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Forest duff as mulch {OP's note Project-ended-Poor-idea}  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Hi, how is everybody?
I decided to spend some time in the forest this morning, I'm glad I did.
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The only Forest Duff I have used as mulch, is from areas of relatively young red Alder. Alder does well in pure gravel, since it produces its own nitrogen. Loss of this stuff doesn't seem to hurt it. Many Forest environments will suffer from the loss of this later.
 
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In a pine forest such as in your photos, removal of the "duff" means removal of the nutrient replenishment system of the forest soil.
Loss of a great area of pine duff will deplete the nutrient level to the point of causing a fungi die off and pines are fairly fungal needy.
If you don't mind those forest trees getting sick and dying, then removal is probably acceptable, it does remove the chance of forest fire spreading along the burning ground.
 
Brian Rodgers
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Yes I should probably qualify that it is super important to be aware and cautious about where and how much duff is removed from the forest. I'm having a rough day so I should have written a descriptive essay to go along with this picture show, sorry I didn't. 
I hope by being conscientious about where and how much I take it isn't causing significant  damage.  I should stress that I only remove several pitchforks worth from around a dozen of the largest trees in the densest areas for one of these trailer loads.
For the next collection I  move to an area far away for the next little trailer load. We're blessed with a large area in a healthy Ponderosa pine forest. When I am done it looks about the same as what a bear does when it digs for insects. I'll get some pictures of the forest floor after my next run.
I'll go back to some of the spots I got forest duff from last month and see if, as I hoped the Fall pine needle shed is covering the exposed earth below the trees. If that isn't the case I will curtail further removal.    
Thank you for your concern.
Brian
 
Brian Rodgers
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Good morning
Armed with this useful information from Redhawk and Dale to whom my gratitude goes, even though I was grumpy that day, thank you. You both got me thinking and in the end that is what it's all about.
I don't wish to stress the trees in the forest out any more than what climate change and bark beetles already do. So here is my plan for forest duff removal.
I will pick already sick trees to remove the duff from and then mark them for removal. We're always thinning this forest of tens of thousands of trees.
I've personally set foot in and around nearly every tree over the forty plus years we've been here.
This is extensive human - forest interaction as you can imagine.
I hope I feel well enough today to get back in the forest again. I need more filled in arroyo sand and silt recovered from the neighbor up hill from us where they clear cut the trees for cattle grazing, to put on my HugelKultur mound by the Koi pond
I need to mark more trees for removal today anyway, now armed with the knowledge that removing parts of the forest floor to use in  our gardens dooms the tree to greater stress and sickness, I'll combine this practice with the other factors any particular tree may have when I determine its fate.

Not all the trees in the forest have a thick layer of pine duff. From now on I'll be checking on the connection between forest duff thickness and tree health in the management practice currently in effect.
Climate change has caused hail storms of greater magnitude these last five years. Hail has been so large that it strips the pine needles off the Ponderosa pines.
I'll see if I can find images of the hail damage in the forest, it is pretty incredible. Most of the needles on whichever side the hail came from were sent to the ground. All the trees have suffered and struggled  greatly since then. There is no shortage of standing dead trees in the last few years. They make good emergency firewood sources, but I am beginning to see from the Create ocote (fatwood) thread Ocote-aka-Fatwood-creating-forest I started a few days ago that even dead trees continue to draw water out of the ground. Sick trees should be removed as soon as possible after spotting them to curtail the energy they remove in their near hopeless effort to survive.
 
Since we've been stewards of the forest we have many more trees which grow to fifty feet, not large on the scale of old-growth Ponderosa, but thanks to the railroad companies there are very few old-growth trees in this area.
Las Vegas is on the Santa Fe trail and in 1880 the railroad came through. I hadn't thought about this is a long time and as a consequence of discontinuing my Web site several years ago I guess I lost the research I did on the local forests and how they got to the condition they were in when we got here in the 70's.
Basically  loggers felled every tree that was in a semi-flat forest as this area where the Rocky mountains begin. Once you get up near the 9 and 10 thousand foot tall Sange De Christo mtns you can see that it was too difficult for the oxen drawn log trailer to get to and this made them focus on the low-lying areas such as our ranch.   This was done twice I learned from extensive research First time was when the railroad came to Las Vegas in 1880. They clear cut the areas then made accessible by equipment of the early 20's snagging more old growth trees from the area.
One of the beautiful features  which brought my parents to this area are the semi-flat forests.
 
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Brian Rodgers
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Good morning
I worked in the forest yesterday mostly digging sod for my Hugel, but also walking around, observing and photographing.
Here is a shot at the fence between our property and the neighbor's where they clear cut trees for pasture.

Oct-2018-our-forest-on-left-source-of-topsoil-on-right
It is beginning to recover after three decades.

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Here are some examples of hail damage to Ponderosa pine trees

Oct-2018-Hail-damage-to-trees-on-one-side-only

Oct-18-Hail-damage-to-trees-on-one-side
That day after the hail storm which ended a two year drought made the forest floor bright green with downed pine needles. Rapid climate charge, needs rapid response I guess.
Lucky for us most of the trees survived that brutal assault. Knock on wood bark beetles are sparse.
There is a balance between thick forests and thinning the Forest Service needs.
Now that I am looking at forest duff for the emergency repairs of the grasshopper plague to our gardens last year I'm listening and reading about permaculture. We'll build swales in the forest to go along with the slash berms already being created.
I'm learning more every day here on Permies and I am going to add permaculture practices to my current forestry practice. 
I kinda knew that by thinning the forest too much was removing the ceiling and letting in the wind and sun drying the forest floor, which is one of the reasons a 40 acre section I had contracted with the Forest Service was never completed. I chose to go a different route, not too mention 40 acres is huge for one person to thin. During the last few acres of thinning I was saying, "let's leave more trees, what say?"  
 
Dale Hodgins
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One great place to find duff material that won't be missed, is if it's an area that is going to be cleared for some reason. If you see that new building lots are marked out and they are going to level everything, I don't think there's anything wrong with grabbing every available resource.

When I work on demolitions and house removal, I often give all of the soil in flower beds, which has been improved, to the same people who dig up the rhododendrons. If a new road or shopping mall or anything are being built on forested land, that might be an ideal spot to gather, after gathering the appropriate permission of course.
 
gardener
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If you want to have a healthy forest, then you should leave some diseased and damaged and dead trees.  This process allows for habitat diversity.  More species will be in your forest: more lichens, more fungi, more insects, more spiders...  More woodpeckers, more insect-eating, and sap sucking birds of all sorts, and then more spaces for cavity nesters like owls, bats, and rodents to live. 

By all means, you can remove some of them, but the more of these that you remove, the more your forest is open to potential future problems.  The more you are able to leave, the more resilient and dynamic the forest is.  There are limits, of course, as too much dead wood is going to increase your fire hazard.  

The way it works, though, is that a diseased tree will produce a resistant ecosystem within and around it, and the birds and rodents all add to the nutrients/healing of the system.  Even if it dies, the forest benefits from this information that is encoded in all those changes and exchanges.  The fungal network in the forest is transferring this information to all the adjacent trees, and they pass it on, through the information highway that is made up of the symbiotic mycorrhizal network.  The forest is sharing nutrients as well as this information, and healthy trees will support those who have been weakened.  While the hail damage might seem extreme to you, there may be a significant recovery in the next few years; trees are incredibly resilient beings.  They are still alive and the living parts of those trees are benefiting the soil system, through nutrient exchanges of root exudates for bio chelated minerals and trace nutrients made available from microbes. 

These damaged trees might be removing some water in their life processes, but unless you are adding other trees, there will actually be a net loss of water if you remove the tree, from my understanding.  This is because the ecosystem around each individual tree, itself, is responsible for retaining a large amount of water in the soil.  I wouldn't X these trees off simply because they have damage from a heavy hail event.

'm learning more every day here on Permies and I am going to add permaculture practices to my current forestry practice.

Do monitor them, and keep notes, and then make decisions.  If you have the time, then take the time to do it with the most knowledge that you can.  Permaculture is most often thought about as a series of techniques, but it is actually a system of design based on observation and ethics.  So if your intention is to add permacultural practices, my suggestion is to continue to observe and gain information and knowledge from your land and from holistic forestry resources.  One great book that you may be interested in ordering from the library is Seeing The Forest Among Trees: The Case for Wholistic Forest Use by Herb Hammond. 

Have you seen the this interesting information: Mother Tree  If you search the name Suzanne Simard you can find Ted Talks and other videos that have more of her information.   
 
Brian Rodgers
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I've done more reading on the subject and decided to abandon this project for the sake of life in the forest.
The first thing I read was Bryant Redhawk's thread The quest for super soil
And soon afterward my wife and I watched a dear departed friend's mentor Paul Staments' video "6 ways mushrooms can save the world." 

I'm so sorry, now I feel like the antagonist in Avatar, killing the Tree of Life for my personal gain. 
On top of that I've just begun chapter 3 of Permaculture Designers Manual. I'm beginning to see how everything is connected, but I have a long way to go. 
Living learning
Brian
 
pollinator
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Whoa, whoa, whoa. You haven't even read The Manual yet?

Just kidding. I have read it, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's too dense for most people's taste; there's so much good material out there, anyways, and so many more specific guides tailored to individual situations or goals that reference it that I don't know that it's necessary for most practical purposes, except as a reference resource.

Honestly, as valuable a resource as it is in itself, I think perhaps I get at least as much from a good read of Dr. Redhawk's Soil Threads.

And don't feel bad about your perceived error. I don't think it all needs to be forest. Remember what is widely held about edge habitat, health and abundance in diversity and all that. You could have garden islands, or patches that are different tree species, and the excesses of that zone will still be shifted around and made useful by the mycorrhizae.

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Brian, in your photos I see several areas that would make great food forest spaces and after consulting with a couple of my fellows, removal of the pine forest duff can be beneficial if you were to plant it heavily with legumes and deep root plants such as alfalfa (Lucerne), rape and daikon radish.
These plants tend to draw a better than present microbiology to the soil, which would allow more minerals to become available along with raising the pH slightly.
The area would then more resemble silvo pasture and you even add in vegetable gardens in the second year because of the soil profile improvement the cover crops would provide.

You are on a great journey, don't be afraid to make mistakes or what seem to be mistakes at first appearance.
We have lots of folks here with a huge amount of knowledge so use us anytime you need help or just want other ideas on how to proceed.

Redhawk
 
Chris Kott
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I was actually wondering if doing a kind of reverse savannah, where you have clearings around non-forest plantings, or just open, polycultured pasture and pollinator habitat, creating your edge for you.

Kola Redhawk, is it that alfalfa isn't as needy of alkaline soils as I thought, or that pine forests might not necessarily have soils as acidic as I am used to? I am on board with the rest, but I had thought alfalfa and acidic soils wouldn't mix.

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I think a reverse savannah would be a good model to work from, as are the others that have been mentioned in your earlier post Chris.
There are lots of different models that would work in the OP's situation, and they could trial several by spreading them out.

Alfalfa will grow because of the other plant seeds I mentioned, which would be part of an overall spreading in the understory area so there could become a good root base and the newly growing cover crops would also make some pH changes through the exudates they are going to start producing upon germination.
If you were to try and grow just a crop of alfalfa, then it would take a lot longer for the pH change and the sprouting alfalfa would probably struggle and might even die out because of the monocrop treatment.
I like to see lots of variety in seed mixes used for cover crops, the more the better in fact.

This isn't something you would want to try by planting through the forest duff, but is designed to work after the duff is removed, which is when we want to get a new cover on the now bared soil.

Redhawk
 
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I see trees in very bad conditions that are still growing. Like a road that splits away to keep from cutting a tree. Or trees planted in a circle that is surrounded by concrete sidewalks in a downtown setting. Or fanatic homeowners that rake up all the leaves yearly from their trees.

These are the observations i have made to determine that moderate harvest of the forest floor is not a problem. Moderation being the key word. 

 
Brian Rodgers
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Thank you both for this important information which I'll make every attempt to add to my bulging tool box, going forward.
Here is more information about the area I steward:
          1) In the last twenty years I've pushed for more thickets and some clearings, as opposed to what the Forest Service method of thinning was  20 years ago; "twenty feet crown to crown with no exceptions for the individual tree."
          2)The majority of forested land has zero forest floor mulch. 
              The "meadows," previously referred to as "clearings," only have mulch in places where we removed Cedar, Juniper, PiƱon and some Ponderosa pine trees. Fossil infused limestone bedrock appears in many locations rising above whatever topsoil may exist.
              When I  look at the lay of the land in the Back 37 (acres) you can see due to a number of  systems complexities it appears that silt and pine duff which hasn't washed off  fill in the craggy surfaces,  when the grade is less than ~seven degrees?
              I need to research how the water in a tube level is used so I can plan swales.
              I instruct our wood gatherers to find the contour in a given hillside and then to place branches, pine needles facing the ground and the tip of the branches facing the watershed. 
I wonder if may be considered Tusas (our area) as a starting point. Another valuable piece of information: this property is ~225 acres, 3/4s forested, 1/4 in fields with many  types of landscape in between.
A small part of our forest we left alone, other than fire-breaks and road creation. One such area is the Crestone (ridge) because the slope is too great to get vehicles into. 
Obviously thinking about repairing the forest to it's Old-Growth glory is inspiring, but this also is a huge undertaking.
I'll use the lessons I'm learning enabling critical thinking needed to formulate a plan for example determining whether and how much energy it will require on my part, because of our limited income spending money on parts isn't a great option at this point. I'm moving toward a better way of thinking about all these projects I still have leftover after four years of suffering Western Medicine. Permaculture principles are already arranging my thoughts to consider all the things I skipped over all my life when I acted rashly and jumped into projects half-cocked. I will never have the level of energy I did when I was young. That realization is one more piece of the complexity permaculture puzzle I am beginning to formulate.
I hope this is coming across as one of many aha! moments in which I find myself everyday and realize there is a easier way, due in part to observing planning and time and effort.
One example I've recently learned has to do with mixing cement. I've mixed in our cement mixer, maybe five hundred loads. The lesson was simple; create buckets cut off so when full the proper volume of that ingredient and the mark them "Lime," "Portland," "Sand" and "Water." No more scrambling when a plasterer needs to announce, "This mix is too wet."  They all come out exactly the same, because my step-son did research and figured out how much lime it takes to fill in all the cracks between the particles of sand.

I'm also beginning learn that the ways I did things when I had limitless drive and energy and what can be done in the future at 64 years old will need to be thoroughly thought through to create an efficiency of effort, time and resources. This is exactly what I've looking for.
Brian  
      
 
wayne fajkus
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I doubt i will fully see the bounty of my project due to my age. I may never see a pecan from my trees. But i keep going in hopes that the bounty i create will stop a housing subdivision from going into my small acreage.

Even at that, i can still take a step back and look at year to year rather than day to day. This patience has probably saved some mistakes.

Keep it going! 
 
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