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increasing yields of native food plants in a forest garden

 
Meryt Helmer
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Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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I live in a forest with many native food plants but most of them don't produce much. we have wild strawberries that are very sweet that cover the forest floor and I don't know if they don't produce many berries or if the berries are eaten before I find most of them. the ones closest to my house I am able to harvest a few handfuls. we have salal berries and this year they seem to have done better and I wonder if the drought has possibly helped them. the juiciest best salal berries seem to be in the sunniest places. we also have California hazelnuts and I have managed to find 1 hazelnut all year. I am told the squirrels and chipmunks get them. and native black berries that mostly make no berries at all but keep me from doing much barefoot hiking! then we have huckleberries which we do get a lot of although I am noticing some plants had no berries this year and some only a few and then some where totally covered in berries. there are probably a lot more food plants that I have yet to learn about that are already growing here.

what i want to learn is how I can get more from the plants that are here or learn if that is even realistic?
 
Dominik Riva
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Location: Haut-Rhin, France
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Well, it sounds like you have a lot of competition. I heard squirrel stew is very tasty
Try to observe more in different times of the year and day. Learn to fox walk:



To increase the production open up your forest to remove shade and add in more understory. Use productive or nitrogen fixing species.
Chop and drop is a important booster of productivity in any garden. A lot of plants produce better fruit if you remove certain twigs or branches. You know this if you have ever grown tomatoes successfully.
Windbreaks are are a major factor in increasing productivity by reducing stress from desiccation and the need to invest in structural strength.


If you have access to the Permaculture Magazine there is a good article about forest gardens in the No. 80 Summer 2014 issue.
 
Tim Wells
Posts: 119
Location: Essex, England, 51 deg
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Meryt I feel exactly the same way with similar crops. Squirrels eat all my hazels, I get some chestnuts. Birds eat my cherries and apples. I will have to pick them early to get them I think. Also unless you are on site 7 days a week the animals will out compete you. I missed my cherry harvest by a few days and they were gone, a hundred trees all stripped in a day! I was devastated. One day they are still a bit hard and not seet as they will be, then a storm came in the 3 days I was away and all gone. If I had been there as the storm was brewing maybe I can harvest them then and pick the wind fall. My crumb of comfort is that the pigs eat the stones off the ground. That could be make or break if I was relying on them commercially or for my food.

I think it's easier to catch and eat a squirrel than protect and process hazels.

Rabbits, deer also tasty but I will fence a small area for intensive cultivation.

The more we protect and intensify the more we get away from the natural systems and require more inputs. This does lead me to think that letting animals graze the forage as they are better at doing it and eat the animals is as natural a system as I can replicate in my woodland.



 
Meryt Helmer
Posts: 395
Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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I have pretty sever ptsd that is to some extent related to things I saw happening to animals as a child and this made me vegan for a long time. i m at a point where i can choose what to eat but I really seriously can't actually kill a squirrel. I think it makes a lot of sense rationally to do so but it won't be happening for me anytime soon. I also never see them in my garden. I see them on the oak trees and bay trees outside my garden but even there I don't see them often I just find evidence that it could be them eating the seeds I plant! we also have a surprisingly large number of dusky footed wood rat nests in the wild part of the forest near my fenced in garden. I wonder if they are visiting in the night and eating things. I think I need to get one of those wild life watching cameras and put it in my back yard so I can discover exactly what is happening and who is doing it.
 
Hans Quistorff
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I discovered that This years long hot summer has dried the sallal berries on the plants. Usually they are pretty bland but these dried ones were very sweet. In the past I have combined the sallal with Oregon grape to add tartness.
If the huckleberries You referred to are the evergreen type that has black or blue berries, they respond well to occasional pruning or shearing into a hedge. They also need the native pollinators. Drill some holes in your fence posts fore the mason and leaf cutter bees.
My alpine strawberries produce all yer as long as they get enough water and they produce almost as much in the shade as in the sun. I have a section of field where regular strawberries were once grown for a crop. they continue to spread by runners bur the plants are small and seldom produce fruit or maybe the field mice eat them. My June berrying strawberries are in the rock wall that I had to make to preserve my 100 yer old apple tree when they excavated for the house. They produce well there and it is easy to keep them weeded.
 
Dominik Riva
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Location: Haut-Rhin, France
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Meryt Helmer wrote:I have pretty sever ptsd that is to some extent related to things I saw happening to animals as a child and this made me vegan for a long time. i m at a point where i can choose what to eat but I really seriously can't actually kill a squirrel. I think it makes a lot of sense rationally to do so but it won't be happening for me anytime soon. I also never see them in my garden. I see them on the oak trees and bay trees outside my garden but even there I don't see them often I just find evidence that it could be them eating the seeds I plant! we also have a surprisingly large number of dusky footed wood rat nests in the wild part of the forest near my fenced in garden. I wonder if they are visiting in the night and eating things. I think I need to get one of those wild life watching cameras and put it in my back yard so I can discover exactly what is happening and who is doing it.


It sounds like you have a lack of predators. If you don't want to do the predation you could try to attract some helpers to your property. Owls and foxes come to mind for night time and could put pressure on the rats you mentioned. This are the predators that would come to mind in my ecology and might not translate easily to yours.

Video- and photo-traps are a good idea to get a better understanding of what is around. Just be aware that it takes some skill in placing them in the right spots and at the right heights and adjusting the trigger mechanism properly.
The key to success is to think before placing them and after placing you need to test them with a bit of puppetry! Ask hunters if you can rent some camera-traps. The chances are high that some of them have bought such equipment and now it is laying around in there garages

 
Meryt Helmer
Posts: 395
Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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maybe it is a lack of night time predators. we have great horned owls I listen to every night and recently I heard something in the woods killing and probably eating something else. we have mountain lions and bob cats and coyotes and foxes out here also badgers and plenty of wildlife but it seems they are not eating whatever eats my garden! I prefer if the coyotes don't hang out to near my house because I don't want them eating my cats but I do love watching coyote. I got to see 2 of them yesterday but that was a few miles away. I have seen foxes in the front of the house a few times and we know many foxes live around here. I guess I will get that camera so I have a better idea of what happens at night and when I am not in the garden to scare away the wildlife.

 
Dominik Riva
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Well, it sounds like your predators are more diverse and have a higher density then where I live.
I'm out of ideas and anytime this happens the only thing I find that helps is observation.

Good luck with the camtrap project.
 
Meryt Helmer
Posts: 395
Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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I suspect if I thin some of the pine trees that alone will make a big difference in at last how many hazel nuts I can get from the native trees, I also read though that the native hazel nut trees just don't produce much so perhaps I will plant some other hazel nut trees. I think sunlight will also help the other plants. the native strawberries are different from alpine strawberries. I think if I get ducks that will cut down on slugs and then I may get more strawberries as well and I could probably do stuff to keep birds from eating all the strawberries. I will get the camera not right away but when I have the extra money and don't want to spend it on other garden stuff and then see what exactly it is that eats the seeds I plant! as well as who eats everything else.

I live in a forest that is pretty much wild and I think has always been pretty wild. I sometimes wonder if the indigenous people who lived here in the past where using this area as a sort of berry farm though or berry orchard. so many berries!
 
Tim Wells
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Location: Essex, England, 51 deg
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Im also wanting a camera trap, tho i'm spending that money on fencing the squirrels out as it's almost certainly them. £200 quid plus for a decent night vision one!
 
Cj Sloane
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Meryt Helmer wrote:I suspect if I thin some of the pine trees that alone will make a big difference in at last how many hazel nuts I can get from the native trees, I also read though that the native hazel nut trees just don't produce much so perhaps I will plant some other hazel nut trees.


Non cultivated Hazels tend to reproduce via stools so the nuts aren't so necessary. Cultivars that do produce heavily need protection from squirrels which you can do by having open, grassy areas near the trees so birds of prey can see & eat them. Deer might be a problem.
 
Tim Wells
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Location: Essex, England, 51 deg
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Deer will be a problem.

I was listening to a podcast today about how the native americans tended food forests and nurtured oaks and redwoods with controlled fires to add minerals.

It seems as if the idea of an ecosystem that we can ignore completely misses the point. We are part of nature and that system and true wilderness is not the goal at all. Using natural systems like fire or plants like N fixers to help our management of the food forest to regenerate and provide yield.
 
Meryt Helmer
Posts: 395
Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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I know when native americans where living here they had fires every few years. I can't do fires here but I am thinking if I get some animals that will eat the plants and poop it will help lower fire risks and add tot he soil. I suspect the native americans that lived here where eating a lot of berries from the land around where my house is. It feels like a berry orchard. we have so many huckleberries but also many thimble berries and salal berries and the forest floor is covered in wild strawberries but like I said before they don't produce much. the huckelberries produce massive quantities of berries though making enough for everyone to have plenty, the humans the wildlife and out pet dog who picks them.

our soil is very acidic and very low in nutrients. we have deer fencing for our backyard garden and when we plant things outside the fenced garden we make littl cages for them. if we get hazelnut trees that are more productive we will probably put cages around them until they are large enough to withstand deer. It sounds like the best way to get hazel nuts is to get trees that produce more. that is very doable.

any tips on strawberries? both native and domestic strawberries are looking super healthy but producing few berries. This is my first time growing strawberries so I don't know much about their needs.
 
Cj Sloane
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Tim Wells wrote:
I was listening to a podcast today about how the native americans tended food forests and nurtured oaks and redwoods with controlled fires to add minerals.


Tim, what was the name of the podcast?
 
Tim Wells
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Location: Essex, England, 51 deg
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Sustainable world radio with jill cloutier

the guest was from sudden oak life
 
Tim Wells
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Location: Essex, England, 51 deg
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Meryt, native americans prob had regular fires and spread the potassium rish ashes under the fruit bushes. Potash increases fruit yield. Nitrogen inhibits fruit. So more ash less poo really. Or more woody to balance the leafy and pooey. Tho one exception is comfrey which rots down to provide a balanced feed, either as a mulch or better as a liquid feed.

Moisture during fruit set and weed competition will affect this is also a factor. As are critters nibbling the immature fruits before you observe, giving the impression of a sub par yield. Late frosts on blossom also ruin set.
 
Tim Wells
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http://www.suddenoaklife.org/
 
Sean Banks
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well you got to know when the fruits/nuts ripen on the tree so that you can beat the wildlife.....I am constantly taste testing to make sure that I am the first to pick..........also, it may help if you planted some cultivars of the wild variety.....some cultivated varities simply produce better and often yield larger fruit.....removing competition (other plants nearby) would also help.
 
Meryt Helmer
Posts: 395
Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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the fire mimicry looks awesome. I have been pondering how to mimic the effects of fire on my property since before I moved here. it never occured to me to look into if others had been doing it or even the wording of fire mimicry. it has been on my mind though.
 
Tim Wells
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Location: Essex, England, 51 deg
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the squirrels eat my hazels before they are ripe to my taste, ditto chestnuts, but i assume they know better than I
 
Gilbert Fritz
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It seems as if the idea of an ecosystem that we can ignore completely misses the point. We are part of nature and that system and true wilderness is not the goal at all. Using natural systems like fire or plants like N fixers to help our management of the food forest to regenerate and provide yield.


That pretty much sums it up! I think that an ecosystem can be deficient in humans, just as an ecosystem can be deficient in beavers or owls.

Of course, those humans should practice permaculture (or something like it!) It wouldn't help much to add beavers back into an ecosystem if beavers stopped acting like beavers and began using concrete instead of logs!
 
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