Howdy Steve, Your book looks amazing, and very relevant and timely.
We're in a dryland conifer/oak woodland in the eastern cascades in Central Washington state. Soil are acidic (5.5-6.2 pH) terrain in mostly sloped. Zone 5-6 winters, (quite a lot of variability of how cold from year to year). Precip around 25" a year, mostly snow. 6-7 month dry season with no effective precip, with evaporation significantly greater than rainfall.
Soils/subsoil are young (6-20 feet) composed of formidable clay/cobble soil which dries out to ~2f.5eet in average undisturbed forest by the height of the dry season. (know this from putting up perimeter fencing for several years). Resulting in very little perennial understory vegetation, mostly ephemeral grass and forbs with some perennial sedge and bunchgrass.
I've been working to establish "living fences" or multifunctional hedgerows across about 100 acres of native woodland/savannah to enable us to control livestock grazing and wild game, provide cut-forage for animals and establish more food producing elements into the existing system. These systems are all unirrigated, and I am relying heavily on native mid-succession species to pioneer the hedges. Including a large portion of upland (non-riparian) willow propagated from driving large live-stakes deep into the soil.
My strategy thus far has been:
1.) find the contours
2.) thin a ~20ft channel in the existing forest, along contour.
3.) Lay out slash from thinning on contour (I refer to the as "leaf traps")
4.) seedball and plant into the contour leaf traps.
5.) Ultimately, as these systems are more established, "lay in" in willows and incorporate more water demanding species.
Natively the woodland/forest does not have dense vegetation. almost no areas have 100% canopy cover, despite mature trees. This a typical dryland forest. I am trying to concentrate the leaf litter and plantings on the contour and giving space for them to by thinning trees up and down hill of the contour plantings. The idea being to reduce competition and concentrate as much beneficial mulch and water holding capacity in thin strips where we can preferentially plant.
Thus far I've done some small scale experiments over about 5 acres. Survivability has not been great in the establishment so far. Somewhat has to do with the influence of deer, but also the plants are having difficulty making it through the droughts.
In relation to all of this, my question is three fold:
1.) Do you have suggestions of low-tech, low-expense, mass-planting methods for these dry non-irrigated conditions.
2.) Do have suggestion about how to more effectively concentrate nutrient/water into the contour patterned plantings.
3.) If you have other thoughts/critique of my methodology, love to hear your thoughts.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts Steve!
Windward Community / Educational Research Center
Steve, Thanks for your thoughts! You have given me a lot of confidence, in that much of your reply is in alignment with what I was already doing/thinking in terms of next steps. Good to hear it from another person.
what native species are early to mid succession that thrive in your bioregion?
In our bit of the eastern cascades, in highland areas there are:
Choke cherry (Prunus virginiana)
DeerBrush (Ceanothus integerrimus)
Scouler Willow (Salix scouleriana)
Saskatoon Serviceberrry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor)
In more moist conditions, such as the lower slopes of hills and near perennial water:
Beaked Hazel (Cornus Cornuta)
Coyote Willow(Salix exigua)
Mock-Orange (Philadelphus lewisii)
Blue Elderberry (Sambucus Cerulea)
Are any nitrogen fixers? These are good candidates to survive the conditions you prescribe.
Deerbrush is a non-nodulating N2 Fixer. I have worked mostly with Honey and Black Locust since these are seeds I can easily get a hold of from naturalized planting sources.
We are having great success with a species found native in your neck of the woods: Red Alder (Alnus rubra).
Sadly the Red alders are all on the western half of the state in the moist coastal maritime forests of the West cascades. At lower elevations we have what I believe is a kind of Grey Alder (Alnus incana subsp. tenuifolia) which I was able to gather seed from this year, and was looking to try and propagate from dormant cutting this next winter. Never seen an alder up where we're at, but I think it's worth a shot.
If you ever had access to machinery, I would consider digging swales, or even infiltration basins (sporadic pits to catch water) along your thinned areas.
That is a good point. Most of the land is too steep for our operators to feel comfortable digging, but we are hand-digging a ~500ft "top swale" at the moment. It's the high point in a more intensively managed food forest (for humans) and will allow us to flood irrigate these section of the hillside.
We also brought in a bull dozer and cut a very wide bottom swale way-down at the end of the property. This swale is positioned to be able to take up water from a few rivulets which have water flow in early spring - and spread the water across the open field which was once used as pasture, but has since been tilled and neglected. The uphill side of this swale was planted with about ~500 black and honey locusts this past spring as the first steps toward creating a more productive silvo-pasture system for grazers, with the potential to alley-crop in the future.
Through the first summer probably 10% of the locust have survived. Expectable given the harshness and the need to select for the more rugged genetic. I plan to put all of our cider mash out along the contour to see if we can get any apples to germinate and survive from seed.
As for planting methods; plant dense (3 ft spacing) knowing some species will die. Cover crop around your plantings. Use tree tubes. Its worth the investment.
This is right in alignment with what I've already been doing. except for the tree tubes. I will look more into those.
Wow Andrew, I feel like I could ask YOU a dozen questions.