With the concept approved, I began working with the city to create a “higher resolution” image of the farm: How many trees actually need to be cut down? Besides the basic patterns, what do the details of some of the design elements actually look like? What are some of the other benefits of this project and how do they compare to current use of the land? What might happen in the future, for instance if I drop out of the picture?
The toughest part of the process was actually finding ways to succinctly present information to an audience that allowed for ambiguity and specificity at the same time. As there’s something particularly important about having hands on experience with a place before committing to one thing or another, I didn’t know exactly where I would want to place design elements yet. At the same time, I have had enough experience in the past seven years to know what those elements can look like when applied well.
Once again, I decided the best way forward was to answer the questions as honestly as possible and support my conclusions with as many analogues as possible.
First and foremost was the issue of sunlight. I’ve been gardening for a while and in the shade since moving to Finland. After three years of summer cottage gardening, the value of an hour of direct sunlight is well known to me. Plant requirements for sunlight mean something different depending on your location and here in Finland, “performs well in partial shade” doesn’t really mean the same thing as it does even in England (which is quite north in comparison to where I’m from). Whether it is a currant bush or partial-shade tolerant herb like lemon balm, three or four hours of direct sun for a couple of weeks in high summer simply isn’t enough for robust health: at least not when you are planning a commercial operation.
Sometimes permaculture design is portrayed as a way of working miracles, but there are some things that even clever design simply cannot change. To help answer the question of “how many trees and which ones?” I set about scouting the property for the market gardens and noting the existing vegetation. By this time it was November and the season is pretty well over, so you can tell quite well from the species and their size/vigor just how much energy they got over the course of the summer. It turned out that only a couple of patches were actually in any way abundant with the remainder being characterized by a lack of sunlight. For what its worth, I could rule out other problems like soil compaction because I visited before and after rains and noted how well the soil was draining, along with how well all the trees were performing. The common denominator across the landscape was this: large trees that had grown up unchecked since farming ceased in the 1970s were capturing the majority of sunlight.
The next step was to identify which trees needed to come down and why, then convey that information in multiple ways to the city. Starting from the top down, I created a simple map:
Now that each section of trees was roughly identified, I could go about the property with my camera and take directional photographs to help bolster the case.
For instance, the trees in group 2 are mostly middle aged birch trees growing up around the foundation stones of an old barn. Healthy and large, they were quite something as there are only a small handful of birches elsewhere on the property.
Alone (or even in a pair with Photograph 2B), this wouldn’t really be a good reason to cut down so many trees as there simply isn’t enough information here. Luckily, my smartphone rose to the challenge: a ten euro app called “Sun Seeker” promised to provide me multiple views of the sun’s path including an easily manipulated augmented reality, combining the camera and GPS.
These images were taken using the app to provide that key bit of context: where will the sun be during the growing season? The image on the left is from the north end of the field (a space that can fit a good three market garden plots along with multispecies hedges) while the one of the right is from the southern end. As expected, the northern edge isn’t all that encumbered by the lack of sun. I could tell this from the thickness of the grass and species that were growing there. However, if you move to the south, it becomes clear at once that the production value is going to be staggeringly different: between the spring equinox (green line, March 20) and summer solstice (red line, June 21) this patch of ground would be in total shade for over four hours. That isn’t good if you want to grow vegetables, they would need to go.
Now, just because I said they would need to be cut down didn’t exactly mean that the city was going to acquiesce without their due diligence. My plans had to be approved by multiple authorities: environmental impact, changes to the soundscape, and cultural heritage (you are going to hear more about that last one quite a bit). A city employee had to visit the site, check all the trees, make notes, and then send this information off to these different entities for the permitting process.
Eventually we had permission from all the relevant officials that nearly all of the trees I asked to be felled could be. One of the only caveats was a clause stating that I would need to replace the trees with new ones. I had no objections there since many of the trees are in places where bits of agroforestry will find themselves taking root.
During the time it took for the tree permits to be granted, I continued working on the other questions, which I’ll talk about more in Part 4. (Recall, it took nearly a year for all of the pieces to come together, so this backstory is quite long!)