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Transitioning from farm forest plot

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NW Indiana farm on land that was originally wetlands until Army COE dredged the Kankakee River in the 1800's.
Mostly corn and beans but we have a 7-acre woods that was left, probably for firewood back in the day.
Not swampy, as there are drainage ditches, but stays pretty wet.  Mix of muck, clay, and sand, as befits a former swamp.
No trees producing anything edible.  Mostly cottonwood, ash, scrub oak, maple (not sugar), sassafras, willow and who knows what else.
Lots of understory weeds and low bushes.

Considering taking down some of the largest trees for hugelkultur, mowing the understory and transitioning from
the edges in.  Goal is 2 acres of edible within a 20-year timeframe.

Anyone with suggestions or experience would love to hear from you.
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Location: Marmora, Ontario
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Hi Larry.

I would keep things like shelter trees. I would be very cautious about taking out too much of the forest all at once. As you are looking to maintain forest ecology for your forest garden, I would suggest selective thinning, with an eye to keeping everything sheltered from dessicating winds.

I would also identify everything, or as much as you can, to determine what you can coppice. That can just be chopped without worrying. Also, if you were to map these out, you could pollard them instead, keeping them as fenceposts while the branches regrow.

Honestly, I think that if your goal was a return of food, soonest, in the context of a forest garden, I would alley crop a mixed food forest starting from the understory.

My ideal mix starts with strawberries and other herbaceous berries, currants, low and highbush blueberries, and whatever woody and cane berries would be appropriate, right on up to mulberry trees, hazels, stone fruit trees of all sizes, pear, apple, whatever works in your area, and a long-maturing, tall, mast-producing tree for the eventual overstory. I would want a nitrogen fixing bacteria host shrub or tree, something that dropped its leaves seasonally, as well as coppices, so you could trim it back at need without worry.

I would also look for something like a sheltered wet spot in the forest plot, somewhere you could essentially culture forest litter, so the healthy soil bacteria and fungal populations inoculate the mulch you create, so you can spread that around to improve the health of your forest garden.

I think how you proceed depends on exactly what you want to produce. You could theoretically selectively clear trees to increase light levels while maintaining shelter from dessicating winds, and then just carve alleys through it, seeding either side of the walkways with a guild comprising as a main crop several different cane berry types, selected for staggered harvests. With that as a base, you could see fruit within the first two years.

I think we'd all love pictures. Keep us posted, and good luck.

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Location: Ohio, USA
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Hi and welcome!
I'm out of Ohio, so a similar region. Maples are awesome! Even some non- sugar maples produce an edible sap.  Many maples have edible seeds that can be used for food or fodder. Nothing quite like food falling on your head.  Acorns, depending on the species, can be used to make a super nutritious flour that can even act as a meat substitute. Keep your eyes out for  pawpaw, walnut, and hickory. Also look out for black berries, raspberries, crabapple, ramps, etc. A good inventory of what you already have is very important to a good design. And, a good inventory might take a year since ramps only show up early spring. Since you already have a woods full of locally adapted species, you can use what you find there as seed stock.

Another thing you described is the moisture situation.  Where the water flows or stands can help you figure out what goes where. Drainage pipes: make sure you don't tie into a farm that sprays because your trees will try to reach into the pipes. There are drainage water control structures that can stop water from draining, if you want.

Plant choices: that dependson your goals for earning $$ and living sustainably.  If it's just about feeding the family, you don't need a large or dense food forest.  If your interested in making money, then you've got to see what sells and figure out how to incorporate that naturally.  Here there's a shortage of U-pick berry farms with sizable berry crops. So there you go. My 2 cents.

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