I have come to the conclusion that I need to start fertilizing my trees and shrubs. They are just not growing.
Let me give you some background on our situation.
We have been building our property from the ground up, literally. For the last hundred years it was a commercial grain crop field. It had been planted, fertilized, harvested and tilled every year. Year after year. The top soil is 6-12" of black on top of extremely high content clay. Dig down and there are layers of solid clay 1-3' thick and hard. Water table is about 80' down, but those layers of clay have small trickle flows that run along them, and pools in some places. There is a layer about every 3-6' as you dig down.
I have planted about 3500 seedling trees and shrubs of different types that are appropriate for the area. After five years some of the original ones planted are the same size as when I planted them. Hawthorn, pine, carragana, spruce, etc. Some of the carragana have grown to about 2-3' tall but are very sparse. A few hawthorn have doubled in size to 1' tall. But they are 5 years old now. Pathetic growth. The spruce trees that the previous owner had planted are now about 8 years old and are 2-4' tall. They are the biggest trees we have. The volunteer (wild) maple trees that pop up every year are doing the best of course, but even they are only a couple feet tall after 3-4 years of growth. Even trees like poplars, willows, and ash are only growing about 6-10" each year. The ash are doing relatively well at 3' tall after 5 years of growth.
We have our problems with mice and rabbits of course but I am not talking about that problem, I'm only talking about those that have not been touched by them.
I also noticed that our grass does not grow as well as I think it should. The front yard is all grass like the back yard but it is sparse compared to the back. The big difference between the two is that there have been animals in the back yard the whole time and none in the front. I have had our sheep grazing the back yard periodically for the last 4 years. The grass is much thicker and greener. Since I have never fertilized any of it all I can assume is the the sheep manure has made the difference.
Last summer I bought a big auger for the tractor. I intend to dig 3' deep holes that will be filled with soil and composted manure for all the planting I will do in the future. No more planting straight into the soil and hoping for the best.
Question: how can I fertilize the trees and shrubs I have already got growing? What should I use?
Remember that I am talking about fertilizing hundreds of them at a time. I'll be walking/driving over dozens of acres to do this so it needs to be simple and fast for each one.
My initial thought was to make a mix of dry top dressing that I could just spread by hand or broadcast. Maybe a mix of bone and blood meal? That attracts animals though so there are problems with that. A foliar feed might be possible as well, but that would require several spraying sessions every year. That's more work than I would like for a couple thousand trees. It would take a couple days each time, not to mention the effort of carrying the sprayer and walking several miles each time.
I really need some help with this. I would appreciate any ideas people might have.
I should also mention that I have been working at encouraging natural improvement of the soil over the entire acreage.
I have three different clovers, alfalfa, and sweet clover growing all over the property. I let them grow as much as possible each summer and then mulch the tops back down onto the ground. I also have been encouraging other weeds and grasses to grow as big as possible in an attempt to get roots down deep into the clay every year.
Almost no herbicides or insecticides have been used in the last 5 years so that the soil can have as much diversity of life as possible. I also use almost no antibiotics or other meds on the sheep flock.
I have started to broadcast seed wild flower and grass mixes around the property each year as well. Most of them are either native to our area or are clay soil specific. This is an attempt to increase the diversity of species and encourage insects, butterflies, and birds.
Some more information about your climate zone and overall design would go a long way towards any recommendations.
Have you taken any soil tests for nutrient levels? While there are many schools of thought and one test cannot tell the whole picture, you may find that your soil lacks certain trace elements which could be alleviated through slow release rock dusts, etc. Given your investment of over 3500 trees and shrubs, I would highly recommend a targeted approach to the situation- if not for your sake but for those trees and shrubs!
If you have a design for the site, could you find a way to put it online so folks can take a look?
With information on your site conditions, location, climate, and overall design (and your goals), I'm sure you will find help here.
I am located just outside of Winnipeg, Canada.
This is a prairie climate. Average temperature ranges from +26 to -22, with extremes of +42 to -57 with the wind. Precipitation averages about 520mm per year. Yearly % humidity is 60. Sunshine hours averages 2350 per year.
A fairly extreme climate. Which is why I am not trying to grow anything that is not native to the area or at least has been developed here and is well established.
I must admit that I have not checked the soil. I completely understand the reason for you asking that, and I have no excuse for not doing it. I have done it in the past in other areas and understand its importance. I quite simply have just forgotten to do it. If I ever remember to get a test kit I know that it would require doing several test site per acre, repeated over a number of years to get a true picture of the soil nutrient levels and needs.
I completely agree that the soil is very likely lacking in some micronutrients and minerals. Given its history of many decades used for grain crops I am sure that very little of these have ever been put back into the soil. One of the best things I could probably do for the entire property is to broadcast some type of supplement over the whole thing. Seaweed, rock dust, sea salt minerals, etc. The problem is that the expense is prohibitive. Far too many acres of land to do. That is the reason for seeding as many clay tolerant and deep rooting plants as I can find. At least that way they can start pulling those minerals and nutrients up from the deeper levels of clay and silt. This is an old floodplain so there is a lot of good stuff down there.
A true description of the planting plan probably won't be all that helpful given the scale of the whole plan, but I'll give you a little bit of an idea of the different parts.
Windbreaks: main house site and area has different rows of trees and shrubs planted based on summer and winter winds. These are both mixed in some areas and tightly spaced in other areas to block or redirect the winds. 5acres. Some dry and some moist areas.
New forest: mixed planting in trees and shrubs to create a wildlife refuge area. Generally semi dry bordered by a moist area.
Pasture edge: 25 acre pasture with a wide border area outside the fencing. Border are planted lightly with a mix of trees and shrubs along with volunteer species. This has areas that are dry, semi dry, and moist. Wild flowers and grasses are being seeded in this border area.
Marsh: 2acre low area, natural marsh. I have begun enlarging this. Marsh and bog flowers are being seeded slowly as it developes.
Species mix: spruce and pine, larch, poplars, willows, ash, maples, elm, bur oak, carragana, hawthorn, pincherry, Buffalo berry, Saskatoon, etc. I don't remember all of them but that is a good idea of the mix.
I hope that helps. I really would like to have plan ready to go in the spring. I have put this off far too long.
Fertilizers are not going to be a productive answer. You might want to look into the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham on the operation and makeup of e soil food web.
An intact prairie is a rough environment for trees. The soil is not friendly to them, it belongs to the grasses. In order to push such an ecosystem toward trees, the soil biota needs to become more dominated by fungi.
Fertilizers will not make this change in the soil makeup, nor will they do anything to address your clay layers. You don't mention whether that clay is compacted or not, but from your description I am guessing that it is.
I would, following Dr. Ingham's advice, start by doing some soil surveys looking for the microorganisms currently living in your soil. On a bet, the balance is in favor of bacteria over fungi, and you may have indications of anaerobic soil life as well, which, quite simply, is bad.
The solution Dr. Ingham recommends is to use compost, compost extract and compost tea to shift your soil food web toward the fungal side. This involves making compost that has the balance needed, and then applying that compost to the areas you want to change, making extracts from the compost and applying them to the soil, and making compost tea and applying that as a foliar spray on the plants.
Pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics all work against you in the effort to balance the soil food web, and it takes little to throw things out of balance.
Again, I recommend looking to her work, she has quite a body of remarkable achievements in this area.
*Something* is limiting the growth of your plants. Without a lot more information we can't really help you work out what.
It could be a general fertility issue after years of prior farming, and a soil test will certainly help you there. It could be other things as well, some possible culprits:
A hardpan layer - I don't know much about these, never having had to deal with anything like it. Deep ripping is supposed to help, as can deep rooted plants like daikon raddish.
Competition - planting very young trees into grass sward makes it very difficult for them to get established. There simply isn't root space for them to get going. You could test this by killing the existing vegetation with a cardboard barrier and mulching, then planting a new set of trees.
Browsing (especially in combination with root competition) - trees that get an occasional light browse by rabbit/deer etc may not be obvious, but if they are also stressed elsewhere they may simply not have the vigour to grow past these problems. I have seen plantings where every single tree was approximately 18 inches high - when they were young the new growth was nibbled frequently at the height of the old tree guard. The tree guards have long since disintegrated but the trees never grew past that stage.
Observation and experimentation will be your friends here I think - come up with a list of possible culprits and work out a way to treat each one. Run a small scale test on half a dozen trees then you will know where you need to focus your efforts.
Moderator, Treatment Free Beekeepers group on Facebook.
I agree with the need to heavily use compost in its various forms as well as mulching around all the trees to reduce competition from the grasses. A good soil analysis would be very beneficial as well, to point you in the direction you need to go for mineral supplementation over time. Gradual change to the system works as well as piles of stuff getting worked into the ground all at once - just a bit longer on the time scale.
What sort of watering, if any, do you do for these trees? Young trees, even drought hardy ones, need moisture when they are starting out to get their root systems and such established, right alongside of the various soil amendments provided by adding compost and mulch to protect their shallow root areas from competition. My experience is that a good watering and compost tea schedule in the initial couple of years will get the root systems working very well and they can survive on their own after that. Supplemental watering will still need to be done with the fruiting varieties depending upon your local weather pattern.
Thank you for the excellent responses and the help. Definitely getting my mind going.
Bill, given that I have thousands of trees and shrubs and the half mile walk to the back of the property watering is out of the question. It just can't be done. That would be a full time job. It happens in the yard around the house but that is it. But even there it hasn't helped much. Although I could do a better job.
The local nursery suggested I mulch with the composted manure I make.
Michael, hardpan is an issue here which is why I described the clay the way I did. Although the top is not actual hardpan like you would see in some places, the clay underneath is hard. The thick layers are compressed and crumble like a soft rock. That is why I have been encouraging as many deep root prairie plants as I can. I need them to drill thru the clay and break it up. Even though it will take many years. The plants I am trying to encourage have roots that go 3-20' deep. Some of the native grasses have amazing root systems.
You are totally right about competition. In some areas there is a lot of competition. The funny thing is that in some of those areas the trees are doing better then the more open areas. But, that is when the browsing comes in. The mice and rabbits drive me crazy. Some of my best trees have been killed or stunted because of them. I can't completely prevent it though. Even with dogs guarding the property they still come in at night and do damage.
Mulching is probably the best way for me to work on the nutrients and the competition at the same time. Composted manure is the main thing I have for that. The sheep produce a good amount that gets mixed with the wasted hay. I compost that constantly. I produce about 500-1000 pounds every year, after composting for a couple years. I have three piles on the go right now. I could fill a little trailer and spread it by hand in as many places as possible.
Peter, how did I forget about trees need for fungi? I know better. I didn't think about it at all. After all those decades without trees and the herbicides sprayed on every year there are probably very few types of fungi in the soil, let alone the ones the trees would need. I need an innoculent for the soil. Something that is specifically for the trees.
I understand what you are saying about making compost tea and watering it into the soil around the trees. Foliar spraying it, etc. But I kind of need a large scale version. I have 55 gallon drums and could get a 250 gallon tote or two that can be used to make tea, but I would prefer to look at something a little easier to move than 2000 pounds of liquid. I would need to build another water trailer to move enough tea to do it all in a couple days.
Question: if I took soil from a forested area near our property and added it to the compost piles would that be enough to get the right fungi started? Then spread around the property where trees are planted? Could that inoculate the soil?
I need to go find some info on Dr Ingham.
Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
Thousands of trees and shrubs definitely turns it into a ridiculous task for hand watering. I still believe that watering, or lack of, is part of the puzzle.
I agree that part of your solution is to get or build a water trailer, especially as it can provide your means of foliar spray for you compost tea, and even root watering for the fruiting trees. With the volume you are looking at, likely a bi-weekly or monthly watering/tea spray would help. Getting one of those Harbor Freight ones, a couple of totes and a 12v RV pump with a spray wand would be a fine starting point in my mind.
Penetrating that clay is going to be the real solution for water migration, I'm thinking. An auger would make breaking through and mixing a lot easier. I have no experience with them, but folks around here seem to really like the effect that daikon radish has on compacted soils. Burdock and other long taproot pioneers probably fit that bill as well. Non mechanical soil aeration and all that.
Bill, as much as I agree with the idea of growing Burdock for those fantastic roots they produce... My wife would skin me alive and roll me in salt if I did that. The sheep collect more than enough stuff in their fleece as it is without dealing with the burs that burdock produces. I have grown many acres of Canadian Thistle for the same reason you suggest burdock. It doesn't grow the big roots like burdock but it is much easier to get the burs out of fleece. Dandelion also has its place on our property. They have been growing some big roots for us.
I need to find something that grows roots like a burdock but doesn't have the burs and isn't poisonous. The sheep can eat a lot but not everything.
Turnips, sugar beets, and other large fodder beets just didn't go deep enough. I tried some fodder beets a couple years ago. They grew well and the pigs loved them... But when I pulled them up and dug down they really only went about a foot down. They were still basically all in the topsoil. That's why i decided to focus more on the native species of prairie plants. They naturally go really deep and build up the soil at the same time. I just wish it didn't take decades and centuries.
Location: Northwest Montana from Zone 3a to 4b (multiple properties)
Bill, here is the recommendations from a local nursery, Shelmerdines.
Choosing the Right Plants
The easiest solution for planting in clay soil is to simply choose plants that thrive in this type of growing condition. Here is a list of twelve plants that can grow in zone 3, and their common names to get you started:
1) Achillea, common name Yarrow
2) Amsonia, common name Bluestar
3) Aster, common name Aster
4) Baptisia, common name Baptisia, a native prairie plant
5) Coreopsis, common name Coreopsis
6) Echinacea, common name Coneflower
7) Eryngium, common name Sea Holly
Geranium, common name Perennial Geranium
9) Heliopsis, common name False Sunflower
10) Hemerocallis, common name Daylily
11) Heuchera, common name Coral Bells
12) Rudbeckia, common name Black-Eyed Susan
This still doesn't answer your question though. I wish I knew.
So after doing some more reading, both here and other places, I am heading in the direction of both fertilizing and inoculating my soil with forest fungi...
I'm already working to slowly deal with all the heavy clay soil that is the norm here. No way to avoid it. Just gotta work with it. I wish I could grow something that would do it faster but I don't see that happening any time soon. So what else can I do?
The idea that my Prairie Soil is not conducive to the easy growth of trees may very well be the major part of my problem, so I need to fix that. That means bringing in the appropriate fungi for the soil. I had asked about innoculation of my manure piles, but that might not be the right way to go. I don't know enough about composting to be sure about that. So that takes me to a more direct innoculation process.
I'm not going to try and make thousands of gallons of compost tea and spray it over dozens of acres of land. I'm just not up for all the effort, not to mention I don't have the time. Too much else going on. So that means I need to create a compost that I can place in locations where it can more naturally add the fungi to the soil.
Leaf Mold... I can make that and then spread it where I need it most.
The one thing going for me is space. I have lots of space. So that means I could produce a LOT of leaf mold. Dump truck loads of it. I just need to get the leaves. I don't have trees on my property but they are nearby. I'm also wondering if I can get the local landscapers and yard care guys interested in dumping their leaves here. The nearest town is only 4 miles away. Much closer than the nearest dump. That would be much better than me driving around "stealing" bags of leaves in town. If they could bring a few loads of leaves next fall I could have a good amount of leaf mold by the next spring.
Worst case scenario I go to the closest forested places and collect leaves and mold from there. Even a small number of bags is a start. There are some stands of poplar, maple, and oak near us.
klorinth McCoy wrote:There are some stands of poplar, maple, and oak near us.
What else am I missing?
What's different about your place than in the stands? Topography? Soil? Sheltered from wind? Alluvial deposits of silt/gravel? Change in slope to capture more/less sediment/water? Aspect of the slope? Established 150 years ago by someone that kept them watered for the first couple decades?
I am fortunate to live in a mountainous region. Makes it simple to see that subtle changes in all sorts of conditions can make dramatic changes in what ecosystems (or species) can survive in certain areas... I'm one of those guys that is constantly planting trees in the desert and in the steppe, knowing full well, that 99% of what I plant will not survive the first few years, and even those that do survive are unlikely to thrive. I just keep planting. This winter a friend wanted a small tabletop Christmas tree, so I harvested a twig from a tree that I planted as a child. In 45 years the tree has barely gotten taller than it's steward, but it brings joy every time I visit. Of the hundreds of trees that we planted that day when I was a child I am only able to find 6 of them nowadays. 5 of the 6 are within a few feet of each other where a fortuitous combination of soil, weather, slope, and whatever else combined to allow them to survive.
Joseph, the only real difference between my property and the treed areas around us is farming. Those other spots are either old farm yards or spots that have not been cleared and farmed. Most of this region was originally forested a couple hundred years ago. But that forest was all cut down for grain farming. Over the years different areas have been abandoned by farmers and allowed to slowly turn back into deciduous forest. That forest is predominantly poplar, Manitoba Maple, elm, or Bur oak.
The difference is that it has been left alone for several decades of more.
The soil, contour, and other things you mentioned are all the same for at least 20 miles in every direction. This is a very large prairie river valley so it is quite uniform in every way. North of us there are a couple moraines and a little more east it becomes more rocky and sandy. But those are a 15 minute drive. There are poplar stands within a mile of my house and oak a little farther. All of the house and farm sites have maple and elm, with some big spruce and pine as well. Those are trees that have been planted and cared for over many years by the farmers. Poplar is the pioneer species around here with the occasional Cottonwood. The areas with oak have been untouched for a very long time.
Thanks for the additional information. I am still wondering what your goals are for the property? Are you deriving the bulk of your income from farm activities? Are the sheep a hobby or part of a business?
Without knowing what your goals are or what the site actually looks like (some kind of base map), it is difficult to speak directly.
Still, if I may offer some advice:
1) Spend time this winter figuring out what you would like to do on the property and whether or not it is feasible. Divide the property into permaculture zones of use with specific strategies for each and how they may or may not interact with one another.
2) Come to terms with the scale of the property and apply your time, energy, and resources towards implementing mainframe permaculture design issues revolving around water, access, and soil. I cannot emphasize enough how much of a boon passive water harvesting features are on a property. I also cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you pay close attention to access. Avoiding soil compaction through well planned access is paramount towards shifting your property towards a forest ecosystem.
3) Determine where you can intervene with the highest chance of success with the least effort, especially when it comes to paying attention to design details that improve the situation for the entire site.
4) I would focus on wind breaks. Instead of trucking around compost, manure, and soil amendments to the entire site and everyone getting a little bit (which decreases its effectiveness), focus on promoting design features. Wind breaks for the entire site are of paramount importance. If those get established, everything they shelter will grow better regardless of whether or not you can spare fertilizer for them or not. As your site is large, it will take some effort to determine which windbreaks are top priority. Still, develop some kind of hierarchy of which features are going to get the bulk of your attention. Focusing on fundamental design issues is going to reap the most rewards. That doesn't mean stop observing the entire site, but it does mean that spreading yourself thin just isn't going to achieve what you want.
5) Once you have focused on your wind breaks, I would recommend researching and becoming thoroughly familiar with Holistic Management (developed by Allan Savory). HM is its own holistic design process that is complimentary to permaculture, but is an independent, stand on its own idea. Develop a plan for managing your property and putting your sheep to use throughout the land to distribute that manure. If your sheep are receiving some kind of mineral supplement, it is possible that some of those trace minerals will make their way to the topsoil between your tree rows. You live in an ideal location for this kind of work.
6) You mention wanting to inoculate your soil with forest organisms, especially fungi. This is a good idea, especially if coupled with a clear cut plan on which patches of your property you are going to focus your attention on. One way to bring forest soil life into the system is to bring clean, fresh wood chips into a healthy forest where you have permission to do this. Layer the wood chips underneath the fresh leaf litter and mark the area somehow so you can remember where your substrate is. Come back in a year, in late fall (or even the following spring, you want at least one autumn to pass), and check the patch. The wood chips should be clearly bound together with fungal mycelium, and probably some roots. You can then take your now inoculated substrate back to your trees. If you have located the substrate under specific trees that match the ones you want to encourage, this could work better. Be warned that there is no telling exactly what species of organisms you are now trucking back to your land! This can just as easily bring undesirable organisms, but on balance, beneficial ones should outnumber the undesirable ones. Additionally, most of these fungi will be of the decomposer variety. There may or may not be some mycorrhizal fungi in there.
For transport, make sure that the substrate stays moist (but not drowning) and when you bring it to your land, that you immediately put it into contact with the soil and cover with a solid layer of mulch to protect the organisms from the elements.
Note: research about mycorrhizal fungi and what they do and what they don't do. There is a lot of misinformation from companies as well as good intentioned, but misinformed talk out there about how to promote them. Here are a few tips to get started: Never (I rarely use that word) spray mycorrhizal fungi on plants. They are obligate species. In all but rare occurrences, they need to be in direct contact with a symbiotic partner in order to grow and survive. Remove a mycorrhizal fungi from its partner species and it will die. They don't live on leaves. They live in the soil. The Rodale Institute has an "on farm guide" to producing your own endomycorrhizal fungi inoculant. It would be worth a look since they partner with the vast majority of species. Learn about how the disperse themselves (read: you cannot propagate them in compost or in compost teas) On the other hand, many of the trees you have planted will associate with ectomycorrhizal fungi. Research which ones, which species, and see about ordering some. Inoculate certain trees that will put ectomycorrhizal mushrooms upwind of the rest of your property and target species during their fruiting months to facilitate their spread throughout the property.
7) If you can, bring dead wood into the property. Not only wood chips, but logs of all sizes. Put them in direct contact with the soil. You don't have to build hugel mounds if you don't want to (although they could be very useful). If you can put logs into direct contact with the soil within a reasonable distance of the specific tree patches you are targeting, within a few years their roots will go into the logs and begin to milk the log for water and nutrients. Additionally, mycorrhizal fungi will go into the log and do the same. If the log is mulched so that it doesn't dry out as easily, then you are on your way. Do that a few dozen times around the trees you really need to get going for your windbreak and you have a cheap and effective boost to the soil life. Wood chips are great, but they are relatively expensive and decompose quickly. What you want to do is act like a forest.
8#) Another way you can do that is to take branches and do soil staking- simply staking branches into the soil near the trees to facilitate the soil life.
9) If herbivores are a problem in your area, find out how you can facilitate predation. Are there any locations that are suitable for raptors to nest? Is there standing (but not necessarily stagnant) water available on site for foxes and such? The bog you mentioned could be seen as a focal point in enticing the entire food chain to play a part on your property, depending on its relative location to the other features and locations on the property.
These recommendations rest upon the knowledge that the trees, shrubs, other plants and life on your property know what they are doing. As the designer, as the organism on site that can use tools and plan, it is our obligation (IMO) to play to those strengths. Help your plants help themselves and they will do the rest. Hope that helps!
edit- Tried to fix some of the typos. The rest will just have to stay unfixed.
Wow! Now that is an impressive reply. I can't express how much I appreciate the effort you put into that. I am often the one that writes the most in my replies. It is really nice to receive a reply like that. Now I just need to try and address most of your points.
1) slow transformation is the main idea. We bought this property intending to spend years slowly changing it from a commercial grain field into a small multipurpose farm that we could be proud of. A 2 acre home site with a pond, vegetable garden, fruit trees, berries, and yard areas to enjoy. A 2-3 acre animal area for several different types of livestock with shelters, pens, feed storage, and handling facilities. A 20 acre pasture (mixed grass) for rotational grazing and hay production. 2 acre marsh for wildlife. 2 acre new forest for wildlife. The remainder of the property is then set aside for wind breaks and a boundary buffer zone that separates the property from the surrounding properties and provides wildlife with space to move around us without being forced to cross it.
2) the scale and timeline are long and that is not a problem. We both work full time off the property and I won't be retiring for close to 25 years so there is no real rush. Water collection and use has been part of the plan the entire time. We have several basic aspects to that with not only the 2 acre marsh but also a 1/4 acre pond by the house, Swales on the north and south sides of the property, and low areas in the pasture for collection. Added to that is the intentional location of tall grasses for snow collection in the winter and a berm along the south swale to collect snow and shade. Every spring I pump water from the south swale into the pond to fill it for the summer. The house site is also graded to control water flow where I want it. Roads are very minimal as well. There is only a single road that accesses the property. It goes from the house thru the centre of the animal area into the pasture then loops around the perimeter of the pasture and returns down the centre. Lots of walking.
3) I am here asking questions so that I can learn from others and improve what I do. I don't want to waste time and energy when it isn't needed.
4) wind breaks and shelter belts were the first thing I worked on after the house and yard site. Prevailing winds were monitored for a year before we moved to the property. So trees and shrubs were planted to help with the North west winter winds that cause the most problems. The new forest area is a part of this as well as the North side for the first 1/4 mile of the pasture. Those are the key areas that I am focussing on for maintenance of the trees.
5) I will have to check into what Allan Savory means by holistic management. I have heard a few different versions of that. One of the reasons for us having sheep was to have them help us rejuvenate the land. A field like the one we bought needs help to return to its original prairie state.
6) your wood chip idea is very interesting. My sisters property might be a good place for that as she has mature maple, elm, poplar, and maybe an oak or two. I'll see about reading the Rodale Institute information. I usually enjoy the guides that people put together.
7+8 ) bringing dead wood unto the property is obviously a good idea. No question. I was thinking about that yesterday actually and trying to decide where I could get some that would be the right size.
9) herbivores are a problem, but not the big ones. Mice and rabbits are it. I have 7 hunting dogs and 2 big livestock guardian dogs so not much gets on the property without be chased away or killed. Deer avoid us completely and the coyotes walk around us. That being said, we do have foxes near us and the coyotes do patrol the area periodically. Hawks and Eagles migrate through every year in large numbers along with some owls. There is no stopping the mice, and the rabbits are there part of the winter.
One of the things that I did at the beginning was to place our fencing inside the property and not on the property lines. I am well aware of the opinions of this in the USA, but we do not have problems with neighbours "acquiring" the land. I don't need more comments on that. I've had that conversation.
I set up the property with a 30-50' buffer zone around the whole property. All of our livestock and dogs stay inside the fencing. The shelter belts and forest area are all in this buffer zone. This zone is meant to encourage wildlife use and act as a highway for them to move around us and between our property and the surrounding properties. It is there to shelter us and help them. For that reason the majority of the planting is in the buffer zone. Not just trees but also mixed grasses, flowers and herbaceous plants. I do realize that by doing it that way I will always have a certain amount of browsing damage and loss. That is part of why I planted so many. And just for perspective every single tree and shrub I planted inside the fencing was killed by our animals eventually. Even those that I tried to protect with fencing. The sheep break the fences and the dogs dig under them to get to the seedlings and small trees. Pine, spruce, elm, maple, Apple, cherry, etc. All dead.
I hope I touched on most of your comments and ideas.
Josey, the no-till radishes do look interesting. A 1/4" root that goes down 32" and then decomposes before the next summer is a great idea. I have no way to plant a large number of them though. The only thing I could do is to plant them around key areas where I really need them. Or use them to prep an area to be planted the next season. I guess if I prep'd an area, planted trees and laid down some of Joshua's wood chips to inoculate the soil that might be a good way to use them. I don't think I need a 50 pound bag to do that though. I might have to buy them off Amazon. Worth thinking about at least.
That would explain the mice and rabbit problem. You might need to add a few terriers to keep the mice away. Snakes are good for keeping mice in check, too, though I find dogs far more likeable.
2) I think Joshua is right about bringing more dead wood (chips, leaves, logs) onto your property. Sounds like you're on board.
3) I'm surprised that your alfalfa isn't doing more to break up your clay. I'd try hitting it with a heavy dose of alfalfa, daikon, and mustards. If that doesn't work, try alder-- it's roots should bust through your clay, fix nitrogen for your trees, and withstand being foraged by animals.
Mountain Krauss, the coyotes walk along our buffer zones just as I wanted. They patrol a very large area that takes at least two weeks for them to circle so they are not always here. Six weeks could go by with no sign of them. The foxes are much more commonly seen in the buffer zone. They have a den in the neighbours property and another in the back of ours. They would need to be patrolling around us constantly to truly reduce the rabbits though.
The mouse population is huge. Even with our dogs, who search for mice constantly, there are always going to be more mice. A couple terriers aren't going to make much difference. They are fun to watch though.
I am sure that the alfalfa and sweet clover are making a difference. I just don't know how much. The sweet clover grows in big patches that naturallly move around the property year to year. They were not planted but we're already in the ground. They grow 3-6' tall and do a good job I'm sure. I just can't tell how much. I like it that they dry in the fall and become wonderful snow traps during the winter. They tend to hold 3-5' of snow every winter. The sweet clover and the grasses in the buffer zone cause large snow drifts that cover several acres along the fence lines. Then the same thing inside the pasture where I intentionally leave tall growth. I catch as much snow as I can. My hope being that it will melt in the spring and saturate the ground as much as possible and fill the low areas.