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 friend, hickory 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 browse.
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?
I have waited for rain and then strewn my mix of Whole Foods bulk seeds (buckwheat, beans, popcorn, etc), with mixed results.
I have never regretted planting seed.
I have a bag of surgum to sow, hoping it will be able to survive drought better than the corn.
Yeah,time will tell,meanwhile walking, digging, planting, what's not to like?
Just making the berms will prob get good stuff self sowing in their/ planted up by squirrels and out perform other self sow.
Tim Wells wrote:I think you will get very poor results.
Well, me too. But I'm counting it a win if I get any. And I already know that some of the seed I'm sowing will give me annual crops (like mustard greens) and soil improvement (like the clover and peas/beans) and compete with the ragweed, which is very dominant.
Tim Wells wrote: Spend less time hoarding loads of seed and raise the few good seed you want to germinate in a protected area/ pot.
Fortunately it's not an either/or. I'm doing that also -- as much as I have stamina and room for. My zone two (defined as the area I can reach with my garden hose) container garden and tree nursery is large. It's early days but my tree seedling death rate in the container garden is also very high -- my losses to small nibblers in the rodentia family have been dispiriting. But I've got a lot of promising young saplings, also. One way or another, I will get there. This post is about my supplemental efforts that I can do on a much larger scale.
Tim Wells wrote:Or transplant self sown natives that tend to not get browsed. I found my native ashes, oaks, silver birch and elderberry dont get browsed to death and will establish unprotected.
I am doing this to a limited extent with pecans. For some reason I do not find young persimmons, just mature trees, on my property. However I have about decided that in my soil conditions, transplanting without powered excavation equipment is mostly a non-starter. The sandstone bedrock is shallow and fractured and overlain by a soil layer that is about half blocky cobbles of fractured bedrock. Trees seem to do OK putting their roots down through the cobbles, but when I try to dig even the smallest saplings, I encounter so many cobbles that it's virtually impossible to remove more than a double-handful of root ball. Even if I dig a big hole, the cobbles in the root ball tear it apart and I wind up with something close to a bare-root seedling after much labor. These have not thrived subsequently, no surprise. So I am de-prioritizing transplants except for some wild plums at the edge of the property that are in better soil and easier to dig out.
Thanks for the suggestions!
Some things like sumac and persimmons and muscadines just show up when we let an area grow what it wants.
We have a little land 40 miles from here (our first 'homestead') where I try to take large amounts of seeds and spread them around. This year I added garlic and fava beans to the mix. It doesn't have to cost anything and the time wandering is always a pleasure for me.
On the bright side I found places where the soil is so soft and deep that I could just turn up a trench with the shovel, no difficulty. My trees will be happy if they can germinate and not get nibbled.
In each trench I put garlic, peanuts, and sunflower seeds predominantly, along with a few random tree nuts per trench (black walnuts, hickories, butternut, pecan, burr oak) and some persimmon and soapberry seeds. Plus a mix of wild onion bubils, buckwheat, and mustard seeds.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, sprouts in the spring.
Dan Boone wrote:Sadly our rescue dogs are not cat-safe. At all. Although I do have one ninety-pound black canine beast who is an enthusiastic mouser. It's quite funny watching her run-and-pounce.
Mine aren't cat safe either. We just built a dog run ages ago since our great pyr has "adopted" the neighbors cows and the neighbor doesn't' appreciate it. lol But we realize if the cats go into the fenced area they are goners. I'm just really praying 1 or 2 of them make it long enough to take care of some of the pests we are dealing with.
Dan Boone wrote:But I did notice that in places where nothing germinated in the spring, I got plant volunteers after rain storms throughout the summer and a few times this fall, especially after the summer weeds began to die back. So I am now trying to convince myself that it is a long term investment in the seed bank, and that lack of immediate results does not equal total failure.
Just updating after another year: we had a wet spring in 2015 and a warm wet winter/spring 2015/2016. Consequently an awful lot of the seed I scattered in droughtier times has been germinating. Right now when I walk in area where I scattered a lot of seeds (and dug them in as "extras" every time I planted something specific) I am finding quite a lot of cold-tolerant plants in various stages of growth, from curly mustard that's knee-high and flowering, to daikon radishes sticking six inches out of the ground, all the way down to tiny little field peas an inch high and turnip plantlings the size of quarters. Overall I'm pleased with the experiment, and so before the recent rains I started scattering a ton of wildflower mix seeds that I got on 90% closeout sale last fall.
Regardless of results, the mystery and lottery of it justify the experimental nature. Time well spent, learning is likely.
I like your approach. While jealous of your local fruit trees (new growth pine/fir forests round here, little else) I also scatter random handfuls of local seeds (mostly weeds n flowers), but Ive started doing so where I find natural, hugel-y things or fallen trees. Scrape a little trench on the wind-protected side, toss seeds, add some mulch and walk away.
I still... don't really know what my end-game here is, outside of curiosity and boredom.
For now, Ill call it "remedial horticulture". Sounds more important, right?!
Sidenote: Ive been considering adding fungal inoculant to the seed sack, and maybe even doing Fukuoka-esque balls, to which Id love to add inoculant as well (The stuff does wonders in most situations, especially potted plants)
My concern is - could using inoculant in the wild disrupt local soil populations? Im trying to add diversity, NOT create competition for ailing natives.
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