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Developing a deep shade polyculture

Closed canopy

Bare soil under a yurtRemember the yurt circle?  I've had the patch of bare ground in the back of my mind for the last month.  Planting anything useful there butts up against some severe design restrictions:

  • Full shade.  I mean really full shade, not the kind you'll find under a fruit tree.
  • Deer.  The yurt circle isn't on a particular deer path, but anything outside our core homestead will get nibbled if it's tasty.
  • Lack of attention.  I only walk that way a few times a year and we can't currently even get a wheelbarrow out there.  So anything I plant will need to mostly fend for itself.
Dried ginseng seeds

When B.J. brought over some ginseng seeds, tiny ginseng roots, and goldenseal roots, a plan began to form in my mind....

Yurt circle

Deep shade guildI realized that forest herbs like ginseng, goldenseal, and ramps need no attention except for the harvest and are adapted to heavy shade.  On the other hand, they could get eaten down to the ground by deer if I don't fence the browsers out, but could a ring of thorny gooseberries create an edible fence?

I'm not willing to buy gooseberries to test out my hypothesis, but I did put the ginseng and goldenseal into the ground and will plan to propagate some of my gooseberries this summer.  If I end up with a heaping helping of gooseberries, it'll be worth trying some in deep shade.

The Avian Aqua Miser keeps chicks from drowning and pooping in their water, so you raise healthier birds.


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The problem I'm running into on our small urban lot is not just the shade but the nutrient robbing roots that large trees have. I've been trying to use a shovel spade to cut roots along the beds but in one location I'm going to trench to reduce competition while some of our fruiting shrubs get established.
Comment by Brian Tue Feb 19 14:49:07 2013
So envious! I wonder if I could grow ginseng in the SF Bay Area?
Comment by Pamina Wed Feb 20 01:52:12 2013

Brian --- Good point! Forest herbs are presumably used to dealing with root competition, but you're right that I hacked through a lot just to open up some shallow planting trenches. Not sure how that would affect gooseberries....

Pamina --- That's outside their range, but might actually work. They like it cool and damp, so if you're in a spot like that, it might be worth a try.

Comment by anna Wed Feb 20 08:04:00 2013
I don't think gooseberries will keep deer out. Too short and flimsy - the deer can walk over/through them to get to the tasty things inside. That being said, do you know that deer tend to mow those plants? I don't think they'll bother the ramps at all - I've never had problems with deer eating alliums.
Comment by Emily Wed Feb 20 11:41:30 2013
Where we have some serious root competition our gooseberry survived and seemed to thrive our currants in this spot did not fair so well and we lost most of them. I'm sure your gooseberries will do fine. I like the stacking of functions with this idea. I'm looking forward to hearing how it turns out.
Comment by Brian Wed Feb 20 11:52:18 2013