Over the past few weeks we have been planting the permanent food producing plants that will be the backbone of our food forest in Zone 1. It is essential to think years down the road when planning a perennial long term system. Trying to design a system that will self balance and, without much input, have the degree of sustainability found in an established food forest is both rewarding and humbling. Attempting by design, without having centuries of natural selection to temper the strength of the trees I will be counting on years from now, requires a level of insight that I am just beginning to dip my toe in.
I have this picture in my head and I think we are managing to combine wants and needs. Of course along the way I found several flaws in my original design, and like any artistic en-devour, I reserved the right to change my own mind mid stride. Apparently my wife reserved that same right, but in the end we all like the way it is turning out.
I ordered trees and plants from several different locations. I did this for many reasons not the least of which was cost. I got several good first time buyer coupons like $25 off $50 at Gurney’s with free shipping. I ordered some stuff off e-bay, and got what I could locally. Last year we ran animals through the area to reduce weeds and increase fertility through animal manure. Then we over-seeded with wheat, legumes and rye grass. These did well and competed with all the other self seeding grasses and weeds. We managed to chop and feed or chop and drop numerous times over the last year while I determined where the fruit trees might have the best chance for success. Unfortunately it only took a few months of warmth and rain for the grasses to take over… while I was ordering and planning. I decided to protect the trees and plants and let the chickens have the area a while longer. We will continue to both free range and tractor rabbits and chickens in the area to keep grasses in check until the plants and trees establish themselves.
The soil was/is mostly red clay with a few inches to nearly a foot of dark acidic loam. About 4 years ago we had a forestry mulcher come in and chip up the area and that wood has been slowly decomposing along with all the roots from the massive underbrush layer that was chopped and dropped by the mulcher. Because the trees and plants needed additional drainage we amended most of the natural soil a few feet square with every planting. I’ll admit that I let my eyes overload my butt while ordering. Ordering a few dozen trees doesn’t seem like much, but with limited time to work on the land and the need for the trees to be planted as soon as possible after receiving them a weekend quickly become hectic. The first 12 tiny plants came in which required a dozen 2 foot square holes of soil to be amended. First, the sod layer of grasses had to be removed. Then we hauled in topsoil dirt from piles we had around the land that came from clearing the location the house is on. Then we hauled in mulch, Lyme, blood and bone meal and in some cases rabbit manure.
I added these to the existing soil in layers moving from highly enriched in the top foot to less and less in the bottom foot so the plants don’t all the sudden go from loam to clay. I was amazed at the fungal layer that just a few years of mulching and chop and drop of wheat and rye produced. The soil was noticeably worked loose in the top several inches and in some places up to 18 inches of black soil had been created where none existed before. Native invasive grasses had set up shop since we waiting too long.
We planted three different types of bananas near the walking paths. They were only a few inches tall and did not look that good the day after planting, but hopefully they will adapt and take off. I planted two goji berry plants that were barely 2″ tall. Among the list of trees were sassafras, black elderberry, red mulberry, banana bush, 6 paw paws from two different sources, pineapple guava’s, satsuma, peach, pear and plums. I planted two sour-wood trees on either side of the garden to attract bees. Many of the trees listed did not go in the small area in back. The two mulberries went in a area away from the house where I have several species of figs growing in the second year. I tried a few exotics such a 3 carob trees that even with the additional sand and drainage amendments might not make it in the humid and wet environment. I did add several native plants like muscadine grape vines and rabbit-eye blueberries. Now that the easy part is over…..lets see how they do over the next few years.