The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Reinvisioning the forest garden (again)

Weedy forest garden

It seems like I reinvision the forest garden every couple of years, always thinking this new plan is going to turn a problem zone into an area of bountiful harvest.  So take what I write here with a grain of salt.  But, really, I think I've got it this time!

This year's reinvision is the result of rain and rodents.  When voles girdled the three apple trees that were supposed to grow into the canopy of the forest garden, I finally had to admit that those trees had been ailing for quite some time.  The issue in the forest garden is the same as in the neighboring back garden --- high groundwater drowns anything with roots more than two or three inches below the surface in the winter.  I've worked hard to build tree mounds up out of the wet using copious organic matter (logs, branches, leaves, weeds, manure, etc.), but as the plant materials inevitably break down, my trees' roots end up right back down in the submerged zone.  As of this year, the only perennials that are thriving in the so-called forest garden are a hazel bush and tons of comfrey.  Time to change gears.

Flower bed

The first thing I'm admitting is that high groundwater probably does mean a poor place for trees.  All of my soil amendments have created a rich layer of topsoil, but the quality dirt soon gives way to waterlogged clay that kills deep-rooted plants in the winter.  While I could keep working to make the forest garden a tree habitat, chances are I'd be better off using my efforts to turn it into a shrub and herb (in the botanical, not the culinary, sense) playground.

Forest garden swales
However, raising the planting zone up out of the groundwater enough to keep a foot or so of soil dryish does seem feasible now that I've experimented with a sky pond and chinampas.  Both have worked quite well, with Mark's only complaint being loud toads singing on spring nights (requiring him to turn on a fan before bed).  Why not combine the two winning strategies, using dug-out aisles to raise the planting surface while gently sloping excess water toward a sky pond at the lowest point?  As a bonus, I'll get to discover whether a sky pond with no gleying will hold water as well as the experimental one I semi-gleyed last year.  And, as Mark said tongue in cheek, we really need more toads.  Right?  Who doesn't!?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Blueberries! I'm told they grow nicely above a water logged soil ...
Comment by Dan Tue Jul 29 06:23:32 2014

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