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creating a more useful transitional area  RSS feed

 
Peggy Marko
Posts: 11
Location: New Hampshire, zone 5
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This winter I am clearing out a area (about 60 x 150 feet) on a south facing wooded hillside, at the border of our lawn.  Basically taking out saplings and trees of grammar school age.  There are a few teenage to adult trees that will be left - beech, birch and white pine.  That's all I have time and money for this year.  Rest of growing season will be attending to a perennial veggie bed elsewhere.  Is there anything I can plant or do to start prepping the soil on the hillside?  Eventually will take down the big trees and plan to plant berries, herbs and shrubbery with food and medicinal value on the hill.  Blueberries already have a foot-hold.  Favoring a no-till way of doing things if possible.   Zone 5.
 
Tom Rodgers
Posts: 15
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Interesting idea. I have a westerly facing transition area you have drawn my attention to now, and I hope for a reply as well. I liked the description of tree ages btw. Very clear to me.
 
Kevin Goheen
Posts: 21
Location: Western Kentucky - Zone 7
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White pines are trashy and break easily. If you want pines grow loblollies, scotch, or stone pines. As far as soil development plant black locusts to fix nitrogen or red clover for open areas.
 
Glenn Herbert
gardener
Posts: 2127
Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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Maybe white pines grow differently in different climates. In the northeast, they are the biggest, most useful pine species. They are susceptible to a borer that kills off leaders in open-grown trees, so that solitary white pines always have multiple or crooked trunks (called cabbage pine around here), but trees grown in a forest still make tall, straight timber.

Scotch pine here tends to be scraggly and smaller. Red pine grows well, but is not as valuable - a 55-60 year old plantation started by my father has been assessed as only saleable for pulp.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2286
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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keep in mind that black locust will be almost impossible to get rid of if you plant them.

I use a mix of clovers, seventop turnip, rape, daikon radish, buckwheat, alfalfa and side oats for cover cropping a freshly disturbed area I won't get to until the next year.

My mix works great for soil loosening, humus injection and nitrogen addition when used as a chop and drop crop, it also makes good pasture.

Sugar pines are good for getting a pine nut crop from as are loblolly pine. These also acidify the soil and thus make good companions for blue berries, service berries, black berries, etc.
 
Marco Banks
Posts: 492
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I like the idea of gradual transition from a forested slope to a managed food forest.  Selectively taking out trees a few at a time, and replacing them with species that you select could be a multi-year project, but one that continues to maintain the structural integrity of the hillside (against erosion) and continues to capture energy and build soil.

As you remove selected trees, pile that bio-mass up below the trees you intend to keep.  In that way, you make a kind of terrace that will capture leaves and other organic material, and create a habitat for soil biota.  Western or Southern facing hillsides absorb much more sunlight and heat than a flat surface.  They warm up earlier in the spring and maintain a longer growing season into the fall.  So by piling-up old tree trunks and branches below the trees you mitigate some of that solar irradiation that would be baking the soil on the sunny side of the tree, and you keep that soil moist and cool far longer into the growing season.  Eventually, you'll have a rotting brush pile below every one of the trees you intend to keep.  All that fertility will SLOWLY cascade down the hillside in the years to come.

Above the trees you intend to keep (or the new ones you plant) if you dig a small swale, you will capture moisture and move it into the soil profile right where the tree needs it.  Permaculturalists talk of creating a "lens" of water that infiltrates into the soil at the swale and then spreads out throughout the tree's root zone as its pulled by gravity down the hillside and through the soil profile.  If you need to provide additional water to the trees as they are established, you simply run the hose over and fill up the swale.  That puts the water right where its needed—a couple of feet above the tree.  In the years to come, the swale will slowly fill with organic matter that rots down, and like the mulch pile below the tree, it will cascade that fertility down the hillside, first to the tree immediately below, and then down to the rest of the forest below.

You didn't provide many details about the steepness of the slope or what shape the soil is in, but these two techniques (brush piles below your trees and swales above them) generally work regardless of the gradient or climate.  Its always about building soil, capturing water, and capturing energy (sunlight).

Finally, as you open the canopy and more sunlight can get through to the ground below, you can plant vining crops, cover crops, herbaceous perennials (you mentioned blue berries) and other food crops in the newly created gaps and spaces.  Think of it as creating micro-beds.  I do this all the time on my hillside.  I'll get a couple of big branches or a tree trunk, pile them up and make a small terrace, and then plant in the little fish-scale bed I created.  I just did that last weekend, transplanting a couple of pups from an artichoke.  Its not a big space, but there is full sunlight that makes it through to the ground right there for about 10 hours a day.  Up until last week, that was wasted energy.  Now its a fertile little spot.  Two more mature artichoke plants will give me upwards of 75 or 100 more artichokes a season (in addition to the 5 or so plants we've already got growing elsewhere)—way more than we can use, but friends and family always loves getting a big bag of 10 big artichokes as a gift

I do this regularly, and then plant stuff like goji berries, moringa (which I keep short so that I can easily harvest it), rhubarb (ignore it and it seems to do just fine), and the ever invasive sweet potato (which now just comes up wherever it wants on the hillside).  The key is keeping all that biomass on the hillside and letting it slowly decompose around your micro-beds.  Papaya, pumpkins, gourds, and even tomatoes are also good choices to drop into those little sunny spaces within the forest.  Cherry tomatoes self-seed and will continue to come up for years.  Papaya are easy to chop and drop after a year or two.  Pumpkins and gourds just look cool as they sit out there as summer turns to fall. 

If you made it a goal to create one little bed like that every weekend, in 2 years you'd be amazed with how much additional productivity you are getting off that hillside.  Next weekend, cut down another couple of junk weed trees, lay that mulch down to form a bed, shape it and plant something new in that space, and walk away. 

Once you've got your hillside appropriately thinned and the food forest integrated within (apples, figs, cherries, avocados, whatever), its not too difficult to maintain.  Cover crop it with a nitrogen fixing cover crop mix in spring or fall (or both).  Continue to keep every last leaf of biomass on the property.  Have any men in your life pee in your swales to keep that nitrogen in the system and feed the trees (you may need to create some sort of moveable screen to facilitate this).

Inch by inch, life's a synch.  Do it a bit at a time.  Best of luck.
 
Peggy Marko
Posts: 11
Location: New Hampshire, zone 5
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Wow, thanks for the great ideas.  This week we've had an unusually warm weather that melted 2+ feet of snow right down to the ground.   So I have been able to cut more and begin implementing your ideas.  I made a couple of brush piles over a base of old pine "dinosaur bones" which have been laying on the ground and rotting for better than 16 years - lots of nice mycelium growing around them - and will target the small trees uphill of the pile next.  Love the idea of making little beds one at a time to make this overwhelming project much more manageable.  And to even out some pathways to be able to wander around there in our golden years.  The soil is typical of New England forest in the Granite State -  rocky, rooty, and a bear to dig into, so I'd much rather build bed and let the plant roots do their own digging down in to the native soil.  Hoping the terracing will allow for more moisture loving plants like elder, serviceberry, witch hazel and fruit trees.  But for now, will transplant herbs and covers.

Would also like to try some of Ju-Young Cho's ideas for mycelium farming, has anyone played with that?   Also hope to use some of the downed saplings to grow mushrooms.  There's a nice hemlock tree that I haven't the heart to take down after watching all the hemlocks sicken and die in CT from the wooly adelgid.  She will shade my mushrooms.



 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Oh Marco, what a wonderful explanation. I don't have near that amount of space but what you have said is similar to what I have been doing. I build little beds with anything from twigs to branches to tree trunks. I plant on the outside edge of the bed. Inside the bed I toss anything and everything, including kitchen scraps. People ask me where my compost bins are and I point to my twig beds all over the yard.
 
Marco Banks
Posts: 492
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Susan Taylor Brown wrote:Oh Marco, what a wonderful explanation. I don't have near that amount of space but what you have said is similar to what I have been doing. I build little beds with anything from twigs to branches to tree trunks. I plant on the outside edge of the bed. Inside the bed I toss anything and everything, including kitchen scraps. People ask me where my compost bins are and I point to my twig beds all over the yard.



Its amazing how productive small beds can be.  I love the thought of all that carbon that you're dropping goes right back into the soil fertility web.  Well-fed worms makes a garden happy.

Looking at this another way, imagine sunlight as a precious commodity, in the same way we look at water.  When it rains, we want to capture every drop.  We build swales, we mulch heavily, we do whatever we can to capture it and store it in the soil for the dry months to come.

Same with sunlight.  If it's just hitting bare soil, it's wasted.  Can we capture "every drop"?  So little beds tucked into sunny spots throughout the system are a way of capturing and storing that energy.  Using branches and mulch piles to frame these beds not only looks good but it maximizes fertility and water retention.  And old rotting log on the downhill side of the bed serves a multitude of functions—worm nursery, humus factory, soil retention barrier/terrace, water capturer and infiltrator, and a place to sit when you get tired.  The plants that spring forth from these pocket beds then capture that precious sunlight and pump root exudates down into the soil, feeding the fungi and soil microbes.

Working at it a little bit at a time isn't so overwhelming.  One little bed this weekend, another one next.  In 2 or 3 years, the whole hillside will be covered with these small, fertile and productive beds, while you've selectively taken out those trees that add no value.
 
David Irby
Posts: 16
Location: Locust Grove, VA
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Marco - I am definitely going to give this idea a try.  I have quite a few fruit trees already planted on a north facing slope and have been regretting that I cannot establish swales without tearing them out.  The mini swales upslope is an excellent idea and I am confident that it will help the trees get through the dry periods we generally have here in the summer.  Would you happen to have any pictures you could share to go along with your excellent written desciptions?

Thanks,
Dave
 
Maureen Atsali
Posts: 328
Location: Western Kenya
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Really good stuff in this thread.

I am so happy to hear people advocating doing things slowly, a little at a time.  I am disabled, and that's how I do everything!  I always tell myself, "whatever I get done today, is more than yesterday"

I hope you will post pictures of your hillside project.  I LOVE to watch the transformation process, it never ceases to inspire me.

A quick question about the downhill brush piles.  What keeps them from sliding down the hill?  My hills are steep and my rains are torrential.   I have resorted to creating a brush pile/dead hedge at the bottom of the hill, since it all ends up there.  When I have time I want to try making some brush berms on contour to slow the deluge, but I will have to drive some stakes or something to hold the brush in place.
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Maureen, I pile rocks behind my brush piles on slopes. It helps.
 
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