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

USDA-approved agroforestry

Forest farmingThe last tidbit I mined out of Restoration Agriculture was really a venue for further exploration.  Shepard explained that the USDA has five officially-sanctioned types of agroforestry, which means we can hunt down scientific studies on each of these topics to give us jumping-off points for our own explorations.  The first two --- wind breaks and riparian buffers --- are self-explanatory and are more about protecting the rest of the farm and ecosystem than they are about growing food, but the others have food potential.

Despite the name, forest farming (as defined by the USDA) isn't the same as forest gardening (as defined by the permaculture community).  This is a closed-forest type of setting with shade-tolerant plants including medicinal herbs (ginseng, etc.), ramps, gooseberries, currants, and edible mushrooms grown underneath the trees.  I feel like this form of agroforestry is most useful for folks who need a cash crop, less so for trying to feed ourselves.
Silvopastures are a concept I've written about here before (and which have informed my own pasture experiments).  The idea is to combine trees and pasture, with the aim of producing 40 to 60% canopy coverage.  An easy way to start a silvopasture is to plant trees along permanent fencelines, focusing primarily on deep-rooted species so they don't compete too much with the grass.  Fruit trees, pecans, walnuts, hickories, chestnuts, and pines have all been used in official studies.

Alley croppingThe final type of USDA-approved agroforestry is alley cropping, with rows of trees separated by annual field crops.  The trees are often oaks, walnuts, or pecans, and the trick (again) is to keep the trees' roots from competing with the annual crops.  Since most people are plowing their annual crop fields, they generally use a subsoiler each year as well to cut back tree roots that are trying to invade the main fields, tempting the trees' roots instead to dig deep.

If you're trying to create your own perennial-based system like I am, I highly recommend checking out extension-service documents about these various agroforestry systems online.  It's always a good idea to know what's been tried before you go out to reinvent the wheel.

If you're sad that there's no lunchtime post coming up tomorrow, you might want to check out my complete list of ebooks for further reading.

This post is part of our Restoration Agriculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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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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