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How to make a clearing in a forest for row crops?

 
Jim Tuttle
Posts: 42
Location: Southern Oregon
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Hello All, I'm a long-time reader, first-time poster.

It looks like after many years of planning and looking, my family and I may have a nice flat plot of land to work with. Right now, it is about 95% forest, comprised of Douglas fir, madrone, and black oak. The fir are 6-12" diameter, the madrone and oak mostly smaller. I think the distribution is about 50% fir, 30% oak and 20% madrone. Seen from the air, there is no visible dirt, so we are planning on making a clearing to grow row crops, fruit trees, and berry bushes.

My thought is to create an east-west rectangle, giving me plenty of forest edge and full-sun growing space. We have done well in the past with hoop houses, so I plan on having room for a few.

Here's my biggest question- how to clear the land? My thought was to mark out the area, drop the trees leaving as low a stump as possible, brush them out and store the logs for other uses. Then I will chip the brush, to be composted or used as mulch.

But what about the stumps? I have a few ideas:

1. Pay a friend to use a backhoe to rip them out. This gives me instant space, but as many stumps as there would be, this would be expensive.
2. Leave them to rot. I've put down 12" of horse manure in other gardens to go right over crummy soil, and it worked pretty well, especially after the worms got down with it. This method seems like it would be a pain for row crops.
3. Construct small, hot fires on the stumps to burn them down below soil level. I've only down this with a handful of stumps, but it did seem to work. I doubt I could run my tiller over this, though.

These are just the ideas I've had, I'm hoping the group will have more, or be able to advocate for one of the approaches I've described.

I'm super excited to hear what other permies think!
 
Will Meginley
Posts: 112
Location: Concord, New Hampshire
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Welcome! If you haven't already, be sure to check out Dave Burton's universal welcome thread. And don't forget to fill out your location information in your profile so other permies can give you information that's more specific to your area without first having to ask where you live.

Jim Tuttle wrote:
Here's my biggest question- how to clear the land? My thought was to mark out the area, drop the trees leaving as low a stump as possible, brush them out and store the logs for other uses. Then I will chip the brush, to be composted or used as mulch.


I think you'll find that the most economical option. No logger is going to pay you for such small trees unless there's a pulp mill nearby and you have at least tens of acres you're looking to get rid of. You could pay a contract forestry company to clear the land for you, but what you've just described is exactly what they will do. So if you can do it yourself, why pay someone else to do it for you?

Jim Tuttle wrote:But what about the stumps? I have a few ideas:

1. Pay a friend to use a backhoe to rip them out. This gives me instant space, but as many stumps as there would be, this would be expensive.
2. Leave them to rot. I've put down 12" of horse manure in other gardens to go right over crummy soil, and it worked pretty well, especially after the worms got down with it. This method seems like it would be a pain for row crops.
3. Construct small, hot fires on the stumps to burn them down below soil level. I've only down this with a handful of stumps, but it did seem to work. I doubt I could run my tiller over this, though.

These are just the ideas I've had, I'm hoping the group will have more, or be able to advocate for one of the approaches I've described.

I'm super excited to hear what other permies think!


If the goal is to create tillable land, I would say 1 and 2 are your best options. My experience has been that 3 won't happen until 2 has already happened. You could burn them down to ground level, perhaps even a few inches below grade, but I doubt you'd be able to burn out the roots deep enough to get a tiller through until the stumps are pretty well rotted.

Option 2 will work for the most part, though the oak will probably resprout from the stump. Not sure about the madrone. The Doug-fir will remain dead as long as you cut off any branches left on the stump. It will probably take several years for the roots to decompose enough that they wouldn't break your tiller. You could probably speed the process up by inoculating the stumps with fungi. I think Dale Hodgins posted a thread a while back talking about that very subject.

If you don't want to wait years before growing row crops you might just have to bite the bullet and go with option 1. Remember, too, that you don't need to pull the stumps up everywhere. Berry plants and fruit trees can still thrive without stump-free ground.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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What about "woody beds" or buried hugelculture? Basically double digging with the excavator or backhoe, with burying the roots and brush at the bottom of the trench well below tiller depth.
 
Sean Henry
Posts: 74
Location: Louisville, KY Zone 7
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What I see as being easiest is clear out any dead and sick trees first and see what space you have to work with, after that you can pick a location that is mostly cleared.

For the hoop house try to use stumps as anchor points, why remove them when they can become part of the frame.

Digging up the stumps will get you where you want to be fastest but I would cut the stump to the ground and cover with compost and soil to make a raised bed and plant into that. Most crops should be fine planted next to the stump or on top depending on the root system and how tall the mound is. All you are doing it making hugelkultur but some of the wood base is already there.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Maybe plug the stumps with mushrooms?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Jim, welcome to permies. I don't know if you are aware of this but Madrone is a very valuable wood.
I would try to keep as many of these as possible to let them grow to a harvestable size, once you cut one down it is over and done, if left to grow you could see as much a 2000 for a single tree once they are over 15" in diameter.

The best for you concerning stumps would be to remove them. This can be done by pushing over the trees or by using the friend with a backhoe.

I would use the x method to mark each tree that is to be removed. I would concentrate on the firs, they are the most numerous, next would be the oaks.
Once you have marked those you will know if you actually have to remove any of those valuable Madrone trees.
If you do have to remove any of the madrone, be sure to see if you can find some wood workers first, they may be happy to pay you for the wood in green form.

Once you can see the trees through the forest, you might find that you have a good area for a forest garden as well as the cleared land for your intended uses.

My personal method would be to find the area that was mostly fir and remove those, leaving as many of the oaks and all the Madrone for the future.
Oak is great fire wood for heating and it is good for building things that need strength. Fir is great for building houses and other buildings.
Madrone is one of the woods I use for Guitars and fine furniture, it is also used by a few High end automobile builders (Rolls Royce for example).

An areal view is great for laying out your design plan before going in to mark the individual trees for removal.
I am in the process of doing this same thing to create four new pasture areas on Buzzard's Roost.
My goal is to keep as many valuable trees as possible so I am targeting smaller diameter trees, but this is just my method and it suits our land best.

Good luck with your endeavor.
 
John Wolfram
Posts: 613
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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Here's how I cleared out 5 acres of forest to put in fruit trees:

1. Advertise "standing firewood" on Craigslist. Have people A) sign a liability wavier, B) put the brush in piles, and C) cut the stumps low. Now is the time of year people are looking to cut firewood.
2. Drill numerous holes into the stumps with a woodbit (I think I used 1/2 inch and 5/8 inch bits).
3. Wait a year or two.
4. Move some of the brush onto the stumps and burn them out.
 
Dale Hodgins
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The most economic way that I know for clearing land like this, is to make a deal with the firewood guy who employs an excavator for falling. Trees are felled a few at a time, by first cutting the roots on the opposite side of the tree from the direction of fall. After the excavator has snapped those roots, he pushes the tree over, in the right direction.

 With this method, each tree becomes a lever arm for popping out the stump. Saw logs are sorted from firewood after the trees are down.

 Stumps could be mounded into giant piles that block prevailing winds or create a bowl affect to give a good microclimate for the greenhouses.
.....
A 20 ton excavator is about the minimum machine for stumps your size.  Any sort of rubber tire backhoe, would fiddle in hours and hours trying to pull things that are too difficult.
 
Jim Tuttle
Posts: 42
Location: Southern Oregon
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Thanks, everybody, lots of good ideas here. I forgot to add I'm in southern Oregon, but I'm new, so I don't have this area quite figured out just yet.

I've built quite a few hoophouses, and my favorite design thus far employs T-posts every 5 feet, with 1 1/2" PCV hoops. Cover the top with 4-year film, and the sides with insect netting (for crops that don't need insect pollinators). This works extremely well for things like celery and cabbage in an area where you get heavy caterpillar pressure; it also conserves water and prevents sun scorch. I state this because I need to be able to pound T-posts in, or maybe adapt my construction methods if the roots prevent T-posting.

I did not know Madrone was so valuable. I do know they can be coppiced, there are quite a few around the house that are growing back from stumps, probably 3-6 feet tall. Coppiced Madrone is probably only good as firewood, maybe?

Around here, I keep hearing about a) selling the wood to a local mill (but only if you have enough) and b) getting a guy with a portable mill to come out (less wood needed). I do not know how many marketable trees I actually have just yet.

I think I am leaning toward layer composting, and letting the stumps form a sort of hugelculture, but I'd love to hear from more people with experience. I'd LOVE to use the knock 'em down method with a back hoe, but I currently do not know anyone with that heavy of equipment.

It does sound like unless I use heavy equipment, tilling will be out of the question for a long time.
 
Jim Tuttle
Posts: 42
Location: Southern Oregon
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I agree, Dale. This was my first year tilling, actually, at another property. I have three main beds, each roughly 20 feet wide and 80 feet long. One is broadfork only, one is layered composting, and one is tilled. I have to admit, for prepping a bed, tilling is pretty dang sweet. I have a Yanmar 1510, and that tiller took less than 20 minutes to prep the bed.

The other issue is broadforking would not play well with roots either.

My layered bed did really well this year, perhaps I should just dial this method in? It did take 2 years of layering and radish/alfalfa crops to get productive.

I also have two large raised Hugelbeds, but in an area with 10" of rain a year, and an average daily humidity of 20%, they just dry out way too fast. Clay soils hold more available water, in my experience with high desert conditions. I've toyed with the idea of burying wood, but I don't have access to a backhoe at that location (CA). One year of double-digging has talked me out of doing that by hand!

For the forest clearing, I think I will need lime. I haven't done a soil test yet, but since people in the neighborhood are growing blueberries, it must be pretty acidic. An argument for slash and burn? Isn't that what the peoples of rainforests did? Or would the brush be more valuable as chips?
 
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