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Which plants to grow in the forest understory?  RSS feed

 
Colin McGee
Posts: 35
Location: Media, PA
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Hello All!

I have the opportunity to farm about 10 acres of forested land in SE Pennsylvania. The trees are mostly deciduous hardwood, and the condition is that the land is not to be cleared. Rather, I will be growing crops that are happy beneath a forest canopy.

I'm thinking of ramps in the short term, as well as mushrooms. For longer term crops, ginseng (this land is well off the beaten path), black cohosh, bloodroot come to mind. I need to earn a living off this land if at all possible so although the long-term crops will produce good returns in time, I need other crops that will pay the rent until they are at harvest stage.

Any suggestions as to which plants will work? I have slopes facing in all directions, canopy cover varies from 60% to 95%.

Thanks in advance!
 
Galen Young
Posts: 46
Location: out in the woods of Maine
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There are five species of squashes. If you select one variety of each species, then you can grow them and never experience any hybrids. Establishing volunteer colonies of squashes should be sustainable. Make sure you have no other squashes growing within a 1/2 mile radius.

Squash: within the genus of 'Cucurbita' there are 5 species of squash that are commonly used for food.

Gardening multiple varieties of a species of squash near each other will normally result in useless hybrid seeds. If you grow squashes [squishes?] of different species next to each other and save your seed, then those seed should remain true for the next year's crop.

With that in mind a quick review of squash species is in order.

Cucurbita argyrosperma [mixta] - cushaw pumpkin, Japanese pie pumpkin, or pipian

Cucurbita ficifolia - Siam pumpkin, Thai marrow, Thin Vermicelli pumpkin, Asian pumpkin, fig-leaf gourd, pie melon, or
Malabar squash

Cucurbita maxima - Arikara squash, banana squash, Boston marrow, buttercup squash, hubbard squash,
Jarrahdale pumpkin, Kabocha, Lakota squash, Turk's / French turban, and some varieties of gigantic pumpkins.

Cucurbita moschata - Butternut squash, Calabaza pumpkin, Dickinson field /Libbys pumpkin,
Giromon, Kentucky field pumpkin, Long Island cheese pumpkin, Long of Naples squash, Neck pumpkin,
Seminole pumpkin, and Tromboncino.

Cucurbita pepo - Acorn squash, Cocozzelle, Crookneck, Delicata squash, Dodi marrow, Gem squash,
Heart of gold squash, Pattypan squash, Some types of Pumpkin, Scallop, Spaghetti squash, Straightneck,
Sweet dumpling squash, Yellow crookneck squash, Yellow summer squash, and Zucchini.

For sustainable gardening with the intent of saving seed, you can safely grow one variety of each species of squash.  In this manner most of your seed should be true to species and provide you with the next year's seed.
 
Colin McGee
Posts: 35
Location: Media, PA
books cat food preservation
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Thanks Galen. However, I'm talking about growing in quite dense shade. I've grown various kinds of squash in the past, but they have always been in full sun. Are they happy growing in the shade?
 
Galen Young
Posts: 46
Location: out in the woods of Maine
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My land is dense forest. I am still learning what will grow here.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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My climate here on the other coast is rather different than yours, so hopefully someone with more experience in your area will chime in.

But, in my neck of the woods, I have red elderberry, thimblerry, salmonberry, red huckleberry, trailing blackberry, strawberries, bunchberry (of the dogwood family), violets and nettles (nettles are edible AND delicious) growing under my forest canopy. Serviceberry also grows in part shade. You might also be able to grow ginger and maaaaaybe pawpaws (they supposedly like to start out part shade and then have more sun as they age) and hostas (edible and supposedly young shoots taste like asparagus, though I haven't tried them yet).

Ferns might also be sold to florists, if you have ferns in your woodland and your local florists want them.

I hope that helps!
 
Colin McGee
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Location: Media, PA
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Thanks!
 
Walt Chase
Posts: 75
Location: ALASKA
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I have a bit of experience with ginseng.  In my estimation it will be difficult to make a living on 10 acres growing medicinal herbs such as ginseng.  There could possibly be good money in it, but the return on investment is a long time coming.  Growing ginseng in the forest to simulate wild grown would take 8-10 years at least. Cultivated woods grown would be less time, but a lower return on your investment.  You would need north, or at the least an east facing slope.  It likes about 75-80% shade and cooler is better than warmer along with moist rather than dry.  I don't want to discourage you as it is a fascinating plant to grow.  Read up on it and make your own decision as to whether it would work for you.

I knew one gentleman that planted about a half or one acre under his White pine "tree farm" (Had reclaimed a pasture to row planted white pine about 25-30 earlier). He planted between rows of trees, planted two rows the first year and then kept planting a row or two each year and had a harvest each year after the first was ready to dig.  His was termed "forest cultivated".  It was planted densely and was sprayed as needed for disease.  At five years old I could tell it from true wild ginseng as it had grown faster, but was really nice ginseng root.  He made good money off it once it began producing.
 
Sandy Hale
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Location: Just off the Delaware Bay in NJ. Zone 7b
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Morels would be a big seller.  Wineberies are rampant in your area, and there may be a market for locally grown jams, jellies and syrups.  The berries are a beautiful red color.  They freeze really well.  Garlic Mustard is an invasive green that cooks up nicely.  I used to give it to a friend who sold it baked in quiches.  If you have been invaded by Japanese Knotweed, harvest those shoots in early spring.  I really miss foraging in the eastern PA woods.
 
John Elliott
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Blueberries!  They need a good bit of shade, you can harvest them over a fairly long season, and they fetch a good price.
 
Colin McGee
Posts: 35
Location: Media, PA
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Thanks all. Yes, Blueberries - and especially if I have pine forests to acidify the soil for them!

Sandy, yes, I've been thinking of a variety of mushrooms. Aside from those that will self-spore, there are a lot of felled hardwoods which would be ideal for inoculation. And absolutely to Japanese Knotweed. Aside from culinary uses, this plant is widely used now as part of a herbal regimen to help with Lyme disease, so there are a lot of places to use that.

Walt, yes, understood. This is why I'm looking for things to grow that I can harvest on a shorter time frame, to keep the rent paid while I wait for the Ginseng (and others - Goldenseal, for one) to come to adult, harvestable stage.
 
Wes Hunter
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Location: Missouri Ozarks
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We've got a pawpaw patch that grows in thick shade, though it hasn't fruited in four or five years.

Wild blackcap raspberries grow all over in my woodlot.  They aren't nearly as productive as cultivated raspberries, though I don't know if it's because they are wild instead of cultivated, because they get little sunshine, because they grow in large patches rather than more spaced, or some combination thereof.  In any case, they do produce delicious berries.

Gooseberries also grow all over our woodlot, though the ones growing on the edge are far more productive than the ones growing further in, to the point that the ones growing anywhere but the edge are hardly worth picking.  But perhaps there is a cultivated variety that produces better in nearly all shade?

Elderberries seem to grow well in the woods, but again don't seem all that productive.

Black walnuts will still be productive in a thick woodlot.

I've got at least one sapling feral peach growing somewhat near the woods edge.  Still waiting to see if it'll produce, though it has flowered the past two years.
 
Have you seen Paul's rant on CFLs?
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