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Establishing a forest garden in a grassland  RSS feed

 
gardener
Posts: 824
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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I'm working on a long term plan to develop about an acre of my property into a forest garden. Currently, this area is all clay soils on two different slopes and covered by mostly grasses. There is a seasonal stream that flows between the two slopes that I hope to build ponds in. I'm not sure what is the best way to transform this one acre from a grassland to a forest garden.

The grasses in this area are not the type I want to leave on the property. In smaller sections of my property I have just been mulching the grass with cardboard and woodchips and then planting trees, shrubs and other plants. This has worked great but it is impractical for the larger forest garden. I'm really only using this method within zone 1 of my property and a bit in zone 2.

I'm considering using chickens and perhaps sheep to help me reduce the grasses. I thought I could also have the chickens help me spread woodchips and fall leaves once the grasses were first reduced. The next step would then be to plant a lot of trees - especially some fast growing nitrogen fixing types like red alder - and perhaps also some herbaceous nitrogen fixers like lupine. I would chop and drop some of these and the larger nitrogen fixing trees like red alder would be cut down in 5 to 10 years and placed on contour across the slope to help retain water and build soil. I would make sure some of the trees could be coppiced on a regular cycle.

Overtime, I would add more edible trees and shrubs with the hope that the grasses would be pushed out and eventually replaced by other plants.

This process would be repeated across the slopes creating variation since parts of the forest garden would be further along than other parts. I figured it would take a fair bit of time before the whole one acre was established and dominated by edible trees and shrubs.

So to summarize the process I'm thinking about I would first run sheep to get the grass down low. Then run chickens through it to further reduce the grass and before moving the chickens add some mulch piles for the chickens to spread. Once the mulch is down I would plant a mix of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants with a focus on nitrogen fixing plants. I would then run chickens back through these areas on a long cycle and chop and drop a lot of the nitrogen fixing plants and some other plants like big leaf maples.

The sheep would be run through some lanes that I would keep open but I'm also considering not having sheep in the long run and just use them to help reduce the grasses.

The goal of all of this would be to reduce the grass and build the organic content of the soil while also establishing edible plants.

Overtime I would plant more edible plants and reduce the number of nitrogen fixing plants in favor of the edible plants. The chickens would continue to be run through these areas on a long but regular cycle.

I'm not sure if this is a realistic plan - how effective are chickens at spreading mulch? Would the grasses be reduced enough to be replaced by the edible and nitrogen fixing plants? What about the soil - would this process improve the soil? Anything stand out to you with this plan - both good and bad?

Thanks!
 
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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geoff lawton turns grassy areas of his land into forest by using chickens to clear the grass.  They are very effective at spreading mulch and digging the soil.  After chickens clear the soil, seeds and trees are planted, and chickens aren't (usually) allowed back in for several years, when the forest is large enough to withstand their activity.

https://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-agriculture/using-chickens-plant-food-forest.html



https://realfarmacy.com/a-forest-full-of-food/
 
Author
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Location: Herefordshire, England, UK
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Hi Daron,

For your sheep/chicken approach Stefan Sobkowiak's alley cropping pattern would make a lot of sense. If you haven't come across it yet, have a look at his "permacultrue orchard" site for that.

your place and approach sounds a bit different to what we do where I live - we aren't using livestock to manage the land but use targeted mowing instead.
Have a look at this thread to see if there's anything useful for you in our approach. https://permies.com/t/90408/Converting-orchard-forest-garden-Aikido#741423
 
pollinator
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Well, to paraphrase Sepp, if you don't use animals, then you must do the animals' work.

I like the alley cropping idea, especially on-contour.

Have you thought at all, Daron, of goats? I know sheep and grassland are a good fit, but I was wondering about your selection of nitrogen-fixing shrubs and trees, especially ones that coppice readily. If you were to keep the stocking rate low, a small group of goats could help to cycle nutrients faster, and could, perhaps with some protective infrastructure, keep the nitrogen fixers low in profile, so as to not interfere with the establishment of food plants.

This would either happen before food trees go in, or with appropriate barriers to protect things you'd prefer not be munched.

Lastly, I think looking at the soil microbiology might be good to do. There's a lot of great information about encouraging your soil life to thrive and about how to tweak it to support the changes you're making in Dr. Bryant Redhawk's Epic List of Soil Science Threads. Specifically, I would suggest inoculating the acre with a mushroom slurry to increase the ratio of fungi to bacteria in the soil. Read over it, if you have the time, but Redhawk's subsoil inoculator is brilliant, and honestly, the difference between my soil before and after compost extract inoculation is just incredible.

Lastly, one idea I am going to play with when I am trying to establish an alley-cropped food forest/garden/pasture mix is to set up a small version of my plan, closest as possible to my zone 1, literally just one or two swaled rows of food forest, including herbaceous, woody-stemmed and cane berries, mulberries, stone fruit trees, pear, apple, hazel, and probably some tall-growing overstory mast producer.

I will then set posts where I want new food forest rows and run line from post to post, to give the bloody migratory welfare fowl and the songbirds somewhere to sit and shit after they've eaten of my berries.

In this way, I hope to use the birds to spread the most mobile of my food and nitrogen-fixing species by that most natural of mechanisms.

Some pictures would be appreciated. But keep us posted, either way, and good luck.

-CK
 
Daron Williams
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Thanks all! I really appreciate the comments and ideas. I have been leaning towards using chickens because I was already planning on raising them anyways so I figured might as well try to incorporate them too. As far as sheep I had been thinking about raising lambs for meat each year - not a permanent heard just buy some in the spring and keep them until late fall. I'm trying to figure out the best way to get all the meat that my family and I use from animals raised on our own property. If I ended up using sheep then I figured it would make sense to incorporate them into the forest garden.

Goats would be interesting to raise instead of sheep - I guess I have been too worried about them not playing nice with my trees. I also was worried about what sort of fencing I would need. I guess I assumed they would need a heavier duty fence than sheep... For the sheep I was planning on just setting up a paddock system using electric net fencing that I could easily move around. Would that work with goats? What about getting small goats? Would they be easier to control and still be able to get some meat each year?

The biggest reason why I want to use animals is because I was already planning on raising them anyways. But I don't have any experience with that side of homesteading so I'm not sure what combination makes the most sense. I have also considered rabbits and doing a chicken / rabbit rotation through the grasses. What do you all think about rabbits + chickens to help transition the property from grass to forest garden? I think due to my inexperience with animals I have been leaning towards smaller animals...

I will take a look at the thread you linked to Tomas and thank you Chris and Tyler for the comments and advice. I also like the alley cropping idea - I have the permaculture orchard DVD just have not watched it yet. I won it in a giveaway and just have not gotten around to watching it. One thing I like about the alley cropping method is that it would make it easier to keep raising animals in the forest garden even after it is fully established.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Be careful what breed of sheep you get if you plan to put them in with trees - my Jacob Sheep destroyed many, many trees by eating the bark, which they loved above any other food.  They were able to ringbark a tree in a matter of a couple of hours or less, depending on the size of the tree.

Jacobs are considered a "goat-like" breed of sheep and seem to prefer browsing to grazing.

 
gardener
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Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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In smaller sections of my property I have just been mulching the grass with cardboard and woodchips and then planting trees, shrubs and other plants. This has worked great but it is impractical for the larger forest garden.

While sheet mulching an acre is a hefty project, consider mini sheet mulching: 

What I am planning to do to initiate the N fixing component in part of my project is to go and get a lot of tiny little alders that I'm going to get from the banks of a new logging road (from which their future would be to be routinely mechanically brushed to keep the road open).  I am going to mow the grasses and other plants in a contour strip across part of my meadow, and get the strip good and wet.  Then I will have gone to the liquor store and get beer flats.  I can pit a sh*t ton of beer flats in my car or my parent's truck, or even more if I bring my big 4X4 (which I seldom drive far, because of fuel costs).  I will lay down the beer flat and  cut an x in the middle, and fill it with wood chips, straw, or hay.  I will transplant an alder in the x before filling the tray.  There will be a three foot or so gap and then another one.  This will get the Alder ahead of the game as far as the meadow grasses competing are concerned, and after that, the alders will eat the meadow grasses for breakfast and be asking for seconds. :) The alders will shade out some of the meadow and at the same time be supplying nitrogen, moisture retention and biomass to the landscape.  No massive sheet mulching project needed.   The next step will be to put another beer flat with a caragana, or a willow, or a goumi, or a saskatoon, or a birch, or a blueberry or something else useful in the gaps between the alders, or to establish a second row of alders, below this one, with alternate spacing.  When I can get around to it, I will dig a swale, just upslope of this, tossing the material in the gaps between the flats, and plant a row of willows, alders, birches and other rocket fuel coppice woods in the swale.  Over time this multi rowed strip of woody plants will be coppiced or pollarded, or chop and dropped or left to grow of it's own accord depending on my needs, to keep it's height minimized so that it provides shelter and micro climates but does not shade out the areas that will be producing smaller crops, like potatoes or heritage grains.  Upslope of the swale will be a road or a cart path, or a wheel barrow path depending on the frequency of swales.     
 
I suggest huckleberry pie. But the only thing on the gluten free menu is this tiny ad:
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