Let's do a little exercise on “What things will work well to make money (on our farm), With as little effort and input as possible?”
The first thing to do is:
Observation of the land.
What is growing there now?
Was it put there by humans or by Nature?
What are the characteristics of what is growing there now?
What will fit into this ecology system with out a lot of effort and that will provide an income source next year and many years after that?
Does this area get fires often?
Does it get flooded often?
Does it see High velocity, Straight line Winds often?
How long does it appear that this area has existed in the form it currently has?
(there are clues on the land about these questions, good observation skills will give you the answers to the questions)
fire leaves tell tale signs; no understory, burnt bark scars, only the tops alive, etc., as do floods and high velocity winds.
Pocket and mound structures tell of past tree blow downs, even if there is no part of a tree left as an example.
Now that we have the answers to our observation questions, it is time to make some decisions that will be of benefit to us as farmers.
If there is a closed canopy over-story (true forest shades the soil enough that nothing but shade loving, low growing plants are present, or nothing grows under it), how do we make that an advantage?
In this scenario, disruption is needed in the form of either a chain saw or a bulldozer to take out some of or most of the over-story trees to allow sunlight to strike the soil surface.
This sunlight will stimulate grass seeds to sprout. This is what you would do if you wanted to make this area suitable for grazing animals.
If you leave the closed canopy, then the trees need to be valuable as timber for lumber since pulp wood trees don't bring much in the way of dollar value (as little as .14 per tree) at all to the land owner.
At this point you need to know what commercially viable or desirable plants or trees would like to live in such an area, if they aren't there already.
If there are large trees, spaced around, with understory trees growing taller and taller.
The issue of fire just might be the first though since if these are fire tolerant or fire loving understory trees (think conifers, birches and others similar to these).
A fire comes along, they turn into torches, and if tall enough, start a crown fire that will destroy the tall, over-story trees.
If the over-story isn't fire tolerant, the disruption with fire, would result in the understory (if fire tolerant species) becoming the dominant species after the fire event goes through.
If we don't want that to happen, then we need to do the disrupting by removing the understory trees to prevent disaster in the event of fire.
Then we still need to come up with something to plant that will serve us economically, with as little input as possible.
What if, the area doesn't really have a true over-story of tall trees, but is full of shortish useless trees with some grass and low, shade tolerant bushes growing there?
In this case it might be ripe for disruption by cutting the useless trees for use as mushroom logs and the branches left to rot or ground up and left to rot.
This gets rid of a lot of the shade, and the left over shade lovers will become dominant. Unless we also don't really want those around either.
Which gives us some choices, we can run some grazing animals through to do some tramping, eating and fertilizing before we continue with our disrupting.
Or we can just go through with a heavy duty bush hog and mow all that stuff down, chopping it into small bits that we leave to rot.
Either way is great for us, the animals means less to bush hog though and we get some animal feed from the land.
Once we have done this disrupting, we can come through and plant the trees we want to grow, such as nut trees and or fruit trees.
Once these become established we can do other plantings that will benefit us like shade loving vegetables.
The other part of the “what will work best” equation, is market demand.
Perhaps you want to grow nut trees as one of your long term money crops.
If there isn't a buyer or buyers for nuts in your area, then you either have to forgo that idea or find a buyer/ market for those nuts.
Nuts are great since even a three year old tree will produce some nuts, heck, even a one year old tree might produce one, depending on the nature of that particular species.
But what we want are trees that will, over a long period ,produce more and more nuts.
Pecans are fickle trees when it comes to nut production, most of them will have off years where few nuts are produced and even years that no nuts are produced.
The Pecan has male and female trees, Pecan is single sex tree, so there is no self pollinating.
Drought and extreme wet at the wrong times of year can create a year of little or no production as well.
But, when they do produce, they bring a fairly high price, which can help make up for the lean years if you have prepared the rest of your farm with these characteristics in mind.
trees are steady producers, self pollinating and not so bothered by differing weather conditions.
As long as they can access enough water, they will produce.
Hazel nuts are really nice, they usually will produce well, the nuts drop to the ground and can sit there for quite a long time before there will be damage to the shell.
You can even use a big shop vac to vacuum them up instead of needing fancy, expensive harvesting equipment.
, Pear, Peach, Plum, Fig, and every other fruit producing tree should be looked at in this same manner.
The nice thing about fruit trees is that they can be sold to individual grocery stores that have instigated a “Local Food” section.
You will need to know how many bushels you will need to supply, the times to bring them and the preferred condition.
Condition is probably the one thorn in the heel of the fruit grower.
People have become used to seeing perfect looking fruits in their grocery store cases.
They buy these items only to find that not only do they not have great flavor, but they take forever to ripen, or never actually ripen.
Why does this happen in every grocery store in the US?
Because those perfect fruits were picked so far ahead of being ripe that flavor didn't have time to develop.
Our “Natural, no spray
fruit” will have blemishes, it is unavoidable, but these are also the marks of better flavor, better for you, fruits.
You just have to be aggressive in marketing your fruit this way to the grocer.
Market Demand is going to be one of the deciding factors, regardless of what “crop” you want to plant, without a market demand, you will not make much, if any, money for your efforts.
Farmers are in business, businesses need profit to stay in business.
Once you have decided on the blend of trees, it is time to start laying out and installing the water management system (swales and berms, catchment ponds, all laid out on either a key line (if you happen to be in Australia or somewhere like it) or a Main line.
Once this most important part is completed, the alleys should be set so you know where the annual crops will be grown, and where the trees will go in.
Some of your alleys might be put into long term, perennial crops that won't need much else done once they are planted.
Perhaps you have found that Asparagus that is fresh cut is very appealing to your local grocery store and the manager has indicated that he would have to have it bunched (25 spears or perhaps 1 lb.) to be interested in buying it from you.
He also brings up that he would have to have 100 bunches per week during the Asparagus season or he won't buy any at all.
In this instance it would be a good idea to know how many crowns need to be established to furnish enough to supply his stated needs.
Remember that it takes three years to get to production for Asparagus, expect some plantings to fail and now you know you will need to use about an acre
of your Alley strips to be able to become a supplier in three years.
Talking to the manager once you have him interested can lead to his bringing up other items he would be interested in stocking for his customers.
Buyers that know they are being listened to and that you will do your best to supply their demand for exactly what they want, will be long term customers as long as you deliver the produce on time, in the right quantity and quality.
The fact that they can advertise that your produce is better than Organic! Will appeal to their business sense, as well as the fact that they can charge more for your produce.
Check the price of “Organic” items next time your at your grocery store, then look and see what the prices are for “Natural” and normal in those same items.
Eggs are good example, in our local grocery store we have Regular eggs, Organic eggs, Brown eggs and Pasture Raised eggs.
The cheapest are those regular, caged bird, eggs, the highest priced are the Pasture Raised eggs at nearly three time the cost of the regular eggs.
The Organic eggs are actually lower in price than the Brown eggs, why has to be color only, since they come from caged birds.
People are becoming more aware of their foods and most are willing to pay more for the best they can get.
This goes for eggs and every thing else.
If you can show how it is grown in photos, people will see that there is a huge difference and give it a try.
When the tastes is far superior to what they are used to buying, has better nutritional values and no pesticides or other gunk to wash off or worry about, they will be convinced that this is what they should be eating and they will pay a premium to get it.
This change in thinking was initiated by the “Certified Organic” movement, but we can go them two steps better.
Not only that, we can work shorter hours and use less fuel to provide them that good food.
What we want to do with our land should also be within the naturally occuring succession mode of our land.
For example, on Buzzard's Roost we have a mid stage hardwood forest.
We are disrupting the land by removing many of the smaller hickory trees since they are a variety that produces bad tasting, very thick shelled nuts.
They are not good for animal feed or anything other than producing more of the bitternut hickory trees.
The wood is great for firewood, BBQ smoking wood, mushroom growing logs and tool handles.
So what we are doing is removing all those that aren't going to survive under the over-story of Oaks and older, established Hickory trees.
The result will be a more open, less fire prone farm.
We will then do the main line earth work to manage the water as it runs off either side of the ridge, working all the way down to the valleys.
The swales and berms will move the water along the entire width of our property, allowing it to soak in instead of just running off down hill.
We will be putting in turning ponds at either end and that too will help control the water runoff.
The swales and berms will also help terrace our property giving us nice sized swaths to plant alternating tree rows and keeping the between terraces for alleys where we will grow our annual crops and build the soil into deeper top soil.
On the north facing slope we will expand the vinyard and plant squashes in the alleys.
Since our land is 900 feet wide, we will be able to plant both fruit and nut trees and surplus will be market crops.
We will also have an area for Serviceberries and blueberries or huckleberries, expand the number of fig trees, pear trees and Arkansas Black Apple trees.
To the east of our house we will use the alleys on the south slope for additional hog pastures, the nut and fruit trees will be between the fenced alleys to keep the hogs from harming the trees.
Our hogs have already knocked down two fairly large oak trees in one of their paddocks.
Until the new plantings are at least 6” in diameter, the hogs will have to go for nut and fruit drops, this won't be hard for them since the tree width they will be around will be only 6' wide, allowing for lots of nuts and fruit to fall into their paddock areas.
If we get out of the hog business, those fences will come down to allow easier access by the chickens, guinea fowl and ducks.
Our effort load will be about 1/6th of what would be using our original plan.
That will mean we have more time to do other things that we want to do.
It will not be a burden to our "farm sitter" when we go on a trip for a few days either.