tree spacing in new dry climate food forest?

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by Ludi, Mar 6, 2013.

  1. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    I'm planning a small food forest in my old vegetable garden, which is a site with full southern exposure and native woodland on the west, east, and north. I'm planning a series of swales with lots of wood in the berms. Climate is recently semi-arid; we're in a multi-year severe drought, but this site has in the past been under 4 - 6 inches of water during heavy flooding rains.

    My question is how far apart should I plant my fruit trees? Fruit species contemplated are fig, mulberry, persimmon, pomegranate, goumi, goji, jujube, loquat, pineapple guava, pindo palm, with support plants of various leguminous shrubs and small trees. In the the PRI DVD "Establishing a Food Forest" the trees and other plants seem very close together, but that's a very different climate with more rain than here, I think. Lately we've been getting about 10-12 inches per year, with the average supposedly something like 28 inches per year, but every few years we get floods. Sun is intense most of the year.

    Any spacing advice is welcome!
     
  2. Unmutual

    Unmutual Junior Member

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    I'd still space them as per species recommendations. First, you never know if your hundred year drought thing is going to end sooner. Second, using those swales and giving that land some shade from the trees will help retain the water you do get, so they should grow up to be normal sized anyway.
     
  3. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    My 2 c worth - based on reading Jackie French's work is to plant them close enough to have the canopies intertwined. She rationalises it as a way to confuse 'pests' that want to get to the fruit before you do. It's also how I think of a forest - a closed canopy of taller trees with stuff growing underneath - rather than the neat rows of a commercial orchard.

    The leguminous trees are also closely interplanted (I have even used the same planting hole as an experiment and that seemed to work OK) as they will establish canopy and wind breaks quickly while the 'apex' trees get up to size and then you start dropping the support plants for mulch to open it up again.

    The shade and wind breaking effects of the planting will reduce evaporation and help with your drought situation.

    But I can't lay claim to ownership of a mature food forest based on that philosophy to tell you if it works.
     
  4. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Thank you for these ideas. :)
     
  5. matto

    matto Junior Member

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    Have a look out in your Zone 5 and see what the native vegetation is doing, and how many layers are in the forest. Probably less competition from the understory and plenty of tap rooted pioneers. Your earthworks and intensive management will change the area you are working with, but being analogous with you forest type wil help in the tougher years.
     
  6. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Thank you, matto. I've noticed the trees tend to grow close together, 3-4 feet apart or even closer, in clumps, maybe 12- 15 feet between clumps. There's no understory because it is browsed out by deer.
     
  7. NGcomm

    NGcomm Junior Member

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    Hi Ludi - just my thoughts... I was going to note that you need to be more interested in the vertical stacks than the horizontal distances between trees but then you wrote that there is no understory because it is browsed by deer. It would be very helpful to protect this understory if you could, maybe with a solar electric fence. By getting herbaceous and shrubs happening you will do a lot to protect what water you do gather and improve the fugal population required for good tree growth. I assume you are planting on the downside of the swales but with the odd floods you get, this may be an issue, consider planting slightly up the bank to help protect from water logging when this happens, the counter to this is to make sure the herbaceous layer is dense to stop evaporation when you don't get much rain. Any chance of a 1,000ltr ibc (or similar) water tank on a gravity drip line to support the trees for the first year or two? The 10-12 inches will be okay if you have just a bit of supplemental water with a good biota mix. And of course deep rip under the bank prior to either making the swales or at least in front of it if you already have. Best to rip in two directions to allow the trees to get a fourway footing and not blow over.

    Jacke in "Edible Food Forest"'s mentions that planting too close is the biggest issue he sees. Check out the final tree size and plant accordingly. Even further apart if you have layers so that the canopy doesn't get too think. Half the trees you note will not succeed very well with too much shade so concentrate as much on your vertical as to your horizontal placement.
     
  8. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Thank you. :)
     
  9. Sandman

    Sandman Junior Member

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    The pineapple guava is shade tolerant and small, so it could be planted close to one of the larger trees like jujube, persimmon, or mulberry. Plus, the shallow roots of the pineapple guava will be compatible with the deep root structure of those other trees. Will you be augmenting your rainfall with additional water? Seems to me that may be necessary in order to support shallow rooted figs and pineapple guava? I do like your plant selection. Most of the plants you're considering are pretty drought tolerant, especially after they have a chance to get their tap roots down deep. I'm guessing the pindo palm has shallow roots, and therefore would compete with figs and pineapple guava if planted too close. If you are like us, it may take some time before you know which species are going to prosper and which may not. We have intentionally planted an apple tree too close to a mulberry tree. It will be a few years before they get big enough to start crowding each other. By then, we should know which tree we want to keep, and the other will be cut down and used for chop and drop mulching. I agree with the other posts that you want to shoot for a solid canopy eventually because the shade will help a lot with soil moisture, as will the mulch produced by the annual leaf fall.
     
  10. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    Thank you for your input, Sandman. I'll be irrigating the plantings initially, but hope eventually they may grow and bear fruit on natural rainfall only, possibly some might only bear during "good years" but if enough are tough plants, they might bear some even in bad drought years.
     
  11. Sandman

    Sandman Junior Member

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    Ludi, We are looking at it in much the same way. With a diversity of species, it improves the chances of having something productive each year. For us, because of some of the species we've selected, late frost is another reason why we may not have good production some years. As for irrigation to supplement natural rainfall, we too expect the need for that to decrease over time. For some of our plantings, I think we're already at the point that we won't need to irrigate at all - that's for jujube, prickly pear, pomegranate, mulberry, saw palmetto, and loquat. In another year or two, we may be there for chestnut, blackberry, goumi berry, passion fruit, persimmon, pawpaw, and bay laurel. If we decided to only plant those species, we could probably reach a point where supplemental irrigation isn't needed. Since we have our own well, we decided to add citrus and many other fruit trees to our list that will always need extra water here, because of the timing of our natural rainfall. Surely your soil has some clay in it, and with the ground prep's you made, your soil moisture may last a while. Solid shading will definitely help with that. Like you, we have done a lot of terracing and hugelkultur to minimize the need for extra water as much as possible. Now if we could just afford to install a solar electric system.......
     

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