August 25, 2021

Forest Garden: Planning

We have a small, triangle-shaped area that was originally part of a treed ridge. It was also full of shrubs, so when it became part of a paddock, it was quickly eaten down by the goats. And it was the bucks favorite girl-watching spot, so it saw a lot of traffic. Dan wanted to do something with the area for years, but we didn't know what. First, we tried to establish it as silvopasture, but never got much to grow, probably because the boys favored the spot so much. Finally, the goats stressed the fence between the two pastures to the point of needing repair, so Dan took out a dead pine, thinned the oaks, and fenced it off to keep the goats out.

Cattle panel fence.

We've discussed ideas from time to time, but it wasn't until I finished the forest lectures in my PDC course, that we decided that the most productive thing to do with it was to turn it into a forest garden. A garden in a forest? More like, the forest is the garden. I was familiar with the concept, but the course gave us practical information and a plan. 

The green is the area for the proposed forest garden.

So, here's what we're starting with; pretty much a clean canvas.

View from the buck barn. The vine along the ground is a muscadine.

View looking back at the buck barn.

So, I've been researching what to plant. Forest gardens are built on layers of food producing plants: 
  • Canopy layer of tall trees
  • Understory trees
  • Shrubs
  • Herbs
  • Ground cover
  • Root crops
  • Climbers

We already have the canopy layer, which for us, is white oaks. The acorns are a favorite goat food, and I've experimented with them as well. We also have muscadines for climbers. So all we need to plant is everything else on the list! I want to choose things that will be happy in our growing zone and climate conditions, and which also will be happy with some shade. Here's my potential list so far. 

Canopy - besides the existing oaks, I'll plant some pecan tree trees

Understory trees
  • mulberries
  • pawpaws
  • redbuds
  • honeyberry
  • spicebush
  • comfrey
  • golden seal
  • wintergreen
  • ramps
  • hostas
Root crops
  • skirret
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • muscadine
  • hopniss
  • maybe hardy kiwi (in a sunnier spot)
Ground cover
  • violets
  • wild ginger

This is what I want to plant for sure, and I'll add more to the list as I continue researching. Fall is a good time for planting, so I hope to do as much as possible then. 

This is a pretty exciting project. Trees can be a very secure food source, producing fruits and nuts every year. So this seems like an excellent work-smarter-not-harder way to garden.


Ed said...

This is a very interesting project. Can't wait to see how things go.

Boud said...

Which spicebush do you plan? There are several species with the same name. This is a great idea. If you can get the fruit and and berries before the animals do. Will you net the trees? I'm very interested in following you along on this project.

Val said...

I have violets here and they can be invasive not sure how they are there? How about Bleeding Heart or Astilbe? I have loads of Hostas here around our property but they have been suffering from the heat wave. It has been in the high 90s for about 10 days now. They will be glad to see winter I am sure. Maybe a few day lilies around the edges for colour and for the bees? The hummingbirds love them and are still enjoying them here.

Leigh said...

Good point. I'm looking at Lindera benzoin because the leaves, buds, and new growth twigs can be made into a tea, and the fruits can be dried and used like allspice. ​Plus, it grows in my zone!

So far, we've never netted any of our trees. We end up sharing with the birds, but it seems to work out okay.

Leigh said...

Val, we have tons of violets and I've had no trouble with them. It will be one thing I won't have to buy, which is why it's on the list! I have no idea if Bleeding Heart or Astilbe will grow here. Are they edible or medicinal? Daylilies are also a consideration, along with any other shade tolerant herbs and flowers like monarda.

I've seen hostas in some people's yards, but I have no idea how we'll they'd do for me. Keeping everything watered is under discussion, especially because it's something of a ridge with too many roots to dig a proper swale.

Kelly said...

This is fascinating... I've never heard of a "forest garden"! So what exactly is hardy kiwi? Is it a different variety of the fuzzy version?

Nina said...

I'm very slowly working at a forest garden and to be honest I don't know exactly what I'm doing. I've got my herb garden in the only open spot in our woods. Where I found wild raspberries I'm tending them and had some pretty amazing berries this year. I grow Daylilies and hostas between the sunny part and the shade and they do really well. I'm also trying my hand at elderberries. This year I planted some leftover potato tubers in and around my nettles and they have done superb. I've got enough violets to choke a cow, some honeyberries and goji berries too. You might try maypop. The insides of the fruit are delicious and the leaves and flowers make an excellent sleep aid. There are so many more I'm growing but these are a few I'm excited about. Grew Jerusalem artichoke a few years back and it nearly took over my garden. Win some - lose some! LOL!!

Nancy In Boise said...

I love your permaculture ideas! We have three ornamental shrubs in a row in our front yard and we're thinking about tearing them out and putting something in there at least pollinators and or food to kind of help the soil get healthier always lots to do!

1st Man said...

Oooh, I have never thought about anything like this. We have a tree area that is "mostly" cleared, ha. I call it our "little park". I've wondered what to do there. Too much else to do now but we will watch your progress with great interest! Thanks for sharing everything as you always do.

Leigh said...

Kelly, forest gardens are one of the crowning jewels of permaculture design, so to speak. :)

I've only seen pictures of hardy kiwi in nursery catalogs. It's a vining plant, related to the kiwifruit we buy in the grocery store, and native to eastern Asia, where it grows on the edges of forests there. They are supposed to be highly productive when established, and produced small, sweet, smooth-skinned fruits. The downside appears to be that they are vigorous sprawlers and have to be maintained a bit. But up to 100 pounds of fruit per year sounds pretty productive! I'm not sure they can survive our summer droughty spells, however, so I need to do a little more research.

Leigh said...

Nina, good for you! Actually, it sounds like you've made an excellent start. Besides my PDC, the books I'm relying on are a two-volume series, Edible Forest Gardens. They're expensive because they're like textbooks, although the price has come down a lot over the years. But the information is priceless.

Thanks for the suggestion on the maypop. If they can take our summers, I'll consider them!

Leigh said...

Nancy, you should definitely replace those shrubs! One beautiful food producer is the blueberry bush. Pretty pink flowers in spring, blueberries in summer, and brilliant red foliage in fall. I'm always recommending it!

Leigh said...

1st Man, you should definitely consider a forest garden! Doing the preparation and planting will take some work, but once established, they are said to be highly self-maintaining, plus grow food! What's not to like about that? :)

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

What an interesting idea Leigh. I had not really thought of this an option (nor am I really familiar with many of the plants you list).

You could even make a slight twist on the Beatles' song: "I'd like to be, under a canopy, in an Octopus's garden, with you..."

On second thought, I may stick with writing...

Rosalea said...

This is an exciting project, and the area is a manageable size. Looking forward to seeing it all come together. Are ramps and wintergreen native to your area? Up here, ramps like deciduous bush and more alkaline soil, where the wintergreen are in evergreen bush and more acidic soils.

Leigh said...

TB, oh no! Now that song is gonna stick in my head, LOL.

I'd heard of this concept a long time ago, but didn't really understand how to do it until my online PDC. Choice of plants is just a matter of researching what grows well in one's locale, plus food preferences. I admit, it's something I wish we'd done years ago. But! Better late than never.

Leigh said...

Ramps are, but I'm surprised you mention alkaline soil. Everything I've read says they prefer acidic soil(?)

I don't know about wintergreen. It's listed to grow in my zone and to like our soil conditions. I tried some this year but it didn't make it. But I plan to try again.

Rosalea said...

I am assuming you call ramps what we call wild leeks? Perhaps ramps are something else? Wild leeks grow verdantly in hardwood bush, in more neutral soil, but not where we live now, on this sandy, pine dominated area. On the other hand, wintergreen is everywhere here. These are just my personal observations, because I'm a plant nerd!

Leigh said...

Yes, that's them, Allium tricoccum. It's true that everything likes it's particular conditions. I tried them several years ago, but they didn't make it. They are said to grow in moist wooded areas in zones 3-7, and while I'm in zone 7, we do get pretty warm in summer, so that might be part of the problem. My wintergreen started out okay, but then just disappeared. I do plan to try both again. :)

Leigh said...

Ed, me too! It will take a number of years to establish, however, since we're dealing with trees. But I think it will be a lovely addition to the homestead.