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Can you help with my food forest layout / spacing

 
Luke Grainger
Posts: 10
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Hi all,

I'm hoping for some advice on a food forest project, specifically the layout I should use with the plants that I have.

The location is a NNE facing slope in the Dandenongs, Melbourne, Aus. Occasional strong northerly winds. I have a water tank up hill and I'm thinking of putting in a relatively small swail as rainfall is more abundant in the hills. I'm also considering backfilling the swail with woodchips to prevent mosquitoes..

I have a bunch of plants that are itching to escape from their pots and I'd love a wiser more experienced person to help with intelligent layout and spacing, what should be higher and lower on the hill, how the shade will work etc. Can anyone advise on this?

Here's the list:

chestnut
hazelnut
orange valencia * 3
unidentified citrus
orange navel
blood orange
grapefruit * 2
mandarin
lime talutian * 2
fejoia
avocado * 5
peach / nectarine
pear

Also.. where can I get cowpea? What other nitrogen fixers would be good?
What conditions does lucerne like to germinate because my seeds seem to be duds.
What other plants would be useful with this food forest and why?
What plant would be best to try to atleast compete with blackberries regrowth, to slow them down and be mowable and easily maintainable itself?

Thanks for reading!
Luke
 
Judith Browning
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Hi, Luke and welcome to permies! hopefully bumping up your post will help get some input into your questions.
 
David Wood
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Location: Sth Gippsland and Melbourne
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Hi Luke,

I grew up in the Dandies and I own some similar land in the Strzeleckis. Re swales, is your land steep and prone to slips? If it is, I would be very cautious about adding swales. They can accentuate this problem in high rainfall areas like the Dandenong Ranges. We're not swaling due to this concern.

Re blackberries, I've spent many an hour clearing them in the Dandies, another property in the Yarra Valley and at our block. They will be suppressed under sufficient shade. We have closed canopy blackwood stands where the blackberries struggle. But that takes a while. I use a mattock on isolated outbreaks of blackberries in the paddocks. In the tree coupes, this is the current approach:

a/ If the canes will pull out do so. This is obviously easier in winter and in wetter ground in gullies, close to creeks and so on.

b/ If canes too firmly rooted, cut off close to ground with brushcutter, extension lopper or secateurs.

c/ Remove waste to pile.

d/ If cut rather than pulled, now have better clearance to use mattock on root crown. This is difficult with canes impeding access.

e/ Need clear access to canes so if lower tree branches need pruning this occurs as required.

If you have a blackberry problem or any other weed for that matter, if you are planting on any scale, designing in access for powered machinery like slashers/brushcutter and so on is very handy.

Hope this is useful

David
 
Luke Grainger
Posts: 10
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Thanks for the replies people!

Re the blackberries, I purchased a cordless makita brushcutter for $109 and wholeheartedly recommend it. My mattock head is loose atm.

I'll have to look into the gradient and the suitability of swales, I think it's not quite steep enough that the swales would fail though
rainfall is quite good in the dandies as you say.
 
Cj Sloane
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Luke Grainger wrote:I'm also considering backfilling the swail with woodchips to prevent mosquitoes..


Mosquitoes are not going to be a problem. By the time any eggs hatch the water will have left the swale and seeped into the ground where it's best stored.
 
David Wood
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Location: Sth Gippsland and Melbourne
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If the area of blackberry infestation is small enough to be cut with a cordless brushcutter I would strongly recommend taking to them with a shovel if your mattock is out of service. Rubus fruticosus can take quite a bit of pruning before it gives up. If you dig the crown out this speeds up the process although they can and will resprout from roots. They're a tough plant and they love the Otways, Dandies, Yarra Valley and Strezleckis.

I've been using this beast:

http://www.billygoat.com/product-categories/detail/bc24-series-outback-brushcutter

and the biggest Maruyama brushcutter I could find which was this model from memory:

http://maruyama-us.com/latin-market/products/brush-cutters/bc5021h/

I bought the Maruyama instead of a really big Stihl brushcutter as the Maruyama was half the price in Oz. Stihl make great kit - I have an MS660 chainsaw I use for chainsaw milling - but it is pricey in Australia.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Hau Luke, since others have addressed the issues of swales and blackberry canes, I will address the plantings in your query.

"Here's the list:

chestnut
hazelnut
orange valencia * 3
unidentified citrus
orange navel
blood orange
grapefruit * 2
mandarin
lime talutian * 2
fejoia
avocado * 5
peach / nectarine
pear "

Firstly, spacing of the chestnut and hazelnut trees will need to be around 13 meters between trunks so these trees can grow to their natural desires size wise.
The avocado will grow to around 25 meters tall so spacing for them will need to be the same 13-14 meters apart.
Oranges and grapefruit and others will do well with a spacing of 10 meters which will allow ladders for picking fruit without getting into another tree, you can space them a bit closer together if need be.

The best way to determine ideal spacing is by the given trees natural growth dimensions, you want about 2 feet between the outreaching branches when fully grown.
If you plan on pruning to keep them easier to manage, then you can adjust your spacing to the final dimensions you plan on keeping the trees to.
Dwarfs are smaller so they naturally can go closer together than large trees, the objective is to have enough space between them so you can harvest with out disturbing the branches of another tree.
Sunlight is the other determining factor for placement, you don't want to plant a really tall tree where it will shade a shorter, fruiting tree when they are all mature.

I hope this helps you in placing your orchards, if you need more help, just let me know.
 
Luke Grainger
Posts: 10
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Thanks for the response! Good advice!

The swail I have is only 24m long.. so I guess I'll have to plant some trees a bit further down the hill.
The swail I'm thinking of doing is only perhaps a foot deep as someone mentioned the prospect of the swail ending up damaging the hill and also
in the dandenong ranges there is only a few periods of summer where rainfall is rare and the swail provides irrigation insurance.

I may play it by ear and possibly add a spillway later. It's a north west facing hill will get plenty of sunlight.

I'm really wondering how close to the swail each of these plants should be. Is two feet two close?
I've heard citrus don't like wet feet yet they like plenty of water for all that fruit.. how close should they be?

I'm also wondering just how far down the hill the water the swail is catching will soak into the ground. I mean will the topsoil say five metres
down hill from the swail be benefitting from the swale and if so how much? How about ten metres further down will it be any more moist than it
was before or will gravity have sunk the water beneath it passed on by below and not soaked it?

Should I consider digging a second swail?

On another note, it was a good year for blackberries this one, harvested 4 ice cream buckets and going to delay hacking the rest till they are done cropping!



 
Luke Grainger
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Location: Melbourne Australia
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I'm thinking of pruning the tops of the fruit trees to sculp them a bit so the branches don't get too high and ladders aren't required..
I saw this done with the garden of eden garden. Is this wise?
 
Cj Sloane
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geoff lawton has an urban permaculture video with this technique but if your situation isn't urban there are good reasons to let a tree grow to full height.
 
Cj Sloane
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Luke Grainger wrote:
I'm really wondering how close to the swail each of these plants should be. Is two feet two close?
I've heard citrus don't like wet feet yet they like plenty of water for all that fruit.. how close should they be?


It depends on what you're planting. Plants that don't like wet feet go on the swale mound. This illustration shows how how you can place individual plants near swales to their benefit:
swale-cross-section></a>
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Pruning for ease of harvest is not a bad idea, and you can always stop pruning for shape any time you decide you want to. Trees that are allowed to grow to their natural form can be more productive and provide more shade. In a fruit Orchard, shade is not always something that is desired. How you tend your orchard is very dependent on the goals of the orchardist i.e., quantity of fruit, size of fruit, bringing a tree back to health are some of the normal things for an orchardist to think about. Most fruit trees have an optimum number of fruits per limb, this will be all the limb can hold with out severe stress to the wood or it may be the number of fruits that will grow to as large as they genetically can grow, which would be a far smaller number of fruits than when going for numbers of fruit per branch.

Cj gave great information on planting swales.

Now, depending on the length of your slope (top to bottom) you can always add swales if you find you need them.

I, for instance, have a sun facing slope that I am putting in multiple swales, top to road edge, to slow the cascade of water.
I am doing this simply so that I will not keep loosing my road surface that is down slope. I am leaving around 3 meters between swales which will have fruit trees when the project is completed.
Along with these fruit trees will be many companion plantings to prevent soil erosion and provide other sources of food for us and our animals. ( see the diagram in Cj's last post ).
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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On swales - you really should incorporate a spillway. It will take just a couple of minutes to do and it prevents your swale from flooding its berm, which you really don't want it to do.
The plume of water below ground from your swales will move down slope as well as down into the ground. Just how it moves relates to the structure of your soil. If, for example, you have a soil that is straight sand down further than you can think about digging, as I do, then your plume of water will not spread very far down the slope, it tends to just go straight down into the sand instead. But, if you happen to have bedrock a few feet below the surface, then your water will move downward until it hits the rock, and then down slope.

Over time, that plume heading down slope grows, to the point where it can result in springs appearing down hill from the swale(s).

Almost always worth considering multiple swales, remember that one of the goals is to keep water on your property and in your soil for as long as possible.
 
Phoenix Blackdove
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Location: Adelaide, Australia
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I'm not seeing much in the way of support species (nitrogen fixers). Would you say your swale spot is more temperate or subtropical in its microclimate? I don't know anything about the climate in the Dandenongs so some or all of these species might be unsuitable, but I'd look into tagasaste, black locust, Siberian pea shrub for larger temperate trees, lupins and vetches for small species. If it's more subtropical then Leucaena, Sesbania, Tamarind, and ice cream bean trees are all big-growing nitrogen fixers. Pigeon pea and Lab Lab are shrubby sized plants. And there's bound to be some wattle bushes (Acacia spp) native to your area that are the right size for going in/around/under your fruiting trees.

Comfrey will do well under pretty much anything, but I'd especially recommend it for the citrus. Citrus trees have shallow root systems and comfrey goes deep, so they make a good pair. The comfrey will also help keep the grass at bay, if that's a concern. And it's easy to mow/scythe it down in autumn (or whenever your chop & drop season is) to put the minerals back into the soil where the citrus can get to it.

Most feed stores will have bins full of seed for broadcasting, many will be nitrogen-fixers too. Elsewise Green Harvest (www.greenharvest.com.au) sell both cool season and warm season cover crop mixes, as well as a "Good Bug Mix" to attract beneficial pests. I saw cowpea on their list as well as plenty of other nitrogen-fixers you could try.

As for the blackberries, have you considered adding goats to your property? They have to be pretty well controlled, but in return they'll do a good job of keeping the blackberry in line for you. Bill Mollison, in one of his books, also mentions the case of a farmer who planted fruit trees (apples and pears mostly) right in the middle of his blackberry patches. The blackberries shaded and protected the trees while they grew, and when they got big enough, started to shade out the blackberries. In addition, when the trees started fruiting and dropping windfalls, his cows went nuts trying to get to them and ended up trampling the blackberries in the process. Obviously that wouldn't be ideal if you want to keep the blackberries alive, but it might be worth thinking about for patches you want eradicated.
 
Brendon Farlow
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Location: Victoria, Australia
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Hi some good info here all ready.. i'll try and fill in some bits although I am still learning.

Once you have an overall plan for your trees I think a really important part of the equation is the understory plants, cover crops, mulch plants, nitogen fixers etc.
for cover crops maybe look at red and white clovers, lucerne etc
nitrogen fixers such as lupins, vetch, broad beans, fenugreek..
Fill in the gaps with smaller productive perennials.. blue berries, goji berries, wild strawberries, currents and gooseberries.
Queen annes lace (seeding and flowering around eastern Melbourne at the moment, try edges of South Eastern freeway), borage, comfrey, tansy, pyrethrum, bergamont, echinacias and aliums are all great additions especially for beneficial insects.

You can play around with lots of annuals but a great idea is to establish a perennial and self seeding understory so it can manage itself and as a result should keep weeds as bay.

I think packing in the layers and diversity with a mind to succession planting is very important if not the key to establishing a food forest. If you have spaces or bare soil then mother nature will fill it for you so why not put something there you want.

 
Brendon Farlow
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Location: Victoria, Australia
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A point on swales... have you considered them as a dual purpose access way? are they wide enough to fit a wheel barrow, quad bike or tractor to easily access your trees? food for thought.
They should also be non compacted to allow easy drainage into the subsoil and as a result should not allow water to sit and breed mossies. I have heard of people filling them with organic matter such as wood chips like you suggest. I wonder if you could inoculate the woodchips with mushroom spoors? Your definitely in a great area for it... imagine swales full of edible mushrooms, yum.
 
Luke Grainger
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Location: Melbourne Australia
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I love you guys, the community help hear is really great for morale. I'll have to digest all these ideas. I do have comfrey that I'm currently harvesting seeds from.
I have a version of fenugreek that came from Bangladesh that I have seeds for.. I have some growing just cause was curious what it looked like. I'd never heard of
Queen's Lace I'll have to look it up and look out on the sth eastern. Mushrooms in the swail in the woodchips is an interesting thought, I think it might work right down the bottom of the hill where it's cooler.. or maybe a few years into the future. The soil is fairly compact but I know from experience now how great a job wood-chips do as a ground
cover in creating nice crumbly aerated living textured soil. It's amazing.
 
Steven Joel
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Location: Victoria, Australia
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Hiya luke,

Another Melbournite!

Re: Duplicating your comfrey. Comfrey will grow readily from pieces of root. I have seen people suggest running a rota tiller through patches of comfrey to chop the roots up and make it spread. On a smaller scale you could just pull a few plants and chop them by hand to re plant.

I am also really enjoying this community, so many people willing to share their knowledge and time.

 
Marie van Houtte
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Location: Australia
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Hi Luke,

I'm in the Dandenongs too What size is your block of land? (Sorry if you already said and I missed it!)

I just wanted to say that here in the hills, your avocado trees won't get anywhere near 25 metres tall. They might make it to 5 metres tall in 10 or 15 years time, if you plant a big variety like Fuerte. Also your hazelnuts will only get to perhaps 2.5 metres tall and wide if you just let them do their thing. They're more of a bushy hedge/understory shrub in our climate. But Bryant is spot on about the chestnuts - they get big here!

There's a permie orchard up in Monbulk called Telopea Mountain, 10+ acres on a north facing slope. The owners also have a fruit tree nursery there, and sell to the public. It might be worth popping down to have a quick look at their set-up, just to get an idea of tree size and spacing.
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