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Article saying temperate food forests don't work

 
John Saltveit
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Check it out:
https://theculturalwilderness.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/permaculture-and-the-edible-forest-garden-a-critical-analysis/comment-page-1/#comment-5


I responded to the author, who doesn't seem to understand much about permaculture, the value of nature, or how soils can improve over time to produce high quality food.
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Marco Banks
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He seems to assume that everyone in permaculture is doing the same thing, so a food forest in Germany will be the same as one in Scotland, Minnesota, Colorado or any other temperate zone. Visit 10 different Permaculture food forests in temperate zones, and you'll find 10 completely different systems. Successful permaculture design is contextual: what works one place will look completely different from something 5 miles away. Temperate ecosystems are vast and varied --- his criticisms seem to assume some sort of uniformity, and the studies he sites are simplistic in this assumption.

Further, he doesn't seem to understand the value of stacking functions. Even a simple measure of productivity such as # of calories taken off an acre per year would measure the yield of, for example, two or three crops planted in succession (or concurrently), the calories from chickens (both eggs and meat), cows (both milk and meat), pigs or other livestock allowed to graze the land between crops, the honey from the bee hives, and perhaps even wild animals like a deer, ducks or turkeys drawn to the forest and hunted for meat. A guy like sepp holzer pulls exponentially more calories off an acre of rocky mountain side in his temperate permaculture food forested system than any comparable monocroping system.

He states:

"While intercropping has also been shown to increase yields in relatively simple silvoarable systems such as vegetables between fruit trees (Newman 1986), Vandemeer also found cases where yields were lower if inappropriate crops were chosen. Whitefield (2013) was also aware of this, pointing out that the largest gain from intercropping is gained from the first crop addition and is likely to decline with the addition of each subsequent crop. In a review, Denison (2012) found that achieving optimum spacing in intercropped systems was difficult, and that while intercropping increased yields compared to the average of the two crops, they were often still less than the best crop grown as a monocrop. Thus, for many farmers the pragmatic choice was to grow the single best yielding crop alone."

What's so "pragmatic" about only getting one high yielding crop a year? I'll give up 30%, 40%, or even 50% yield on a crop if I know I'll get 2 more crops and multiple rotations of my animals through the same land, and in the end have better soil the next year. How does he measure the value of regenerating lifeless soils, regenerating hydrological cycles, and causing rain to fall (as trees are known to)? He doesn't.

I don't want a "relatively simple" system. I want a complex, interconnected, poly-cultured, multi-layered, sequentially-stacked, soil-regenerating, carbon-capturing, livestock-integrating, calorie-generating, energy-capturing, water-infiltrating, nature-mimicking, life-giving system.
 
Scott Strough
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Marco Banks wrote:He seems to assume that everyone in permaculture is doing the same thing, so a food forest in Germany will be the same as one in Scotland, Minnesota, Colorado or any other temperate zone. Visit 10 different Permaculture food forests in temperate zones, and you'll find 10 completely different systems. Successful permaculture design is contextual: what works one place will look completely different from something 5 miles away. Temperate ecosystems are vast and varied --- his criticisms seem to assume some sort of uniformity, and the studies he sites are simplistic in this assumption.

Further, he doesn't seem to understand the value of stacking functions. Even a simple measure of productivity such as # of calories taken off an acre per year would measure the yield of, for example, two or three crops planted in succession (or concurrently), the calories from chickens (both eggs and meat), cows (both milk and meat), pigs or other livestock allowed to graze the land between crops, the honey from the bee hives, and perhaps even wild animals like a deer, ducks or turkeys drawn to the forest and hunted for meat. A guy like Sepp Holzer pulls exponentially more calories off an acre of rocky mountain side in his temperate permaculture food forested system than any comparable monocroping system.

He states:

"While intercropping has also been shown to increase yields in relatively simple silvoarable systems such as vegetables between fruit trees (Newman 1986), Vandemeer also found cases where yields were lower if inappropriate crops were chosen. Whitefield (2013) was also aware of this, pointing out that the largest gain from intercropping is gained from the first crop addition and is likely to decline with the addition of each subsequent crop. In a review, Denison (2012) found that achieving optimum spacing in intercropped systems was difficult, and that while intercropping increased yields compared to the average of the two crops, they were often still less than the best crop grown as a monocrop. Thus, for many farmers the pragmatic choice was to grow the single best yielding crop alone."

What's so "pragmatic" about only getting one high yielding crop a year? I'll give up 30%, 40%, or even 50% yield on a crop if I know I'll get 2 more crops and multiple rotations of my animals through the same land, and in the end have better soil the next year. How does he measure the value of regenerating lifeless soils, regenerating hydrological cycles, and causing rain to fall (as trees are known to)? He doesn't.

I don't want a "relatively simple" system. I want a complex, interconnected, poly-cultured, multi-layered, sequentially-stacked, soil-regenerating, carbon-capturing, livestock-integrating, calorie-generating, energy-capturing, water-infiltrating, nature-mimicking, life-giving system.
You are absolutely correct. I personally believe this type of mentality is inspired by a "circle the wagons man all guns" defense of commodity GMO corn and the industrial systems it supports at all costs. But I would simply stay positive and patient. That type of industrial based system will fail of its own accord soon enough. We can then come in and show them how to correct their failed systems. Most people are short sighted enough not to want change until it is a crisis. So as industrial farms fail 1 by 1 we can move in and fix them 1 by 1.
 
John Saltveit
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He seems to think that obesity and malnutrition aren't problems, that the nutrition of food is not declining, nor is the quality of soil, and that pawpaws, American persimmons, honey berries and goumis were available in the 1950s and are easily available in grocery stores.

I think he needs to look at some other examples of food forests outside England and Ireland.
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Neil Layton
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My first thought on reading this article was “I don't want to know: I'm in no mood to have my preconceptions – and my way out – challenged" (and I'm hoping this is coherent), but I decided to read what the author had to say, and find out if I thought his criticisms were legitimate, and whether those criticisms should lead to the abandonment of temperate forest gardening, or if there are fair points to be learned from.

I conclude that the latter is the case. The author seems overly critical, indeed unfair, on Permaculture in general and forest gardening in particular. On balance, I still don't think my way out won't work.

I have a range of issues with Permaculture's current economic model – with a few early practitioners making a lot of money teaching the rest of us, to go and teach others. In any other area we would call this pyramid selling. It's a good short-term model, while we get the system up and running, but it's not sustainable in the long run.

I think a lot of the criticisms in this article and in the comments section are fair, but I also think they are overgeneralised, and used as a means to support industrial agriculture. It's impeccably referenced, if selectively so, and has some strong points, which need to be addressed.

The author compares forest gardening to industrial agriculture on a yields basis. Now, we do need this comparison to happen for two reasons. One is that we need to be able to demonstrate that our yields are as good as or exceed those from industrial agriculture. There are indeed some serious issues, for example, with growing staple grain and roots crops, which I'll come back to. The temperate forest gardens that the author has studied probably do show reduced yields, for several reasons, some of which I think the author correctly identifies. I'll come to that.

Our failure to integrate ourselves with the rest of Nature has led to a position where we are entering a major extinction event, and our disrupted climate systems are already a driver of both habitat and species loss and human conflict and immiseration, which then drive other problems such as the refugee crisis and, in turn, the xenophobia plaguing much of Europe and the US, among other places. I do not think that Permaculture is the solution, and think the above problems have a range of other causes on top of this, but I do think Permaculture can be part of a solution, and this article has not persuaded me otherwise. Meanwhile some estimates suggest we will run out of farmable topsoil within 60 years, on present trends, as a result of the farming practices the author advocates: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/

Note: that's not when everyone stops eating – that's when the rich need to have found alternatives, even without climate disruption. It's a fallacy to say that industrial monocropping is unsustainable, therefore we need to turn to Permaculture; but we do urgently need to be finding those alternatives, hopefully before even more of the poor starve.

The author notes:
“Permaculture is more an approach or philosophy than any specific technology, but where it has come under academic scrutiny, many of the kinds of practices frequently advocated have been found lacking in supporting evidence (Chalker-Scott 2010).”


True. This is not a reason to abandon Permaculture. It's a reason to work on the scientific evidence. Forty years after the dawn of conventional agriculture there wasn't a lot of evidence for that either. We do have problems with comparability, some of which I personally am working on, as regular readers of this site may be aware, and we do have the issue that direct comparability is going to be difficult, because what works, and what I want, in my forest garden will not be the same as what you want and what works in yours ten kilometres down the road. As Marco correctly observes above: much of what we do is contextual.

That does not change the fact that there is a critical need for more research.

The author
“sourc(ed) as many perennial vegetables and other interesting edible plants as I could.”


Great, but were these suited to the available niches, and did he create the right niches? A forest gardener won't just decide to include as many species as possible, but work out what to grow on the basis of need (including long-term resilience), and whether or not there is a niche available or if one can be created. There is a strong case for the maximisation of diversity, but sourcing as many different edible plants as possible and just shoving them in the ground is not necessarily going to work.

He accepts that many existing forest gardens do meet a “food self-reliance” criterion, before going on to point out that this was not quantified. I would observe that this is difficult to quantify, since quantifying this would depend upon the land available, the land quality and the number of people being fed from the land, among other criteria.

This is in spite of the fact that many forest gardeners, on a tight budget, start with very marginal land. It's difficult to make a fair comparison between a conventional farmer on good farmland with a forest gardener starting out on a hectare of Irish bog.

The species list, in a thirty-year-old paper, is comparable to that found in a garden in the 1950s. This does not surprise me. Combine a desire for familiarity among many gardeners (and their offspring) with the much more limited access to international seed exchange than we have today, with a smaller knowledge base, and this is to be expected.

His point that the weak Gaianist mythos of “nature in balance” is now considered inaccurate is correct, and I think this is something we need to abandon, in part because it's unhelpful to the point of getting in the way of more realistic views of Nature, and in part because it gives us a bad name when we keep repeating the myth. I've been having a growing issue with the “ecosystem” concept. It's a model, and like all models is wrong: some models are useful, and this one may or may not have outlived its usefulness. There is a difference, however, between taking a “Nature in balance” approach and one addressing our hierarchical, abusive relationship with Nature, and finding one that's more co-operative. The notion that these systems are dynamic stands.

His paragraph on cultural belief systems is fair comment, but is worthy of an extended essay, if not a book, in its own right. I would respond by pointing out that the existence of this belief system does not invalidate the move towards sustainability; nor does it preclude other explanations: I don't think he's wrong, but the view does require closer analysis. That said, I think it's a distraction, and assumes the inherent superiority of current systems, which I would dispute on both practical and ideological grounds.

The author's gish-gallop through forest gardening's design principles seems designed to acknowledge them and then rubbish them without evidence. I think that there are things to be learned by forest gardeners here, of which many, such as avoiding overplanting are discussed by other authors. We need to be aware of not just bunging another plant in for the sake of it. We need to consider what part it plays in the ecosystem (assuming we're going to retain the model) and whether we might be better off planting it elsewhere, perhaps in a more suitable niche, or not planting it at all. This is about good practice. Industrialised agriculture is a major driver of global warming, being responsible for around a third of total global greenhouse gas emissions: he is correct to observe that fertiliser is responsible for “only” 2% of global emissions, but neglects to mention that this is mostly linked to one nutrient (nitrogen), through the Haber process, and that phosphorus reserves are very much finite. There are many more emissions that industrial agriculture is responsible for, and these could be cut back substantially using other methods.

Many of our inputs are byproducts of unsustainable practices, and this is something we need to be aware of and moving away from.

We do need to get better at function stacking and resource partitioning. As Jacke and Toensmeier have correctly observed, most existing forest gardens have been overplanted.

Labour-intensity is only a problem when you are a rich capitalist who needs to ensure a 7-8% unemployment rate in order to keep wages down. For the rest of us, among those able to work, honest labour for ourselves, not a “property” owner, is generally a good thing. Sooner or later we are going to end up in a situation where the use of heavy agricultural machinery will have to be phased out, whether we like it or not. He assumes that “continued increases in production from modern agriculture” will continue while, as any number of studies have pointed out, that is unlikely to be the case, whether due to overpumping of aquifers, soil salinisation and depletion, depletion of phosphate reserves, simply running up against the constraints of biology in terms of biomass:food ratios, and a range of other issues.

That ecosystems are malleable is an asset in a forest garden, because it shows us that we can integrate novel species into the system. What we need to be careful of is making claims of what we are mimicking. A forest garden mimics a savannah-type ecosystem, but we should not claim that, for the purposes of ecosystem restoration or preservation, that it mimics the natural, native ecosystem: the same applies to other ecosystems we work with, such as grassland grazing ecosystems.

The author concludes
“that, as Permaculture founder Bill Mollison said in the first place, in temperate regions you are far better growing your fruit trees and vegetables separately.”


Actually, you know what, I agree. My own view on the subject is that in a semi-natural savannah-type ecosystem, annual plants would be unusual except in glades and clearings, perhaps kept clear by large herbivores, the activities of which you can mimic by digging and the addition of compost and/or manure. The alternative is to grow staple annuals close to the house (or do both). Those glades and clearings would still exist: pre-human woodland ecosystems probably lay somewhere between uninterrupted tall forest and Vera-type open savannah. That is not the same as an orchard plus annuals. It's a savannah-type habitat with annuals in glades or clearings or with annuals intercropped elsewhere.

There is a critical need for more research, and the intellectual tools to be able to conduct it properly. We need a system we might need to be able to scale up in a hurry if industrial agriculture or global food transport systems fail, even partially, and we need to be able to demonstrate it, which at the moment we can't do. I do not think it's time to give up, but there probably is a need for a secondary income, even a small one, while we get the systems to work. There is a tendency among some to "just go out and do it", which seems more likely to result in failure. Better planning is both more likely to lead to success, and more opportunities for controlled studies of what works where.

There are problems with forest gardening as it stands: that's not a reason to give up and return to systems that are likely to fail within the lifetimes of people alive today. It's a reason to identify the problems and make it work.
 
Marco Banks
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Upon further reflection, I've got one more thought to add:

He wants to compare the yield of conventional industrial mono-crop agriculture to a temperate food forest. Conventional yield = X, and food forest is Y. X is bigger than Y, therefore, Y sucks.

But X isn't sustainable. Not even close. The yield of industrial mono-cropping is based upon raping the soil and leaving the farm less healthy than it was the previous year. Where as Y (a food forest) leaves the land healthier and the soil richer at the end of each season. So to look at yield as the only variable, and completely ignore the greater context of soil degradation is myopic. As I mentioned above, he assumes one crop, and then wants to compare yield to yield, when in fact, you get multiple yields off of the land in a food forest. But even if it were the case that the yield were twice as much on an industrial chemically addicted farm, you cannot continue to farm this way and not see your soil destroyed.

Fishing with dynamite is really effective. It produces a tremendous yield. Until you've completely destroyed the ecosystem and all life therein. Three cheers for dynamite! and to hell with the coral reef.

Here is a question for Mr. Graham: all over the world, there are millions of acres of formerly productive crop land that has been abandoned because of infertility, salinity, erosion and degradation. Can he point to a single food forest, temperate or tropical, that has been abandoned for these same reasons? Just one? A single example? Of course not. Factor that into your yield discussion.
 
Russell Olson
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Essentially his argument is: Using modern day industrial farming quantification of yield, and discounting many aspects of what food forests provide intangibly, when you poorly design a food forest in temperate climates they don't work well. Except he cites a vast amount of information yet ignores some of the most effective systems like Mark Shepard's.

I come at this from a science background, it seems to me that permaculture in theory, practice, and logic makes sense. The nature of most people who are interested in practicing it and planting food forests leave alot to be desired by modern agricultural science standards. I don't think most farmers or scientists can quantify and test whether this stuff works until they fully immerse themselves into the theory and actually try it in reality, which they are not going to do easily.

I expect as more and more successful examples of food forests and permaculture become established in the coming years, there will be a larger move towards studying the ecology, benefits, drawbacks, and design to all of this.
 
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Neil Layton wrote:

The author compares forest gardening to industrial agriculture on a yields basis. Now, we do need this comparison to happen for two reasons. One is that we need to be able to demonstrate that our yields are as good as or exceed those from industrial agriculture. There are indeed some serious issues, for example, with growing staple grain and roots crops, which I'll come back to. The temperate forest gardens that the author has studied probably do show reduced yields, for several reasons, some of which I think the author correctly identifies. I'll come to that.


Does the author think that food forests are the only way food is grown in permaculture?

 
Neil Layton
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Neil Layton wrote:

The author compares forest gardening to industrial agriculture on a yields basis. Now, we do need this comparison to happen for two reasons. One is that we need to be able to demonstrate that our yields are as good as or exceed those from industrial agriculture. There are indeed some serious issues, for example, with growing staple grain and roots crops, which I'll come back to. The temperate forest gardens that the author has studied probably do show reduced yields, for several reasons, some of which I think the author correctly identifies. I'll come to that.


Does the author think that food forests are the only way food is grown in permaculture?



He seems to conflate the two.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I guess it's pretty easy to discredit something if you don't understand it.

 
David Livingston
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I wonder if he does mainly because I am an old cynic at heart and this is a deliberate hatchet job. Its an old technique favoured by corporate shills starting with the tobacco industry in the 60's . Instead of rubbishing the whole argument he picks on only one facet and attacks that selectivly thus weakening the whole argument .
I agree with Marco's point the equating a food forest with a field of Barley is just none sence particularly when one forgets tio in clude the cost , land use and CO2 produced of - insectcsides, fungisides ,fertilizers , weed killer ,the tractor (initial cost , fuel, maintainance etc ) combine harvester and other machines , the seeds . Where does the author think they come from ? Corporate heaven ?
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Here I review the claims made for them and what evidence there is to support the idea- and conclude that, as Permaculture founder Bill Mollison said in the first place, in temperate regions you are far better growing your fruit trees and vegetables separately.


Can anybody think of anytime, anywhere in Permaculture where it has ever been suggested to grow vegetables in a forest? Was that really the entire point of his argument? That food forests don't work because you can't grow vegetables in them?

A food forest is NOT a vegetable garden! DO NOT attempt to grow vegetables in a forest!
 
Scott Strough
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Jason Silberschneider wrote:
Here I review the claims made for them and what evidence there is to support the idea- and conclude that, as Permaculture founder Bill Mollison said in the first place, in temperate regions you are far better growing your fruit trees and vegetables separately.


Can anybody think of anytime, anywhere in Permaculture where it has ever been suggested to grow vegetables in a forest? Was that really the entire point of his argument? That food forests don't work because you can't grow vegetables in them?

A food forest is NOT a vegetable garden! DO NOT attempt to grow vegetables in a forest!

Exactly! And that is, by the way, why I am working on grassland/savanna biomes for my research. Still permaculture, but a different biome, one more conducive to vegetable integration.
 
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Jason Silberschneider wrote:
Here I review the claims made for them and what evidence there is to support the idea- and conclude that, as Permaculture founder Bill Mollison said in the first place, in temperate regions you are far better growing your fruit trees and vegetables separately.


Can anybody think of anytime, anywhere in Permaculture where it has ever been suggested to grow vegetables in a forest? Was that really the entire point of his argument? That food forests don't work because you can't grow vegetables in them?

A food forest is NOT a vegetable garden! DO NOT attempt to grow vegetables in a forest!


Could you tell me what the difference is between a food forest and the style of orchard/forest Fukuoka practice? My understanding is he grew a great many veggies among the trees. But maybe probably I'm misunderstanding what a food forest is. I'm still learning about the concept
 
Scott Strough
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R Ranson wrote:
Jason Silberschneider wrote:
Here I review the claims made for them and what evidence there is to support the idea- and conclude that, as Permaculture founder Bill Mollison said in the first place, in temperate regions you are far better growing your fruit trees and vegetables separately.


Can anybody think of anytime, anywhere in Permaculture where it has ever been suggested to grow vegetables in a forest? Was that really the entire point of his argument? That food forests don't work because you can't grow vegetables in them?

A food forest is NOT a vegetable garden! DO NOT attempt to grow vegetables in a forest!


Could you tell me what the difference is between a food forest and the style of orchard/forest Fukuoka practice? My understanding is he grew a great many veggies among the trees. But maybe probably I'm misunderstanding what a food forest is. I'm still learning about the concept
The biggest difference in my opinion is whether it is an open or closed canopy. Shade and edges is the key factors. Most vegetable crops require full sun to partial shade. So yes widely spaced trees that are not too big can be integrated with vegetables, or the sun side edge of a closed canopy food forest. But planting vegetable in a full food forest is not going to be as successful due to shading. (The soils are different too BTW.)
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Jack Spirko's podcast 1744 on growing perennials does a good summary of food forest vs small orchard vs intense planting. I'm guessing Fukuoka was doing more of an intense planting / small orchard, rather than a dark, dense forest. A food forest is a very specific thing, it's not a couple of plum trees in the corner of your yard.
 
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I haven't seen anything that convinced me that food forests have to have a closed canopy, so yes, IMO, you can grow vegetables in a food forest.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Martin Crawford mentions how the forest garden is not a dense dark mature forest, but an open form like a young woodland:
 
John Saltveit
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Yes, Mark Shepard talks about an open oak savannah, which, surprisingly, is our natural habitat here in the WIllamette Valley of Oregon where my food forest is. The highest trees are grow are 15 foot semi dwarves. There is space between the trees for light to penetrate. Most of the vegetables I grow are considered weeds by traditional vegetable growers. This kind of vegetable growing works exceptionally well in a short, open food forest. The blog may be a hatchet job, because when I tried to post on his site, disagreed with him and mentioned that I had a food forest, he refused to let me post.
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Tyler Ludens
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I think if people are out to "get" permaculture and not interested in discussion about it, there's not much we can do besides keep working on and promoting our models. Good documentation and research is important, but what will impress more people, I think, are models in their own neighborhoods. So let's all do it!

 
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Scott Strough wrote:
Jason Silberschneider wrote:
Here I review the claims made for them and what evidence there is to support the idea- and conclude that, as Permaculture founder Bill Mollison said in the first place, in temperate regions you are far better growing your fruit trees and vegetables separately.


Can anybody think of anytime, anywhere in Permaculture where it has ever been suggested to grow vegetables in a forest? Was that really the entire point of his argument? That food forests don't work because you can't grow vegetables in them?

A food forest is NOT a vegetable garden! DO NOT attempt to grow vegetables in a forest!

Exactly! And that is, by the way, why I am working on grassland/savanna biomes for my research. Still permaculture, but a different biome, one more conducive to vegetable integration.



Um . . . actually, I grow all our veggies in and around our food forest. It's more of a food forest/orchard hybrid, but we have something growing in and among the trees 12 months of the year. There is always some sunlight that makes it through the branches. In the winter, salad crops, brassicas and such do really well under the stone fruit trees. Ginger likes a bit of shade -- it does fantastic as an understory plant. But even sun lovers like tomatoes and peppers do pretty well scattered in and among the fruit trees.

Granted, we live in a Mediteranean climate, so my results may be very different from a temperate zone, but I've found that herbs, veggies, vines, and bushes do just well in the midst of fruit trees.
 
Jason Silberschneider
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The "Food Forest" is a very romantic and quintessentially permaculture concept, almost the holy grail of beginner's permaculture. So I totally understand somebody wanting to call that which they are growing a food forest.

If a person new to permaculture wanted to exitedly show me their new food forest, and pointed to two plum trees in the corner of their garden, I would respond with, "I've not seen its equal" (Guess the movie reference!) rather than "That's not even close to meeting the following criteria for a food forest!" and risk having them pave over it and build a patio.

In the end, it's just a name, and structurally a rather unimportant name. Confusing a hugelkulture for a swale could result in half a mountain ending up on top of your neighbour's house. Confusing an intensive planting, orchard, or a food forest will make absolutely no difference to your goals of food security.

So go ahead and plant your fruit trees with annual vegetables between them, and tell me it's your food forest. And I will tell you I've not seen its equal.
 
R Ranson
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I'm still a bit confused by the definition of forest we are using. Different parts of the world have vastly different forests, don't they?

Here, nothing substantial grows beneath the conifers. It's just tall trunks, lichen, moss and the occasional mushroom. My memory of Ontario is deciduous trees and a lush undergrowth. I see photos of Europe and there seems to be a great many things growing among the densely packed trees. Tropics have even more diversity and growth. These are examples of forest forests, not food forests.

Does the same variety of styles and growth patterns hold for food forests? Surely a good food forest design would mimic the natural patterns of a location, rather than all food forests being identical.
 
John Saltveit
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There are different kinds of forests in different places. There are old-growth conifer forests, which are productive, but not as much for people. I wouldn't call them food forests, but they are definitely forests. There are open forests, which are close to a savannah, but the trees are closer together. In many parts of the world, the tallest trees are 25 feet high, so it is not too different than a permaculture food forest. I would say that the fully extended summer leaves on primarily wooded perennial plants designed for human and other use should cover more than a third of the sun's rays cast. Usually, there is a complex mix of different species and families of trees even. It's a palette for using many different permaculture techniques that are good for people and wildlife, and therefore the planet. Basically, the main thing growing in the area is trees designed for human and wildlife use.

You should see some of the areas where a sign says, "Welcome to ________ National Forest." I often look and say, "Where's the forest?" I see desert rangeland.
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Tyler Ludens
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John Saltveit wrote:
You should see some of the areas where a sign says, "Welcome to ________ National Forest." I often look and say, "Where's the forest?" I see desert rangeland.


There are some forest types in desert regions. Most rangeland used to be more diverse before domestic herbivores got to it.

https://www.desertmuseum.org/desert/sonora.php
 
John Saltveit
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Cool link, Ludie. I always thought it was fun to drive in Arizona and be on scrub dryland and the forest appears as you go up to the top of the mountain. The opposite occurs here.
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Roberto pokachinni
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Very interesting discussion. I might call it a hatchet job but it's much more contrived than that. It's more of a careful but botched surgery... however to the untutored med student it might seem fine on the surface. I appreciate Neil's thorough analysis and agree with most of his (Neil's) insights and opinions. I think the article (as has been pointed out) was written to largely discredit permaculture without understanding it, through the use of focusing very negatively on examples and ideas that boost the author's rational, while ignoring reams of information from other sites or from within the same texts referenced which would rend many of his statements moot. While the idea that more science or study or proof is needed has much merit, I think that our main focus, as Tyler pointed out, is doing it, creating systems locally that are productive and regenerating, and then getting others to see what we are doing with open minds and hearts.

I find it simply ridiculous that the author uses crop yields as the basis for system merit. It particularly makes no sense when I personally consider that my own focus is on building soil organic matter and on building a regenerative ecosystem where water catching, sun harvesting, wind moderating, heat syncing, frost deflecting, and plant production (amongst many other things) are integrated as a whole ... that whole is my yield. The plants, the landscaping, the placement of a rock or a pond, even the food grown... these are tools, partners, in the process of developing that greater yield... and that yield, interestingly, can absolutely not come from conventional industrial agriculture.

By the way, I have no problem using the word ecosystem to define what I am doing. It is a system that is interacting ecologically (however imperfectly=whatever that means), and it is something I am building. It is not an ecosystem based on a model that is static that I am heading toward, but an idea that I am promoting towards many places (examples in the wild and in domesticated/semi feral states) that I have visited, and that I hope to emulate parts of to create something that is unique to it's combined symbiotic and synergistic characteristics as well as it's allelopathic and 'disease' or predator factors. The system of Agriculture in the modern sense and in the ancient sense, is not trying to build an ecosystem at all, it is trying to force the earth, through the destruction of a great many systems, to grow a single crop system in a short term cash out, and the footprint for doing so is vast and horrific.

On my own property, in the forested 25 or so acres, there are many different forest types, with some trees that survived a forest fire about 100 years ago, and the majority having grown since.

The forest, all forest, is dynamic, constantly changing. We might not notice this, but even in Ancient Old Growth forests there is a dynamic of transition to new forms taking place constantly within the wholeness that we have observed in 100 to 500 years of Eurocentric botanical thought. An old growth system might be an old growth cedar system now but then three thousand years later might be an old growth hemlock system. It may not be apparent because our time scale of observation is so short and limited.

As an example, the present Western Red Cedar based systems of many areas of coastal B.C. are relatively recent post glacial re-immigrants to this area which had largely been scraped of topsoil by glaciers and was too cold or deeply snowy for cedars. There may have been pockets of this species, but they were not at all dominant, or abundant, like they are today, and yet when walking in a stand of Cedars that are 10 feet across the buttress bottom that were over a hundred feet tall and fairly old when Jesus was born, there is a feeling of permanence, and stability, and that they always were and always will be there, if we leave them as they are.... but in my opinion, they are likely just a part of the flux... a transitional force on a longer scale than we normally look at it or perceive. Our point of view is limited. And by the way, under very old growth cedar, I have picked decent crops of red huckleberries.

In my young forest, I have stands which include 5 species of conifers, and are these are quite dense, but only in some of the most dense of this forest type (primarily super dense groves of younger conifers of close proximity in age with a more closed canopy) are there few under-story plants besides moss and lichens. There are not many annuals, mind you, but there are small plant species in every system. In the less dense areas there are many species. In the deciduous groves of birch or poplar there are shrub layers (vine maple, alders, willows, service berries and others), as well as ground covers including violets, orchids, Oregon grapes, and many others. Where two or more of these groves interconnect, there is a great diversity. The clonal poplar groves are a transitional system from cleared/disturbed land towards coniferous or mixed coniferous/birch systems, but that transition might take place over the course of three hundred to five hundred years, depending on many variables, particularly because of that massive fire that happened, the fact that the forest may have been selectively harvested for fence trees, building materials, and firewood, and because my land is in a transition zone between the Boreal Forest, and the Inland Temperate Rainforest which is extremely dynamic and variable on my land, in my valley, and in my region.

Within my poplar system, I can conceive of actually growing some types of annual veggies. It is that open. Compared to the open meadow, the average day/night temperature is far warmer due to the lack of significant wind and by the holding in of heat under the canopy leaves. There is enough open space between poplar trees, shrubs, and low perennials that I would just need to move a bit of leaf mulch and develop some mini plots.

The main reason that I do not do this, or spend time trying it out is that there are numerous animals that would eat my veggies and that I'm trying to focus my energy to develop my meadow/forest/creek edge effect system which I am hoping to be able to exclude some of the herbivores from. It is my hope that by developing the meadow edge as a food forest, wild land interface, I will be maximizing the edge effect for the gain of all systems.

If I do anything in my forest at all beside harvesting for my own purposes, it will likely be to encourage or expediate the merging of the two major regional forest biomes, primarily by planting or transplanting of wild berry producing or flowering trees and shrubs, or adding biomass from off-site in forest based hugulkultures, as well as planting trees which are present but in smaller numbers than before the fire.

So yes, there are a lot of different types of forest, and to try to say that a forest is this, or a forest is that, and a forest can not support an under story crop, or specifically that a forest garden needs to have a closed canopy, or is defined by a certain type of forest, is needlessly constricting, just like many of the author's blanket generalizations.
 
John Saltveit
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Excellent post, Roberto. I like your perspective because it is not just that you understand many forests, you are growing many different kinds of forest environments.
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Scott Strough
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:

By the way, I have no problem using the word ecosystem to define what I am doing. It is a system that is interacting ecologically (however imperfectly=whatever that means), and it is something I am building. It is not an ecosystem based on a model that is static that I am heading toward, but an idea that I am promoting towards many places (examples in the wild and in domesticated/semi feral states) that I have visited, and that I hope to emulate parts of to create something that is unique to it's combined symbiotic and synergistic characteristics as well as it's allelopathic and 'disease' or predator factors. The system of Agriculture in the modern sense and in the ancient sense, is not trying to build an ecosystem at all, it is trying to force the earth, through the destruction of a great many systems, to grow a single crop system in a short term cash out, and the footprint for doing so is vast and horrific.

......

So yes, there are a lot of different types of forest, and to try to say that a forest is this, or a forest is that, and a forest can not support an under story crop, or specifically that a forest garden needs to have a closed canopy, or is defined by a certain type of forest, is needlessly constricting, just like many of the author's blanket generalizations.
Excellent post. I think the term you are looking for is biome. A biome includes all the distinct regional elements consisting of several ecosystems (e.g. forests, rivers, ponds, savannas, swamps within a region). And yes, even a managed part is an ecosystem. An artificial ecosystem, but an ecosystem none the less. The trick with permaculture isn't to recreate nature. The trick is to create an artificial ecosystem that functions as part of a biome in a similar way a natural ecosystem would. Also called biomimicry. Biomimicry is always artificial, but functions like natural systems, excepting we have modified them for some beneficial outcome.

Since a forest biome can in fact have regional areas that include meadows, or edge habitats or riparian zones or any number of other ecosystems all integrated into the whole "forest", yes under the right circumstances annual vegetable production can be done. I don't think that is what Mollison was talking about though in the context of his quote. Pretty sure he was talking about a forest ecosystem, not a forest biome. Ie not a meadow or edge or clearing in a food forest, but rather the food forest itself.
 
Todd Parr
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Jason Silberschneider wrote:The "Food Forest" is a very romantic and quintessentially permaculture concept, almost the holy grail of beginner's permaculture. So I totally understand somebody wanting to call that which they are growing a food forest.

If a person new to permaculture wanted to exitedly show me their new food forest, and pointed to two plum trees in the corner of their garden, I would respond with, "I've not seen its equal" (Guess the movie reference!) rather than "That's not even close to meeting the following criteria for a food forest!" and risk having them pave over it and build a patio.

In the end, it's just a name, and structurally a rather unimportant name. Confusing a hugelkulture for a swale could result in half a mountain ending up on top of your neighbour's house. Confusing an intensive planting, orchard, or a food forest will make absolutely no difference to your goals of food security.

So go ahead and plant your fruit trees with annual vegetables between them, and tell me it's your food forest. And I will tell you I've not seen its equal.


You seem to be suggesting that you are willing to humor those of us that "think" we are creating a food forest with vegetables growing in it,in spite of the fact that we are wrong, and vegetables cannot be grown in a food forest. Would you mind defining "food forest" as you see it?
 
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Personally I'm not seeing why annual vegetables can't be grown on the edge or small clearings in the food forest. This might not be the ideal situation for them, and much less ideal the further one gets from the equator, but still, annual vegetables will grow on the edges and clearings. Does this somehow cause the food-growing area to stop being a food forest or prevent it from becoming a food forest? I hope not, because it's what I'm doing! My vegetable garden is right in the middle of a lot of trees, and has apple trees planted in it.
 
Mick Fisch
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The article makes it clear to me. I was wrong. Following the authors logic, everyone should grow nothing but potatoes, because they produce more kg/hectare. Who could argue with the logic of that? Simply look at the kg/hectare, that will obviously show which is best. Hope you like your boiled potatoes plain, because in his scenario that's most efficient.

I believe the term 'food forest' is a general term subject to lots of interpretations and local adaptions. The stereotypical three layer food forest is probably as common as the stereotypical tree. We can all recognize a tree, but not many real trees exactly fit the picture in an encyclopedia, because the picture is specific while the term is general. I may be wrong and look forward to correction if I am.

The author is correct that most peoples diets are carb heavy and for long term storeable carbs, especially in temperate climates, we look to grains, near grains or tubers. These are more productive in open or at least a savanah setting. The author should be aware that there are multiple ways of growing things in permaculture and his decision to select a forest garden to compete with grain or potatoes is dishonest.

The author seems to have taken the single product, monolithic crop with mechanization model and projected it onto the forest garden (which is extremely site specific and variable with dozens of outputs), where it fits poorly. His approach suggests that if you grow wheat you can't have a cow or a woodlot also.

What the author fails to understand is that forest gardens are usually not intended to be the primary caloric producers (with the possible exception of some systems rich in nuts like chestnut, acorn and maybe pecan which he waves an arm at and moves on). These may produce fewer kg/ hectare, but they sell for much more $/kg and are rich in fat, which potatoes and grains are poor in. In addition to wood, forest gardens can also produce a lot of fruit, which also sells for far more $/kg than his potatoes.

The author also ignores the fact that forest gardens are often planted on land unsuited for "normal" agriculture. That land is the 'bad' land is cheaper, so poor permies can buy it. In a forest garden the poor land still provides outputs, where in standard agriculture it would at best be grazing land, which by his measure, is an extremely unproductive use of land compared to potatoes.

The stacking of functions seems to escape the author, as well as the savings on purchased inputs. Wood to burn and build with, lack of requirements to keep buying more fertilizers or seeds or as much heavy equipment all seem to be overlooked. In the U.S. the number of farms are dropping, while the number of Amish farms are increasing. Sometimes cutting input requirements is more important than producing saleable outputs.

The author is correct in an unspoken assumption, people tend to move towards what works. He seems to use that to say "if permaculture works, why isn't everyone doing it". He overlooks the fact that for most of history, major elements of permaculture were being practiced. They just didn't have the name. Currently the weight of modern tradition is one of the main reasons for the focus on products that can be planted in the spring and harvested at the end of the summer. Another is simply lack of funding. Few farmers can wait 5-10 years for their trees to start to come into production, so they plant annuals. Additionally annuals and bi-annuals have dominated because their short reproductive cycle has allowed breeding for productivity to progress far beyond anything trees or most perennials approach. Our breeding of trees is still back in the Neolithic comparatively. Permaculture, in focusing on trees again, has the potential to eventually change that.

All of the major advances in plant domestication were not made by Monsanto or other major corporations. They were made by small farmers, selecting and swapping seed from their best producing plants. Thousands or millions of individuals doing this actually have a much better chance of progress than a single large entity that is focused on finding a plant that may not suit all needs and may stop the research at any time it's found to be unprofitable.


 
Dan alan
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When you start with a false premise you will always come to a false conclusion.

I think man is part of nature and able to make it productive for our selves, the animals, the soil; or we be selfish and out of line from natural order and destroy our selves. Nature is at its best when we are at our best; ordering events. Some jungle cultures has cycles from burned groung to mature forest lasting all of a generation or more. Nature is always changing. It's dynamic as so should we be in all we do.

It's our out of order actions that have brought the world to a place requiring mass centralized farming so that the masses can pile up in cities and live in luxary despising nature and work. The people at the top are served by all the efforts of those underneath. Our society has founded it's self in a type 1 error.

There are so many examples of amazing production. So many. We have the numbers and to say we don't I just ignoring the proofs. Machines could even be made to harvest these new systems. It's just not an issue. One point often missed is that in Permaculture the true measure is the output vs the input of energy. We build soil, we build anti entropic life, we build a massive yeild over many many small yeilds, and we don't truck our production all over the world.

If we want to truck goods and Pike up in cities then we need to get over stupidity and take responsibility by returning everything output from the city back to the source. It worked for 2000+ years in China and also in Japan with no loss in fertility. We have the answers no matter which way we go.

Change never comes easy for society and its not going to change voluntarily. An extinction event is just a natural event, not something to even waste time thinking about saving the status quo. Really....


Check out this guy's back yard production yeild, the equivalent of 32,619 lbs/acre with a lot of transplanted veggies. http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/my-garden/29-full-circle-four-years-in/
 
john mcginnis
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Marco Banks wrote:Upon further reflection, I've got one more thought to add:

He wants to compare the yield of conventional industrial mono-crop agriculture to a temperate food forest. Conventional yield = X, and food forest is Y. X is bigger than Y, therefore, Y sucks.



Your considered analysis is right so far as it goes. But the problem is industrial ag looks at one thing first -- man labor per acre, of man labor per yield first. Then they look at yield curves of various crop types/methods. It won't matter if stacked crops can be managed on a mega farm if the labor for yield gets too high.

Permaculture is ideally tuned for the small holding operator to maximize yields and minimize expenses. Its where the effort ought to be spent to expand the franchise so to speak.
 
Rick Valley
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This thread is a trip. But at my start I'd like to warn that I am one of those fabulously wealthy early adopters of permaculture who travels the world teaching and hanging out with super models, so anything I say should be suspect. I have not seen anyone successfully grow, long-term, classic veggies w/fruit trees. I think early stage success with this is just that. As the food forest matures the soils become less appropriate for cabbages, it's that simple. (see the book Teaming With Microbes, and understand bacterially dominated vs fungally dominated soil ecosystems) Then take a look at whatever native forest you got for your bioregion, learn the ethnobotany of it and learn the horticulture of whatever locally appropriate bio-imperialist trees, vines and shrubberies there are for your zone. The combination of all three should give you most of what you need to design an edible forest for your place. At the start you can of course have staple crops in between the canopy trees which are just little saplings at that point eh? And after there's some leaf drop and fungally rich forest soils begin accumulating, you can begin introducing forest herbs (which may include veggies like ramps or Mahonia nervosa spring leaves) Do please, avoid ignoring the minor plant communities that are around, especially the riparian- you may be in a frikkin' savannah, but no one that ever lived in a savannah ignored the wetlands that were present. It's in our principles to appreciate the marginal and work the edges. Now I will go back to my food forests don't work so I'll call it an orchard which is also MAJOR frikkin' ecological support for my small- super productive veggie garden with all the snakes, hymenopterans, dipterans and birds, furnishing controls for all sorts of pests as well as honey, fruit, nuts, spring shoots, even mother-lovin' spring arboreal Aralia sprouts for my Kudzu root flour batter-coated tempura, and hang out with my super models.
 
John Derry
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Until last year the author taught Permiculture here: http://kinsalecollege.ie/index.php/2013-10-15-11-47-34/fetac-level-5/sustainable-horticulture-permaculture

I was looking to enroll on this course this September, but it makes me worry about the integrity of the course now :-/
 
Chad Gard
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Mick Fisch wrote:The article makes it clear to me. I was wrong. Following the authors logic, everyone should grow nothing but potatoes, because they produce more kg/hectare. Who could argue with the logic of that? Simply look at the kg/hectare, that will obviously show which is best. Hope you like your boiled potatoes plain, because in his scenario that's most efficient.


This is a common issue in comparing agricultural systems of any kind. I run a small organic farm part time - 2 3/4 acres of veggies, plus some ducks, geese, alpacas, and a few small areas of what I call "grazing gardens," but would be called a forest garden by most typical permies, which are just starting to produce fun things - peaches, nectarines, pears, nanking cherries, medlars, various mints and thymes, hardy almonds being our current yields there, with much work to go. I'm in the middle of a big ag region, ruled by GMO corn mostly. While I'm trying to budget money and labor to put in a mixed-species impenetrable hedge/living fence, my neighbors are cutting and burning miles of windbreak treelines to extend their center pivot irrigation systems from 1/2 mile to 2650 feet.

When we talk about sustainability, I am always confronted with "GMOs are needed so we can produce more food on less land. Organic production can never produce enough to feed the world." But I look at it this way - my across the ditch neighbor grew corn, like everyone else - 42 acres, yeilding 7,180 bushels. That's better than the state average last year, 171 bushels per acre. Google says a bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds, so that's about 9575 pounds of corn per acre. My potato plot was 1/8 of an acre, and I harvested 5240 pounds of potatoes, 120 pounds of milky oats, and 32 dozen duck eggs from that 1/8 acre. So his yield per acre was 9575 pounds of "food" (of course, it's as likely to be ethanol as a snickers bar or twinkie...), while I had 42,880 pounds +256 dozen duck eggs per acre.

That argument is not accepted, because I grew something different, and you can only compare one variable at a time (what they mean is that you should only have one independent variable in a controlled experiment, but they don't remember their high school science classes very well). Thus, to their way of thinking (and to a lesser degree, in the article), what you have to do is grow a huge monoculture of chemical corn next to a huge monoculture of organic corn, and compare yields. But when you're talking about a system of production, that's an invalid comparison.

If we want to compare systems, we need to look at multiple year trends of apples-to-apples comparisons to evaluate input and output of the systems themselves, and it's going to need to be something more complex than "pounds of food." I would propose comparing something like the following:

Non-energy Inputs -> seed/plant material, fertilizer, irrigation water, pesticides, equipment/machinery (pro-rated portion of expected life span)
Energy Inputs -> Fuel, Labor
Nutritional Outputs -> some of the widely-recognized-as-important nutritional measures. I'd recommend Calories, Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Potassim, Carbs, Protein, Vitamin's A & C, Calcium and Iron as a reasonable subset
Positive Non-Food Outputs -> would vary, of course. But could include firewood, dies, fiber, property value increase, etc.
Negative Non-Food Outputs -> Water pollution, air pollution, property value decrease, etc.


With that, you could then have the data you need to compare two systems on the basis of what normal people care about (note that most normal people don't really care about the soil...). If you wanted to distill that to a single which-is-better number, you could simply monetize everything:
$nutritional Outputs + $Positive Non-Food Outputs - $Non-energy inputs - $energy inputs - $Negative Non-Food Outputs = $value added by the system

In reality, of course, you'd find that you can't even reduce it that far, because it will all be contextual for a given local area. And even with that, let's say you found the most "$value added by the system" system was you-pick gooseberries. It's not like everyone in the area cold start a you-pick gooseberry farm and provide the community with a sustainable diet. What you could find, though, is something like "gee, it looks like our local food shed is not producing enough vitamin A, and consequently people are having problems with nyctalopia." So there would be value in a system which produces an increase in vitamin A in the local diet. You could then compare which system both addresses that issue and provides the best overall balance: GMO Golden Rice monoculture, or a diversified farm producing sweet potatoes, spinach, collards, kale, dandelion greens, and winter squashes sheltered by a food forest high in apricots that sustains a population of geese (whose eggs and livers are pretty high in vitamin a).

Reductionism is problematic in comparing food production systems, and is a realm in which permaculture simply will never be able to "prove" its value objectively.


 
Gilbert Fritz
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The points about soil biology are correct and important. Even without a lot of shade, the biology makes a difference. I'm moving away from the wood chip/ sheet mulch model in my annual gardens, switching over to grassy and grown in place mulches.
 
Todd Parr
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:The points about soil biology are correct and important. Even without a lot of shade, the biology makes a difference. I'm moving away from the wood chip/ sheet mulch model in my annual gardens, switching over to grassy and grown in place mulches.


This is another one of those areas that I would like to see studied more, or if it has been, I would like to read more about it. If you look at Paul from "Back To Eden" fame, and you believe him, 17 years ago he put a foot and a half of woodchips in his orchard, and has been growing vegetables in amongst the trees ever sense. I grow all my annual garden plants in a thick layer of wood chips and they seem to be growing well. I'm not saying either of these are examples of food forests, but I question the idea of the soil biology among trees as being so different from that of gardens that the two should not be inter-mixed.
 
Dan alan
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:... switching over to grassy and grown in place mulches.


This is the direction I keep moving! I added rows of lecueana trees that get coppiced every spring and both soil and production improves every year!
IMG_20160313_115615.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20160313_115615.jpg]
 
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