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Dreaming of a food forest in the suburbs...

 
Bibi Estlund
Posts: 5
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Hello! I'm so excited to be writing my first post. I have been stalking the forum for a couple of months now, but decided I really must join in and "meet" you wonderful people. I am a complete newbie to permaculture. I learned about it a few months ago as I was searching online for ways to replace my lawn with something that doesn't need to be mowed (still open to suggestions on that one.

Anyway, my name is Bibi and I'm a wife, homemaker, and mother of 4 young children two girls (7 and 4) and twin 7 month old boys. We live in an inner ring suburb in the midwest (zone 5). Our lot is just under a quarter of an acre. My husband and I aren't your typical lawn care loving suburbanites....but I have a true love of gardening. So we have a cute herb garden, and a small vegetable garden, and grow a few strawberries here and there....but our lawn is usually pretty long...and never edged...and there are weeds and shrubs growing along the edge of our fence. I would absolutely love to increase the amount of food that we are growing and decrease the amount of lawn that we are mowing. I was thinking of starting on the south west corner of the property. This is a small band (approximately 8 feet wide) that stretches from the road, all along the driveway to the side of the house. It also butts up next to our neighbor's lawn.

I will mention here that that neighbor sprays chemicals to kill weeds along that stretch of her lawn, so I'm a little worried about growing food there (which is a real bummer because I would love to grow a peach tree on that site and make a guild there). How far away from herbicides do I need to be before planting edibles? In the far back corner I am in the process of sheet mulching. I put down cardboard and am stacking up organic matter every time I get some. I'm thinking of planting some bulbs there to compete with the bermuda grass that is back there. I already have a butterfly bush, some stepping stone thyme, creeping jenny, and comfrey back there. The grass is really difficult to battle though.

I'm very interested in hearing suggestions for planting along the edge of a lawn that is voracious and chemically treated. Also, about how other people got started with a forest garden on a similar sized piece of property. Looking forward to getting to know the people who make up the permie community!!
Peace and love,
Bibi
 
R Scott
Posts: 3304
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Here is what we did at an old house (thank you google streetview for once). It is a flat paver stone with 2 rows of bricks on top. The flat stone leaves a curb for the mower so you don't have to edge. The 2 brick high raised bed held the guild. The one near the chemical loving neighbor had groundcover on his side, the others had more food (or bee-friendly flowers). All of them organically shaped curves. You could take an actual weedpatch and put those bricks around it and call it a native wildflower biome, with just a little planning they looked simply amazing--made professional landscape designers stop and take pictures and ask who did the work amazing.

You could easily train any number of fruit trees to a hedge along the property line. Keep them trimmed low so you don't have to worry about branches going into houses or too much fruit falling into their yard..
brick edge.jpg
[Thumbnail for brick edge.jpg]
Brick edging
 
John Polk
steward
Pie
Posts: 7760
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Welcome to permies Bibi.

Don't give up hope for planting that peach tree where your neighbor sprays.
If it is a common space between the properties, mention to her that you would love to put a fruit tree there, but are worried about the spray contaminating the fruit. Explain that some of the fruit will be on her side. Ask her if she would be comfortable eating her share of the fruit if it had toxic spray on it. Once she realizes that she will be getting free fruit, she may decide to quit spraying in that vicinity.

One plant that I like to recommend when people want to maintain a 'landscaped' look to a front yard is asparagus. It is a fern like plant (people pay good money for an inedible 'asparagus fern' that looks just like it). It is an attractive, ornamental looking plant that after a couple of years will begin giving you wonderful asparagus each spring. It is often the first edible crop of the year.

 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 643
Location: cool climate
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Next time she sprays tell her to be careful as the stuff is very toxic and tell her some stories. Maybe she will get afraid of the spray. Anyway you are not lying and
it is really better for her not to spray.
I don't know how long the sprays stay in the soil.
 
Zach Muller
gardener
Posts: 772
Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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bike books chicken dog forest garden urban
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Hey bibi, welcome to the forum. I am in an urban/suburban area and have a very similar scenario with my neighbor. We share a chainlink fence and he uses a lawn service and tru green chemical service.

For me it works slightly easier since that stuff is sprayed to the North of me and runs downhill to the north away from my yard. But considering they spray no matter the windspeed I am taking as many different precautions I can. I decided to let the fence get covered with vines to absorb any airborn pesticide. Along the fence I also planted some pine trees, and crape myrtles to be privacy screen/windbreak in the future. The vine coverage seemed to attract the chickens to peck along the fence so I had to block that off. Another thing I have done is dig a shallow trench under the fence line all the way downslope to where the water goes out to the sidewalk. With this in place it is nearly impossible for water to flow from his yard into mine, as soon as it hits the trench it follows the fenceline and exits.

That being said its obvious I have no edibles anywhere near his lawn, but I don't need edibles there at the moment. I have so many better places I can use that are more safe.
My land is very sloped so it made more sense for me to have my forest gardening going on at the top of the hill, where runoff first enters the landscape and goes into swales. The area started as bermuda and I found the best way to go was light tilling and manual removal with a fork and hands. Now I have a majority of the garden grass free. My entire forest garden is a side effect of slowing down and capturing the water that used to run through and cut the land. I started it with one swale/berm and steadily expanded adding more down slope.

Good luck on your plantings.
 
Bibi Estlund
Posts: 5
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Thanks for the wonderful responses and warm welcome. I garden every evening after dinner, and am already using some of your suggestions. I worked on some edgings in the back yard this evening. I'm using a plant that already grows wild back there to edge around the little garden that attracts beneficial insects that I started by the vegetable garden. There is a beautiful low growing weed that seems to take over the grass and grow in clumps. I love it, and if I just add a border around it, it could look like I carefully landscaped it, and it can just fill in between the plants that I planted (hopefully it won't crowd those out...but I think with some TLC it should be fine). As for the problem area, near my spraying neighbor, I'm still not sure what to do. I'm on great terms with this neighbor as she lives next door to me, and she is almost 90 years old. She loves to watch my children play in the back yard, and I help her when the weather is bad, or when the newspaper company throws her paper in the middle of the yard where she can't get to it with her walker. However, her memory is gone, and so is most of her hearing. She keeps asking me how my baby is, and I tell her that we had twin boys. It's a new surprise every time I tell her. She has a man come and do her yard work for her. He seems to spray the gravel driveway only (which is the edge of our property line). So, I don't think that asking her to stop spraying would do much good...even if she were to agree, I don't think she would remember. She's a truly delightful woman...I'm just not a fan of the spraying. I love the idea of growing asparagus John. And Zach, I also feel good about the fact that I have a downward slope toward this neighbor's property. R Scott, thanks for the picture. It was very inspiring, and it helped inspire my bed expansion and the use of the plants that were already growing near the beneficial insect garden.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Maybe you can offer to do her driveway landscaping or pay a someone to do her landscaping who will not use the herbicide. I would focus on the rest of your property and share some of your produce with her. Then ask her if it is ok for little "tammy" or "bob" to grow some tomatoes/mint/watermelons for her. Then turn her yard in herbicide free yard.
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 643
Location: cool climate
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Simply ask the guy who's doing the spraying. Otherwise I would focus on the rest of the garden.
 
Matt Faulkner
Posts: 3
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Hi Bibi! I am also in Zone 5 (Central Indiana) and have a similar property. I was introduced to Permaculture, Food Forests and Edible Landscaping earlier this year and fell in love. I love to garden, especially vegetables, and my two girls (age 2 and 4) love helping and eating the vegetables right out of the garden. While I don't plan to do anything in the front yard (to keep up the typical suburban appearance from the street) except plant some blueberries on the south side of our foundation and some edible greens in the front (mostly spinach since our house faces east and this spot is shaded by the Bradford Pear in our front yard). However, I am currently in the process of turning my backyard into my own private oasis of edible landscaping/food forest. We have a back patio and a good sized oak in the back yard. I planted three fruit trees in late May and will be planting five more this fall. I also plan to plant some perennial vegetables and other guild-member plants next Spring. I've never done much with flowers or herbs, but I built an herb spiral for my wife this summer and we plant to introduce many different types of herbs and flowers next Spring all over the property to introduce beneficial insects and attract other wildlife. We still have some lawn in our backyard for the swingset and some room for the dog, but hopefully my vision will allow my family to enjoy homegrown, organic produce and learn more in the process. I know it will be a few years before anything materializes, but I've already been amazed at how well the fruit trees are growing and they've only been in the ground for two months! I will likely mulch next Spring after planting everything, but I do plan to till up the yard and spread generous amounts of compost this fall. I want to balance the aesthetics of the yard with the time it will take to maintain, so I doubt I will do a full blown forest garden. I will be pruning the trees to keep them at an easily harvestable size (probably no more than 10 feet tall), plus I don't have a whole lot of room, so they will need to be controlled. I will try to take some pictures and upload them for everyone to see, but any advice/help the forum can offer would be appreciated.
 
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