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Wetland Food Forest?

 
aaron sandvig
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I live in north eastern South Dakota where tillable acres are expensive and wet lands are not.  More specifically, I live in the James (Jim) River Valley which is highly prized for monocropping agriculture.  I find decent deals on property that is seasonally flooded and prevents a guy in a huge tractor from planting corn when he wants to, i.e. in late May or early June.  I'm wondering about the possibilities for establishing a food forest in either swampy conditions or seasonally flooded areas? Part of the problem is that for some of the areas I've seen, you can have one year where much of the ground is mucky all season long or might even have pockets of standing water, and a few years later will be nearly bone dry after June.  My current line of thinking is to use something like hugelkultur mounds to raise the growing area slightly so the trees and shrubs don't drown during either seasonal inundations or even in those wetter years. (In effect, creating chinampas for trees and other woody crops rather than just annual veggies.)  I live in a Zone 4 climate.  We occasionally get above 100--regularly above 90--in the summers, and it's not unheard of to be in the -20 range for days in the winter with the occasional cold snaps of -30 in some years. Oh, and most of the ground I'm thinking of is pretty flat, so I don't think keyline swales would really factor much into planning such a venture.

I'm most particularly looking for in-depth sources, if anyone knows of any, that deal with these sorts of issues.  A good case study of someone who has really invested their energy in a wetland or seasonally flooded area for perennial agriculture would be great, especially one that's dealt with a wide variety of tree or shrub crops.  (Fruit, nuts, berries, etc.) I've spent years reading about this stuff, but am still new to actually planning and implementing. So I'm open to other ideas, as well.

Thanks, All. 
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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It is recommended that you not plant trees on hugelculture because as the underlying organic matter decays the soil sinks. This is very stressful if not absolutely deadly to trees. In a dry climate it can be useful to plant trees around a hugelculture but I don't know if it would work as well in a wetland. Mostly shorter lived perennials and annuals are grown on such mounds.

If you're allowed earthworks, I wonder if you could form a series of islands where the seasonal water accumulates in ponds and the soil excavated is used to build mounds. Without the high percentage of underlying decaying matter, these mounds would be much more stable than hugelculture.

I suspect the hardest part of your situation will be the erratic nature of the wet/dry cycles. Most trees that can survive regular inundation can't take droughts and most drought tolerant trees are quick to drown. To be honest, the first thing that comes to mind when I think wetlands and agriculture is ducks and crawdads.
 
Michelle Bisson
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Location: Quebec, Canada
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forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
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Casie Becker wrote:It is recommended that you not plant trees on hugelculture because as the underlying organic matter decays the soil sinks. This is very stressful if not absolutely deadly to trees. In a dry climate it can be useful to plant trees around a hugelculture but I don't know if it would work as well in a wetland. Mostly shorter lived perennials and annuals are grown on such mounds.

If you're allowed earthworks, I wonder if you could form a series of islands where the seasonal water accumulates in ponds and the soil excavated is used to build mounds. Without the high percentage of underlying decaying matter, these mounds would be much more stable than hugelculture.



I agree.  You really want to get your tree roots above the water table.  Only a few trees can survive being in water for a period like willow.  And fruit trees will likely not survive  I do not know any.

You have not mentioned how much area you want your food forest.  I assume that you are not planning commercial purposes but for your own personal/family consumption.  When things are on the personal/family consumption level we might be willing to take more risk than if it is our livelihood.

Plus you did not mention if you want to build a house on the land.  These days with the extreme weather dropping 10 inches of rain you do not want your house flooded.

Plus, in some areas more and more of the wetlands are protected for the wildlife birds so you want to make sure there are no restrictions.  


It might be better to pay more for less land than to regret your land purchase because it is too limiting what you can grow and do on it 

Paul Wheaton talks in a recent podcast about people buying land and then regretting and then cannot sell it for what they paid. If someone knows which podcast, please post it.








 
Kyrt Ryder
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Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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The Islands [or berms] within a pond truly are your best bet.

While it's true that very few trees can survive having their root crown submerged for an extended period of time, there are a fair number of flood plain trees which can survive much of their roots under the water table for an extended period.

Black Walnut is supposed to be a good nut crop [high value product that's a pain to shell, might make better pig forage than direct human food except within the context of a market] that can handle flooding and zone 4 temperatures. Some Oaks can as well, though I'm not sure about flood-tolerant zone 4 oaks.

RE: Fruit, supposedly some American Persimmon are hardy to zone 4 and flood tolerant.

Your more typical fruit trees should be planted on higher mounds and given minimal irrigation during establishment. In theory the submerged roots should 'die back' when submerged and grow down to chase the water table as it recedes later in the year.
 
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