Hey Dave, thanks for stopping by. I am currently working on designing a fairly small area. It is roughly 40x150 with a soon to be gravel driveway on the south border and the property line on the north and east. I could potentially add to this to the west though. I just thought that was a good size to start with. This area is prone to run off from a 3 acre field to the south. This is in southwest MO in zone 6b. We normally get some where around 40-45 inches of rain a year.
You can see the space that I talking about in this picture. It is the area to the right of the drive way and up to about that willow tree with the 2 buckets beside it. You are looking west/northwest.
Here is the design that I have been working on:
I was able to borrow your book and got about half way through it before the owner needed it back. From what I have learned so far I think my spacing may be to close, and I have not even attempted my shrub and herb layer yet. What advice do you have?
I looked at the descriptions of your book at the website and I decided not to buy them. I think I may have the wrong impression. I have existing woods and I thought the work you are sharing is about growing food in a forest. After seeing some examples, and following some of the work done at Milkwood, I now have the impression that plantings are designed to mimic the different stories in a forest but NOT actually using an existing forest. I would very much like to use the existing woods on my property to a much better end, other than staring at their beauty. These woods have been sorely neglected for at least 30 years. I have been here 3 years.
Peter, (and Julie some of this relates to your question too),
OK. Question 1: What kind of habitat do you want to create? If you want a deeply shaded understory, that's what this design will achieve. If you want much of anything useful growing under your trees (there are a few useful shade-loving understory plants, but not many in relative terms--mostly woodland medicinals), then you need more space between the trees. Nuts and fruits are the last thing on a plant's energy-budget wish list, so if you want fruits or nuts in the understory, they need light, with a few exceptions.
Pawpaws will do OK with some shade, but, once they are past the young stage, they do much better with more light--more fruit production. Young trees HAVE to have shade, though . . .
I like your mix of trees in the overstory in terms of N-fixers. Mimosa can be a bit aggressive, but if you are driving by you'll be managing it I assume.
Apples have a LOT of pests, as do peaches. I usually suggest people go for Asian pears instead of apples. Much easier to manage pest pressure. There really isn't much of a substitute for peaches though, especially in MO. They do much better there than here! If you really want apples, then make sure you get one (or more) cultivars that resist as many of your local pests and diseases as possible. My guess, though, is that you'll end up really appreciating your persimmon and pawpaws as time goes on.
You could have fewer N-fixers in the canopy and fill your understory with N-fixers instead, thereby gaining more crop tree space, if you widen the spacing. You could also keep spacing as is, or maybe even tighten it a little, but open the canopy by chopping and dropping the N-fixers to keep them in check size-wise. With more open canopy and more crop trees, you would rely on shrub and herb N-fixers, and that could be dicey given that N-fixation requires full sun or close to it, but I think it would be worth a shot.
Beyond the canopy questions, the thing to do with understory is think through your access and management, then the pattern of patches under the trees. Make a bubble diagram showing the access and the patch patterns, then think thorugh the architecture of each patch--how high do you want vegetation and how dense in various layers, as well as what functions you want each patch to perform (e.g., soil improvement, beneficials habitat, weed control, food or other crops). Then you have the info you need to select species in earnest.
You have it almost right! For me, forest gardening is about gardening LIKE the forest not necessarily gardening IN the forest. Doesn't mean you can't garden in the forest, though! The principles all apply in almost any context. The problem is that in deep shade there are rather few decent food crops you can grown. You can grow mushrooms, you can grow woodland medicinals, you can grow woodland edible (yum--my favorite is wild leek or ramps--Allium tricoccum! excellent!). But it is hard to get much fruit or many nuts out of a shady understory. Greens, shoots, mushrooms, tubers, yes. But these species tend to grow slowly and yield less than species that grow in more sun. At least, if you are in a climate similar to my own. If the info on the page is correct you live in Pennsylvania, so it should be similar. I'll assume that.
The canopy is the place to be if you want to grow fruits or nuts, which is what most folks want out of a forest garden. But if you r main goal is to keep the woods you have and enhance them with more useful stuff, then you can do that too. You just need to design differently and choose different species. Gooseberries and currants are great fruits for woodsy edges, for example (may be illegal in PA, but there are white pine blister rust immune varieties). Pawpaws grow wild in PA woods and you could grow those too. You could also make a small patch opening in your woods, plant a nut tree and some raspberries or other wildish mid-succession species, and then let the nut tree become the canopy while harvesting raspberries etc. along the way. If you get the one patch under control and want to make another patch, you could, over time, convert your forest to a fruit nut forest over the years and get food in the short and long run.
Much depends on your goals and your specific site/situation. But there are many possibilities.
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