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Most efficient way to plant many trees

 
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Hello, this is the first post I make in this forum. I recovered this login from when I registered long time ago just to ask this question.

What do you think is the most efficient way to plant many trees.

If you need to plant a single tree, there are many howto information out there. Videos on youtube. Local culture. Many of us have done it as a kid.

But what if you need to plant many trees. All starting from seed. Tenth, hundreds, thousands. Sure you can follow each, and make it sprout in a container. Then transplant it. But then you risk to break the taproot. And then water it. All this is possible for few trees. But when you have hundreds or thousands, and not much water available, and not much human resources available either this might not scale. So I wonder, is there another way?

Many of you have seen The Man Who Planted Trees:

In this story the main character does none of this, it simply selects the best seeds, and put each in the ground. Yes, many will die, but he plants so many that he still manages to plant a forest.

So this is probably the main question, there are many things I can do to improve the probability for a seed to grow to a mature tree. But each of this will have a cost in terms of money, and in terms of time. Having access to a lot of land, but no human help, is it more efficient to plant few trees, or plant thousands of seeds, with no preparation. Or maybe a a mixed strategy like seedballs, or just some general preparation, and then seeds, or something else.

What are the best-practices in planting forests when human resources are the limiting factor.
 
pollinator
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Pietro Speroni di Fenizio wrote:
What do you think is the most efficient way to plant many trees.



I think Mark Shepard has it right.  He has done it (thousands of trees and a landrace cull process.)  Spend some time listening to his experience.



S.T.U.N. technique

 
steward
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I love Mark Shepard and hadn't seen the first video, thanks!  In there he describes STUN as Strategic Total Utter Neglect.  Not sure if he changed the acronym or if someone heard it wrong as "Sheer"...  I like Strategic better
 
Jack Edmondson
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Mark says in several of his videos that he originally called it sheer total utter neglect; but his wife later observed that there was some intervention in the process, although minimal.  Because of this he later modified the acronym to "Strategic" to not mislead.
 
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Having watched Mother Nature planting Big Leaf Maples in my area, and seeing the results of squirrels helping Mom in their own way, I believe humans can do the same. If you've got the land and the time, planting lots of different, but locally compatible seeds and then sorting out the results is what nature does. Mark Shepard advocates doing it on grade with swales, Sepp Holzer does it with Hugelcultures, some people planting in particularly harsh climates may organize the seeds in supportive ways knowing that Forests take over open land by starting with shrubs then colonizing trees which give way to longer-lived trees.

The question that needs asking though, is "why do you want to plant many trees?" Are you planting for human use? Are you planting to prevent desertification? Are you planting for Mother Nature? Or are you hoping for some combination of the above (which in many ways is what Mark Shepard is doing - he wants diverse perennial crops, while providing food and income for his family, while still improving the land. Permaculture has shown in many environments that poly-cultures support all those needs better than mono-cultures, but if you're leaning towards the "Nature" end of things, focusing on plants native to the area and distributing the seeds as seed-balls has shown to be effective in some eco-systems particularly if you can't do what the "Man Who Planted Trees" did and planted seeds like a squirrel does for years and years!

One last question - how long ago, or how close to this land, are trees currently growing? Some seeds live for at least 60 years, others much shorter periods. If there are no viable seeds in the soil or near enough to be moved my Nature, having humans provide those seeds will speed the process. If the area has only been recently clear cut or destroyed, there may be plenty of seeds that just need a helping hand. Knowing the history of the land is very helpful!

This article has lots to think about: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/how-to-regrow-forest-right-way-minimize-fire-water-use/#close  (although I had to give my email address to read it.)
 
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My suggestion is sprouting many seeds in air prune boxes. Plant each individual tree a year later, as bare root. These won't have a long tap root and they won't be root bound. If you can water them, great. If you can mulch them, better!
Anyways, that's the approach I'm taking.
I spent enough energy transporting wood chips for mulch. I think I'll try a sheet of brown cardboard instead for each tree. Much easier to transport and does a better job of suppressing competition.
 
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There's a permies member who has been exploring the mass planting of trees under difficult conditions for quite a few years:

Reforestation - Growing trees in arid, barren lands - by Seeds and Clay cubes (no watering)
 
Mike Haasl
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I suspect the easiest way to plant 1000s of trees is to plant 10,000s of tree seeds.  

If your climate is a challenge, I wonder about planting thousands of pioneer seeds first and then once they get going on their own (three years later?), plant thousands of desirable tree seeds in the shade/protection of the pioneer plants that survived.
 
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One thousand trees on 15ft centers would use up 5 acres of land.  But if you plant on 10ft centers it would take up half that amount of land, so just 2.5 acres.

The question now becomes what do folks use to plant a 1 or 2 or 3 acre market garden. I have a feeling we can use use similar technology to plant trees every 5 ft and then kill the two weakest tree out of every 3.  Or we can plant 3 seeds in one hole every 15ft and then kill the weakest 2 of the 3.
 
Jay Angler
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S Bengi wrote:The question now becomes what do folks use to plant a 1 or 2 or 3 acre market garden. I have a feeling we can use use similar technology to plant trees every 5 ft and then kill the two weakest tree out of every 3.  Or we can plant 3 seeds in one hole every 15ft and then kill the weakest 2 of the 3.

A number of places I've seen a simple pipe cut at an angle at the bottom that you push into the ground and drop seeds in. I believe I saw a 3-tube system in Carol Deppe's work, but I've no idea if she originated the concept or got it from elsewhere. Either way, the idea of being able to make a bit of a hole and drop the seed from 3-5 ft up to save the back with dirt simple technology is where I'm going here. I made one, but should upgrade it with a way to hold the seeds in a shallow cup, as I've got osteoarthritis in my hands which made using the tool a bit awkward.

Seed balls are normally tossed - but that gives no order to the system. A seed ball dropped through a tube to give slightly more regular spacing could be beneficial in some situations, but my understanding is that in poor soil, the bit of nutrition/microbes in seed balls made from manure can improve both germination and early survival rates. There are articles in a bunch of places about bulk seed ball making, but I don't have the right type of clay, nor really the places that would benefit, so I haven't any experience.

Take-away point is: a simple device could allow someone to put a central tree seed and in a radius of a foot distant or so, plant several supportive seeds for ground covers/low nitrogen fixers etc, all without bending or kneeling which if the goal is to plant 1000's, is worth some up-front effort.
 
Mike Haasl
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I'm a somewhat firm believer in packing trees together in clumps.  Nature puts a lot of big trees in a 20' by 20' area.  Not that we need to fill an entire field that tightly but I like to put several trees within 5' of each other.  Then when a few die, I don't have a hole in my landscape.  One giggle tree with no competition may produce 1000 lbs of gigglefruit.  Two giggle trees that are 4' apart may produce 1400 lbs of gigglefruit togethr.  Not double but better than one and you have the resilience of a back up if one dies.
 
Pietro Speroni di Fenizio
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Thanks for all the replies.
Mark Shepard uses Utter Neglect. But uses it after it has planted the seedlings. His method is to plant seedlings, and then select. Which is fine.

But let's look at one example I am facing just right now. I have 2 hectars. The first is recovered oak woodland (Farnia). The Nithrogen is fixed by broom (Spartium junceum). The second, just near it, is some hill side with small plants, no trees. Clay soil. We are in the middle of Italy. I just dug with a machine 3 swales in the second one. Total length about 500m. And since this is the season I have thousands of seeds in pods of broom just gathered from the woodland. I still haven't decided what to grow exactly on the now bare land, but one thing which I am sure I will need is some nithrogen fixers for the swales. So I am going to start by planting those seeds on the top of the swales. SO they start growing while I decide the other layers

Here are my options (maybe there are more but I cannot see them):
1) just place one pod after the other on the swale, at 50cm distance, and tell him good luck.
2) take the seeds out of the pods, and then place each seed at 10cm as I walk the contour.
3) take the seeds out of the pods, then place them in water for 24h, then place each seed as I walk the contour.
4) take the seeds out of the pods, then place them in water for 24h, then place them in the fridge for 1 month, then place each seed as I walk the contour.
5) do the same above but grow it until they are seedlings and then plant the seedlings (I could probably do it for 100 plants, not more).
6) do the same above but grow it until they are seedlings transplant it to bigger vase, and then plant the plants (I could probably do it for 10 plants, not more; I just lack the space at home).

Trying to maximise the number of plants which of the 6 would you do? Btw, I can easily gather more seeds if I need them. So if number 1 works, I might do it in 3 rows. Or something else? If I just go for the (1) will I get something growing, or do I really need to go for (4-6) as pfaf suggests (https://pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Spartium+junceum)?

This is a simple example. And the land is not that big. But I am also alone with no machines.

Let me now answer the questions I received (from Jay):
the land I am working on is italian agricultural land. It used to be walnut woodland, and in the hectar above I have already found about 20 small walnut plants. Small oaks are also sprouting next to the woodland (duh! ;-) ), and there is a corener with already some brooms. For the rest is hard clay, stones. I want to plant many trees because this is what my soul is dictating me. Because in the woodland I find myself. The question is how then to make this sustainable, eadible, and economically viable. Also consider many people around here are approaching me asking me to buy their land. Basically no one wants to buy land here, which I am happy to oblige providing the price is at market price or better (someone asked 3x the price and I told them to ... take a hike... in their land; which they didn't because it is impenetrable). SO yes, prevent desertification is surely one concerne, global warming is a second, having a place to stay during the next pandemic a third, merge with the land a fourth...
As I mentioned there is a woodland next to it.

It has: Farnia (Quercus Robur), orniello (fraxinus ornus), Corniolo Sanguinello (Cornus Sanguinea), Biancospino (Cretaegus Monogyna), Etruscan Honysuckle (Lonicera Etrusca), some brambles (Rubus ulmifolius, Clematis Vitalba). Nitrogen is fixed by broom (Spartium junceum, I think. Or Cytisus scoparius. I never can distinguish them but we are in Italy). Ground (and some trees) is covered by Edera (hedera spp).Near the water there are some huge hazelnuts which haven't been pruned in 30 years probably. So far I have only found two small nuts, so production is not really their strength.
There are other plants but I still haven't recognised them.
In any case this covers the majority of what you will find. The fauna has squirrels, lizards, foxes, wild boars and some very skinny wolves. Above you have some Falchi (Falco). And some say even eagles. Other small animals which I now cannot remember are also present. The area has some truffles. Making a food forest, inoculated with truffles would probably bring everything together. Even some manna from orniolo could be an interesting addition. Although the experts from the south of italy told me that Orniello does not give any manna when it is inside the woodland. So yes, there are many seeds. I will also need to import some species, like mulberry.

Now back to the question above: 1,2,3,4,5,6 or something else?

Thanks again,
Pietro
 
Mike Haasl
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I would do 1 and 2.  Gather a bunch of pods.  I'm assuming that if you put them in a sturdy bag and stomped on them that some would come free of the pod?  Then pods around on a spacing.  Take all the threshed seeds and fling them around everywhere.  If you want to do more, get more seeds and fling them around as well.  
 
Jack Edmondson
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Pietro,

I have a better understanding of your question now.  Based on what you have posted, I would say option 2.  Cytisus scoparius or Scot's broom as we call it here; is an invasive species that grows readily.  It will need to be out of the pod, but will not require scarification of the seed for it to plant.  Option 3 is also good if your soil is dry or planting in a dry season.  24 hours of soaking should not damage the seed.

I would definitely not do seedlings as that is a lot of work and requires time and room, plus the shock of transplant/root disturbance negates a lot of the benefit of starting seeds in pots.  Like Mark's technique, I would put out seed packed densely, more densely than intended for the final form and let the plants sort it out as to whom survives, with no intervention.  Once you decide on the other plants/trees you want in your forest, you can pull weak broom plants out and replace with a seed of choice.  

Depending on the size of the swales and amount of disturbed soil, you may want to throw a cover crop seed on the exposed and bare ground to stabilize and re-start the soil life.  Clover would be a good option, but there are many others.  Good luck on your project. Looking forward to hearing how it goes.
 
S Bengi
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It now sounds like you are asking how do you plant 5 acres of cover crop, esp on your newly installed swales.
I recommend doing it the saw walk how folks re-seed their pastures, or plant a market garden, which to me is to just broadcast/throw it on the ground, then maybe run a rake over it if you are low on seeds. Or maybe a small walk behind machine. These sowing should be done right before it rains or at least during the rainy season. Nit during a drought or dry season. You can also irrigate the area if your water supply and piping allows that.
 
Nick Neufeld
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Option 2 seems to be the winner.
If you have the resources to sample any of options 3, 4 or 5, you could do more than one. Hedge your bets. A year from now you could let us know what worked best in your scenario.

Also- I suspect you'd be surprised how densely you could raise seedlings (per option 5). You might be able to do way more than 100 in the space you're willing to devote.
 
pollinator
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Look up strategies for reforestation - they excel in planting thousands of trees quickly, they even have a specialized shovel for making a hole just big enough to plant a bareroot conifer or deciduous seedling just one push of the shovel/boot.
 
Dustin Rhodes
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https://pacforest.com/Category/Tree-Planting-Shovels
 
Dustin Rhodes
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and here's a video:



so maybe growing your seedlings in a plug system(longer, very narrow containers) for taproot species like this would be the way to go.
 
Pietro Speroni di Fenizio
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Dustin Rhodes wrote:and here's a video:

https://youtu.be/OdEi9akDKns

so maybe growing your seedlings in a plug system(longer, very narrow containers) for taproot species like this would be the way to go.


amazing video! I wish I was that fast! Thank you
 
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I am really interested on this.

I am planting my food forest. For establishment I am planting nursery trees, but "thinking in bets" I find wisest to plant as much seeds as possible. Directly. When you spend 30€ on a tree, you focus a lot on it, if it dies it is a drama, or if it gets sick or whatever. If you spend 30€ on seeds... it is a lot of seeds! Hundreds of chances. And if they grow on your soil, they are "Hulk", just suited for your place.

So all about direct seeding interest me
 
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