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My Grove project

 
Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Project: The Grove

I'm starting my first food forest project this spring. Up until now all energy, money, and time has gone to renovating our house and establishing my garden/orchard.
A few background items:
Zone 4 Minnesota, although I have several Zone 5/6 things growing around my garden so who knows. A local weather expert had a recent article about our climate here and how it is changing more rapidly than other parts of the world, we had our first true zone 4a winter in 30 years last year and have had several recently that pushed a typical zone 6 winter so who knows.
My property in general is a upside down right triangle going directly north to south, a mature but very sick oak/elm/black cherry/hackberry forest on the south and east end keeps things very shady and cool in general. Water is not really an issue here, we have dry spells but no drought conditions like some parts of the country. I haven't watered my garden in 2 years, mulch and hugels are beautiful things.
Soil is beautiful sandy loam deposited by glaciers long ago. I literally couldn't pick a better soil to start from. Drains well, but retains moisture.

I have acquired a ton of nut/fruit/nitro fixer seeds this winter and am currently stratifying them in hoping that a portion sprout.
I have a thread for my stratifying experiment, it's been doing pretty well so far I should have plenty of trees this spring.
The list includes:
Hybrid chestnuts, Hazelnuts, Northern Pecan and Hybrid pecans, Shagbark and Shellbark Hickory, Heartnuts, Butternuts, Apples, Apricots, Wild plum, Medlar, Quince, Honey Locust, Kentucky Coffee tree, black locust, Siberian Pea Shrub, Paw Paw, Akebia, Goumi, Cornelian Cherry, Japanese Raisin Tree.
In addition I have maybe 50 American persimmon seedlings in the garden, and will be collecting Siberian pea shrub and black locust seedlings this spring to nurse the area along.


I've decided to start my forest on the southern facing tip of the property, it slopes nicely downhill to the south and gives me the best chance of warm sunlight on the whole property since it overlooks a road and is clear for a few hundred feet to the south. The maples on that end of my lot are the first to produce sap in the spring so there's some proof of good heat/sunlight. The north edge of the grove has a gulley dropping off sharply to the northeast, it's essentially a round hill peninsula with flat land to the west and slopes all around the rest.
The area in general is overgrown with buckthorn, with several mature but not massive white oaks and black cherry trees. Oak wilt is an issue here, though the white oaks seem to resist it and die off slower than the red oaks do. I notice old dead staghorn sumac trees likely having been choked out by the buckthorn awhile ago, it remains to be seen if those will come back or if I want them there. Anyone know what staghorn sumac indicates in a particular area as far as growth conditions/soil/etc?

As of now the first step will be marking off the area, then clearing the buckthorn and brush. I'll be 8' field fencing the southern and eastern sides and dead hedging the western and northern sides. If deer predation is still and issue I can temporarily fence those too. I'm hoping to add large stumps and logs facing south and east in the dead hedge to create some passive solar microclimates.

Thirdly will be to swale and berm on contour every 25 feet or so, I think I can get 4 or 5 swales in the area on contour. I'll add woody materials to the swales and plant my seedlings on the berms. Back row will be a mix of the bigger nut trees(walnuts excluded), apples, stone fruits, and a bunch of nitrogen fixers. Middle rows will be coppice candidate nuts and fruits as well as some perennial herbs/groundcovers/shrubs. The front row will be some annuals and low lying fruits, I may try a combo of burdock /turnip /pumpkins /clover to see if I can shade out any buckthorn seedlings that will inevitably pop up.
I plan on planting very thickly and thinning seedlings as I observe weak growth or crowded areas. I expect some things will fail, some things will do well.
Long term I'd like a mixed group of over story trees, a bunch of coppiced nuts and fruits for various uses.
If I can collect seeds and grow them out I'd love to eventually landrace some of the fruit and nut tree hybrids.
Pictures to follow once the snow and ice is gone.
Cheers!
 
Sam Hubert
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This sounds like an awesome species list for your grove. I'm currently germinating many of my own trees this year rather than purchasing bare root stock and I'm wondering what your strategy is for keeping the survival rate up on these? Do you mulch heavily around them and then just leave them for the season? It seems like these young trees could get lost in the mix and shaded out fairly easily.
Also, in regards to Staghorn Sumac, I only find it growing on forest edges here in Vermont, so it needs lots of sunlight, spreads by underground rhizomes and tolerates most soils. You can use it though to make a sumac "pepper" which is very interesting, eat young peeled shoots, tan hides with the tannin rich leaves, make sumac-aide (a tea made from the Vita-C rich drupes) and it's flowers provide decent food for bees.
Looking forward to pictures from this project.
 
Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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I'm going to clear the area, swale, and plant. I'm really into minimizing inputs including maintenance so I'll just plant what I have and see how they do. The area is pretty clear due to a thick overstory of invasive mature 20' buckthorn. Once I remove those I'll add cover crop to outcompete the seedlings, and I shouldn't have any problem locating the small trees since they'll be planted into the swale berm.
Right now I'm most worried about a cold spring delaying the ground thawing, and deer predation, but I've been able to think on those issues pretty hard all winter.
I'm getting excited, but we're still a few weeks out from even a hint of spring here.
 
Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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update:
Well I finally got a green light from the wife to start on my food forest grove.
I ran twine around the area I had previously scouted out just as a guide for clearing.
Then I went to it, cutting and clearing the thick mature buckthorn and dead elm.
I got about half of the area cleared before I ran out of energy, but so far so good.

The trick is going to be keeping the deer out, I took the brush and first harvested any straight fencepost sized buckthorn, then piled the remaining up 12' high x 20' thick in a mess of a brushpile, right on the edge of the gulley to the north. Deer won't be making it through that side, at least until winter snow.
To the west the area is lined by an old 3 wire horse fence, formerly barbwire(found that pile of rusty nastiness in the gulley), now just steel wire.
I decided rather than go with my original idea of staking posts into the ground and weaving brush into them I'd try just weaving posts into the wire fence in an alternating pattern.(picture 3)
It worked out pretty well and should be a less labor intensive way of fencing the west side of the area. I'll cut the posts even at the top to make it look pretty later.
To the south and east will be a real woven wire fence with good 8' posts and such.

I'm thinking I'll be finishing clearing the area by May and will swale on contour at that point.
Anyone done a mass planting of a swale berm before? I'd love some suggestion on alternating tree species, cover crops, polycultures, etc.
I will have chestnuts, hazelnuts, american persimmon, apricot, wild plum, heartnut, apple, quince, chinese quince, black locust, siberian pea, and anything else I can get my hands on.
Anyway, it was great to get out there and finally get my hands dirty. More pictures to follow as progress moves on.
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Before, with mature buckthorn
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After, cleared
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Fence
 
Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Just a quick update.

I have now cleared the entire area out of the buckthorn and dead trees. Pictures to come on Friday.
I also discovered several patches of wild ramps right in the middle of the clearing.

The next step will be fencing. I will be using a 6' woven wire fence on the southern end of the property, it remains to be seen whether it will keep deer out but the fact that it will be near the top of a steep slope should help.

The "woven post fence" to the west is coming along swimmingly, the three wire horse fence is holding the posts securely, and the base has been secured with bigger logs leaning up on both sides. I intend on further securing this by adding intermittent spikes. Also, I will be weaving sapling buckthorn in the smaller gaps and horizontally in spots to beef up the fence.

The brushpile wall to the north will be extended to the east as well, I took a walk along the backside of it and there's no way a deer can get through the thick brush.
It will serve it's purpose until I have more time and energy to fence off the entire perimeter of the property in a few years.

The western woven fence, and the brushpiles to the north and east will all get planted with grape seedlings. I have around 100 or so that sprouted and grew last year from a batch of seeds I planted from my 2013 wine. I'm hoping that planting them along a swale berm will get them growing enough to further secure the fences with a mess of grape vines.

To the east I'll be planting black locust , with the intention that in a few years I can hedge lay a secure living fence.

I think this food forest grove will end up being a true success story, I seem to be lucking out on alot of things, and so far things have just gone very smoothly.
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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What are fire risks like in your area? The extensive brush pile would be a source of great concern in many areas.
 
Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Good observation.
I know those out west and in dry climates a brushwall like that would be hazardous(probably?).
For me, we do get dry, but this is in a shaded and damp area. I've done similar things around other areas of the property and the brush breaks down and is essentially a wet pile of sticks covered in wet leaves within a season.

To be honest, a fire would be terrifying for myself and my neighbors but would probably be a good natural event for the health of the area.

My forest is sick. Literally. The beautiful mature oaks that create a dense canopy are all dying due to oak wilt. We're talking about 5' diameter trees dead in one season. The next biggest trees, the elms, succumb to dutch elm eventually. Black cherries seem to slowly decline at maturity, they end up being a favorite of the woodpeckers. Same with the mature poplars. The hackberries appear to be a good candidate for the next overstory species, but they are few and far between.
I have more dead trees and dying trees than live ones in some areas.
On top of all that, I have a european buckthorn(Rhamnus) infestation that chokes out other seedlings and creates a "desert" understory, bare dirt under 15' mature buckthorn, under 100' dead and dying oaks. The whitetail deer take care of any other type of seedling within sight. It's almost eery when I look at the lack of diversity in a really large forested area. I have a few nice basswood trees in my yard next to the forest, not a single basswood seedling anywhere to be found, same with silver maples.

My hope is that I will find a good combination of deer protection, new trees, and water harvesting methods that I can extend to the rest of the property and perhaps someday I can take a walk through a healthy forest.
 
Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Apologies for no pictures, I did end up clearing the area and securing it enough to plant out some trees on contour with swales and berms.
The soil is rich and black with plenty of organic matter to mulch with, I'm optimistic about my chances moving forward.
I planted out 3 berms each 30 feet long with a mix of trees and nitrogen fixers(clover, lupine, field peas, vetch)
I will have pictures at some point soon but life and projects have taken a busy spring and thrown it into high gear.
Thanks!
 
Russell Olson
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Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Finally got around to taking some pics, here's one of my pole fence with a huge grapevine that should help solidify it
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Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Here's the brush wall, it has kept adult deer out, but I found a baby fawn inside one morning nipping young chestnuts tips off, the mom couldn't get through, but the baby slipped right through the thick brush.
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Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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I'm having trouble doing more than one picture at a time, but oh we'll. here's one of swale and berms planted with seedlings. I'm planning on using the STUN technique and thinning later if I have too many survivors/thrivers.
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Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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I wanted to share this plant, which I haven't seen described in many permaculture lists, it's a low growing raspberry type, not more than 2' tall but grows wide in large patches, it has purple flowers with a mess of thorny growth that has even successfully crowded out thick grass. It grows along our fence line here and I make wine from the berries every summer. It is great chicken food too, the birds spend all day eating the berries. Anyone else have this or know what it is? It's definitely a different raspberry than the cane type I usually see.
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Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Closer up picture of the leaves
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Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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I'd like to update this project of mine, I think I can offer some good advice for first timers trying to start a forest garden like this.

First of all, I certainly bit off alot more than I can chew with a full time job, a big garden, and a young family. That said, I did pretty well with the time I could give it for the first season.
The brushwall and woven junkpole fence did indeed keep adult deer from getting inside the perimeter of the grove. It did not keep small baby deer, rabbits, or squirrels from entering however. The large native grapevine i draped over the woven pole fence should become massive this upcomimg year and I will hopefully be grafting onto it other varieties. It's 50' long and the thickness of my forearm with lots of offshoots.
The trees from last winter's stratification project went into hand dug swales and swale mounds on contour. Chestnuts, Antonkova apples, manchurian apricots, hazlenut, hardy pecan, shagbark hickory, black locust, and a few butternuts were the main species. They thrived and grew very well.
I did also direct sow hickory nuts, hardy pecans, butternuts, and hazelnuts. 6 hours later they were all gone dug cleanly out of their holes by squirrels.
In addition all hickories, butternuts, and hazelnut seedlings were dug out even when the nut was removed from the root prior to transplanting.
Most survived their short time out of the ground and I laid heavy sticks across the base of them to keep squirrels from messing with them anymore.
The cover crop did very well too, nitrogen fixing nodules were present in the winter pea mix I added, but I just didn't have the time to do as much diverse cover cropping as I'd hoped.

The buckthorn seedlings didn't overtake much though, and the trees I cut down for the most part remained under control by suffocating them under old carpet or cardboard.

Everything went well besides the baby fawn nipping things until late summer when something got in, I'm guessing a young deer and ate the tips off of many trees. By late fall they had recovered and despite some rabbit nipping here or there I think I had a successful 1st year. I do believe the 6' metal wire fence was not enough to keep deer out though, I need to tighten that up this winter by watching for hoofprints in the area and adding tall vertical poles to any spot that is an entry point

I need to finish removing buckthorn and clearing the area for the next phase which is planting small fruit/nut/veg perennials, adding more biomass producing plants like comfrey and burdock, and starting on a hedge/fence project that will eventually encircle my entire 10 acres starting with the southern grove.
I'm doing heavy reading including edible forest gardens, paradise lot, restoration agriculture, and online research.
I plan on utilizing this area as a small model of my property and use it as a lab for my food forest experiments, buckthorn removal experiments, and start increasing my overall yields of certain perennial fruits I've become fond of like aronia, king of the north grape, raspberry, ramps, wild plum, and nanking cherry.
Eventually I hope this area will replace the dying oak overstory with hickories and chestnuts, or at least add some diversity where there is none in the woods right now.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Russell Olson wrote:Closer up picture of the leaves


I wish I knew what this is. I tried looking for it online, but to no avail. Maybe you could try posting pictures of it in the plant forum?
 
Russell Olson
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Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Some pictures from this summer
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Russell Olson
Posts: 179
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Some others
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Pollard elm looks like a Minnesota Palm tree
 
Tristan Vitali
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Russell Olson wrote:I wanted to share this plant, which I haven't seen described in many permaculture lists, it's a low growing raspberry type, not more than 2' tall but grows wide in large patches, it has purple flowers with a mess of thorny growth that has even successfully crowded out thick grass. It grows along our fence line here and I make wine from the berries every summer. It is great chicken food too, the birds spend all day eating the berries. Anyone else have this or know what it is? It's definitely a different raspberry than the cane type I usually see.


Have you checked out dewberry and cloudberry? From your description, it sounds more like maybe dewberry, which ripens from green to red (looks identical to a red raspberry) to eventually purple/black (nearly identical to a blackberry or black raspberry). They tend to be more tart than a raspberry at the red stage and by the black stage are the PERFECT balance of sweet/tart.

The dewberries absolutely love the acidic, peaty soil left over after the logging of hemlock/pine/fir on my little plot (some of those vines are over 6 feet long!) and I find them growing in both the well drained and waterlogged soils, full sun and partial shade, as well as with the wild strawberry and under the wild blackberry, raspberry and blueberry scattered around the property.
 
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