Edible Forest Garden – Practice Plot – Part 3


As mentioned in the first and second post I was inspired by the books Edible Forest Gardens Volume I and II and have been using a sheet mulch option.

We were able to get the first few steps completed on Saturday and had left off with uncomposted manure on top of potentially seedy hay and some very rough path approximations. The next morning we started out with me breaking down cardboard boxes and removing all labels and tape and Nate raking up the leftover hay that the girls hadn’t eaten all winter and spring. My assumption is that since that hay had been left out in ideal growing conditions for the past few weeks any seeds would have taken their chance to germinate and what was left is relatively weed free. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, both tasks took more time than I had planned. As Nate continued to rake up hay piles I brought all my cardboard up to the site to start laying it out. The book has lots of recommendations that I have either done and have been happy with or intend to do next time, but there was one recommendation that I have to wholly disagree with. They recommend laying out cardboard for the paths as well as for the planting areas and to do that right away to help minimize soil compaction. That did not work at all! The other thing they recommend, which I do agree with, is to make sure that your cardboard overlaps by at least four inches and that all seams have another layer on top to make sure the weeds can’t grow through. Great suggestion. The problem is that every time I stepped on my cardboard “path” the cardboard would shift and slip and all my carefully laid out seams would shift and slip leaving many an exposed space; and cardboard with hay on top turns out to be really slippery resulting in several near falls. Will not do that again! They also recommend going to a furniture or appliance store to get really big boxes to minimize seams. This I would 100% support!! It turned out that once I got all my seams covered and made sure my edges overlapped by at least four inches I had barely enough cardboard to cover half my planting area. A few emails and some driving for bigger boxes would have been well worth it and I will definitely do that next time!

Once I had all the cardboard laid out we started covering it with the spent hay. We carted many a load up from the pasture to the planting area. Many a load. As with every previous step I needed a lot more material than I thought I would.

We were finally ready for planting!

The book has lots of suggestions for planting into such a sheet mulch layering and I won’t go into details here but this photo from the book summarizes much of it.

I started by planting the wild plum tree and that was the only thing that required some actual digging into the ground. Another tip from the book was to dig out the soil in layers and keep them separate because different biology is happening at the different layers, and you want them to stay separated so the right organisms are in the right locations to do their jobs. An even better tip was to lay all your dug up soil onto something (sheet, tarp, cardboard, etc.) so that it doesn’t fall into the surrounding soil. That made such a difference from previous times I’ve planted something and then wondered where the hell all the dirt I just dug up went and how come I don’t seem to have enough to put back in the hole?! The hole for the plum tree may not have been quite big enough but it was close enough. I then used our three-tine pitch fork (used to be a five-tine fork but Nate managed to break off two of the tines picking up frozen horse poop this winter) to loosen the soil in the hole. Then I planted the plum tree with some quality compost. We didn’t want to spend too much money so I only bought enough quality compost to put directly around each plant, not the whole space.

Once the plum tree was in I moved on to the lead plant bushes which were the next biggest thing. For them I only had to dig off the very top layer of grass and use the three-tine pitch fork to loosen up the soil. Which managed to turn itself into a two-tine fork by the time I got to the third one; at this point it is clearly faulty craftsmanship and not user error. I also realized that my fourth quadrant landed right at the “door” in our fence and I really couldn’t plant that area until last or I would be constantly trying to not step on my newly planted things and would probably fail.

With three of the four lead plants in I turned my attention to the first quadrant and that was when my carefully laid out plans pretty much disappeared. I just set out the plants in their containers and eyeballed things until I was relatively happy and started planting.

By the time I finished one whole quadrant it was dinner time on day two of my “morning project” and the bugs were starting to feast. I opted to stop for the day to finish up tomorrow.

I did manage to get the other three quadrants planted the next day. The quality of my efforts decreased fairly steadily from the plum tree which I would give myself a B+ on in terms of following all the guidelines suggested by the book down to a D for the last few plants.

All total it took me three full days to get this fruit tree guild planted. These are my big take-aways for next time (there will be a next time!):

  • Have all the various layers and materials ready and close to your site BEFORE you buy the plants! One of the reasons I was in such a hurry is I had already purchased the plants and didn’t want them to die while I got everything else in order.
  • Have more than you think you’ll need, you will in fact need it.
  • Get the big giant boxes!!
  • Do not use cardboard for the paths! My plan for next time is to use these “mud grids” we have for some of the muddiest areas in the pasture that are easy to move and set up nice and rigid and square to use as my initial path for each new planting and then pull them up when I’m done and replace them with a permanent path material. Though I haven’t figured out what that will be yet…
  • Get decent tools. Cheaper tools that break are not actually cheaper in the long run.

It has officially been one week since they were planted and everything is still alive, can’t tell if they are thriving but I’ll take living for now. We’ll focus on thriving for the next one.

2 thoughts on “Edible Forest Garden-Part3

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