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What order of operations for my food forest?

 
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Hey y’all, I need your help. I’m realizing the need to plant nitrogen fixers as support plants to prep my future food forest area, as well as the option to use livestock to create fertility.
The area is about 1000 sq ft and currently has ornamental trees and shrubs, some of which I am keeping and some I’m going to chop and drop. I’ve let it go to weeds to heal the soil. The soil is poor and eroded and part of it is sloped. I’m in SC, zone 7b.
I have a couple of ducks, and I’m interested in bringing in chickens to help, too.
The plan is to add a hugel mound on contour to catch water, and add a couple of small rain garden areas to sink water, possibly a couple of simple log terraces, and obviously plant and grow food- fruit trees, berry bushes and perennial veg, pollinator food, etc.

So where do I start? We are going into fall so I want to use the seasons to my advantage, too.

What is best order of operations here? Here’s the list I’ve thought of- please help me put it in order so I know what to do first.

-Build Hugel mound (using chopped trees)
-terraces
-fruit tree planting
-plant cover crop/support plants
-chop and drop unwanted plants and trees
-run birds/livestock
-fruit bush planting
-dig/build rain gardens
(am I missing any?)
Thanks in advance ❤️
 
gardener
Posts: 973
Location: Western Washington
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Oh, this is a great question.

To be honest, it will all come out nearly equal in the long term. They're all good options.

If it were me, I would plant trees immediately, creating an "island of fertility" around each with lots of mulch and guild plantings.

They are all good options, except for livestock in my humble opinion. Livestock often find ways of destroying young plants and to be honest, though they do improve fertility, it takes significantly more time for them to do so than sheet mulching or other methods.

I suppose one question is: if you do certain steps first, does that preclude others from happening at all? For instance, if you plant this fall (which I think would be ideal) will you be able to build terraces still, or will that not be feasible or ideal with the plants in the way? Are the trees and shrubs going on the terraces?

One huge consideration is how unstable things are economically and politically. Will we be able to get fruit trees and shrubs reliably in a year? This is entirely dependent on the individual and location, but important to talk about. I have a friend who works for a major heritage plants nursery and they are sold. out. They are selling $10,000 worth of product a day, because people are worried about economic depression and the pandemic.

My advice is that whatever you do, don't wait. You will make mistakes no matter what and probably wish you had done things differently, but that will be the case no matter what.
 
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Hi Anna Marie. Not experienced at all with pieces of sloped land with trees ... But I can give you advice I repeat from many others who wrote it:
- do the Earthworks before the planting
- First of all: observe your land in different situations (seasons, sun, rain, etc.)

I hope you will go on posting here, to show us the progress.

 
pollinator
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-Build Hugel mound (using chopped trees)
-terraces  If you're going to do any major earth moving this has to be done before anything else
-fruit tree planting Wait until the trees are dormant
-plant cover crop/support plants Spring job for most plants
-chop and drop unwanted plants and trees Winter work, easier to see what you are doing Probably needs to be done before terracing
-run birds/livestock Will need fencing but if goats are going to be a clearance method could be first, takes time)
-fruit bush planting Wait until bushes are dorment
-dig/build rain gardens Any time when the ground is not frozen probably after terracing unless you want digger tracks in it.



 
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Location: North Thomas Lake, Manitoba
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I agree with James. The sooner you can plant (in a way that fits your design), the better. Mulch with woodchips. If you want to add fertility later you can do liquid fertilizer any time. If you need to terrace before planting then get to it.
 
Anna Marie Spackman
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Thanks for the responses! Y’all made excellent points.
So here’s what I’m thinking now -earthworks first- hugel, rain gardens and terracing, chop large trees at the same time to put in hugel.
Get trees and shrubs ordered for this fall while they are dormant was definitely on my list,
I think I need to grow biomass as mulch next, so do I just do that everywhere? I’m thinking about trying Austrian peas, turnips and buckwheat. I still have time to plant in our mild temps, but I guess it depends on how long it takes to get earthworks done whether I can plant fall or spring.
So then what do I do with my cover crop- I think I could put chickens on it to eat it, or mulch over it? I don’t think tilling it under is a good option with the earthworks. Maybe only plant winter killed cover, so it all becomes mulch without me doing anything? We get cold temps for about a month, and hardly any snow.
So what about running chickens? I thought it would be a good way to remove the current weeds and break up the chop and drop from the bushes I’m removing. If I do that, I still think I’ll need cover crops. (The current weeds and bushes are not nearly enough biomass)
So maybe run chickens twice- once to clean up after earthworks and chop and drop, then take them off, sow cover crops and run them again? Or is there a better way?
Thanks for helping me work this all out 😊
 
James Landreth
gardener
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Location: Western Washington
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I think doing chickens in a chicken tractor would be ideal. It is true true that chickens are great at weed and insect control, but they will also scratch up mulch and dig up and eat seedlings. You could also do geese in a tractor, or even turkeys. They'll keep the grass down (it would be best to buy or hatch both next spring)
 
gardener
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Location: Central Texas
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I agree with the earthworks being first, that way you don't have to work around any newly planted trees/shrubs.
But I also agree it's best to get the trees & plants in early since they can take a while to produce (so the earlier they're planted the earlier you'll get a harvest).
Having the poultry work for you is a great idea, and is something I plan to do, myself, over the winter. I had a huge pest problem this year, so I'm currently working on putting a little fence around the garden and plant to rotate the geese/ducks and the chickens during the daytime in hopes of the waterfowl taking care of weeds/seeds & slugs/snails, and the chickens digging through the mulch for overwintering insects & larvae. Since I have a decent population of frogs, toads, and small lizards in the garden I've been putting in rock and wood piles in hopes of giving them a safe place to overwinter from the birds. I also realize that I will need to figure out a good way to protect the younger trees and smaller shrubs from the poultry.
The only thing I haven't decided yet is if I want to put down the new layer of mulch first, or wait until the birds have had their way with everything first. I may try it both ways in different spots to see which works better. 😁

Please keep us posted on your progress! Sounds like you are getting a good plan in place and I'm excited to see how it goes!
 
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Location: Fennville MI
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This is the sort of question where Yoeman's Scale of Permanence comes into its own. Don't plant ANYTHING until you've managed your water, your access and your earthworks. Those three things are interconnected and it's the water that dictates how the other two are done.
This actually matters because if you plant before you do these things - you're extremely likely to have to either compromise your water management (you don't want to do that) or transplant some of your plantings (and why would you want to do that?).

Chop and drop of the existing trees - it might be part of doing the earthworks, building the hugel. It might happen when those trees are in full leaf (the chop and drop benefit is much greater when there are leaves, not just bare branches). Depends on where the trees are and what you need to do with them.

IMO, first priority items: Terrace, rain gardens, hugel, Paths (not on your list ;) )
Then: chop and drop anything left after doing the hugel that you want to chop and drop.
Then: Run birds.
Then: plant fruit trees, bushes, cover crops.

You're talking about doing a food forest, so you really want to be thinking in terms of your full seven layers and guild structures, not just bushes and trees. Ground covers, vines, herbaceous layer, root crops. Your space may not allow for a full over and under story development, so maybe your under story is bushes rather than under story trees, and your canopy may be what normally would be under story trees. Nothing wrong with that. But you do want to be planning the guilds, with all of their elements, not just trees and bushes.

And the design and makeup of those guilds can tremendously change the entire notion of cover cropping. As in, you don't do it, because the guild IS the "cover crop", but it's also yielding for you and for the system. In theory well designed guilds are self-perpetuating and provide their own fertility needs.

You are also looking at getting quite a bit of work accomplished in a fairly small window of time. I don't know about your resources, it may be that this is well within your grasp ;) I know I wouldn't be able to get it done ;)
 
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