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Choosing a forest garden site

 
Torben Schwartz
Posts: 1
Location: St Andrews, Scotland
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Hello there,

So I'm new to the Permies forum, the past few months I've been doing a lot of research into natural building and recently permaculture and forest gardens. I'm from the West Midlands, England. Still in university but super excited about all things sustainable, so currently I'm planning the future, thinking about sustainability: food, energy, architecture, philosophy, etc.

One question I've been thinking about recently is what sorts of sites should be considered suitable/best for development into a forest garden/food forest? I've seen a couple of videos from places with temperate climates (from New Zealand to the UK) and some mediterreanean permaculturists that have started from a sort of barren, blank ex-agricultural field and cultivated a flourishing living forest eco system over the course of 20 years or so.

I was wondering whether starting with existing woodland and gradually replacing the existing species with edible plants and trees would be a faster way of creating a food forest rather than starting with a barren piece of land. I'm primarily thinking about temperate climates, UK and northern Europe. What sort of factors should I be thinking about when selecting a site? Obviously there are many sorts of factors highly dependent on individual instance but I'm sure there is some generally applicable wisdom! If anyone can suggest some resources or point me in the direction of some information that would be great!

I'm only a quarter of the way through Bill Mollison's Permaculture: A Designer's Manual so perhaps this sort of thing might be touched on later in that book.

Thanks in advance!
 
Dave Lodge
Posts: 93
Location: New England
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I would get an inventory of the tree/shrub/herbaceous plants growing in the woodland. This would allow one to see the quality of the woodland, any edibles/medicine already available, ecological value. From here, there may be pockets that can be formed in lower quality areas. Maybe some invasive species have degraded it. This will give one an idea of what will need to be addressed then and to what might want to be added.

Depending on canopy coverage, you might want to do some tree thinning to open some areas for edge plantings. If there are trees that are taking too much space (maybe they were there before it was a woodland), might be good candidates.
 
Cj Sloane
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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Torben Schwartz wrote:
I was wondering whether starting with existing woodland and gradually replacing the existing species with edible plants and trees would be a faster way of creating a food forest rather than starting with a barren piece of land.


Depends on how good you are with a chainsaw and/if you'll have heavy equipment for taking down/moving trees.

My land is 95% forested and it's quite difficult to replace existing trees. I'm only comfortable cutting down a tree 8" in diameter & my husband will do 20"+ usually but there are ones he wont touch. I've planted quite a few trees that haven't taken off because they don't get enough sun. If I try to open the canopy now I risk dropping a tree on the seedlings. I could girdle the tree to open the canopy but it will fall eventually and I wont be able to control that.
 
lauren mathews
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The idea seems very interesting and will surely give a great look to the home you will live in.
 
ronan Watters
Posts: 15
Location: Ireland
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Torben

martin crawford creating a forest garden book is a huge resource for plants and process of setting up a forest garden and its uk based.

He started on bare field but one with woods to two sides of it. I cant see how starting with woodland would speed things up. Apart from having a soil biota mix set up from the start with a slant towards trees and woodland species. And some shovel fulls of good forest floor earth and duff can help inoculate the soil in a bare field around newly planted trees.

I would go with a bare field unless you can get a a recently logged bit of woodland at a very good price that ticks lots of other boxes. With both thoes options you can be asured you are improving and increase biodiversty even if you dont pull of a very optimized design.
 
Eric Platt
Posts: 16
Location: East Texas
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I personally start with wooded land. Part of it will depend on the size of the property you're looking for. If you're looking for something that's pretty large than I would definitely go with wooded land

An open field will constantly try to move towards a forest on it's own. You will constantly be fighting against nature until you plant what you want. Since most of us cannot afford to plant everything you want at first we end up doing it in phases.

I would look for land that has trees already at climax. That way you are not worrying about underbrush and the soil is already what you were looking for.

It is true you will have to be good with the chainsaw but that's not hard. You can even move substantially large trees by yourself with a little leverage and mechanical help. I use a Logrite Junior to move the logs that I cannot get to with my jeep

This is all of course just my opinion and I have just begun on my own property. I currently have one hand dug mini swale that has been doing great in this Texas heat with no irrigation.

As I'm able to afford the new plants and trees I will start extending my food forests downhill from the swale
 
Cj Sloane
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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Eric Platt wrote:
This is all of course just my opinion and I have just begun on my own property. I currently have one hand dug mini swale that has been doing great in this Texas heat with no irrigation.

As I'm able to afford the new plants and trees I will start extending my food forests downhill from the swale


How many trees did you have to take out to put in the swale? And how large were they? Pic?
 
Eric Platt
Posts: 16
Location: East Texas
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Cj Verde wrote:How many trees did you have to take out to put in the swale? And how large were they? Pic?


It's hard to say how many trees i took out. For full disclosure, many of them were taken out when I had a dozer out to put in the driveway and house site. I have cut down probably 25 large trees and hundreds of smaller (3" or less).

It's been quite a while since i've posted an update but you can see the swale in progress on my youtube page.
videos of hand dug swale
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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Looks good Eric. Did you save the goldfish before the swale dried completely?
 
Eric Platt
Posts: 16
Location: East Texas
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Thanks Cj. I wish I had been able to. I only visit the property on the weekends and the water level dropped pretty fast in one week. Once it got to a certain point, the raccoons came in and snatched up all 90 fish.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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