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food forest in a temperate climate - permaculture myth?

 
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I confess to doubts about the concept of a food forest in a temperate climate.
Here's what I'm puzzling about;
A) Acces. If you plant densely all the layers so as to not have "unwanted" vegetation, how do you get close enough to harvest? For example, Say I want to underplant an apple tree with raspberries or currants, come apple harvest I will either get scratched to bits or damage my soft fruit.
B) I do love my vegetables. They are almost all annuals and reverting the succession to forest takes work - tilling or mulching. But I can't see my family grazing on wild edibles. Plus it takes a LOT of work to collect, for example, nuts and process them.
C) Examples. They are few established food forests and far between in my region. Does it really work?
D) In the Tropics, where soil is shallow and growing season is all year, I clearly see the vital importance of trees for shade etc. But here we have time periods where lack of light is the determining factor in growth! Perhaps the food forest is a concept that's just not appropriate in temperate climates?
 
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Martin Crawford demonstrates how a temperate climate food forest works:  


A food forest is not meant to replace annual vegetable or crop gardens, unless you want it to.

Personally I would not underplant my fruit trees with scratchy bushes.  I would put some kinds of herbaceous ground covers there.  
 
pollinator
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In my opinion, you have to tackle the concept of permaculture on the macro, vs micro scale. It's more a set of principles than an exact recipe for all situations. What works for one might not work for another. And temperate food forests exist in nature all over, wild apples in the hedge, mushrooms and hazelnuts and raspberries below, grapes tying it all together etc. It does seem tedious to collect a bunch of nuts for food, but when you look at the macro, it's you and your family collecting nutritious food and spending quality time, whereas if you weren't doing that, you might be doing something tedious for someone else, away from your family and nature to earn the money to buy those same nuts.

I grow clover under a lot of my trees, which I cut with a rice hook to feed to my annual vegetables. Not exactly the picture of comfrey and onions and berries but I still consider it permaculture, and I still consider my place as a whole to be a food forest.
 
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I agree. Things only start looking problematic through an absolutist's lens.

I love the idea of a food forest, and my outer zones will be converted to food forest as I can manage it, but there's no way I am going to stop gardening.

It is a perennial misconception that to be enthused about a tool in the permaculture toolshed means to only use that tool. Imagine that tool was a hammer. How many useful things can you do with a hammer? Two? Three? Not all problems are nails.

A food forest is one tool, and a great one, but you're not going to replace your garden with food forest and eat in an exact analogue of what you ate before. So you have both, because while you might really love fruit trees and vines, cane berries and shrubs, sometimes you really just want a garden-fresh beefsteak tomato with mayo on rye, and a touch of salt and pepper.

Also, unless you need the thorns for pest issues, I would go thornless, wherever possible, and where not, I would carefully contain and prune thorned vegetation, such that I would be able to access things like the soft-skinned fruit around it. And if you have access issues, it might be a good idea to think about air circulation. If the growth is too dense and the atmosphere humid, you could be encouraging mould growth.

-CK
 
Susan Wakeman
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Ok, so what is the food forest the tool for? In other words, what is the niche that you would use for a food forest, as opposed to a sylvopasture, orchard, or 'berry patch?
 
Dan Allen
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Susan Wakeman wrote:Ok, so what is the food forest the tool for? In other words, what is the niche that you would use for a food forest, as opposed to a sylvopasture, orchard, or 'berry patch?



The biggest use of the tool is to make the best use of marginal land. And all three of those can exist within the larger frame of a food forest.
 
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I have my food forest area, and my annual gardens.  I'm starting a new food forest area now on a new property, so I grow annuals in the area that will be food forest.  Right now the trees are very small, so I have lots of room between them that I can use for annual plants.  I'm building soil as I garden in different areas, and as the food forest fills in, my gardens will be moved to other places.  It's also important to note that food forests can have lots of space that doesn't have trees.  In a cold area like mine, having a closed canopy is not what I am looking for, at least not everywhere.

More to your points.
A)  Like Tyler said, I don't plant thorny plants all the way around my fruit and nut trees.  I do plant thorny bushes bushes, seaberry, autumn olive, black locust, near my fruit trees.  I just don't go all the way around them, and I don't plant them so close I can't get in to the main tree of the guilds.  Raspberries and the like I have in separate areas.  I just made a raspberry bed a few weeks ago.  It's on the edge of my food forest area, but not really in it.
B)  I have a pretty large annual garden that is separate from my food forest.  You can have both.  I don't see it as an either/or choice.
C)  I would say it absolutely works.  Many people have done it, but the number of people doing it is still a small percentage of the people that actually grow their own food.
D)  This is the point I touched on earlier.  I wouldn't plant a food forest densely enough to create a closed canopy in a temperate area.  Instead, I plant in guilds.  I plant a main fruit or nut tree with support plants around it in ever-larger rings.  These are bushes and plants that are shorter than the main tree.  I plant low growing plants and ground covers wherever there are open spaces, and then I just kind of let it go and whatever plants take over, I let them be there.  As the bushes and trees get bigger, some things will be shaded out and die.  That's okay with me because they served their original purpose while the larger plants were getting established.  My feeling is that food forests are appropriate to most all climates and regions.  You just have to work with what nature provides you.  If you have limited sun, leave more open areas.  If you have lots of sun, plant more closely for shade.  Lots of water, not enough water, very hot, very cold, or whatever your particular challenge is, just make sure you allow for it.  If you get it wrong, it's easy to remove or add plants, or plant something else that works better if something doesn't do well.  Food forests can be established for basically no money, so if you enjoy the process, what do you have to lose?

I type slowly, so I was working on this while a number of people posted very good replies.  My apologies if I posted some of the same information others did.
 
Chris Kott
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Why not all three?

Why not have elements of sylvopasture, with lanes wide enough to allow light and space for grazing, and food forest guilds between, perhaps raised a little, with species ordered such that shade-tolerant species, such as hazel and mulberry, are placed where nut trees will cast their shade when mature, shade-averse species in the apple, pear, and stone fruit families would go in front of those and between the eventually shading trees, cane berries between trees in the row, and currants at their feet?

You can think of food forests in different ways, depending on what you want to accomplish with them. But that's an example of the way I would look to use it. You get pasture strips, you can plan for browse for your browsers to grow on the edges of those, you can do all the food forest things, even if it's just a former orchard with a mix of fruit trees and some non-fruit tree supporting cast members.

For me, it's like I'm setting up an orchard that, because it has been set up with diversity in mind, takes care of itself in my absence. With a stroll through the alley-paddock that I will run my animals in the next day, I can whack anything growing where I don't want it and make sure the paddock is secure. Windfalls are still windfalls, but for the pigs/chickens/whatever is luckiest and fastest.

What did you assume a food forest was for, Susan, if not to replace all the different not-quite-a-forest models of orchard and berry culture?

-CK
 
Tyler Ludens
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Susan Wakeman wrote:Ok, so what is the food forest the tool for? In other words, what is the niche that you would use for a food forest, as opposed to a sylvopasture, orchard, or 'berry patch?



Personally, I would say it is for the creation of habitat for humans and other creatures, as well as plants.  A food forest mimics a natural forest, while also supplying products for humans in much more abundance than a natural forest does.  At the same time it's producing things for humans, it provides all the other functions of a natural forest - critter habitat, aiding the hydrologic cycle (forests help produce groundwater and rain), buffering climate extremes, and probably a lot more I'm not remembering right now.

Also food for the human spirit, beauty.

 
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I don't think layered food forest works here either. Nothing really grows under my plum tree (which is mature) very early in spring there are some wood avons and some celandine but right now with the plum in full leaf there's nothing but dead leaves. nothing at all grows under redcurrent or blackcurrent bushes it's totally dark under them. I have strawberries and raspberries that grow under some sapling sycamores, but they do not produce any fruit they don't get enough light, the strawberries help keep the nettles down and that's about it. If I go and look at a wild wood it is exactly the same, tree canopy then very small and scraggly under-story often blue or crowberries that don't produce any fruit, sometimes spring bulbs or early spring plants that die down again when the trees leaf up.
Now on the edge of a path you get bushes then nettles/grass some herbs and on the edge of the wood but not under a tree.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Skandi Rogers wrote:If I go and look at a wild wood it is exactly the same, tree canopy then very small and scraggly under-story often blue or crowberries that don't produce any fruit, sometimes spring bulbs or early spring plants that die down again when the trees leaf up.
Now on the edge of a path you get bushes then nettles/grass some herbs and on the edge of the wood but not under a tree.



Martin Crawford talks about how a temperate food forest is  like a very young forest or forest edge.  The trees must be kept small, and generally rather far apart, to allow enough light in to grow things between their canopies.  Very different from closer to the equator, where too much sun can be a problem.

If we don't understand what we're trying to create, we can't very well say it doesn't work.

 
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Geoff Lawton has a video I recently watched about pollarding schedules for chop and drop in the food forest garden, based on precipitation/evaporation timing. A point he made was getting young tree growth back in place to help shelter smaller plants from full sun at the hottest times of the year. But it's rarely intended that the tree is creating a full shade environment underneath, as most plants you'd grow for food require some sun.

My plan is to have mostly herbaceous chop and drop plantings around the base of fruit trees to improve soil fertility for the trees, and to prune those trees to keep their canopies open and reachable without the use of a ladder, say 8' at max. For my area I could also allow black locust standards to grow with wide spacing nearby the same area, as BL canopies are reported as being pretty open, creating light dappled shade but far enough from the fruit trees to give them 100% sun in that 10-2 window. Under the BL I could plant shrubs/vines/ground cover plants.

I don't think a food forest that has full sized trees over dwarf trees over shrubs over herbaceous plants over ground covers over root crops with vines on the tree trunks all packed tightly together is going to provide enough light for everything unless you are extremely particular about species and spacing. I think it's intended that there will be a bit more spread and while all 7 plant elements can be present, they aren't always all present in the same space but rather spread out around the area.

 
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I agree that food forests are possible in temperate areas, and that they definitely need to be modified region to region and even site to site.

For example, in my region we deal with too much water and then too little. So anything that is not drought tolerant beyond establishment is out of the question unless you are fine with irrigating in perpetuity. Guild plantings are a challenge for me because of this. The same plants that need to survive receiving virtually no precipitation for four to five months and then over saturation thereafter.

Here, we find that a somewhat closed canopy for most of the system is ideal. It's important to shade the soil and capture the sunlight, which can be very intense here in the summer. I've been working on converting a very open field into a food forest and it's been difficult, though overall I've had success. It reminds me of the sci fi idea of terraforming.

Susan, I think you brought up some really good points though, including the part about what your family will and won't eat. I think that is an area that I struggle with when working with other permaculture people in this area. It's been said before, but people can't live on greens and wild edibles. Even the natives didn't (in this area they fished and hunted a great deal, both of which are greatly depleted now). Planting things that people will realistically eat is important.

Another thing you brought up is things that are tasty and expensive to buy (nuts) but labor intensive to harvest. I figure that it's good to plant them anyway because even if I'm too busy to use them for now, there may come a day where the rug gets pulled out from under our economy in one way or another and then we will all be happy to rake up my chestnuts. If they rot or get eaten by wildlife in the meantime I haven't lost anything.

If all else fails, I think simply having separate areas for mixed orchard and annual gardening is also a fine solution. The line between food forest and orchard is kind of blurry.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Even though I'm in a temperate climate zone, we get so much sun that I'm trying to create a food forest under the canopy of existing Cedar Elms.  I'm placing the food trees in spots where the Elms don't cast much shade, and putting more shade-tolerant things closer to the large trees.  All my fruit trees will be maintained at less than 8 feet so I can pick them from the ground.  This kind of food forest under existing trees probably wouldn't work in a higher latitude or where it is cloudy a lot.  
 
Susan Wakeman
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Thank you all for your input, I propose that we continue the discussion on Daren's thread 3 different types of food forest
 
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