The experimental woods

I have a small (1/4 acre) patch of woods in my backyard which I have no plans to develop, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want food from it. So I’ve taken to tossing any spare seeds in there, in hopes that some of them will sprout and eventually produce.

In particular, I’m throwing a lot of pawpaw and american persimmon seeds back there (these I usually put in the ground; peach pits are left to fend for themselves). I’d really like to establish some stands of these native trees, both as a base they can expand from, and to see if the genetic lottery churns out anything interesting.

Does anybody else engage in this kind of lazy orcharding? Do you get much out of it?

I think there’s a lot to be said for direct seeding some kinds of trees, both for seedling trees and for rootstock to graft onto later. I don’t see much potential for doing this in wooded areas, though, because I think fruits tend to be pioneer species. I think of birds and other animals depositing mulberry seeds, callery pear seeds, persimmon seeds, etc. in open areas, such that fruiting trees tend to be pioneer species, which is generally the opposite of shade tolerant species. Even shade tolerant species like oaks, maples, etc. hardly grow at all in the shade; they more just survive in the understory until the older trees die or fall down. That’s my rough understanding, anyway. Pawpaws are obviously something of an outlier, but it seems like they still do best in full sun, at least once they reach bearing age/size, and there seems to be extremely minimal fruiting potential for them in anything approaching full sun.

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That last line was supposed to read full shade, not full sun.

I realize that I won’t get anywhere close to maximal fruit production, but in terms of time invested (< 30 minutes for the year), I’m hoping the return may not be that bad. Right now the woods just give me mulberries (yum) and wild black cherries (mostly out of reach, but pretty good flavor). It sounds like I can’t be expecting much, but anything is an improvement.

Have you considered planting/seeding things for wildlife too? Hazelnuts, oaks, beautyberry, hackberry, etc. Just a thought.

I’d plant wineberries and black raspberries, they’ll fruit in shadier areas than most berries. Dig out some suckers from a wild patch, they tip root very readily. Wineberries are phenomenal despite being an introduced species.

While roses are the dominant bramble, the woods do contain blackberries and raspberries. I haven’t seen much fruit out of them, though. Maybe I’ll toss a few more back there.

I’d be willing to plant things for wildlife, but only if I can also eat them. My yard is already very pollinator-friendly, and full of beautyberries and mulberries for the birds. Squirrels can enjoy the nearby walnuts (or not; I’m ok with fewer squirrels).

I started with pawpaws, because I get so many seeds from foraging, and they need shade anyway. But I end up with a lot of other seeds too, and it just feels like a waste to throw them in the compost pile. So far, I’ve also thrown Concord grape seeds, peach pits, persimmon, and some maypops around the edges. Of all those, I really only expect the grapes and pawpaws to do much.

Perhaps also look into things like ramps and ginseng. Mayapples are edible too, but I haven’t tried them.