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Super Guild v. Food Forest

 
laurie branson
Posts: 35
Location: SW Washington. zone 8a
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Do I have to plant the taller canopy to have a food forest? I’m in the pnw with limited sun plus i’m on a north facing slope. I am planting my assorted fruit and nut trees on contour in berms below swales. This is all being planted near the forest edge. i’m just hesitant to add more tall trees that will eventually block sun I can’t afford to lose. I like toby hemenway’s “super guilds” in Gaia’s Garden and of course will be planting lots of mutually beneficial shrubs, herbs and ground covers.
I think my main concern is that if Paul ever visits our farm, he will cast aspersions and announce to the world in a podcast that it isn’t really a food forest. 😉
No, really, I just am trying to make sure i’m not missing something. I get the importance of the taller canopy in a place like Australia, but does it apply in a colder, wetter climate with less sun? Is there some benefit I'd be missing out on?
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Your food forest should look like a savanna (8ft) not some dark floor tropical rainforest where everything is 300ft tall.
 
Mark Shepard
Author
Posts: 44
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i’m just hesitant to add more tall trees that will eventually block sun I can’t afford to lose. I like toby hemenway’s “super guilds” in Gaia’s Garden and of course will be planting lots of mutually beneficial shrubs, herbs and ground covers.
I think my main concern is that if Paul ever visits our farm, he will cast aspersions and announce to the world in a podcast that it isn’t really a food forest

Mark: I would go ahead and plant the tall trees anyways... It'll take 30years to get a 30yr old tree, so you better start now... this way you will be planting a resource that you currently don't have. Plant it now so you'll have it later if you want it.. When it reaches the age that it starts to interfere with your other objectives, then harvest it.. It is a yield.
You can't harvest anything if you don't plant it...

Don't worry what anybody thinks of your agglomeration of edible woody crops! If it's virtually care-free, takes care of your needs and is satisfying to you who cares what people call it...

Look at brush on the side of the road... It's different everywhere... There will be almost unlimited variations in what we do. Even if we use the same suite of species, it'll look differently everywhere....
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1277
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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What's about tall trees when you have to water everything because of the dry weather?
Trees compete for sun AND for water don't they?

I do not understand that you plant and harvest the "tall trees" when they just interfere, ...and are not yet tall?

About sun, even when you have enough sun in your country/place, then it means that the adapted trees need a lot too, doesn't it?

eg: I have avocado trees, and they need sun, and they will be no more than 4-6 meters.
We are supposed not to let the plantation go to a forest (when canopy join).
When you let them go to a forest, then they do not yield anymore on their sides, as they need sun!
This tree just shades itself what is necessary.

If I plant let say tamarind trees, between avocados, they are legumes and they are tall and they bear fruits.
Then I will have one day to cut the avocados, because they will not bear fruits in the shade.

I understand planting the tall trees only under trees that do not have a long yield period, because you need to plant before they arrive at the end of their life.
Is it what you mean, or is there another reason (and timing) for planting trees between other trees?

So:
I am not experimented but I conclude that the "tall trees" are the tallest you can find that need sun themselves,
whatever size they get to.
Under these trees, you can only grow shade lovers, and they are not so many in "real size trees".

Why cannot you consider 4meters tall trees as "tall trees"?
 
Jose Reymondez
Posts: 137
Location: Galicia, Spain Zone 9
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I've been to Martin Crawford's forest garden and he had trees like italian Alder or Sweet Chestnut in the canopy reaching up 30ft/10m in the air. He kept them narrow so that they still let in plenty of sun underneath.
 
laurie branson
Posts: 35
Location: SW Washington. zone 8a
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Thanks for responding Mark. The (soon to be a) farm is about 24 acres, over half of which is an established woodlot (alders, doug fir, vine maple, bitter cherry - plus the 200 native trees we planted last year to diversify it. We will plant more this year as well) The fruit and nut trees will be planted very near the "forest edge" and so i was hoping that would "count" for something. I hear what you are saying about the future harvest, but are there other benefits from the taller canopy that I wouldn't be able to achieve with the right mix of understory plants? I'm really trying to understand what the difference is between a super guild (as described in gaia's garden) and a Food Forest.

As to my comment about Paul - I was kidding! As my husband and I plan our farm, we always ask each other "WWPS" (what would Paul say) if he were visiting and interviewing us for one of his podcasts. We always get a good laugh! But all kidding aside - this forum, the books, podcasts, blogs and videos are invaluable to us.
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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I have about 5 acres , maybe half or a little less of which is more or less natural forest, some areas that have been mowed for years (otherwise it would all be forest very quickly) and some old plantings of perennials, a few planted fruit trees and shrubs, lots of native shrubs (including currants and gooseberries, native honeysuckles and 'highbush' cranberry [v edule], dogwood [C sericea]saskatoon/serviceberry [Amelanchier alnifolius] etc) plus rock gardens and woodland (ornamental) gardens etc.
All around on 4 sides (except for the driveway!) are tall native trees- spruce, aspen and balsam poplar and scattered through the rest of the property as well. so I am with the orginal poster (understanding that we both already have treed areas) , no way I want to cast any more shade! (note: we do not have hot summers here). Much of (all?) of my open space would be considered forest edge, I do have some modest areas that get sun almost all day, but they are at a premium, so I can fit some spots for annual vegetables, and I'm very interested in trying some hugelkultur plantings (I've been intuitively doing something partway there with woodland widlflower gardnes).
I am adding some more woodies that I can plant in amongst the native trees in open wooded areas and edges (there is an area of young, mostly poplar growth that I've been thinning to more of a 'savannah' look (that's called aspen parkland in this part of the world!) and I hope to add some more fruits and /or nuts and just plain 'cool' shrubs/understory trees in that and similar areas.
I will not, however, be adding anything that casts serious shade in any of my currently sunny areas.
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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Sorry, my on and off internet connection gave me a double post- if there is a moderator who can delete this- or tell me how to do it- please feel free
 
Seth Christian
Posts: 1
Location: Inland Northwest
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A few things come up for me Laurie from your original question. The first is food forest vs. super guilds, which are two different ideas with some similarities but some important differences. In the PNW, think about what a climax or old growth forest looks like. The emergent layer is going to be W. Red Cedar, W. Hemlock and a lesser assortment of other evergreens like firs, spruce, pine etc, while the canopy will be smaller, more shade tolerant species (vine maple, douglas maple, crab apple, ash etc) and an understory of shrubs (salmon berry, devils club, thimble berry, huckleberry etc), ground covers (oregon grape, salal, kinickinick, winter berry, etc. This is what the area looked like pre logging. The process of natural succession is trying to move towards this mix of trees, shrubs, ground covers etc. It is only large scale disturbances (natural or human caused) that prevents most grassland areas from reverting back to this. The other things about climax forests is that the canopy is rarely as uniform as what your woodlot is probably like. I would guess is it was logged in the last 100 years and the trees that have grown up and are in primary or secondary succession. In a climax forest there are a lot more breaks in the canopy, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor and plant diversity will just explode.

It is this process of maximizing yield from all the different layers that a food forest tries to mimic. Super guilds on the other hand are more akin to a managed orchard. The natural process of succession is being interrupted in order to grow species that are more domesticated or in need of the clearings and sunlight found in the earlier stages of succession and a lot fruit and nut trees fall into this category. There is still more utilization of the different layers (ie understory, shrub, ground cover, root, vine) than your typical monocrop orchard, but without a canopy or emergent layer, it can't really be considered a food forest. If you don't intervene, nature will fill that void.

Rather than being attached to the words, just go with what feels right. If you want an super guild "orchard" do it. It wont be a food forest per se, but it doesn't have to be. It would just be your zone 2. If you want to have a food forest, you could start working on adding edible, medicinal, fiber etc plants into the understory of your woodlot. There are a lot of plants (and NW natives to boot) that are suited to the lower light levels you find there. Designing a food forest is about understanding succession and trying to mimic the existing forest but with more useful species, its really just filling all the niches. There is some interesting research being done that shows that our native Gary Oak ecosystem was highly managed....a version of a native food forest if you will. Gotta run, hope this helps. Good luck!
 
Jen Shrock
pollinator
Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Your goal should be doing what works best for you and your site and not worrying about making your site fit what someone else would want to see. If you are designing a system to gain approval from an outside person, are you really following your own vision? If your vision is well implemented, with passion and sensitivity to nature, you should be proud of it and able to adamently defend it to anyone that says otherwise. That is what is great about permaculture / food forests / guilds...they are not just cookie cutter gardens and total systems. They should be as individual as their caretaker that has poured their blood, sweat and tears into it. If you have a site that succeeds for your needs, in it's location and overcomes the inherent challenges posed to it, how could anyone talk that down. Besides, I don't remember coming across a rule that things have to be certain heights. Forest gardens are, from my understanding, simply about layers. As long as your layers support each other, the total system and do what you intended (for example, is it to be a windbreak), then I would say you have succeeded.
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 1926
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bike books food preservation forest garden fungi trees
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I live in the PNW and I have a food forest. There are some great ideas here. I think the approach that I like best is, "What is like a natural forest but will give me food that I like?".
I grow almost exclusively semi-dwarf trees that are about 10-15 feet tall on my suburban lot. You get the advantage of habitat for birds and spiders and vines, that can help you. You get a lot of production, and it is spread out over many types of food. Diversity is key: I have persimmons, paw paws, mulberries, figs, pineapple guava mixed in with regular fruit and semi-exotics like quince, medlar, dogwoods, and many other non-rose family plants like native honeysuckle, kiwis, grapes, currants, Oregon grape, blueberries, huckleberries, and forbs like leeks, salad burnet, curly mallow, plus flower bulbs and comfrey, etc. I don't have a lot of conifers but you don't need them. I have a korean pine and Arizona cypress. Try to combine what nature wants to give you and what you want to eat.
John S
PDX OR
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I would tend to agree with some of the previous posts in that you shouldn't worry too much about what it's called, just keep in mind what needs what and situate things appropriately with regards to sun/shade. In terms of growing plants/trees with longer-term yields, remember that trees such as the American Elm were often used in viticulture to support vines because it would grow straight and fast. Remember that their physical characteristics can be of use to other plant processes, and not just obstacles.

Also, I think it might be a good idea to break down the planning process into four dimensions. You obviously have a firm grasp on the first three, but unless you include time, you are blocking yourself from developing the Food Forest model that has as a benefit mature, nut-yielding trees. It's not as easy as planning the seasonal progress of, say, a garden plot, but similarities can be found. The approach I am taking in my planning is to consider the shade cast by the tallest trees I want to plant, and then forming a plan that is adapted over time to account for increasing shade. So in the first decade, your tall trees cast a shadow x number of feet long behind it (probably two values, one at equinox, the other at summer solstice, for ease of planning annual plantations at different parts of the season). So you know that in the places that are shaded by both values, the perennials you plant need to be shade-loving, as will the annuals, and you can count on part sun in the zone fully shaded only at solstice, and full sun outside those areas. From there, you can plan out a shade plan on a map of your space, and do different maps for each ten year slot. That will tell you where you can put plants that demand full sun, how far apart north-to-south to space young trees, and which to place where in relation to eachother. Personally, I am placing the trees that will be largest first so as to start with an established idea of my eventual sun limitations, and so to not overcrowd.

Remember also that there are different densities to forests, and that something more approaching savannah can be much more diverse, as there is much more edge. I think you should pick out what varieties of plant/tree life you want to fill out each stratum of your forest, start the plan with those ones that need the most sun, and of those, the longest-lived ones first, then fill in using a progressive shade map with shade-lovers in the darkest parts, and shade-tolerant perennials and annuals in the areas between full sun and full shade. I am looking at adapting alley cropping with hugelkultur in an east-west orientation, but with a wave to the alleys to produce sun scoops on the southward-facing concavities, and polyculture pasturage in the alleys between hugelbeets, which will form paddocks with closeable ends. Paddock-shift grazing (goats especially) will manage the pasture and keep forest vegetation from encroaching. As much as possible, I intend for all the species within this area to produce food either for humans or for the livestock. I am thinking of designating the northern and east/westernmost ends of the plan managed woodlot, where I'd gradually supplant what is/isn't there for what I want, acting in function primarily as a giant windbreak, also producing firewood and lumber, and also providing food sources for wild animals that would otherwise encroach elsewhere.

Well there I go again. I hope this tangent is useful to someone.

Cheers,
-CK
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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