Over the past twenty years my property has become a wonderful place for wildlife and recreation. During this time, we have spent significant time building access roads and trails, ponds, doing forest improvement thinning, and improving mast production. These improvements have increased recreational opportunities like swimming and hiking and have created access to all areas of the property for work and observation. While I don’t have any hard data to give you, the result has been that wildlife populations and diversity have increased over the last 20 years. Plantings, specific clearings, and edge creation have caused bird populations to increase, small mammals, like squirrels, are now regularly seen, ruffed grouse and turkey sightings are not uncommon, and deer are ubiquitous.
My next hope for The Land is to make it more productive in terms of quality human food for myself, my family and my friends, and less importantly yield products that will be income producing in the future. With that in mind, the next big project on property will be to create a Food Forest on an approximately one half acre field created about five years ago when we dug a second pond.
The property is located in the northern temperate zone (western New York), growing zone 4 to 5, at an average elevation of 1900 feet. The field is approximately 300 feet long and varies from 60 to 100 feet in width. It has an uneven elevation gain of 19 feet from the northern tip of the pond to the top of the field. The field is oriented almost due north/south. The field is in Permaculture zone 2, about 500 feet from the house. The pond is stocked with a variety of minnows and shiners, Koi, Catfish and Blue Gills, with plans to add either Perch or Walleye in the future.
The soil in the field is shallow, rocky with clay beneath. The soil tends toward acidity and the current grasses and ground cover are acid loving. Over the past 5 years we have planted about 10 fruittrees in the field. Of those 7 remain: 2 Elberta Peach, and 5 apple; 2 Cortland and 1 each Yellow Delicious, Lodi, and Red Jonathan. The Cortland started fruiting this season. There is one “structure” in the field, a Peace Pole set in a 10 foot diameter rock garden.
The field and pond are completely surrounded by young woods (60 to 80 years of old field succession) with Black Cherry, Red Maple, Beech, Birch, Pin Cherry and Aspen being the predominant species. The specific edges of the field are: on the south the pond, one the north a road I would like to keep open, on the west there is a partial “hedge” of Blackberry bushes, and on the east woods.
The plans call for digging swales and planting an over story of nut trees, an under story of berry bushes, with herbs, insectories, attractants, and comfrey. I would also like to use hugelkultur inbetween the swales to provide a medium for vegetables in the future.
Initially our hope is to create a warm horseshoe using the pond and the fields north south exposure as a heat capture area. "Hedge" plantings of Black Locust and Maximillian Sunflowers in and around the existing blackberries on the western side to discourage deer.
The following is a plant list for Food Forest:
o Over Story Butternut
o Under Story Chineese Chestnut
o Lower Layer Blueberries
o Herbs Comfrey
o Vegies Parsnip
o Ground Cover Hairy Vetch
Wild Flower Mix
o Hedges and Deer Block Black Locust
In the pictures below. The 4 Red Maples in the Google image are no longer there. The black dots in the swale image are the existing fruit trees.
I am very open to suggestions and ideas.
Location: Western New York
posted 5 years ago
With digging season coming soon we have a couple decisions to make and we are looking for help, advice, and thoughts from those who have been there done that.
The first is density planting. We have a budget and enough money to buy about 10 each of our fruit and nut trees and 10 each of a variety of berry bushes. Our hope is, in the future years, to take cuttings and increase the area planted and also to increase diversity. However, we are wondering, with the initial planting this spring, would it be better to plant many swales, 7 or 8, lightly or to plant 3 or 4 swales heavily.
The second is the distance between swales. As I said our field is about 300 feet long and 70 feet wide with an uneven elevation change of 19 feet from top to bottom. Would it be better to put the swales closer together, like 15 to 20 feet, or farther apart, 40 to 50 feet? How much should the degree of sloop in the land be figured into the distance between swales?
The distance between swales is supposed to equal the height of the trees so in that sense it is slope dependent.
Also, Geoff Lawton says the first swale should be at the lowest point of the highest boundary.
My project thread Agriculture collects solar energy two-dimensionally; but silviculture collects it three dimensionally.
Location: Western New York
posted 5 years ago
We are getting close to actually breaking ground on this project and two parts of the design are still not completely decided; swale placement and planting density. I am posting this in the hope of getting feedback before we start digging.
Our original plan was to add seven swales at intervals of thirty to fifty feet moving from the wet area near the pond north to the drier area near the top of the field. As we have studied the field and planned further our thinking has changed. We now think we might be better served by adding a small holding pond near the top of the field (North End) which would enable us to catch water and use gravity to feed a watering system for the swales below it. At first this would simply be a hose but could be made more elaborate if needed in the future.
Below the holding pond we would build four swales about seventy feet in length, across the field, each overflowing into the one below with the final swale overflowing into the main pond at the south end of the field. We plan put the swales about thirty feet apart. This would allow us room to add additional swales, in the future, if more production is desired or to use the wetter area, near the pond, for some other type of planting like rice paddies, a cranberry bed or …
Our thinking on swales is guided by several ideas. The first is dollars. Since we neither own nor know much about driving heavy equipment, our first consideration is the dollars necessary to hire the needed equipment and operator. We will only be able to build the number of swales that our budget allows. (We are hoping that there will be enough in the budget to do the holding pond and four swales in the food forest area and another project to catch runoff, that is currently a problem in another area of The Land, and divert it to a place where we might build “rice paddies” some day. More about that in the future, hopefully.) The second is the height of the plants. Thirty feet is about the height of some of our larger berry bushes and our smaller nut and fruit trees.
By setting the distance between the swales at thirty feet we hope to allow for maximum sunlight penetration. The larger nut trees will be planted on every other swale, accounting for their higher maximum height.
The picture to the right shows, in cross section, what we hope our finished swales will look like. They will follow the natural contour of the field and spillways on each end will keep the water from getting deep enough to wash out the berms on the lower side of each swale. The swale containing the water in our holding tank will be used for planting but will be built a bit stouter than the other swales, more of a dike.
As mentioned above, the original plan was to build seven swales. However, the budget does allow us to buy enough plant material to densely plant all seven swales. The budget would allow us to buy enough plants to densely plant four swales and at the same time allow us to plant with greater diversity. We believe this is important because The Land is in a place where deer pressure is high. We hope to “defeat” the deer, really limit deer deerfencedamage, by using planting density and a seven foot fence made of T-posts wrapped with bailing wire at one foot intervals. Once again this is a plan that we believe will work without busting the budget with thousands spent of fencing. Researching on-line and at sites like Permies.com we found others with similar problems and are hoping what worked for them will work for us.
Long term we hope to create a natural deer barrier using selective plantings like Seabuckthorn, Maximilian Sunflowers, Black Locust and Black and Raspberries. When this barrier matures we hope that it, along with plant density on the swales, will allow us to remove the fencing and be in a position of sharing food with our furry and feathered friends while still harvesting a good crop of human food.
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