When you are on a farm (or have a large homestead) and want to create a substantial food forest, you are faced with the question of how to get that land ready. At this scale one of the best way to manage the task is by using the tried-and-true practices involved with agricultural field preparation.
Many homesteaders may not have larger equipment. And some farmers interested in having a food forest may not be crop farmers but rather grow livestock or manage niche crops. As such, I would recommend contract work, as the equipment needed here is very standard in most areas. The goal is to get rid of grass and other weeds so you have have your chosen species planted.
Basic Cycle of Field Preparation
Mow the field in late spring to remove all vegetation and make it easier for field work. Mowing work should be done about 12 feet wider in all directions from what you want the size of your plot’s final food forest to be.
Plow the Field
Next, plow the field in early summer, when it is dry and easy to work. Start in the middle and turn all the soil out 12 feet wider than you want your final food forest plot.
Plowing will turn all the grass and other plants upside down, burying their leaves and exposing their roots. This is very effective at undermining aggressive grasses and other weeds that won’t be killed by tilling (and may even spread via excessive tilling). Cultivation won’t work on these weeds either, unless their roots are fully turned up.
Now it is time to disc. Hopefully you get this done by mid summer as well. Discing will break up the plow furrows so you can move through the field with finer cultivators.
Discing should chop up the clods and pieces, and make the land easy to work.
Now it is time for S-tine cultivation. This process will pull grass and other roots to the surface, laying them out in sheets and rows to dry and die.
Note that it is impossible to do this properly if the land hasn’t been tilled and disced. If, for instance, you tilled the land instead, you would just chop the tops of the grass root system and cut them into little bits. When the S-tine is pulled through the soil, it wouldn’t have anything to grab and pull to the surface. The lower rootlets would remain in the subsoil and never be exposed, allowing the grasses to regrow.
It is important to S-tine every three to four days in the hottest, driest part of the summer to help with desiccation of the roots to really kill off the weeds.
Finally as fall approaches, you can optionally pass with a chisel plow to deeply cultivate the land and help with drainage. This may even pull up some deeper roots you missed.
Now, make final passes with the S-tine cultivator. You can optionally use a finishing cultivator with a roller on the back (or a power harrow or tiller pass) to make a good seed bed.
Finally, four to six months before the first frost, pass with a seeder and seed the whole field to winter rye. In the spring overseed the rye to red clover, then allow the rye to self-sow in mid summer.
2 Years Later
In a couple of years, you will find yourself again in spring time, with a field full self-sown rye coming up strong through the winter. Your red clover, too, will be in its second year.
Any residual weeds will have been wiped out by this heavy cover crop, which has also adds nitrogen, nutrients and organic matter! The soil will be loose and ready for turning into Permabeds to build a food forest design. (At the 3-acre scale, you can use a 4- or 2-wheel tractor to construct Permabeds.)