The deep straw bedding we use for our ducks reached a compacted 18+ inches by spring. Much of it is composting already, and it is full of duck “fertilizer”. Here you can see the swales in our food forest after spreading the bedding out across them. Our ducks seem to generate exactly the amount of used bedding required to cover our swales – perfect.
A detailed understanding of your lands contour is critical to sustainable use of water. We have been doing significant research lately on low-cost methods to obtain highly detailed contour maps of land.
Below is a contour map generated last week of Six Hands Farm. It has 1 meter contour lines on top of an elevation gradient, which makes it easy to identify features of the property. More or less detail can be provided, including deep-zooms into specific areas of interest, based on requirements. (Click image to view larger size).
The data used to generate this map is accurate to around 5cm, it varies in accuracy a bit more in areas of high foliage/tree cover where is is harder to determine the actual ground elevation.
This data was captured via an aerial drone following an automated set of waypoints at 165ft altitude using a 12mp camera. The total capture time for ~55 acres was under 25 minutes. Lower altitudes can be used for higher accuracy.
Processing of the data was done using a variety of commercial and open source tools, and takes about 24 hours.
The low cost of these captures makes this data accessible to most land owners. In a consulting setting this capture could be done for less than $1000 with a two day turnaround.
So you are starting a one acre food forest on a semi-arid zone 6 property. What do you plant?
Well, lets go through the items we decided to plant, working our way from the canopy to the soil surface.
Planted as seedlings. True American Chestnuts from blight-free stands in Washington.
Paw Paw, Pennsylvania Golden Paw Paw and Mango Paw Paw
Planted as seedlings.
Honeycrisp, Dayton and Red Boskoop Apples
All planted as as bare root trees on Antanovka root stock.
Bare root trees on Lovell root stock.
English Morello Cherry
Bare root on Gisela root stock.
Italian Prune Plum
Bare root on Marianna root stock.
Significant numbers planted from rooted cuttings to help with early establishment. Already growing very well. Sourced inexpensively on Ebay.
Planted as rooted cutting.
Hardy evergreen shrub with tart edible berries. Historically native to the area.
Ben Lomond Black Currant
Compact high-producing commercial variety from Scotland.
Ben More Black Currant
Another Scottish variety which is later blooming.
Planted as rooted cutting.
Assorted Blueberries and Strawberries
We don’t expect much success with the blueberries until the the forest is more established due to soil acidity issues, but we’ve planted quite a few and we’ll see how they do.
Most trees were planted inside tubes of hardware cloth fastened with zip ties. The hardware cloth tubes go several inches into the ground to help reduce vole, deer and rabbit damage. It is a significant amount of work to create all of the hardware cloth tubes, so inexpensive and abundant rooted cuttings were left unprotected. You can also see here the 3/4inch drip irrigation tubes run along each swale. 5gph drip fittings are attached near trees, and misters are placed periodically to help with growth of herbaceous plants on the swale.
Shortly after completing the earth works for the new food forest I wanted to put together a seed mix to apply as cover crop around the swales and surrounding area. The goals for this are three-fold:
- Generate biomass to build soil
- Maintain moisture by shielding soil from sun and wind
- Fix nitrogen
I purchased my seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Here is the composition of my mix:
- Daikon Radish
- Purple Top Forage Turnips
- Field Peas
- Rainbow Carrot
- Common Valerian
- Sweet Clover
- Hairy Vetch
The clovers and Alfalfa were innoculated, and everything was mixed together in 5-gallon buckets. It was then broadcast around the entire food forest area, as well as other areas on the property.
In Part I I discussed how we laid out a small portion of our property for Phase 1 of our food forest. Now lets take a look at how the swales were dug and mulched.
I used the 18 inch wide bucket on the backhoe to trench about 12 inches deep along my marked paths. All removed soil was deposited down slope from the trench. This deep narrow trench certainly isn’t typical of the swales I have seen previously, but given my limited heavy equipment experience it was the most simple solution, and should catch water just fine.
Here you can see a raw trench/swale immediately after digging with the backhoe. It is very rough and will require a bit of shovel work to clean and level the uphill side and smooth the bottom – but it is quite level in terms of depth.
Because this is a relatively small area with poor soil I decided to have a significant amount of compost and mulch delivered on-site while I had the backhoe. I had 35 yards of a steer manure compost blend, and 35 yards of wood mulch brought in. The compost isn’t of the highest quality, but it has a significant amount of organic matter in it which should pay dividends over the next few years.
Unfortunately these came on a tractor trailer which could only drop them at the entrance to my property, about 500 feet away.
After the swales were dug, I used the backhoe to carry the material back to the swales, around 2 yards at a time. The compost was laid down on the berm first, and smoothed with the bucket. The wood mulch was then laid on top.
Here you can see the material being laid roughly into place on the berms.
Here is a great picture taken via aerial drone that gives you a sense of scale, and lets you see how the three swales are laid out. It is great to see that island of rich compost and mulch nestled in the arid landscape. Note the significant soil damage done by the backhoe during the many trips to move material to the swales. This is definitely something to watch out for.
Next post we’ll get into planting!
Our first major project after acquiring Six Hands Farm is to get started with Phase 1 of our food forest. The goal for Phase 1 is to prepare and plant a small portion of the land we have set aside for a food forest. We are tackling 1/2 acre, of a total 10 acres we will eventually establish. Our hope is to better identify species which will be successful on our property before investing in the larger area. We’ll also be able to learn a lot in the process and use that knowledge to our advantage in Phase 2.
Annual Rainfall: 9.1″
In this area water is the primary concern. We laid out three swales to help catch run-off as it flows down the shallow valley. Each is around 120′ long.
To lay out the swales, I devised an inexpensive solution. I used a quality, precision lazy-suzan bearing, and mounted it to a tripod. I then mounted a high power laser pointer (from Wicked Lasers) to the top. It is a bit of a hassle to level, but once ready it can be rotated to cast a bright dot on contour 360 degrees around the tripod. The 2-watt laser can be seen for well over 2000 feet in full daylight. Ideally one person rotates the laser, while another places flags in the ground to mark the contour line.
I had access to a 3d printer to print mounts for the laser and tripod, but something could easily be constructed from wood. Total cost for my design would be ~$350, but in my case was only $10 for the bearing. If needed you could use an inexpensive laser pointer and do your layout at dusk/dark.
Here you can see the flags laid out marking the southern most swale. This area was cleared of brush with the backhoe first to make it easier to lay out the contours.
The backhoe used to do this work was a Case 580N. I rented this from United Rental and it was delivered and picked up from my property. A backhoe certainly isn’t the ideal tool for any part of the job, but it is capable of doing the job of multiple machines which significantly reduced my cost. I used the backhoe to clear brush on the site, dig swales, and transport compost and mulch. I have minimal experience with these machines, so the quality of my work was pretty rough – that said, it would have taken weeks to do the same work by hand.