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Northeast Alabama Property-Converting Established Woodland to Food Forrest  RSS feed

 
Ashley Handy
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We have finally got the house we've been trying to buy for three months now-Woohoo! We are on 1.5 acres, just far enough outside of our little city to be considered rural. Over half of it is well established woodland. It was what really sold me on this place-I'm so excited to have all of that to start off working with!

However, it is very daunting to think about how to get in there and transform it little by little. I mean I've fantasized about this day, but now that there is so much room to work with, and so much to learn, it feels a little overwhelming. Where should I start? I'm assuming at the edge closest to me. What should I lop down? What should I leave? Identifying everything will be an adventure unto itself-haha!

I've identified some willows, mimosa, sweet gum, pines, sumacs, honeysuckle, blackberry, and pecan trees so far. Our neighboring property on the south side is a wide unused pastureland with a giant pond/small lake on it. There is a steep drop off from that pastureland into our wooded area, and a place where the water sometimes forms a small stream on our property. I haven't had a chance to examine it up close as I am still terrified of trompsing around in the thick woodland, but I spotted water from the back of the shed (which is right against the wooded area nestled in between two pecan trees).

Speaking of being terrified, we ran over a yellow jacket nest in the middle of the front/side yard with a lawn mower. Wasp nests abound around the house and throughout the shed. The house has not been lived in for a year and half and there was old rat poison and poop in a lot of the lower cabinets. I love nature, I want it to teach me all of its secrets, but right now this property seems so dangerous with all of these little hidden hazards. I want to be surrounded by nature, but not to be afraid of it.

I wonder does anyone have any suggestions for making the place feel safe without having to do bad things to the environment? I mean, I would like to know that I can walk in my yard without being swarmed by yellow jackets (those buggers are MEAN!). I would like to go out into the mystery shed without wondering if something is going to fall from the rafters or snap out from behind an old tire or box. Part of me feels like the only way to start from scratch on the safety measures is to jump in there with a bug bomb or whatnot. There's gotta be a better way, though. I know in the yard and garden things should probably work themselves out as it is transformed, but how do I get started if I'm too afraid to venture out?

So does anyone have any advice on the conversion of the woodland? Or any suggestions on how I can clean everything out and feel safe with minimal hazard to my person minus poisoning everything living just to start fresh?

And, just a reminder, I live in northeast Alabama. I think that is zone 8a or 8b or somewhere straddling that line maybe. I would love input from any and everyone, but if anyone has experience with a food forest situation in an area near or similar to mine, I would appreciate your input even more.

THANKS!!
 
Meryt Helmer
Posts: 395
Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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my house is in a woodland. the only thing we have done to help it feel safer is we fenced in a small area around our house and inside that area we have gotten rid of things that could cause injury to us. luckily the wasp nest that was right in our back yard got taken care off for us by some creature that found them tasty. it took a week but once it found the nest it dug it up little by little until they where all gone. the thing that felt the least safe though was my at the time 2 year old daughter feeling like it was find for her to go for a walk int he woods by herself. the fence put an end to that and it also keeps larger wild animals out of the yard which my son was worried about. he was worried about mountain lions i told him they would be too afraid of all the noise he makes to come in the back yard.

as for creating a food forest. if you can take you time then what we have been doing might work for you. we started our first year with only a very small garden so that we could watch what goes on naturally on the property and get a better feel for how it changes through the seasons. i think watching where the light is during different times of year was the most helpful. then we started making the fenced off area larger and slowly expanding the food forest that way. we buy a few trees every few months along with other plants and as one area gets planter we expand the fence further. we watch the trees that already exist here and we figured out which ones are best for growing which types of mushrooms and which ones we should cut down or prune to let more light in. we find which areas might be better used as shade gardens for plants that crave that and also we have learned about which areas of the property are naturally wetter based on which plants are growing there. I like doing it in this very slow way because I feel like it lets me understand the land better and cause less harm to the native plants and animals that live here. it has been nice because i am slowly learning what plants here are edible and have uses on their own. doing it in this slow was also works better for us financially. I can't afford to transform the whole forest into a forest garden overnight and am not sure I need or want to use that much of my property to grow food on.

congratulations on your house!
 
Dan Boone
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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One suggestion for a thing to do while figuring out what to do: work on your pecan trees. It's very hard to harvest the nuts if the ground under them is choked with underbrush or tall grass. You may ultimately have some plantings under there, but for now getting that ground to a condition where you can mow in the fall might be a good project. The trees will appreciate the reduced competition for water and nutrients, also.
 
Steve Landau
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Location: Vermont
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Before you mow, Observe. My wife would go out and start hacking brush to clear some blueberry bushes we found.

Hit a wasps nest. -

I have taught her to go slow, spend a few minutes watching the area carefully, look for the insects, animals, and poison ivy.

Now we know all the places they hide.

Get a scythe or weed wacker, and clear out around the trees you want to harvest from. Easier to watch.
 
Ashley Handy
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Thank all of you for your replies! I plan on going slow and observing. Sometimes I just get ahead of myself in my mind and it all seems like so much And I too have a daughter who just turned one so I foresee her wanting to explore as well.
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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I've dealt with hundreds of wasp, hornet and bee nests. The time to hit them with pyrethrin is early morning, before they are active. On the first day, I spray openings. That evening, I mash the nest using a long pole. The next day I spray survivors who try to fix the damage. The pole is used again to dislodge the dead nest.
 
Ashley Handy
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Something I forgot to both mention and ask about: the front yard is pretty close to an old highway. It is not heavily trafficked, but what it does get goes pretty fast.

We're looking to create a hedge fence. I'd like something dense and sturdy; also easy to grow and that pretty much takes care of itself here in this part of Alabama. And if I'm allowed to really dream big, something beautifully fragrant.

I've got 1-year-old so I'd like it dense and fence-like for that reason. But I'd also like something that could block or at least slow down a careening car should one happen to ever run off the road somehow.

The yard slopes down into a grassy ditch before it levels into the yard, if that helps give an idea as to what we're working with.

So, any suggestions? I'm gonna do some research, but I still thhought I'd ask.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3725
Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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How dense is the canopy? Hardly anybody talks about converting a forest to a food forest - always open land to ff. If your woods are as dense as mine you'll need to open it up.

I recommend taking a PDC. It'll save you time & money. I like geoff lawton's online pdc.
 
Ashley Handy
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How dense is the canopy? Hardly anybody talks about converting a forest to a food forest - always open land to ff. If your woods are as dense as mine you'll need to open it up.


I think it is fairly dense. I don't feel safe walking into it right now, so it doesn't seem to have any open pathways into it. Any advice on clearing out the areas? We know we will have to clear out some area, leaving mostly select, well-established trees. We will reuse anything we remove as mulch and ground cover and compost.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Autumn is the best time of year for inoculating logs with mushroom spawn. The type of mushroom depends on the type of log. It's a good use of the results of thinning a forest.
 
Ashley Handy
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I am captivated by mushrooms! Not just what they do, not just how they taste, but I think they are simply beautiful!
 
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