[There are no photos with this post because today the light is very gray and the dirt is very gray and my little trenches are not very photogenic.]
I want to describe my wildly optimistic tree-seed-planting method that I've been using this fall. Understand that my zone three area where I would like to have a food forest has thin soil, no water
, and is currently a mix of dense ragweeds, honey locust trees
, osage orange trees, winged elm, and blackberry brambles. I've spent a lot of time clearing out the excess saplings and some of the thornier things, and I've learned from prelimanary experiments starting last fall that to plant anything out there is to probably sentence it to a slow death from dehydration or animal browse. But I'm constantly looking for things that will sprout and thrive. Elsewhere on this property, late successional forest that was never cleared for pasture is rich with pecans, oaks, persimmons, and wild plums.
So, I hoard tree seeds, both from sources on my own property (pecans and persimmons especially) and off (black walnuts from various nearby trees, butternuts begged from a local
nuts foraged along nearby back roads, soapberries from a local tree, apricot pits from grocery store fruit
, purchased raw almond seeds of uncertain vitality, sand plum pits from nearby thickets, sweet cherry pits from supermarket fruit ... you get the idea. If it's a fruit or a nut tree and I have source of numerous seeds, I save them.)
And I hoard other seeds, too -- such as passion fruit pips (from passiflora incarnata), dried elderberries, winged sumac, bubils from the local "wild onions" that is actually a garlic, some herbs like yarrow and mullein that I've collected seeds from locally, every kind of stale flower and vegetable seed
I can purchase for 2.5 cents a pack
, culinary mustard, fennel, dill, celery, and coriander, whole grains, purchased innoculated clover seeds, sunflower seeds, squash and melon seeds saved from grocery store fruit ... again you get the idea.
And then throughout this autumn on days like today when an inch of rain is forecast for overnight, I make up a quart or so of random seed mix with all the small seeds, and I collect up a bunch of my hoarded tree seeds, and I grab my mattock, and I go for a wander in my Zone 3 woods-and-clearings prospective food forest area.
As I go from place to place with my mattock, I dig a trench between one foot and six feet long, as nearly swale-like as I can judge by eye, about four inches deep with soil heaped up on the down-slope side.
Into the trench, I radically overseed tree seeds, leaving plenty for the squirrels. Black walnut
, hickory, pecan, persimmon, cherry, almond, plum, apricot -- I would do apple
and pear too, from supermarket fruits, but I never have enough
of those. Typically I plant a large tree seed and several small tree seeds about every two inches in my trench, expecting massive losses to squirrels, drought, and subsequent rabbit and deer
On top of the tree seeds I scatter larger plant seeds for short term growth, soil improvement, and local automulch -- peas, nasturtiums, beans, sunflowers, wild "onion" bubils, elderberries, sumac, passion fruit.
Then I backfill my trench with topsoil from the upslope side, using the mattock to rake the topsoil and weed roots
over my seeds, thus removing these weeds from an area "above" my planting trench and covering them "below" with the original soil dug out of the trench.
After I tamp down the backfill with my mattock, I take the quart of random small vegetable, herb, flower, and grain seeds and scatter handfuls of those seeds along the trench to compete with the weed regrowth. Then I rake a bit more soil over those seeds with my foot, leaving at least some of them buried shallow and not immediately visible to birds and rodents. All of this is a massive overseed, with the notion of puttting these seeds in the seed bank as much as expecting immediate germination or success (which I mostly do not).
The part of this I expect to "work" is the germination of a lot of the native
pecans, persimmons, black walnuts, and hickories. How many of them survive is an open question, but I'm hoping to overwhelm the browsing beasts with sheer Stalinist "quantity has a quality all its own" numerousity. I'm also hoping that the other seeds co-located with my tree seeds will sprout polycultures of various shapes, sizes, colors, and odors, which will variously offer the browsers more attractive forage and confuse them and physically protect some of my tree seedlings. Once planted, I can't offer these plantings much more than Sheer Total Utter Neglect (STUN) but I am also hoping that some of the other things I've planted will attract my eye as I wander my forest area, allowing me to notice where I've planted tree seedlings and perhaps protect a few of them by hand-weeding nearby and using the proceeds for mulch
. And if I get anything edible from the non-tree plantings, that's a bonus!
Obviously autumn is the wrong time to sow many of the seeds I am throwing out there. I figure that if they germinate now and die tiny, that's still ground cover and soil improvement; but some will sit through the winter and either sprout in the spring or join the seed bank for future years.
I know I'm providing a lot of squirrel and bird food. My six mostly-worthless mixed-breed rescue dogs do a lot of rodent and rabbit hunting in this area, but it's not enough hunting pressure to protect my seeds very well I do not think
. Still, they can't get everything -- or at least, that's the theory.
And that is my scheme for building out a food forest with essentially zero budget for purchased trees. What do folks think? Anybody had good success with similar methods? Or am I just seed-hoarding and mattocking for the exercise and fresh air?