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Coniferous forest gardening - is it possible

 
Posts: 37
Location: Ontario / Nova Scotia, Canada
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Hi Tomas!

Do you have any suggestions for where to start within a coniferous forest?

We have 16 acres of classic Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (Canada) forest - which means lots of overcrowded spruce, tamarack, fir, and birch, and not much undergrowth. My partner and I aren't young anymore, either, so real long term plantings aren't going to be terribly useful to us. Where can we go with this?

Advice from everyone is welcome...

Thanks
 
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I have seen Cherries, apples, plums, & pears, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, blueberries, goose berries, strawberries, Oregon grape, persimmon  and vine grapes growing wild and prolific amongst and within natural coniforus  forest of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, piss fir, spruce and cedar that also contained hardwoods like oak varieties and madrone, but mostly evergreen softwood.


I'd imagine that blueberries and others would do well also.
 
gardener
Posts: 698
Location: SoCal USA
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I'm also curious about this setup, as the parcel I purchased is almost entirely ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine currently, and I've planted black locust and osage orange from seed to hopefully get those species growing, if the deer will leave them alone a little. The goal is to retire in about 5 years and start building on the site, and hopefully have an osage orange hedgerow tall enough to keep the deer out and allow planting fruit and nut trees/bushes within for my use.

I'm curious if I should start by planting nitrogen fixing ground covers or something else first, to try to improve the soil as it is not very good from my limited inspection.
 
pollinator
Posts: 689
Location: NW California, 1500-1800ft,
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The coniferous forests of North America's most significant food product for humans was anadromous fish (salmon, trout, candlefish). This produced more predictable, prolific and high quality protein than any modern use of that land has, especially considering how little work they took to maintain and the other foods and forest products produced like those mentioned above. It was basically just harvest responsibly and don't mess up the habitat. Now that we've done the opposite of that, I see it as my responsibility to improve the downstream habitat of anywhere I garden by slowing, soaking and shading any water I have come across my property.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1981
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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Under our canarian pine, no way to grow for example! I have not seen this. Roots run far and are competitive, pine needles accumulate and give a too thick mulch.
Some places have an understory of other trees and bush.
You can find specific mushrooms that like resinous trees.

Basically, resinous trees are pioneers and not really places for gardens, but for wild life we can hunt and trap.

If cutting is part of the possible, some sunny parts can be gained + huggel kultur with the wood. if resinous I think it needs to dry before huggel.

If you remove the necessary - as I think your main important word is "overcowded" - then you can get all the fruit trees and berries that like acidic soil and climate adapted, because they will get some sun. My place has a limit you do not have: it is dry.
 
Ben Zumeta
pollinator
Posts: 689
Location: NW California, 1500-1800ft,
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In the west coast coniferous forests understory food plants include vaccinum (blue/cran/huckleberry), hazelnuts, tanoak and true oak acorns, wild ginger, gooseberry, oregon grape, sorrel, edible ferns (licorice fern and swordfern fiddleheads), and of course fungi galore. I would bet the NE has similar understory plant diversity, if not greater given the deciduous diversity. Also, the snow and snowshoes were used as a tool for hunting in Algonquin and other NE native cultures. NW First Salmon ceremonies and other overfishing prevention mores are similar to self imposed restrictions of NE native peoples on the exploitation of the advantages snowshoes provided in hunting. It has been said many times that the colder you get, the more hunting and livestock is necessary to utilize the energy naturally stored in animals in such ecosystems.
 
gardener
Posts: 6670
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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The conifer forest is set up for acidic loving plants, so most of the berries are going to do quite well in that environment along with some of the nut trees (check that nice list that Ben Z posted)
This is also prime chicken of the woods territory and a few other really good mushrooms can be grown there.
If you want to grow vegetables for the most part you would need to either do raised beds or line an area that you dug out and filled the lining with more suitable pH soil.
 
Posts: 73
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I have a similar question, on a much much smaller scale.

Urban lot, zone 5b, back of the yard is bordered by cedar (Thuja occidentalis), mostly shady, and a thick layer of cedar mulch. Fairly small zone (maybe 8x20?), but with a tiny urban lot, every square foot counts.

I have a couple of shade-tolerant fruiting plants at the edges (black currant, flowering raspberry or rubus odoratus, and haskap*) although I don't expect tremendous yield.  I am also planning to plant an amelanchier (Saskatoonberry or serviceberry) at the border.

So far, the only thing truly growing as a ground cover is wild violets (which we harvest for their young greens in salad) and a lone but beautiful fern (it certainly needs friends). I'd like to add plants with medicinal or tea potential.

Current candidates are:
- Bog Labrador Tea
- Wintergreen

Any other species you'd suggest that would work well in a guild with the serviceberry or generally in that area?

* for which I suspect I've been sold only mislabeled male specimens, unfortunately. Oh well... for now it's green and it fills a corner.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 6670
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1321
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First, do you own this land? Second, are those shading trees yours? If you can not remove any to be able to get some sun exposure, only shade loving plants have the abillity to thrive. Ph is probably lower closer to the trees.
 
gardener
Posts: 2123
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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I would check out some of the native edible plants in your area. There are often a ton of edible native plants and not just berries.

I'm not familiar with the ones in your area but for example here in western WA our conifer forests support wood sorrel, miners lettuce, osoberry, thimbleberry, serviceberry, hazelnut, several huckleberries, native blackberry, blackcap raspberry, Pacific waterleaf, salmon berry, woodland strawberry, Salal, black gooseberry, red elderberry, violets, ferns, red flowering currants, lilies and lots of edible fungi.

And I'm sure I'm missing some--I just got book on the ethnobotony of this area and I'm sure I will learn more reading that.

The point of listing those plants is to highlight that there are likely a ton of native edible plants in your area that would do fine in your forest. But with one major caveat.

Your forest sounds like it needs to be thinned and I would use the woody debris to create habitat in the forest to improve the growing conditions and create areas for wildlife. You could likely hire someone to do this work. I would focus on the smaller trees and the ones that are the most crowded and any that are diseased.

The goal would be to let more sun through but still retain a forested environment. Retaining some snags (dead standing trees) by girdling some of the trees would create great habitat for wildlife.

The reason to create habitat through the woody debris is to support wildlife in general but also to attract predators to help reduce pest problems.

Once thinned a bit and the habitat improved then the conditions would be great for various native edible plants. These plants would likely do great in those conditions.

But you don't have to stick to only native plants. As others have mentioned there are cultivated edible plants that would also do great. Planting a mix of the 2 groups would likely give you the best results.

Also, you don't have to do this over the whole property. Pick some areas to focus on and move forward from there.

Finally, shrubs and non-woody plants will give you the quickest harvests. Especially the non-woody plants which could be harvested in a year or 2.

Hope that helps!
 
Posts: 8
Location: Pennsylvania
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we have about 10 acres of deciduous woods.  I'm spending lots of time looking up plants and their uses, it's amazing the abundance in any ecosystem.  Not always the tastes we are used to.  It's interesting the thought of developing a food forest in an existing forest, whether coniferous or deciduous.  I always thought of a food forest as a purposefully developed forest with common food plants.  so this is a whole new world of possibility - using our existing woods and either intensify my efforts to find edible products there and/or start planting some shade tolerant plants and see what happens.  
 
Posts: 18
Location: PNWish
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We just purchased 15 acres of which at least 12 are coniferous forest. There is so much life in there. We are excited to find what edibles are already there.
 
Kena Landry
Posts: 73
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:First, do you own this land? Second, are those shading trees yours? If you can not remove any to be able to get some sun exposure, only shade loving plants have the abillity to thrive. Ph is probably lower closer to the trees.



Yes, I do own the land, but the trees are my neighbour's (mostly and old established hedge). So yes, shade loving plants it is. (We have sunnier areas in the yard, for garden beds and mixed perrenial/medicinal/ornamental plants.)

Soil is not extremely acidic since are in clay, so it balances itself. Haven't tested recently, but it would a great project for the kids!
 
Posts: 62
Location: Ontario, Canada
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I have 10 acres of cedar forest. Which I love. It convinced me to buy the land 20 years ago. The house wasn’t important at all. I have been thinning the forest over the years to create some light, to be able to plant other tree species to bring some diversity I have planted so many trees on my land especially nut trees and Rowan’s and elderberries, thousands actually. The only place the trees don’t thrive is near the cedars. The cedars were planted 30-40 years ago because of the rocky terrain they thought wasn’t suitable for farming. Now of course with the size of machinery that wouldn’t be an issue, since the clear cutting of forests in our area seems to be in full swing. Rocks the size of cars are nothing to these monsters. I have been going to the clearcuts close by and removing little saplings and wild garlic, wild ginger etc and transplanting to my woods and the edge of my forest in hoping to save them. All the different types of ferns too. I’m hoping they all survive. I haven’t seen any ticks in my forest because there is not much undergrowth, but of course the deer that come for the sanctuary will bring their tourists.
The only thing I can count on is my lepista Irina mushrooms that grow in the cedars in the fall. There are many more mushrooms but these are the only edible ones I have found.
I seem to be restricted to planting my medicinals in the fields and hedgerows of the property.   Should I be bringing a good tractor bucket of cow manure in the forest to plant other species? Or would I be disturbing an eco system?  Someone once told me that I shouldn’t be harvesting berries from bushes and trees that were transplanted, since they weren’t natural to that soil or to that area. To harvest from the wild was the best for human and for the tree/bush since it had chosen to be there and it was at it’s optimum health in its own habitat.  Has anyone ever heard that before?
 
Posts: 6
Location: Pacific Northwest
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I think going back to the basics is helpful. You asked if it was possible to have a coniferous forest garden. Take look at your property and...

Observe (I find this the hardest).
What do you want to accomplish?
Look at how the energy is captured and stored.
What is the yield?
How is the "waste" recycled?

Once you have done those, you can...

Use the patterns you see to design.
Integrate the designs for redundancy.
Use small and slow solutions.
Use a diversity of plants.
Use and value the edges, even if you have to create them.
 
K Rawlings
Posts: 37
Location: Ontario / Nova Scotia, Canada
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Wow, thanks to everyone that replied. I actually lost this thread, being new at the time to forums et al (call me a Luddite) and computery stuff like that. It's given us lots to think about. And I'm glad other people leapt in with their forest patch questions. Many perspectives make light at the end of the tunnel. Isn't that how that phrase goes?

We're going to try accommodating us and other wildlife on our patch. Going to work on restoring the forest back to its original New England / Acadian ecosystem standards, and keep the immediately surrounding chunk (to use the correct appellation for a smaller forest piece ;) ) around the house for more intrusive forest food garden management. Oh, and attempt to provide something of a habitat sanctuary for herptiles. It's exciting and complex and it's what drew me to permaculture in the first place. I just wish we could have started when I was younger (and fitter) - when we could have planted trees and really reaped the benefits. Y'know, you reach a certain age, and it ain't work buying the 20 year shingles for the roof, as my partner likes to say...
 
Doody calls. I would really rather that it didn't. Comfort me wise and sterile tiny ad:
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