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Let’s talk about food forest layers

 
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Have you heard about food forest layers? What do you know about these layers? The traditional model included 7 layers that were supposed to mimic the structure of a natural forest. But of course natural forests are often not that simple.

Various people have added layers to the traditional 7 but the non-living layers of the forest have often been ignored.

This week’s blog post - Food Forest Layers and Why They are Important – covers the 7 traditional layers of a food forest but also dives into 4 non-living layers that are equally important to creating a healthy and abundant forest.

The 4 non-living layers covered in this post are:
1. Standing dead woods (snags)
2. Large logs
3. Fallen branches and limbs
4. Large rocks

Food Forest Layers for Each Type of Food Forest



This post is part 3 in a 4 part series all about food forests. The previous post in this series went over the different types of food forests. Each type of food forest will have a different balance of layers—both living and non-living layers.

The different types of food forests covered in the previous post were:
1. Oak savanna
2. Recovering forest
3. Mature forest

For example the oak savanna type of food forest is going to have far less large woody debris and snags than a mature forest type of food forest.

But all types of food forests will have at least some elements from each of the 7 traditional layers and the 4 non-living layers.

It is just the amount from each layer that varies between the different types of food forests.

Why This all Matters



Often food forests are described in a kinda 1 size fits all manner, but natural forests are far more varied and different regions have very different types of forests. I think each food forest will be better off if it is designed to match the structure of the native forests found in your area.

But this still gives you options since most areas have different types of forests and you can choose to mimic a natural forest in your area post a disturbance event like a fire or mimic a mature natural forest.

The 4 non-living layers in this week’s post add to the complexity of your food forest and will provide habitat for all sorts of beneficial critters, create beneficial micro-climates, and support beneficial fungi.

Of course there could easily be more layers added that would add more complexity to our food forests. But at some point you just have to call it good enough.

What do you think? How do you use layers in your food forest designs?

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.

Other 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?
3. Food Forest Layers and Why They are Important – current post
4. How a food forest changes with time - coming soon

Thank you!
 
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Daron Williams wrote:...

The 4 non-living layers covered in this post are:
1. Standing dead woods (snags)
2. Large logs
3. Fallen branches and limbs
4. Large rocks

...

The different types of food forests covered in the previous post were:
1. Oak savanna
2. Recovering forest
3. Mature forest

For example the oak savanna type of food forest is going to have far less large woody debris and snags than a mature forest type of food forest.

But all types of food forests will have at least some elements from each of the 7 traditional layers and the 4 non-living layers.

It is just the amount from each layer that varies between the different types of food forests.



I'm following these blog postings with great interest. I'm wondering, though, if there is such a thing as a mixed food forest type. I've got part of my back yard as old standing pines but part would be recovering forest, because we've cut down a bunch of those trees. I've got plenty of old logs and brush to build habitat with!

Would I treat the area with the pines (that looks like a mature forest area, which I'm likely to save for last) differently than I treat the area with the pines taken down that I'm designing now?

20190619_161402.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20190619_161402.jpg]
Cleared area; off-camera, L, a large brush pile/logs; R a stand of mature pines; behind, forest.
 
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Thank you for mentioning these additional layers. I am loath to talk about logs and woodchips, etc, as "non-living" layers, however. The life that develops in and on cut wood is very much alive, which is, of course, why these elements are such a great addition to any garden. I am very appreciative of your Wild blog as I, too, am in (far) western Washington.
 
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     I am understanding this whole "food forest" idea better every day.  This morning, I was in the 1/2 acre mature forest area on my land, excited about my shrub layer (blackberries and raspberries are thriving this year.).  After reading this post, I realized I had been assessing the possible "microclimate" opportunities there.  I didn't use the word microclimate in my head;  possibilities is what I was thinking.
     At first I was overwhelmed by all the information on Permies, but today I realized that I am learning.  
     NOW I have to learn how to deal with all the invasive species that were planted by the previous owners...english ivy, something that looks like tree of heaven but doesn't have the characteristic stink, pachysandra...what fun!
 
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I too am working on turning my small, urban, Ft. Worth Texas backyard into a mini food forest (hiding from my HOA)

In my endeavors, I have done the following things upon purchase on my property 3 years ago:
Canopy - I have been lucky to have a neighbor close to my property that owns two large, established live oaks and then a well-established fence line of Hackberry trees and mulberry trees.
Understory - The first year, I planted several types of fruit trees (plums, peach, cherry, apple, mulberry, pear, almond, fig, pomegranate, olive) and have also begun to plant seeds and pits from them as I'd like to be able to encourage and test for new, better-tasting or more acclimated versions as they come. Also previously in the space is vitex tree and Texas Mountain Laurel.
Shrub - I have treated this layer as my pollinator friendly zone. They include: hosta, asparagus, daylilies, peppers, honeyberry, raspberries, blackberries, chokecherries, pineapple guava, elderberries, elephant ear, rosemary, lavender, Salvias, daisies, butterfly bush, bee balm, rudbeckia, yarrow, okra, lambs ear, camellia, azalea, roses, etc I tried to stick with mostly all safe to eat.
Herb - chives, sage, mint, oregano, thyme, basil, lemon balm, lemon grass, rainbow chard
Root - daffodils, grape hyacinth, naturalized tulips, iris, canna lilies, Easter lilies, stargazers, carrots, walking onions, onions, garlic, sunchokes
Groundcover - native grasses, clover, nutsedge, strawberries (open to suggestions)
Vines - Sweet potatoes, squash, grapes, kiwi, tomatoes (unfortunately, native bindweed)

Bonus Layers
Wood & Mulch - fell logs, sticks, and leaves from a helpful yard guy (mutually beneficial)
Fungus - I'm seeing lots of it but have not introduced any food crops as I'm not comfortable with that yet.
Animals - My friendly yard guy brought me an old pond liner and I put in water plants and then introduced some native frogs to help out the native toads and lizards. Additionally, I have installed several types of birdhouses to encourage habitation. Every morning, I wake to see mockingbirds eating the bugs in and around my peppers. I have also made it a point to leave spaces for wasps and mason bees to live happily in harmony. (the man who owns the 8 acres of grazing land next door, for his show cattle also has bees less than 100 ft away.)
Rocks - I was "Blessed" (heavy on the sarcasm) with Texas limestone so I have been excavating it when creating hugelkultur beds in the dedicated veggie plot. The larger rocks get distributed all over.

I try to let the plants either make it or not after the first Year as I want what is sustainable.

The only trees that get babied are the microclimate citrus that I have rigged up heating protection for them during winter months below 40 degrees. See here:


 
Diane Kistner
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Sara Rosenberg wrote:I try to let the plants either make it or not after the first Year as I want what is sustainable.

The only trees that get babied are the microclimate citrus that I have rigged up heating protection for them during winter months below 40 degrees. See here:





Impressive work, Sara! Thanks for sharing. I, too, am trying to let my plants either make it or not after the first year. My kumquats died, but I wasn't doing what you're doing for your citrus. I'll try again next year.
 
Daron Williams
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Hey all! Sorry for being late to reply—I got caught up with mowing my pasture. I do that once a year around this time but this year was compounded with some deer breaking through my deer fence. Had to take some time to fix that and mow the pasture. But all done now and I’m trying to get caught up!

Really appreciate all the comments and here are my replies!

Also, big thank you to Diane for leaving a comment on the blog post too! Pie for you! 😊

Diane – I think a mixed type would work great. The areas with the big pines will likely support different plants than the areas where the pines were removed. The obvious difference will be light levels and I would try to take advantage of that to grow more sun loving plants in the open areas and shade tolerant ones under the pines.

You could also use the wood to build hugelkultur beds. Pine might not be ideal but it will still work and will breakdown overtime. You could also just use the wood as woody debris as I mentioned in the post.

But I think mixing the different types and creating a mosaic is a great idea!

Barbara – Yeah, non-living might not always be the best term but I wanted something that covered rocks too. But of course there is a lot of life associated with those layers even if the material making up the layers is either dead (logs) or never been alive (rocks). But good point and thank you for the comment and I’m glad you are enjoying the blog!

Susan – Great to hear! It can be overwhelming but the more you keep learning the more you will learn. We all started without knowing this and built up overtime. Eek… English ivy… that can be a pain… but if you keep at it you can win against it by removing it by hand. Just takes persistence.

Good luck!

Sara – Thanks for sharing! Really awesome for you to break down your layers for all of us. I’m in the opposite situation than you when it comes to rocks. Lol, I have imported rocks from my parent’s garden! They have tons of rocks and mine are all buried by 25 feet of clay and silt…

Thanks again!
 
Diane Kistner
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Daron Williams wrote:
Also, big thank you to Diane for leaving a comment on the blog post too! Pie for you! 😊

Diane – I think a mixed type would work great. The areas with the big pines will likely support different plants than the areas where the pines were removed. The obvious difference will be light levels and I would try to take advantage of that to grow more sun loving plants in the open areas and shade tolerant ones under the pines.

You could also use the wood to build hugelkultur beds. Pine might not be ideal but it will still work and will breakdown overtime. You could also just use the wood as woody debris as I mentioned in the post.

But I think mixing the different types and creating a mosaic is a great idea!



Ah, thanks, Daron! Yeah, I've been planning to use those pine logs essentially to anchor down thickly laid paper and cardboard sheet mulch in my "Bird Zone"/habitat area (to choke out poison ivy), then layer a bunch of brush on top of it. I figure this will rot down over time but in the meantime the birds (and hopefully the ants and voles) will have a place to live and the latter won't invade my other beds. I've had the English ivy problem, but also poison ivy, which is a real bear. I'm eaten up today with PI and had to take a heavy dose of Benadryl to be able to knock back the itching. Instead of getting frustrated with not being able to plant a whole lot (we've had a heat wave and now torrential rains on top of the disruption I've inflicted on the lot), I'm focusing on soil building, trying to establish structures and the overall design, and just thinking thinking thinking a lot. Thanks for saying the mixed type of food forest would be a good idea! My gut was saying go with that, but I'm not all that confident yet in what I'm doing!

Oh, and the deer...
 
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