Hi everyone. I'm excited to finally be planning a food forest in a property that I've had for awhile in Northern Haiti. I wanted to share my observations so far and ask other permies how they might begin to lay everything out. I think many of you more experienced permaculturists may find this to be a fun exercise, but it will also help me to brainstorm. This is the first property that I will be designing (at least as a whole), so I'll appreciate all of the help I can get.
This property is in a region that is fairly forested, especially in comparison to other parts of Haiti. My portion of property is just under an acre, but I have access to a few other acres nearby (for me and for family). I'll describe mine for now. Most of the land bears of gentle, north-facing slope. The land is a bit clearer (less vegetation) toward the south (uphill) and the west and it's covered with trees, undergrowth & tall grasses in the north, east & center. The northern part borders a dry ravine that is sometimes soggy in the rain season (never exactly "wet"). There is a medium sized spring-fed stream nearby (less than 100m) that I have direct access to via another property.
We get heavy rains in the spring and minor rains in the fall. Other than these seasons, rains are short and sporadic, if it rains at all. The area is (of course) tropical, but it is at a moderate altitude it is around 5-degrees C cooler than the hottest parts of Haiti. Average ambient temperature is around 28-30deg C, and much much cooler in the shade. I haven't experienced high winds in the area when I've visited except during one particular storm. The movement in the trees testifies of a gentle breeze throughout most of the day.
I have A LOT of clay, and it really holds water in the rain season. Sometimes I feel like I'll lose a boot walking through certain parts of it. Still, there's a good amount of organic matter because the land has been lying fallow for the past 5-10 years. The only use of the land for the past few years has been occasional grazing for a few goats and the occasional cow or donkey (not mine), and the majority of fruit and foliage from the trees on the property went straight to the soil.
On the property, there are over a dozen mango trees (2 types) at various stages of maturity, a handful of citrus (bitter & sweet oranges, pomelo), countless small guava trees (they grow like weeds here), and at least 1 (sadly dying) soursop tree. There are also about 8 large royal palms (mostly in the center) with several smaller ones shooting up, and I have several specimens of few species of leguminous hardwood trees. Beneath all of these trees is some heavy low/medium height undergrowth (ferns, etc). The goats seem to enjoy it, but I can't make much of it. Once upon a time there were some yam vines climbing the trees. Some of the less shaded areas have some very tall grasses. Some edges of the forests have a few pineapple plants.
ELEMENTS I'D LIKE TO PLAY WITH
I like ALL food. I really do. I'd rattle on with a list of foods that I'd like to grow here, but I couldn't do my "wish list" justice in one sitting. Feel free to be generous with suggestions. I also love to experiment and research. I've witnessed a little bit of everything grow in different parts of Haiti (including some cool weather crops like peaches/apples, etc.). The mountains are good for creating many alternate climates on one island. I look forward to experimenting with my little portion of it.
There you have it. If you had what I have... what would you do with it and how would you begin? Please also share some good resources that you know of for tropical food forests as well.
I can't recommend Geoff Lawton's videos highly enough, they are so inspiring. His DVD "Establishing a Food Forest" is definitely worth purchasing. He also has free videos at his website (you have to register) http://geofflawton.com/
Several videos on Youtube
Oh, I should add because what you say about the clay soil (which I have also), I would plant a lot of woody support plants, legumes preferably, for chop and drop mulch to build organic matter in the soil.
I'm asking because of those pesky goats. I love goats, but if you aren't in a position to limit the incursion of other people's goats, it greatly limits your options (and increases your cost and difficulty) for establishing new food trees.
Yeah. I had a fence once upon a time, but the barbed wire that I used corroded. Fencing will definitely be one of the first steps, but I hope to build a living fence one day. Hopefully one that goats can't eat through...
Tree tubes or fencing rings or whatever you can get to protect the trees.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
Nuts are definitely on the list for planting. In Haiti we have great cashews and a nice Haitian "almond" tree (Terminalia Catappa). I'll probably look into importing a few other favorites as well.
Pigeon peas (Cajanus Cajan) will likely be in the plan for the beginnings. Pigeon peas (or "Pwa Kongo" as we call them) are a fast growing legume that grows like a large shrub. The beans/peas can be stored for a fairly long time.
You ask how to begin. From your description it sounds like no or little infrastructure is in place yet. Because you have only seasonal rains I would start to look for a place to build a dam and / or pond or two. That would give you some options for irrigation in the dry seasons. Your soil is clay, so you should be able to properly seal ponds or build dams. Next I would look at how to fill these ponds, maybe road runoff is an option, or else from overflow from swales. After planning in the swales I would look at making easy access to all parts of the land you would like to use. Then based on the basic design and the state of the land and vegetation you can consider if bringing in animals might be a help in either shaping the land, controlling weeds, or fertilization. Then I would look at which plantings or trees would fit the design and where. Don't forget to look at proper zoning to make everything as efficient as possible.
I hope this is helpful, either to you or anyone struggling with their initial approach.
I do plan to build a pond or two. Like you said, the clay will help it to seal off pretty well. I didn't think to build it/them first since I have a natural water source (a spring-fed stream) about 100m away. Granted, that stream is further downhill, so it will require a bit of labor to get the water to where I need it... So maybe building a pond earlier on wouldn't be a bad idea. Thanks for the suggestion, Rene.
I just found these nifty graphs that give info on rain and temperature in my region. If anyone else would like to give their input, these graphs should give you a better idea of what I'm working with in terms of climate. I got this info at http://en.climate-data.org. Thanks again for the suggestions so far.
It sounds like you already have quite a bit of food growing! Maybe start by deciding what you have already that has value and how you can shape it towards the future, selecting things to keep from what's already there. Start by marking the things that you want to keep with flagging and chopping and dropping everything else. Here in Georgia I've had a similar experience finding wild persimmons, muscadines, blackberries, etc. The majority of my property is covered in pine, probably last cleared in the mid 90's. Other tree species are just starting to take hold with little stands of hardwoods (Oak, Maple etc) just taking hold. Recently I marked all of the little Oak trees I could find and the persimmons are fairly easy for me to identify by their bark at this point... Now that I've got the majority of the little Oaks and Persimmons marked and identified I've started dropping everything else that's not a well established tree. This way I'm selecting for fruit and nut trees that are native and already growing. When I find areas that don't seem to already have either persimmons or oaks I've introduced another native species to start their own little stand... Apples, paw paws, etc.
So in your case I'd mark all of the mango, citrus, guava, palms etc and drop everything else to build the soil for what's already there. Once you've dropped everything what's left will look like a pop up book and you'll see the "empty" spaces where you can put ponds, structures, etc.
...and pile mulch under that soursop and give it a big hug every morning, maybe it just needs some love.