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planting a new garden in freshly cleared woods soil  RSS feed

 
dan Faling
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Looking for any input on planting directly in freshly cleared forest soil. I just cleared about a 1/2 acre of mostly maple with some white pine. I am going to turn all the stumps into mini hugel beds with blueberries and strawberries. But I am wondering if the soil is fertile enough for veggies. It is about 6 inches of black humus and about a foot of black sandy loam, very black and rich. I ordered 100 apricot seedlings to make a border, 200 2 yr old asparagus crowns, 100 everbearing strawberry, several goji berry, seabuckthorn, arctic kiwi, dwarf everbearing mulberry. from what I think I understand, red maple makes sweet soil, but what about nitrogen, will there be enough in the humus layer? There is a thick layer of leaves on top. I am going to plant seedlings of all the usual veggies directly into it without disturbing the mulch layer more than the size of a seedling. Does anyone have any experience with this? planting directly into virgin soil with no amendments? Any ideas or input would be greatly appreciated. My other garden areas are old weedlots, and it took alot of amendments to get good growth, trailers of manure and swamp dredgings, hay straw etc. But I've never planted in new dirt.
 
Coriana Close
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Location: Memphis, United States
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I don't think lack of soil fertility will be your biggest problem. Actually the soil should be very fertile based on your description. The big problem I foresee is the currently existing seedbank. I wrote about this in a recent post here: http://permies.com/t/54409/permaculture/Plastics-Permaculture-Weed-Control
I attempted to plant into a recently deforested area without tillage. The result was a huge uncontrollable upswell of growth from the forest floor. This problem may be exacerbated by the fact that I am in the south. But, I fear anyone in a temperate region with high precipitation may face the same challenge. I would suggest attempting to kill what's there before planting into it. Possibly using solarization by covering the area in plastic and baking it. Or, even by covering it with a thick wood chip mulch. I haven't tried either yet, so I can't speak to the success rate. But, I do think that killing off the growth you don't want will consume more of your time than fertilizing the things you want to grow. If it is a small enough area and you live close then bi-weekly weeding may work. But, if it is a large area, that may not be the most feasible strategy. Since you are planning to plant veggies, chickens or other animals may do more harm than good. But, I would defer to those with experience with animal rotation before making a strong judgement on that.
I would greatly appreciate feedback from anyone who has had success controlling the undesired growth from overtaking the plantings in a recently logged area.
Good luck and let me know what works!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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1/2 acre is a huge area to be covering with plastic, mulch, or wood chips. It gets really pricey really quick. But it's a relatively small area to be weeding with a hoe, as long as you keep on top of things.
 
Tristan Vitali
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Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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My experience with this has been that the soil doesn't want to grow annuals and other things that prefer bacterially dominant soils for at least the first year... This may have a lot to do with soil disturbance (specifically, how much or little disturbance you make and how much of the fungal colony beneath the leaf drop layer remains intact). Areas where I've dug the soil up a bit and "turned it", even if only a little, were much more receptive after a shorter time (2-3 months). We have a layer of gooey bentonite just below the relatively thin humus layer from the poor logging practices used here in the past, then brown/red clay below that, so any soil disturbance I make turns everything to pudding for the spring and fall, then cement for the summer, so I try to do as little disturbance as humanly possible. That means waiting longer before anything, even white dutch clover, will take. Forest soil is naturally more acidic, even under maples, because it is fungus-dominant. Barring a quick pH test of your soil which would tell you in plain numbers, if you dig down and find worms working, you should be ok right off the bat, but if there's no worms, you can assume the soil is too acid to take most veggies. Give it a year to let the soil biota do its thing and you'll have much better success with them - you can use worms and annual grasses as an indicator that the soil pH is in a good place for your garden veggies.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there may be allelopathic compounds in the top layer of soil that will retard the sprouting of many sun loving, annual vegetable seeds (another thing I've run into with quite a bit of white pine, eastern hemlock and balsam fir mixed to sugar maple, alder, aspen and birch). After a year, this doesn't seem to be a problem any longer, but even a lot of the grass seed I spread in the first season after clearing some "pasture" from brushy growth took a full 4 months to even sprout (by which time, the growing season was nearly over!).

All the various perennials you mention (except perhaps the mulberry and goji - not sure on those) should do fine with the fungal-dominance and most any allelopathic compounds. In fact, blueberries and strawberries are going to prefer it greatly around the pine stumps, so the sooner you put them in, the better I'd definitely wait before planting lettuces and broccoli into that soil, though, even if only to spare yourself the heartache of seeing half the seeds not even sprout while the thousands of maple shoots come screaming up from your stumps (you currently have a coppiced woodland and it's going to want to behave like one). Tomatoes might be ok if you can keep them in some sun, along with other perennials that we usually grow as annuals, but you should definitely give the soil a little time to shift from the one paradigm to the other
 
dan Faling
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thanks for all the advice. There are lots of worms in the soil, does that mean it's neutral? I definitely don't have money for plastic. I mulch with wood chips, sawdust from my sawmill and used animal bedding. I'm not going to disturb the natural leaf mold, just add to it. And yes definitely going to have to chop maple suckers for a season or two, but that's no big deal. I don't have a choice on planting it this year, we need the extra food space. Last year we almost made it through the whole year off our own produce, but this year I have to go all out and make sure we have a surplus by spring. I have this old organic gardening book from 1969, and it talks about soils rich in organic matter creating a buffer zone for ph, so basically the more organic matter, the better the plant can handle ph imbalance to one way or the other. I'm kind of hoping that works with this soil. I have about 30 pigs, plus cattle, goats, chickens, ducks and rabbits so no shortage of manure. I'm just curious if any one has ever planted in freshly cleared land. Mayapples grow in there if that means anything, plus wild ginseng, wild violets, wild geranium, sarsparilla, tick trefoil and sweet grass. Those are the main species of understory plants, if that helps tell soil ph.
 
dan Faling
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oh and all the plants that I intend to plant are already well established in the greenhouse, just waiting for a place to go, so I won't have to till, just chop a hole, plant and mulch, no starting from seed if that makes a difference.
 
Tristan Vitali
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Location: south-central ME, USA - zone 5a/4b
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Transplanting established plants in should help hugely with things, definitely - most of the allelopathy I'd be concerned about, unless you had a lot of walnut or cedar in the stand prior to clearing, would be sprout inhibitors. The pines might be a little tough on some plants still, but that wasn't the dominant species from what you said. The cover of leaves quite often creates a nearly impenetrable layer to small annual/veggie seeds, so there again, putting in established plants means you wont have to worry about any of that - this will only act as a mulch layer in that case.

And if you've already got worms in the soil, you're already there on the fungal/bacterial balance needed for most of what you'd be growing. Fertility will definitely not be an issue as the forest humus layer is so very rich. With worms there, it means the pH is not too acidic. It's likely not the best soil for broccoli and cabbage but even those might do fine with a little lime around their planting holes as insurance

Sounds like it should go really well, especially with an added mulch layer surrounding your transplants. Your only headache will be those maples trying to come back up from every stump - just amazing how resilient and vigorous they are when coming back from an established root system in the first season. After knocking them back for a couple of years, they'll tire out.

If you can, post up some pictures of things as they come along, both at planting and later at harvest. I'd be really interested to see what does best with the virgin soil you're working with
 
S Bengi
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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You have a seed bank, so be prepared to remove those germinating seeds weekly, non stop. Get as many to germinate the 1st year so that you don't have to worry about them later.

It sounds like you will be digging 200+ holes, start digging them now if you will be doing it by hand.
You didn't mention any nitrogen-fixing plants. I would start with dutch clover get a 25lb bag and overseed right now. I am in zone 6/7 and I planted alot 2 weeks ago and they all germinated and are now growing. When it comes to long term nitrogen fixing tree/shrub you need at least 25% of the plants to be N-fixer and during the 1st 3yrs or so it can be as high as 90%. How do you go from 90% to 25%. Some are short lived dies after a few uears. Other are outcompeted/shaded out by the "productive nut/fruit tree". But most of them you chop and drop, and after a few year chop and kill.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
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plus wild ginseng, wild violets, wild geranium, sarsparilla, tick trefoil and sweet grass.
I would consider keeping as many of these plants in your guilds as possible (since the soil microbiology obviously favors them) when planting your perennial fruits, at least any of them that you do not consider to be potential problems. Many people would be very happy to have volunteer ginseng! Or wild violets! Or Sweetgrass! Just something to consider. As far as the clovers that S Benji suggested, I would do that too. If the area was logged, it is disturbed, and will appreciate the nitrogen fixing. You should definitely consider some nitrogen fixing shrubs/and or trees. Overplant the nitrogen fixation as S Benji states.

Also the open cut down area that you are describing will likely favor different species that thrive naturally in clearings in your area (as opposed to closed canopy older forest), and their seeds might be present already through bird and rodent dispersal; because of this, you might witness different species (than these under-story species that you list) make a sudden appearance. I would consider any native volunteers to be possible keepers. Maybe not all of them, maybe not even most of them... Almost definitely not. But I would look into native species as something that can add huge benefits in small doses throughout your gardens, while focusing your plantings and attention on your desired introductions.

Since you have a large amount of manure being produced on site (that can be distributed near transplants), and considering your worms, depth of soil, and carbon rich existing leaf mulch you should have no problem transitioning your annual plots to full productivity right away, and your perennials should love it there.
 
dan Faling
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@ S bengi For nitrogen fixers I have crown vetch, which does good in the shade of other plants for me and forms a dense mat of vegetation. And you're totally right. I cleared another spot along the road that was all mature white pine and then burned the leaf litter to stimulate the seed bank, a poor man's instant privacy fence. It is now literally a jungle and people can no longer see back into my place from the road. Such a huge variety of different plants sprouted, sumac, elderberry, wildfowers of all kinds, milk thistle alfalfa, evening primrose, cultivated flowers I've never even planted like foxglove, dianthus and honeysuckle, it's crazy.
@ R Pokachinni . I'm afraid that the species that are growing under the canopy will fade away now that I've reintroduced the sun, but whatever does thrive I will preserve. There is one american chestnut right in the middle of it all, the only one i've ever seen in these northern woods, that is definitely going to be preserved as well as a couple of pin cherries that are growing along the edge. However the mayapples can be moved to a new shady location easily as well as the seng. There are also some hazelnuts and viburnums that were already along the edge that I will be leaving. I definitely appreciate the native species, however the vast majority of my 30 acres is a huge ridge covered in oak savannah, the farther towards the bottom of the ridge is where the moist black earth and red maples grow,. the oaks are past maturity, and old growth so I have been thinning them for firewood and lumber, and replacing the thinned out areas with native species. I'm trying to introduce more biodiversity in the oaks to get ahead of the oak leaf wilt that is creeping my way, taking damaged trees and dead trees and leaving the healthy reds and white oaks. I've been planting persimmons and apples throughout as well as buckeyes american plums and paw paws.
 
Travis Johnson
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You have very good soil by the sounds as White Pine only likes very loamy soil that is well drained. Just from that description I know you are going to do well, but there will be some draw down in nitrogen from the forest conversion. I have cleared plenty of forest back into field and crops only do well if they are given a high amount of nitrogen the first few years. Your organic matter is already rather high, but alternative sources for nitrogen would be best, like urine honestly, but obtaining enough for 1/2 an acre may be problematic. You might do well with grass clippings and a higher concentration of greens. Just keep in mind the ABC's of composting, green and brown work the best. Browns being woody vegetation and green being hay, grasses and that sort of vegetation. Added together they are ideal.

Another issue you will most likely have is PH levels in the soil. White Pine like acidic soil and with all those needles dropping down over the years, your PH levels are going to be quite low. Mine averages around 5.8 or so after clearing...yes that low, so lime may be in order. Unfortunately it takes lime a bit to sweeten the soil. My suggestion is to grow crops the first few years that do not need serious amendments. Broccoli, Cauliflower, tomatoes, pumpkins and potatoes THRIVE on acidic soil. So do berries. All I am saying is work with what you have to you can improve it.

And in 7 years when that decomposed forest liter starts returning the nitrogen back to the soil, you'll really be growing things then.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
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I agree with the last post. Ordering a large sack of potatoes, cutting them up and using them for seed is an easy way to get your soil going. Saving all the seed from a couple of pumpkins and then planting then out will have similar gain, if your soil is fertile enough
 
dan Faling
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@ travis j, thanks, that is good information regarding types of plants to use. I will definitely take your advice on that, and focus on the species you mentioned, also it is good to hear from someone who has converted forest to field. I do have a whole winters supply of used livestock bedding, Which is clover and grass hay, mixed with urine and manure, steaming away in a larger pile. I use hay for bedding because I have celiac disease and cannot handle wheat straw.
@ robert p. Would butternut squash be suitable instead of pumpkins, I ordered a bunch of heirloom seed from seed savers exchange? Also what about the strawberry and asparagus crowns?
Again, thanks for all the useful advice. I will keep updates on the progress. Right now everthing is a mess and covered in snow so not much to see, but almost done with the cleanup. Also a friend is letting me borrow an industrial chipper, so all the tops and brush from the clearing will be going right back down as chips.
 
dan Faling
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here are some pictures of the cleared area not very good but I'll get better ones. All the land behind the greenhouse is what was cleared. The pink flags mark fruit trees. There are a hundred apricots, 3 everbearing mulberrys, 5 goji berries, some seedling cherry trees, 6 HARDY KIWI, 2 paw paw. The stumps are innoculated with yellow oysters and shiitakes. So far I have watermelons, squash, beans, corn and potates thriving in the freshly cleared soil. Been beating back the new growth with a hand weed whip. Just got 5 loads of ramial chips from the tree company. I wasn't able to rent a chipper so I burned all the brush. I've been sawing the timber on my mill and processing the rest into firewood.
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