First time posting a question, but I've been watching in the background for a long time!
I own 15 acres of forest in Quebec, 70 miles North of Montreal, very cold (-35C many nights in a row), mostly on a steep slope (20-25%) facing South, bordered by a small river. The forest was clear cut 80 years ago, left to fend for itself and 12years ago, all the best trees were cut. They left a lot of trees but mostly diseased or mangled. There's also a very diverse regrowth of fir, chokecherries, raspberries, sugar maple, eastern cedar, birch, tamarack, beech, speckled alder....
We are enrolled in a subsidy program to establish trial food forests next spring.
2 different zones will be created, one on the hill and the other on the flatter area at the bottom of the hill.
The preparation they've recommended is cutting the existing trees and regrowth and turning it into chipped wood to be used as mulch. I'm worried about competition from the pioneer species and the coppicing that will regrow from the stumps left behind. The hill section should be OK because we will be introducing mostly nut and fruit trees 5-6 feet tall. The bottom section is more problematic, we're going with shrubs like Viburnum, Haskap, elderberries and blueberries.
Do you have any suggestions or opinions that could help PLEASE!
I would do my best to subdue the existing vegetation before planting your desired plants, except for maybe a few select beneficial or useful species. The competition from the regrowth will make your work an uphill battle. Do you have to plant immediately? A season with goats, or goats plus pigs, or heavy sheetmulch, or weekly mowing, etc. would go a long way toward this goal.....
One way I've planted immediately into slash is to lay down old carpets on top of the stumps and stubs, leaving or creating small gaps into which to plant the new plants. After a year or two, I would move the carpets to the next section, etc.
It sounds like quite the wonderful landscape you have for a food forest. My first recommendation in starting a food forest (after observation of course) is to get some water retention earthworks in place. All life is 70% water, if you can reshape your property so as to store the ample rainfall throughout the dry season you have accomplished 70% of the work. Then lush vegetation will grow, and you need only direct the character of this vegetation.
It is very hard to put in earthworks after you have planted, and gets only harder as the years go on. You won't want to disturb your mature fruit trees just as they are coming into production by trying to create earthworks around them. Also the water retention will lead to more vigorous growth, and the agroforestry system will reach production much more quickly.
In your case I would terrace some areas on the hill and possibly make a pond at the bottom of the hill. There are obviously a lot of factors in play, so there is no way to tell for sure through this forum, but that is my initial though from hearing a bit about your situation. Are you allowed to use water from the river? This may enable you to do much more as part of a long term plan.
The newly created terraces would give you areas of disturbance where the new trees would start with a competitive advantage. Wood chip is one of the best mulches, especially when it is from smaller diameter and includes leaves, as the energy is in these vital parts.
I would also put some real energy into the food forest that you already have. Particularly in cold climates it is best to work with plants that will really thrive in a given climate, as opposed to ones that will just get by. With globalization we have a bit of a tendency to idealize the diet of the more commonly settled climates. When our food system is more resilient it will also be more diverse, different foods for the different climates.
Chokecherries, raspberries, sugar maple, cedar, birch, tamarack, beech, and alder; that is a pretty great list of species, I would feel pretty good about working with a system like that. I would do my best to observe the conditions and experiment with different techniques, observing and improving upon what works best. Try opening up the forests a little to give them more room to breath, spend time with a quite mind in that space. Let the forest show you what would change it in different ways.
But that is really a pretty valuable set of species, chokecherries, and raspberries for jams and preserves, sugar maple for syrup, birch for chaga (Inonotus obliquus, a very powerful and valuable medicine), cedar and tamarack are valuable species for lumber, and alder is a great support species. No doubt you can add lots more diversity to what you have, but I wouldn't overlook the production that is right under your nose.
Yes, I'm very aware of the value of the species already in place, but as I said, most of the mature trees that are still standing are in bad shape. The birch are all dying because of an exotic bug and no Chaga found yet. Most of those trees are only about 10-15 years, mostly white birch. Chaga is found mainly on yellow birch in our region. The chokecherries are the Prunus pensylvanica and all have that ?black fungus? disease (I know only the French name...) I'm replacing them with Prunus virginiana that are doing much better... and the fruits are also sweeter... they make great wine
The idea is to take advantage of the government subsidy to add more diversity. I've been observing this land for almost 10 years, I've made Excel sheets with all the species I could identify and noted all their uses and value with the help of Dave Jacke's "Edible Forest Garden" to name one reference... lots of thought and observation... that's my favorite pastime. I spend at least half an hour every day walking around, looking at stuff.
We'll be doing some earthworks in the steep section (I should have said 40%, not 20%), but mostly around the selected area for this program because it's an area where we've already started terracing by hand and planting a few fruit trees to see what will survive... it's not such a large area so we cut some of the shrub and regrowth and put it on the downside of the hill as we go. I know I've been a bit shy about considering large scale earthworks, mainly because until last year, I thought the forest was healthy.
There's a lot of water on the land, almost too much! We can't use the river except for swimming, but that's OK. We have 2 springs high on the hill that will be used to create ponds starting at the keyline and zigzaging on the terraces on the way down. The hill itself is quite dry because of the nature of the soil (rocky sand on silt) so we have to work on that. At the bottom where I am worried about the regrowth, it's already an almost marshy area, especially in the spring. That's where we want to add Haskap because they don't mind the wet conditions. We're also trying to get more food protein with hazelnuts and chesnuts, we don't really enjoy munching on tree bark all winter (6 months)
I like the carpet idea, but it's a large area to cover all at once and the stumps will be too numerous to make it feasible I'm afraid. We won't be able to walk in there. It's all mostly young trees, a lot of balsam fir and trembling aspen. I'm wondering if it would make sense to go in there with an excavator? I'd like to remove the stumps somehow...
If you want quick progress, there is a machine available for hire that basically mows down and chips up small trees (up to, say, 4-5 inches thick) and brush and spews this mulch out behind itself. We called it the "tree eater"..... The shredded-off stubs are somewhat less likely to coppice back than clean cuts, and they will mostly be cut off level with the ground, and thus easy to mulch over. There will be windrows of wood chips left to gather together for use however, mingled in with larger chunks useful as firewood, bed and path edging, and such like....
Looks like a most wonderful place! And it sounds as though you are well on your way to a meaningful and productive relationship of stewardship with it.
Adding diversity is always a good strategy to improve disease problems or a lack of productivity, the more interconnected an ecosystem is the healthier it will be.
Have you ever tried inoculating the birch with Chaga? It is a unique mushroom for birch as it is a symbiotic fungi so it will protect the birch from other parasites or diseases. It may even help the birch fend off the exotic bug you mentioned. Where I grew up in Vermont the Chaga are mostly on the white birch, perhaps you could try some strains from this area? Prunus virginiana are indeed a wonderful fruit, and such lovely blooms as well, one of my favorites.
Be careful about letting the attraction of government money guide your project. There is evidence everywhere of the failures of government to understand the landscape. Only nature and the keep observer know what is best for the land. Let the landscape be your guide for the project, not the other way around.
The water is an incredible resource, it is important to care for it as best you can! In my opinion there is not such thing as too much water, this just presents a new set of opportunities. It sounds like with so much water you should be able to balance out the permeability of the soil, do you know what the layering is like as you go deeper in the soil?
You could certainly go into the area at the bottom of the hill with an excavator, open up the water areas while also creating some drier areas for cultivation. This is a great opportunity for some hugelkultur, and to shape the landscape so that your cultivated trees will have enough water, but not too much, no matter the time of year.
You have given me courage, ideas and support, more than I could have hoped for. All your suggestions have fed my own brainstorming blizzard and things are getting so much clearer.
I entertained the idea of having a couple of piglets do the job, but the timing and the effort of setting up a paddock are not worth it at such short notice. Turns out I'd have to get an excavator come in to dig a trench to set up the fence, so I might as well just get it to clear the place up and be done with it. We have so many other plans for next summer : 6 weeks of workshops, completing the passive solargreenhouse plus bees and chickens!
I hear you Zach about government subsidies and not bending to their crooked ways; but in this case, for once I can fit MY vision into their limits by stretching that limit
Everything I've done so far has been more like flying solo into the unknown, it's kinda nice to have company.
You're all welcome to visit my little paradise to find out how we survive in freekingly freezing temps half the year! Thanks again for reminding me how lucky I am.