Permaculture, Poly-culture and Dreaming of a Forest Farm.
Here at “The Smithshyre” we have many agricultural plans and just as many influences. The idea of a forest farm is not brand new, not by any means. “J. Russel Smith” wrote “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture” in 1950. He documented forest agriculture all over the world including 1000 year old practices of harvesting acorns and chestnut for animal fodder (feed) in Europe. That is just the tip of the iceberg there are so many ways to included perennials into an agricultural farm plan, it is up to your imagination.
The use of perennials allows the farmer to skip tilling/cultivating, which can be harmful to top soil and may increase erosion. Tilling also requires time and fossil fuels. Sowing and thinning can also be reduced or eliminated by the permaculture farmer, saving much time and energy. Weeding and watering can also be reduced especially once the plantings are established. Each year perennial plantings come back stronger making more food and animal feed then the year before.
Poly-culture is growing many different crops at once. A forest farm would accomplish this by definition. Whereas a traditional farmer usually practices mono-culture. Corn, soy or wheat growing alone as far as the eye can see. This kind of mono-culture is bad of ecology because it decreases diversity, among other reasons. Suppressing diversity as mono-culture must increases pest and disease of that crop forcing them to use more sprays and energy to protect the crop, a kind of costly “catch-22”.
At “The Smithshyre” We are planning on a seven layer farm forest. Mark Shepard authored “Restoration Agriculture” where he makes a great case for forest farms. Following his progressive work we plan to mimic the diversity of an Oak savanna.
We will replace the Oak with Chestnuts (another member of the Fagaceae family) which will grow and mature much faster then an Oak. Under the Chestnut will be shade tolerant Ribes like Gooseberries and Currents. In the next row, 30 feet to the south, we are planting Apples and other semi-draft fruit trees with an understory of Beaked Hazelnuts. This is a protein rich nut which grows on a large shrub and is native to the Pacific Northwest. Perfect food for turkeys and humans alike.
The next must southern row, is 12 feet away. This row will be all Rubes or sun loving cane berries like Raspberry and Wild Mountain Berry (Native Blackberry / Cascade Berry). Eventually all the trees will have veining plants like Grapes and Kiwis trellising right on the tree. Under the trees we will grow mushrooms, flowers and herbs. All of these rows are planned out so we can move our portable infrastructure right through the forest farm.
The forest canopy will also shade the grass in the heat of the summer when grass would otherwise go dormant. We hoped to create a 40-50% sun dappled effect on the grass. This type of UV filter will allow the pasture grasses to grow all Summer long and reduce irrigation needs. This UV filter would mimic an oak savanna where grass grows longer and is more nutritious. Rotation of livestock should also mimic the effect roaming herds have on a savanna. This will be the discussion of a future post. Thank you for your continued support.
This Spring we have planted:
8 Chestnut trees
2 Apple trees
20 Marion Berry bushes
3 Tay Berry bushes
1 Thornless Logan Berry bush
10 Raspberry bushes
50 Wild Mountain Berry bushes
18 Hops rhizomes
26 Beaked Hazelnuts shrubs
2 Currents bushes
6 Gooseberries bushes
12 Blueberries (low bush)
We plan to plant more of everything over the next few Springs and Falls. This endeavor will require patience, it will be more then a decade before the larger trees even approach maturity. However, the output of this farm forest will only increase over then next few decades and could last more then a 1000 years.