Some thoughts on managing the forest garden for when I'm gone.

Oct11

Managing Succession

Managing Succession

(a work in progress…)

For when I die (or am otherwise separated from the forest garden on White Oak Rd.), here are some tasks for the near-to-mid-term (next decade or two, and indefinitely) which should be done to keep the garden’s succession steered on the right path.
  1. Pay the damned property taxes, otherwise the whole thing gets sold at auction to some asshole who might bulldoze it all to make a 3-acre lawn.
  2. Manage adolescent “wild” trees, esp. in the back 40 oldfield. Currently there are many wild black cherry, along with a handful of mulberry, a bunch of sumac, a few walnut, a few honeylocust, some scots pine, some eastern red cedar, and a few catalpas that I’ve planted (and some self-seeded), and now oaks creeping in at the west edge. These are not meant to grow into full-sized trees—they will shade out the desired species I’ve planted, but in the early years contribute structure, shade, fertility, etc. Please coppice every so often for firewood, mulch, or whatever. The pines on the west border are succeeding to hardwoods and will probably all fall over sooner or later, let this happen but try to maintain a border hedge of some sort between the back 40 and Mike’s driveway. Maple, Ash, Hickory, Elm, Sassafras and Tulip trees should not be allowed to grow into the back 40 except maybe among the western hedge. Oaks should be coppiced and/or confined to the southern third of the “back 40,” between the Walnut area and the southernmost evergreens—don’t want a bunch of random seedlings growing up; there are widely-spaced desirable (Oikos) oaks plated at ~40′ spacings in the “oak savanna”.

    Young Catalpa and Sumac, Fall Colors

    Young Catalpa and Sumac, Fall Colors

  3. Prevent trees from growing up under power lines. This is a yearly or biennial task, if we don’t keep trees from growing up in the ~40′ wide swath under the power lines, the line maintenance contractors may take a brutal approach and chop down everything including the shrubs I’ve planted under the lines…not good, so it’s better to be proactive. Cherry and Sassafras are especially prevalent there.
  4. Pay close attention to managing Poison Ivy, and to a lesser extent, Virginia Creeper. Some of the latter may be tolerable (though it excludes basically everything else in the ground layer), but P.I. should not be allowed to get a foothold anywhere. Needs at least yearly removal by hand-pulling (wearing protective clothing and disposable gloves), birds plant it everywhere under trees and places where they perch. Also try to hand-pull and cut/remove Horsenettle, Bindweed, Buckthorn, Bittersweet and other loathesome weeds which spread aggressively, several times per year and before they produce seed. Dewberry and Knapweed used to be the bane of my existence, but I’ve kind of learned to live with them and hope that they will fade back as succession happens. You may want to still remove Knapweed in certain areas in the back 40, easiest and best after a rain in early-mid summer before they flower (pulled plants in flower may still mature their seed as they dry).

    By Broly0 - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40553530

    Poison Ivy Leaves

  5. Chop nitrogen-fixers like Autumn Olive and False Indigo every couple of years to control their size and spread. AO can be dealt with more aggressively, and new bird-planted AO seedlings should be removed or carefully managed to stop them from overtaking everything. Same with the “invasive” bush Honeysuckles, they should be cut down yearly (before setting seed) to control them. Black Locusts should not be allowed to grow very tall or spread far by suckers. I planted a few Alders, if they ever grow tall, coppice them if they get too big.

    Autumn Olive Bushes Leafing Out in Spring

    Autumn Olive Bushes Leafing Out in Spring

  6. Continue to mow paths through the garden at least a few times per year, and mow under the power lines (lane between hedgerow and sunchoke/downy sunflower area) at least a couple times per year to maintain that vehicle driveway. If sunchokes get to be a problem, they can be mowed around to contain them.
    Path in Back 40
  7. Manage “woodlots” like the Catalpas at southern edge of land behind Jackie’s house, for fenceposts—cut every 6-10 years, depending on growth rate and desired end product. Other Catalpas on site can be similarly coppiced (near back 40 Pawpaw patch, at front near the road / Pawpaw patch, and elsewhere). Same with Black Locust “woodlot” south of Pawpaw patch in back 40—those are planted for fenceposts, not to grow as canopy trees.
    Coppiced Catalpa after less than a season of regrowth.

    Coppiced Catalpa after less than a season of regrowth.

     

  8. Thin overplanted areas to select the best specimens. Some areas have been planted far too densely for eventual canopy spacing (Am. Persimmon, Chestnuts, Hickories, Pecans, etc). This is to speed succession and find better “Yahtzee” genetics a la Mark Shepard. Once they start flowering and bearing, select best-performing specimens at wider spacings (at least 20′ between trees for nut trees, maybe 10-20′ for persimmons) so that it’s not a crowded, dark forest with a bunch of spindly trees. I know it’s hard to cut things down, but try coppicing the under-performers for firewood/timber/mushroom logs? It’s really for the best that things not be overcrowded. Pecans, Chestnuts, Persimmons, Walnuts, wild Apples and others can be top-worked to graft improved varieties…no sense in growing a bunch of junk!

    American Persimmon Fruit

    American Persimmon Fruit

  9. Monitor animal interactions. Squirrels may become a major pest once the nut trees start bearing, they may have to be controlled somehow, depending on how much they’re eating. A deer fence would be impractical and ugly around the entire garden (esp. with power line R-o-W), hopefully once the trees get out of deer range, they’ll be ok and there will be enough harvest to share with the deer. Woodchucks may continue to undermine buildings. Try to encourage more predators like owls, bats, snakes, coyotes.
    Deer eating apple on trail cam
  10. Continue planting and evolving, adding things like wildflower gardens, more little ponds, and scattering wildflower and cover crop seeds throughout the property. Try new and unusual species (with some caution) to fill in spaces or replace things which have died or were removed for poor production (don’t be afraid to remove “dud” plants that fail to grow well or produce). This helps the whole system. Keep adding shade-tolerant species as more shade develops and keep growing more mushrooms in that shade. Experiment with more vines growing up certain less-important trees.

    A wildflower garden of native forbs

    A wildflower garden of native forbs

  11. Manage the edges of the successional oldfield (Welch owned) to the south and east of the forest garden to remove unwanted Walnut seedlings (allelopathy) and allow more light into south border of property. Buy that property if it ever comes up for sale and use it as a nature reserve/woodlot?
  12. Keep propagating things from the garden and give plants away (or sell them) to foster other forest garden projects. Continue to keep soil covered and mulched and aim to create as much new soil as possible on-site. Give excess fruit/nuts away, trade it to friends, or sell it locally. Give tours occasionally and add more benches and resting places throughout the garden for people’s enjoyment. It makes no difference to me whether it’s privately owned or a held in a public trust/commons, as long as things aren’t being wasted (wildlife helps prevent that) or bulldozed, and these management tasks are being upheld to the best of someone’s ability.

I will work on updating the planting map to reflect recent additions and broad areas (and maybe hint at the management strategies for some of these areas), as well as making more permanent labels for the important trees. That should help the next steward determine what is deliberate vs. what happened to show up.

-PJ Chmiel, 10/11/16

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *