The ground is fairly uneven, with decomposing trees and stumps providing the high spots and the lowest places filled with water in spring and fall, drying in summer, and spongy soft ground with moss in between. In the high areas we do have small islands of hardwoods establishing.
The biggest issues by far are lack of soil depth and creating drainage. We're on granite, with occasional big boulders here and there. In another 1000 years or so we might have soil! ...
1) Can I create a good enough base for planting food bearing trees and shrubs in these conditions? And what will that take?
How acidic will the softwood chips be and what amendments might I use to sweeten them up? (I will definitely be steering clear of planting anything that likes an alkaline soil!)
I've wondered about using willows to dry things up a bit. Has anyone had any experience with that?
I had never thought of my high spots and low spots as swales and berms before! That really gives me a new lens to look through. And hearing about your experience with enlarging the size of the high spots for planting seems very workable here.
It is best to observe the water level in your pits in spring & fall and plan accordingly that your mounts are high enough. Since our mounts were not as large as we think our new trees will need in a few years, we are slowly enlarging them each year. I have been hauling 5 gallon pails at a time so it is slow. We also put lots of wood chips around our mount as well as dirt. As the wood chips decompose, I am hoping that the fruit trees and scrubs will have less acidic soil since compose is mostly neutral or close to it. This part of our food forest really looks like it was naturally seeded. I am sure that a few of our neighbours who I have shown them our work, has never seen anything like it.
I was really looking for some kind of a number for how high to raise the crown of any new trees, so thank you for giving the 2-4 ft estimate.
I'm planning to start with just a couple of guilds next year, closer to the house and I've been compiling my lists of all the plants suited to this area/zone and their functions so I can start playing "mix & match" with them.
Hal, I hope you don't mind me asking this question on your thread....but Robert has just partly answered a question I recently posted on another thread about soil depth, mounds and tree planting. I'm hoping you might elaborate Robert! Either in this thread or in my original here:
https://permies.com/t/60838/advice-improving-wet-conifer-woods ; (There are pictures of my woods on that thread if you scroll down.)
Robert, you mentioned never to plant trees on a mound that's been created.
I have a 70% black spruce, boreal-type forest, with patches of birch and occasional maples and small alder brush throughout. Labrador tea and cinnamon ferns are the main understory with lots of moss as the main ground cover. (~60" rain/yr, zone 6 a/b, a km from the Atlantic,)
We've been opening up these woods with roads and paths for another project and I was hoping to plant food and medicinal guilds on the newly opened up edges. However....
There's very little soil depth - it ranges from < 6" in the low spots to about 2-3 ft in the high spots - most of which are made up of dead-fall - essentially old hugels, which the spruce like just fine. Or else there's a granite boulder under them! The lowest spots are water-filled for much of the spring, fall and winter, drying almost completely in summer. There's no slope at all across this landscape, it's more like a bowl. And the base of the bowl is mainly shale. Where there is soil, it's sandy clay and in the boggiest spots, it's peat.
I had been looking at enlarging and possibly increasing the height of existing mounds for planting small-ish fruit trees and shrubs. Is this feasible?
I will need to raise them above the soggy bottom of the low areas so their feet aren't wet. I had been guided to think about keeping them 2-4 feet above the water table. In this forest, 4 feet is way higher than I can go, but 2 ft is doable.
I certainly understand what you're saying about the mounds being unstable for trees. So am I better off to fill a low spot with good heavy soil for anchoring roots and then raise it just slightly above the surrounding grade to bring the tree's crown further up and away from the water?
Or rather than thinking of a "mound" for trees, should I be looking at raising a larger area that will become more stable over time?
What I have to work with right now is the heavy clay and shale mix that we're building roads with (it is proving very stable and well draining for the roads) and also an enormous amount of softwood chips created during the road clearing. I'm also willing to wait a couple of years while things settle and decompose.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!