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See a case study of how one forest garden was established.

Planting a Forest Garden: Case Study.

Today, I'd like to share some images from a great slide-show put together about the establishment ofthe Mashodack Forest Gardens in Upstate New York, along with some commentary from yours truly

They did a fantastic job documenting their project for us, so we all get to learn from their process. THANK YOU! Now, remember, we can learn from any project and any mistakes by applying some critical thinking, so let me give a little gentle criticism of what is clearly a great project.

Overall, there are a few things about this project that I'd recommend against.

For example, they based this system on apples, and some fairly conventional varieties at that, and from what I've read of apple pests in upstate New York, I would have chosen species with a better reputation for success in a no-spray system, such as we discussed last time. 

Next, I think the scope is a bit too large for the kind of "intensive" establishment technique they used, and you can see some difficulties showing through the pictures below. 

Finally, on this scale, I wouldn't recommend a mulched main path such as they have in this project - just too labor-intensive to maintain. 

With that said, lets look at how this very large forest garden was established. 

To start with they simply dug holes for the trees and to establish starter "guilds" around the trees. 
Here, you can see the trees planted in Spring, with cardboard mulch around each. 
An example of a "guild" being started.
Next, the site was sheet mulched with a cardbord weed barrier and woodchip mulch, a bit at a time. For such a large projet, this isn't a bad strategy, just a very labor-intensive one. Pesonally, on such a large scale, I would have used a combined strategy of focussing more on the individual guilds and gardens, while utilizing denser plantings of fast-growing trees and "rampant ground covers" to dominate broader areas and grow mulch. The main "intensive energy could have gone into using a "guilds that intersect" strategy,  and less on a complete coveing of sheet mulch, which eventually gets impossible to maintain, as you'll see below. 
Almost finished mulching, looks great! However, I'd advise against wood-chip mulching main paths like this. This kind of path is very difficult to maintain, from my experience. I recommend main paths of mown lawn in most young systems, with mulched access points, key-holes and small paths. Eventually, smaller paths and keyholes can become self-mulching, but wide paths will always be a problem.  
Here's this guild at the end of its first season. The plants wer probably placed a little too close, but already this guild is starting to dominate. 
June in year 2, starting to see weeds in the paths, evidence of watering, encroching grass even where sheet-mulched. 
Peak of season 2, the sheet-mulched path already requires re-mulching, but the well-establshed guilds are dominating, even with grass intrusion. 
Guild of perennial veggies doing just fine. No room in there for weeds. 
My favorite picture of the slideshow, an established forest garden in year 3. The path has been re-mulched with "chop and drop" materials from the site. These herbaceous materials will break down quickly in the summer and feeding the weeds, making this a great strategy for garden beds, access points, keyholes and small paths, but not a very good one for that main path. 
And a final look at that guild in year 4. It's starting to look a little too tightly planted, especially the comfrey... But maybe that's fine if the comfrey just dies out and enriches the soil eventually. In the background, we can see the forest garden looking like a whole lot of prductive energy is going into producing grass instead of food, in my opinion. So, at this stage, overall, we might use looser plantings within the guilds, but tighter plantings of the various guilds. These trees are probably planted at ideal spacings for late succession/maturity, but for early succession, there's lots of energy (sun, nutrients, water, fertility, mulch, labor, etc.) that's going into creating more work, rather than useful harvests. The trick is designing a system that will mature better through each stage.

So, now that you've seen how one project was started, hopefully you have a better idea of how your own project could come together. 

And if you'd like help with the process, rember, you can always join our Forest Garden Design Course this summer! ;)

Mike 
Copyright © 2016 Lillie House, All rights reserved.


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