• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Need advice on improving wet conifer woods for food forest

 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi folks. I've waited over a year to ask this question as I've been observing my woods and reading everything I can find on the forums and elsewhere that might help me.

Here's the project:

I had been eyeing our woods out back for permaculture improvements for a while - thinking about food forest to forest medicinals, ramps, etc.

Meanwhile, this past June my husband (a sculptor for over 40 years) took his long held dream of a sculpture park off the back burner, bought a small tractor, took delivery of 8 loads of shale and proceeded to open up said woods with several roads and many ~10-15 ft diameter display areas for sculpture.

His second purchase was a 5" PTO wood chipper and so we merrily spent August and September chipping up much of the cleared brush and leaving the chips in piles in the woods to start decomposing.

I now get to create my dream of a food and medicine forest as the landscaping backdrop to a 5 acre sculpture park.

Yippeee!

The Woods:

We have about 15+ acres & we're only working on the front 5 or so. The area I'm working with is about 50% conifer, mostly black spruce, plus some fir and about 15% each birch and larch, and ~2% red maple with tons of small alder throughout.

Labrador Tea and Cinnamon Fern are the main understory. LOTS of moss everywhere. We're in the Acadian Forest, which is technically a mix of Boreal and Carolinian forest types. But our little piece looks pretty Boreal to me!

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!

The Climate:

We're technically in Zone 6a, but more recently feeling like 6b/7. We're very close to the Atlantic so both summers and winters are moderated and we're what Ben Falk calls "hyper-resilient", with rain every month...except for the 6-week drought we had this past summer, which I hope is not the new normal.

Also, we're surrounded by thick woods so we get only 1/3 of the wind speed that the storms bring to the shore just a mile on either side of us.


My Questions:

I now have lots of wonderful sunny edges to work with and massive amounts of wood chips with more to come. And already I can see that the new roads are drying things up in places as the light is getting in.

1) Can I create a good enough base for planting food bearing trees and shrubs in these conditions? And what will that take?

I can certainly get the acid lovers, like blueberries and cranberries to like it there. And the ones that don't mind wet feet like elder. But will creating raised areas allow me to plant nuts or other fruits and berries?

I've read elsewhere on permies that it's not recommended to plant trees into hugels - which I have more than enough wood to make - as this is unstable for them as it breaks down. This has me thinking about what I can do to give them a firm well drained base.

I have ton's of wood chips but, even once they break down, if there's not much heavier soil under them I worry that the mix will be too loose to give the trees something for their roots to dig into. I can put some of the clay/shale mix that we're laying down for the roads at the bottom, with chips over that, which would also provide drainage. Would that help? Or do I need a load of proper soil as a base? (I do also have manure and compost from our two goats that I can use.)

2) How high should I raise the soil surface for the trees/shrubs above the wet areas?

3) 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!)

4) I've wondered about using willows to dry things up a bit. Has anyone had any experience with that?

I'm very grateful for any and all suggestions!
It's dark here right now, so I've missed the chance to give you some pictures, but I'll try to put some up in the next day or two.
 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Susanna,

Reading your post your land & trees sounded a lot like ours.  Then I saw that you were in Nova Scotia.  We are south of Quebec City.  Except is seems so " almost tropical" where you are in zone 6a. We are in zone 4a (3b)

I'll respond later when I have a moment to share some of the things that we have been doing to over come some of challenges since we have so much in common with our land & trees.
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks Michelle. Looking forward to it! I've read a LOT of your posts and threads with great interest.  = >
 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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.


Parts of our land is like this.  It has pits and mounts where the pits have lots of moisture in the spring and fall.   We did not have any equipment to do any earthworks, so we followed the pattern of nature and planted our fruit trees on the mounts.  We did have to move dirt and wood chips with 5 gallon pails to enlarge the mounts.




In this photo, there are 3 apple trees planted on a mount that we enlarged.  We planted them close since we do not have lot of sunny areas.



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! ... 


Since you have a small tractor, you can do some earthworks make some swales and berms on contour.  Or you can still keep your pits and mouths and profit from them as they have a similar function of swales and berms. 

You definitely want to plant on higher ground so anywhere you can get extra dirt to raise the ground where you want to plant is needed. Ideally fruit trees should be about 4 feet above the water table, but your land like ours with a high water table you'll be lucky if you get 2 feet above the water table.  But I look around and the trees of the forest have survived and I believe my apple trees will survive as long as they do not have wet feet.  In my case, having enough sun to fruit sufficiently is my challenge.  Once we build our house, this will open up other areas for fruit trees that will be in full sun.

1) Can I create a good enough base for planting food bearing trees and shrubs in these conditions? And what will that take?


Yes, If the trees survive on the mounts naturally, yours will too. Your wood chips will help minimize the high acidic soil as it turns into compost.  I did a lot of mixing of my wood chips with the dirt to lighten it up a bit while raising the ground.

If you need more dirt to raise the mounts or berms, you can dig a pond as you have plenty of space.

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!)


Since you will not plant alkaline loving plants,  I would not worry about the acidic soil. When the wood chips compose, the compose is basically neutral.  Chop & drop wild plants around your fruit trees so it will give your trees extra nutriments.  Some will add organic store bought fertiliser, but I do not have the funds for that, so am trying to build up the soil by chop whatever leafy green and drop and wood chips.  Planting  nitrogen fixing plants around your fruit trees will be helpful.


I've wondered about using willows to dry things up a bit. Has anyone had any experience with that?


Building swales and/or a pond plus opening up the forest to let in the sun will dry up the land quite a bit if you go that route.  If you really need to, you can always create drainage ditches, but make sure that the water runs into a pond, swale or area that can be useful for harvesting the water and not simply run of the land.  Droughts can happen so one wants to be prepared. We sometimes forget in our raining climate.

One technique we did was to raise our ground with hugel culture terraces where we wanted to plant our Sea buckthorn (seaberry) orchard / hedgerow as they do not like to sit in saturated soil.  We had tons of logs lying on the ground and also cut down some trees to open up the forest we used for this purpose.  But you do not want to plant large trees on top of hugel culture mounts or beds.  Scrubs and very small trees "could" be fine as long as you add more dirt if needed once the logs start to decompose and settle.


Photos will be great!  Please share your story as it progresses.

It will be unique with the sculptures your husband is designing.

 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Susanna,

This winter, I suggest that you map out your land on paper or on the computer and start drawing in some ideas.  Decide what area is your first priority for this coming year. how you will deal with the excess water, how you will build berms or mounts to get your trees above the saturated ground, what fruit & nut trees and what shrubs that produce berries as understory plants.  Determine what budget you have to work with.

Once you have drawn out your plan, even if it is far from the final plan, share it here to get feedback and ideas.
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Michelle. Thank you for taking so much time with your responses and for the pictures too!

My apologies for taking so long to respond...we had goat trouble last week and had to put one of them down. Very heartbreaking...

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. 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.

We're lucky, in terms of water, that the property as a whole is fairly flat so no major run off anywhere and the roads Peter has built are serving to create large bordered catchment areas where the low spots will naturally fill. We're making sure not to fill in all the low spots or flatten the woods out too much, so the water will have places to collect near the new trees, but not straight under them.

This winter is definitely time for planning. I have a large hand drawn map that I sketched out using a Google Maps photo on a grid system. 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.

I'll post some pictures in my next message so you can see what it looks like and where I'm starting.
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here are a few pictures to give you an idea of the woods in general and the front completed section of the sculpture park:


IMG_20161209_142700.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20161209_142700.jpg]
Here's an uncleared, fairly mossy section of woods
IMG_20161209_142946.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20161209_142946.jpg]
And these are some of the low spots filled with water
IMG_20161209_142532.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20161209_142532.jpg]
Looking from behind the house, straight back into the park
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
And here's 3 more:
IMG_20161209_142614.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20161209_142614.jpg]
Looking from the park toward the back of the south facing house, with dearly departed Phloxie in the foreground
IMG_20161209_142634.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20161209_142634.jpg]
Looking straight east through the completed front of the park. You can see how open it is here.
IMG_20161209_143309.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20161209_143309.jpg]
Looking west, house is off the right edge of the photo, the low area in the center is where I will likely do the first guild. Needs some building up!
 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you Susanna for sharing your photos.  It starts to give context to what you are explaining.

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.


These pits and mounts are so common in our type of forested landscapes.  When we first started looking around our lot to plant fruit trees and fruiting scrubs, we had had no equipment to dig out all the old tree stumps and create swales and berms.  But I observed that the pits served the same function of swales and the mounts were like berms, so it made sense to profit from this resource since we had no way to change the landscape without equipment. 
We are trying to create pathways, very slowly leveling the uneven pathways a bit better each year, enough to push a wheelbarrow through.


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.
  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'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.


This makes lots of sense.  Working on smaller areas makes the project more realistic.  Even small areas can take lots of time when the work is so manual.

When your plans are drawn, please feel free to share them.  One thing about plans and designs, it is not a one time event, but every year they need to be adjusted to meet your goals and desires.

 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Susanna,

You definitely have a unique back yard with a sculpture park and future food forest and I am assuming lots of future flowers.  It will be very interesting to see how it progresses.  There will likely not be anything similar in the whole world to your project.  Please do document your story and take hundreds and hundreds of photos in the following years.
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you so much for all your encouragement, Michelle! I will definitely document this project and post again when I have the first guild plan.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1078
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
71
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Susanna.  I'm pasting your quote here from the Breaking Hugul rules... thread.
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!!


I think that planting trees on mounds is not the best idea, mostly because of settling.  Most people will want to get trees into the system right away, and I would never advise that on mounds.  If you let the ground settle it will, over time, and depending on the materials make great planting ground.  Your shale strata might settle faster, or it might have a lot of air trapped in it's angular shapes... I don't know.  Like with most things in permaculture, a little bit of time makes a huge difference on many things, and will definitely help your situation. 

I would consider walking through your forest, and mapping it out for it's lowest and highest areas.  Go to the lowest areas and create some pond forms, digging downwards.  If practicable, bring that material to the higher area, filling in holes and at the same time ditching towards your low area/ponds, so that the high area drains a bit.  The more you do this, the more you create dry ground for your trees on the high area.  You could do this on the smaller scale for single trees or small groupings (like three to five trees).  It depends on how much you want to alter the landscape/forest, and what value you place on the existing ecosystem.  I generally consider keeping as much of existing ecosystems in place as much as possible, but there are always compromises in every design.  Not that I have tons of experience in that regard, just in my mind and my observations.  I'm just now, finally, starting my first PDC, but my mind has been grooving with permaculture for a long time. 

One other thing to consider is that many tree species do not like to have wet feet (roots), and although they might do well in the short term, while young, might not last as long as on drier ground, either rotting at the bottom and falling over, or succumbing to disease due to increased moisture (fungi... etc).  Some trees will be alright with the moisture, and choosing these species will be best practice when designing your forest.  Pears, from what I understand, are better than apples in this regard, but... the wild pacific crab apple where I grew up is also very much a moist ground lover.  Wild cherries in my area seem to be fine in fairly moist forests, though I've never seen one right in the swamp.  

Anyway, since pears, hawthorns, and other trees can actually do well in wet areas, you might start by planting these in some areas that you develop early on, with less mound material, and as the other higher mounds have more time to settle, plant them with other species that might prefer a little less water.  It might be a good idea to plant a lot of sacrificial alders to fix nitrogen right away while the mounds are settling (helping to settle them and fill in voids with their roots), and then, plant more alders later with your other trees at a later time.   Just thoughts.  I did read all your thread when you posted it, and thought that Michelle had a lot of good advice, and didn't pipe in.   Please forgive that, and best of luck.     The project sounds really cool.
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Robert.
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply! No apology needed... Michelle's advice was great too.

In reflecting on your post, I'm thinking I'm going to start in the highest, driest areas closer to the house & between the new roads. This year I'm probably just going to plant 1 or 2 guilds and then focus my efforts on building up some areas that I can leave to settle for planting in later years.

The alders are a great idea! I hadn't even thought of that, as there's SO much alder here that our focus has been getting it out not putting it in.

There may be some low places that I can deepen a bit, but I'm really in love with the mossy wet areas and so I won't mess with them too much.

After reading both yours and Michelle's posts, I find myself really leaning toward using the soil depth I do have on the other side of the house for the trees that need it - whether they're in the main "forest" or not - and really making good use of the conditions I have out back with the acid & moisture lovers.

And thank you for the tip about the pears! I didn't know they could handle that. Our neighbor has one that does well here.
I'll keep you posted. = >
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1078
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
71
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Some varieties of pears will likely do better than others.

Concentrating on your plantings near your house is always a good idea, as you get the zone one/more attention involved in getting them established as trees, as guilds, and for other production purposes. 
 
Laura Sweany
Posts: 274
Location: Onalaska, Lewis County, WA
1
food preservation forest garden tiny house
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Another thing you could try is to plant swamp crab apples in the sunnier spots, and plan to topwork them after they have gotten established. Their root zones will tolerate your wet ground much better then many other kinds of apple rootstock. If you spread lots of chips around the mound that includes the apple, you can create guilds with Jostaberry, currant, gooseberry, white alpine strawberry - hell, even arctic kiwi could work in your area. The apples will "lift their skirts" and establish many feeder roots in the woodchips to get themselves above your high water table. Then you can graft whatever scion varieties you prefer to your crab apple "roots". Zone 6 is fair game for most apples, pears, medlar, some persimmon, hazelnut, cornelian cherry, etc. Check out the less-than-standard edible trees at Burnt Ridge Nursery (I work there, for full disclosure). They can't send into Canada, but you can get ideas of zones for some of these unusual perennials. Mildly raised beds can work really well!
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yes, keeping the early plantings close to zone 1 will also help me to see if the deer are coming in that close. (They generally don't, but the lovely new grassed areas around the sculptures may be drawing them in!)

Thank you Laura! I've never heard of swamp crab apples and I will definitely check them out along with the resource you mentioned.

I had been hoping to discover some trees that might do just what these crabapples will do with their roots.

I'm a total beginner when it comes to grafting though....you mentioned hazelnuts in your scion list...can they actually be grafted onto a crabapple?
 
Laura Sweany
Posts: 274
Location: Onalaska, Lewis County, WA
1
food preservation forest garden tiny house
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So sorry to be unclear - apples are the ones that can be grafted to the crabapple rootstock, and the rest of the list would be on their own roots. Hazelnuts can be very forgiving of wet soils. Mayhaws are crabapple cousins and grow in swamps! I think they'd be adaptable to Zone 6. Also things like serviceberry (amalanchier alnifolia), haskap (Lonicera caerulea), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) would do well in your 1/2 sun areas. So a combination of raised beds (hugels) and improved "islands" of higher soils for guilds seems to be the way to go. Another fun food forest technique for wet areas is to dig out the topsoil from the areas for your paths, and use this topsoil to raise the level of your "islands" (or use it to cover your hugels). Then fill the low path areas with woodchips. This allows the water to collect in the lower areas, and keep the higher areas drained, but still be able to use the wet spots for pathways.
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for clarifying Laura.

You've just added a bunch more species to my list that I didn't know could handle wet conditions! I'm working this winter on some guild designs, so this is great timing!!

I've also realized that just because I need to steer away from putting trees in hugels, it doesn't mean I can't still build some with all the felled wood I've got back there. Then I can cover them & use them for short term plantings while they break down. Then after they've settled, plant the resulting soil with more permanent shrubs and  herbaceous perennials down the road.
 
Laura Sweany
Posts: 274
Location: Onalaska, Lewis County, WA
1
food preservation forest garden tiny house
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You can certainly plant your herbaceous perennials and bushes in the hugels, too - they are not supporting upright woody loads like trees are, so when hugels shift, their roots can handle it.
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Cool!
So, I don't even need to wait for hugels to fully breakdown before planting smaller, permanent items.

I had been wondering whether small shrubs could handle the shifting and settling in their root systems. That's great news!

 
Laura Sweany
Posts: 274
Location: Onalaska, Lewis County, WA
1
food preservation forest garden tiny house
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Naw, don't wait at all. I always plant right into the hugels as I make them. I either use a soaker hose on top for the first few years, or plan to hand water. I've enjoyed burying terra cotta pots in my hugels and then simply watering into the pots - keeps the water from running down the slopes.
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
How high do you generally build your hugels Laura?

I'm thinking you have pretty similar rainfall amounts to us in Seattle. We get ~60" annually in this part of Nova Scotia, spread across the year.

The woody bottom layers should stay pretty wet. But how often do you find you need to hand water the top? (in an average summer, for example)

And do the shrubs get established fairly quickly, getting roots down into the wet layers, or does it take a while?

And the Terra Cotta pots are a great idea!
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've been thinking about guild plants today and I've realized that I need to think about this area as a food forest in miniature.

Our stunning lack of soil depth kind of makes this food forest almost like a bonsai version of a full sized one!

This is helping me to visualize it and choose less towering overstory trees and understory shrubs that will better suit this landscape.
 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 113
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
3
dog duck hugelkultur
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Susanna, it sounds like you have a big project in front of you! While we are in different climates, I also am in a wet conifer region and the native peoples of NW and NE had some analogous approaches to life in these places. I encourage you to check out a thread I started "for the love of conifers:"
https://permies.com/t/61173/love-conifers
In brief, the wood chipper will still be useful but burying and mulching with whole pieces of wood have far greater value and less cost in work, fuel and repairs. For the fungi and plant roots, coming upon a downed tree in the soil is like a pioneer finding an ancient city with all its roads and infrastructure still largely usable. Using wood chips is analogous to taking all the roads and buildings and pulverizing them for fill. The vasculature of a tree is nature's best large scale water and nutrient distribution structure. Moreover, as conifers grow all year long they are pumping energy into the soil and slowing rain fall, distributing it slowly and beneficially to fungi and soil organisms. I guess what I am largely saying is to remember you are blessed to have conifers and they can make a wonderful palette to landscape with.
 
Susanna Pitussi
Posts: 29
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
forest garden goat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Ben. Thank you so much for posting here! And for redirecting me to your other thread.

That's a very fascinating analogy with the city and its roads intact. I will keep that in mind and plan to use a lot more whole wood pieces as I build soil than I might have before.

And the statistics about conifer biomass vs tropical forest were stunning! As well as feeding the fungi year round and doling out rainwater over time.

We're very aware on our property that the only soil we have is directly due to fallen trees and moss. I had never heard the term "nurse logs" before! That absolutely makes sense for where and how we see things growing here.

We're very blessed indeed! Thanks for opening my eyes to how much!
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!