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transitioning existing forest to food forest?

 
Hans Schin
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Is there a way to slowly turn an existing forest (mostly pine) into a more edible forest, besides clearing the land and replanting? I suppose some of the trees have to be thinned out eventually, and more edible plants can slowly be added. Is there a more structured approach to it? I'm buying some mostly wooded property, and would like to work as much as possible with what is already there. I was thinking of first fencing it in, and letting some goats clear the underbrush, thin out the trees a bit, and add new edible plants in the new spaces.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Hi Hans:

I know geoff lawton has a few "rules" that one should consider when swapping forest for food forest.

--if the existing forest is old growth forest, consider leaving it alone and working around what's there by planting berries, etc. If newer growth forest (20-40 yrs depending on species), it is less of an ethical issue to clear trees to plant food forest. Obviously trying to find a use for the cut timber on the property or close by would be advised and in keeping with permaculture ethics.
--if the trees are on land that is greater than 17% slope, leave them alone - they are stabilizing the hillside. Plant your food forest along swales that you install on more gentle slopes.
--you don't say where you're located and what climate you're in. You want a good mix of food and support species. In temperate climates you can get away with 60/40 support species/edibles. Here where I am in the drylands, we need more support species to create microclimates favorable to food trees - so we need 75/25 natives/edibles.
--don't know your water situation without knowing your climate/location but traditionally swales are build on gently sloped land to help water food forests. The purpose of swales is to grow trees. You're effectively planting your water along with your tree species. Swales run on contour around your property. Support species should be on the uphill side of the swale, stabilizing the backcut and edibles should be in the berm on the downhill side of the swales to benefit from the additional water seepage provided by the swale. Geoff also comes in and plants an understory shrub and herb layer of legume plants to stabilize the berm while the trees get established. If you are in a dryland, swales are often much wider. Support species are still planted on the uphill side but the fruit trees are often planted INSIDE the swale instead of on the berm mound (berms tend to dry out in hot arid climates). The berms are then seeded in hardy native legumes for stabilization.

Again, more information on climate, location, slope, age of forest, etc. would be helpful. Sounds like a great project - keep us posted with pics!
 
Hans Schin
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Thanks, that is helpful for a start. The property is located in the Piney Wood area of East Texas, hot humid climate. The whole county is heavily wooded. The trees seem pretty old; I don't know how old, but old enough that I'd prefer to leave most of them alone. The property is quite hilly, but more flat in the back I think; I wasn't actually able to walk through all the wooded area. The house is a bit elevated on a hill, and in the back there is a fairly steep slope that is already partially cleared. I'll have to look at some topographic maps for that.
I also want some fruit and nut trees, and don't want to plant them on the already small cleared area. So I may just clear another acre or so to replant fruit and nut trees, and plant around the trees on the remaining acreage after the goats clear it a bit. I'd also like to try and raise some livestock (mostly goats and chickens, possibly pigs or donkeys) in the forest, assuming they will find much of their own food there. I'm sure I have to be careful not to overstock for the animal not to kill the vegetation entirely either.
 
Joe Moraca
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Location: White Springs Florida 32096
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I have a similar situation -- I am cutting some smaller pines to make way for trees like pecan / chestnut and fruit trees. But I am doing a pretty small area ( 1/2 acre ) to start. Look at the "Similar Threads" below this post -- I found http://www.permies.com/t/11547/permaculture/Permaculture-ing-tree-farm-timber to have some good comments.
 
Brenda Groth
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i would study plants that are native to that soil and try to bring in relatives that are more edible..say if it grows huckleberries maybe put in blueberries..walk around wild areas that have the same type of trees growing and similar soil and see what grows there..

i would think maybe acidic soil with pines..so maybe strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries..??
 
Cj Sloane
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Hans Schin wrote:So I may just clear another acre or so to replant fruit and nut trees, and plant around the trees on the remaining acreage after the goats clear it a bit. I'd also like to try and raise some livestock (mostly goats and chickens, possibly pigs or donkeys) in the forest, assuming they will find much of their own food there. I'm sure I have to be careful not to overstock for the animal not to kill the vegetation entirely either.


I'm in a similar situation. Don't assume pines are old because they're big. In Vermont, anyway, they grow awfully fast. Pigs are pretty good at killing pines though. When they say pigs tend to live in hardwood forests it's because they've killed the softer woods. I think there is a chemical in pines they crave.

If you do rotational grazing with pigs and goats you can open up the underbrush and possibly the canopy without clear-cutting an area.

Geoff Lawton just put out a great video on this topic:
Reforesting With Goats
 
Alder Burns
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speaking from experience with adding food plants/trees to partially to nearly completely wooded landscape in a similar climate to yours (when I lived in GA)....always think and work in patches. Use, or create, clearings of sufficient size to plant several of your desired permanent trees and other plants, and then stack this area with cover crops, nurse plants, coppice plants, even annual vegetables, corn, etc. around and among the permanent trees. These patches will give several yields on the short and long term, they will be large enough to be worth fencing for deer, etc. and setting up permanent or temporary irrigation. In short, they will reward your attention right from the start, and benefit from it, in a positive feedback loop. Don't make the mistake like I did several times of tucking in individual plants into any kind of existing ecosystem, whether forest, meadow, or in between, and expect them to thrive....in my experience only aggressive invasive plants can succeed in such a situation. The surrounding ecosystem, and particularly the root network, will quickly be attracted to the little disturbed spot you've made, especially if it is an enriched spot receiving supplemental water. (One time I discovered that so many surrounding roots had invaded some planting "holes" that the trees I was watering were drying out faster than the ones I was neglecting!) You need to create an area of disturbance large enough to give your new plants a chance without surrounding roots, running grasses, or overshadowing canopies making life difficult for them from the start. Aside from this there's the logistical nightmare of lugging buckets or hoses around (and in just about any climate this WILL be necessary at least occasionally for the first year or two, and in many climates longer than that), setting up dozens of individual rings of deer fence....etc.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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What tools do you have to use?

You need to clear a big enough area to get full sun exposure for part of it, so the taller and thicker the canopy, the bigger the clearing.

If you can get in there with a small tractor and a ripper, it really does help to ring the outside to kill back all the roots.

A 5 gallon bucket with a 1/8 in hold drilled in the side is a cheap tree waterer. It holds enough to water the tree for a day in almost any weather and it drains slow enough it goes straight down to the roots and not run away. We had a 100 gallon tank we pulled around with the tractor to fill all the buckets for the ones that were too far to run irrigation.
 
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