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Creating a coppice woodland, protecting young trees in established grass

 
Daniel Colman
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Location: France
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Hello all,

    This is my first post here and I am hoping to find some useful information. I am trying to establish a coppice woodland of mixed species including Ash, Sweet Chestnut and Hazel. I have sourced all of the young trees (20-60cm high) from local woodlands and I am planting about every 5 ft. I planted the trees bare root using a notch technique in a small circle in the grass I cleared with a strimmer. After this I used mulch from their home woodland to mulch around each tree, about 1 1/2 foot in diameter. The trees have been planted into tall and well established grass, although this year it was so dry that a lot of it has died and new stuff is poking through during the sunny Autumn.
    I am planting hundreds of trees with the aim of covering 2 acres eventually, walking out from our tree covered boundary to give the trees some shade in Summer, then planting a few hundred trees each year. Last year I used black plastic as a mulch, the stuff that farmers use for covering hay bales, but I want to find an organic alternative. I know the small mulch of forest leaf-matter will help but what about a medium term organic mulch? I know that Comfrey is a good shout for chop and drop in the long term but what does anyone else think to this? Perhaps wood chip?

many thanks

Dan
 
Casie Becker
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I always love wood chip mulch. Something else you might think about is growing large leafy vines nearby.

I do this with sweet potatoes below my espalier peaches. Sweet potatoes produce a particularly high amount of below ground biomass from undeveloped potatoes and are quickly improving the soil where they grow. In my conditions they grow so vigorously that they are trying to smother all the other low growing plants I want in that bed. They came back on their own this year. If they can thrive in your conditions then I'd highly recommend them.

If they don't then maybe something like a squash. You would have to replant each year, but after the first year you should be easily able to save seeds. Plus, you'd get a crop. When it gets too cold for the squash I think the grass would be going dormant.

If you time it right, you could plant a different crop during the cool season to continue to get use from that space. Last year dill grew through the winter, in the same bed as the peaches and sweet potatoes. It was taller than my head and so thick we couldn't see the neighbor's house across the street. I chop and dropped most of the dill down to the ground. There is still a thin layer under the sweet potato vines, eight months later. Not enough to be effective mulch now, but it provided some protection from the summer sun until after the sweet potatoes were big. Plus more great organic matter in the soil from those deep tap roots. Dill is also a great plant for drawing in beneficial insects of all sorts.

These are just my experiences so far. This year I'm experimenting with fava beans. If they thrive I may add them to the winter planting to fix a tiny bit of nitrogen right before the spring growing season. Experimenting like this is part of the joy for me.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Hello Dan,
Welcome to Permies. You've got quite a project planned! Sounds interesting. There are others here more knowledgeable than I, but I'll give you my opinion. Maybe it will be of some use.

I like the idea of wood chips, but if you plan on planting 2 acres, that's a LOT of chips. There are tree trimming companies out there looking for places to dump chips to keep from having to pay tipping fees. I think you may need to contact several of them to have a good supply. They will need an easily accessible area to dump. If the trees are going to be only 5 feet apart, you may have a large pile of chips somewhere on the edge of the planting and have to find a way to distribute them amongst your trees, since 5 feet would be a narrow space for most vehicles. That is, unless you meant 5 feet in between the trees in a row with wider paths between the rows.

If this is to be a coppice woodland, how large will the trees be when you cut them? They may not have grown big enough to contribute much in the way of their own leaf litter as mulch. Or, if they grow very big, they may shade out things you might consider planting for chop and drop mulch. I don't know how much sun is needed for growing comfrey. I do think they prefer moist soil, as I have read that they are native along creek banks and ditches. They will require a bit of nitrogen, especially initially. Will that take from the nitrogen available to your trees? Do you have a source of nitrogen on hand? The comfrey will also need one years growth to establish strong roots before being cut. They also are difficult to eradicate if you chose to do so.

You'll find some threads at the bottom of the page that may be helpful to you. You can also search for topics by clicking on the search button at the top of the page.

I wish you much luck. I hope this was helpful.


 
Daniel Colman
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Location: France
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Thankyou Karen and Casie,

   I appreciate the suggestions, the pumpkins might we worth a for a few trees, maybe a few too many trees to try is on all of them, as much as I love pumpkins. I was imagining that the wood chips would just go around the base of each tree, about 2 1/2 - 3 ft diameter to give them a competitive advantage against the grass. The density of the planting was suggested by a forester friend witht he idea being that increased density allows for speedy domination of the grass and the inevitable failures. After a few years I will thin the trees, then coppice aiming for one tree every 12ft or so with a similar height. My instinct, for what it's worth, says just cover the grass, these are native trees which grow prolifically around us, we are just trying to re create local copppice woodlands on our field.  The trees are not in rows, just planted every 5 ft, so the chips would be distributed by hand. My friend is a gardener so I am going to ask him about a source of wood chip and let you know how it goes

Kindest wishes

Dan
 
Daniel Colman
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Location: France
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What about straw as a mulch? I have loads available locally, would it work in the same way as wood chip?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Daniel,

The mix of trees sounds great!

I would hope you keep the chestnuts for a crop tree and use the others to coppice, that will give you the best proverbial best of both worlds.
Don't worry about the trees competing with the  grasses, the trees will win as long as you press down the grasses (creating a grown on site mulch layer) until the trees have grown above the grasses.
Once the trees start to shade the soil beneath them, those grasses are likely to cease or at least not grow really tall again.

Straw is a wonderful mulch product, as is that tall grass you mentioned, just flatten it once it has seeded and you are on your way nicely with little expenditure for mulch.
You could also run some grazing animals through quickly, that way you get the great effects of trampling, manure, urine and grass cutting all at the same time.
You can also gather some wild mushrooms, use a blender to make a slurry and pour that on the trees, through the straw and bingo, you have mycelium in your soil.
You can even mix items like straw, wood chips, grass cuttings and leaves. Nature uses everything as mulch eventually, so should we.

Think about adding clovers, brassicas, etc. by seeding these, as the grasses mature and you press them down, the other plants will come up with the newly found sunlight and then you can press them down when they mature or cut and leave them lay.


Eventually, the close plantings will thin themselves by stragglers dying off, not a problem at all, that is nature working for you.

I would also suggest planning your planting areas so that each area has perhaps a different end goal (coppice wood for fire wood, mushroom logs, chestnut for nuts which can be either human food or animal food, etc.)

Redhawk
 
Daniel Colman
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Location: France
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Thanks Redhawk,

      I guess this is where learning general principles rather than specific bits of info is so important. I will have a mixed approach, get hold of whatever I can in the way of mulch cheaply, probably a mixture of straw, wood chip and grass cuttings, mulch around each tree and periodically trample any grass which grows high enough. This sounds way better than last years black plastic strategy! Of course I will allow a few trees to grow into standards for nuts, in harvesting from local woodlands my mixture resembles them, about 40% hazel, 50 % chestnut and 10% ash/Oak and any accidentals   The heat in the summer is a problem as well, would natural mulches help better than the black plastic did last year??

Many thanks

Dan
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I always prefer natural mulch over anything else, it lets the soil breathe and it allows moisture to sink in as well.
Plastics simply do not do either and they are going to deteriorate which ends up a nightmare to clean up all those little bits of plastic.

One other thing you want to look at is the lay of your land, so you can devise the best way to control the water that falls as rain and or the water that comes to your land as runoff from other parcels.
If you do the earth works (swales and berms) first, then you can plant without worry of needing to go around any or all trees.

We plant our trees on the lee side of the berms formed from our water management swales but we live on top of our ridge line and it is 300 feet in  elevation from the valley below.

Controlling the water first is so important. Once you have that in place, everything else is a lot easier and you will get as much water soaking in as possible.
Next year I might not need to irrigate at all if I can get the whole south side re-swale installed this winter.

Ash and Oak are great coppice woods. I don't have any Ash but I have White and Red oaks. I am coppicing the red oaks and lots of hickories, that way I can change the dominance of some of my land over to white oaks, they are more useful for me.

One other thing you might consider is to leave space (Alleys) between your tree plantings, this allows you the room for crop planting and or soil improvement.
As the trees grow, you will be able to install other, part shade lovers either as permanent bush plantings or for vegetable crops that do best with part shade.
We use one alley for things like Brussels, broccoli, lettuces and so on, since our weather gets hot by the end of May and even  hotter until September or October. (today our high is 82 f).


Redhawk
 
Charmian Larke
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Great to see the mix of tree species. We planted a range of tree species on one acre 30 years ago, and then another acre  seven years ago.  Main things we have learnt from this  are
- keep the trees in some kinds of lines rather than random- could be curved lines rather than straight- or it is too easy to lose them  in the long grass when they are small
- be careful if using a scythe to cut the grass- we lost a few to "Sheffield blight" i.e. cut them down by mistake
- chestnut is brilliant at keeping down the undergrowth really quickly as the leaves form a weed suppressing layer within four years or so
-  we planted at six foot centres and there have been so few losses that it would have been better further apart, as the coppicing and general management is difficult at this spacing- we need more room between trees
- maybe cut the grass for the first few years to deter brambles- this is the main problem for us in new woodland and even many years after the tree canopy has closed they are still strong- except under chestnut.
- if you can plant with mycorrhizal fungi as this speeds up growth a lot
- our main threat is rabbits- so every tree needs a rabbit guard- we have found that translucent ones break down in a year or so, so go for solid colour ones which appear to be UV stabilised and will last for many years
 
Mary Carson
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Location: New Mexico - Manzano Mts
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I don't know where you are, but you might want to consider fire protection..........3-4 ft sunflower border or buffalo gourd, resists fire.
Parsley around the edge maybe, for distracting the bunnies?
 
Ken W Wilson
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Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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Ash are nice trees, but you might want to read up on the Emerald Ash Borer. It sounds pretty destructive. I haven't studied up on in because I don't have ash.

You might add a couple other species for more diversity.
 
Charmian Larke
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Based in Cornwall UK- so fire not a problem- rain is a major element here!

As we are in Cornwall we are within an area of Cornish hedges- these are stone walls some 4 foot high made with stones and soil and planted on the top, with trees such as holly and hawthorn, black thorn etc.  Hence the starting point for all the brambles.  Hacking blackberry bushes back is a big task each winter- so that we can access different areas.   Interesting idea on distracting the rabbits with parsley- but it is not tough enough for round here, and would soon be grown over with grass and brambles, or ivy in shady areas.  Slugs are rather partial to sunflowers and all squashes/gourds. We had six foot high sunflower plants felled by slugs one summer.   Ideally we should be eating the rabbits..... in true  permaculture fashion.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Daniel Colman wrote:Hello all,

    This is my first post here and I am hoping to find some useful information. I am trying to establish a coppice woodland of mixed species including Ash, Sweet Chestnut and Hazel. I have sourced all of the young trees (20-60cm high) from local woodlands and I am planting about every 5 ft. I planted the trees bare root using a notch technique in a small circle in the grass I cleared with a strimmer. After this I used mulch from their home woodland to mulch around each tree, about 1 1/2 foot in diameter. The trees have been planted into tall and well established grass, although this year it was so dry that a lot of it has died and new stuff is poking through during the sunny Autumn.
    I am planting hundreds of trees with the aim of covering 2 acres eventually, walking out from our tree covered boundary to give the trees some shade in Summer, then planting a few hundred trees each year. Last year I used black plastic as a mulch, the stuff that farmers use for covering hay bales, but I want to find an organic alternative. I know the small mulch of forest leaf-matter will help but what about a medium term organic mulch? I know that Comfrey is a good shout for chop and drop in the long term but what does anyone else think to this? Perhaps wood chip?

many thanks

Dan

You did not indicate if you are dealing with sandy soil or heavy soil, marshy, deep or ?? Also, do you want to coppice to make Hugelbeds or do you use wood to heat? Comfrey is an excellent plant that produces a lot of biomass, if you can keep it from the deer. If you have chicken, they too will love it, just don't let them have the run too long or they will destroy your comfrey. If it is allowed in your state, Industrial Hemp also makes a lot of biomass (as tall as big sunflowers, and you could chip it?) Otherwise, depending on the size of your trees, you may want to put a crop like pumpkins, that could also bring income in the fall, while your trees are growing. Wood chips are a good alternative if you don't add too much at one time, but that can be pricey too. Poplars and quaking aspens grow fast, and although you cannot exactly "coppice" them, in a few years they would be the size of your thigh and you could grow pleurotus mushrooms on them: When you look at what will grow, look also at what will sell. A nice crop of pumpkins, squash or even cukes would also solve your mulching problem if you plant them thick enough. Good luck to you. Frenchie
 
J. Adams
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Lots of great answers here and your idea of collecting a mix (chips, clippings, etc.) of whatever is available locally sounds great. Just wanted to add that when we were establishing a new orchard in an area of aggressive grass, we planted buckwheat to choke out the grass and it did a great job. We just left it and it reseeded itself the following year, fading out more and more as the trees got larger and more established.
 
Mary Carson
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Location: New Mexico - Manzano Mts
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Ok, you probably don't have a fire problem.....I'm in New Mexico, we do.
"Buffalo gourd" would probably be invasive.

I like your ideas, have a hard time imagining as much moisture as you undoubtedly get.
 
Daniel Colman
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Location: France
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Dan
You did not indicate if you are dealing with sandy soil or heavy soil, marshy, deep or ?? Also, do you want to coppice to make Hugelbeds or do you use wood to heat? Comfrey is an excellent plant that produces a lot of biomass, if you can keep it from the deer. If you have chicken, they too will love it, just don't let them have the run too long or they will destroy your comfrey. If it is allowed in your state, Industrial Hemp also makes a lot of biomass (as tall as big sunflowers, and you could chip it?) Otherwise, depending on the size of your trees, you may want to put a crop like pumpkins, that could also bring income in the fall, while your trees are growing. Wood chips are a good alternative if you don't add too much at one time, but that can be pricey too. Poplars and quaking aspens grow fast, and although you cannot exactly "coppice" them, in a few years they would be the size of your thigh and you could grow pleurotus mushrooms on them: When you look at what will grow, look also at what will sell. A nice crop of pumpkins, squash or even cukes would also solve your mulching problem if you plant them thick enough. Good luck to you. Frenchie

I am planning to use the coppice wood for heating eventually with a few trees left to grow nuts. We don't need as much grass as we have as we are not planning to keep many animals, just a few chickens. Therefore, a fair proportion of our land can be turned into woodland as this will produce a useful crop and give us an element of energy security in the future. Our soil is a deep loamy one, it has managed to retain moisture despite a very dry summer and is being helped by mature grass which has toppled over forming a natural mulch. I have finished this years experiment. About 200 trees have gone in with a good organic mulch around them, I will periodically check them to stamp down tall grass and/or re mulch with chip or straw and see how they get on next year and continue to plant with any necessary adaptations. I will experiment with the pumpkin idea, perhaps a few handfuls of compost in amongst the organic mulch and a few seeds on perhaps 15-20 of the trees as an experiment. I will also order some Comfrey root cuttings and see how they go as well. All in all, the trees have gone in well, they look happy and it took about 2 days of work to collect, plant and mulch, so fingers crossed for a good success rate!

Many thanks for all the suggestions

Dan
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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J. Adams wrote:Lots of great answers here and your idea of collecting a mix (chips, clippings, etc.) of whatever is available locally sounds great. Just wanted to add that when we were establishing a new orchard in an area of aggressive grass, we planted buckwheat to choke out the grass and it did a great job. We just left it and it reseeded itself the following year, fading out more and more as the trees got larger and more established.


Yep: buckwheat is my go-to plant to compete with weeds. Plus, my bees flock to it like crazy. That, purple tansy and Anise Hyssop, along with clover and dandelions! They make abundant honey from buckwheat: a dark honey with strong flavor that is better than most honeys for sore throat.
Incidentally, many beekeepers are actually looking for people who believe in permaculture and varied agriculture without pesticides, so if you have some acreage that you don't poison and make a reasonable effort to plant a variety of flowers, beekeepers would like to know where you are. (Contact your [State] Honey Producers Association.)Here (Central Wisconsin) they grow cranberries that need to be pollinated. There is not much pollen and absolutely zero nectar in cranberries. So after 3 weeks on those fields, most hives are half dead and really need some help building up reserves for the winter. Pair with beekeepers: they can bring colonies to your place and take care of them. You will do you good deed for bees and help a beekeeper ... who may give you a jar or two of delicious honey... BARTER TIME!
A perfect example of symbiosis. Win-win!
 
Corey Schmidt
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Here comfrey grows best in sun but survives and increases year after year even in deep shade.  Also sunchokes are a good edible to produce a lot of biomass; they also are successful here. another thought for tree mulch maybe noone mentioned yet is cardboard.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Corey Schmidt wrote:Here comfrey grows best in sun but survives and increases year after year even in deep shade.  Also sunchokes are a good edible to produce a lot of biomass; they also are successful here. another thought for tree mulch maybe no one mentioned yet is cardboard.

Any problems with deer?: The sunchokes were quite invasive in my garden, so I booted them out. Well, the deer ate every single shoot outside. If you can fence a small area, they would grow fantastic: They don't have many pests. Just make sure to totally root them out (late fall or early next spring)if you want to change crop the following year. The white ones seem to make larger tubers. The red ones really give me gas so I don't plant them anymore. You can eat them any way you would eat a potato, plus raw, like radishes.
Cardboard works really well for lasagna gardening but not too many large boxes come as just cardboard. Often, they have a plastic coating. They need to be weighed down too. 2-3 layers of plain corrugated cardboard works really slick.
 
Corey Schmidt
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:
Corey Schmidt wrote:Here comfrey grows best in sun but survives and increases year after year even in deep shade.  Also sunchokes are a good edible to produce a lot of biomass; they also are successful here. another thought for tree mulch maybe no one mentioned yet is cardboard.

Any problems with deer?: The sunchokes were quite invasive in my garden, so I booted them out. Well, the deer ate every single shoot outside. If you can fence a small area, they would grow fantastic: They don't have many pests. Just make sure to totally root them out (late fall or early next spring)if you want to change crop the following year. The white ones seem to make larger tubers. The red ones really give me gas so I don't plant them anymore. You can eat them any way you would eat a potato, plus raw, like radishes.
Cardboard works really well for lasagna gardening but not too many large boxes come as just cardboard. Often, they have a plastic coating. They need to be weighed down too. 2-3 layers of plain corrugated cardboard works really slick.


We don't have deer here, only moose but they don't come on the island I live on. snowshoe hares are the main large garden pest here, along with a few species of corvids that like to pull out young shoots in the spring and eat newly planted seeds.  I think sunchokes are marginal here, so while they do multiply, i am grateful for it.  i had one make a flower this year but frost got it before the seeds could ripen.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Grass around the trees is not the problem. It is the brambles that are planted by the bird droppings.  There was a You Tube video of an orcardest in the UK who mowed around his trees with a scythe. I have been basicly using this as a way of restoring my plum grove which has comfrey and rhubarb planted along the edge. I mow the growth under the trees with my brush scythe and the field and comfrey with the grass scythe and pile it around the trees. This has made it accessible and makes locating fallen fruit possible.
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Patrick Kniesler
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Does Bone Sauce/ Salve not deter rabbits?

I always wonder if one was to put in a tall post every acre, would that deter songbirds enough to reduce seed dropping action until the trees mature?
 
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