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HYPOTHESIS - optimal approach for zone 2 food forest establishment in PNW  RSS feed

 
Paul Cereghino
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Lets see what we can do.  Here's my proposition...

[glow=red,2,300]The maximum efficiency approach to zone 2 forest garden establishment on most PNW sites involves ‘clean cultivation’ of deep arborist chip mulch.[/glow]

Efficiency is the ability to reach goals with a minimum of ecological, economic, or labor costs over the period of establishment.  A single deep mulch application from free arborist chips, followed by 2 years of aggressive proactive control of any species that undermine long term goals provides that efficiency.  Planting of overstory and supporting woody species should precede mulching.  The deep mulch reflects the importance of controlling Eurasian and particularly rhizomatous grasses to support development of complex low maintenance ground vegetation as desired in zone 2.  Hand weeding among herbaceous plantings dramatically increases labor cost with no return.  Arborist chips provide a balance of nitrogen and carbon relative to other wood products, provide an initial input of slow release nutrients, cultivate fungal populations, are more durable than other alternatives, and are free.  The addition of other steps, or alternative approaches, adds to cost with marginal return.
 
Travis Philp
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I propose adding a step before the mulch application and even before the canopy tree planting if possible.

Basically using a chicken/duck/pig or cardboard tractor system to clear the area of vegetation, moving the tractor over to the next plot, and then placing the woodchips on the recently cleared area. Its similar to what is proposed for broad scale forest garden establishment in the book "Edible Forest Gardens" but their case study used black plastic or bio mulch.

If using cardboard- the pieces must be fairly large and can be held down by rocks, bricks, or pieces of wood

 
Travis Philp
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Beware if trying this method in an area with field bind weed as I've seen it come back with a vengeance and take over whole woodchipped areas
 
tel jetson
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Travis Philp wrote:
Beware if trying this method in an area with field bind weed as I've seen it come back with a vengeance and take over whole woodchipped areas


seconded.  I tried roughly what you've proposed on a small scale, but with a thick cardboard layer under the mulch.  before the project, I didn't notice any bindweed in evidence.  a year later, bindweed was about all I noticed.  I guess the 2 years of aggressive proactive control might be more onerous in some settings than others.
 
                                          
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I am going to have to strongly disagree with your proposed hypothesis on pretty much all counts.  It's not permaculture, and it's not true.

You statement is exclusive, implying that there are no other methods that are superior or more effecient.  This is untrue.  For starters, I am pretty certain someone else can come up with a more productive method without the amount of material and physical inputs you are suggesting.

What do I mean?  I mean that you are stating that you MUST use a deep mulching of free arboist wood chips.  This is an unnessecary external input that violates the idea of growing within an advanced polyculture - a fundamental permacultural technique that would take pages to fully extrapolate on.  You then state your need 2 YEARS of intensive "proactive" tinkering to "control any species that would undermine long term goals".  That is a lot of work.

Are you honestly suggesting I spend my labor and money wiping out all native life in the exisiting zone 2 area with a very specific and possibly costly material input and THEN persist in picking and choosing what life does and does not get to exist in my zone 2 area, further destroying anything that looks like a dynamic and natually occuring polyculture?

Who am I though to shoot down your obviously considered and planned proposal though?  You're right, I'm no one really.  Just a guy with an opinon.  I'll let the work of Masonobu Fukuoka do that for me!

Fukuoka tried this kind of zone 2 experiement.  It failed.  A lot of his experiments failed this way.  He did succeed in 25 inches of topsoil though, starting from red clay pan that wasn't even fit to grow potatoes however.  How did he do it?  He left well enough alone.  In fact EVERY SINGLE TIME he tinkered with the area for his own "efficency" it only made things worse and caused a need for MORE inputs not less.

Since we are defining "efficency" as "the ability to reach long term goals with a minimum of ecological, economic, or labor costs over the period of establishment" I'm going to say that more inputs than NOTHING over 2 years is probably less efficenct than just leaving well enough alone and letting the hard workers(weeds)do thier thing.
 
                    
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So, shamanmonkey.  I'd like to know what you are going to eat while you wait two years for the weeds to "do their thing."  And how will you persuade edibles to take the place of the weeds after they've created wonderful top soil for you?  Or have you evolved your digestive system to the extent that you can live off weeds?  That would be a trick we could all use. 

I'd like to remind you that Fukuoka actively changed, dug, and planted his ground.  You're taking the whole "do-nothing" thing to the extreme.  You cannot really do nothing at all and expect to be a farmer who grows some food.  Unless, like I said before, you've found some extremely nutritious and productive weeds to eat.  And if so, good on ya! 

I think your rebuttle was too harsh.  The thread topic started with the great big word HYPOTHESIS meaning:  this is how I think it should happen because it's worked well for me, and here's why.  Paul was probably looking for other suggestions to add, not expecting that we all agree that this is the ONLY approach to be used in this situation. 
 
Scott Reil
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Location: Colchester, CT
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The reasons for Fukuoka-san's failure, and the overall issue of agriculture in arboreal forest soils is simple and definable. The soil is unsuited for most things other than boreal forest. Taiga soils are almost completely fungally dominant, literally in the high 90%. Our row crops and vegetables are almost all happiest in a balanced bacterial/fungal soil. THIS is the greatest hurdle to the Zone 2 permaculture.

I had this thought watching a great video Paul had posted; a garden in France that was managed without ANY inputs other than surface mulch. I was very taken with the idea, but in thinking on it later, I came across this very issue; what about the soil that is not ready? What about the completely bacterial or fungal soil, with chemistries that support it's current state (pH and biotype are still a chicken and egg case; does pH lead biology or does biology lead pH? I can make either argument  )

So not being nearly as inculcated in the ethics of permaculture as many here I ask; are we actinf in a PC manner when we drastically alter the existing soil chemistries in favor of our man-made plants? If this type of culture is sought after and inhibits or damages local species, are we still acting in the best interests of the local ecosystem?

Here in New England, while the more southernly tribes in my neck of the woods did "settle" and (proto)farm, the Northern New England tribes were completely given to the H/G lifestyle. My sense of this dichotomy is that the unsuitable soils of the boreal forest made agriculture a losing tactic for those environs, in comparison to returns from hunting and gathering. If the premise is to use native plants that thrive in these soils as the basis for the plant guilds, rather than shoehorn our more familiar crops into a shoe that doesn't fit well at all, then Paul C's methodology is likely unnecessary. But if we are trying to get to a place where we can grow corn and cabbage, we have more work to do to that soil than simply piling wood chips...

HG
 
Travis Philp
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helpful;

If I understand you correctly, I think the 'zone 2' that you're referring to is different than the one talked about in this thread. I think you're talking about the hardiness zone as it relates to climate and temperature, and what Paul is talking about is the permaculture zone 2. This is the second closest growing area to the house or central hub of a farm. Zone 1 usually consists of annual veggies, herbs, and generally things that a family needs close at hand, or that needs a lot of maintenance and attention (eg. heavily pruned fruit trees) Zone 2 is where there are more perennial vegetables, and un-pruned or lightly pruned trees, bushes, vines, clumpers etc.

Maybe I'm missing something right under my nose and you were in fact referring to the permaculture zone 2 and I'm looking like an idiot right now...
 
Travis Philp
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helpfulgardener wrote:
are we actinf in a PC manner when we drastically alter the existing soil chemistries in favor of our man-made plants? If this type of culture is sought after and inhibits or damages local species, are we still acting in the best interests of the local ecosystem?


For me the answer is that if one has planned to plant native species as much as possible, and from there turns to non-natives to fill in the rest of their wanted niche's then it is within the basic spectrum of permaculture ethics.

helpfulgardener wrote:
If the premise is to use native plants that thrive in these soils as the basis for the plant guilds, rather than shoehorn our more familiar crops into a shoe that doesn't fit well at all, then Paul C's methodology is likely unnecessary. But if we are trying to get to a place where we can grow corn and cabbage, we have more work to do to that soil than simply piling wood chips...


I highly suggest looking into 'ramial chipped branch wood' cultivation technique. To sum it up, you take woodchips (at least 80% deciduous) and rake or disk them into the very top few inches of soil and then plant into it. If possible it is best to first place a thin layer of forest soil (from thbottomland forest edges) to innoculate the new growing area with fungi and bacteria.

In this medium you can grow any crop from what I know, and have good results. I've not tried it exactly but ahve used a similar method and had success. Though nitrogen can be tied up a bit in the first year so its best to go with beans for an initial crop.
 
tel jetson
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If the premise is to use native plants that thrive in these soils as the basis for the plant guilds, rather than shoehorn our more familiar crops into a shoe that doesn't fit well at all


I don't really aim for either of those, and I don't know a lot of growers who do.  there are plenty delicious plants native to my neck of the woods, and I try to use as many as possible, but there are also an awful lot of delicious plants that aren't familiar and aren't native to my neck of the woods (or even the same hemisphere) and grow just fine without drastically altering the biology or chemistry of the dirt.  I might try to emulate some aspects of natural ecosystems, but I'm certainly not going to limit myself to local species.  as I see it, there are very few positive consequences of globalization.  having easy access to seabuckthorn and pistachio plants is one that I'm going to take full advantage of.

Taiga soils are almost completely fungally dominant, literally in the high 90%.


so you've got a choice to make: alter the biology in favor of bacteria or plant species that do well in fungal dirt.  neither of those seems terribly difficult to me.  I suppose you could also just plant whatever species you like and accept less than optimal yields for a while.
 
Paul Cereghino
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wow... famine then feast.  For clarity… zone 2 was a reference to the mid distance gardens, mostly perennial and woody savannah or woodland, with minimum labor applied, but Mollison also places single harvest field crops here. 

I was suggesting that there are variations but not alternative as reliable and efficient for achieving my goals.

I propose adding a step before the mulch application and even before the canopy tree planting if possible. Basically using a chicken/duck/pig or cardboard tractor system to clear the area of vegetation, - Travis Philip


If the gardener has a tractor or is planning to raise and slaughter chickens, then adding this element could have benefits.  I would suggest that this is a good option, it is not necessary as a ‘minimum’ intervention to achieve transition to a zone 2 woodland garden.  I leaning towards using my chicken tractors in a field crop setting.

field bind weed…with a thick cardboard layer under the mulch.  before the project, I didn't notice any bindweed in evidence.  a year later, bindweed was about all I noticed. –tel/Travis Philip


I do have bindweed aversion as well.  I have installed with and without cardboard.  I have found that in PNW winter, some species show symptoms of low oxygen (wilting and yellowing of older leaves) under a cardboard mulch.  I am concerned in a heavy soils about gas exchange.  I have found that I get around 90% of the benefit through a deep woodchip mulch without cardboard, removing one step, improving gas exchange, and allowing recovery of some species (particularly dandelion).  When I want to kill rhizomatous species I disrupt the rhizome network before mulching, then grub the survivors with a turning fork.

I am pretty certain someone else can come up with a more productive method without the amount of material and physical inputs you are suggesting. –shamanmonkey


That was my hope, and I am patiently waiting--we've got generations to figure it out.

unnessecary external input that violates the idea of growing within an advanced polyculture - a fundamental permacultural technique that would take pages to fully extrapolate on.  You then state your need 2 YEARS of intensive "proactive" tinkering to "control any species that would undermine long term goals" –shamanmonkey


My goal is to convert from Eurasian pasture community to dense yield patchy woodland with a minimum of labor.  The 2 years would be spent observing the system as it recovers from the wood chip onslaught and killing those species that I don’t want in the system.  Not killing all species.  For example, I leave dandelion, vetch, and dock but exclude crab grass.  I like deadnettle, and bring in nettle roots when I have a patch that is free of undesirable species. I believe that the initial input of carbon and nutrients in the form of arborist chips represents a radical improvement of structural carbon, soil productivity, and a restoration of native soil structure and community, much faster than that which would be provided by the annual productivity of the existing wildlings. Arborist chips are locally produced, and are a readily available waste stream in a small urban or suburban setting There is labor in spreading them, however it is light, and aerobic, and I think that exercise is good.

I will continue to experiment with broadcast sowing approaches, and am spending labor to grow the volume of seed necessary to support such practices, but I have been unsuccessful so far.  I have seen no successful examples of productive systems based on broadcast sowing in my ecoregion.  I would not eat the 'oldfield succession' that occurs in my neighborhood except if I were starving.

Are you honestly suggesting I spend my labor and money wiping out all native life in the exisiting zone 2 area with a very specific and possibly costly material input and THEN persist in picking and choosing what life does and does not get to exist in my zone 2 area --Shamanmonkey


no money (except for selected woody stock)... yes labor... not all native life, just selected species... yes I believe arborist chips is the best available input but other things would suffice... and yes I would suggest that a zone 2 gardener impose their will on the system... I believe this is consistent with published permaculture ethics and practices

 
Jami McBride
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Hum... interesting discussion.  I've been pondering the same issues here in my part of the PNW.

Just finished reading Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, of course this is not a Forest-Garden book.  However, Steve really hits on the very important, often overlooked features of the PNW.  He addresses how the ideas and methods for gardening put forth by many do not apply to our region.  As I read the book I remembered Paul W. comments on preferring the regions that have true winter and seasons to the PNW, finally I understood. 

Basically - Steve recommends a few years of greases to prepare an area and/or you can amend the land to speed things up, but he strongly discourages mulching/mulches to archive fertile garden soil.  I don't know, not having tried it myself, just how right he is.

Allow me to encourage you to check-out Steve Solomon's book from your library and give it a read - just for some area specific information to balance things out a bit.  And as much as possible follow forest gardening advise from those in the UK or other maritime regions.  I believe this will serve you best in the end.

Best of luck Paul

 
Scott Reil
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Um... PC newbie getting an education here; sorry for the hiccup... ops:

Travis, thank you for the beginning of my education to a new language and pardon my reliance on an old one. A lesson for everyone at the minimal expense of my professional dignity (not a huge amount of capital to begin with there anyway  ) Any idiocy rests in assumptions based on limited knowledge...

Paul, thank you for you responses; they do indeed address the issues that sprang to mind (rightly or not) when addressing an imbalanced soil. I will stand by my analysis as examples of where certain soils or ecosystems may be untenable in their native forms, and then one needs to assess the economics and ethics of mitigation. Your call for an easier way helps define that assessment process, and your definition of ethical mitigation both enlightens and suits me. Thanks again.

And as far as this contest thing goes, as far as need for topical education goes, I have clearly illustrated that my need far surpasses that of any other posters 

HG
 
                                          
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Great stuff everyone, I'm pleasantly surprised to log in this morning and find such a great conversation suddenly going on!

Glad to hear you merely wanted to stir up some conversation Paul and it looks like I've done my part in making that happen.  Well, while the topic is hot I'll weigh in with a less 'harsh' tone regarding my point of view and real world practice in zone 2 development, especially regarding grass dominated areas.

I am a staunch believer in the very low input systems design method.  I don't like to work, I don't like to weed and certainly don't like to do anything that does not promote life on my site.  That being said, I will admit that in a heavily grass dominated area there is a limited level of success with direct seeding.  Grass cultures maintain dominance by their root mass and though it is possible to overseed(as nature is apt to do)it does lack some efficiency.  However, for woody, tall and/or bushy plants I have never had a problem digging a hole and plopping one in.  Once the shade gets started, direct seeding is no longer an issue as the grass has lost it's full sun dominance.

Otherwise I resort to sheet composting.  For the uninitiated, sheet composting is a 4-layer composting method.  Cardboard, manure, leaves/straw, and compost on top.  The cardboard blocks the grass and promotes mycelium growth through the corrugated channels, the manure provides the bacteria, the leaves/straw provide the food and the compost makes a lid you can plant into.  This is the highest input I will personally invest in, and with some preparation it's all but free and is done in an afternoon.  Additionally this method hurdles the bacteria/mycelium issue helpfulgardener brought up as well as allows for an immediately accessible planting area for herbaceous perennials and ground cover.  It's key though to direct seed a vast and diverse ecosystem into the compost as soon as possible to promote a polyculture right away.  Without the installation of a diverse selection of herbaceous and ground cover species into the top layer, edible or otherwise, the heartiest and most difficult to control weeds will have an unchecked advantage in the system.  This is how I prevent the 2 years of follow up maintenance:  I let my own selection of 'weeds' do it for me.  After that I leave it alone and see what happens, removing nothing and adding nothing for 6 months.  When 6 months has passed the cardboard is gone and I can dig right into the ground.  I never use wood chips for anything but my paths and I get those from the city's tree service, again for free.

And what do I do to eat for those first 6 months?  Well, if I'm that hard up for food then there is more I need to be worrying about than zone 2 development to begin with, but hypothetically I would subsist off of my zone 1.  Even Fukuoka-san had a moderately intensive zone 1 area(you can ask Larry Korn about that in the Fukuoka thread)and usually I at least have a series of whiskey barrels nearby that can grow a great variety of useful polyculture guilds in a controlled environment.

Hope that helps Paul.  I guess you could read Steve Soloman's ideas on the subject, but that's getting ever further away from the permacultural model than what we've started with in this thread.
 
Jami McBride
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Yes, thank you Shamanmonkey.  I meant to add to my post that Steve Soloman is not a permaculturalist!  And that he does add a lot of 'work' into his mix of ideas and beliefs.  I wouldn't follow his model myself, but I did find his discussion on soil development and gardening methods in various regions excellent food for thought considering the soils in the PNW.

So Steve's book is not the answer, just another interesting resource. 
Notice I said check it out and not to go buy it. 
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