• Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Food Forest from Virgin Forest?

 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Evey permaculture site I've been to talks about building a food forest on clear-cut, depleted farmland. That's a wonderful thing, but I am considering buying forested land; here in Michigan it's plentiful and cheap. What are advantages and drawbacks to this approach?

The advantage would seem to be that there's already an existing, hummus-laden forest floor to work with.

The principal disadvantage I can see is the fact that virgin forest around here is chock-full of Black Walnut and Juniper.
 
Adrien Lapointe
steward
Pie
Posts: 3200
Location: Kingston, Canada (USDA zone 5a)
151
chicken dog food preservation forest garden fungi tiny house toxin-ectomy trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I see opportunities to grow mushrooms, get forest products (lumber, wild meats, fiddle heads, etc.), and raise pigs a la Salatin (I assume pigs would like the black walnuts). As a by-product of harvesting wood for selling or building you can then create openings in the forest where you can plant fruit and nut trees that you want. In my opinion, not much disadventages, just a different set of opportunities.
 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lots of animals love black walnuts, that's true. The problem is that black walnut trees exude a toxin (juglone) from their roots and leaves, which leaches into the surrounding soil and inhibits many species of plants from growing there – sometimes for decades after the walnut tree is cut. Juniper isn't so bad. It just chases away insects: good and bad.
 
Adrien Lapointe
steward
Pie
Posts: 3200
Location: Kingston, Canada (USDA zone 5a)
151
chicken dog food preservation forest garden fungi tiny house toxin-ectomy trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I don't have a list of plants on the top of my head, but in gaia's garden (see here) Toby Hemenway talks about the black walnut guild and he mentions that mulberry trees do not mind the juglone. I am sure there are other plants that can withstand it and cycling animals and different plants on cleared patch might help to get rid of juglone faster. I think this is a case of "the problem is the solution". The presence of juglone will help to direct your design towards plants that tolerate it and the black walnuts produce really good lumber and nuts.
 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
What should be done with existing deadfalls? Leave in place? Chip and spread? Chip, compost, and spread? Use for hugelbeets elsewhere? Etc…
 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
2
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hmmmmm… Now I'm looking up juglone-tolerant plants.

Cherry
Blackberry
Hazelnut
black locust
Lima Bean
Currant
Elderberry
St. John's Wort

It seems this won't be quite as big a problem as I originally suspected.
 
Adrien Lapointe
steward
Pie
Posts: 3200
Location: Kingston, Canada (USDA zone 5a)
151
chicken dog food preservation forest garden fungi tiny house toxin-ectomy trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Chris Watson wrote:What should be done with existing deadfalls? Leave in place? Chip and spread? Chip, compost, and spread? Use for hugelbeets elsewhere? Etc…


I would experiment, try a hugel bed with some and see if the plants planted on top get affected. I think the juglone is in the roots, so using the trunks might not have much effect, but I am not certain. Some might make good firewood for your RMH
 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Adrien Lapointe wrote:
I would experiment, try a hugel bed with some and see if the plants planted on top get affected. I think the juglone is in the roots, so using the trunks might not have much effect, but I am not certain. Some might make good firewood for your RMH


I'm not just asking about Walnut deadfalls; I want to know about all of them. Fallen Black Walnut – in good condition – will be sold to a woodworkers' guild. They go crazy for the stuff. (The same holds true for Hickory.)

—————

Everything I read about building a food forest assumes that the entire forest gets planted at the same time. But if I buy forested land, I'll need to selectively thin it, then plant under an existing canopy. It seems to me that this is a completely different process from anything I've seen discussed. (I can't very well to geoff lawton's chicken tractoring method in an established forest.)

In a "reforestation" forest system, you start with dead grasses, chicken poop, and seeds. In essence, you're building an ecosystem. What I want to do is insert myself into an established ecosystem. That seems like a much trickier process. Mother Nature can be a temperrmental bitch when she wants to.
 
John Elliott
pollinator
Posts: 2310
77
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lots of animals love black walnuts, that's true. The problem is that black walnut trees exude a toxin (juglone) from their roots and leaves, which leaches into the surrounding soil and inhibits many species of plants from growing there – sometimes for decades after the walnut tree is cut. Juniper isn't so bad. It just chases away insects: good and bad.


See my topic on mycoremediation. Juglone can take a long time to decompose, and it can take a short time -- there are ways to speed the process up. Once you have some plan of what to do with the land, what trees to cut, what trees to leave, then you apply techniques to get the native fungi to work in your favor.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You can only farm/manage 1-2 acres realistically WITHOUT machine.
So cut down 2 acres built your food forest, then the rest of the land you can just open up and run animals in it (silvo-pasture).
So dont wast your time only focus on two acres.

Edited: to state that 2 acres is around the max without machines. (good catch Adrien)
 
Adrien Lapointe
steward
Pie
Posts: 3200
Location: Kingston, Canada (USDA zone 5a)
151
chicken dog food preservation forest garden fungi tiny house toxin-ectomy trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I feel like it is possible to manage more than 2 acres with machines (e.g. Mark Shepard), however, S Bengi has a good point in his recommendation : "Don't over extend yourself"
 
Isaac Hill
gardener
Posts: 356
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
9
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think that it's important to mention the ethical considerations of putting a food forest in a virgin forest, since permaculture is based on ethics. One of the main reasons people take degraded land to build a food forest on is that in the creation of a food forest you are adding biodiversity, life, purpose. Taking something that has been destroyed by our civilization's abuse and turning it into something that is in harmony. A virgin forest is already in harmony, and perhaps should be left to itself. There are plenty of degraded areas to help. Earth care is first!
 
Adrien Lapointe
steward
Pie
Posts: 3200
Location: Kingston, Canada (USDA zone 5a)
151
chicken dog food preservation forest garden fungi tiny house toxin-ectomy trees woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think it is not so bad to do some "tweak" to a forest so that it can support the people that stewards it and make it even more productive. On the other hand, I agree that clearing an old growth forest to replace it with a food forest is probably not the best option. Some forest are stagnant and declining, a bit of nudging is not a bad thing.
 
Chris Watson
Posts: 85
Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
2
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Absolutely, Adrien. I have no intention of clearing anything. I'm considering something along the lines of thinning the smaller trees, leaving the old canopy trees in situ, and filling in the thinned areas with support species that will:
  • Contribute to fertility (legumes);
  • Provide food; and
  • provide sustainably harvestable wood for the future


  • I also want to clear out deadfalls, chip them, and return most of them (sans allelopaths) to the forest floor as mulch. This will make the forest much more fire-resistant than the natural state. Live trees don't burn without a hot fire under them, which is usually fueled by dead trees.
     
    Chris Watson
    Posts: 85
    Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
    2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    There really is no "virgin forest" in Southern Michigan in terms of old-growth, untouched nature. There are areas where logging stopped 50-70 years ago. That's what I'm talking about.

    And bear in mind that this is all academic at this point. I'm still land shopping. I'm just noticing that uncleared land tends to be a lot cheaper, which is what got me thinking about this question.
     
    Isaac Hill
    gardener
    Posts: 356
    Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
    9
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Right, and I understand too that many (younger) forests benefit from being managed, it all depends on the management. Thinning smaller trees and adding more native useful plants are no doubt beneficial, clearing swathes to grow non-native food plants might not be a good idea, but it all depends on the context. Also, I imagine that the value of the timber on forested lands may account for the price difference.
     
    Alder Burns
    pollinator
    Posts: 1331
    Location: northern California
    42
    • Likes 4
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I spent a total of 12 years homesteading in various sorts of young forest systems in Georgia. One lesson I learned the hard way is that it is very difficult to tuck additional plants into existing forest/thicket and expect them to thrive. There will be a continuous mat of existing roots everywhere you dig, and these will be attracted to any soil amendments or additional water you are giving the new plants. I found that in some cases, a new tree would dry out the more I watered it!! You have to break out patches, big enough to let some sun in and subdue the existing root nets and stump sprouts in order to get most cultivated fruits, nuts, and other plants to establish. The only exception would be proper woodland plants that just don't happen to be already on your site. A season with goats and/or pigs in each clearing would help create the kind of disturbance event you need to get new stuff started. I have also gotten a bunch of old carpets and used these to smother the stump sprouts....these vary according to species....I had sweetgum which is especially vigorous....and the roots all graft together underground, compounding the problem. In this case a great "solution" for coppice, continuous yields of firewood, etc. was a big problem. If I had it to do over again I'd have preferred the areas that were predominantly pine to make my clearings, as pine does not sprout....
    With your deadwood, lots of options there. wood heat, hugelkultur, chipping for mulch, chipping for biochar, mushrooms (especially on any fresh logs and stumps), leave some piles for wildlife habitat. I would guess that making walnut slash into biochar would remove the allelopathic compounds.
     
    Alder Burns
    pollinator
    Posts: 1331
    Location: northern California
    42
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    The other advantage of establishing clearings large enough for several trees and understory plants is that you will probably have to fence out deer (and perhaps other things), at least in the beginning, and it will be easier to do that to several (or many) plants grouped together than to scattered individuals....
     
    Chris Watson
    Posts: 85
    Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
    2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Depending on where I buy, I'll either have problems with deer or coyotes. And it's unpredictable; both tend to move around a lot. You can be infested with deer one year and coyotes the next.
     
    Sean Banks
    Posts: 153
    2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Virgin Forest? I think not....Virgin forest's are rare in the east, only 1% of the original forest remains. You could at best have second growth forest....walnut and cedar are definitely species that you would find in second growth. If it was truly virgin you would be seeing species that are common in climax communities such as sugar maple and beech. You would also see pit and mound topography, tree balding, and stag headed branching.
     
    Philip Green
    Posts: 45
    Location: Southern Ohio (zone 6a)
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I've contemplated this question quite a bit. I'm in Ohio and also looking at buying 50+ year old forest (not really virgin, but about as close as we get in most of Ohio). I think that in terms of long term, it would be easier to start from forest than from bare ground. There will be a better ecosystem and an upper canopy layer (as well as many native fruit/nut shrubs/trees/herbs). I am interested in getting around 100 acres and eventually managing the entire system as a food forest.

    I do think that it would involve quite a bit of tree thinning/removal. You need to provide a fair amount of light and edge to grow many plants. Ideally (as another poster mentioned) you could use goats or other forage animals to control resprouts (and perhaps use some coppicing as well). I've had a fair amount of success on the small scale mostly clearing an area (leaving a few value trees - which could be virtually anything depending on what you want out of it, legumes, nut trees or timber trees) and then planting below them. I also planted some trees that I plan to eventually become upper canopy trees (at which point I will probably remove some of the current upper canopy trees). All of the cleared wood can have a purpose though (left to rot and decompose, made into hugelkultur on the spot or moved, or used for building or sold for timber). Also if you pull down the tree (rather than cut it), than the root ball that comes up could provide an instant hugelkultur - or at least a very nice start) and the depression left behind would provide a small water collecting hole (more edge). I plan to use machinery (and already have on smaller scale), but I think you could manage 20+ acres without machinery (other than perhaps a chainsaw), provided you only worked on a few acres at a time (begin a food forest from one acre, than move on to the next acre while maintaining the first one etc...).

    Downed wood I think could be left (it should as it decomposes provide similar benefits to hugelkultur), but piling soil on it would probably speed the process. High value wood would probably be sold and removed.

    If you are buying a large amount of land than things like walnuts (and other normal permaculture "problem" plants) are much less of a problem. If an area is concentrated with walnuts leave them be and let your animals forage under them. If there is a stray tree far from the large population you could probably also just let it be (yes it will effect other nearby plants, but the area it can effect will be relatively small). On my 5 acres right now I leave things like pines trees, but cut down a few per year to provide winter goat forage (than plant blueberries in the openings).

    Since you mentioned deer/coyote, I've been contemplating this and perhaps I can get some feedback on the possibility of it working. Around the border of the land, cut out say a approximately 100 foot swath. The regrowth would provide a fairly dense thicket. If you were able to add some thorny plants (osage orange or locust) into that thicket. I imagine it would provide a reasonable barrier to wildlife. It probably wouldn't stop them (though I imagine with a bit of work it would be able to use that thicket as a fence for some animals), but it would slow them. Especially if there are some wild fruit/nut trees/shrubs mixed in (with luck they would already be there with no help from you).

    In terms of permaclture ethics. First I'm on the Paul Wheaton side of I don't care that much, if I can make a bunch of money and be a lazy farmer (do nothing but harvest - eventually) than I will be happy. But 2nd in many heavily forested areas a meadow with a lot of fruits and nuts would provide excellent animal habitat, better than the forest itself in many cases. Though they may not be the final stage of succession, meadows and prairies are natural even in forests and they provide habitat to animals and plants not suited for forest. I think that the argument could be made that a 50+ year old forest will provide the most benefit if left untouched, but I also think you shouldn't feel bad about touching it if you are providing good wildlife habitat.
     
    Chris Watson
    Posts: 85
    Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
    2
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Sidenote worth mentioning, because it keeps coming up:

    I have no issue with machinery when needed. I see no need for a combine in fields small enough for a scythe, but if a massive deadfall needs moving, I'm not going to wait two years while I raise and train a team of oxen.
     
    Chris Watson
    Posts: 85
    Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
    2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    …And biogas conversion answers a lot of issues about using machinery.
     
    Acetylsalicylic acid is aspirin. This could be handy too:
    Got Permaculture games? Yes! 66 cards, infinite possibilities::
    www.FoodForestCardGame
    • Post Reply
    • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
    • New Topic