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New to permaculture, but a little confused.

 
Roman Campbell
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Location: Blanchard, LA...zone 8b
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Hey everyone,

I found this website looking for other building alternatives to spending a fortune in home depot and I found it using cob, which is working great by the way. Anyway, I've never heard of permaculture before or what a forest garden was until this website. I understand the concept, I guess. Everything grows with each other in harmony so to speak. But I'm finding myself overwhemled on where to start. I can see myself attempting this in the spring and just randomly planting different vegetables everywhere which I know is not how it works. And my other problem is, I guess I'm a little picky when it comes to eating vegetables which I need to change that. Me and my wife plan on planting corn, lettuce, potatoes, onions, peas, tomatoes, different berry bushes. I just dont understand how I can incorporate all that into a forest garden, or maybe I just dont fully understand the concept.

A little bit about myself..me and my wife have been married 4 years, she's a nurse, I'm a coal miner. I know a lot of people here probably hate coal miners but I love my job and it's by far the cheapest way to produce electricity and we follow very strict reclamation guidelines. I started trying to be self reliant because I started thinking, our ancestors did this a long time ago and it was second nature. Now we are all "modern" and some of the most basic chores we used to do now seem impossible to do. I could go on and on about how dumb humans have become but my goal is self reliance. I don't want to have to spend money on things I should know how to do. Watching a couple episodes of Food, Inc will scare you into getting setup in overdrive. Anyway I welcome any help and suggestions.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Welcome to permies Roman, glad you like us enough to join in the fun.

Just growing vegetables it isn't really necessary to use the food forest concept. Let me try to give a bit of an overview of what a food forest is.

A food forest has 1) an over story or canopy, these are tall, large trees. Avocado would be a tree you might find here.
2) there is under the canopy what is called an understory, these are shorter (smaller) trees, usually fruit trees.
3) tall bushes come next, this is where you would find most of the berries, blue berry, Saskatoon (service berry), blackberry, raspberry, and maybe your tall growing vegetables like corn.
4) now we are in the ground level plants where most vegetables grow best.
The idea of a food forest is that each layer provides things the layer under it needs to thrive, these plants also help the taller, shade producing trees by giving the soil things they need. It is a replication of what you would perhaps find in a natural forest.

If you prefer to grow mostly vegetables, then there is also a model for this, which is called companion planting or to my people "the three sisters method".
Corn grows tall and can be the support for beans, peas, cucumbers, etc., since corn is a heavy feeder, the nitrogen fixers help the corn grow big and strong.
Get the corn growing and then plant the other seeds around the corn plants. Squashes also grow well when planted around that first grouping.
Peppers, okra, egg plants like to grow fairly tall and they will do well when planted intermixed and close together.
Now for one of the secrets of the first people's gardens. Save your urine in a jug and every two days dilute it with water and use this to water your garden, you will be amazed at the growth rate.
also put all your kitchen scraps, including bones into the garden space all year long, this adds lots of nutrients, also put all your grass clippings and other cut greenery into the garden.
When your crops are growing just lay them around the plants as a mulch, once the garden is finished, cover all the soil with these things. Over time your soil will keep on improving and becoming more and more fertile.

Read the threads here, there are many tips and tricks being shared every day.
If you can't find the answers to some of your questions then start a thread. You will get people offering help.

Be sure to go to the My Profile page and add where you live, what USDA Zone you live in and any other information (amount of rain fall, average temps for times of year, etc.) that will help people give you their best advice for your conditions.
 
Todd Parr
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Maybe think about this: Start a couple of guilds with fruit or nut trees in the center to start your food forest. Pick another area to start a garden for your annual veggies. I like the back to eden gardening method, but there are many ways to garden. As you read and experiment, you will probably start incorporating more perennial vegetables into the mix and you may start mixing some annuals into your food forest areas. At least that is how it worked for me. You can always add more "regular" gardens or convert more to food forests when you find out what you like and what works best for you. Consider a few chickens if you are interested in livestock. Also, please take Bryant's advice and fill in your state, growing zone, etc. It helps greatly if you need advice on something. And welcome
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's an overview of the food forest process:


or it would be if it let me link to it.

 
Nicole Alderman
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Here's an overview of the food forest process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2bvTeMUuO0

or it would be if it let me link to it. :(


I tried disabling smilies. Let's see if that works...

Edit:

It does:


It turned the O0 into the afro smiley. You can disable smilies when writing a message. The option is below your text, under the "options" tab. I hope that helps!
 
Sam Singleton
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Make sure to add perennial nitrogen fixers as you start. Good luck.
 
Rick English
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Hi Roman & Welcome!

The simple answer to your question, is it depends. As Bryant RedHawk suggested, please post some details on where you are located. That affects the answer pretty significantly.

If you are new to gardening, most people suggest you start with Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It isn't permaculture, but it teaches you food growing fundamentals that directly apply to permaculture.

I am still "new" to permaculture, and I have been listening to podcasts and reading this site for years now. My knowledge pales in comparison to many/most of the folks on this site, but I don't think you need to know too much to get started. There are so many people in this community, that maybe you can find someone nearby to mentor you a bit, or show you the stuff that is working for them.

Even if you don't find a local mentor, I would suggest just start trying things, and read, read, read. A big part of permaculture is observation, so taking a hard look at what is already growing happily in your land gives you clues as to what else will grow happily there. If you are not sure what something is, take pictures and post them here and ask the friendly permies community for help. You will get a bunch of suggestions and ideas and experience.

Permaculture is a HUGE topic, and there is no one place to start exactly. Food forests are one starting point, but it helps to understand seeming unrelated topics to understand food forests better. I don't think we have a thread that is "New to permaculture? Start Here," but wish there was something like that.

There are many many many people here that sound completely crazy to folks just getting started, but believe or not, those people are often the experts A few years ago, using urine in my gardening would have seemed crazy to me, but now it seems obvious.

Hope that helps!
 
Sam Singleton
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This could be a good start. For $2.99 you can read David Goodmans book on kindle as a digital download, "How to grow you own food forest". He cuts through a lot of information and makes it extemely easy for anyone to start a food forest. You can also go to www.thesurvivalgardener.com , again lots of useful information.
 
Roman Campbell
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Man, y'all sure are helpful, I updated my profile, I live in NW Louisiana in zone 8b. Me and my wife's goal right now is to gradually get to where we don't buy anything from grocery stores except maybe flour and stuff like that. So far only thing we don't buy are eggs since we do have, or rather DID have since we moved our chickens down to my in laws while I rebuild a bigger better cob style chicken coop. I accidentally felled a pine tree on top of the old one so I could mill it. But anyway, would y'all say that it is very doable to be able in the near future to get to where we don't buy food from the grocery? Still working on ideas for keat. I only own 4 acres so I don't think cows would be doable. Thinking more of boer goats, not sure.
 
Casie Becker
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I'm just going to add another voice in support of observation. Know what you have before you start changing things. I'm starting my third year in this house, from looking at my neighbors yards and even the local parks I know pecans, figs, pomegranates, persimmons, and pears all grow well here without any care. There are several public gardens in my area where I've been able to see how plants grow in my climate. Often they had plants that I hadn't heard of that I decide to incorporate in future garden plans. As an example from this fall, going on a garden tour helped me identify why my amaranth wasn't thriving, and how to do better next year.

Learn to identify your native plants. Often you'll find you already have a lot of useful or edible plants growing without any effort from you. As as example, I grown a winter cover crop right over the grass in my suburban front yard. It builds organic matter, fixes nitrogen, and attracts a whole host of beneficial insects for both pollinating and pest control right at the beginning of the growing season and the only labor it requires of me is mowing the plants down in early summer. Even the neighbors don't object as I wait for it to go to seed. In this case, observing the culture is almost as important as knowing the agriculture. Texans love our bluebonnets.

You might also find you don't want to grow something that sounded good in theory. I love the idea of growing a Honey Mesquite. It's a native here, with all the advantages of bluebonnets including fixing nitrogen, plus has edible beans, and has an open canopy which allows enough light for even vegetables to grow underneath. Unfortunately it also has 1 to 2 inch long thorns that will stab right through thick soled shoes. Observation has forewarned me that these trees litter their surroundings with these natural caltrops . Unless I find a thornless cultivar, observation rules this out for planting in a suburban yard that is frequently used as a playground for my children and their friends.

Sorry, I'm a little longwinded today

Casie
 
Sam Singleton
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Casie made a great point, see what is already growing in your climate and start there. 4 acres is a lot. I know a guy that feeds his whole family from 1 acre. There are 9 of them in the family. They go to the grocery store very little. Primarily for meats. Stick with it, it's a lot of fun and very rewarding ride.
 
Peter Ellis
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Permaculture is an amazing change in the way you see the whole world, once you get into it even just a little It is both incredibly complex and amazingly simple, at the same time. It is, on one hand, a way of integrating everything and that is just overwhelming if you try to see it all at once. So we need to look at smaller pieces

On the food forest concept, you need to recognize that a food forest is a long term project, with a large investment in effort at the front end and a long, long payoff. But a food forest does not get you and your wife fed by itself and not for a few years.

I would spend some time thinking through what I wanted in a food forest, what my property would support in a food forest, what my climate supports in a food forest. There is lots to think about, water, light, soil fertility, plant compatibility. Lots of research to do to get a good handle on what you want to try.

While you are planning for a food forest, you can also get started with an annual garden, something that can produce in much less time and something that will probably produce more of the things you are familiar with eating.

I've been reading Dave Jacke's Edible Forest Gardens lately (two volumes, tremendously in-depth, lists of plants). I can recommend it strongly, but it is deep and the two volume set is expensive. Probably not a good introductory text

I've been giving a lot of thought to the design of a forest garden and the process by which I will go about building it. One of the fundamental concepts in forest garden design is the idea of succession, the way that an ecosystem grows and develops over time, with new species taking over from others over time, with taller trees growing to shade larger and larger areas and changing what will grow best beneath them. Annual vegetables are almost all early succession plants that need full sun.

So one of my thoughts is to start my forest garden by planting a few of the long term overstory trees, things like pecans, walnuts, hickories and accompanying them with annuals, especially legumes to help with soil health. So, an area chosen for the long term food forest, with large nut trees, begins with location, and then planting the nut trees and peas and beans to help them get a good start. Plant root crops away from where you have started your new trees, so you don't mess up their roots when you harvest the potatoes, beets, etc.

Working the succession, building up the soil, getting a yield along the way, planning for the long term while providing for the short term, it all comes together.

On the livestock front, chickens, ducks, rabbits all make for pretty low cost, easy care introductions into raising your own food animals, plus they have great synergies for your garden, reducing pest problems, eating weeds, making great fertilizer. Goats are a higher level thing with much more difficult fencing requirements and a whole different level of slaughter and butchering. And if the goats are for dairy, then Boer are not a good choice as they are bred for meat production. You might want to do some research into mob and rotational grazing for ideas on how to integrate your livestock and your gardening.

Welcome to the journey
 
Roman Campbell
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OK well I did a little research on the "three sisters" method and I think I'm gonna go with that method and just slowly incorporate some fruit trees and pernnials. My next question is, how do y'all prepare your soil? Do you till the ground or use winter cover crops which from what I understand, till the ground and fertilize it. Whatcha think?
 
Roman Campbell
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I was also wondering if it was too late to plant a few cover crops now that it's December, been in the 70s here though, so just wonde.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm in Zone 8b and I'm currently growing Fava Beans, Turnips, Carrots, Parsley, Holland Greens, Arugula, Lettuce, Chard, Beets, Cilantro, Radish, Kale, Collards. Fava Beans are a good cover crop because they grow large, producing a lot of organic material, plus delicious beans.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Roman Campbell wrote:OK well I did a little research on the "three sisters" method and I think I'm gonna go with that method and just slowly incorporate some fruit trees and pernnials. My next question is, how do y'all prepare your soil? Do you till the ground or use winter cover crops which from what I understand, till the ground and fertilize it. Whatcha think?


The only time we disturb our soil is when the bed is going to be used for root vegetables like carrots or beets.
I'd put in some cover crops for the winter, chop and drop them in the early spring then plant through the mulch from the chop and drop.
Don't forget that the three sisters method works for lots of different vegetables and you don't really need to only use three.
The method is more about using the intensive planting style by putting in plants that will complement each other rather than compete with each other for the available resources.
 
Sam Singleton
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Right now is the best time to add your trees(canopy and subcanopy) that have went into dormancy.
 
Roman Campbell
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Yea I need a little advice on what I should do now. I got cracking on making my "forest garden". I was just gonna get 2 hugleculture beds built and incorporate swales in front of the beds. Well I cranked up my tractor and got to work clearing my area I had for a traditional garden. This was a terrible idea cause here in Louisiana it rains all the time in winter and as soon as I got to work I had rutted up everything like an idiot cause the ground is saturated. Now I have foot deep ruts and made a mess of everything. Are finding exact contours essential or can I kinda make the approximate? Everything here is pretty much on slope so I was thinking I could build my swales so they make a slight horeshoe shape up hill. Finding the contours is just gonna be about impossible with all the ruts I created. I'm probably just gonna have to build everything with a shovel since everything is mud. Sorry if this post doesn't make sense. Just pretty mad right now cause I was excited about working my tractor and getting everything setup but in the end I just destroyed everything.
 
Roman Campbell
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Are you supposed dig up the topsoil where your going to place your wood? I was just thinking I could strip the topsoil so I could have something to run on and place my wood down then respread the topsoil.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Roman Campbell wrote:Are you supposed dig up the topsoil where your going to place your wood? I was just thinking I could strip the topsoil so I could have something to run on and place my wood down then respread the topsoil.


You can do it both ways. Some people dig down a couple feet, fill in with wood, and then add more wood to build the mound up, and then put the sod down grass-facing down, and then put the soil on top. By digging down and putting wood in the hole, you get even more moisture because that underground wood soaks up the moisture when the ground is saturated.

You can also just pile the wood on top of the ground, and then add soil from elsewhere on top of the wood. Be warned, though, it takes a lot of soil to cover a mound thoroughly!

Just pretty mad right now cause I was excited about working my tractor and getting everything setup but in the end I just destroyed everything.


You didn't destroy everything, you learned through experimentation. You learned about soil saturation and how hard it is to dig in the soil. You gained better understanding of contour, etc, etc.

As for swales being level, it is important, because the lowest point is where the water will pool &/or spill over. You want it to accumulate evenly. I haven't done swales here myself--because it's so moist--so hopefully someone else will chime in, but there are cheap levels you can make and use to see if the swale is level. Another thing you can do is go out there after a big rain and see where the water is pooling up and where it's overflowing, and fix it by hand. But, if you've got a big swale, that may not be very time efficient!

This page seems to have a good explaination of how to dig a swale on contour: http://permaculturenews.org/2015/07/24/how-to-build-a-swale-on-contour-successfully/
 
Casie Becker
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If you're asking whether you're supposed to remove the top soil when making hugelbeds, the answer is yes. You pack other organic matter and soil around the logs as you bury them again. Then top the bed with a layer of soil.

Also possible good news, there was a thread here recently discussing the reasons why hugelbeds should not be treated as swales. If you're building hugelbeds base the orientation on the sun exposure, not the land contours. But I'm just starting my experimenting with swales. Give it a little time and someone with more experience will probably give a more detailed answer.

Casie
 
Roman Campbell
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Oh well that's good news, how would I search for the thread that talks about hugleculture not being used as swales?
 
Roman Campbell
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I've also been looking at a lot of threads on forest gardens. I've especially looked at ones dealing with corn. It seems like some people view corn as almost evil, or annual veggies in general. What's the deal with that or am I just way off base. Just didn't know how you'd have a food forest without veggies. What's generally planted in a food forest?
 
Nicole Alderman
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Roman Campbell wrote:Oh well that's good news, how would I search for the thread that talks about hugleculture not being used as swales?


The search link is at the top left of your screen. You can click on it and then search all or just one of our forums. I cannot find the most recent one I read that talked about erosion and hugels on swales, but here's one that may help you: http://www.permies.com/t/42517/hugelkultur/Hugels-Swales.

I've also been looking at a lot of threads on forest gardens. I've especially looked at ones dealing with corn. It seems like some people view corn as almost evil, or annual veggies in general. What's the deal with that or am I just way off base. Just didn't know how you'd have a food forest without veggies. What's generally planted in a food forest?


A forest garden revolves around trees, and certain plants will do well around trees, and help those trees. Other plants are not such good fits. This does not necessarily mean those are bad plants!

In permaculture, we often talk about "guilds." A guild is a group of plants that are planted to support each other. You can have guilds based around trees, or based upon other plants. A guild around a fruit tree is usually called a "forest garden." So, if you have an apple tree's guild, you might want some plants to bring pollinators, like borage (also has edible flowers). Another plant to crowd out grass, like strawberries or nasturtiums. You might want to plant some "nutrient accumulators," with deep taproots, like dandelion, comfrey (medicinal), or rhubarb. You might also want a something to put nitrogen in the soil, like peas or beans, or sea buckthorn (edible berries). You might also want plants that ward off insects and animals you don't want, like garlic. Another thing people try to do when making food forests is to grow plants of varying heights, to make the most of the vertical space. So, there's big trees (often nuts), smaller trees (fruit trees), shrubs (like berries), root plants (the comfery, or garlic), ground cover plants (like strawberry), and vining plants (beans, grapes).

We often prefer perennials because they are a whole lot easier. There's no seed saving, no tilling the ground, you only have to plant them once, they're more resistant to fluctuations, and they hold carbon in the soil. So, we often plant things that are perennials in our food forests. Also, annuals tend to be nutrient hogs. The corn, for instance, might take the nitrogen or other nutrients that the tree needs.

BUT, that doesn't mean corn does not have a place in permaculture! Many people like to plant a "Three Sisters" guild, which comprises of corn, beans to grow up the corn and add nitrogen to the soil, and squash to fill in the ground layer and crowd out weeds. This is a great source of food! It's more work than a food forest, and isn't as "permanent" as perennials (that "perma" is in permaculture for a reason), but they are still fantastic plants. If you want to see some excellent permaculture with corn, look into any posts by Joeseph Lofthouse. Here's a thread about corn, and he shows off some of his awesomeness: http://www.permies.com/t/52603/plants/Top-people-talk-growing-corn. He breeds his own corn, and is even working on making a viable perennial corn!

I hope that helps!
 
Roman Campbell
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OK I think I'm getting a little better understanding of permaculture. Right now I think my plan is to separate my veggie garden from the actual food forest. Gonna be putting the food forest in the front and veggies in the back. I already have quite a few oak trees but was thinking of centering everything around 2 pecan trees followed by Apple trees etc. And what about spacing? I know in most gardens they say to space your veggies. Do you space trees or veggies in a forest garden? Most trees you plant recommend like 10ft between trees, that's an awful lot of wasted space. For the veggie garden I'm currently constructing a hugel kulture bed 5ft x 10-20ft. Might make 2 of these. We love corn, peas, and potatoes so well definitely be making guilds of these. This might be a stupid question but do many people grow corn on hugleculture beds? Thanks for all the info, trying to soak up as much as I can. I'm trying my best not to sound stupid but this is my first experience actually gardening.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Roman Campbell wrote:OK I think I'm getting a little better understanding of permaculture. Right now I think my plan is to separate my veggie garden from the actual food forest. Gonna be putting the food forest in the front and veggies in the back.


By front, do you mean the south (sun-facing side)? If so, you'll have your veggies shaded by the trees, and they usually need more light than that. You do live in a sunnier place than me, and some really HOT places plant their annuals/veggies in the shade, but I don't know if that applies to LA. Hopefully someone who knows your climate better can answer that. Generally, the tallest plants go to the back (north) side of the garden, and the shorter, sun-loving plants go on the south side.


I already have quite a few oak trees but was thinking of centering everything around 2 pecan trees followed by Apple trees etc. And what about spacing? I know in most gardens they say to space your veggies. Do you space trees or veggies in a forest garden? Most trees you plant recommend like 10ft between trees, that's an awful lot of wasted space. For the veggie garden I'm currently constructing a hugel kulture bed 5ft x 10-20ft. Might make 2 of these. We love corn, peas, and potatoes so well definitely be making guilds of these. This might be a stupid question but do many people grow corn on hugleculture beds?


The spacing of your trees really depends on the size of your property, the size of your trees, and how intensive you want to be. The closer the trees are, the more they will compete for nutrients and the more they will be susceptible to disease, and the more you'll have to prune them. If you space them further apart, you have less of those problems. Small (dwarf or semi-dwarf) trees need less space between them, because they don't get as big. You pretty much want to plant them so that their adult-sized branches (and drip-line/roots) don't touch. BUT, that space between them does not need to be wasted! That's where you plant the "companion" plants in your guild that I wrote about in my last post: the nitrogen-fixers (like peas), pollinator-attractors (like borage), the nutrient accumulators (like dandelion), the ground cover (like strawberries), and plants that ward off pests (like garlic). These can all be edible foods! That way, that space around the tree is not wasted (which is what it usually is in an orchard), but put to yummy-use!

Here's a typical fruit tree "guild":


Here's one that shows a large tree (like your pecan or oaks) surrounded by the fruit trees and fruit bushes.


Since you've already got oaks there, you can plant around them, too. The more sun/heat-loving shurbs and ground covers go on the west & south sides, and the more shade-loving/tolerant go on the other side. I like to grow peas and beans on the north & east sides of my fruit trees, growing up their protective fences or on little bamboo teepees that I make. I grow veggies on the south side, as well as strawberries. My nasturtiums are also taking over, and garlic wherever the strawberries are not (since they supposedly do not get along). I let dandilions grow wherever they want to, as well as other weeds that have deep taproots.

And, you can also supposedly put a hugel between the fruit trees, too. Other's have done so here on permies, and I'm trying it out this year, too. Here's a rough mock-up of my hugel between my fruit trees.


You can read other people's advice on building it here: http://www.permies.com/t/50364/forest-garden/Raised-Garden-Bed-Hugel-Fruit

As for corn on a hugel, I don't know! It seems like it would be hard to harvest off of if you had a tall hugel. But, if you just dug and buried wood and then covered it with the soil, so it was mostly level with the rest of your ground, it should work well for corn. I honestly don't know, though! Doing a quick search shows that some people have done it. Bryant Redhawk talks about it here: http://www.permies.com/t/48058/hugelkultur/gelkultur-famous
Bryant RedHawk wrote:
The growing mound can also have multiple layers of plants that complement each other, all growing in a "three sisters" style. You can plant melons or squash on the top, corn at the bottom and just about anything else in between the top and bottom. It is efficient when done right. awkward when done wrong.


Thanks for all the info, trying to soak up as much as I can. I'm trying my best not to sound stupid but this is my first experience actually gardening.


We've all been there at one point or another, and as you can tell, I'm still learning, too! Permaculture wasn't my first attempt at gardening, but it was close to it, and I remember how confusing everything was when I was trying to process so much information at once!
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I would highly recommend that you go here: http://www.backtoedenfilm.com/ and watch the film. There are constant religious references which I find a little off-putting, but it is still the best gardening video I have ever seen and it completely changed (for the better) the way I garden. It isn't a "permaculture" video, but it is extremely valuable and will help tremendously at the stage you are at now.
 
Roman Campbell
Posts: 52
Location: Blanchard, LA...zone 8b
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What I mean by veggies in the back and food forest in the front is I'm putting my hugleculture garden seperate from the forest. My veggies will go behind my house to the north, which gets the most sun and the forest in the front which is to the north. My 4 acres is predominantly a forest so everything is pretty much shaded except behind my house. The 2 acres on the east side of my property is heavily overgrown with trees and other "trash" trees as I call them. My dream is to clear all of that and develope a 2 acre food forest which I think would look great. But I also want to keep meat goats or sheep so not sure how ill accomplish that since they need pasture, plus my wife doesn't want to get rid of any trees so its hard to paint a picture for her of what's in my mind.
 
Nicole Alderman
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duck forest garden hugelkultur
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Ah! That makes sense! Having the garden behind the house where there's the most sun should work well for you, especially if it's easily accessible. It's always nice to have the garden close to home.

What are the "junk" trees? Some trees that seem like junk often have uses that--while not as awesome as fruit/nut trees--can be still be useful and beneficial.

As for the sheep and goats needing pasture, goats--especially--far prefer bramble and other weeds, rather than grass. There are also breeds of sheep that are more "goat-like" and eat more weeds. Depending on how thick the plant life is under those trees, there might be enough forage, especially if you plant more edibles for them. The shade of those trees, and the coolness that shade brings to the surrounding areas also probably helps temperatures more moderate in your own little microclimate.

You could always try removing one or two trees a year, and planting another in its place (and using the wood for hugel ). That way your wife keeps her forest, and you all get more food! As she sees it slowly transformed, she may be more open to the idea. Try to get her involved in the tree choices, too. What are her favorite fruits and nuts? It might be worth investing in older fruit trees that will begin to bear fruit a year or two after planting, so she gets to taste the benefits, and also the forested look isn't changed too drastically.

I would highly recommend that you go here: http://www.backtoedenfilm.com/ and watch the film. There are constant religious references which I find a little off-putting, but it is still the best gardening video I have ever seen and it completely changed (for the better) the way I garden. It isn't a "permaculture" video, but it is extremely valuable and will help tremendously at the stage you are at now.

I also really enjoyed that film, too, and learned a lot from it. It's also free!

Another free, useful resource is Jack Spirkos permaculture videos, if you haven't seen them already. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEA7BA330871366B8 He gives a really great introduction into what permaculture is, and what a lot of the terms are that we throw around here.
 
Wendy Fisher
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Location: Livermore, CA
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Hey Roman, how's this project going for you? I started a food forest about four years ago, and I also found it really overwhelming. I live in zone 9 in California. I started with a patch of ground ten feet deep by twenty feet wide, planted a couple of fruit trees, and went from there. What I've found is that my best laid plans didn't shape up, but the stuff that succeeded was more than satisfying enough. At this point, I mostly garden by sticking seeds in the ground, calling them "experiments" and then walking away.

I plant annuals in among my perennials freely; as the perennials are growing up, I have less and less space for the annuals, but I'm cool with that.

Don't get caught up in rules or systems; do what works well for you and your space. What I've found is that I get the best results when I work less and observe more.

If you're looking for a garden that will produce enough food to feed you and your wife, I suggest planting plenty of "staples" -- calorie rich vegetables such as tubers and squashes. With your four acres, I'm sure you've got tons of little micro-climates to check out, and with observation, each nook and cranny might offer you an option for a different kind of edible plant. A shady, moist area might be nice for mushrooms, and a sunny spot might be lovely for a tomato.

You might also enjoy making structures so that you can grow your food "up," in trellises, poles, arbors, and hanging pots; increasing the density of food plants per square foot both vertically as well as horizontally might help you maximize your food production.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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A 'food forest' is really a food savanna/food pairre. You don't have dark forest flood like at the state forest. Instead you have partial sun or full sun everywhere. So think 20ft of tree/fruit, 5ft berry and 10ft vegetables and herbs.
 
Acetylsalicylic acid is aspirin. This could be handy too:
The stocking stuffer game for all your Permaculture companions
http://www.FoodForestCardGame.com
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