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Starting gardens in a forested area

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Hey folks I'm new here, been doing lots of reading to get myself started but am looking for some guidance.

Ive got 1 1/2 acher of property, my lawn is very small and the majority if it is quite shaded by the trees surrounding us.

I am in the process of finishing a hugelkultor. It's in the one spot within the wooded area that faces South (I'm in Halifax, Nova Scotia) and that also has a good opening that will get plenty of light.  

I would like to have a few raised bed gardens, and would like to begin developing a good forest. But I am going to have to start cutting into the existing (and fairly well established) forest to do this. But i am reluctant to do this without some thourrow consideration. Maybe inter plant and work them into it? I really don't know!

Most of the advice and experiences ive read about approach this from the position of having neglected, and open properties like lawns or old fields that they want to breath life into. With perimeters containing the wooded areas. But the majority of my land is wooded, and harder to access.

Hoping someone can perhaps guide me towards a strategy to approach this with. I'll gladly snap some photos of my woods if that would be of any value.
Posts: 124
Location: Denton, TX United States Zone 8a
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Howdy Jason, welcome to Permies!

The situation you present is not the typical starting place of permaculture setups, your'e right: unfortunately there's way more degraded, eroded and desertified land out there for farming than full forests. That being said, there are still definitely Permaculture approaches to your situation!

Here is a great thread on transitioning an existing forest into a food forest.

Here is a great thread on what to grow in a forest understory.

To get more specific we would need more specifics- what species of trees are growing on your property? Is it relatively mixed, or a monoculture? Evergreen or deciduous?

Depending the tree species, finding guilds could help identify the best plants to grow with your trees.

If you get a chance, I would also recommend David Jacke and Eric Toensmeier's two part Edible Forest Garden book(s). They're specifically written for temperate climate, and they address how to design into an existing forest.

Hope this was helpful!
Jason Maxwell
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Haha, yes i get that feeling that i am heading into this from an unusual direction. But that's OK, i am up for a challenge and hopefully i can add to the body of knowledge as i progress through this.
Here are some photos of the space, as you can see its a mix of things and at some point the previous owner cleared some of the trees to open the area up a bit, and i used these cut piles of trees (mostly decayed at this point) for the foundation of my hugelkultur.
The area that i would like to begin planting and starting a food forest would be of to the side, and below the location that the pond has been started.

So i am reading that its important to have a balance of 60/40 or 70/30 natives to edible.
I suppose the next thing i should do, as you said would be to look at the naturally occurring guilds of plants and try and emulate, or branch out from the species that are present.
Would it be wrong to build swales and raised beds with out first disturbing the forest floor thoroughly enough to kill of competing plant roots?
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Posts: 43
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada, Zone 6a, Rain ~60"
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Hi Jason. Welcome! I'm in Bayswater Nova Scotia, just down the shore from you. What part of Halifax are you in? Is that one of the Five Island Lakes behind you?

Looks like a beautiful property! I'm working with existing forest as well, however mostly black spruce here with birch, alder and tamarack.

What's your soil depth like? We have very little and so I'm essentially going to garden on top of the moss and tree roots, mostly adding fruiting shrubs and herbaceous medicinal plants in the understory along with support plants. (Working in large patches, as one of the threads mentioned.)

I may also be able to build up a couple of spots enough to put in a hazel or two or maybe a swamp crabapple. (We're pretty boggy over here.)

My other main strategy is to work along all the sunny edges, making the most of them by putting fruits, nuts or berries there along with helpful guild members... ideally medicinal ones.

I had grand visions at the beginning, just 3 years ago, however things are moving much more slowly. I only realize now that it's actually much better, as everything is integrating in a deeper way.

Keep us posted about what you're doing, including pictures, and how it goes. I also highly recommend walking around and taking a whole set of "before" pictures at this stage.
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Location: Pittsburgh PA
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I do build halfway hugels in my woodlands. Rolling fallen trees and brush to contours. Just accelerating what nature would do. But just little beaver dam structures. Let the leaf fall and erosion do the rest. Nature is powerful. Material will gather, and wash where it likes to. In a few years time. Your self and the forest will benifit. Plant young trees on the berm side of the stick and log piles. Go to local forest management courses to learn proper forest management.
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Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Hau Jason, First off let me say the others have given good advice.

Things for you to consider; that first photo shows many skinny stems, that indicates that some thinning would be a good thing, use surveyor's tape (different colors) and mark each trunk with a color that corresponds to trunk size so you can see this feature as you look at the over all picture.
This will help you make the determination of how much to thin.

Hugels work best when you are trying to create microclimates, I would recommend giving that first one a two year trial before going ahead with more of them.
This allows you to see just what effects the hugel will have on the surrounding areas as well as which plants will work best in your area.

Raised beds will work best in the clearing areas or up against the tree line of a clearing.

Diego Footer on Permaculture Based Homesteads - from the Eat Your Dirt Summit
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