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Extreme forested slope - advice on establishing fruit/nut trees without causing erosion?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 7
Location: Physically? Seoul, ROK; Homestead? Aleppo PA, USA
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Hello everyone,

I'm new to permies but have been a lurker/browser for a while.   To stage set my question, let me tell you a bit about me.  I'm about to close on some land in PA that has existing (wild) woods/forest on a steep slope >30 degrees.
I'm live and work for the Army in South Korea.  I will not live on the land for years.  That's not a reason to plan and prepare though.

On "vacations" I'll do what I can between now and then; step one is to establish fruit and nut trees along with a trail permitting me access to them.

Does anyone have any advice on how to do this without inadvertently causing (excessive) erosion?  Or perhaps you can recommend a book or two that address this concern of mine that I may have missed?

Thanks for reading and any advice in advance!

v/r

Rev
 
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Is the path already established ? And by whom ?
Deer could be an issue here
Are there signs of erosion at the moment?
Are there any fruit trees already established?

David
 
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Hi Mike. Welcome to permies.

I think what you want to do is take a look at the slope. Look at how seasonal debris is acting right now. What you want to do is as many cheap, simple things as you can to affect erosion patterns and hydrology as you can.

I would suggest, if you aren't in an area of extreme fire risk, that you start laying deadfalls and fallen trees and logs on contour across your slope, making traps for debris and eroding soil. This will help you start building soil in place, helping water to seep down into the ground close to where it falls, as opposed to running straight down your slope and carrying away any loose soil. If you are placing access paths, make sure they are on contour as well, or are shaped such that they take into account what the water will do. An improperly designed or placed access path will definitely cause you serious erosion problems in the worst case hydrological scenario, so be careful.

As you may have read elsewhere on this site, placing logs and branches on contour across slopes is like making swales, except above ground. This will essentially set your land up to make little on-contour terraces as the logs and branches act as dams, trapping sediment and organic matter that would otherwise continue downhill. Over time, you may discover that the terraces themselves offer enough access that you don't need to build a path, but just to clear it.

What is the makeup of the forest? I would suggest looking into what the natural understory is. This will be important for choosing species to plant, but is also crucial for another part of your design. I would suggest that you see what the low growing native plants are, those perhaps with dense root mats. What is growing on your slope right now, helping to keep soil where it is? Because whatever it is, unless it's poison oak or poison ivy, or any one of a number of plants whose defensive mechanisms rely on hurting you, those plants, whatever they are, are what you want more of if you're at all concerned about erosion. Bonus points if they either fix nitrogen or produce food.

You have time, though, from your post. I would plan out what tree species fit in with the native plant life, or what natives exist that can fit into your design to feed you rather than introducing non-natives that will likely need more attention. As this is something you are doing on vacations and won't be there to water every day to nurture finicky establishing trees, the establishment phase is probably better started with natives. For instance, if I were in a situation like yours but in the boreal/temperate hardwood transition zone that I am used to, I would probably be looking at mulberries. Cane berries like raspberries and blackberries would feature prominently, and blueberries as these are all natural pioneers in the boreal forest any time you disturb the land or a tree falls. I would look to any native shrub that fixes nitrogen, but in a pinch, should there be none available, I would choose something shrubby and drought-tolerant from your hardiness zone, even if its not native, something that coppices well would be perfect, as you could prune them all down when you visit, adding to the extant forest litter with a nitrogen-flush chop-and-drop.

By the time you have these established, and you've done a season of chop-and-drop with your nitrogen fixers, you should be able to see signs of the changes you're making. I think that's when you either double down on the techniques you've started with, to make the soil you will eventually have deeper and richer, or start thinking about planting fruit trees.

I would plant from seed in your case. You want only genetics that will thrive on their own, and the best way to do that is to plant from seed. The individuals that germinate obviously will do so because the conditions will be favourable to their specific needs, and so will be less likely to die because you're not there to water them. I would plant them within 10 to 12" up slope of the contour dams. That will ensure the greatest depth of soil and the greatest potential to harvest trapped moisture. You're basically planting in a swale beside a nurse log. This will also add structure to the terraces over time as the root mats build up.

Please keep us updated, and if you have any questions, there are many intelligent, helpful people here on permies that love to help.

-CK
 
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hau Mike, welcome to permies.

Chris has given a great set of information and ideas.
The one book I will recommend is Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard, this book covers a lot and has great information on water control as well as permanent agriculture with trees (fruit and nut along with other food crops).

There are lots of books with good information but with such a slope, controlling the flow of water should come first and as Chris mentioned you will need to think terraces instead of swale and berm.

Time is on your side, working a little each year will give you plenty of opportunity to try somethings and see how they work for you.

Redhawk
 
Mike Wanner
Posts: 7
Location: Physically? Seoul, ROK; Homestead? Aleppo PA, USA
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Wow!

Thanks for the responses everyone.

Suggestions:
Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard:  I added it to my amazon wish-list, hopefully one of my kids will be a kind Santa.

Questions answered:
What is the makeup of the forest? Yellow birch, Paper birch, Eastern Hemlock and Horse chestnut are most of the trees.  The undergrowth is mostly the state flower, mountain laurel, with some poison ivy at the valley between two hills.  I want to replace (perhaps displace is a better word?) with black walnut, and oak (red and or white), wide grape and blackberry bushes from a neighbors land and crab-apple, wild plum, and choke berry from the game commission.  I want to undo the efforts to keep deer and other game away from previous owner's efforts as well as collect dropping from this slope to help feed a few swine.

Is the path already established ? And by whom ?  Nope, none.  The owner was a preacher and worked hard to discourage hunting on or near the property.  I'm from the other camp, If I can put the limit in my freezer each year while watching the game from my porch would be a dream, if not practical.
Are there signs of erosion at the moment?  Where a section what I think was oak was taken out long enough ago that mushrooms have a decent hold on the stumps I have a what I'll kindly call an "intermittent stream". My sister said she'll gladly have a grandkid or two plant some Virginia creeper in the "stream".  I hope that stops the widening of my "stream".
Are there any fruit trees already established?  Nope.  Repeating here but, owner worked hard to discourage hunting on or near the property.  A neighbor said it was one of the best places for deer and turkey, a decade ago, as the slopes channelized the movement making hunting easier; walnuts and crab apples brought them in and kept them nearby. 

Again, thanks for the advice and suggestions!

v/r

Rev


 
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Mike,
I was stationed in S. Korea myself... 27+years ago. Great country.
With regards to your slope issue, using swales with slopped ramps to the next  level and feeding back into the tiers is the easiest answer.
Think of it as the curve of a race track. Each level is graded to the back edge, to keep as much water available as long as possible. A swale, possibly edged by a hugelkultur (which is what I've expanded into doing), with the ends sloping upwards at their edges.
By doing this the water will transfer from one level to the other, on the inner edge, without degrading, while still giving you a dry path all the way to the top.
You can also split the swales so you're not walking the entire length of each level. Putting in a piece of pipe under the ramped area will allow water to flow to each side without interfering with the viability of the entire system.
To maintain the grade and increase water retention, simply grade the back edge slope out with wood chips.
I've 4 tiers on my property with a rise of around 30 feet over 250 feet. This method has solved my issue, increased my water reserves greatly and made the trip with the gorilla cart from the bottom to the top of the property a lot less exhausting.
Hope it helps.
 
Mike Wanner
Posts: 7
Location: Physically? Seoul, ROK; Homestead? Aleppo PA, USA
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@Farmer Brown,

We think alike.  My concern is replacing too many established trees with saplings/seed and losing the hillside.  Adding hugelkultur is a step i did not consider though; thanks for the idea.

As for the ROK, where did you get put?   I was USAF and was on Osan from all but 2 years in the 90's,  and Mil retired from USAG Yongsan in 07.  It felt like every time I left, I was sent back before I got settled.
Worst part, I still can't speak or understand Korean without a pint of soju.
I am looking forward to the Olympics though. :)

Take care!

Rev
 
S. Brown
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Location: Riverside, CA.
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Mike,
I was stationed at Camp Stanley and up in the DMZ. Great country. Sad to see the conditions it's facing now.
Onto the farming...
Don't make your hugelkultur or swales in a straight line. Follow the natural curves of the landscape. Go around trees, up or down slope from them, and use the erosion zones to your advantage.
Look for natural ridges that you can use as the ramps, or at least start of the ramps.
You'll find that the natural look feel will make the extra walk well worth it. It'll also will increase the productivity of the entire property.
Side note: I woke to my cranberry hibiscus peeking out of the trays. 3 days from seed to sprout!
Hope this helps.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Mike Wanner wrote:@Farmer Brown,

We think alike.  My concern is replacing too many established trees with saplings/seed and losing the hillside.  Adding hugelkultur is a step i did not consider though; thanks for the idea.

As for the ROK, where did you get put?   I was USAF and was on Osan from all but 2 years in the 90's,  and Mil retired from USAG Yongsan in 07.  It felt like every time I left, I was sent back before I got settled.
Worst part, I still can't speak or understand Korean without a pint of soju.
I am looking forward to the Olympics though. :)

Take care!

Rev



Instead of removing to replace with a sapling, just add the sapling, once it is established for a year or two then you can remove any unwanted tree around it. This will force the sapling to grow tall to get to sunlight and that means a better shaped tree in the long run.

You can plant lots of trees closely which will allow you to select the fast, straight growing trees as the years go by, without the possible sacrifice of soil erosion from cutting soil holding trees to quickly.

Redhawk
 
Chris Kott
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Just in case this isn't abundantly clear, I would advise against sticking a shovel in the slope at all for any reason if you see evidence of or have concerns over erosion.

The method I proposed, where you're laying extant large woody debris across the slope at regular intervals of height (following the natural contours so the woody lines are level), allows you to lay everything out without making something inadvertently worse, in a way you'd only find out with a heavy rain or something. Seeing as how you wouldn't necessarily be able to pop over for a quick repair, this should be of great concern.

Incidentally, you could spike the logs in place with lengths of hardwood branch if there's concern over them staying in place, or reinforce placement with stones, if you have them.

-CK
 
S. Brown
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Mike,
Bryant RedHawk is right about not removing anything until the saplings you want get a good start. Also, they'll help protect the other plants you're putting in, along with minimize potential erosion from their removal. Once the other trees have their start, erosion will be less of a concern.
Keep in mind that the older trees create the canopy layer of the forest. Be selective on what you remove and only when you absolutely must. Instead look at pruning to increase the light to a particular area.
By adding, rather than removing, you'll end up with a healthier, happier, more productive piece of happiness (property).
Hope this helps.
 
Mike Wanner
Posts: 7
Location: Physically? Seoul, ROK; Homestead? Aleppo PA, USA
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Dig?!?  That sound like work.

Poor humor attempts aside, The trees I can get are bare-root and less then 3 foot overall.  I'll be using a pointy sick of some kind with a cross bar for my foot and using a some angular motion and leverage to make space for the roots. I'll back-fill with compost and top with local leaf litter.   I was planning on using a saw to clear some neighbors I to husband out of my system down to 2-4 foot tall to remove some canopy cover for my new guys giving them a chance against their bigger neighbor. 

If I'm understanding you all correctly, you're advising to skip the saw for a few years, at least. 
 
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Listening to Paul's podcasts, there was mention about the grade of terraces which are built on slopes, and a warning against having them slope into the hill. While it holds more water, it can also create a condition where the soil is totally saturated and causes a catastrophic collapse of the slope. Because of that possibility, it was recommended that you keep a very slight slope downhill.

I would guess that if you have any mulch material available that helps prevent surface runoff then that will give plenty of time for the water to soak in too. Bracing small trunks on contour and piling smaller branches/twigs uphill of it to capture leaves and any runoff is probably the easiest option, if you have a year or three for it to accumulate and start to break down into terraced soil.
 
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Location: Westminster, Colorado
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Hello Mike and everyone,

I'm new too to permies. It is my first writing and reply here.

@ Mike,
I came from Seoul Korea, 19 years ago. I am going to move VA in 4-5 years so I am studying about Forest Gardening. (I am in Denver for now.)
Not sure you would know or not about Korean natural farming. For the Technic, you can just buy some seeds and saw there in Korea. Mother Nature will do everything remain. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_natural_farming#History
If you want, I can introduce a friend of mine who is a volunteer of KATUSA. (He is in Gangnam of Seoul.)
Wish it will help.
Rocky
 
Mike Wanner
Posts: 7
Location: Physically? Seoul, ROK; Homestead? Aleppo PA, USA
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@Mark Tudor

Good points!   I do plant to turn the them into my path up and down the hill.  I hope I can limit my slope to roughly 5-15 degrees without too much effort just by snaking 80% of my property width down my hill.

@Rocky Lee
I container garden on my patio in Hannam dong veggies that are unavailable or cost a premium in the local markets.  When we get moved south to Humphreys, I'm hoping to find a place where I can find a place with 30 square meters or so of dirt nearby to have enough to can or pickle.  I've no space nor the time to travel between where I'll live and where the "real" farming is happening here.  My wife trades labor for veggies a green house farm a friend owns/operates, but she travels ~ 3 hours one way; of course after working, then hanging out and finally heading home at 11PM, she's able to get back in 40 minutes.  Have to love that traffic!.

Rev
 
Rocky Lee
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@Mike
Yeah, I know... A bad thing in Korea is too crowed to make LOTs of traffics.
What I am suggesting is to study some about Natural Farming in there. Your can visit here about it. They will help you too as they can do...
http://en.jadam.kr/
Rocky
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Mike, one of the best things you could do at this stage of the permaculture game is to study the ancient terraces of the Inca and Maya cultures, they had it figured out for super steep slopes. Here in the US we have the opportunity to make wider terraces but the water control needs to be very similar to theirs.
They never had to worry about water flow through their terraces because it filled every one of them without causing any erosion and the steps from terrace to terrace would remain dry for foot traffic safety. 

You don't need to use rocks, I like to use the existing hickory trees both for anchors and for my terrace walls. I just lay the cut down trees along the contour line and go up two or three tree trunks high to start out with, as this fills in up hill, I add another trunk till I am at the nearly level stage for the terrace.
It really helps with rain runoff erosion issues and it builds my planting spaces without any real effort on my part. 

Redhawk
 
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Hi, thanks for your service. I live in SW PA, just north of Pittsburgh. I owned 40 acres in Wildwood PA. Some of that terrain was similar to what you've discussed. If it were me I wouldn't use anything except hand tools on any slope.If you make a barrier it'll collect water till it overflows and then it'll create an erosion. I wouldn't plant crab apples. I spent 20 years trying to get rid of them. The thorns are too big a problem. The wood is as hard as oak, you can't chip it. And the branches grow into birds nests. They'll grow north for a while and then do a 180 and go out the other side. Or maybe they'll change direction again.

I tried planting Walnuts ( hundreds ) which I picked off the ground in North Park. I also planted Pine seeds which I shucked off the pine cones, maybe a thousand. I planted them in openings in the canopy. There was a Bony Pile about a mile away, and from the top of the hill it was very visible. It was burning, and extremely ugly. I wanted to block the view with the pines. But neither the Walnuts or the pines ever established themselves. The state finally cleaned up the Bony (scrap coal, that goes off the end of the conveyor belt). They added lime and burned it at an electric plant. The lime sweetened the ash/cinders.

I had lots of problems with dirt bike riders who destroy the land. There were three foot deep ruts. I stopped that with a bull.

If it was me I'd plant apple seed. You'll get lots of edible apples, which you can share with the venison. If a few crab apples come out of them, I'd just cut them down with a hand lopper. I had some red and white oak and some maple. Lots of Wild Black cherry. ( the lumber cherry ). That was my favorite fire wood, Split easily and didn't give the endless splinters like oak does. I sold the land to a developer. He paid a surveyor a couple days fees to check for trees over 24". Found some, one was an oak, with two adjacent 8 foot long veneer logs. A cherry over 36", a couple Norway Maples. I counted 138 logs on the pile they had to take out. Then they were adding and taking out and I quit counting. But they only cleared about 5 or 6 acres.

There was a patch of blue berries about 75'x 250'. The deer didn't or couldn't eat them all. But they were so small that it took forever to get a half a cup. But with all that acid clay they grow good. I'd try to mix in some larger berries with some wild picked berries and see what comes up. Just plant the berries.


Good luck and remember you're still young and you've got years to enjoy and to develop that land.
 
Mike Wanner
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Location: Physically? Seoul, ROK; Homestead? Aleppo PA, USA
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@John Duda,

We might meet each other at farmers markets in the future.  My place is south of Pittsburg in Aleppo.

As for my slope, my current "winning" plan is to use fallen trees and branches to place the boundaries of where I want my path the be then see how it filled in the following year.  

I'm not too concerned with chipping, or wood heat.  I've grown to love the even heat of radiant thermal mass and plant to build to take advantage of it.  The current house doesn't have a heater and the fireplace was compromised to try and accommodate gas heat destroying it.  I'll be camping until I replace the existing structure.  I'm still researching architects/engineers who I think will share my vision and work with someone who wants to try and be hands on.

According to neighbors, walnut was on the property in the 90's when the old owners forced their will on it removing them and most other things producing nuts or fruit for deer.  Since many of my trees are <30 years old, I'm hoping displaying the invaders won't be difficult and I won't have the issues you had.  Of course, time will tell...  Also, I suspect I'm much more rural than you are.   The county seat, Waynesburg is at least 30 minutes away. Other than on the road, and I've no problems with that, Neighbors told me they've never seen or hearn of a vehicle.  Shucks, me driving up/by was a surprise and reason enough today it as a busy day on the road. 

As for apples... As a kid, our primary money maker was apples, cider, butter.  While I'm not anti-apple, I'll happily couple dozen times trying to get something else in the mix in case I'm reduced to eating just what's on the property. 

Finally, your right.  Taking it slow and watching it mature is the best part!
 
John Duda
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I only intended to say that instead of crab apples to plant apple seeds. From my experience on that land out of 1000's of crab apples only a few actually had apples. If your intention is to increase the deer population I'd say your better with the apples. The only advantage for the crab apples is to provide cover for the deer during hunting season. Here, at least, they've learned to find cover near a house and stand there all day totally motionless looking like a concrete deer. They do that where I am now also. There's a pine tree about 10 feet from the house and they crawl under that while hunters are about. They seem really smart to me, calculating actually.

On that property I talked about there had been a brush fire under the canopy. They bulldozed a road north of the fire. I don't know if that was while fighting the fire or later. So they went up the hill maybe 500 feet and cut across the slope. This was before I bought the place is why I'm unsure. Downhill there were deep ravines, maybe 4 or 5. Some 6-8 feet deep. The slope there wasn't 30%. I don't quite know how much. It WAS more than 12% cause that developer couldn't put his road in up as far as the fire trail.

About the blue berries again. Nothing grew in that patch except the blue berries. Is it a good ground cover or is it only the wild berries. I have a small blue berry patch that I have to weed or it'd go wild.

There was a house on that property, in baaaad shape. The sellers admitted they couldn't believe I planned to live in it. I gutted the kitchen to the studs and moved a bedroom over to take over space that had been a pantry. That made a bedroom that you didn't have to go thru to get upstairs. I insulated those rooms and dry walled. Lived there 20 years, although my original plans called for "just until". That house was so bad my offer included zero for the house.
 
Mike Wanner
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Location: Physically? Seoul, ROK; Homestead? Aleppo PA, USA
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Gotcha John, old prejudices blinding me from your message. 

Thanks for being persistent and reaching me. 

As for my structure, the fireplace was built as part of the north wall's foundation pillars and the modifications compromised them. Replacement will be the easier option I hope cheaper if I can do a lot of manual work myself.
 
 
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