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Forest Site
Agroforestry experimentation

Agroforestry systems can “take advantage of stages in forest stand development” (Ashton & Kelty, 2018, 678). Most of the focus is on areas other than the temperate northeast (Id., 678-689). This project is “agri-silvicultural” form of agroforestry because it focuses on food crops over pasture, shelterbelts, hedgerows, windbreaks, improved fallow, alley cropping, etc. (Id., 679). It develops a “multi-story tree garden” (Id., 682) and applies it to the Northeast U.S.




60-acre upland mixed forest parcel. Located in the ecoregion of Southeast New England Coastal Hills and Plains. USDA hardiness zone 6a (USDA, 2012). Located in a glaciated oak-chestnut region (Braun, 1950) or “Appalachian Oak region (Dyer, 2006). The region may shift from Maple-Beech-Birch to Oak-Hickory in relation to climate change (U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2009, p. 81). Pre-settlement Connecticut was probably around 59% oak, 9.8% hickory, 8.6% chestnut, 4.1% maple, 3.1% pine, 3% beech, 2.8% ash, 2.6% hemlock, 2.5% birch, .9% poplar, .6% elm, .4% spruce, .4% ironwood, .3% basswood, as indicated by town records of 45,560 stems in 67 town areas (Cogbill, 2002).

         The underlying soils are well-drained glacial till. The soil is mostly Canton and Charlton fine sandy loams with a some Nipmuck-Brookfield complex and a tiny amount of Ridgebury, Leicester, and Whitman. There is a diverse mixture of trees, ferns, birds, deer, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, turkey, and a fisher cat. Common trees include red oak, hickory, maple, black birch, ironwood, sassafras, chestnut, pine, tamarack, hemlock. There are a few American chestnuts.

​         The site is very suited to diverse agroforestry production with trees, shrubs, understory, mushrooms, coppicing, etc. There are some good areas for maple syrup, and a large area in the southern section that is good for chestnuts. The chestnuts should be of mixed genetics due to the different strains of blight, and good sources include Lockwood farms and the American Chestnut Foundation. The land is probably not suited for intensive grazing or agriculture due to the slopes, soil types, and canopy. The southern section may work for grazing but it is dry.

         This project is conducted in the context of restoration. The property was logged by previous owners. It did minimal damage to the soil. They also left a lot of woody debris on site for recovery. They appear to have conducted a shelterwood cut, taking softwoods and ash along with some red oaks to build logging mats. We have recently constructed water bars to address one location with erosion according to CT State Best Management Practices (Division of Forestry, 2012, 64).

         We are not interested in logging-based operation. Removing wood may cause “decline in woodland fertility, owing to the removal of phosphate in successive crops of underwood, and consequently falling growth-rates.” (Rackham, 1980, 140; Rackham, 1967).




         Successional agroforestry creates “stratified multifunctional species assemblages that collectively appear to have a similar structure to native forests” (Young, 2017, 179-180). Similarly, Analogue Forestry develops multi-species plots into natural forests and “uses organic principles to produce a suite of high-value foods, spices, herbs, and medicinal plants, as well as fuelwood and timber stratified amongst canopy trees, vines, understory shrubs and herbs without compromising biodiversity” (Id., 186). Permaculture systems have similar structures and purposes (Shepard, 2013).

         This project attempts to create a modern form of naturally productive ecosystem inspired by indigenous practices in pre-colonial New England (Foster, 2008), California (Anderson, 2013), and the Amazon basin (Levis, 2017). For example, “hunting, fishing, plant gathering and small-scale farming... apparently resulted in local ecological impacts without transforming the broader forested landscape.” (Oswald et. al., 2020, p. 243). And: “In regions like New England, land managers seeking to emulate pre-contact conditions should take advantage of the naturally reforested landscape, de-emphasize the role of human disturbance and anticipate climate-driven change...” (Oswald et. al., 2020, p.245).

         Models indicate that recovery dynamics will have a greater impact than climate change on New England forests and they will continue to be carbon sinks over the next century (Duveneck et. al., 2017). Taking advantage of this can provide resiliency and possibly increased production.

         One acre of oak-hickory forest can store 69 metric tons of carbon, putting 21 metric tons into the soil organic matter (Catanzaro & D’Amato, 2019).

         Successional agroforestry systems can provide benefits for diversity, reduced risks, and regenerating degraded landscapes (Young, 2017; Bertsch, 2017). However, efforts have focused mostly on tropical areas (Id.). There is a need for further evaluation of this practice in New England, which has different species, ecosystem processes, and potential benefits.

         Research on agroforestry for the northeast focuses primarily on silvopasture, mushrooms, ramps, ginseng, and alley cropping (Roberts, 2017).  This project includes more highly diverse and overlapping practices: multistory cropping, coppicing, Darwinian beekeeping, foraging-based systems of production, and habitat management for naturalized animal husbandry.

         This work may qualify for a SARE graduate student/farm grant, NRCS CPS support, and AFRP Sustainable agriculture systems program funding.

         In terms of sustainable environmental planning and management, this project constitutes restoration from logging, climate resiliency, forest economy, and wildlife management. It uses resilience-based resource stewardship focusing on flexibility, diversity, and social-ecological elements for resilience in the context of climate change (Chapin et. al., 2009, 5).

         Law: Connecticut General Statute Sec. 23-65k for “Municipal regulation of forest practices” permits the Town of Willington to have an Inland Wetlands and Watercources Commission, which issued Forest Practices Regulations. Town of Willington zoning agent Michael D’Amato confirmed through email that my plans for restoration, planting, diversity, and agroforestry do not require a permit.

         Learning Objectives: Experimentation for functional diversity in forests involves complicated difficulties (Scherer-Lorenzen et. al., 2005, 6, 8). Concepts remain to be tested in longer-lived plant stands and it may take 100 years to change composition and longer for soils (Id., 13). However, this project may evaluate important questions:

  • Measure the impact of development of the productive forest ecosystem on species composition, growth rates, wildlife populations and habitat features, soil conditions, hydrology, nutrient cycles, leaf litter, and value production.

  • Explore the interaction of mature canopy production with the interspersed regenerative production areas regarding succession, wildlife population, management techniques, and production.

  • Evaluate innovative practices for temperate forests including successional agroforestry, highly diverse production, Darwinian beekeeping, naturalized animal husbandry, etc.





         Support highly diverse and experimental production in the developing canopy, understory, and regeneration areas.


Canopy design


         The canopy will consist mostly of angiosperms because they fit with the natural species composition of this region and the goal of diverse production. Therefore, the project will maintain current angiosperms, improve stand quality, and introduce diverse species including chestnuts, american persimmon, black cherry, black walnut, burr oak, chestnut, hazelnut, honey locust, hickory, osage orange, pawpaw, sassafras, tulip tree, white oak, and witch hazel.

         The project will reduce the prevalence of pine while adding more diverse gymnosperms including arborvitae, eastern red cedar, hemlock, and pine nuts.

         Canopy products: Fruits, nuts, greens, sap syrup/drink, aromatic bark for syrup and smoking, medicinal and botanical compounds, bitters, tea blends, resin chewing gum, diverse high-quality wood (unique hardwoods for fine woodworking, large slabs, timber framing beams, roundwood construction logs, branch knees for boat keels), wood products (artist's charcoal, firewood, bowls, tool handles, fire hardened white wood archery bows, paddles, baskets, wreaths, brooms, rakes, walking sticks, spoons/spatulas).




  • Chestnut: white oak, blueberry, raspberry, elderberry, currants, mountain laurel, rhododendron

  • Oaks: white oak, burr oak, hickory, tulip tree (north slope), chestnut, sassafras, spicebush, witch hazel, ramps, black huckleberry (shade fruit).

  • Maple: sugar, black/pin cherry, witch hazel, viburnums, ramps, hazelnuts, elderberry, rubus, dogwood, solomon’s seal, sweet cicely.

  • Black Walnut: pawpaw, american persimmon, witch hazel, mulberry, raspberry, currant. Black walnut produces allelopathic juglone that appears to be transported through fungal hyphae (Achatz & Rillig, 2014). However, it may not affect certain species including black cherry, currant, hosta, mulberry, pawpaw, and raspberry (WVU Agricultural Experiment Station, 1951).

  • Persimmon: sassafras, eastern red cedar, hickory, maple, tulip tree, elm

  • English walnut: dry areas, with aromatic understory to reduce disease.

  • Pine: pine nut, eastern red cedar, arborvitae, understory wintergreen.

  • Mixed in: honey locust, osage orange, kentucky coffee tree



Understory design




  1. Prefer wild genetics for ecological benefits, genetic repository, site adaptation, increased health/resilience, more dense nutrition, aromatic/medicinal compounds, and reduced cultivation requirements.

  2. Provide diverse benefits (wildlife, fruit, wood, medicinal).

  3. Native, or foreign with no ecological issues in this region, excluding aggressive invasives or banned plants to avoid issues.




  • Fiddlehead fern.

  • Spicebush in wet areas, also moderately dry, with hardwoods.

  • Witch hazel in wet areas, with hardwoods, ash, sweetgum, blueberries.

  • Wintergreen under pines.

  • Huckleberry under oaks for fruiting in shade.


Understory Medicinals:


     Species: Bloodroot, american ginseng, solomon’s seal, goldenseal, black cohosh. Mix species in each spot to increase odds that something establishes better. Also choose some experimental locations for learning.

     Cultivation: Wild simulated cultivation is better for smaller growers and increases the valuable characteristics of American Ginseng, although not forgoldenseal, blood root, ramps, and black cohosh (Filyaw, 2019, 2-3). Wild stewarding allows production and long-term sustainability (Id., 4). It requires only harvesting mature plants with ripe seed, planting seeds and root divisions when harvesting, and leaving enough mature reproductive plants for future production (Id.). For American Ginseng, this means 4 sets of compound leaves for maturity (Id., 77-79).

     Look for 70 percent shade (Id., 12). Soil should generally have 10% organic matter, pH of 5-7, 95 lbs/acre phosphorus, 3000 lbs/acre calcium (Id., 13). Conditions should be moist, cool, and mostly shady. Therefore, north, northeast, and east facing slopes avoid hot mid-day sun and produce good conditions, whereas south and west facing slopes are too dry and hot, but they may still provide “micro sites” with indicator species and good conditions, but they are still secondary quality (Id., 7).


Plant with sugar maple, tulip poplar, basswood, white ash, red oak, yellow buckeye, cucumber magnolia, birch, beech, black walnut, slipper elm, pawpaw, black haw, spicebush, shagbark hickory (Id., 9). Lack of calcium may limit forest herbs growth and some trees' leaves may feed forest herbs, including sugar maple, tulip poplar, basswood, and black walnut (Id., 9-10). 

     Ramps grow well under hardwoods especially oak, maple, beech.


Mycorrhizal fungi:

     Morel (Morchella spp.) for dying/dead elms; under living cottonwood, oak, poplar, young firs; damaged pathways through forest; sandy gravel soil along rivers and streams; disturbed areas; hardwood wood chips; under apples; after a fire or in wood ash; flooded farm fields; with wild ramps; in nursery containers (Stamets, 2000, p. 415). Planting: Mix spawn with wood ash, spawn can expand significantly.

     Chanterelle Cantharellus cibarius is native to the U.S. east coast (Forest Service, 2012, 52). Grow under hardwoods especially oak, maple, beech. Requires a native wild source for mycelium. But avoid lookalike False Chanterelle, Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca (Forest Service, 2012, 55).

     Saprophytic fungi on stumps, logs, and woody debris of hardwoods and conifer: oysters (Pleurotus ostreatus), shiitake (Lentinula edodes), lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus), chicken of the woods (Laetiporus spp.), and king stropharia (Stropharia rugosoannulata). Other options: reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), clustered woodlovers (Hypholoma capnoides), and cauliflower (Sparassis crispa) (Stamets, 2000, p. 42).


Regeneration areas design


         Eastern US old growth forests have 9.5 percent small gaps from dead trees, with 1 percent opening and 1 percent closing each year (Runkle, 1982). This project hopes to incorporate this level of regeneration into a productive growing system. For example, converting damaged areas and canopy openings into cultivated areas of plant regeneration for diverse production (e.g. a food forest), occasionally coppicing individuals until the trees develop to the stem exclusion stage, then transitioning into coppicing-with-standards, and finally permitting the area to mature into a closed canopy. This can be repeated across the site. The production would be extremely ecological, long term, low-input, and diverse. Over the 60 acre site, this would provide 6 acres of total regenerative production, which is a significant amount of production, with 1 acre transitioning every year.

         Plan: cut stressed tree to open canopy. Plant shrubs, understory, saprophytic mushrooms on woody debris, mycorrhizal mushrooms with plantings, sassafras and persimmon for mid-succession and canopy trees for final succession.

         Species: aronia berry, asian persimmon, beach plum, blackberry, blueberry, carolina allspice, chinese pepper, concord grape, cornelian cherry, crabapple, currant, eastern redbud, echinacea, elderberry, hazelnut (European and American), hawthorn, honeyberry, hyssop, juneberry, linden, medlar, mulberry, pawpaw, raspberry, rosehip, sea kale, siberian pea shrub, sour cherry, spicebush, sweet cicely, yarrow.

         Products: fruits, nuts, greens, medicinal compounds, small diameter firewood and kindling, fences, stakes, furniture, utensils, long-handled tools, charcoal, hunting, trapping, hiking, foraging. Wildlife benefits: Increased amount and diversity of birds, rodents, insects/pollinators, and soil organisms that rely on young forest regeneration.

         Guild: Apple with daffodil, iris, comfrey, morel spawn (Shepard, ???).

         Darwinian beekeeping logs (Seeley, 2019).

         Include trees for successional transition to canopy.

         Some trees coppiced for further benefits: hazelnut, linden.




         Inventory geology, soil, water, sun, flora, wildlife. Use NRCS/state/town data, soil testing, wildlife counts, field observation. Establish GPS points for basic features. Form GIS layers and polygons. Plant layer attributes: species, type (herb, bush, shrub, tree), succession (early/mid/late), age, dbh, vigor, crown shape, mature height (dominant, sub, minor), health, wildlife impact (food, cover, reproduction, nest material), benefits (food, medicinal, wood), light/shade tolerance, origin (native/naturalized/invasive), soil moisture preference, nitrogen fixation, pollination wind/insect, age of 1st fruiting, masting, fruit size, litter quality. Soil attributes: parent material, series, texture, drainage.

         Perform spatial analysis. Determine current assets that are established and healthy along with potential future assets according to current conditions, species composition, recovery dynamics, and climate change.

         Demarcate regions according to asset groups in their optimal conditions, with consideration for site-wide diversity and opportunities for improvements.

         Design methods to improve current assets and introduce new complimentary elements for resiliency and production.

         Account for interactions between species and elements of the system.

         Reinforce processes of ecosystem growth and maintenance (types of root-grafting, soil building, leaf litter, balanced insect populations, water management, disease resistance).

         Synchronize with the adaptive cycle of the site (Chapin et. al., 2009, 15-18).

         Create “stratified multifunctional species assemblages that collectively appear to have a similar structure to native forests” (Young, 2017, 179-180). Account for “species-specific survival, growth, functional traits, and niche resource requirements” (Id.). For example, “plants are selected for individual phenological traits (timing of flowering, shade tolerance, drought resistance, etc.) and structural traits (height, growth rate, etc.) and are interplanted with other multifunctional species with complementary traits.” (Id., 182).

         Include species of similar functional types for “functional redundancy” and resiliency (Chapin et. al., 2009, 36). Diversity of specific ecosystem functional can impact nutrient cycles, pests, disturbances, production, ecosystem processes, growth of stands over space and time (Scherer-Lorenzen et al, 2005, 7). It can include a huge range of criteria: species, age, function among taxa, genotype within taxa, spatial/canopy, and clustering “forest mosaics”, early/late successional stage, native/exotic, light/shade tolerance, photosynthetic capacity, max leaf diffusive conductance, crown architecture, soil moisture preferences, mycorrhizal association, max rooting depth, max height (dominant, sub, minor), biometric relationships, vigor, nitrogen fixation, nitrogen recovery during senescence, phylogenetic origin, pollination wind/insect, age of 1st fruiting, masting, fruit size, litter quality, fire resistance, timber yield, leaf shape, and response to climate change (Id., 16-17).

         Include wildlife habitat requirements of food, water, cover, and spatial relationships (DeGraaf, 2006, 15), vertical/horizontal structures for niche separation (Id., 21-22), and silvicultural methods/regeneration (Id., 85-128).

         Canopy height is unlikely to be even, varying over 15m even in even-aged temperate deciduous forests (Körner, 2005, 22). Mixed conifer/hardwood canopies have high structural diversity (Id., 23). Conifer stands can suffer significant damage while leafless deciduous trees suffer little, and mixed stands can result in less damage for conifers as well (Id.).

         Interventions: removal, pruning, sowing, planting, pruning, amendments, cutting.

         No grafts: Loss in production is offset by wider planting, better selection for health and site conditions, and reduction in maintenance, disease, delayed graft failure. Seedlings with mixed genetics (e.g. hazelnuts from local NY, new strong cultivars from Midwest and Rutgers, and common varieties from Pacific Northwest). Focus on sowing seeds and planting seedlings rather than grafted trees. seeds/seedlings anecdotally noted to be stronger, have more preserved taproot, provide beneficial genetic diversity, are more affordable, can be purchased in higher numbers to fill areas and allow selection. The risk of genetic instability is probably less severe than frequently represented. The change probably mostly comes from newer F1 hybrids, but their parents were also desirable (that is why they were bred!) so the likelihood of a dichotomy between a perfect hybrid and a failure is less likely. The better health of seedlings and the ability to plant more of them across the site for natural selection outweighs the small amount of differences due to genetic change.




         Agricultural development has used mechanization, genetic manipulation, aggregated supply, and internal subsidies to couple agriculture with global markets, but was extremely damaging and exploitative (Chapin et. al., 2009, 265, 278, 279).

         Forest management has proceeded through stages of pre-industrial use, exploitation, steady-state resource management, ecosystem management, and recommended ecosystem stewardship (Chapin et. al., 2009, 320).

         More sustainable agriculture can aggregate, create uniform standards, establish successful food producers, and connect them into producer-own cooperatives. It may feed the public and earn a profit (Shepard, 2013).

         Agroforestry can provide sustainable development, multiple outputs, reduced risk, increased income, and more ecosystem services (Mercer, 2014, 206-207). It is “superior” as a form of complementary production (Id.).  Financial tools are available but more research and outreach are needed for adoption (Id.).

         Successional agroforestry can provide benefits for diversity, reduced risks, and regenerating degraded landscapes (Young, 2017, 206). However, it is “knowledge and labor intensive”, lacks “quantitative evidence of the socio-economic and ecological benefits”, and requires infrastructure for processing, transportation, market incentives, and support for “high biodiversity of farm yields that do not reach economy of scale” (Id.).

         Natural forest growth may still produce many of the same services and timber values (Chapin et. al., 2009, 159-160). The high-quality species of wood and unique shapes may also be marketable. The Menominee reservation is an example of more sustainable timber production (Trosper, 2017). Every layer and stage of succession can produce goods, from edible young foliage, small fuelwood, and berries to mature nut trees and timber slabs; from spring ephemerals like ramps to shaded greens and mushrooms to sunny fruit production. Differences in temperate forest crown architecture and light penetration can increase productivity and mixed species can “overyield” in biomass (Körner, 2005, 24).

         Different species with similar ecosystem function type can stabilize changes and provide resilience through “functional redundancy” (Chapin et. al., 2009, 36). Diversity influences supporting ecosystem services through multiple species of similar functional type that respond to adaptive cycles and disturbances (Chapin et. al., 2009, 38), which may reduce the impact of hazards (Id., 44-45). It influences provisioning ecosystem services by providing a diverse array of products (Id., 43) and regulating pests, pathogens, weeds, herbivores, and invasive species (Id., 45). In addition, uncultivated and riparian areas support increased pollination and orchard productivity (Id., 46). Biodiversity influences cultural ecosystem services because diverse landscape types increase resilience (Id., 40), and by supporting cultural identity and knowledge (Id. 46-48).

         Forest land is frequently in an affordable tax classification, permitting reduced costs and additional room for experimentation.

         Traditional cost-benefit-analysis may fail to account for the full benefits of agroforestry systems including reduced inputs, diversified production, social values, and resiliency to change.



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