converting woodlot to garden?


Old 01-09-03, 03:07 PM
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converting woodlot to garden?

We are interested in buying propery in the local countryside (at least 5
acres) that would be suitable for some "serious gardening" .We have been
looking for the past 4 yrs. at properties w/ houses on them, but have never
found one suitable, so are expanding our search to the available wooded
properties. I have been trying to find some info on converting wooded areas
to garden areas, but haven't found much. I did locate some info from
extension publications that seem relevant. We want to do this in the most
ecologically sound way as possible, conserving as much topsoil as
possible.From what I read I concluded that burning the woods thru
"prescribed fire" would be the way to go (we're not talking old growth here). Does this seem
reasonable ? If so, how do we find someone qualified to
perform this?
What would be the next steps to convert the
land into garden, i.e.,how to get rid of stumps, what should the first crops be, etc.? Anyone know where to find relevant info?
Thank you,
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Old 01-09-03, 09:45 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2001
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Smile Converting woodland into Farm land

Hi peg, Welcome to DIYs Garden Forum

I too have been searching mostly in vain, for info that was very common, just 100 years ago.

Seems we have come full circle, when it comes to makeing more Farmland. No trouble finding a way to get paid by uncle Sam, for letting farmland go back to Woodland.

I sure am glad the groups who are today saying, let it go back to nature, have plenty to eat. I have read of fires from trees hundreds of years old, turning night into day. Just a couple hundred years ago, as Ohio was cleared for Farming. We are the bread basket of the World today, because of Farmers cleared the land by hand & beast power.

The thing I would do, is see the County Agent & ask for help in getting all the permits you will need. It is His/Her job to help Farmers grow produce & livestock.

As I see my County pave over & build retirement homes over Farmland. I often wonder if anyone is thinking about, where we will get more Farmland. Our population is growing, Farmers are sending their Sons & Daughters to Collage never to Farm again.

You pose some tough questions. A Developer with Machinery, would have no trouble finding a way to clear that Woodland. However they have Millions to make in return.

I can only think with todays tough restrictions on use of land. Your best bet will be to find those who collect the money for permits & all the rest. I don't think this is the PC way of thinking so this may be why there is so little on clearing land for more Farmland.

Our only way to afford to Farm was to buy cleared land due to the amount of $$ for 3 pieces of heavy equipment clearing woodland.

I do hope you will go see your County Agent, as they can at least let you know what to expect to run into.

Best of luck on your task at hand.

Old 01-11-03, 06:44 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Uxbridge, Massachusetts
Posts: 273
Thumbs up Thats a toughy

Hi Peg,

Let me also wish you a welcome to DIY! Marturo brings up some good points. As he said, your local county agent is probably the best place to start as at least he/she/they can give you some direction.

They will also probably be able to tell you your soil condition, its pH, moisture retaining ability, etc... If not, you could always test it yourself, however, you should have a general idea of the soil before you plan anything because certain crops do not react well to very acidic or very alkaline soil.

I'm not very familiar with "prescribed fire", so hopefully Marturo or someone else is. Not to sound ignorant or naive, but is that like the primitive slash and burn technique?

Did you have some specifics in mind for your first crops? Like I said, some research into them would be beneficial before you do anything.

I can also say that I envy you I dont have very much land where I am and my gardening space is "limited" to 2 8'x10' greenhouses, an 8'x8' and a 30'x25' garden. It may sound like a lot, but once you get going and develop a love for the land and growing your own produce, you run out of space very quickly There are just too many wonderful projects to try, and the list keeps growing every year. But its a labor of love

I think you have some stuff to start on right track. We all look forward to hearing of your endeavors in the coming months. As you need more help, please feel free to come back and ask. There are so many wonderful people here who aer not only great people, but excellent gardeners as well

Welcome to the group Peg!

Old 01-11-03, 07:27 AM
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Thanks Marturo and Eric. I haven't made much progress in deciding the way to go--too much conflicting info. County agent not available yet, but will talk to him when he is. Hopefully he can guide me thru this, but to be honest, I haven't found him very knowledgeable, at least in regards to veggie gardening questions. Hopefully this will be more up his alley.
I don't know the specifics of "slash abd burn" so can't comment. I BELIEVE "prescribed fire" is done by professionals carefully controlling what gets burnt. I read it disturbs the soil less than dozing, but lately have gotten advice (other forums) that it destroys the soil life. So I'm stuck right now.

Don't envy me yet, Eric--we haven't bought any property yet !
Right now YOU have more garden property than I do! It's that desire for expansion that's driving this property search. But we've been searching 4 yrs. w/o success, so I'm not confident of a turnaround anytime soon
Old 01-11-03, 02:10 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2001
Posts: 1,448
Smile Options.

Hi Peg,

Perhaps if I had some background on why, you must buy uncleared land, I could help you find the answers easier.

I live in a County in Western Carolina that has higher taxes than any others west of us. We live and Farm on 1 Acre then rent 3 acres of black clear Farmland for $50.00 per acre per year.

At 51 my partener of 30 years & I had been looking for the perfect spot for well 30 years. So now for the last stand, ( The last Farm) the last 6 years, the begining of The Lucky Horseshoe Farm, on land we rented for 14 years.

We put so many Earth Friendly products $$$ in the land, that we rented, we just bought the place. Well In some years yet to come we will have bought (Paid it off ) the Farm.

At least 18 years ago we bought 6 acres of land in the most western County of NC. Built a Cabin with Hand tools 100 years old or older. Tried to clear the land by hand & Grow what we could in the Forest filled with rocks. Everyone we met was a survival Do It Yourselfer. Had to be to live that far out, point is we could make no $$$ when nobodys buys what you grow of can do.

Now I know this sounds like little house on the Prarrie but we were very Strong & Linda was raised on a 200+ year old farm in Western NY. It was also $600.00 an acre however it came at a much higher cost to us. Back to the City & Jobs.

So flashing to today & I did learn a lot but nothing quite as important as Sales.

I have a Link to Growing For Market, on our Friends of the LHF links page. It says: Now that you are done with the easy part (Growing Produce ) this Publication will help you with the hard part, selling it.

Selling it in a market place that is so competitive it's tough to say the least. Outside a City is the best area to grow Produce. Customers will drive out, to buy cutting out Tranportation costs. Local Markets are close & multipule trips will not cut into profits. CO-OPs, Health foods Stores, Spectility Produce Stores, etc.

So since I have no idea where you are on the map, or even a zone. I am a loss to know what kind of advice to give. I only mentioned the above, to show that 2 people who want something bad enough, will find ways to make them happen. Even if it takes a Lifetime.

Old 01-11-03, 05:03 PM
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I'm not sure how this will help,but:

I am in AL, far eastern side, slightly lower than the center, border of zones 7b and 8a. We would PREFER cleared land, but it must be close to Auburn University, tho far enough away for privacy and to escape traffic noise (including the interstate),and have a good-sized area for growing (for one thing, I love growing gourds and luffas, which take up a great deal of space, and I want a greenhouse, etc.,etc.,etc.). Only 3 properties (with houses) in the last 4 yrs. met these requirements. I have serious health problems, which made all 3 of the houses we looked at unsuitable for various reasons.
I'm just basically trying to get an idea of how to clear land for veggie gardening, keeping the soil in the best possible condition.The available properties w/o houses on them are essentially entirely wooded.
Old 01-11-03, 05:40 PM
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Smile "serious gardening"

Well for one thing knowing you are in AL tells me that we have a similar problem. AL like the whole sunbelt region is taking over farmland at an alarming rate.

It seems the only Farmland left for sale in our county is in the flood plain where building is not allowed.

You seem to need to be there so relocation is out. Believe me I am all too aware of our Diminishing Farmlands here in the USA.

What do you mean by "serious gardening"? Will you be growing for market or farm products for internet sales?

In 1972 we small Organic Growers were outnumbered the buyers. Yet today in this panic for local Organic Produce, we now comprise only 12% of the Organic food consumed in NC. All the rest is imported from other states as well as Overseas.

Are you more interested in self food production? How much land do you need? So many questions

Every office for the County Agent is able to get help from other districts for answers. Having trouble with the CA just comes with the Territory. You have to keep bugging them until they will help.

The reason I ask if you are going to grow for market is because there are programs that help get new Farmers into Farming. Even to matching funds or farm property that is never listed but can be had by a new farmer.

You are doing things right by doing your homework first. As you may imagine we have more questions about how to cover bare areas than how to clear for Farming.

You may want to try searching out the State groups who can let you know of any help you can get from State & Federal Government programs.

I don't believe that the hege piles of Potash we release by burning plant & tree debris has harmed more than a few inches of Bactieria. A whole lot more Bactieria will benifit from tree & plant waste ashes than be killeed in the burn.

It is your call as many people today would tie themselves around a tree than cut one. Most Growers do some type of burn off, other than smoke I have never read that it was bad for the soil.

Old 01-12-03, 05:25 AM
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I am interested in "self food production". The ideal would be to be completely self-sufficient, but my illness wouldn't allow that (severe energy shortage!). But I would like to approach that as much as possible. I used the phrase "serious gardening " in that context. But having the responsibility of trying to market it would be beyond my physical capacity. The amount of land really depends on how it is situated relative to the "neighbors"--I like relative isolation.
Old 01-12-03, 01:39 PM
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: USA
Posts: 15,834
Clearing land for garden

Since the Clean Air Act, we now have prescribed burning laws. For the Alabama Prescribed Burning Act go to

If you are planning on building a house in the woods, while the workers are there with the heavy equipment, you can get them to clear the land for the garden. The large trees will be the most challenging problem. These will have to be removed as well as stumps.

You will want to locate the garden in the sunniest spot available, taking into consideration the location of the sun at different times of the day. The soil in a vegetable garden needs to drain well and be nice and crumbly. If you plan on using existing soil, you will need a soil test so you can make the proper amendments. You may want to consider a "no-dig garden" with layers of straw, hay and compost above ground level. This will save you the time and labor of dealing with the existing soil and you will be able to grow wonderful vegetables in great soil.

You will find that when you are located in the woods that you will have to deal with the deer and rabbits in your garden. It's not a happy moment when you get up one morning and everything in the garden has been eaten.

You are lucky to be near Auburn University. They have a Department of Agriculture that works with the Dept. of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service. Go to for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service. Click Home & Garden.
Old 01-12-03, 09:22 PM
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Smile Same Page now

Hi Peg,

I see, & of course you could run into scrub land around the house to turn into garden. We here in NC, get a 30 day permit to burn brush land for 30 days. I would ask the local vollenteer Fire Department where I could find Pros to do the burn off.

No, burning really makes the soil rich in what plants need. Some Native Americans used the burn & grow & move due to no real forms of Plant food. Works great, but then you will be adding fertilizer to the soil. That works a lot longer for growing Produce etc.

The heat from the burn will kill more weed seeds, than Bactieria & that's nice. So if you are able to find a place with a southern exposure. That is the key needed to grow South facing hillside is heaven on earth.

I believe we need to return to your questions. You can use 12 foot wide porous Landscaping fabric & cut holes & plant through. Everything under the fabric will not get light & die then rot. You have a sandy not to rocky land where you are that's good.

Put in some Fruit trees, berries, grapes, asparagus, anything you can plant once, & harvest more from every year after that.

A Greenhouse is a must, we eat from our Solar heated GH fresh greens etc all Winter & Spring long. Chickens for eggs & meat, Goats for brush control & milk & cheese.

So yes it is do-able if you have that southern exposure, it will work for you for year round growing.

I hope we were able to get you a little closer to your Farm. In the end it will have to be the choice you may, have to live with for a long time. Take your time & get the answers, I believe you realy want this, & that is the key to doing it.

Good luck to you and with your search, I's great to live out where we can grow our own, & live far enough out to hear the birds sing.

Old 01-13-03, 07:16 AM
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Thanks so much for the additional info, folks. One correction tho, Marturo-- on the side of Auburn where I currently live the soil is heavy clay, and on the other it is sandy! So until we find property, I won't know what I'm dealing with.
Old 01-13-03, 06:29 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: sw VA
Posts: 3,100
Hi Peg,

If I had my 'druthers' I'd positively go for the sandy soil.
It would be easier to lighten with organic matter than working with heavy clay soil.


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