Friday, April 15, 2011

Progress on the Forest Garden

It has been a long time since I have written about the forest garden.  Of course, we have been busy building our house, but late winter/early spring is the time for planting bare root trees, so we have been working on planting as well this past month or so.  These pictures show a more-or-less scale drawing of our property near the house site.  This first picture shows the relative placement of Hurricane Creek Road, Hurricane Creek, the driveway and the house (rectangular box where the driveway ends near the bottom of the map).  The green hatched areas are forested and the contours are shown (the house is at 600 ft and the adjacent contours are every 20 ft elevation).  Note that the house faces north and is on a north facing slope.  A north facing slope is ideal for fruiting trees and bushes in this area, because trees exposed to full sun too early in the season will bloom out, only to have their blossoms killed very often by a late frost.  We used the solar pathfinder to position fruit trees most vulnerable to early bloom near the forest edge, so that they would be shaded until late April or early May. The north facing slope made the house design more difficult for passive solar heating in winter; however, the house is far enough down the hill from the forest that we still get a lot of sun on the "back" side of the house in winter.

The next picture is a closeup of some of our forest garden trees and bushes close to the house.  Note that the floodwaters last May came up to about where the lower part of the driveway is.  The garden was not flooded, but it came close.  Starting behind the house are 5 "Heritage" red raspberry bushes (R), three "Nanking" bush cherries (bc), four female and one male hardy kiwi vines (K), two Asian and one European pear trees (P) and three "Briana" apricots.  West of the raspberries are three apple trees (app), including one Hubbardston Nonsuch, one Paducah and one Arkansas Black, and three "Precocious" hazelnuts (Haz).  Downhill of the house are 8 grape vines (Gr).  There are 8 different varieties, but all are American table grapes, including 5 seedless types and 3 with seeds.  West of the driveway are 10 Rabbiteye blueberry bushes (B), with 5 Tifblue and 5 Climax.  North of the blueberries are three seedling southern pecan trees.  West of the blueberries are hazelnuts (Haz) and Chinese chestnut trees (chest) that were planted last year and are doing very well.  South of the garden are 2 Goumi bushes (Gou), a sour cherry (Sour c) and three melon trees (melon).  Tucked in next to the forest and shaded during the hot afternoon are three Gooseberry bushes and three currant bushes.  At the very upper left of the picture are three Jujube trees (J) and three yellow wild cherry trees (wc).  Not shown on this closeup, but visible in the first picture, across the driveway are six Pawpaw trees, two improved mulberries and two hybrid Russian persimmons.  Also, not shown, but north and east of the grapes are three heartnut trees and three English walnut trees.  Finally, we have planted 100 asparagus crowns in the garden area!  Whew, that was a lot of digging!

Actually, this was only a small part of our plantings this spring.  We are reforesting the land along both sides of the creek, which has been eroding badly because of poor management practices in the past (like bush hogging right up to the edge of the creek and allowing livestock to roam through the creek).  To this end, we planted 100 water oaks, 100 Schumard oaks, 100 Loblolly pines and 100 White pines.  Last year we planted about 300 trees, most of which are doing well in spite of the flood.

These fruit trees and bushes will not be part of an ordinary "orchard" with mowed grasses under the trees.  Instead, we plan to create "guilds" for each group of trees.  A guild is a group of plants that work together for each other and for the critters that hang out around the trees.  For example, comfrey can be a member of almost any guild.  It is a dynamic accumulator, which means it has very deep roots and mines the subsoil for nutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium and trace elements such as iron and magnesium.  These nutrients are concentrated in the leaves, so trimmings from the plant can be used as a nutritious mulch.  Most guilds also include a nitrogen fixer such as groundnut, New Jersey tea or blue wild indigo, which not only feed your guild plants, but can provide delicious roots to eat, leaves for tea or nectar for beneficial insects.  The idea of permaculture is to make everybody happy without having to work at it, once the guild is established.  Next year will be the year of the understory guilds, so stay tuned.


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