go here and look up hardy varieties of almost anything you want to grow. My 5 yr old food forest in One 5b (Rhode Island) is growing a large variety of fruit and nut trees, bushes and the hugelkulture beds are awesome. I literally eat something from my forest every day.

http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/acc/acc_queries.html

I also grow 15 varieties of cold tolerant rice here from 6 different countries.

I am developing an agro food forest in zone 3 on the Canadian border on 90+ acres including bog. You can grow elderberry, blueberry, bilberry, lingonberry and many other varieties in the bog area. If the bog area is large you can use a chinampa system.

Good luck.
 
                            
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Jay,
Save the maple trees for your already mature over story, and make maple syrup in the spring using the fuel from some of the pines you take down to evaporate it.
PKile
 
Micky Ewing
Posts: 102
Location: Merrickville, Ontario
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Hi Jay. First of all, congratulations on the closing! I closed just this spring myself, so I still get that heady feeling of imagining all the possibilities when I walk the land.

I'm sorry I don't have any advice to give you about starting a food forest, but I'm piping in because I'm in a similar situation. Besides becoming a land owner recently, I'm also in zone 5a/b (eastern Ontario in my case, so probably less snow and more extreme temperatures) and have a largely forested property. Some wet, some dry. Some pure cedar, some mixed hardwood & softwood, some old field ecosystems. And as you've observed, nobody in the forest gardening community seems to be writing about starting from such a state. I'm sure I remember hearing or reading someone in the know who claimed that it's actually easier to get a forest garden going from our end than from a bare field, but unfortunately, I don't remember where I heard/read it, nor who made the claim.

I think it'd be crazy to tear out all that biomass just so I could get a keyline plow through the property, and I'd have to do terrible damage to get a system of swales in too. There's no way I'm going to do either of these things property-wide and in one fell swoop. However, either one can be done piece-meal as a local treatment for problem areas or as part of creating a pond system, so I may still make use of those techniques at some point.

Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, but no experience, and when it comes to nature, experience is what really counts. So who out there has this kind of experience?
 
Micky Ewing
Posts: 102
Location: Merrickville, Ontario
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pkile Hatfield wrote:Jay,
Save the maple trees for your already mature over story, and make maple syrup in the spring using the fuel from some of the pines you take down to evaporate it.
PKile

I'm with you on that pkile. I love maple syrup and now I have the trees. I'm going to have to get some discussion going on the rocket stove forum about evaporator designs. Seems like the perfect application to me.
 
Jay Peters
Posts: 74
Location: Montreal, QC mostly. Developing in Southern New Brunswick, Canada.
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There's no way I'm gonna cut down those maples - not to worry. I'd be happy to use the wood once they fall but til then (once i'm out there fulltime) i'll be doing what I can to harvest the sap and make some syrup. I sure wouldn't be the only one in the area doing it.

I was thinking an RMH would make a nice evaporator - I'd like to see that thread, Micky.

Still have a lot of poking around to do on site to see how much of everything I have. Haven't yet counted the maples.

Pkile and Adam - Thanks much for the input.

I think there's one suitable with area with maple trees here and there that has filled in with young birch (probably 10 - 15 year growth) that could be a good place to start things out.

Have been thinking about trying to use some of the swamp and marsh to grow cranberries and wild rice respectively.
j
 
William Trachte
Posts: 38
Location: Deerbrook, Wi
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Adam is exactly right. In our third summer of reenacting the settlement of Deerbrook Wis, I find that that the farther something is from the house, the harder it is to take on as a project. While the garden and orchard close at hand have come along, our food forest initiative in zones 4 & 5 has little traction, with the expansion of deer trails into a decent access network for all the hazels being the only true accomplishment. This is no doubt impolitic, but there is something to be said for cutting trees, particularly around the house. 15 years ago, before we moved here full time, we had 15 acres selectively logged, which vastly improved the maple canopy and created edge communities like the hazels, blackberry and bilberries for us to start with. You will need some sun, and if you get the right timber sale manager, as we did, to pick the trees, bid the work, and supervise the action, the result can be quite satisfactory. At the time, I knew beans about agroforestry, and had the good luck to hire a guy who cared.
Our attempt to re-introduce butternut, wiped out by blight around these parts 50 years ago, is clinging to life, but the point about finding out what already grows there is well taken.
Recently it has occurred to me that uprooted tree fall might make for an excellent beginning of a hugel. Now if only I can get to them ; >

IMG_1989.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_1989.JPG]
dwarf blueberries: thrives in the bog but hard to get at
 
                            
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Where in New Brunswick are you? I am in Fort Kent, Maine just across the border. The property is near North Perley Brook.
PKile
 
                            
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Let me know how the wild rice comes out. Where do you get the seed?
Don't forget highbush cranberries too but they don't do well in the swamp.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Dont worry about all 50 acres you can really only maintain 2 acres at most.
So find out what grows in your zone 5 (-15F), then plant every single one of them.
Maybe a few years after that is done you can plant another 6 acres as silvo-pasture or just straight pasture.
Also I would just clear cut that 2 acres. And use the trees to make hugelkulture or wood chip.
 
Mike Cantrell
Posts: 530
Location: Mid-Michigan
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Jay Peters wrote: The cedar is mostly located in a very wet cedar swamp which I don't intend to do anything with other than harvest cedar from occasionally for construction (not a suitable area for food forest anyway..right? swamp?

pkile Hatfield wrote:
including bog. You can grow elderberry, blueberry, bilberry, lingonberry and many other varieties in the bog area. If the bog area is large you can use a chinampa system.
Good luck.


Right, don't write those areas off! You can also have cattails (you may have them already), wapatos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagittaria_cuneata) and tasty animals like bullfrogs and crawdads.
 
Jay Peters
Posts: 74
Location: Montreal, QC mostly. Developing in Southern New Brunswick, Canada.
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The Cedar swamp is quite dark - as the cedar is tall and dense not much if anything else seems to be growing there now, though last I explored it was in the fall. I will be thinning it out in the next couple of years which might allow for more undergrowth BUT the other known 'wetland' area is already filled with tall grasses and cat tails and quite open to the sun. I'm hoping to include it as is as part of a greater system of water/earthworks to be constructed down the road.

I certainly don't plan to try and tackle too much at once. I was thinking about clearing 1/2 acre to an acre on one of the larger south facing slopes. Thanks to this thread I think now I'll choose a spot with smaller birch growth and the occasional more mature maple and ash, clear the birch and hugel/mulch it ..burn some of it for heat too probably.. and turn that area into the first bit of food forest. I hope to work with what I have getting little patches going where the landscape calls for it...see what I can do with the wet bits (cedar swamp, clear wetland). Get a fish pond happening in one of the low spots below the cleared area - hopefully feed it with the watershed of the slope/seasonal runoff which can get quite fierce, and the spring that appears to be feeding the cedar swamp if the geography will allow for it. As the years go I'll develop more and try to maintain the remaining acres of woodland as a woodlot for fuel and timber.

pkile: My spot is near Saint John further from the ocean than I originally stated (more like 20-25k) , but close enough to have its climate regulated while still having temps cold enough to hold snow most of the winter (4-5 months). You seem to be quite a bit further north - near Edmunston and Quebec. Nice rugged country up there. Will let you know how wild rice goes, though I won't be getting to that for a while yet I don't think.

j
 
                            
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Jay,
I am about 20 miles from Edmunston. Definitely north, being zone 3. Planted some apple root stock, clematis vines and Hazelnut/filbert today. Will be getting a survey on the property this summer in anticipation of planting special hybrid chestnuts from the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment station. The trees will be ready to go into the ground by June 2014. This week, plan on counting maples and cataloging the varieties growing to get a better idea of the microclimates and what I will substitute with polyculture in those areas. Next spring will begin the vitis (grape vines)propagation for rootstock using a beta cold-tolerant grape variety. It is surprising how many varieties of cold-tolerant grape there is.

This fall will collect apples from various cultivars here in the St John Valley to grow my rootstock. In 1 year will plant them out below the swales and in 2 years start grafting multiple cold-tolerant apple varieties. The local town of Fort Kent is getting a farmer's CO-Op started here on Market street that I will be able to sell fruit, maple syrup, honey, nuts, and intercropped grains.

This fall I plan on starting my seed beds for the apple rootstock, Siberian, Himalayan and Korean pine nuts, blueberries, elderberries and bilberries. Next spring will be the stone fruit, peaches, nectarines and apricots. The Manchurian Apricot should do well here. Will slowly add in the Nanking cherry, hardy pears. Once I get all the rootstock I am going to use multiple global hardy varieties for grafting.
Looking at getting some Osage orange and use these to graft some che fruit to see if it will grow here. It is not unusual to hit minus 40 F here in the winter. I will have to plant a lot of each to have plenty for the marauding bears, moose and deer to have their share and not destroy all my crop.

 
William Trachte
Posts: 38
Location: Deerbrook, Wi
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About those ash: around these parts the morels just came in last week in close proximity to the high-ground mature ash trees. If you're visiting the property soon now might be a good time to hunt. Admittedly we are very late this year.
 
Micky Ewing
Posts: 102
Location: Merrickville, Ontario
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Jay Peters wrote:...I was thinking an RMH would make a nice evaporator - I'd like to see that thread, Micky.


Jay, I just posted to a moribund thread in "permies » forums » energy » wood burning stoves" called "Rocket Evaporator?", hoping to reawaken it. I haven't posted any plans of my own yet. Just trying to restart the conversation. Cross your fingers.
 
Clara Florence
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I just watched a foodie program in which they were tapping birch trees for sap like a maple, and making some kind of wine out of it. Just sayin....
 
J.T. Croteau
Posts: 34
Location: NH and MO
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Clara Florence wrote:I just watched a foodie program in which they were tapping birch trees for sap like a maple, and making some kind of wine out of it. Just sayin....

Birch syrup is very good on a lot of things, just like maple syrup. Chaga mushrooms can also be found high up on birch trees and makes a great tea.
 
Terri Matthews
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Location: Eastern Kansas
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I am just beginning my food forest.

I got a lot of inexpensive American Plum trees from my state forestry department, and I planted some on the edge of the forested area and some near the creek: I figured they would grow best in whatever area suited them the best. I also planted one in my back yard, and I hear that cuttings could be taken and rooted, and that way if I blew this I would still have a source of plums.

In the more open area I planted asparagus roots, and one apricot tree. I also planted daffodils for fun.

I also tried to get onions established, and also annual vegetables, but they did not grow.

That is as far as I have gotten so far!

I saw a special once on a hunting and gathering tribe that was moving into the modern era. They gathered latex to sell and foraged for food. Where there was a thin spot in the forest they planted more bananas, nuts, and rubber trees. I assume that if they ran out of small clearings that they would have made some by removing some trees, but they had not yet had that problem. They sold the latex they gathered and bought radios, batteries, flip-flops, and store-bought clothes. The forest provided everything else they needed.
 
William Trachte
Posts: 38
Location: Deerbrook, Wi
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J.T. Croteau wrote:
Clara Florence wrote:I just watched a foodie program in which they were tapping birch trees for sap like a maple, and making some kind of wine out of it. Just sayin....

Birch syrup is very good on a lot of things, just like maple syrup. Chaga mushrooms can also be found high up on birch trees and makes a great tea.


I've read the lower sugar content of the birch sap necessitates 600 gallons of sap to get one of syrup instead of 30/1 with maple. That's a lot of boiling. If you're using firewood, fuel consumption is likely prohibitive.
birch syrup
I have a thread here somewhere (under projects) demonstrating the small batch maple boil, if you're interested.

The chaga tea, hot or cold, with lemon and stevia sweetener, is quite good, and has completely displaced my monstrous soft drink diet.
 
Jeff Higgins
Posts: 10
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada
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I'm in the same zone roughly and I started my food forest reclaiming a woodlot forest from alder. I have been coppicing them because they are great source of nitrogen and do very well. I have started pear as understory for birch and maple already growing. I added hazelnut bushes, oak and chestnut trees. fruit bushes I have and do well are haskap, saskatoon gooseberries, blueberries. ground level are blackberries and raspberries. Herbaceous are mint, mustard, comfrey and lovage. ground cover is violet, wildflowers, woodland strawberry and low-bush cranberry. the rhizome layer are random annual beets and potatoes with perennial horseradish. Vines are grape, hardy issac kiwi(self fertile), apois americana and hops . I also have started a typical cottage garden with medicinal/edibles to encourage beneficial insects/pollinators

I love the PFAF database and their resource book on food forest gardening, very helpful!
 
Logan Streondj
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Hey, haven't got my own land yet, but doing some guerilla gardening in the city at a wilderness plot.
Can't really till or any of the standard stuff so been getting stuff established through seedball, heavy mulching with compost on top kinda stuff.
Been doing a lot of foraging and wild harvesting, observing forest eco-systems also.

In terms of the trees
pine, birch (generally young), cedar, maple, ash, some oak, various spruce varieties

All of them have uses, however you're most interested in the food uses.

Note that you don't need to make birch syrup due to high xylitol content (a low cal anti-microbial non-fermentable sugar) of the sap, it can be used as a preservative, for jams and such, also quite tasty when drank straight, it's also good for your teeth, used in non-flouride toothpaste.. Maple sap has to be boiled down cause it has fermentable sugars, so can make maple beer/wine with the sap.

Spruce and pine are very edible, the needles are high in vitamin C,
the sap has a variety of sugars, and can be used as a bandaid,
It's the only bandaid I use, and even worked for a wound that may have required stiches.
the inner bark is also edible, as with some others, can check PFAF.

oak is some of the strongest wood, and has acorns which can be abundant,
though sometimes hard to prepare, they are certainly edible.

cedar is very rot-resistant good for building,
eastern-cedar and juniper have edible berries.
A friend of mine did a native retreat in northern ontario,
said the staple of their diet was cedar bark with some pine.
Haven't heard of anyone else eating it,
though don't know that many deep forest traditional native lifestyle people.

I think that kinda like how in the "fertile crescent" savanna's, the grains were the abundant staple,
similarly in north america, trees were more plentiful so bark tended to be the staple.
So if you think of your woodland as though it as your starchy staple,
kinda makes it like you have a food forest already.

Note though, that there is special processing required to make inner-bark edible,
it has to be fried and preferably ground into flour, can use for thickening soups and breads.
Wheras grain grows on a flat plane, bark grows vertically, so can have more food in same acreage.
In Papau new guinea there are well known tribal peoples that use bark as their main staple.

From what I read about eastern north american natives that ate bark,
they would harvest the tree and it's bark in the spring time when it's sap was running,
that would mean it had the highest sugar content, and also that they had food for the rest of the year.
They would use it then as a back-up, in case other food sources weren't as bountiful,
and after next harvest they used the left overs to feed their livestock (mainly dogs).


Ash is as the name implies is good firewood,
though it has the fewest edible (Food forest) uses,
just after cedar.

Also though you as you say you have maple, birch, pine, oak and spruce,
they come in different kinds, some are more edible than others,
so those which are less desirable, those could be sold as lumber for instance.

Wheras can keep the more desirable species, such as sugar and black maple (For sap),
red maple (secondary sap, but early flowers good for bees) alder and willow also have early flowers...
White pine is said to have the best flavour. White and black spruce have the most medicinal qualities, followed by red spruce.
Bur Oak is said to have the best flavoured acorns.

That's what I know off hand, though can simply check using pfaf search, and sort by edibility, and then compare medicinal rating to select a winner, i.e. tree that should stay in the food-forest, though I guess the loser in this case would likely get cut down to make room for other more edible things. It is good to maintain diversity of course, as they excel at different environments, and want to avoid monocrop infections.

My point being, should keep all the generic classes, but can prune out the less edible/useful species of them.
That way you'll also know which ones are the best to harvest.
 
Jay Peters
Posts: 74
Location: Montreal, QC mostly. Developing in Southern New Brunswick, Canada.
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wow! Logan: really interesting info in there.

I shall have to do more research into a lot of what you mentioned. The idea of finding a use for birch sap, without reduction, and finding food uses for trees commonly not thought of for such is very interesting. I really want to embrace the idea of using native species..not that I'm not a fanatic about natives, but what already grows is of great interest to me. If cedar bark can be made into a useful flour and grows easily already why not use it as such! It would often be left to rot or just burned anyway. Even if processing is required, obviously much heat is required up here in winter, regardless of how efficient ones home might be and I've already a long list of things to do with waste heat. Processing cedar bark could be added to that list.

Also big thanks to all who mentioned the PFAF database. Very useful!

Thanks to this thread and other research I think my plan will be to do a certain amount a clearing, not much to start - probably an acre at most, leaving likely some birch and maple at large but regular intervals and begin guilding (if I may use that as a verb) around them as described by Hemenway etc. I would plant one of a more diverse mixture of new trees between each of the more mature trees with the hope that they will succeed the current overstory in time and provide a more diverse source of food and possibly timber in that area. I will make a point of starting with an area covered with mostly birch as the mulch build up underneath them should make for some pretty good soil I would think. Will have to check of course.

Of course I have much more research to do: Figuring out which trees to leave standing and what the distances between should be - what to plant as future overstory/guild centres that will do best in my climate and provide useful food and/or timber - how to structure the guilds underneath to be most beneficial again for my climate and in relation to the various guild centres - first and foremost, choose the best place to start after more research into the topography of the land and what's growing on it. Hoping to plot this out next month on an extended stay on the property.

These forums are great! Thanks!
 
William Trachte
Posts: 38
Location: Deerbrook, Wi
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Cornell Ornithology set up this tool to encourage birding, but it can really help with your land projects.
http://app.yardmap.org/map#!/map
 
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