Turning a clear cut or other degraded lands into a food forest

A friend of mine has made arrangements with the owner of a clear cut to use the land. There is no agreement about time. My friend believes the owner wants to sell it for real estate development. Speaking with him about this reminded me of a piece of land I was hoping to buy on the back roads between Eugene and Cottage Grove. It was sloped in an easterly direction had thousands of stumps and was ugly. I so wanted to transform it into a magnificient food forest. Unfortunately it was also priced high so I could not do it.

I came up with a scenario to transform this clear cut including putting mushrooms in the tree stumps, cover crops, microbial inoculations, lots of varieties of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and medicinal herbs. After my trip to India I would now add forest trees, I named them bore-well trees in India as these tap rooted trees both bring water down into the lower soil reaches and bring the water back up for the plants when they need it. These bore-well trees also add shade which where I am in Eastern Oregon, as in India, is needed. Plants as I learned in India from Subhash Palekar, do not do photosynthesize when the sun is too hot, and shade mitigates this. The agricultural culture in India is thousands of years old and while there were complex systems for flood irrigation, they mainly worked in partnership with the microbes to store water in the soil.

In India 75% of their crops are grown without irrigation. Where they are using irrigation the aquifers are running out of water, as they are in most places in the world. After beginning to understand that drought and flooding will lead to starvation of millions of people, some of whom I now knew, I want especially to re-establish ecosystems, to sequester carbon in the soil, to revive the small water cycle in as many places on the earth as possible. The best way to do that, as I see it, is to develop a type of farming that can make the farmers money and re-establish the ecosystem. The above plantings are part of the process, and giving the soil a selection of all these trees, bushes, cover crops and herbs allows nature to choose what she wants to grow there.

I saw that there are 1 billion acres of degraded land worldwide where agricultural crops can no longer be grown, so I am now very excited about the clear-cut idea. What if we could come up with a strategy where we used clear cuts and other degraded lands to grow food. What if people who cannot afford to purchase land could use some of these lands. We would need a strategy for making some money quickly from the land, as we would not know when we would have to move off the land. This would of course need to regenerate the land as well. Who knows what the results of this could mean in terms of community.

So in the case of my friend’s land here is a fairly detailed action plan: we are wanting to use minimum labor and money inputs. Cost is mainly for seed. A lot of the details here are the techniques as the actual plants need to be local ones.

Take out enough ground cover to be able to plant seeds. His land is covered with shrubs, so he will use loppers to make cuts so he has some bare ground.
On my land I bought a lot of flags (21 inches long wires with flags on them), and marked my rows along contours. On my land I had enough bare soil so I did not do any clearing. He might need to make some cuts to get bare ground. By using seed balls you can without digging plant seeds.
Planting needs to be done in spring or fall so as to get the water to germinate the seeds unless you live where you have rain all year long. Still spring and fall are the times that plants normally start. Also degraded lands usually have water retention problems, so taking advantage of the most rainfall is good.
Microbe inoculate the seeds before planting., especially mycorhizzals. I used microbe inoculations about every 2 weeks as I am working is a desert climate. In western Oregon, where I began one microbe inoculation seemed to be enough, although I was using a small amount of compost at the time, and these lands were irrigated so repetitive microbe inoculations would probably be good.
Plant fast growing bushes and even annuals for quick returns.
a. Himalayan blackberries. This is a weed many people hate, although most of us love the fruit. Ideally a pick your own operation would be great here, they are a high priced fruit. I planted gardens into maybe 10 blackberry beds. We clipped the top of the blackberries used some line, a little compost and microbe inoculation and very few blackberries came back,. This plant produces quickly.
b. another plant that I think will do well is toona sinesis, chinese vegetable tree. I would expect that these will have the nutritional value of moringa and sesbania grandiflora (which are tropical trees used a lot in india). Anyway they are a vegetable tree. You harvest the young shoots for vegetables, allowing them to grow out in august in order to replenish the tree for the next season. I have a reference on my web site where you can use this tree to give dancing shadow shade to your vegetable gardens.
c. carol deppe has a plant named goldini zucchini which is drought hardy, and can be used raw like cucumber. Many squash would work in this situation. Greens such as kale, collards and turnips are often used in no till agriculture scenarios.
d. meanwhile plant good bore-well (fast growing tap rooted) trees. These plus the microbe inoculations, no till, and cover crops will quickly regenerate this land and establish ecosystems, sequester carbon, and revive the small water cycle.

The featured image for this post is
“Clear cut near Washington, AR”

Farther Along

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