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A Temperate Forest Garden Diet

 
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Here is the first draft of an essay that will be in an upcoming edition of the journal Backwoods (not to be confused with Backwoods Home Magazine).
I'm looking for feedback/critique/questions. Thanks and enjoy !

A Temperate Forest Garden Diet by Asadachi

For those focused on desertion and subsistence, here's what it might look like to grow some perennial staple foods nutritionally and spatially. The following piece was developed using a nutrition app called Chronometer and land requirements were identified by analyzing a variety of agroforestry sources. All yields were based on the lower range which is typical for low maintenance sites. This piece is by no means definitive or authoritative. It's just a snapshot of what's possible.

Chronometer sample entry for one day:
Nuts, chestnuts, Chinese, dried, 16oz: 1,646.6 calories
Hazelnuts, raw, 3 oz: 534.1 calories
Venison, stew, 8 oz: 358.3 calories
Persimmon, native, raw, 3 oz: 108 calories
Apple, fresh, with skin, 3 small apples: 232.4 calories
Artichoke, Jerusalem, sunchoke, raw, 1 cup: 109.5 calories
Stinging Nettles, 2 oz: 23.8 calories
Lambsquarters, raw, 3 oz: 36.6 calories
Shiitake mushrooms, cooked, 2 oz: 31.8 calories
Total calories: 3,093 calories.
Macronutrients: Carbs: 481.3 g, Protein: 123.8 g, Fat: 69.1 g

This sample entry hits almost all micronutrient targets. It falls short only in selenium, vitamin D, and sodium. Selenium can be increased through more meat and/or fish consumption. The vitamin D issue is solved through adequate sunlight when the body can synthesize it from the sun and sun-dried mushrooms for the months it can't. Sodium can be increased through salt consumption.

Every foraging culture relies on a wide array of wild foods with certain staple foods that are of particular importance. The storied !Kung have their mongongo nuts among other staple foods. For us in hardiness zones 4-9, annually bearing chestnuts and hazelnuts fulfill a similar important role. Acorns, walnuts, and hickory nuts will also play a vital role despite variable yields.

Chestnuts stand out as they bear annually, require minimal processing, and can last awhile dried or stored in moist sand like carrots. Mature chestnuts produce anywhere from 1,000-3,000 lbs per acre. A pound of dried chestnuts provides 1,646 calories. Approximately 3 acres will provide about 1,500 lbs of dried chestnuts (fresh chestnuts are 50% water) which is enough for 4 people to have a pound of dried chestnuts each day for a year.

Hazelnuts also bear annually, require minimal processing, and store well dried. Hazelnuts can be pressed into oil that has a similar lipid profile to olive oil. Mature hybrid hazelnuts provide 300-1,000 lbs per acre. 3oz of hazelnuts provide 534 calories. 1 acre will provide about 300 lbs which is enough for 4 people to have 3 oz everyday for a year.

Acorns were a staple food for foraging cultures across the world. However, oaks produce acorns at a variable rate with some mast years, average years, and rest years. By planting a diversity of oaks and oak hybrids, there might be more consistent yields. Acorns have a favorable macronutritonal balance when compared to other nuts. Some would recommend northern red acorns for their higher fat content and ease of storage. 8oz of dried acorns provides 1,154 calories. There is very limited data on acorn production per acre. Based on a USDA study on red oaks in NW Pennsylvania, red oaks produce roughly 150 lbs per acre in a poor year and up to 2,000 lbs per acre in a bumper year.

Walnuts (especially heartnuts) and hickories (especially hicans) offer a lot of protein and fat though with inconsistent yields. There is also a concern about oxidation of their polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) especially when heated above 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Hickory milk is delicious, easy to make, and would probably avoid the issue of oxidation/rancidity.

American persimmons can be enjoyed fresh from August to November with some trees holding on to their fruit deep into winter. They can be dried off the tree as well. Hernando de Soto described dried persimmon "loaves" that had a long shelf life. 3oz of American persimmons have 108 calories. Mature trees produce about 30-100 lbs per tree. The trees are dioecious so plant extra. 5-10 trees produce 150-1,000 lbs which is enough for 4 people to enjoy throughout the year.

Apple and pears are versatile and certain varieties store well over winter. Here are a few varieties that store well:
Apples: Golden Russet, Keepsake, Goldrush, Roxbury Russet, Ashmeads Kernel, Calville blanc d' Hiver, Reinnete Zabergau
Asian Pears: Korean Giant, Chojuro. Nijiseiki
Euro Pears: Dana Hovey. McLaughlin
3 small apples provide 232 calories. Standard sized apple trees produce around 8-18 bushels per acre. Standard sized pear trees produce around 3-6 bushels per acre. 10-20 apple and/or pear trees should be enough for 4 people.

Other notable perennial foods include sunchokes and groundnuts as root crops. Nettles are an excellent perennial leafy green vegetable. Hackberry persists on trees from fall to winter. They are mostly sugar so they dry easily and are shelf stable. Like acorns, they are found across the world among foraging cultures.

In Backwoods #2, there was a debate about vegan foraging societies. Although evidence of temperate vegan foraging cultures is lacking, it theoretically can be done by substituting wild meat or fish with more acorn and hazelnut consumption. However, there still might be concerns of some micronutrient deficiencies. That could be a topic for someone else to explore if interested.

5 acres should be enough to grow these perennial staple foods in a polyculture for a group of 4 people (3 for chestnuts, 1 for hazelnuts, and 1 for fruits/vegetables). In addition to these perennial staple foods, hunting, fishing, and foraging would round out and balance this diet. These trees will attract a lot of wildlife so plant a lot for our nonhuman neighbors. While trees are young, growing potatoes, squash, and other annuals can provide a lot of calories and nutrients. Ducks are a good livestock option and can be well integrated in a forest garden (Wellspring Farm). Once trees are mature and wildlife rampant, enjoy the mutual cocreation and abundance !

Email: asadachi1@protonmail.com

Sources and recommended reading:
Sam Thayer- (all his books), Akiva Silver- Trees of Power, Edible Acres YouTube channel, Annie Bhagwandin- The Chestnut Cookbook, Ben Falk- The Resilient Farm and Homestead, Will Bonsall- Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening, Ben Hewitt- The Nourishing Homestead
 
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Allowing for variabilities based on age and perhaps ethnicities - I find that grain flour improves my bowel movement. I once contemplated opening a restaurant serving $2 salad plates to university students and I ate that diet for several months with the unexpected results of hardened, compacted stools. After adding a significant portion of grain to my diet the problem disappeared. As previously stated this problem may be age related but does spark my interest in whether the inclusion of grain as a significant portion of the diet is to be factored in to the consideration of forest garden diets.

 
Asa Dachi
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Interesting and surprising anecdote. Chestnuts and acorns are appealing as grain substitutes. They have significant fiber as well. Grains definitely work in a swidden agriculture system. For more info, I'd recommend Maya Forest Garden: Eight Millennia of Sustainable Cultivation of the Tropical Woodlands by Anabel Ford and Ronald Nigh.

I see grain growing as ecologically problematic and involving a lot of unnecessary work compared to foraging and hunting. However, I am interested in counter arguments and having my perspective challenged. The diet described in the essay is my approximation of a foraging diet based in the Eastern United States mostly before the introduction of maize (apples being the included non-native but now naturalized exception).  
 
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Don't forget small game.  A deer, while tasty, is quite a bit of meat and most of it would have to be dried or salted if the weather wasn't cold.  Also, you may run afoul of Fish and Game.  People don't get as exercised about small game, especially if it's something that is either 'tame' or a non-game animal.

Chicken, grouse, pigeons/doves, ducks, geese, pheasant, turkey, fish and turtle might be good alternatives for meat, depending on the ecosystem.  Rabbit is good, but has no fat, making it a good occasional meal, but not an every day thing unless you have another fat source, like nuts.  A little thought can probably come up with half a dozen small critters that could fit in an ecosystem and provide a harvest.

We tend to focus on the large herbivores, but there was a reason goose and turkey were traditional feast foods and a chicken in every pot was a campaign slogan.  They were big enough to feed a pretty large group (families were much larger a few generations ago), but no so big that preserving it was a problem.  

Birds tend to have pretty good conversion ratios.  You could also go a little further afield and try raccoon, or even possum (if you go with possum, cage it and feed it clean foods for a few weeks to clean it out, you don't know where it's been).  When I lived in the midwest, there was a guy that would come to a parking lot once a week selling raccoon.

I remember reading in Walden where Thoreau mentioned running into one of his elderly neighbors out on a fall walk who was returning home with a bunch of apples (from a wild tree) and a robin he has collected.  (I assume the robin was going to be dinner).  I've read one old timers account of how he and his preteen buddies would shoot blackbirds in the fall when they invaded the corn fields after harvest and his mom would make blackbird pies.  (Remember 4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie, folks did that kind of thing once).  Of course, you only want to skim the cream, not harvesting too much of any one kind.
 
Asa Dachi
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Great points about small game. They are often more abundant and practical  than large game in many areas. At my place, I have a lot of deer activity and browse but I've also seen turkey, rabbit, groundhog, and porcupine. I'm hoping that persimmons with their high sugar content and persistence into the winter will attract a diversity of wild game. I also planted ornamental crab apples that hold their fruit well into the winter.

I've been advised that porcupine can be very difficult to make palatable. However, raccoon often has significant amounts of fat, which sounds appealing. Among native people of the Northeast, bear fat appears to be particularly vital. In terms of plant sources of fat, hazelnut, walnut, hickory nuts, red oak acorns, and squash seeds are all useful in temperate zones. Korean pine nut sounds appealing but I haven't had much success growing it. Seaberries (sea buckthorn) have a high amount of fat for a berry.

 
Mick Fisch
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I've eaten porcupine, many years ago, and it was good, even though i had left it tied to a tree with a piece of string (otherwise unharmed) while I went and asked the folks I was visiting if they wanted a porcupine or not.  (I'm sure I got its adrenaline up, effecting the flavor.  Its best to kill something as quickly as possible.  The ideal is between one bite of grass and the next, it finds itself in critter heaven with no idea how it got there).  

Home canning is a great way to keep meat.  It makes a quick meal, since it's already cooked to tender.  Just dump it in a pan, heat it upn salt and pepper it and add some starch mixed with water and you have meat and gravy to go with your potatos or rice.  Can it in the size you want for 1 meal, (a pint for a couple, a quart for a paddle of hungry kids)

Bear can be good or bad, depending on what it's been eating.  Good bear meat is kind of like really good pork.

Bears will happily eat berries, or old fish or a two week old gut pile, which will definitely effect the flavor of the meat.  Best to harvest them in the spring, right out of hibernation; or out of a berry patch, not near salmon streams.  We've been gifted some nasty bear meat in the past.  We made chili out of it and ate it, but it stunk up the whole house.

My mom told me once someone gave them some bear meat that was so rank even my grandpa, who vowed food as fuel for the fire and would eat about anything couldn't handle it.  They threw it out in the yard for the dog, but the dog sniffed it, its hackles went up and it backed away growling.  The cat came over, sniffed it, and went up a tree.

In the old days, if indians could find a black bear den in the winter, they would sometimes drag the bear out by the hind feet and kill it for food.  After a few months of hibernation the meat flavor cleans itself up.  (Their too groggy to defend themselves, sounds unsporting, but it's harvesting, not hunting).  

I would be careful about pulling them out of a den though.  Grizzlies are light sleepers and may wake up cranky if there is a lot of noise near their den.  I guess you pays your money and takes your chances if you have both in your area.
 
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These discussions are great, but at the same time show up our geographic differences. I'm in a temperate climate but have very different environment to work with, and different climatic variables. Probably the only similarities are daylight hours, and feral deer.

My food forest looks different;

 
Burl Smith
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Ben Waimata wrote:These discussions are great, but at the same time show up our geographic differences. I'm in a temperate climate but have very different environment to work with, and different climatic variables. Probably the only similarities are daylight hours...



From: https://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/food-wine/earliest-maori-diet-quite-different



And...

 
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I have been pushing for a long time for the forgotten "carb on trees", chestnuts...! I really think that this is the way to go if you need carbs in a bit colder climates.'
Grubs, grasshoppers, crickets and other can also provide very high  quality nutrients not available in plant foods. Of course, the colder the climate, the less grubs.
I think it can be a bit misleading to just talk about calories, it's really about the quality of the calories as well, and a balance and variety of nutrients etc.. Stuffing yourself of wild greens might actually harm you more that feed you, with a lot oxalates and anti-nutrients, but using them in combination with protein, carbs or other might be a great way use them.
Many are reluctant to plant chestnut trees because they take so many years to mature (and maybe also because of disease risk). Still, I think it would feel great to contribute to our children and their kids
 
Burl Smith
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Lana Weldon wrote:
Many are reluctant to plant chestnut trees because they take so many years to mature (and maybe also because of disease risk). Still, I think it would feel great to contribute to our children and their kids



Any idea how many Chestnut trees a couple would need to supply them with one pound of dried chestnuts apiece per day?
 
Asa Dachi
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@Ben: not sure which part of New Zealand, but I think chestnuts and hazels could work there. How's the hunting there?

@Lana: Chestnuts can be grown even in warmer areas such as southern China. If you want to see the actual macronutrient and micronutrient profile of the sample day I focused on, you can plug those entries into the Chronometer app and then modify the entries to see other nutritional possibilities.

Time to maturity varies with chestnuts. In the Northeast, I recommend selected seedlings of known cultivars. Chestnuts can bear in as little as 3 years, but more often between 5-10 years. To learn more I'd recommend Akiva Silver, Tom Wahl, and the Savanna Institute. They all made great videos/presentations on chestnuts. I'd also recommend the first two as a source to buy chestnuts from in order to grow them out into trees.

Diseases and pests vary among regions. Common issues include blight, chestnut weevil, chestnut gall wasp, Phytophthora, ambrosia beetle. Don't let that deter you from planting chestnut trees. I'm only in my 5th year growing chestnuts and so far I've avoided these issues. I know blight will eventually get some trees that might have susceptibility (I planted mostly hybrids and Chinese chestnuts). I know weevils will appear but there are multiple ways of mitigating that issue.

@Burl: Probably 1.5 acres (I took my math for a group of 4 and divided in half). I'd plant them 10ft apart in the row and 30-40 ft between rows. Thin every few years leaving the best ones. Eventually, they will end up around 40ft x 40ft spacing.
From Micheal Gold (great resource): “I’ve seen these trees at 50 and 60 and 70 years old,” he said, “where there are maybe only 12 per acre, but they’re big and they’re producing 300 pounds per tree.”  https://todaysfarmermagazine.com/mag/1378-championing-chestnuts
 
Ben Waimata
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Asa Dachi wrote:@Ben: not sure which part of New Zealand, but I think chestnuts and hazels could work there. How's the hunting there?




Does this answer your question? There were 12 more in the next valley, all in my backyard.

 
Burl Smith
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"@Burl: Probably 1.5 acres (I took my math for a group of 4 and divided in half). I'd plant them 10ft apart in the row and 30-40 ft between rows. Thin every few years leaving the best ones. Eventually, they will end up around 40ft x 40ft spacing.
From Micheal Gold (great resource): “I’ve seen these trees at 50 and 60 and 70 years old,” he said, “where there are maybe only 12 per acre, but they’re big and they’re producing 300 pounds per tree.”  https://todaysfarmermagazine.com/mag/1378-championing-chestnuts"

Well that sounds reasonable to have @ one acre of trees per person to provide the starch requirement.
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