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Transforming 20 Acres of Timber Lot Into a Hedged Homestead  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Hello all! I recently purchased 20 acres of land in NE Washington with the plan to develop it over the next 5+ years and at some point after that retire to move there. The location is zone 6a(maybe 20 miles south of the 6a/5b zone), gets around 20" of rain per year and 35" of snow, and is at 1900' elevation. It is very very flat, maybe 5-10' of elevation change sloping from the NE down to the SW. The parcel is north/south oriented, about 600' east to west and about 1400' north to south. The property was being managed for timber production, with almost all the trees being fir and some spruce, in various stages of growth. There are some older seed trees that I hope to use for building and a lot of younger trees that have been thinned/released here and there to promote growth. From my walk through it's in need of that again as new seeds have created some thick growth in spots. One of my biggest issues is my current location, I live about 1300 miles from this property. So my hope is to take 2 trips a year, drive up in the spring around last frost time and in the autumn before the snow starts flying, and perform what maintenance that I can with the goal of establishing a variety of other trees.

Phase 1: Hedging
As the title suggests, one of my first goals is to plant a living hedge around a reasonable amount of the land. Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) would be the primary tree, planted from seed, in a single row 9" on center. As the whips grow from seed, in the autumn I would bend them over and weave each plant between as many others as it can reach. Then the next plant is woven above the previous, alternating the weave to lock them into place. The next year of growth from lateral buds would also be woven in during autumn, and each year the woven fence gets taller. This is based on a method reported in "Hedges, Windbreaks, Shelters, and Living Fences" by E.P.Powell, written in 1900. I believe that's where the phrase "hog tight, horse high, and bull strong" might have come from but I'm not sure.

Within 3-5 years the goal would be a hedge tall enough to prevent the numerous deer and elk in the area from hopping over to eat everything else planted inside. I would install a gate at either end of the hedge, something wide enough to allow a well drilling truck through, and I would need to lash junk poles to the gate to keep deer from hopping over at this point as well. Osage Orange is hardy to zone 4 and does fine in poor soil, which I expect this is if it was being farmed for timber. A forester will be doing a timber survey so I will find out how the soil is doing, and I could amend the soil as I go if it's really lacking certain nutrients. I also hope to mulch as much as possible around the hedge planting to keep grasses from invading and hindering the seeds. I was thinking of renting a chipper and tossing all the thinned trees which are mostly little things in there, and laying that out where possible. Due to the size of the project it might also require delivering some mulch.

After a year or two of establishing, I would look at companion planting along the hedge to help it out, either perennial nitrogen fixing plants and/or nutrient accumulators that I could chop and drop in the fall. Or perhaps just mulching to prevent any competition as the trees grow would be best? Once the hedge is tall enough to keep out wildlife, I would install the gates and plant fruit and nut trees inside to get them started a bit prior to retiring. I'm torn between broadcast sowing white clover and other ground covers to improve the soil throughout the site, as it may also attract deer as a feeding site- is that a valid concern? There is over 500 acres of timber land just across the private road so an endless supply of feeders would help themselves unless I have it all hedged/fenced off. But putting additional shrubs and ground covers along the tree hedge would be in the plan, once the new plants aren't competing so much with the hedge trees for water and nutrients.

Phase 1.5: Coppice Wood
I'm looking at black locust, red maple, hybrid poplar, hazel, and perhaps chestnut and beech as coppice options as they are all reported to grow and coppice well. I plan to build a rocket mass heater and fuel it from the property, from coppiced wood and hedge pruning. I could also have different patches of coppice based on the use: if I find I'm using far less wood for heating then some coppice patches could go on a longer rotation to provide other materials. Outside of leaving the largest existing fir trees for building (looking at a wofati/Oehler style), I would expect to thin out plenty of room for new trees to grow. Of course those new shoots are going to be vulnerable to foraging deer and as I'm looking to plant hundreds of each tree I'm not sure that there's a cost effective way to protect them all. So right now I'm thinking "spray and pray", and plant as many seeds as I have space and time, and hope that enough survive the first year to be a usable crop in 5-7 years. Then i would repeat the process each year, replanting from seed in all the spots that were eaten the year before. If I get lucky and a majority of trees are able to make it then there might be some older trees that can be kept as standards and eventually turned into new building materials as they thicken up. I could plant every 5-10 feet at first, say 2-3 seeds per spot, in the spring and thin to the best sprout in the fall or following spring. I would try to come up with a layout that places the locust in a grid of sorts that allows the other species to be nearby and hopefully benefit from the nitrogen fixing. But with different growth rates and needing to have a rotation that allows new shoots to get sun without competition from adjoining growth, I'm not sure how reasonable that would be. I consider coppice wood a lesser priority of "1.5" because the county has a program where residents can get up to 4 cords of firewood for $20, which will more than cover my needs as a backup plan. I would not be surprised if deer ate every new tree they find not named douglas fir, although I'm hoping the thorns on the osage orange give them a fighting chance.

Phase 2: Food Bearing Plants
After the hedge has had time to grow large enough to limit deer pressure, I would look to plant some fruit trees and shrubs and additional nut trees inside the hedge for food production. As I doubt it would be reasonable for the hedge to surround all 20 acres, additional trees and shrubs for animal forage would be planted outside the hedge, and protected with fencing to let them get established. I would also focus on fruiting shrubs on the outside of the hedge, so animals will have plenty of options on their side of the hedge. I'll be looking at options that either store well via canning, root cellar, or drying with a solar dehydrator. I won't be expecting to live solely off food from the property any time soon, but as things develop I'll dip my feet into food preservation and might one day add chickens into the system. So starting off I would look at planting a variety of fruit trees that have varied harvest times, and build plant guilds around them. I will have a house plan designed by then too, so as fruit trees go in I will know where to keep clear.

Phase 3: Housing
Right now the plan is to get an owner-built exemption from the county and hopefully use the trees already on the property for material, cutting the logs the fall before, and letting them dry out before use as I build the next spring. I would be guessing the douglas fir are around 40 feet tall, maybe a little more, and were at 12-14" DBH. Based on mike oehler's info that peeled log being 12" for beams and 10" for posts would work. Due to the nearly flat land, if I were to go with an Oehler/wofati/PAHS design and didn't want to have 200 yards of soil delivered for berming, it would require I excavate say 4 feet down, and use that excavated soil for the remaining wall height and green roof. A simple shed roof facing south would result in the berm being 3' above grade on the north side and the south side would be 7-8' above grade depending on width and slope of the roof. Of course providing for drainage and keeping the posts protected from moisture and soil life will be key. I could see building a walipini that's attached to the house or nearby, with a compost pile beyond that, and at the end where the slope drops a few feet perhaps mulch basins could be placed around a little grove of willow if gray water processing could be handled year round. The frost line is 30", but the hope would be that the gray water line would be out of any frozen soil if it traveled through the walpini and under the compost piles. I have no idea if that would work, especially if there was a very cold, cloudy week which prevented any solar gain in the greenhouse. Perhaps the first test RMH could stay in the greenhouse as insurance, and the second build would be inside? Then I could fire up the greenhouse model on the coldest days if freezing was a concern.

Any thoughts or concerns with the ideas above? The structural integrity of any housing is a given, and I will be looking at that for several years as I go out to the site to tend to trees. I'm sure my thoughts will evolve as I get a better understanding of what I have. Thanks in advance for any feedback!
 
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hau Mark, congratulations on your land purchase.

Instead of planting a single row of Osage Orange, I would recommend a double row, that will give you depth as you weave the whips and branches together for the hedge row.
Depth will make it far harder for animals to sneak or break through while the trees are growing up. It usually takes about 4 years for Osage Orange to become sturdy enough to hold back animals if planted in a single row, plus with the double row you can weave both rows into each other for even more gnarly growth (this will hold back even wild boar).

I would also recommend you think about any earth works for water control, soaking into the soil will be a prime need with only 20" of rain fall per year. It is always best to get any earthworks done before you get into plant placements, that way you don't have to move something once you get it into the ground.
Doing the earth works also will function to remove any trees that might be in the path of your earth works, so that will function as a thinning of the current trees at the same time.

Redhawk
 
Mark Tudor
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Thanks for the feedback Redhawk, I've bought enough extra seed that I can do a staggered double row for sure, although some of the land has thicker canopy so I'll have to decide what I can surround properly without cutting timber that I want to keep growing.

I received my timber management report (required to keep the low tax rate) and the soil is 84% sand, 11% silt, and 5% clay, so water retention is going to be a serious problem combined with the low rainfall. I'm considering having tons of wood chips delivered and dumped so I can mulch along the hedge. Getting enough to make a dent will be pricey for sure, something like 40 cubic yards as a minimum. I was thinking I could try to turn my thinning slash into charcoal and mix that into the hedge trench, and/or have manure brought in as well. But without a water supply on the site I can't safely burn anything.

So the other options are to rent a chipper and use those wood chips as mulch, or bury the logs in the trench along with some manure, cover that with a few inches of soil, and plant seeds into the soil. But I doubt the wood will break down fast enough to not be competition for the seeds for nitrogen, maybe that can be done a year in advance so it can break down some. This is very new to me. So if I can get a company to deliver chips to the location (no address assigned to it yet) I'll probably stick to mulching the hedge and see how that goes for year 1.

Once I get on site in about 2 months I can do some soil shake tests to confirm in a basic way, as the soil profile might just be from the generalized USGS values for the area. But since this site was just for timber production I expect the soil quality will be poor and need amending. I'm hoping I can establish this hedge and get it growing for a few years so it can deter deer, but there's no urgent time frame for it beyond my retirement in say 5-6 years.

I was thinking I could also bring some seed for various ground covers that might help improve the amount of organic matter in the soil, chop and drop perennial plants in the fall before the snow starts. But same as the hedge, at best I can sow seeds and rake them into the soil, maybe put a little mulch on if I have some to spare, and hope it rains enough for the seeds to sprout. Transplanting seedlings would need water as well when I put them in so unless I get lucky and there is some rain I think straight from seed would be more cost effective.
 
Mark Tudor
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There is also 2 existing slash piles that were burned at least a year prior that still have some decent sized logs. I  was thinking I could move those around a little and place them next to the planted seeds with a little soil bermed up on it to aid in any decay, but perhaps I could just scrape off the charcoal and mix that into the trench too. If I rent a tiller to break up the soil and remove any competing roots then mixing in the charcoal shouldn't be too bad. Using the remaining wood to help level any spots to minimize water runoff (most of the site is 0-2% slope already).
 
Bryant RedHawk
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With your new information I can make some slightly better suggestions;

If you were to take some surveyor's tape and walk through the timber, you could mark the trees you want to take down, the tape will give you a visual way to space those to remain for optimal growth.
If you approach this as a way to make alleys then you would be able to set up swales and berms so that when you do get rain it can soak in instead of run off and cause erosion of the soil that is there.

Your soil needs more clay, preferably around 11% clay, that will allow the sand to bind to the clay particles which will help greatly with water retention so it sticks around instead of heading down to the water table quickly.
Once the extra clay is spread out you can then get maximum benefit from the wood chips.

To make biochar in your area a retort (double walled cooker) would be the safest method. The inner chamber is where the wood goes and the outer chamber is for the heat. It would prevent sparks from getting released into the air and possibly causing a fire.

Making the cut trees into chips would be more productive in your area than burying logs and hoping they would begin to decay, that might take some years to occur.
I always prefer to use on site wood to make into chips rather than having them brought in, for one thing the wood is already there and acclimated to the site, for another you are then able to make best use of what you are removing anyway.

Once you are on site perhaps you could get some pictures and find out the actual slopes and their direction(s) that are present, that will be what dictates the best approach so you can optimize your efforts.

I'm happy to offer suggestions (like the above ones), the more information you can share, the better advice I can offer up. 

Redhawk
 
Mark Tudor
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After visiting and getting my hands dirty, I would say the soil survey was definitely based on the general area, not my specific 20 acres. I didn't do a soil comp test, putting samples in a jar with water/shake/settle/mark method but will plan for that going forward.

Overall the slope was very flat in most areas, like 0-2% slope, with some specific spots where there was (relatively) significant slope change. So say 1-2' drop over 300', then a 5' drop over 50', and then another 1-2' change over another 200'.

I pruned out some smaller trees where they were bunched up, lots of spots where a 6" DBH tree had 1-3 more trees within a foot or two that were 1-2" DBH. So I cut out the small ones that were too close, and left the cut trees in more open spots. Couldn't get a tree trimmer out in a timely manner to chip them, but I doubt I would have had enough material to make it worth it. I spent a full day removing ladder fuel and tossing the pieces away from any trees in case there's a ground fire.

Like any parcel in the wild, the soil was a mix of conditions. There's been plenty of trees that had been left on the ground and broken down over the years, with great soil underneath including happy worms and bugs. Other spots were more exposed with what seemed heavy clay soil and rocks. So I can see once I'm there full time and have a 4x4 with hitch that can bring in a chipper or pick up material from nearby sites, I can really add organic matter to spots where I want to grow more.

I did get a lot of seeds planted, black locust and osage orange only after talking to the forester about conditions. The red maple he felt would need more water than the site normally gets to establish properly. I soaked the seeds the night before to help get them started. I planted 2-3 osage orange seeds at 9" intervals around 350' along the south of the property where the road easement runs, and near the east edge of the property was a flat, open area where I planted black locust seeds every 3 big steps/10' in a grid- I planted a row then shifted over about 10' and came back for the next row. I might have filled in an acre or so that way, putting 2-3 seeds in each spot to hope that at least 1 seed would grow. I then realized how long this was taking as I planted in a light cold drizzle, and decided to "broadcast seed" the remainder of both in other open spaces, hoping some will take hold.

My will to plant all the seeds directly as planned was dampened a bit by the sheer number of deer in the area- at one point I looked up and counted 11 deer running by the south perimeter, and multiple times saw 5-6 deer hanging out at the north end of the property as well. Several little game trails between my trees where they regularly run since the neighbor to my west is active and has a fenced area for horses. Lots of deer droppings too where they stop to munch on stuff. So my concern is that the fresh new shoots become the latest in-season fare at the open-air bistro these deer frequent. So I put in about 3 days of planting, and will see how much survives when I go back in the fall. If the osage orange does well, I'll weave the shoots together to create the hedge base, and keep doing that each year and plant more seeds to extend the hedge.
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Osage Orange hedge from seeds
 
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