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Low impact land clearing

 
                                
Posts: 15
Location: Inland North Atlantic
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We have acquired a forty acre parcel of de-forested land. The big trees were taken off five to seven years ago, according to local knowledge. First generation forest has taken root; trees such as hawthorn, scrub maple, sumach, spruce, etc. Nothing insurmountable.

We would like to begin growing blueberries, Marcel Foch grape canes, and establish a hop yard - and with time expand the area so we may grow six row and two row barley and a bit of winter wheat.

The common way of dealing with land conversation around these parts is to bring in an excavator with an attached mulcher implement. That's at a thousand dollars an acre razed to five inches below surface. A more economical method is to use a root puller fork on the front of a tractor and let the upturned stumps weather a year in winnow rows. This allows rain to wash off the soil before burning the exposed wood. The charcoal would then be turned back into the soil. Both options are expensive and intense.

I'm in need of suggestions for low impact land clearing. It's of no matter how zany main stream society may think it is. I'm open to anything you've got. Often I've found that what sounds crazy in conversation works a treat in practice, so please good people, throw me a rope here if you can! Thanks a bunch.
 
                    
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How are the blueberries going to be harvested? If you  are going to mechanize the harvest, then starting with a 'blank slate' might be the only option. If the harvest will be by hand, there is a lot more room to work around the old stumps. Same is true of hops and grape vines - the vineyard can be laid out around the stumps, maybe a few stumps would need to be ground down to allow carts to pass in the rows. Barley is hard to do on stumpy land.

Mushrooms can be used to help speed up the decay of old stumps - drill a few holes and inoculate with dowel spawn, or use a liquid mycelium or spore-based oil. By choosing easy to identify edible mushrooms, you can turn the stump problem into a harvestable solution.

I tasted some nice Marechal-Foch, Léon Millot and Lucie Kuhlman products in Nova Scotia.

 
                                
Posts: 15
Location: Inland North Atlantic
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We collect the blueberries with a rake, specifically designed for blueberries. I have a hand held one now and we would get the push version once the plants are established. Thank you for your suggestion.
 
                        
Posts: 508
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I've read that stumps intended for raising mushrooms are best if fairly freshly cut ( a few weeks rather than several years)  so you might need to take a slice or two off the top of them  if you are using them for that, but what a good idea !

Do you  have access to a tractor? If so, you can use a lever system with the tractor to try to pull the roots out  - the way the pioneers used to do it, apparently, only they used oxen and horses. If you are in the Canadian Maritimes you might even be able to find someone with draft animals who would like to give it a go. For that system you need the stumps so as to have something to hook onto.

Clearing land is TOUGH and takes a long time. We used to loosen stumps as much as possible with a tractor and then put some sticks of dynamite underneath the stump  to encourage it to let go but I don't think that's an option anymore If you got the roots pulled and stacked in a hedgerow you don't need to burn them, they soon become havens for all sorts of wildlife and plants and gradually sink into a heap of vegetation. They make a great windbreak and give you a nice little microclimate at least for a few years.  Or chip them into mulch.  Or turn the windrow into hugelculture!

How big are the stumps? would it make any sense to cut them  close to the ground then cut out the heart of what's left and use it as a big planter?  If they aren't big enough, something else I've seen done is the stumps cut close to the ground, the centres mangled a bit with chainsaws and a fire lit in the middle.  Neither will do much to get the roots out of your way though.

Also, before you thought about fire in any capacity you want to make sure your land isn't peaty or you might never get it out, once started.

Pigs (some breeds root  much more than others) have been used to clear land but I doubt any of them would/could do much for tree roots the size you have.

If you want the roots up and don't want to use big machines to do it, then the best suggestion I have is to learn how the pioneers did it with oxen and get ready for some very very long  and tiring workdays with good but very slow results.  There really is something to be said for machinery in some capacities, I think:)

Good luck!
 
            
Posts: 77
Location: Northport, Wash.
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On our farm, we leave all this stuff, or just rearrange it to provide enough open ground to plant.  We cut enough growth to allow sunlight to penetrate the growing area, but leave as much growing as we can, since we try to use everything that is growing for something.
We have a few pictures of what we are doing here on our blog:
http://ournaturalfarm.blogspot.com/

But snow set in before we could get too many of what we are doing.
Instead of removing stumps, we plan on mounding brush and other woody debris around them and making hugelkulture beds out of them.
Equipment costs lots of money to buy or rent, so we work by hand whenever we can, with just our chainsaw to cut with.  We did use some heavy equipment when we first opened up our land for the areas we are building on, but have not had any back since. 
We are building a sawmill so that the wood we do cut down we can turn into lumber for our building projects.  We intend to build on of these small tow behind backhoes eventually so that we can build more extensive terraces, but that is in the future, so the ones we are building now are made from stacking brush and limbs in rows along the hillsides, and raking leaves and topsoil over that, with a little digging to create a small flat area to walk on, and to also help retain water.
Blueberries like more acid soil, if memory serves, so maybe just planting around the stumps of evergreen will give them a boost, if they are made into hugelkulture beds, plant blueberries by them and other produce on the beds.
Of course, this may not work if you plan more mechanical means of harvesting.
 
Posts: 111
Location: Midwest zone 6
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One way to uproot stumps is to get a couple of >200lb hogs.  Dig a hole next to the stump and fill it with fermented corn or other good treats.  The hogs will dig out the stump for you.
 
Posts: 1113
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Over ten years ago we cleared about 20 acres and about a year ago we cleared another 40 acres or so. We did it by flush cutting the trees - stumps low to the ground. We then left the stumps in, fenced and are grazing livestock (sheep, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks). We frost seeded and rain seeded - just scattering the seed on the ground. Works great.

These animals co-graze well, they turn it into lush pastures. We left clumps of trees as well as apple and nut trees for food. We're on the side of the mountain so cultivation is not the objective and thus pulling out the stumps is a waste of time as well as the fact that it would disturb the soil. By leaving the stumps in the rotted away dumping their nutrients into the soil.

See:

http://flashweb.com/blog/2009/08/field-clearing-grapple-skidder.html

http://flashweb.com/blog/2010/09/frost-seeding.html

http://flashweb.com/blog/2010/10/sow-on-new-pasture.html

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
Posts: 21
Location: Citra Florida
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My plan is to clear surface rocks by hand and make everything safe for a bush hog, any stumps big enough I planned on inoculating with some local termite infested fallen logs as mulch to speed up decomposition.
 
Posts: 135
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Fencing it and overgrazing with pigs will take out everything but the stumps.

Blueberries require very low pH soil.  Spreading sulfur can drop the pH,but you will have to repeat it.  This will also knock out the weed competition, as few weeds will tolerate pH 4.5 that blueberries love.

If you've got rocks now, you will have rocks foever.  The frost will heave up a new crop every few years.
 
Posts: 185
Location: Mineola, Texas
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cat dog duck fish chicken homestead
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Best suggestion I've heard is... Goats! Perhaps you can do goats and pigs.
Either way, you are "producing" with waste, and can sell the surplus.
Cut the stumps to the ground and let the rot in place for a dozen years. It will be like a minor huglekulture bed.

 
                                                                    
Posts: 114
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
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Several years ago I bought 10 acres and felt I had to manicure every bit of it.
That was a mistake.

If I had to do it over again I would just clear as I cultivate.
Stumps rot and act as a hugleculture.  The primary decomposing mycilium impart nutrients to the soil.  It is buried wood with no effort.

So I would just hack away as you need sunlight and plant in between the stumps.  In a few years they will rot and you will have transformed the land with minimal effort and maximum effectiveness. 

You can also leave tall stumps like 8 - 10 feet to tie up trees, vines etc.

Permaculture requires no machines.
That is why it is so revolutionary. 
Perhaps a saw and pruners but not much more.

 
steward
Posts: 7926
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Those 8-10 foot stumps also can be utilized as temporary fence posts until your hedgerows mature.
 
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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As Richard Hastings says: goats.
They wont do much for the trees, but they will clear the land to give you easier access with a chainsaw.
For the age you state, some of the trunks of the trees would be sized right for use as fence posts. (John Polk beat me to the idea, but it's worthy.
Trunks and branches cut down can be reserved for hugelkulture use.
Is coppicing an option?
Hawthorn fruit are edible.
Consider leaving some of the growth untouched to serve as hedgerows.  An area this size would benefit from keeping some of the natural ecosystem in place-keeps beneficial insects around.
For the blueberry field, slash and burn is effective.  The berries will make good use of the potash.  In a section heavy with spruce,  the soil would be more acid from the needles, giving the berries an edge.  Also, section of land that are not flat may be better for hand raking the berries.  Save the flat land for the barley.  Leaving the stumps in place offers a small obstacle for the berry rakes that can be avoided if the stumps are either flat to the ground or left high.  High stumps also offer a seat when its time to take a breather.
 
Posts: 18
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You did not mention if the land was hilly or flat. The way to clear is based on how the land lays. If it is flat the trees will grow better in the best soil and not so much in the poorer soil. If hilly the bottoms are better. It will give you a head start to improve if you start with the better ground. I agree on hugelkultur you will have valuable beds that start early and stay late what could be better than that. The rocks were put there by God to give you stuff to build happy places with enjoy them and show us what you construct with them.
 
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