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Help getting started with land

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Hi, I’m a newbie to this site and growing and I’m looking for some advice.  2 years ago I managed to find and purchase 21 acers of forest land.  In the middle of it there was a field with a few pines growing.  Come to find out this property was an old 4H club location.  The field was where they had a baseball field.
I’d like to get a camp on it soon but so far I’ve just been clearing brush and cleaning up a bit.  I’ve cut the pines out of the field and I’d love to plant fruit trees in it.  But here is one of my issues.  The ground is hard as rock and now had a ton of pine stumps in it.  I’ve cut them as low to the grown as possible and chipped the trees.  I was wondering if I should get someone to grind/plow the field (it’s .8 acer in size) and then plant fruit trees?  There is a farm nearby so I could get some manure to add to the field once its plowed.
Where the driveway comes into the field at the top of the picture, the field is 225 ft long.  I’ve cleared out some alders and there are popular growing along there.  Would it be better to clear the standing woods back a bit and plant the fruit trees there, where the soil wouldn’t be as hard and probably better.  Maybe a swale along the edge of the woods?
I have already orders some trees and any advice of where would be a good place to place them would be appreciated.  Here is a list of trees/bushes I’ve ordered already:
5 Sea buckthorn
Juliet cherry
10 Nanking cherry
Romeo cherry
2 Elderberry
Aronia Viking berry
Evens cherry
3 hardy kiwi
Cupid cherry
Rose cherry
I’m also going to purchase some apple, plum and pear trees as well.  I’m in a zone 4 – 4b.  Also I’ll be planting some raspberries and black berries.  There are already wild raspberries growing in the field so I think I should be able to plant some raspberries and blackberries in with them.
Any help you can offer would be appreciated.

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Posts: 3058
Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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I don't have specific advice on the fruit trees, but elderberries do well where the soil is moist. If there is a low spot or drainage swale with good sun, that would be best for them.

In general, I doubt that plowing up the field is the best preparation for planting the trees. I would first dig one or more deep holes around the field to see what the soil profile is like... doing it where you want trees later would be smart There is no point doing anything more to the pine stumps if you're not trying to grow open field crops - they will rot in a few years and improve the soil.

What is your climate, how much rain and how consistent? You may want to build swales to catch water if the field can be dry, and you want to have that planned and preferably done before you plant trees.
Posts: 281
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We had a field cleared, but were able to have it done by a pro outfit that had the equipment to push over trees and essentially yank them root and all out of our silty sandy soil. Even with that we still have a lot of work remaining and have settled for purchasing a walk behind tractor that can work the soil to the extent best for our purposes. Prior to deciding on a tractor we were going to rent a skid steer with a power box rake to break up the topsoil for planting.

Have you gone to the USDA website (if your located in the US) to see what type of soil you have?  Have you dug any test holes to see what lies below the surface? Getting a soil test might be a good idea.

There seems to be a body of water on the property in the lower right of the photo. I would also want to look at the topography estimate any possible runoff before applying any manure.

Good luck!
Posts: 3527
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I would suggest getting soil tests done. If the hardness of the soil has to do with a mineral deficiency, as happens with calcium in some clay soils, then the solution is to amend with something like gypsum dust and grit, and getting as much organic matter onto the land as possible.

I also suggest you check out the wiki for Bryant Redhawk's list of threads on soil science, below. There are comprehensive instructions on making compost extracts for specific situations, as well as other amendments and equipment such as subsoil compost extract injectors for improving land without busting it all up.

If you need to amend a lot, or if the soil life and structure is poor, as you seem to suggest, you may want to drop a bunch of organic matter, like the wood chips you mentioned, three inches or so deep on the clearing, along with all the amendments indicated by the soil test, and do a one-time till to get the organic matter and amendments into the soil. If there is soil life that you wish to preserve, a gentler method is to work it in with a broad fork without inverting the soil structure.

After the organic matter is in place to feed soil bacteria, you might want to strongly consider applying compost extract to it, inoculating it with the soil bacteria and fungi you want in your soil.

If you can ask anyone about the wild mushrooms in the area, ask if there are any Chanterelles in the area. They grow in association with some pines and oaks, and if you can encourage them, they are well worth the effort. Check the price at the market if you doubt me. You might also consider blueberries, as you had pine on the clearing at some point, and the land is likely somewhat acidic.

You might, incidentally, want to include buckwheat in your soil improvement seed mix. It likes acidic soil, starts early and grows quickly enough to outcompete most other things.

Keep us posted, and good luck.

Posts: 6644
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Woody, Chris has given some of the best ways to get started so I won't repeat those.

Most likely, since this was a ball field, the hard soil is caused by compaction, that means you need to reverse the compaction somehow (chris mentioned several of these options).
the photo looks to me like you really don't need to do a major disturbance like plowing, and if there are stumps, they could be a problem for a plow.

To remove stumps the easy way, get some fungi and make a slurry to pour over the exposed stump, drilling some holes that are at least 1/2 inch diameter will help get that slurry down into the stump interior and that means faster decomposition.

Do read some of my threads on soil there is a lot of information there that will help you with the decision process.

Sea buckthorn, Kiwi, Viking berry and Elderberry will all like the fringe area of the clearing, observe the path of the sun so you can place these so they will get later afternoon partial shade.
The cherry trees will want full sun, I would do a staggered planting of these so no two alike are next to each other.

Woody Malloy
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Hi Everyone,

Thank you very much for the helpful suggestions.
I’ve got a few weeks before my plants/trees get here so I’ll be doing a lot of reading you suggest.

There is a beaver pond on the property but the field is very flat.  So I don’t think there is much run off of water from the field.
But that is something I’ll have to consider if I do get some manure spread on the ground.

Can’t wait for spring now.

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I am not a huge fan of tillage, but I hate compaction even worse. You mentioned manure application and nearby water bodies which honestly makes me cringe. The reality is, with so much compaction, even being a level surface, water runs somewhere, and most likely to the water body. And applying manure is not going to do a whole lot for your soil if it runs off, and will do more harm the body of water!

The permicultural answer to your problem is the sub-soiler, also called the Yeoman Plow. It is a unique piece of machinery that has one, or at least very few shanks, but does deep into the ground. Above ground it leaves just a slit in the soil that is barely noticeable, but underground it is busting up compaction! It has very shanks because it takes a fair amount of horsepower, and in your case where you have small stumps, it will take even more power and traction, but it will get you want you want. Reduced compaction, better soil, and allow air and manure nutrients down into your soil.

Without being there I am not sure what it will take. Perhaps your nearby big farmer has one, and a tractor to tow it? If not you can buy a small single shank version for very little money and use a compact tractor to pull it. If it cannot break through the roots of the trees, that is not the end of the world. breaking up what you can underground will do wonders.

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