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Volume One Chapter Three - The Five Elements of Forest Architecture  RSS feed

 
Burra Maluca
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Part Two: Ecology

3: The Five Elements of Forest Architecture
Vegetation layers
Soil horizons
Feature article 2: with all these layers, what do I grow in the shade?
Vegetation density
Patterning
Box 3.1: the principles of relative location
Diversity
Summary
Case study 2: Robert's garden
 
Ann Torrence
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Here's a radical statement for the orthodox among us: "Plants need not occupy all the layers for a stand to be a forest or forest garden. One could design a garden that had two useful layers, say a fruit tree canopy and a diverse herbaceous layer" (p 75) although he does go on to say this isn't taking full advantage and more layers are better, depending on your goals. Some of the most beautiful forests I've been in, like the Kaibab forests in Northern Arizona, have very sparse understory layers.

And another iconoclastic statement, at least with respect to some of the lore about permaculture design: "There is no substantiation for higher edge-zone productivity except in wetlands and midsuccession environments where the edge effect may not be the cause." (p 94) He goes on to say that the edges that seem to have the effect are much wider than we can generally accomplish in a home-scaled food forest, and note that they can become perfect corridors for invasive species, decreasing the diversity we are after. "Just remember that if you have more edge to work with, so too do the weeds that want in!" (p 95) Yeah, weeds are just what I need more of. "Edges are a fact of physical life and a possible tool, not a panacea." (p 96)

The discussion of following a plant's natural tendency for reproduction by clumping or wide seed dispersal makes a lot of sense for designing plant spacing. Why fight an iris patch that expands by its roots? How many plants, how big of an area of one species is too much? I think of the nearby Pando aspen grove, a single organism that covers over 100 acres. It's ok for a plant to have its own kind as a neighbor.

I really like Table 3.6, which ought to be titled, "How much is enough?" Native MOIST temperate deciduous forests have a maximum of 35-40 species per quarter acre. It's not hundreds, and thinking so makes it way harder than it has to be. We can always add more later if we are missing a function.

Robert's garden: it's hard to think about it when you are starting out, but if we want our work to extend beyond our lifetimes, we must consider things like aging in place and inheritance, or at least creating something that someone else could adopt and operate. Robert's gardens had few patches which limited his ability to care for his garden as he got more frail. And wouldn't it be great if there were a way to easily 3-D model the heights and density of a group of trees from a prospective planting map? I once started a thread on this very topic: "The problem: the shrubs usually got in the way of access to the fruit trees or blocked the available paths back and forth through the core of the garden. Perhaps this shrub distribution made the garden look forest like, but it was a major hassle to move around the place, not to mention to prune, harvest, and monitor insects." (p 118 ). I said it then, and having taken my share of tumbles on this property, I am even more insistent now that the design eliminate all tippy-toe harvesting. It's might be part of some people's rich fantasy life. I want my reality to involve as few trips to the ER as possible as I get older.

My DH and I also have to have the serious discussion about inheritance. I found this blog article summarizing what has happened to Robert's garden and it's not what any of us dream of. Planning for succession of gardener is a topic that we don't ever discuss, but isn't part of the design process?

ETA link to thread I forgot to include.
 
Chris Kenney
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Location: Santa Ana, CA USA
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Lol at the 3.6 "How much is enough?" table. 35-40 species per quarter acre is pretty close to the level of diversity that came with my urban lot, so I guess I'll be tinkering with a lot of functional substitutes then. The mad scientist in me wants to be able to run more experiments than could reasonably be supported on the suggested scale, but I guess that is what the "time" axis is for.

One thing that struck me as odd is the authors emphasize how important it is to have clear objectives. Yet there isn't much discussion of whether having multiple objectives can result in too much objectives diversity and stress our designs. Does "clear" mean "few"? Can our goals for a site be too dense? If so, how do we know we are approaching this position?

There is a comfort to getting your plan down on paper and in so doing, avoid the major mistakes. But sticking too closely to a plan can shut me down to being open continuous learning. The universe of things to learn far exceeds the lived experience I could apply to a design right now and that universe is expanding! Despite well-laid plans, I too, am tippy-toe harvesting! I don't want to be faulted for lacking strategy, but I also don't want to be a Baron Haussmann or Robert Moses making sweeping potentially disruptive changes to the landscape without fully groking how this might change life for inhabitants. It seems like it might be more constructive not only to start with a basic plan, but also have a soundboard to shop it around to so that you can leverage other folks' experience too? Maybe have a "plan" to redraw your plan periodically based on how things go and how your objectives evolve?

Like Ann, I was also intrigued by this concept of inheritance and continuity. In my 9-to-5, I interviewed elders and their children about what their plans were for their property when they passed away. Children, often scattered across the globe, typically had little interest in their parents' homes beyond a liquidity event. Would it be possible to combine "rent to own" real estate schemes with a live-in elder care arrangement and serve a couple needs in one swoop? WWOEFing? It seems like this idea on page 102 to start cultivating a *neighborhood* forest garden might help build a succession bench, though this would probably take generations to become fully established. Does anyone have any good resources on neighborhood building in general?
 
Eric Toensmeier
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Hi everybody, there is a lot of discussion of exactly what clarifying goals means in Chapter Three of Volume II. Eric
 
Doug Barth
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Thank you for the week off. It allowed me to get up to date with all the goings on of life.

This chapter seems more dense to me. I had to take it in sections and my highlighter was tired. Thanks for the note about the forest garden can have only two lagyers. I read that but I must be so gun ho about making a dense multi layered garden my mind didn't register that fact. I do need all the tools I can use and a simple garden might be useful in certain situations. The many layers are hard to picture (for a visual person like myself) when completed. I take the example of vines. Growing up, there were not any that I remember growing on our property. Now, I see vines with edible grapes all over my new property. It is a sign I need grapes and raspberries and all the kinds of berries I can grow! But thinking about where to place them takes some time. I definitely want to stabilize my local ecosystem and help out the birds. They have mostly olive autumn berries to eat. I don't like the plant spreading and I bet they want a more diverse food. Pollinators and food web creatures in the soil would concur.

The section on shade is important since as a society, we think so much about full sun planting or, in my situation, I didn't really know how to start. The two strategies make sense for the plants to cope underneath the huge overstory trees. And the note about experimenting rings true to me. Even if I fail, we can start over. Try new things. Keep branching out. I'm reading Sepp Holder's Permaculture and he specifically says keep on trying new things. If you don't, you won't learn anything new.

The last time I read the section on soil, I didn't get it. I've read more permaculture books and listened to Elaine Ingham's permaculture voice presentation. The quote in this book from her telling farmers to, "manage their below ground microherds" sums it up. You have to have them in your thoughts. The soil is so freakin' important! Since its as elementary as you can get. Dirt poor folk are the richest people you know. I remember further chapters talk more about this so I can't wait! Or I will since I'm taking this one week at a time.

Percent cover, crown density, and root density are important macro and micro aspects in your consultant designs. And the plant communities can be planned for different sections of the map. A savannah over here, I want a permaculture orchard here, and I'll let this be a natural forest. And the root systems blew me away the first time reading. They're how big!? Diameter is THREE times the height of the tree! The more I learn about plants, the more amazed I am.

I really loved figure 3.17. The idea for planting a garden can have a beautiful natural mixed look with a little foresight.

I hope we have more involvement about this book. Been a great reread.
 
Zenais Buck
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I agree- this was a dense chapter! It is sometimes difficult to think of what to say here; at the end of the chapter I am starry-eyed, and end up sitting in my yard and staring, trying to 'see' it. All I can give you are my favorite sentences.

"When life interacts with mineral particles, soil is born." (p.75). What a simple sentence to sum up all that we are learning about soil complexity! I am encouraged that even our local landscapers are grasping the concept. A friend came back from a standard 'petunias and turf management' landscaping conference, and was excited to tell me that he had learned that while he had been trying to grow plants, what he should have been doing is growing soil. Things are changing!

I also really appreciated the section "Coverage Defines Community Character" p.84.

I am sorry that I don't have any brilliant or insightful things to add to these discussions! I feel like I am sneaking into a graduate class when I am supposed to be across the hall in 101

 
Zenais Buck
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Oh! I did read something that startled me:

" In the past two decades, many ecological designers, ourselves included, have touted the edge effect as a means to increase farm and garden diversity and productivity by increasing the amount of edge farms and gardens contain." and then later, "There is no substantiation for higher-edge zone productivity except in wetland and midsuccession environments where the edge effect may not be the cause." p.94

INTERESTING, to say the least!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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He goes on to say that the edges that seem to have the effect are much wider than we can generally accomplish in a home-scaled food forest, and note that they can become perfect corridors for invasive species, decreasing the diversity we are after.


As far as I can tell, by looking at ecosystems with my own eyes, they are always more diverse if there are more species in them. Doesn't matter where the species was growing a decade ago, or a century ago, or prior to 1492, or prior to the Asian diaspora to the new world, or prior to the most recent disturbance that made an ecological niche for a specific weed. As far as I have ever been able to tell -- with my own eyes -- adding a non-native species to my garden, or to my wildlands increases the diversity by one, and sometimes by much more...

I love tamarix as an example. I spent a day counting species in a willow thicket, and in a nearby tamarix thicket. The tamarix supported 5 to 7 times more species of insects, plants, and birds than the willow thicket did. Tamarix is supposedly an evil foreigner. The plants, animals, and insects don't seem to notice or to care. They take full advantage of tamarix's ecosystem services.

Just about every species that I grow for eating in my garden and food forest are not native to this area. The surrounding wildlands were covered with a lake during the last ice age, so every species of plant and animal growing in my wildlands is not native. Other areas were devoid of plants due to glaciers.

But if I'm feeling generous, and give the natives-only crowd a pass on that issue, when I go out into the wildlands around here, and actually count species, about 30% of what Joe-Smoe thinks are native to this area have come in from different continents... And that's not counting the plants that are endemic to the Americas that are growing thousands of miles from their ancestral homes. I love the definition of native that I heard about a year ago, "A native plant is a species that was growing in this area before I moved here."

It seems to me, that the primary purpose of "invasive species" fears is to sell more pesticides, and to get more funding for the people that apply them.


 
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