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Sabin Howard
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I am going through a bit of a conundrum while planning my property.  Most of the property is a 30-40 year hardwood regrowth.  I want to turn most of the current forest into a food forest. but I'm really questioning whether it is OK to take out a 30 year old tree to replace with a year old tree. 

Is it better to remove an existing forest to produce more of your own food, thus reducing your footprint, or leave already mature trees in place?
 
Casey Halone
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The old trees will die much sooner no? maybe thin them a bit at a time?
 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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A forest of 30-40 year old hardwoods indicates that is has been harvested before.  Normally after a clear cut, seedlings are planted denser than they would normally grow to account for natural losses.

If the forest has not been "maintained" since then, then it is probably overdue for 'topping, limbing, and thinning'.  Doing the normal maintenance will provide much firewood, fence posts, and a healthier forest.  It will also open up pockets of sunshine to create your food forest beneath the canopy.

Depending on the thickness of the growth, terrain and your goals, you may need to clear larger areas.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Personally I would make a few clearings for the new food forest, not "remove the existing forest."    Just smallish patches of maybe an acre.  The trees you remove might be valuable for carving, furniture, etc.
 
Casey Halone
Posts: 192
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nut'in wrong wit "pockets of sunshine"
 
Fred Morgan
steward
Posts: 979
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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Aside from the question of whether you should remove a 30 year old tree, a lot depends on the type of tree.

Many of the trees you have up north are the result of "high-grading", removing the best, leaving the worst. This results in inferior genetics. Often, it is better to start removing some of these for fire wood, or if you wish, make flooring out of them, etc. Replant with better genetic stock.

And, more diverse.

But, if you have trees which generate a lot of food and shelter for other inhabitants of your land, you might want to think how you can remove the trees which are not as important, to leave room for the trees that will feed you (and the other inhabitants will surely race you for the fruits, etc. lol)

just my opinion
 
Sabin Howard
Posts: 21
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The trees are quite close together and as a result are very straight but fairly small.  It is a mixed forest of high tannin oak and some hickory.  The largest portion of the 6 acre area is a steep valley, so the only real answer I see is a forest of some kind.  The work will be done in stages.  Probably opening clearings around on contour to dig a swale if at all possible.  Of course if I do this, the trees will be used in hugelkultur beds around the cleared areas of the property.

Thank you all for your feedback.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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seems to me in a 30 year old forest you are going to have some trees dying from some thing or another, lightening, disease, etc.

I would plant your year old trees in the gaps made by falling trees, where there is a bit of sun.

or at the edges where there is sun.

I have an apple growing in my forest, but it doesn't bear much cause it doesn't get much sun..but the past few years a few trees have died and fallen near it..opening up more sun..a little cleaning up with a chainsaw and I should have more sun for the apple and next year it should be bearing well

your fruits will have one advantage, the soil will already be a fungal balance rather than bacterial, so it will have the "right stuff" for the roots of your fruit trees, thus making them grow much faster
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Is it better to remove an existing forest to produce more of your own food, thus reducing your footprint, or leave already mature trees in place?


I think the question ends up being... "better for what?"

You need a suprisingly large canopy gap to grow sun loving fruits and vegetables well in many northern climates.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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last night I walked back and checked my apple tree (that had sprouted from a deer bait pile in the woods years ago).

even though I haven't been able to clear out much around it and we have been in a horrible drought, the apples on that tree are fantastic..

no it doesn't have as many apples as the one in full sun, but that one is also 20 years older..it has a lot of nice apples, no diseases, not quite ripe yet cause they are a later apple..I'm just saying..you CAN put apples in the woods even with a closed canopy..as these grew from that bait pile they were self seeded and they were definately worth having.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
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think of it this way

A. your not just cutting the tree down, taking the material off property and leaving it bare
B. your increasing plant diversity
C. the trees you leave will be able to grow much better with added ventilation and light
D. you will get food/medicine/material out of the stuff you do plant
E. provide food/habitat for more animals
F. wood to build with

so in the long run the area benefits from you thinning out trees imo. we are in the same situation with overgrown young forest. the trees were never thinned out by fire like they should have been and are growing tall, lanky and crowded. leading to lots of trees falling over in the winter.
 
Hugh Hawk
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
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Seems to me that this question is highly dependent on climate.  Here in southern Australia, fruit trees have been shown to do well underneath a moderately open canopy of taller trees, but in more extreme latitudes there would not be enough light or heat.  Certainly in more tropical latitudes the tall overstorey is even more prevalent.  Also what type of tree you are going to grow, e.g. seed grown apples may be better for this sort of situation like Brenda's example, whereas grafted apples may not be vigorous enough.

The book Edible Forest Gardens talks about one method of forest gardening being to make (or use existing) small clearings in a pre-existing forest to create pockets of productivity.  The overall structure of the forest is already there and you can benefit from the existing nutrient cycling, pollinators, etc.
 
Derek Brewer
Posts: 113
Location: Hatfield, PA
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Sabin wrote:
Most of the property is a 30-40 year hardwood regrowth.


Sounds to me like you might be able to sell some of the trees to fund other improvements (use the stumps for hugelculture beds, replace it with a food forest, etc). As long as it's part of a well-thought-out plan for the area, there shouldn't be anything wrong with it.
 
Guy De Pompignac
Posts: 192
Location: SW of France
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You can also take advantage of the forest : mushroom culture, plant some vines to use the living architecture, maybe the place is suitable for turkeys, chickens, pigs .. ? Or you can plan for a fodder forest to feed your animals with vines/trees/shrubs that need less sun ?
 
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