Hi! I'm currently involved in a project in Ecuador that tries to grow a fruit forest and we are currently brainstorming ideas on how to deal with the large amount of grass that are overgrowing our fruit trees.
Here's a quick introduction of what the land looks like: The location is south-eastern Ecuador and the land is 136 hectares (330+ acre). The land slopes upward towards a mountainous western border, with the eastern border being the river. The elevation is 720 meters at the river and the top of the mountain is about 1200 meters, but the majority of the land is between 730 and 900 meters. The land was formerly used (some years ago) for “slash & burn” style agriculture practices, where the forest was radically rendered to a vast cow pasture (in other words: grass). Right now there are about 40 hectares of open pasture land that have been partially planted with fruit trees already.
I have found some threads here that gave some useful tips, but I would still like to make this post to get more ideas and sources of information that can be useful, particularly for our situation. Basically my question is how to turn the pasture land that we have into a fruit forest (without having to wait several years for pioneer trees to take over the pasture and improve the soil before planting fruit trees).
Currently, we are trying ground cover such as pinto peanut, but it's labor intensive to propagate and it likely doesn't compete with the grass so well. We are also trying support trees such as Inga (Ice Cream Bean) and Flemingia but they also require a lot of maintenance to not be overgrown by the grass. We are constantly macheteing the grass around our fruit trees to keep them in the sun and keep their roots free of competition (and for mulch). There are already some native weed trees in the pasture, which could make it considered rather as an "old field mosaic" or "bush land" as I've heard it referred to as. But not enough to use for mulch or to shade out the grass.
Any input on this would be appreciated. Let me know if I should provide further information. For the record, we are not interested in having livestock on the land because we are a vegan community, although we have let our neighbour put his cows there for various clearing purposes.
It sounds like you may have to have some type of livestock in addition to your neighbor's in order to get the grass under control. Have you thought about getting a few sheep? It's my understanding that sheep eat the entire plant they graze on roots and all. There are other benifits to having a few sheep. You have the wool which can be spun and dyed then woven into cloth for clothes, blankets etc. You have lambs that you could use, along with the wool and cloth, for trade with your neighbors and/or in town for other items you might need. It's something to think about.
Vegan or not, nature farms with animals. Raising livestock doesn't mean you've got to eat 'em.
You need to keep the grass under control. Looks like your options are a lot of human labor, or a lot of animal labor. I'd opt for animal labor. Maybe hire some other local farmers to custom-graze the land?
I have had more experience with agroforestry in Manabi provances closer to sea level, but some of the same concepts should be transferable. Getting some fast growing leguminous like Albizia saman, and easily propagated living fence tree helps a lot with the grass. Any way you put it there is alot of clearing by machete that is needed, even in ecuador hiring a crew to cut the weeds back is costly. Fruit trees were planted with goat manure. Mandarins, Pecheche, guanabana and Mangoes did well. Guayabas are good in grassy situations but were not planted. Tamarinds were planted as larger plants and a few survived. Pigeon pea can help alot too.