Food forest site or unrealistic pipe dream?

spector

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I have been doing a lot of reading about food forests, and I really want to try to create one. This is the area I am thinking of using . This picture was taken at about 10a today, so, as you can see, lots of sun exposure. Although you can't really tell, there is a small pond (that I dug) just to the right, and my drip irrigation ends just to the right of the pond, so I can stretch a few lines out.

The added benefit of using this site is that a few well-placed large evergreens will screen off the last tiny bit of my neighbor's property that I can see.

Pro's: will beautify a pretty ugly hill that is right outside my bedroom window; will screen me from my neighbor; will be easy to access for purposes of harvesting/maintenance; easy access to water; possibility of incorporating the pond (more like a bog right now) into the landscape; rain will flow naturally toward the plants that need it more and the plants will help keep the water from just racing down through the slate and flooding my laundry room.

Con's: the hill is pretty much solid rock and clay and will be a bear to dig into; NOTHING currently grows there naturally, which makes me wonder if nature is trying to tell me something.

My thought is to put some cedars and other big evergreens at the top of the slope (north and northwest of house), to build kind of one side of a paranthesis, then to put in my apple trees and plum trees around the canopy of those, followed by my berry shrubs (and possibly mulberry), with space for later insertion of kiwi and pineapple guava, once the foundation trees get bigger and can act as support for vines. Perennial plants, including veggies beds interspersed with annuals (veggie and flower) in front of that (moving down the slope and toward the house). Part of a food forest is supposed to include root vegetables, but that might be a big ask on that big chunk of rock. I might try putting in some green compost for a few years, to add to the soil layers before I try to dig too deeply.

I am just worried that it will be equivalent of planting a fuschia in the desert up there. It will be asking a lot of native land that has been like a big African savannah for decades. But when I look around at what grows naturally out in the undeveloped areas, it looks like the land should be able to support vegetation.
 

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DivingTemptress

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Hi Spector,

looks like a huge job especially with the potential flooding of the house. Maybe you should consider terracing, then putting in raised beds with good soil so the runoff can be directed away and you wouldn't have to dig as much ... added benefit starting with good soil. If it were me, I would put in fruit bearing trees or bushes instead of evergreens for hedge at top of the hill ... grow things that will feed you !

How cold are your winters? keep that in mind since it is the north side.

Happy Growing !

P J, the Dirt Diva
 
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spector

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Thanks, PJ. I want evergreens because of the screening, with the thought of the fruit trees to the south of them, so they would get plenty of sunshine. Temps aren't horrible here. Typically one or two days below freezing all winter, but usually in the 40's, Fahrenheitwise. I am lucky, in that I am sitting on some sort of microclimate. It is generally several degrees warmer here in winter than just down the road, about 15 minutes away.

It is just me and my shovel, so terracing is probably outside my capabilities. I was trying to avoid raised beds, as that is not really in keeping with the food forest theme (very natural), but now that you mention it, there is no reason I can't put some at the base of the slope, closest to the house. Not part of the "forest" but a step into civilization before you reach the house. ;)
 
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AndrewB

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I agree with PJ, terracing would be the way to go.

From the appearance of the ground you have to work with, I'd also recommend getting some decent soil in there to start things off. A low garden bed, just 8" high would be fine. If you want the natural look, there are a few options:
Swales instead off garden beds, a LOT of digging, but well worth it on a sloped site. They will slow the water down & let it really soak in.
Rock boarders as garden beds.
Collect some decent sized reasonably straight branches & lay them on top of each other to form a rough raised bed. Use a stake to hold them in place.

You could use citrus for screening, a couple of big orange trees will block that area out nicely. Also guava are evergreen, a bit slow growing though.
 

DivingTemptress

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Don't know if this will work in you zone, but cranberry hibiscus is very colorful and a tender perennial also the tea and jam are yummy. I grow mine in ground as well as containers. 5 ft tall !

here are a couple pics cranberry

20200801_122011_resized.jpg
cranberry on left just planted in ground last month, roselle on right. it is an annual
20200801_122040_resized hibiscus.jpg
 
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DivingTemptress

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There are trees that ''hedge'' beautifully, Barbados cherry and Grumichama that will fill in your screen.

As for the terracing, find some teenagers who want to make some moolah like the wrestling team lol
 
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DTK

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Just a thought, but why not use bales of hay (whatever bales available - I use sugar cane mulch or lucerne because it is locally available) as the lower side of the terrace. Then just add whatever soil you choose to use on the high side of each. Your chosen food plants can get a start and the 'hay' can break down providing structure and nutrients. I'm a bit of a lazy gardener and cutting troughs seems hard yakka.
 

nzmitzi

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I want evergreens because of the screening,
you can have both.....

there are some fruit trees that are also evergreen like feijoa otherwise known as pineapple guava which also make excellent hdeges.
 

nzmitzi

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Hi Spector,

sorry I didn't read through the whole post before replying about the screening.

I would like to say I admire your dream. Goals like yours are awesome for inspiring us to get up each day.

After reading through your post - you have set yourself an immense task of reclaiming that land - and that is how I would think of it if it were my land and I had your goal. which means that I would suggest that you start small, plant some desert loving plants to get the reclamation of the land started - you may need to add some compost and rocks to hold it all together (a bit of a mini swathe or terrace type thing) until they are established and you can then start planting other things. I find one of the best starter crops/plants is grass. Not your normal lawn grass but grasses from the wild, the ones that grow to about 1 metre high or 2-3 feet high in clumps. They help hold the land together enough to start planting other things in between.

any way..... I wish you luck in your endeavor!
 
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spector

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Great idea, nzmitzi. I am now wondering if a green manure crop might be a good start.
 
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bizhat

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at first glance at that picture, the thought of rather than planting evergreens, some colonies of termites might thrive better - crossed my mind :p

ur info says you're in the temperate zone.. could you perhaps specify? (40 Fahrenheit are around 5 Celsius.. is that all year round or just winter?)
> b/c u mention desert-like conditions. in so saying, we could be throwing our suggestions at you but ultimately some plants could simply not grow where u are!

to me the landscape can somewhat be related to the Tuscany in Italy (pine nuts, various figs, olives) --- that said, you might have to first check the pH of your ground to figure out what is even possible.

+ research comparable landscapes globally and see what others have done.
**Spain with their strawberries and citrus fruits might also be worth checking
 
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nzmitzi

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Green manure sounds like a good starting crop, many lupins grow in poor soil. Unfortunately I'm not sure how many will grown in clay. You may still need to think about an addition of some compost.

If you can section that area into some smaller zones and maybe start with the higher elevated ones so that they start catching some of that water that is running into your laundry, you will probably need to think of some kind of swathe or terrace to slow down the runoff.

In my small piece of land here I had an area that was a sort of path around a fish pond. It was full of stones and of course the inevitable weeds that grow in between. What I did was use the stones for another project, and throw all my composting material straight on top of the clay that was discovered underneath the stones. If you cut down any trees, trim the leafy parts and throw them on the ground to help anything from blowing away. I also use branches of wood, I figure it's a variation of Hugel-culture, to hold down the compost as I live in the roaring forties. Our winds are enough to break a windbreak made of 4x2's.

It is a bit unsightly, but you can use the composting materials to help hold the water and also to plant in. After looking more closely at that photo - there does appear to be grasses already growing, so that green crop may just work wonders.....
 

spector

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Yes, in the spring, it is green up there. There are also the stumps of some manzanita that were growing too close to the house and that I had to remove for fire control. Around Jan-Feb, when the rain comes in, the weeds grow. It stays green until about June, then dries up and stays dry the rest of the year. The entire slope is like that, but I have evergreen trees growing on the rest of it (on driplines), primarily natives like cedars and pines. There are a couple of redwoods, but they were here before me.

I am definitely looking at this as a long-term project. Tree clippings are definitely doable.

I am in the foothills of California, so I get hot (90F+) summers, cold (40F-ish) winters, and typically wet springs and dry autumns. Apples grow well out here. The soil is very heavy clay and slate, with about 4" of topsoil.
 
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nzmitzi

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one of the things that grows almost wild here is parsley and when it gets big (because I can't eat THAT much - and I do eat a lot of it) I use it as mulch. It does tend to blow around in the wind but the chickens like the seeds, and it covers the ground quite nicely. Held down with a tree branch - it's awesome mulch.

I pull weeds (plants in the wrong place) and drop them for mulch.

Do your chickens free range? If not maybe you can set up a temporary fenced in area up there for them, they'll scratch up the ground and enrich it at the same time ready for planting.
 
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bizhat

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for/against the clay soil, I'd suggest having dandelions to loosen up the ground (due to their deep roots) AND you can practically eat the whole plant / safe for mulch. Furthermore, they attract bees and pollen-spreading insects for .. your other plants and they can grow on very little water. I'm guessing simple grass would die off with the environment or be useless with the concept of a food forest.

one of the things that grows almost wild here is parsley and when it gets big (because I can't eat THAT much - and I do eat a lot of it)
have u considered juicing (and storing) your parsley...? ;) healthy stuff, good for winter!
 
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spector

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Dandelions grow freely on that slope in the spring. My chickens are free-range, but they don't go up there. I suspect they are smart enough to see there is no cover from hawks or coyotes up there! They do go up on the slope, but they go into the part that has trees. I've included a few more photos, one a bit more to the east, one a bit more to the west, and a detail of the grasses on the slope. The grasses all die because there is no natural source of water up there. The bigger trees started out on drip, but many are now able to function without assistance, so there is water down there SOMEWHERE!
 

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