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Ideas for utilizing our land  RSS feed

 
Posts: 5
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We have a small farm in westernish VA. We are in Nelson, so the mountains, and we have about 11 acres. Out of the 11 acres about 4 is clear, the rest is wooded with 20-40 year trees and rich healthy forest, I mean HEALTHY. We have thousands of ghost flower, crane fly orchid, Solomon's seal, etc....lots of semi endangered plants.

Now here is my moral dilemma. I have been only using the woods as a wood lot for our woodstove for the past five years, since we bought it. Now, I am running out of usable pasture and open land for my farming escapades. I currently have two large gardens going. I raise chickens for meat and eggs but they are tucked into a scrubby area. I have a small berry patch with goji berries, blue berries and raspberries, and aronia and elderberries. I have herb gardens that are fit into the natural layout of the land, and I have a small and upcoming orchard, and a fenced area where I plan to raise East Friesian sheep for milk, meat, and wool starting next year. I have angora rabbits and bees, basket willows, dyers garden, and a thousand other projects going on too but I'm running out of open land, as I said before.

Now I do currently raise SOME mushrooms, I have a shiitake lot and a few stumps of oyster mushrooms, and I also harvest wild trametes versicolor (turkey tail) for their medicinal values. I also wild harvest many medicinal herbs from the woods. I have a deep appreciation for my beautiful forest, but I need to expand my usable land. I have been playing with the idea of cutting about two or
three acres at most as a small pasture for the sheep during summer, and making hay on the one that I already have established. We could use the cut wood for our stove or lumber, and instead of clearing the stumps and destroying the soil with heavy equipment, that I could use them for mushroom production. This would still leave 3 to 5 acres of woods. I am worried about having enough wood for the future though from only 3 to 5 acres, and I am also worried about erosion as our land is all uphill.... literally, we own a mountain and there is nothing flat unless you make it. I'm hoping that by leaving the stumps it will help keep the soil in place until other grasses and shrubs can take hold.

If you have any ideas that would help, or if you think I shouldn't cut the pasture patch please let me know. If you have any forest agriculture ideas other than ginseng (already working on it)I would love to hear them as well! Really, any suggestions on how to best utilize this wooded area of my property, and how best to clear and use the patch I intend to cut while doing the least damage are welcome! I hope to hear from you soon!

PS...sorry for my rambling post. I've never been a conscise writer. Also, I love this site! Thank you to everyone for all the knowledge and ideas!
 
pollinator
Posts: 1799
Location: Toronto, Ontario
120
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Hi Amanda.

Thanks for sharing with us. I am glad that such a sensitive piece of land has gone to someone so clued-in to its natural value and potential frailty.

In terms of your sheep pasturage, how are you grazing them? Do they have access to that whole pasture at all times, or do keep them in discrete sections or paddocks and move them frequently to give the grazed pasture time to regenerate? If you aren't yet doing this, I suggest you think about if you could do it that way. A paddock-shift system that allows a month or more for a grazed area to regenerate does increase yield per acre of pasture, which is effectively like having more pasture.

I applaud your idea of leaving the stumps in place and using them for mushrooms and slope retention. That last is critical, as you've indicated you already know.

I would start looking at your land in terms of contour lines. I would make sure that if you remove trees, that downslope from your pasture-to-be, possibly supported by the fresh stumps, you arrange rocks and woody debris as sediment traps. In this way, you are preparing for the erosion that will occur, whatever you do, but instead of losing soil downhill, the slope slowly erodes into your sediment traps, creating, if not a completely level terrace, at least a terrace-like lane with a gentle slope.

You could do this on contour on what you think is the best part of the slope for your needs. I would do just one at first, to observe changes to the surrounding forest, to make changes or alter the approach at need. It is also possible to do this in narrow lanes or alleys, still on contour, for minimal forest disruption.

It would be like making alley crop terraces, but with really wide forest alleys, and with paddocks of pasture rather than cropland or garden beds. This would maximise edge habitat as well, likely leading to a boost in biodiversity.

I would love to see pictures, if you're willing. Let us know how it goes, and good luck.

-CK
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
Posts: 1799
Location: Toronto, Ontario
120
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Oh, and what tree species are involved? Is there anything growing on your land already that takes to pollarding or coppicing well? It sounds like you need to identify any cut-and-come-again trees and mark them for a rotational harvest. I mean, if you don't need to wait for a tree to establish a root zone, you pretty much do away with the whole 1st year sleep, 2nd year creep, 3rd year leap thing. It's pretty much just leap, which will mean greater yields from the same amount or less of land.

-CK
 
gardener
Posts: 2595
Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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Working on the other end of the equation, you mention being concerned about having enough woodlot for fuel; how efficient is your current fuel use? How many cords a year do you need? Something like a rocket mass heater can severely reduce the amount of wood you need to cut, and use quickly regenerating wood better than a conventional wood stove can (not to mention that it can significantly reduce air pollution and eliminate creosote in your chimney.)
 
Posts: 571
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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I am with the others.
I would work within the constraints that were in place when you fell in love with it.
If you rip and tear up the woodland, its going to be lost forever.
Remember that what the first white settlers did, kept opening up new lands and in the end whole forests disappeared.
 
Amanda Parker
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I absolutely love the idea about doing the wide alleys with sediment traps! We have done something very similar with the already clear sections of land but they are nore like wide terraces. When we bought this place it had eroded down to bedrock I'm many places. Every time it rained the driveway got covered in red mud, so I spent the first year practicing my stone masonry. It's year 6 and we are just now starting to see some fertile land coming back. I've been building up the soil with manure from my animals and local farmers as well as compost, mostly mushroom compost. I packed a lot of the areas in front of the erosion control walls with fallen trees and leaves and manure, they are basically huge hugelkulture beds. I've gotten very very efficient at building rock walls to catch runoff. I'll see if I can grab some pictures later.

Most of the species of tree here are oaks. Some red, mostly white. There are also intermittent poplars, maples, and a few cherry and hickory. I had the forestry service woodlot adviser come up the first year and we have been cutting down select poplar and twisted or unsturdy trees to keep the woodlot up. We don't use too much wood honestly. I would say 6 cords a year TOPs. Last year we only used 2 but it was a mild winter. I also have a gasifier engine that runs off of the smoke from the stove when the power goes out. I thought you guys might think that's neat, my fiance built it. I'm not sure which species are best for coppicing and pollarding. I've honestly never thought about it for the forest trees which is silly because I just did it with a girdled apple tree in the orchard and I do it every year with my willows.

The sheep will have divided pastures. I would like to split the 2 acres I already have into 2 sections for grazing and a small paddock. I also want to fence my orchard and let them graze in there in the fall and get windfalls. Thank you all so much for the advice! It is my duty, as I see it, to improve my little peice of land and help make it as healthy as possible. If it is healthy it will be able to keep me and my family healthy and it has. I'm thinking about maybe clearing out a fairly flat section that is acting as basically a small pine Barron. It is full of damaged pines and nothing is growing under them. Aside from missing my pine needles that I use as mulch for my strawberries and blueberries, that area of about an acre and a half, would be the least damaging to remove. We do have other pines spread out on the property so the natural food source would still be there, and I just transplanted 35 pine trees from that area down to the side of the road to act as a noise break and privacy screen.
 
pollinator
Posts: 223
Location: Western North Carolina - Zone 7B stoney
58
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You have a ton of options, which is a great but confusing thing.  I am in a situation similar to yours, but I do not have livestock to graze.  This leaves me with less of a need for pasture land. 

For developing your land, I would suggest that you look into keyline irrigation as a planning tool.  The tough bit is actually keyline plowing the sections.  I am going to experiment with planting swales and hugelkultur beds along my keyline contours.  The biggest parts that I would suggest you look at in the keyline development is how they leave some trees and create water structures in specific locations.

Here's a copy of the keyline irrigation book.  It's a brilliantly written piece of literature, and they are highly successful at transforming even arid areas.  https://soilandhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/GoodBooks/The%20Keyline%20Plan.pdf
 
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