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3 different types of food forests for your homestead

 
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If you are interested in permaculture then most likely you have heard about food forests. Forest gardening really is an amazing concept and I love that you can grow more food per acre by mimicking a forest.

But what type of forest should you mimic? In the temperate world there are many different types of forests.

This week’s blog post – Types of Food Forests – Which is Right for You? – combines the natural forests into 3 general types that you can mimic when designing and planting your own food forest.

Each type has its own pros and cons which the blog post covers in full.

The 3 general types of forests covered in the blog post are:
1. “Oak Savanna” Type of Food Forest
2. “Recovering Forest” Type of Food Forest
3. “Mature Forest” Type of Food Forest

Now I know these 3 types of forests are not the only 3 but I think these capture the core options for forest gardening in temperate climates and they provide a good set of blueprints to guide our designs.

The blog post dives into each of these 3 types but I thought I would give an quick overview of all 3 here.

3 Types of Food Forests Starting with Oak Savanna Type


Image Credit: "Savanna" by wackybadger is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I came up with the 3 names for these food forest types based on my own area. Let's start with the oak savanna type of food forest. While not every temperate climate has oak savanna, that does not mean you can’t mimic it on your own homestead.

The oak savanna is not really a forest in the way we tend to think of it but in my area it is often a transition state between prairies/grasslands and forests. In an oak savanna the oak trees form the foundation of the system but generally does not form a closed canopy.

This allows for a lot of sunlight to reach the ground supporting a dense herbaceous layer of plants including grasses. This is great for growing annual crops and for raising grazing animals.

But it may take more maintenance than the other 2 types of food forest to keep it from filling in with woody plants.

For more on the oak savanna type of food forest including a list of pros and cons for this type make sure to check out the corresponding section in the blog post.

Recovering Forest Type



In one way a recovering forest is similar to an oak savanna since it does not have a closed canopy. But unlike an oak savanna this type of forest has large amounts of shrubs and generally does not have much in the way of grasses.

These types of forests are what you find after a forest fire or logging events. Some large trees may remain but most of the trees will be small young trees plus a large amount of shrubs. Though there will be some herbaceous plants mixed in.

A food forest based on recovering forests is great for perennial vegetables and berry production.

You could also include chickens as long as you rotate them or keep their numbers small enough to not prevent the understory from growing.

This type of food forest is a great option for most people and I think it tends to be what you see online the most. For more information check out the corresponding section in the blog post.

Mature Forest Type



The final type that is covered in the blog post is the mature temperate forest. This type of forest tends to have a closed canopy which limits the amount of sun reaching the understory. But it will also have open areas scattered around where trees have fallen.

In a food forest that mimics this type of forest you can use open spaces for berry production and some herbaceous plants (perennial vegetables are a good choice). But most herbaceous plants will need to be shade tolerant. In my area there are several native perennial vegetables that love the shade that would be great in this type of forest (miners lettuce, redwood sorrel, Pacific waterleaf, etc.).

You can also use coppicing to create a pattern of rotating open spaces which will create more spaces for a diverse set of crops. But make sure the open spaces are relatively a small percent of the overall food forest or you will turn your mature forest type of food forest into a recovering food forest.

There are a lot of advantages to a mature forest type of food forest but it does have some negatives due to its mostly closed canopy. Check out the corresponding section in the blog post to learn more.

Which Type of Food Forest is Right for You?



So what do you think? Which type of food forest are you interested in planting? Each has their own pros and cons which the blog post covers.

On my own property I’m working on 1 recovery forest type and 1 mature forest type. Though both are currently transitioning. The recovery forest type is transitioning from more of an oak savanna state and the mature forest type is transitioning from more of a recovering forest.

In this way a food forest can mimic the natural succession of natural landscapes.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and please leave your comments. I would love to hear from you!

And make sure to swing by the blog post and leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.

Blog Posts in the Food Forest Series
1. What is a Food Forest? (And How to Get Started)
2. Types of Food Forests – Which is Right for You? - current post
3. Food Forest Layers and Why They are Important
4. How a food forest changes with time - coming soon
 
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Hello Daron,

Although I'm in the Permaculture planning stages at the moment, having previously only farmed in the traditional sense, I intend to loosely transition the 'Zones' along all three forest lines.

For example:

Zones 4 & 5 will be the 'Mature' forest type (indigenous habitat and wood production)
Zone 3 the 'Recovering' forest (fruit/nut trees, espaliers)
Zones 1 & 2 the 'Savannah' forest (annuals, perennials, vines, and aquatics)

This is due to climate and landscape conditions - basically to avoid being overrun with snakes within the vicinity of the house.

As indicated above in Zones 1 & 2, you may consider adding a 'Wetland' component to the types too, where aquatic plants and animals can be farmed?


 
Daron Williams
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F Agricola wrote:Hello Daron,

Although I'm in the Permaculture planning stages at the moment, having previously only farmed in the traditional sense, I intend to loosely transition the 'Zones' along all three forest lines.

For example:

Zones 4 & 5 will be the 'Mature' forest type (indigenous habitat and wood production)
Zone 3 the 'Recovering' forest (fruit/nut trees, espaliers)
Zones 1 & 2 the 'Savannah' forest (annuals, perennials, vines, and aquatics)

This is due to climate and landscape conditions - basically to avoid being overrun with snakes within the vicinity of the house.

As indicated above in Zones 1 & 2, you may consider adding a 'Wetland' component to the types too, where aquatic plants and animals can be farmed?




That all makes sense I can understand being careful about snakes near your house. In my area there are no dangerous snakes so I'm actually encouraging them near the house and garden since the ones here eat slugs I think the way you have broken the types up by permaculture zones makes a lot of sense. Good luck with your designs and implementing them!
 
pollinator
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I'm fortunate to have mature forest and oak savannah forest on my property already. The oak savannah (chaparral) area is mostly going to be for livestock, with the areas closest to the houses adding in more food forest components. I'm still working on ideas of what to incorporate into the mature forest areas. I know that I'm going to inoculate logs for mushroom cultivation and lay them in the shaded forest area.
 
Daron Williams
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Stacy Witscher wrote:I'm fortunate to have mature forest and oak savannah forest on my property already. The oak savannah (chaparral) area is mostly going to be for livestock, with the areas closest to the houses adding in more food forest components. I'm still working on ideas of what to incorporate into the mature forest areas. I know that I'm going to inoculate logs for mushroom cultivation and lay them in the shaded forest area.



That is great that you have those 2 types already! What sort of livestock are you planning to raise in your chaparral area?

Mushroom cultivation is a great idea and I'm looking forward to doing that in my own food forests once they grow more so I have enough shade. Do you have a mushroom in mind that you want to cultivate?
 
master pollinator
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My main Food Forest is the "Recovering Forest" type.  It used to be primarily Live Oaks but they died from Oak Wilt, opening up the canopy.  I'm filling the areas around the dead trees with fruit trees and food plants, as well as other native plants.  I also have a small wetland area, the Frog Pond, where I'm growing a few edible water plants such as Watercress, Chinese Water Chestnut, and Duck Potato.  I don't expect this to ever be a significant source of food because it's mostly for the frogs, dragonflies, etc.
 
Daron Williams
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Tyler Ludens wrote:My main Food Forest is the "Recovering Forest" type.  It used to be primarily Live Oaks but they died from Oak Wilt, opening up the canopy.  I'm filling the areas around the dead trees with fruit trees and food plants, as well as other native plants.  I also have a small wetland area, the Frog Pond, where I'm growing a few edible water plants such as Watercress, Chinese Water Chestnut, and Duck Potato.  I don't expect this to ever be a significant source of food because it's mostly for the frogs, dragonflies, etc.



Thanks for sharing--I have heard about oak wilt but so far it does not seem to be an issue here. What type of fruit trees are you planting?
 
Stacy Witscher
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We are planning on raising goats in some of the chaparral area. There are two main shrubs in this area buck brush which is a kind of ceanothus  and the other is an arctostaphylos. I know that goats will eat the buck brush, and there is a lot of it. The oaks are quercus garryana, which is a scrub oak, and there are also a lot of them.

I was thinking about starting with shiitake and oyster mushrooms on oak logs stacked in part of the forested area. It is close to my daughters house and I could check on things regularly.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Daron Williams wrote:
Thanks for sharing--I have heard about oak wilt but so far it does not seem to be an issue here. What type of fruit trees are you planting?



So far I have Mulberry, Plum, Fig, and Elderberry.
 
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I started with tropical pasture, so in that sense I am perhaps like the oak savanna, in that there is grass in between the trees and no closed canopy. But my goal is recovering forest, and who knows whether I might live long enough to see it become like mature forest. Mature forest would be a nice goal, but I'm not sure I have a big enough area to allow it, since I will need to keep those open spaces for my sweet potatoes, taro, and yuca.
 
Daron Williams
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Stacy – Nice! Thanks for sharing! I’m curious what type of ceanothus you have. Is it evergreen? White flowers or blue/purple? Or different?

Tyler – Thanks for sharing! I have 1 mulberry and I really want to grow some more. The one I have is a dwarf type. I really like mulberries 😊

Jason – Thanks for sharing! Yeah, tropical forests are of course different and I have almost no experience with them. But yours sounds similar to the oak savanna type I described. Good luck with your food forest and I hope it becomes a recovering forest soon!
 
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I just sold an 8 acre sheep farm,  which I would say was a combination of Oak Savanah  surrounded by mature forest.   I had about 5 acres of partly cleared grazing area where I encouraged grasses,  broad leaved herbs that sheep love,  and it also had plenty of poison ivy vines and knotweed shoots,  also loved and preferred by my sheep.   Many mature trees in the fields for shade, windbreak, and organic matter for the soil;   apple,  oaks, elm, willow,  box elders with no closed canopy.   That acreage fed my sheep, rabbits, and ducks well for 9 mos of the year.    Surrounded by Mature natural woods;  the edge was grapevine and sumac (also loved by livestock).  

NOW I'm moved back to a small urban lot and it is being developed more like #2,  the recovering forest.     I've filled the edge of my yard with food and native shrubs, berries, and small trees and it's young and filling in.   Plenty of perennials and groundcovers mixed in and encouraged through the open "lawn" area..  clovers, purslane, dandelion, plantain...  etc.    I keep one small penned rabbit with the goal of foraging the yard for her feed, and she contributes litterpans full of wood shavings/ manure/ urine for my urban compost pile.   Alas, no backyard birds of any sort allowed here,  although I may sneak in quail next year if my neighbors here seem sensible and MYOB enough!
 
Stacy Witscher
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The ceanothus that we have the most of is ceanothus cuneatus. It's evergreen with white flowers. It's not particularly attractive, and rather pokey. I understand that it is nitrogen fixing. The dead plants seem to take a long time to break down.

We do have a more attractive ceanothus as well, with purple or blue flowers, commonly referred to as California lilac. They are in bloom right now. They seem to be more in cooler/wetter areas of the property, like understory in the forested area. Whereas the ceanothus cuneatus is in the dry, open areas.
 
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@Daron - I recently heard an experienced local permaculture presenter, whom I generally respect for his knowledge, discuss a concept that I found very useful and enlightening, yet which I don't hear very often on these forums.  I'm sure it must be covered in lots of regenerative ag books, yet I don't recall ever reading it described in quite these terms.  He said that a key factor to consider in your permaculture design is where you want your system to fall on the axis of "Intensity of Management vs Diversity of Yields."

I imagine that you could look at this in terms of your entire system, or perhaps you might consider this same question for each zone within your system.  Or yet a third way of seeing it might be to consider where you want your entire system to fall on this axis, and that decision will affect the amounts of space you dedicate to each zone.

Many permaculture systems, including most food forest designs that one typically sees, have a high diversity of elements.  Lots of species and features in close proximity, hopefully generating lots and lots of useful interactions between all of the elements.  This of course helps to foster resilience and self-regulation in the system, enhancing overall system health and productivity.  These concepts are central to permaculture design.

But many of the individual elements will be chosen by the designer to produce a direct yield.  Why just incorporate a ground cover when you could incorporate a different ground cover that is also a culinary or medicinal herb?  Why just incorporate an N-fixing shrub into your guild when you could incorporate a different N-fixing shrub that also makes a fruit you can harvest!  This serves the permaculture design principle that system elements should serve multiple functions by adding one more function to that element: an edible yield.  And besides, it's just a lot more fun to munch goumi berries while you wander through your food forest!

This can easily lead to a system with maybe 50+ different yields, each requiring attention because they often need harvesting in different ways at different times.  This is all well and good, because a high diversity of yields poses many benefits: a diverse diet for your family throughout the seasons, a guaranteed harvest of at least some yields if others happen to fail that year, etc.  But it also requires intensive human management.

His point was simply that we must recognize this reality as designers, that higher diversity of yields requires more intensive management.  Whereas if one's human resources - available time, budget for farm hands, etc. - are limited, or if one desires to scale up to a larger acreage, one might wish to design a system with fewer yields that will require less active management.  It isn't a particularly revolutionary concept, but I had never heard anyone put it quite that way before.

One way, of course, to have fewer yields to worry about is to include fewer elements in your system.  But that isn't the only way.  Less diversity in yields need not equal less diversity of elements.  One might focus more on physically larger elements.  Mature nut and timber trees, for instance, produce a few yields in large volumes, whereas in that same space one could instead choose to fit several whole guilds of smaller species, with all of the resulting yields: many smaller harvests vs fewer larger harvests from the nut or timber tree.

Yet a third way, and one commonly practiced, is to use livestock to "concentrate" yields.  A healthy permaculture pasture, especially one featuring elements of silvopasture, could include a huge diversity of species, maybe as high a number as in any intensively managed food forest or garden plot.  But since the animals do most of the harvesting for you, the human is left with a comparatively smaller number of animal yields to harvest: meat, hides, wool, eggs, etc.  50+ species, but only a handful of different types of yields.  Depending on the nature of the animal operation, the human might need to harvest only once or twice per year.

So I was hoping you might discuss how the three food forest models you outline could be made to fit onto this axis.

It seems to me that the Recovering Forest model lends itself best to a highly-diverse-yields approach, but maybe that is just because my own food forest sort of matches that combination of model and approach.  Whereas the Mature Forest and the Oak Savannah models seem to me to lend themselves to a low-management approach.  This would assume that the Oak Savannah is incorporating a lot of animal grazing as opposed to a lot of annual veggie beds.  But maybe there are other ways of applying these models?

Thanks for your great blog posts!
 
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I have to say I love seeing more and more temperate food forest info getting put out.

I was a bit frustrated when I first started to learn about food forests to find the bulk of info was for tropical climates. I knew you could do it in temperate climates, but the info was just not as available.

So great to see info not just about temperate food forests but recognizing there are multiple different types.
 
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Interesting stuff.  I’m trying to shape my acre lot toward an oak savannah; a productive tree-based system with enough light to grow extensive ground-cover/ferns/cover crops everywhere, and some areas with enough light for annual veggies.  Ideally I would have hedging plants on the sides for privacy/wind control, a scattered over-story of Chestnuts and Oaks, scattered under-story of fruit and Hazelnut trees, several raised beds, and a N-fixing groundcover with grass elsewhere.  Preserving this setup would require some mowing, which is not difficult over an acre.

This plan is at least a decade away!  Most of my property was covered with non-productive trees like maples, sweetgum, and tulip poplar.  They shaded out the few spots that were mowed, so the “lawn” is mainly moss and crabgrass over an extremely acidic/rocky subsoil.  The ONE spot that could have used more trees (beside the creek) was mowed religiously, so now I have erosion problems there.  I put in a lot of elderberry, black willow, and assorted willow stakes, along with wild-harvested birch.  But it could use some more.

I removed all of the smaller non-productive trees, leaving a few small groves of Maples and TP.  There is a very complicated balance here between letting in enough light to support new plants and groundcover, while providing enough shade to allow new plants to get established (I can’t irrigate most of the property).  In drier climates you may want even more shade to support new plants.  Ideally you’ll want to create a dappled shade, making scattered cuttings throughout the area, and ensuring you can drop additional trees in the future without hurting your new plantings.  My main issue now is the amount of firewood I’ve generated… guess I need a wood-stove.

Another issue is the fungal-dominated soil.  The land REALLY wants to regenerate into forest, and does NOT want to support my grass, cover crops, veggies, and other bacterially-dominated stuff I’d like to grow.  That’s good in some areas – I’m allowing natural regen on steep slopes and areas where I want a hedge.  Ryegrass and Vetch have come in ok between trees.  Black Locust (BL) does great where I have no trees yet and the soil is horrible.  Hopefully I can create terraces on contour with BL and more productive trees, maintained with mowing (which should stop BL from root suckering and put N into the soil.
 
Matthew Nistico
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Josh Garbo wrote:...Black Locust (BL) does great where I have no trees yet and the soil is horrible.  Hopefully I can create terraces on contour with BL and more productive trees, maintained with mowing (which should stop BL from root suckering and put N into the soil.



Greetings Josh of the House Garbo, First of His Name!  Sounds like you have some good plans for your land.  I used to live not far from Fairfax.  It's a nice area, though honestly I'm surprised that you were able to get such a nice little parcel so close to the urban sprawl with (apparently?) no restrictions on it.

Everything you wrote sounds pretty on the mark to me.  I wish you best of luck with your endeavor.  In particular, good luck trying to keep the BL root suckers under control, LOL!  I'm even closer to the Appalachians than you, right at the edge of its native range, so BL is my primary support tree.  I have dozens of them, and I love them, but man they just pop up everywhere!  If you've ever read that BL coppices even faster than it grows (which is lightening fast), this is true but also misleading.  I have found it to be a very strange coppice species.  Half of the ones I've coppiced didn't even resprout from the stool at all, but rather became a dense thicket of root sprouts all over a 10' radius from the stool.  You just have to pick a nicely sized sprout near to the stool and let it grow to become the new standard, and call that "coppicing."

Like you, I have found it difficult to strike up the right balance between sun and shade.  I used to see my land primarily as a "meadow/baby food forest."  Now that it is starting to looking more like a real food forest, I find myself wishing I could keep it a bit more savannah-like.  I don't have them yet, but plan on running browsers, like ducks, and maybe small grazers, like guinea pigs, through the land.  So I want to keep enough light at ground level to support the grasses and groundcovers and herbacious layers.

With the exception of two native remnants in the middle of my lot - a sweet gum and an oak, which I will eventually fell for mushroom logs and replace with mid-size productive trees - and lots of natives around the edges, my support trees are by far my tallest.  Like you my land is only an acre, so my fruit trees are all dwarfs or semi-dwarfs.  At first my property baked in the summer sun, so I planted more BLs and appreciated their lovely, dappled shade.  The plan was always to coppice them regularly, but (again like you) my woodburning plans aren't yet in place to keep up with the firewood that would produce.  I've coppiced a few for construction lumber.  Now I find the shade a bit excessive on my lower-to-the-ground fruiting species.  So, the rest of the BL I continue to let grow tall and slash large amounts of branches each year to open them up.  Not pollarding in the traditional sense; more like aggressive thinning.  This generates a lot of brush to chip and spread or to make brush piles for habitat at the edges of my land.
 
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This topic has helped me conceptualize differences among food forests. So thanks. I imagine I will notice more differences in the future because I have this thread in my head.

I live on 5 acres in temperate Australia.

I am working on a food forest in and around my large chicken run. I now realize that it is a recovering forest type. It consists of tagasaste trees (fast growing leguminous tree which is animal fodder), fruit trees, canes (raspberries, boysenberries, loganberries), shrubs (native with flowers for pollinators), and perennial and self seeding vegetables (tomatoes, kale, silverbeet) etc.

After reading this thread,  I now realize that my "nature strip" which is large,  contains a 30 yard x 150 yard section which is functioning as a mature forest.

It consists mostly of blackwood trees, a native nitrogen fixer with good wood for woodworking. I am now thinking I should coppice that in rotations (for firewood) and add in excess food producing trees and shrubs as I propogate more than I can use elsewhere. I don't want to use much time on that space, as I don't own the land, but I might as well make use of the space. It could also function as an advertisement for permaculture.
 
Josh Garbo
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Hi Matthew!  Yeah, I was lucky with the purchase – I got 1.5 acres on well/septic three miles from downtown Fairfax, in a small, older, (relatively) cheap neighborhood with no HOA.  I’d have to move 20+ miles west to get anything similar in my price range.

I know what you mean about BL root suckers and “coppicing.”  I did that to one by the neighbor’s yard – instant hedge!  My other BLs will be maintained through mowing.  I also have bamboo hedges for privacy, and am interspersing BL for N fixing.

For whatever reason, the new Hazelnut bushes are growing more vigorously than my fruit trees.

I’m surprised the BL shade was strong enough to restrict your fruiting species, but yeah, thinning sounds good for brushpiles or biochar.  I don’t bother with chipping, it’s just too easy to get free chips from arborists.  I should try some HL too.

One philosophical concept I’ve thought a lot about is better spreading/distributing abstract resources like sunlight and shade; basically creating more edge habitats through silvopasture.  I have grasslands with way too much sun and burnt out grass, along with non-productive closed canopy forest.  I found that the Maples coppice very nicely into dense, pretty “bushes”, that are great for wildlife cover (unless they’re hollow, in which case they often die).  I’m not a big fan of Maples generally, as they block so much light.  The Tulip Poplars are taking longer to regrow, and they do so in a very thin/narrow form.  My smaller Hickories pollarded at 6 ft very nicely and densely, almost like mini palm trees.  

But my main BL use is just to modify my worst, most rocky soils, as a support species, and as a rough hedge.  Some grassland areas have deeper topsoil, and may not need them.  Hopefully I can keep the hedge ones topped with a trimmer at around 12 feet, without them root suckering everywhere.
 
Matthew Nistico
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Josh Garbo wrote:One philosophical concept I’ve thought a lot about is better spreading/distributing abstract resources like sunlight and shade; basically creating more edge habitats through silvopasture.  I have grasslands with way too much sun and burnt out grass, along with non-productive closed canopy forest.



Yep, sounds pretty right on.  Particularly for your preferred "oak savannah" model of food forest, but nearly all food forests employ the concept your promoting, just to different degrees.  At least based on the classic literature that I've read, the food forest designer is usually shooting for recreation of forest edge habitat: not open meadow, and not closed canopy, but extensive use of the in-between space where all layers get some exposure to light.

I think a good point to make, though, is that most of us in temperate climates will not be able to reproduce the full 7 (or I've read 8 or even 9) vegetative layers of food forest that you see diagrammed in the classic books, regardless of which model we choose, even the more spread-out models like "oak savannah."  At least, that has not been my experience.  I asked a more experienced permie about that, and he confirmed: in the tropics, where all those diagrams in the classic books are based, they have a lot more photons per cubic foot of air space to power all of those layered species.  For us in the temperate latitudes, with much less intense sunlight as a resource, you just aren't going to squeeze in as many plants into the same space.  Therefore, fewer layers.
 
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Thank you for this very interesting discussion which is helping me to "see the wood for the trees"!

Can we talk a bit more of the kinds of yields vs. work invested in the different scenarios?

I'm thinking about the seasonal aspect too - if you've got mostly deciduous trees then more of the sunlight in winter and spring will reach the floor than in early summer - autumn, when the trees are leafed out?
 
Josh Garbo
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Thanks, Matthew, for your point on tropics light saturation - I've wondered about that myself.  My main problem has been moderating the light/shade/moisture equation.  Parts of the cleared property on a dry hill got real dried out, while soggier creek-bed areas still have trees to remove.  It's tricky when you're planning out your terraces, paths, and future plantings.  In other words, converting closed canopy forest to a zones 1-3 system requires perhaps even more careful design planning than other forms of permaculture.  I found it quite difficult to visualize light requirements, slope aspects, sun pathways, and such.  It was also hard to intuitively understand the various light requirements (full sun, partial sun, etc) for what I wanted to plant.  That said, everything is going fine, there's just a few things I'd do differently next time or on a larger area.

Susan, I assume you mean ephemeral plants like daffodils.  I don't know of any that provide substantial human-edible calories.  My understanding is that berries produce the most edible food in a light-limited situation...
 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Daron Williams wrote:
Thanks for sharing--I have heard about oak wilt but so far it does not seem to be an issue here. What type of fruit trees are you planting?



So far I have Mulberry, Plum, Fig, and Elderberry.



Tyler, I'd like to see your progress so far as I too am building a food forest.

Link to a FB page or link to a page here?


My list:
my food forest goodies
 
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Susan Wakeman wrote:Thank you for this very interesting discussion which is helping me to "see the wood for the trees"!

Can we talk a bit more of the kinds of yields vs. work invested in the different scenarios?

I'm thinking about the seasonal aspect too - if you've got mostly deciduous trees then more of the sunlight in winter and spring will reach the floor than in early summer - autumn, when the trees are leafed out?



In my climate the winters are mild enough for some winter garden, even without protection. Protection definitely diversifies what you can grow and add to your success. The field my food forest is planted into is very, very sunny, so I am building hugelbeds for a number of reasons. One function will be fall and winter gardening when the rest of the plant life is dormant.
 
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