The seeds of a forest farm

As what happens with all outdoor projects, after the first snow falls the hammer drops to the wayside and the blankets wrap around. I’ve spent the winter working on a slightly-more-ambitious-than-realized home renovation project and the farm has been put on a hold. In truth, only the manual work is on hold. In my dreams, it keeps growing.

I am going to turn the farm into, well, a farm.

I’ve always wanted the land to be more than just a tiny rustic cabin getaway spot, and I wanted to figure out how to possibly pay myself back for all the money and work put into it. The “aha” moment came when someone mentioned ginseng.

Time to plant some roots

It was probably one of those group texts between my mom, aunt, and I who get distracted by new recipes and house projects. One of them told me to look up ginseng and it was like Pandora’s box opened up before me.

My grandparents, when they got the land, had a Conservation Plan created. It was fascinating how thorough it was. They did an in-depth survey of the property, determined where they needed to plant trees to avoid erosion, where to cut trees down to make room for berries, and what types of soil treatment to restore it to a more natural wooded area instead of farmland.

After one look at the plan, I realized I had the bones of a strategy for a forest farm.

What is a forest farm?


A little planting of irises


“Forest farming is commonly defined as the cultivation of crops under a forest canopy that is intentionally modified or maintained to provide shade levels and habit that favor growth and enhance production levels.” – Farming the Woods

What does that mean?

It means a permaculture approach to producing yields of things like

  • Medicinal plants
  • Food crops
  • Fruits and nuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Ornamentals
  • A variety of wood products

Yeah, I’m totally nerding out so much I’m actually reading a textbook on this stuff. Want to learn more? Go read this book I’m reading, Farming the Woods.

Here’s where my dreams have taken me so far

There are a few places where I’d like to clear this Spring and do a planting of pawpaw, peach, blackberry and elderberry bushes. I’m hoping to get my hands on a strain of apricot that apparently my Great Uncle developed.

While the brush is still low I plan on doing a real survey of what I’ve got to work with. There are some other places I have an inkling of where some ginseng and goldenseal might be hiding. I’m also pretty sure there are some wild elderberries I can harvest for medicinal purposes. In the fall I’ll be harvesting a bunch of jewelweed to make salves and ointments to fight the evil of all evils: poison ivy. 



This summer I’m going to harvest walnuts at juuuuuust the right time to make some Nocino, a killer Italian liquor introduced to me by my dream friend Adam. It’s ready to drink right around the holiday season, which will hopefully take the edge off any holiday stress and make some great gifts.


And the cabin?

I’ve come to terms with the fact this whole cabin thing is going to take me longer than I want it to, and that’s ok. Projects take time. But I can always plant more fruit trees…and maybe actually finish that outhouse I’ve been building for what seems like a year…