Food Forests

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Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat.”  Again, this definition is thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia.

This method of gardening has been successful for thousands if not tens of thousands of years.  It has seen continuous use through the ages in tropical climates, and is now being introduced to temperate climates on small scale farms and gardens – like ours.

As much as we want to grow our own food, and provide some to our local community, friends and family, we do not want the work traditionally associated with farming and gardening.  Tilling the soil, planting the seeds, watering, weeding, watering again, weeding again, repeating all summer and harvesting in the fall, only to be repeated the following year.  That is why we have started creating the hugels.  That is why we are very interested in permaculture.  And that is why we will have at least a portion of our farm set up as a food forest.

A food forest has been described as having seven layers.  Starting from the top and working down:

  • The top layer, canopy, generally consists of fruit and nut trees.
  • The next layer as we approach earth is the low tree layer, typically dwarf fruit trees.
  • The third layer is shrubs, typically berries.
  • The fourth layer, herbaceous is surface plants, leafy greens and the like.
  • Next is the root vegetables, potatoes and yams.
  • To my mind, this one is out of order – it is the soil surface layer, or ground cover.  Plants like strawberries, and squashes that spread out across the surface.
  • Lastly, and this one is not a layer at all, is the climbing plants, bean vines as an example.  These climb the trunks of the trees, and anything else they find.
The components or layers of a food forest.

The components or layers of a food forest.

Side note: Thanks to One Community for the above graphic.

Being that this results in a shade garden in the lower levels, we have to carefully pick our crops.  Carrots as an example, love sunlight.  They would not be a good crop for the shade of our food forest.  We will be selecting shade tolerant and shade thriving plants for the lower layers, below the trees and shrubs.

In the middle of all of this, we do plan some luxury.  Thanks to a solar and battery powered pump, we plan to have a little pond, recirculating collected rain water in a little water fall, beside a park bench, in the middle of our food forest garden.  I am quite sure I will enjoy a few good books, while sitting in the shade, only arms reach from delicious and nutritious snacks just waiting to be picked.  I can’t think of a better thing to be doing when the mercury indicates the high 30s.  To me, this is why farming was invented!

Ok, I do know a little history, and I do understand the concepts of hunter gatherer vs farmer fisher.  But hey, on a sweltering hot summer day, why be driving a tractor, spreading a manure and fertilizer mixture over crops, in a tiny space with the AC maxed, pumping out green house gasses, when you can be sitting back in the shade, a good book in hand, birds, squirrels, and maybe a rabbit playing around you as water falls gently on stones in the pond.


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