Gardening/Permaculture Grow-All

Starting a garden and growing a chunk of my own food has been a passion/obsession of mine for some years now, to the point that some major life decisions (moving out of NYC and out to southeastern PA where my wife is from, mainly) have factored this in. I've gone pretty far down the permaculture/gardening rabbit hole, to the point that I've read both volumes of Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier (which is basically a textbook) cover to cover, among many other books and videos.

This year I'm hoping to finally move beyond the theoretical and start actually growing some stuff. My long-term goal/fever dream is to have a landscape that feels lush, oasis-like, and tranquil while also providing some amount of yield (be it food, medicinals, or fuel for the woodstove) for both myself and the local fauna.
Given that I don't actually know what I'm doing, this year I'll be starting small with a simple raised bed for some annuals, taking a leaf out of One Straw Revolution and making some seedballs to toss back in the woods that aren't too contaminated (foreshadowing...) and hopefully putting in two fruit trees down in an area we recently cleared.

There are two big issues I'll need to deal with as I try to make progress with this, light and soil quality.

I'm on roughly 2 acres of heavily forest northward-facing mountain slope in zone 6b, so access to sunlight is the primary limiting factor influencing what I can and can't grow. Most of the annual veggies we like to eat are pioneer species that love the light, most of which is gobbled up by the ~150ft tulip poplars that dominate our land. This will open up a bit as we take down the trees that are dangerously close to the house or aren't healthy, but there's never going to be anything like an open field or anything here.

The other major issue to deal with is the soil quality. Given that the area is a forest, the soil itself looks quite rich if a bit rocky--the problem is all the stuff in the soil. The original builder of the house essentially ran a junkyard out of the woods, and the area closest to the house is hopelessly full of junk. We've pulled out rugs, carpeting, shingles, a concerning number of women's shoes, tires, wallets, bones (lots and lots and lots of bones--according to our 60-70 year old neighbors who grew up in the neighborhood and actually knew the guy, he would slaughter pretty much whatever he could get his hands on--there's a birch tree next to the house about which one neighbor said "That's where old Jack used to have a vice nailed up for skinning groundhogs and squirrels," which is...colorful), a whole dog (this was unpleasant), bottles, cans, and most concerningly, batteries and car batteries. I haven't gotten any of the soil tested yet, but given all the nonsense that I've pulled up over the years there are some areas I will never be comfortable with growing stuff to eat.

With that being the case, my plan for this year is to build a small raised bed out of some leftover tongue and groove flooring and place it over a stump from a tree we had taken down near the house a few years back. It's about 5 feet in diameter (it was a big tree), so it should prevent most of the soil in the bed from making contact with the actual ground. The stump is only 5-6 inches off the ground. I'm a little concerned about drainage so I may put a thin layer of #3 stone or something at the bottom to make sure water can make its way out and I don't end up making a mud lake.
The wood is untreated pine, so I'll be applying a non-toxic wood preservative (specifically, Valhalla Lifetime) so it doesn't rot away after a single season.
We have a very, very healthy deer population in my neck of the woods so I will need to close this in as well. My plan is to basically build a hinged hoop structure out of thin pvc tubing and stretch deer netting over it instead of plastic sheets as one would do in an actual hoophouse.

I'll be attempting to start seeds down in the basement soon with the help of a grow light, heat mat, and soil blockers. I got a little...enthusiastic...looking at the Seed Savers Exchange catalog so I have way more seeds than I'm going to be able to fit in a 4x8ish raised bed, so I need to figure out how I'm actually going to plant this out. I want 6 different varieties of tomato, but alas...

We are starting a small orchard this year. We've got apples, cherries, plums and peaches that we just planted. A garden is coming but first I need to get the berry brambles under control, amongst other things.

In the meantime, I am working on some getting some herb varieties going in a couple of the big planter pots that were left behind by the previous owner.

Nice! Growing my own fruit is probably the thing I’m most excited about. Very jealous you’re already at that point.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do for the two fruit trees I mentioned in the initial post. I’m thinking either pear or nectarine for one and something more unusual for the other—maybe pluot or persimmon or something. Given all the shade I have I’m hoping to be able to put a bunch of pawpaw trees in since they do well as an understory tree and the deer allegedly don’t like them that much to boot.

I'm new to this forum, but I just had to chime in when I saw your post about starting a garden! It's so inspiring to hear about your passion for permaculture and growing your own food. I can relate to the feeling of going down the rabbit hole of gardening literature and videos. It's amazing how much knowledge there is out there about growing food in sustainable and regenerative ways.

WellAdjusted wrote:

Nice! Growing my own fruit is probably the thing I’m most excited about. Very jealous you’re already at that point.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do for the two fruit trees I mentioned in the initial post. I’m thinking either pear or nectarine for one and something more unusual for the other—maybe pluot or persimmon or something. Given all the shade I have I’m hoping to be able to put a bunch of pawpaw trees in since they do well as an understory tree and the deer allegedly don’t like them that much to boot.

Some fruit trees need to have multiples of them nearby for pollination/fertilization, or they won't produce any fruit. Make sure to research that before buying anything.