Friday, October 12, 2012

Planning a Food Forest... or seven.

I made this crude but fairly accurate plat of our L shaped property using sketchup.  I'm trying to figure out a rotating paddock system for our chickens based on the 164' movable electric poultry netting that we plan to purchase this Spring.  The lighter green borders represent mowed paths that will allow us to setup the electric fencing without shorting it out, as long vegetation tends to do.  The darker green  represents 7 areas roughly 1000 square feet a piece that I am planning to convert from lawn into food forest/poultry pasture areas.  I left a nice wide path down the middle to allow a vehicle to pass if needed for some reason, and made sure to keep enough room to easily turn a small trailer around behind the barn.

This I see as an opportunity to get creative and treat each forest as it's own entity, though keeping in mind how they interact with each other and the surrounding environment.  Some ground rules are that each one must have at least one feature for humans, and a water feature of some kind. (Eventually)  The goal is to produce a multifunctional space that is a poultry pasture, an orchard, a vegetable garden, and a park like comfortable place to be all in one. 
I really would have liked to use more interesting shapes, and created more edge space.  However, the fencing we are looking at only comes with 5 posts that can act as a corner, and the rest of the built in posts are only good for straight sections.  So I am stuck with trapezoids in order to fulfill those two very important chicken needs of protection and control.  Although now that I am writing this it occurs to me that I could shift the paths to longer angles, getting away from rectangles and creating longer edges with all trapezoidal pastures.  Hmmm....  might have to try drawing that up when I get a chance.

The whole process starts here, which is the trapezoidal section viewed from the smallest side.  The stake and birdhouse on the right mark the corner property mark.  The pine trees are on the neighbors side.  The tree in the foreground is a black walnut, and in the background is an ancient pear, both of which will be Incorporated into the forest.  There is an old cistern under the pear.  The top is in good condition, but I haven't yet had an opportunity to open the cement plug and see whats inside.  I am hoping that It can serve as a functional water storage for irrigation and livestock.

To get the process started, I am going to fence off the area for the chickens and overwinter them there.  We are planning to use the mobile pen we built, winterizing it with straw bales and a canvas tarp.  At that point we will be switching from our Salatin type pasturing to the deep litter method.  We will let them out to forage in the fenced in area and add high carbon mulch (woodchips, straw, leaves) for them to spread around.  By mid Spring or so I expect the grass will be pretty well suppressed.  At that point we will move the poultry to a new paddock. 

When the grasses are mostly gone, the next step will be constructing earthworks for water retention and texture, though I'm still not sure what that will look like.  The slope of the land is mostly a gentle downhill toward the back of the property which is East.  Though just behind the barn it also pitches down to the North, to the neighboring property where the land drops down sharply.  I am still trying to figure out the best way to incorporate swales and water management into the design without interfering with fence operation, mowing the paths, or the overall comfort of navigating the site.

Immediately after the earthworks are constructed, the area will be seeded with Fukuoka style seed balls, containing a Sepp Holzer style blend of pioneer plants, nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, fruit trees, shrubs, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.  After that we observe and interact, adding plants and bulbs where it seems appropriate, thinning, coppicing, mulching, building interesting features for people, and finding smaller winding paths inside the area. 

Most of the seeds on my list are in hand.  I am working on a chart to identify which of them require stratification or heat treatment, which I want to try doing before making the clay balls.  Also several of the seeds require light to germinate, so I am thinking I will scatter them loose as well as a few stuck to the outside of the wet clay balls.  Still working on the chart, but here is the basic list.

Seed List

Black Eyed Susan
Butternut Squash
Daikon Radish
Delicata Squash
Goumi Berry (If I can find some)
Ground Cherries
Hairy Vetch
Strawberry Spinach
Siberian Pea Shrub
Swiss Chard
White Clover

Plants to Plant or Allow later

Lambs Quarters

The seeds will be mixed in whatever proportions feel right at the time, though I will probably have to sort them by size to make the seed balls.  I am going to take a note from Fukuoka on this one and sew the mix with a child like mind.  Without care or planning.  Then let nature decide what goes where, while I observe and make small adjustments.

So that's the plan so far.  I have the rest of fall and winter to figure out my earthworks for the first one and get my seeds prepped and make the seed balls.  Please leave a comment if you have any constructive input or concerns.

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