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Black locust in a food forest?

 
                                      
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Location: Eastern Shore of Virginia
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I've read all the black locust threads here, and plenty of people have an love black locust.  I need to know, though, if anyone has included it in a food forest design? 

I'm designing a 2 acre food forest.

I want a nitrogen fixing overstory tree on the north and northwest border of the plot that I can coppice for firewood and fence posts, but I am very concerned about planting something that I will continually need to weed out to prevent it from taking over and dominating the food forest.  Should I look at alder instead to fill that niche? 

What about shipmast black locust?  I know it has a more upright form, is it also less invasive? 

-  Catherine
 
tel jetson
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I have a fair amount of black locust in my young-ish forest garden.  whether or not you choose to grow it should probably depend on the management approach you'll be taking.

I don't mind the little bit of extra attention that some of the really useful but potentially aggressive plants require, because I spend a lot of time in my garden so I see any problems before they become a big job to deal with.  I spend a few hours every year harvesting firewood and leaves for the goats from our black locusts, and a few more minutes trying to pleach a few of them into a living structure.

seedlings can be a problem, but that hasn't been a problem for us.  root suckers have only shown up when I cut one down, which is why I cut it down.  I haven't tried it, but pollarding instead of cutting down to the ground might lead to fewer root suckers.  chickens or other poultry fenced into the area would prevent the seedling problem by eating the seeds.  goats would take care of suckers in relatively short order.

if you're shooting for that holy grail of a garden that maintains itself entirely without your help (which would certainly be nice), you'll probably want to avoid the black locust.  there isn't an alder that will make a decent fence post, though.
 
                                    
Posts: 147
Location: Anoka Sand Plain, MN Zone 4/5, Sunset Zone 43
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i was thinking about posting similar question.  hopefully people will chime in on this thread.

i have 1+acres and our garden has pines to the north w/a small ditch past the pines that is on our property line & floods in the spring.  i want to plant trees between the garden and the pine and I am thinking of doing a mix of oak and an n-fixer.  i suppose the n-fixer could be a shrub as well.  i don't think black locust would spread by sucker into the neighbor's, but I'd be a little concerned about the seeds spreading. 

i've read at Oikos grafted Honey Locust is somewhat sterile, but I don't know if that'd be a great option.  i might just get more Goumi and put them under the Oaks or i could do alder w/the oaks.
 
tel jetson
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an acre is a substantial piece of ground.  I might be reluctant to choose a locust for a smaller garden, but you've both got relatively large gardens to work with.

goumi and quite a few of the other Elaeagnaceae are very handy plants.  they can provide a lot of what the larger locusts do, plus the significant addition of delicious and nutritious fruit.  but fence posts they are not.
 
Brian Bales
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I might be more inclined to put honey locust in a food forest. On a similar note has anyone tried using locusts as a living fence?
 
duane hennon
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on my property i have black locust and autumn olive growing everywhere. i cut them back in places where i want to start a garden bed. i heavily mulch the bed using the cuttings and plant understory plants in and around the established n-fixers. they also can provide support for vines, ie, kiwi and grapes
 
tel jetson
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PapaBear wrote:
I might be more inclined to put honey locust in a food forest. On a similar note has anyone tried using locusts as a living fence?


I'm trying out honey locust, but I'm not counting on it.  it will easily survive here, but I've heard from others that it is unlikely to fruit where I'm at.  so that's something to think about.

fence: sort of.  I built a temporary retaining wall out of black locust stakes.  some of them sprouted.  we'll see.  I think it could work, but in most situations would require a fair amount of maintenance as black locusts can grow very large.
 
Paul Cereghino
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I'd compare to chestnut coppice as an alternative for post production.

I have seen Gleditsia triocanthos (honey locust) with pretty severe infestation of blister aphid in Olympia and Seattle.  Don't know if improved soil would improve or aggrevate the problem.
 
                            
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Location: Central Missouri
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I bought three acres last summer, with a one-acre wood lot containing mostly Osage Orange (I've been corrected by the locals, "We call it Hedge" and Black Locust. I cleaned out the dead/down trees for firewood last fall.  Assuming the trees were all damaged by the same ice storm, i.e. dead for the same amount of time, the hedge logs were in perfect shape, but many of the Locust were getting punky.  I've read Locust are good for fence posts, but after seeing what I saw, I will shy away from the Locust for ground contact.

I would love to get some Chestnut in the mix...
 
tel jetson
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S2man wrote:
I've read Locust are good for fence posts, but after seeing what I saw, I will shy away from the Locust for ground contact.


I read someplace that only black locusts grown in a swamp really last as fence posts.  I don't know if that's true.  it's only been a few years, but the black locust I have used is holding up just fine, and wasn't grown in a swamp.

chestnut: great trees.  since it's reliably straight and strong, I think I would use chestnut for building and find something else for fence posts.  higher use, you know?  but if there's enough around, I guess chestnut would make fine fence posts.
 
ronie dee
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S2man wrote:
I bought three acres last summer, with a one-acre wood lot containing mostly Osage Orange (I've been corrected by the locals, "We call it Hedge" and Black Locust. I cleaned out the dead/down trees for firewood last fall.  Assuming the trees were all damaged by the same ice storm, i.e. dead for the same amount of time, the hedge logs were in perfect shape, but many of the Locust were getting punky.  I've read Locust are good for fence posts, but after seeing what I saw, I will shy away from the Locust for ground contact.

I would love to get some Chestnut in the mix...



As you are aware the Osage Orange has a 'Hedge Ball' as fruit...so the locals have never heard of the Osage Orange name i guess.

I'm not sure what 'punky' means exactly, but be sure you are not mixing up Honey Locust and Black Locust...I have ran into plenty of folks who have it backwards and there is no amount of convincing them that they have been told wrong. Also there are Locust Borer bugs that attack come locust trees, but i have never had any bugs or fungi attack my Black Locusts ever. (All kindza bugs infest Honey Locusts.)

University of West Virgina tests show Black Locust as equal to Osage Orange (Hedge)
in years as a fence post without treatment.. Both have 15+ years usage as untreated fence posts. I know that they will last much longer than 15 years so don't yell at me - it's the universities stats. (I'm guessing that under the harshest soil conditions, maybe the posts only last 15 years.)

The university studies show that Black Locust is the strongest wood - (strongest wood they tested) even holding more weight than oak.  From my own tests, I believe that they tested it on its side parallel to the grain (laying it down and putting heavy weight on it) as it splits easily length ways (when splitting for fire wood).

None of the B.L. trees that i have tested, used, abused, split and burned have originated in a swamp. 

You all can hug all the Honey Locust trees that you want. I'll be hugging the Black Locust......and if you cut the B.L. down, I won't care, as long as you give the log to me.
 
Travis Philp
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Willowdale; I'm not sure about black locust specifically but I recall reading somewhere that most nitrogen fixing woody plants need full sun to fix significant amount of nitrogen. Can anyone else attest to this? Just wanted to mention that since you were thinking of planting them on the shady sides of your garden. I guess maybe by the time they get shaded out, your forest garden might not need them for their fertility anymore. (depending how long that takes)
 
                                      
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Location: Eastern Shore of Virginia
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Travis, the BL would be the tallest thing in the food forest by a lot.  I'm planting small fruiting trees and shrubs, nothing that should grow over 20'.  And this is on land I'm taking back from cultivation, so I don't think they'll ever be troubled by shadow. 

 
                            
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Location: Central Missouri
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ronie, Yeah, I've always called them hedge apples.

By 'punky', I meant they were starting to rot.  I was also assuming the trees died at the same time.  That assumption could be all wrong, and the Locust my have been dead much longer.

I also assumed they are BL because of all of the thorns.  I've got a guide called Woody Plants in Winter.  I'll verify they are indeed BL before I stick my foot in my mouth again 
 
ronie dee
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Where I am, the Honey Locust has large thorns on the trunk and usually on the ground near the tree (2" to 7+" thorns.)

The Black Locust has a few small thorns never getting more than about an inch.

The Honey has a brownish red color of wood, and if it dies I have to burn it soon, or it will get eaten badly by insects.

The B.L. can be used for ground contact uses and will last for years without getting any insects.
 
                            
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ronie, first, I apologize for disparaging your favorite tree; That was a bad intro for a new member.  You were correct, Woody Plants in Winter says my wood lot is half Honey Locust.  My pseudo-identification was based on 30-year-old horticultural training; i.e. ornamental Honey Locust are thornless.  (where is the foot-in-mouth emoticon?  FO-: )

Second, bad news is, I've got a lot of undesirable trees to remove, and it will take some years to get my wood lot into shape. Good news is, there will be plenty of wood from the thinning 

I've got three 5-gallon buckets of Hedge apples ripening (rotting) right now.  I'll be growing seedlings and filling in the wood lot with them, along with Ash and Oak.  Perhaps someone on the Resources forum will trade me BL seeds for Hedge...
 
                                      
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Just learned my Virginia Dept of Forestry will sell me black locust seedlings at $2 each for 10.  Sweet!  But I'm really intrigued now by this Shipmast BL variety (Forest Gardens sells for $10 each), and I gather there's also a lot of variation in how thorny BL are.  Should I pay more for a better cultivar, or plop these puppies into a coppice lot?
 
gary gregory
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Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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willowdale wrote:
I've read all the black locust threads here, and plenty of people have an love black locust.  I need to know, though, if anyone has included it in a food forest design? 

I'm designing a 2 acre food forest.

I want a nitrogen fixing overstory tree on the north and northwest border of the plot that I can coppice for firewood and fence posts, but I am very concerned about planting something that I will continually need to weed out to prevent it from taking over and dominating the food forest.  Should I look at alder instead to fill that niche? 

What about shipmast black locust?  I know it has a more upright form, is it also less invasive? 

-  Catherine


I would say if alder grow well there, plant both alder and black locust.  The alder that grows in the pacific northwest is a wonderful fast growing hardwood that is great for firewood and black locust for the posts.
 
                                      
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Gary, I'm actually on the Eastern Shore of Virginia -- for some reason I can't get that to show up on my posts. 

The only alder that is native to my area is Alnus serrulata, "a 12-20 foot multi-trunk deciduous shrub."  It's good for streambank stabilization, and flood resistant.

 
ronie dee
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tel jetson wrote:
...  I spend a few hours every year harvesting firewood and leaves for the goats from our black locusts, and a few more minutes trying to pleach a few of them into a living structure.


I think about making a live structure out of Black Locust.  Years ago my country kid "gang" would build structures using 3 Black Locust trees as corner posts (it's hard to find 4 in the right position). The three +  1 tree cut and moved, made forts that would last years... I believe that my uncle tore them down or they would still be there.

What kinda thoughts or plans are you making about this 'pleach' living structure? Are you thinking of making a house or barn type structure with conventional roof or bending the trees to make a roof? Are you planting trees at certain intervals?.. Planting seeds or moving seedlings?
 
tel jetson
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willowdale wrote:
Just learned my Virginia Dept of Forestry will sell me black locust seedlings at $2 each for 10.  Sweet!  But I'm really intrigued now by this Shipmast BL variety (Forest Gardens sells for $10 each), and I gather there's also a lot of variation in how thorny BL are.  Should I pay more for a better cultivar, or plop these puppies into a coppice lot?


depends on what you want the trees for.  the shipmast won't be worth the price if you'll use the wood for fires.  if you're in need of masts for a ship, then the choice is clear.  or, if you want to make dimensional lumber out of it, the shipmast might also be the way to go.  once you've established one, you can propagate clones vegetatively from root suckers pretty easily, so you wouldn't have to buy very many or even more than one.  on the other hand, the seedlings that I've got growing relatively close together are growing very straight and tall, so the shipmast might not be worth the extra money even if you do want straight wood.

ronie wrote:
What kinda thoughts or plans are you making about this 'pleach' living structure? Are you thinking of making a house or barn type structure with conventional roof or bending the trees to make a roof? Are you planting trees at certain intervals?.. Planting seeds or moving seedlings?


I planted four seedlings in a square mostly as an experiment.  I think they're about 12 feet apart.  my plan was to make a sort of living trellis to make a shady outdoor room for summer meals in the garden.  seems to be working so far, but it'll be a few more years before it really takes shape.  there are kiwis growing up the locusts, and herbs growing underneath.  once the whole thing gets into a shape I like, I'll probably start cutting more branches and wood off of it to slow it down and use for building material, firewood, and critter food.  could be a complete disaster, though.
 
ronie dee
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tel jetson wrote:
I planted four seedlings in a square mostly as an experiment.  I think they're about 12 feet apart.  my plan was to make a sort of living trellis to make a shady outdoor room for summer meals in the garden.  seems to be working so far, but it'll be a few more years before it really takes shape.  there are kiwis growing up the locusts, and herbs growing underneath.  once the whole thing gets into a shape I like, I'll probably start cutting more branches and wood off of it to slow it down and use for building material, firewood, and critter food.  could be a complete disaster, though.


Sounds like a great idea to me. There's no place i like to be better than the shade of a Black Locust grove. I make all kinds of paths and niches to relax in.

The trees will not move the trellis up so all you have to do is plan for the trees to get bigger around.
 
Corey Ives
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Hi all,

I'm planning a coppice woodlot using black locust for firewood. Other functions will be fodder for chicks, nectar for bees and useful wood for projects.

There has been much research done at Michigan State since the energy crisis of the 70's on this legume.

A few points I have read about to help fellow b.locust fans.

-they won't tolerate shade.
-they won't tolerate overly damp soils.
-Hungry has one of the largest, non native stands of black locust.
-a part of France has established black locust for the excellent honey production.
-it is one of the fastest growing, hardest woods in the temperate zone.

A permies dream tree.
 
Jose Reymondez
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Just to add an anecdote of info. Black Locust has naturalized here and we get 60 inches of rainfall per year here. I think as long as its well drained, it can take lots of rainfall.
 
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