I'm halfway through the first year where I'm starting a permaculture food forest. I'm in a zone 7 northern climate. This spring/summer, I got distracted in the caring after annuals/vegetable plants before I realized it was holding me back from planning the food forest. Now I'm focusing on drawing basemaps of the land, walking through it, observing, and mapping out possible zones and areas (my land is halfway to a forest, you can get an idea from my YouTube documentation). On top of that I started assembling a list of perennials I'd like to have in an excel document. All while doing this I'm wondering if there's something else I'm completely missing.
What should I prepare the first year so that I'm prepared for the next year? I've started a leaf mold compost pile, but maybe I should prepare more?
It's hard to know what you're missing when you're doing something completely new to you.
The first year of any food forest project should be observation and note taking. It sounds like you are doing some of that work with the mapping of possible zones, etc.
The next step would be water management and installation of the earth works required for that water management.
Then we move to soil building and layout of the food forest layout (tall trees at the back, progressing down to the forest edge for annual vegetable plants and low growing items such as cranberries.
At each progressive step you can continue the soil building so that in the end all you have to do is add the actual plants, the soil will be ready to nurture those plants and your big work is mostly done.
I wish I'd cover cropped and allowed my swales/kraters to become more plant secure before planting trees and bushes. I'm not sure of your area, so not sure if that is something you should consider. Getting things to grow here can be a challenge so allowing things to establish a bit before planting trees has been an important change for me.
Mulching was an issue for me because of wind. If that isn't an issue for you letting cover crops establish may not be something you need to consider.
Thanks for your advice, however, I'm not sure how to go about earth works and cover cropping as much of my land is covered in trees ranging from saplings to ~20 year old birches and pines rising 15-20 meters.
I started researching ways to integrate new trees among existing ones and I came across this Quora article recommending Femmelschlag, or Shelterwood cutting, however, since I'm starting a food forest and not replacing an entire forest, I imagine I should only fell trees in the zone/s I'm developing that particular year, while leaving the rest untouched. Attached is the most recent aerial photo of my land I could find (it's several years old), along with the zones I'm denoting (WIP). Any advice on how or what to do with the trees is appreciated.