I just found your book last week and read it in an evening. Now I'm dreaming of plants.
I have 6 fruittrees and a whole lot of lawn, and I'm trying to come up with a reasonable, won't-break-the-bank plan to turn all that into a food forest. I am just a little overwhelmed. I want to build it up in such a way that I won't discover 3 years down the road that I put a too big (or small) plant in the wrong spot. I want to plant everything! Should I make guilds around the existing trees first, or add more fruit trees first, or . . . or . . . I guess I just need someone to nudge me in the right direction.
Start small! Add plants that you know something about, and try a few that are new to you, in limited amounts. Put simple guilds around a few fruit trees, and if they are working, add a few more guilds, and make them more complex. Don't try to do it all at once, but work your way up the learning curve and gradually tackle projects that are more complex If you are able to maintain the existing fruit trees and have need for more fruit, then plant more, but you may want to branch out into nut trees too. Think in terms of zones--put the most effort into the spots closest to your house, but don't try to do everything at once, even though it's tempting when something as exciting as guilds and permaculture comes along. Figure out how much space you can maintain intensively, and how much less-intensively managed space you can add to that without being overwhelmed. It's better to start out a little small and expand than to try to do far too much, lose a lot of it, and get frustrated and give up.
You will definitely make mistakes. I made, and am still making, my share. So be forgiving to yourself and think of it all as learning. If you plant something that turns out to be too big, just move it or give it away. It happens, lots.
You must be a fast reader! I wish I could write that fast.
Start small, huh? I knew there was a catch. I want it all NOW.
My existing fruit trees are doing fine. I just need a wider variety of fruit - we have pear and apple and that's it. Soil is not a problem, since I have several herbivores who happily supply copious amounts of raw material, and the army of red worms on the south side of the barn does the rest. I've had food crops tucked in amongst my ornamentals for years - just thought it made more sense, so a lot of this is not new to me.
One question for anyone who knows - how do peaches, cherries, and plums do in close proximity to pines? We have a bare northwest corner that seriously needs a privacy screen and windbreak. I was going to put pines along the outside edge and then plant my fruit trees inside of that. Any problems with that idea?
Pines tend to not play well with others. They drop their needles which make the soil too acidic for most other things. For those plants that are okay with a little acidity, the needles contain other things that will make the soil toxic for nearly all but the pine.
Plants that might do better with Pine Trees are rhododendrons and azelias, blueberries, arborvitae and any other acid loving plant. The cedar trees can grow in the shade pretty well where as the blueberries and Rhodies need some light during the day. They may do better on the edge of the area rather than right under the trees.
John Meshna (owner)
Blue River LLC
1195 Dog Team Road
New Haven, Vt 05472
We're in northwest PA just a bit south of Lake Erie. We're in zone 5 or 6, depending on which map you believe, and are in the snow belt - lots of lake effect weather, but it only occasionally gets into negative single digits in the winter. We get a lot of rain in the spring and fall, and generally have summer temps in the 80's and sometimes 90's with a lot of humidity.
The corner I'm talking about is northwest, with the west side running along the road. Right now there are some struggling poplars along that west side. The north side is bare lawn for about 50' give or take, and then there are 4 of the 6 existing fruit trees in a straight line. North of that line, going all the way to the road, is electric fence, pasture, sheep, horses, and goats. The land is flat and the soil is mostly clay since I haven't done much with that end of the property. That corner has an unobstructed southern exposure and stays sunny all day.
How much space . . . a lot. It is about 150' from the road to my house and about 40' from the side of my house to the pasture fence line. That side of my house is only about 30' and then it opens up into the back yard, where there are some veggie garden beds (gotta put the corn somewhere!) and 2 more fruit trees.
We have 2 not-so-friendly neighbors across the street, one directly across and one at an angle to that northwest corner. We want a fairly dense screen that will give us some privacy - we tend to use the front yard more than the back for activities - and will cut some of that wind that howls off the lake in January. The fruit trees are too close to the fence line to put anything behind them, but the idea is to block off the corner and west side and then sort of fade into food forest. I hate poplars and 2 of them are dead anyway, so I would plant whatever we decide upon between them and then remove the poplars as the other plants fill in.
And before you ask, no, I don't know yet what's up with the poplars. We have soil tests off to the county extension to see if there's anything going on that we should know about. I'm not too concerned because everything else is thriving, but I want to make sure everything's ok with the soil before I plant anything else over there.
Some sort of evergreen seems to make the most sense to me because of the winter wind problem. Could we just leave space (how much?) between them and the edibles we want to grow? We are also kicking around the idea of having a small pond dug - maybe pine, pond, then food would be the way to go? I do like ornamentals like azaleas and rhodies, and of course there is no such thing as too many blueberries. We also want a bird corner with holly, wintergreen, etc. that would have winter berries, so maybe that's our spot for that.
Right now all I know is that we have WAY too much lawn! I'm imagining filling in a triangle that starts with the north fence line, goes about halfway down the west side by the road, and then kind of curves back to the end of that line of fruit trees. The two fruit trees in the back will get their own little guild which may or may not join the bigger area at some point. We are definitely still in the planning stages, so any and all suggestions are much appreciated.
Poplar die off is a natural part of forest succession. They are what's known as pioneer species so named because they are one of the first woody plants to come into an area after some natural disaster or clearing process. The fix nitrogen in the soil with the nodules on their roots. the wood is so soft that when they get too big they usually wind up falling over, roots and all in windy areas and/or the break off and as you can see they get selected out by natural causes like fungus and bugs. Nothing to worry about. That cycle of life has been successful in nature for eons. Southern poplar is often used for lumber as it's usually clear of knots and very smooth. It paints up really nice. Most of the northern varieties split and twist really bad when they dry so they aren't good for lumber. The only use I've ever been able to put them to as far as lumber goes is using them for strapping under metal roofing, nailed down when it's freshly milled before it has a chance to dry and warp. Once dry it's as light as a feather so it's not good firewood either so if you cut them down your best use is for compost. It's what they do naturally if left to their own devices. They rot quickly and their nutrients prepare the ground for the next stage in the succession process. Read some of this:http://www.normanbirdsanctuary.org/nbu/succession/stages.shtml
John Meshna (owner)
Blue River LLC
1195 Dog Team Road
New Haven, Vt 05472