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Advice for transitioning spruce forest into a forest garden?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 3
Location: Nova Scotia, Zone 5
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Hello forum!

I'm a longtime gardener, but new to permaculture. I've been trawling the forums for information on shifting food bearing species into a woodland, but haven't come up with much.

First some background information; I've recently joined a land-share in Nova Scotia (Canada) Zone 5, we have over 30 acres of woodland, most of that was clearcut about 20 years ago and contains lots of spruce trees. The spruce beetle has shown up, and we are working on felling the affected trees. This activity is opening up large segments of the property and I hope to be able to replace some of those trees with food bearing species. 

There are feral apple trees on the property, and raspberry / elderberry in places also. My first thought was to buy some bulk tree seeds and just see what grows in place, figuring that the decomposing spruce roots and increased light would help create opportunity for new trees & shrubs. I haven't thought much about ground covers, and vines... but maybe that can come later.

I'm in the process of building a dwelling on the property and a few others are headed that way as well, putting in some food bearing perennials for the long term is a very welcome thought.  My goal is to be able to live full-time on the property within 10 years, so this has a bit of lead time.

This property has clay soil, been alternately forest and agricultural land in the last 100 years, and has good access to water. Any advice or experiences you may have would be very helpful. 

 
pollinator
Posts: 354
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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Welcome Christine, and congratulations on starting an epic project!

It sounds like your situation is very similar to sepp holzer's starting point, and he has developed systems that theoretically could feed 20 billion people sustainably and with lots of wildlife if applied globally. I'd read everything you can by him and on his work. It seems Permies' founder Paul Wheaton himself is firmly based in the Sepp School. Mark Shepherd's Strategic Total and Utter Neglect (STUN) method also sounds like your approach to tree planting, and he's a wealth of knowledge as well. Both these guys are in similar climates to yours too.

As for my design thoughts, I bet you want every bit of warmth you can get there so I would consider putting garden spaces with large (4-6ft) hugelkulture beds abound in south facing crescent shaped forest openings (suntraps). I would concentrate on establishing a small space well and then moving on to the next chunk. I'd start with a nursery that you can protect for perennials to get a little head start while you do your observation and design for the rest of the property over the first year at least. You can also use this first year to let the dead spruce wood break down and become more friendly to deciduous plants.  I'd get some hardy grapes and hardy kiwi going in terms of vines. You can also start fruit trees from seed in your situation, or at least grow your own root stock, but you probably will want to protect them from deer in some way so a relatively small but well designed nursery space will help in my opinion.

In general, I'd try to remember to integrate each element with the whole design so each part of your design has diverse beneficial interactions with multiple other parts. Like a driveway being more than just an access point, its a water collection device, a fire break, a sun column and potential wind tunnel. Good designs make each element more than just what is, so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Best of luck in your adventure!

 
gardener
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Remember that there are kinds of mushrooms that can be cultivated on spruce wood. 

Field and Forest
or
Fungi.com
can tell you which.
Chicken of the woods comes to mind. Some oysters.
John S
PDX OR
 
garden master
Posts: 4806
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
542
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First some background information; I've recently joined a land-share in Nova Scotia (Canada) Zone 5, we have over 30 acres of woodland, most of that was clearcut about 20 years ago and contains lots of spruce trees. The spruce beetle has shown up, and we are working on felling the affected trees. This activity is opening up large segments of the property and I hope to be able to replace some of those trees with food bearing species. 

There are feral apple trees on the property, and raspberry / elderberry in places also. My first thought was to buy some bulk tree seeds and just see what grows in place, figuring that the decomposing spruce roots and increased light would help create opportunity for new trees & shrubs. I haven't thought much about ground covers, and vines... but maybe that can come later.

I'm in the process of building a dwelling on the property and a few others are headed that way as well, putting in some food bearing perennials for the long term is a very welcome thought.  My goal is to be able to live full-time on the property within 10 years, so this has a bit of lead time.

This property has clay soil, been alternately forest and agricultural land in the last 100 years, and has good access to water. Any advice or experiences you may have would be very helpful. 


Welcome Christine,
Since you are having to thin the spruce tree stand, you will have the space for both gardens and food forest.
Before you get to planting though, you need to look into the water management part, if you don't do that first, it will haunt you down the road.
The time to do water control is when you are ready to start making your gardens, that way you have the water management in place prior to doing anything else, which prevents finding out you have to go through the middle of a planted area to get the water control in place.
If the land is gentle slopes you can use swales and berms, which form alleys between them for planting trees and crops.
Once you have the water management in place you can start growing grains and other crops in the alleys and you can mass plant trees behind the berms, letting the trees fend for themselves and coming back later on to thin the dead and the weak.

In your area you have several nut tree species that will do quite well including; Walnut, chestnut and hazelnut, these would give you one type of crop to sell the excess to either brokers or at farmers markets.
Asparagus is a long living crop that could be planted in alleys for easier harvesting and the market is good.
Service berry, blue berry and strawberry would also do well in your area and again, there are markets for these.

Ben gave sound ideas, I would also recommend you buy Mark's book and one or two of Sepp's books.

Don't forget that animals are a part of the equation, the animals provide great services for building soil and they can be used for land clearing, pruning and plowing as well as their usual functions.

The first thing to do is observe, make notes on what you see happening, then you will be able to plan better to suit your needs.
Having a group like a land share can be a great thing, best put to use as a tribe where everyone agrees on the direction for the lands uses.

Clay will improve greatly just by growing plants and letting the dead material rot in place.
You can also use cover crops to either cut and let lay or crimp roll down, this allows you to grow a grain crop while the cover crop is sprouted and waiting as the understory for grain harvest time, then the cover crop takes over until it is time to chop and drop it.
You have a great adventure before you, with lots of knowledge to be had and used.

Redhawk
 
Christine Waugh
Posts: 3
Location: Nova Scotia, Zone 5
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Thanks folks!

Lots of great ideas here, I'm headed up to the property this coming weekend and will try and get some photos of what I'm working with.

I was wondering a bit about swales. Our soil depth is fairly shallow across this region, with bedrock not far under the surface. Add in the fact that clay doesn't drain well, and a hilly landscape... I'm not well educated on the subject, but it seems like large scale swale systems might cause instability in the hill sides.

We will be contracting some earth work to extend an old logging road, but my gut is telling me to play it safe with brush dams or hugels  and/or small swale structures off contour to slow any run off. The land stays pretty damp through till summer and only fully dries out in patches of sun (except in major drought, 2016 for instance)  We've got plenty of jewelweed and ferns through the forest.

There is a river running through the property, and it may be possible to slow the flow of that down with some logs thrown in as makeshift dams. No one downstream but the ocean, so it shouldn't be a problem. I will be installing a rain barrel to capture rainwater from the roof of the structure I'm in the process of building, it should be able to capture enough to water a small garden through any dry spells. Generally though we get plenty of rain.

Thanks again for all your input!
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 4806
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
542
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Don't forget that the alternative to swale and berm is terracing (which works better for shallow soil areas).
You are right in thinking that for you swale/berm might not be the best idea, they can cause issues with springs popping up or full on blowouts.
When we first got our property I tried swale/berm in an area that I should not have, it is now becoming terraces, which are working far better.

I live on top of a mountain, so I have swale/berm on the ridge and as you move to the slope they change into terraces.
 
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