How to Grow a Forest From an Idea Into Reality

How to Grow a Forest From an Idea Into Reality

The sun is burning down from the sky and we are sweating, as we are collecting big chunks of roots and plastic strings from the soil.
We lost track of the time we spent here but cleaning the soil is almost done and planting the forest is coming closer, finally!

Cleaning the Field

During the past months, we spent countless hours here on the field to get everything ready to plant a forest.
No one of us had any clue how much work and how many months would be required to prepare the land. Now, the soil is ready and we can prepare the water-harvesting earthworks to start planting.

But first things first. How did we get here?

In the summer of 2019, I had no clue how a simple idea could have such a big influence on the development of my life.
While working in the garden and planting some trees I realised that a few trees in a small garden are a good start but could never have the positive impact that I was striving for.

Small Tree

Many of my friends had told me that they also wanted to do something good for the environment and didn’t know how they could do it. Often times they asked if they could support me somehow, but there wasn’t really an option for that.

The birth of an idea

That’s when an idea came to mind. I asked around if anyone would be interested in supporting a project to grow a forest. The positive replies and support were overwhelming.

It appeared to be the perfect opportunity to give people the chance to support the environment and increase the positive impact I was striving for.

During late summer and autumn, I got very busy. Every day, when work in the garden was done it was time to plan, plan and plan some more.

The idea took shape and over many weeks I worked out the plan for a crowdfunding campaign to grow a forest. It was a tough job to prepare everything but I learned how to record and edit videos in the process, which was a great additional skill that had been on my bucket list for a while.

Launch of the Crowdfunding Campaign

At the end of October, it was my birthday and it seemed like the perfect date to launch the campaign.

Crowdfunding Video

I was hoping that the campaign would get some support and that I could pursue my dream of planting a forest.

It’a not possible to imagine a more fantastic Birthday. The amount of support and positive feedback were incredible. So many people shared the vision of growing forests to tackle many of today’s problems.

Where to plant the forest?

My motivation to move on with the project was greater than ever. All that was needed was to find a piece of land where planting would be possible.

Over the past years, I had fallen in love with the island of Tenerife. The people, nature, culture and simply everything is so beautiful.

Unfortunately, at my old home on Tenerife, there was not enough space to plant the forest and I needed to find a property where it would be possible.

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity

After many weeks of researching property listings, I found a couple who already had a farm and wanted to expand it to create a permaculture inspired forest and garden.
The only problem: they didn’t know exactly how to do it.

I needed land and they needed someone with the necessary skills. It was a perfect match. We exchanged a few e-mails and shortly after I moved to my new home where the dream of a forest could take shape.
Together we began outlining the project and realised we could work together perfectly.

The property

The location of the land is fantastic. In the northern part of Tenerife, it stays well above freezing point all year and regular rains provide much-needed water for plants and animals. The plot is located in a valley and has accumulated fertile soil for thousands of years.

What used to be a vineyard has been abandoned for 40 years.

Bamboo Jungle

The vines were gone but nature had reclaimed the area and we faced a thick, meter-high bamboo jungle on the one side and impenetrable blackberry walls on the other side.

Blackberries

As a lover of nature, I had the strong urge to leave as much as possible of the vegetation intact.

Soil is fragile

Building soil and soil structure are crucial in the formation of sustainable ecosystems. Every step taken on the ground compacts the soil, limits air flow, damages the soil structure and disturbs the fine network of roots and fungi.

Footsteps in a garden bed are already bad and driving on the ground is much worse.
That’s why I would have loved to leave the ground untouched.

Unfortunately, there was no chance for small trees to survive against these established systems.

Thick Bamboo

We tried cutting through the thick bamboo jungle by hand but our efforts seemed pointless. It would take us months to make any significant progress.

Difficult decisions

It wasn’t an easy decision but we decided to get help in our quest. A large excavator with a special heavy-duty shredder to cut down the bamboo and blackberries.

Blueberry Cutter

The machine was incredibly powerful but it still took almost a week to cut through the thick thorns and bamboo.

We even found a tree inside the blackberries. They were so high that we didnt see it before.

Excavator Blackberries

To make matters worse, the previous owners had tied their vines up on metal rods, which were all left behind. Every few minutes a loud metallic sound let us know that the blade had hit another rod and we needed to remove it.

Metal Rod

After a few days of shredding and pulling out rods, we had accumulated quite a pile of scrap metal and could get an idea of how much space there actually was. The area had opened up to almost twice the previous size.

We had an excellent excavator driver, but they were very busy and working on other sites as well. It ususally meant waiting a few weeks between the days where they could work on the property.

Cleared Property

What to do with all the bamboo?

We were faced with a big question. We needed to decide what to do with all the cut bamboo and blackberries.

Bamboo Roots
It was way too much to leave in place. We could get trucks to take it away from the property but that would be a waste of biomass and money.

The decision was made to pile it all up into a big compost. In a few years, we would have a huge pile of composted soil to use again in the garden. The problem now could be the solution later.

Compost Pile

To ensure that it wouldn’t grow back directly after cutting we wanted to remove the top 10cm of soil as well. It always hurts to let even one centimetre of soil go, but we were too afraid of the bamboo and blackberries growing back quickly.

The excavator got to work and removed a lot of the roots. Unfortunately, the roots were so big and plentiful, that it wasn’t possible to remove all of them. Some were simply too big and deep in the soil and there were still many smaller parts scattered around.

Root Ball

After the excavator was done removing the top layer, we spent many days going over the field and removing leftover chunks by hand. We were afraid that bamboo might go back from a small piece of root.

How can we use soil with so many roots and stones?

The pile of cuttings and topsoil had become quite large. We always need soil and needed to get to it.
To separate soil from roots and stones, we needed a mesh. It was the perfect opportunity to learn to weld. With a lot of old metal bars, we build a metal mesh and spent the coming days sifting soil. We managed to get quite a few cubic meters of soil.

Mesh

What to do with big roots left in the soil?

I’m a big fan of not disturbing any soil and preventing soil compaction if it is possible. However, the large roots left in the soil required more machine work.

We decided to use a tractor with a big plough to get them out. It really hurt me to see the field being ploughed but it needed to be done.

When the tractor driver was done he told us that the plough he had was not big enough or all the roots. He told us to wait a few weeks for the roots to die and then to plough again with a bigger one and remove the remaining roots.

Root in Hand

In the weeks where we had to wait for the tractor to return we spent many days going over the field collecting roots, rocks and plastic that was used to secure the grapevines to metal rods.

Plastic Pieces

Unfortunately, on Tenerife, everything takes a bit longer than usual and we had to wait a very long time for the tractor to come back for the second ploughing.

With 70cm blades, he was able to get the big chunks of roots out of the soil. It was done at night and we were very happy that it was almost time to plant.

Humans and their trash

The next morning we inspected the field and were quite shocked. There were countless roots and pieces of plastic on the surface.
It was quite overwhelming and we had no idea how to get rid of all of them.

Instead of crying we decide to get to work with the plan of removing them by hand.
Luckily we had many helping hands and managed to get most of them out after a week of work.

Plastic Pile
We had huge piles of plastic, roots and rocks.

Totally worth it

Finally, after months of work, we had an empty field and could start the design process of the property.

Cleaning the Field

What happened next will follow soon 🙂

Thank you so much for your support and let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

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