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Lori Ziemba
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Hope I'm in the right forum.  I have some newbie questions on food forests.  I read a lot about them, but I'm really confused.  In most of the videos I watch, it seems like the FF's are fairly young, with quite small trees.  Not a lot of shade, so people have vegs growing underneath and around the fruit/nut trees.  But it seems to me that if you plant a lot of trees, eventually they will grow and shade out what's below them.  So, when that happens, won't all the undergrowth you so laboriously planted die back to shade loving stuff like ferns and violets?  How can you grow sun loving vegs/fruits in a mature food forest?  I'm talking about in a temperate climate, not in the tropics where the sun is intense.  I mean, I've been in real (natural) forests, and there's not a lot of food there, except for an occasional nut tree.  Even the berries seem to grow mostly at the edges of meadows.

Another thing: if you plant things like potatoes or other root vegs, won't it disturb the roots of the perennials when you pull them out?  Do you have to maintain a separate garden for annual vegs?  Am I missing something here, or are food forests only for tree fruit and berrries?  Even most berries won't grow in the dense shade.  Can someone please explain this to me?
 
John Saltveit
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Hello Lori,
This is a great question. I have a somewhat mature food forest.  I believe that what will be most productive for most people in a temperate forest is an open forest.  Depending on your lot size, it may only have dwarf or semi-dwarf trees, which are what I have. I live in a suburban area on 1/5 acre, so I don't have room for a "wild" forest area. Everything needs to be productive.  I have sun in between the trees. The tallest area about 15 feet tall.  I do have some on unrestricted rootstock, but they are figs, mulberries, and American persimmons, which grow very slowly in my climate, so I just need to prune them every 5 years or so (not particularlly hard).  I have raised beds for traditional vegetables and I grow tons of leafy vegies that self seed or perennial ones in between my highly diverse trees and bushes that biodiversify the garden.  I also grow mushrooms for eating, biodiversification, soil development, and on logs as well as in buckets. All of my traditional and exotic fruit trees grow only up to 15 feet tall so I can harvest and get sun to the other plants. I grow different root vegies like sunchoke, skirret, earth chestnut, salsify and scorzonera in between. I used to grow potatoes, but now my wife grows them, beets, turnips, etc.
John S
PDX OR
 
Su Ba
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I'm with you when it comes to confusion. The photos I've seen of food forests tend to show lots of sun bathed plants with lots of speckled shade on the ground ranging to full sunny spots. I'm assuming that these food forests are young and were started on cleared land. In contrast, my own food forest has non-food trees that range 20' to 50' with lots of full shade beneath them. I started out with a real forest full of big trees. Thus my own food forest project had to deal with lots of shade from the very beginning.

I'm in the tropics and our sun doesn't penetrate the forest trees, except where there is a break in the trees or along the forest margins. As a result, I'm limited as to what such a forest can produce in the way of edibles. Here's what I'm doing thus far, keeping in mind that I don't get temperatures below 45° F...

... Okinawan Spinach. Grows well in the full shade.
... Turmeric. Grows well in the full shade.
... Sweet potato. I have one variety that grows very well in full shade but does not make tubers without lots of sun, but it's good for producing greens.
... Chayote. Won't take full shade but will produce adequately in partial shade. Definitely likes the forest margin.
... Mulberry. Likes the forest margin.
... Mamaki. Likes the forest margin.
... Banana. While they will produce in full shade, it takes them 3 or more years to produce a bunch. That's twice as long as the trees in full sun. They do a bit better in semi shade than they do in full shade.
... Citrus. Will produce in full shade but it is not nearly as productive as in semi shade or full sun.
... Coffee. Will produce in full shade but does better in semi shade.
...  Lilikoi. Will tolerate partial shade, but produces better in full sun. It will climb a tree for the sun, eventually smothering the tree.
... Avocado. Grows tall and can compete with the other trees.
... Allspice. Tolerates the forest margin.
... Tomato tree. Tolerates the forest margin.
... Taro. Some varieties will do ok in semi shade, but the flavor is a bit different.
... Greens (kale, chard, etc). Will tolerate semi shade though they are not as robust as plants in full sun.
... Cilantro. Seems to do best in light shade.
... Chaya. Tolerates semi shade but prefers forest margin where it gets full morning sun.
... Apple. Likes to get as much sun as possible but will produce on the forest margin where it gets full morning sun.
... Pumpkin and gourds. Does best with as much sun as possible but will produce if on the margin and gets a few hours of sun.
... Guava. Produces in semi shade.
... Pineapple. Does best in full sun but will produce small pineapples in the semi shade but it takes three times as long.
... Yacon. Will tolerate afternoon shade, but wants full morning sun.

I'm adverse to taking out my mature non food trees. They are a valuable farm resource -- livestock shade and shelter, firewood, lumber, fallen leaves. So I'm gradually incorporating food plants where they will grow and produce.
 
Tyler Ludens
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This video describes what a food forest or forest garden means in a temperate climate:  
 
Lori Ziemba
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John Saltveit wrote:Hello Lori,
I believe that what will be most productive for most people in a temperate forest is an open forest. I have sun in between the trees.


OK, so...I'm thinking maybe I'm getting hung up on semantics.  (The curse of the literal thinker.)  What you describe seems more like an orchard, with interplantings, rather than a true "forest". 

I have raised beds for traditional vegetables


Are they in a separate area, or amongst the trees?

I grow different root vegies like sunchoke, skirret, earth chestnut, salsify and scorzonera in between. I used to grow potatoes, but now my wife grows them, beets, turnips, etc.


Do you have any problems with root damage to the trees when you dig them up? 


 
Lori Ziemba
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Location: Northern California Mediterranean climate zone 10b
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Su Ba wrote:I'm with you when it comes to confusion. The photos I've seen of food forests tend to show lots of sun bathed plants with lots of speckled shade on the ground ranging to full sunny spots. I'm assuming that these food forests are young and were started on cleared land.


Yes, exactly!  It's almost like a savannah, more than a forest. 

In contrast, my own food forest has non-food trees that range 20' to 50' with lots of full shade beneath them. I started out with a real forest full of big trees. Thus my own food forest project had to deal with lots of shade from the very beginning.

I'm in the tropics and our sun doesn't penetrate the forest trees, except where there is a break in the trees or along the forest margins. As a result, I'm limited as to what such a forest can produce in the way of edibles.


Yes!  This is what I'm talking about---if you let  the trees grow, eventually they will completely shade the ground.  And I know that mature forests don't have a lot of food in them.  That's why natives everywhere burn sections of land to grow food, both animal and vegetable.  I find the idea of a food forest very appealing, but I wonder how much food it actually produces, besides fruit? I see people on Youtube with big forest gardens, several acres, and they're still importing things like flour, milk, etc.  3 acres in a decent climate should be able to fully support one person, sans luxuries like chocolate and coffee. 

How practical is it for small areas of land?  Is it really less "work" than a traditional garden?  Why is it better than just having a row of fruit trees on the north side of your garden, and beds in the south? I guess I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the concept. 

Avocado. Grows tall and can compete with the other trees.


Do you mean size-wise, or do they secrete something?
 
Todd Parr
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I struggle with not planting too closely.  When you start a food forest in a climate like I'm in, you have to keep things pretty far apart in order to keep canopies from touching when everything grows up.  That means your food forest can look like a few trees planted in a pasture at first   Otherwise, you can plant more closely, realizing you will have a lot of sacrificial trees later on.  Already I have thing that are too close together.  Now I'm trying to be much more conscious of my spacing, and I create guilds.  I try to make sure that the canopies will not touch when the larger trees are full sized, and I fill in with things I can sacrifice later, which for me are things that I can seed or grow from cuttings from my existing trees.  I have seaberry, which btw spreads like crazy, siberian pea shrub, and autumn olive, all of which are nitrogen fixers.  They are easy to propagate from my own trees, so I don't feel as bad if I have to chop and drop them to clear some space.  I also grow lots of comfrey so I plant it in all my guilds.  If it gets shaded out later and can't survive, it isn't a loss because you get so much from it during it's life and it is super easy to propagate.  When I design my guilds, I do them in a circle with the canopy tree in the middle, the bushes around that, the smaller things like comfrey around that, the herbs and pollinator plants around that.  Other thing get stuck here and there where they fit.  Because my guilds get shorter as they get farther from the middle, I will eventually connect the guilds and the smallest plants will be touching.  This should leave plenty of room for light.  It's important when you think of a food forest not to think of an actual forest with a closed canopy in temperate climates.  The video Tyler posted explains it well, I just put this out as a little summary of the way I am approaching it.
 
Lori Ziemba
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Tyler Ludens wrote:This video describes what a food forest or forest garden means in a temperate climate:  


Thanks!  This is helpful.
 
Lori Ziemba
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Todd Parr wrote:I struggle with not planting too closely.  When you start a food forest in a climate like I'm in, you have to keep things pretty far apart in order to keep canopies from touching when everything grows up.  That means your food forest can look like a few trees planted in a pasture at first   Otherwise, you can plant more closely, realizing you will have a lot of sacrificial trees later on.  Already I have thing that are too close together.  Now I'm trying to be much more conscious of my spacing, and I create guilds.  I try to make sure that the canopies will not touch when the larger trees are full sized, and I fill in with things I can sacrifice later, which for me are things that I can seed or grow from cuttings from my existing trees.  I have seaberry, which btw spreads like crazy, siberian pea shrub, and autumn olive, all of which are nitrogen fixers.  They are easy to propagate from my own trees, so I don't feel as bad if I have to chop and drop them to clear some space.  I also grow lots of comfrey so I plant it in all my guilds.  If it gets shaded out later and can't survive, it isn't a loss because you get so much from it during it's life and it is super easy to propagate.  When I design my guilds, I do them in a circle with the canopy tree in the middle, the bushes around that, the smaller things like comfrey around that, the herbs and pollinator plants around that.  Other thing get stuck here and there where they fit.  Because my guilds get shorter as they get farther from the middle, I will eventually connect the guilds and the smallest plants will be touching.  This should leave plenty of room for light.  It's important when you think of a food forest not to think of an actual forest with a closed canopy in temperate climates.  The video Tyler posted explains it well, I just put this out as a little summary of the way I am approaching it.


How big is your garden?  Do you (or will you, when it's mature) actually get enough food out of it to live on?
 
John Saltveit
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Hi Lori,
Very few people on this site are trying to grow a forest that has no edible plants in it.  Almost all will have some fruit trees and bushes in them.  I am a member of the Home Orchard Society. When other HOS members see my yard, they say,"That's not an orchard.  That's a forest. (Or a jungle)".  Permaculture food forests are not the same as a wild native forest.

When I move trees, I carefully dig them up, and I only do it during our dormant rainy season (NOv-April).  I don't have problems with them typically. I have moved a full grown orchard from one location to another. 

I angle the food forest from shortest to tallest in classic food forest fashion so they all get enough sun.  I'm in the N Hemisphere, so tallest is N.  Raised beds are on the S part, followed by forbs, shrubs, short trees, etc. and it's balanced so that the trees aren't next to trees of the same genus. 
John S
PDX OR
 
Todd Parr
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Lori Ziemba wrote:
Todd Parr wrote:I struggle with not planting too closely.  When you start a food forest in a climate like I'm in, you have to keep things pretty far apart in order to keep canopies from touching when everything grows up.  That means your food forest can look like a few trees planted in a pasture at first   Otherwise, you can plant more closely, realizing you will have a lot of sacrificial trees later on.  Already I have thing that are too close together.  Now I'm trying to be much more conscious of my spacing, and I create guilds.  I try to make sure that the canopies will not touch when the larger trees are full sized, and I fill in with things I can sacrifice later, which for me are things that I can seed or grow from cuttings from my existing trees.  I have seaberry, which btw spreads like crazy, siberian pea shrub, and autumn olive, all of which are nitrogen fixers.  They are easy to propagate from my own trees, so I don't feel as bad if I have to chop and drop them to clear some space.  I also grow lots of comfrey so I plant it in all my guilds.  If it gets shaded out later and can't survive, it isn't a loss because you get so much from it during it's life and it is super easy to propagate.  When I design my guilds, I do them in a circle with the canopy tree in the middle, the bushes around that, the smaller things like comfrey around that, the herbs and pollinator plants around that.  Other thing get stuck here and there where they fit.  Because my guilds get shorter as they get farther from the middle, I will eventually connect the guilds and the smallest plants will be touching.  This should leave plenty of room for light.  It's important when you think of a food forest not to think of an actual forest with a closed canopy in temperate climates.  The video Tyler posted explains it well, I just put this out as a little summary of the way I am approaching it.


How big is your garden?  Do you (or will you, when it's mature) actually get enough food out of it to live on?


My forest garden area along with my annual gardens are less than 1/2 acre.  It's hard to give a realistic answer to that because I have lots of small areas that are experiments.  I am in zone 4b, so my options are more limited as far as food trees.  Right now I have apple, mulberry, plum, cherry, hazelnut, and two walnut trees.  The apples and the mulberries produce fruit, but the apples are only a few years old and don't produce a lot yet.  My autumn olive bushes produce very well.  My annual gardens produce far more food than my forest gardens right now.  I am experimenting right now with using an area as an annual garden for a couple years, and then converting that area into a tree guild, and moving the annual garden to a new spot.  My idea is that the annual garden will break up the clay soil and the guild will do better.  I don't know yet if it will have a large effect.  The total area that I am looking at "managing" will be roughly an acre or so.  In answer to your question, I could produce enough food to live on between my annuals gardens and the food forests, as long as you take into account eggs from my chickens.  I wouldn't want to try to live on what I produce though.  My diet would be way too limited to be enjoyable, and I would get awfully tired of having eggs and beans be my only real sources of protein.  If I didn't work a full time job in addition to doing this as a "hobby", I could do better, but producing all of my own food still wouldn't be practical for me.

In answer to another of your questions, yes, it is less work than a traditional garden, in the long run, and for perennial food items you can grow in your climate.  Once a food tree is established, the work goes basically to zero.  You pick things from your trees, your bushes, your vines and eat them   Your idea of a row of fruit trees on the north and gardens on the south isn't necessarily the wrong idea.  I just find it limiting.  Where do I put black berries, honeyberries, jostaberry, gooseberry, raspberry, hardy kiwi, serviceberry, sun chokes, and all the other edibles that I currently grow?  What about my roses that produce huge rose hips?  What about my plants that bring pollinators, or my chop and drop plants?  The easy answer for me is, I put them in circles around my main trees, where they benefit the tree and me.  That is why I think it's better than a row of fruit trees on the north side of my garden. 
 
Lori Ziemba
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John Saltveit wrote:Hi Lori,

When I move trees, I carefully dig them up, and I only do it during our dormant rainy season (NOv-April).  I don't have problems with them typically. I have moved a full grown orchard from one location to another. 



You must be on the West Coast, like me.  That's our dormant/rainy season.  Do you have to irrigate your trees in the summer?
 
wayne fajkus
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One thing to keep in mind is how long to tree maturity. I planted blackberries real close to a pecan tree. In the 15 years it takes  the pecan tree to mature, the blackberry is at the end of its cycle. But in those 15 years, ill have dug up plenty of shoots and relocated them. Same can be said for asparagus,  horseradish, and most perrenials that grow in my area.

The other thing that applies to my vision is animals. I watched a show where a guy started a forest of loblolly pines for commercial  timber. Assuming it was 20 years to harvest, he had no income. He spaced the pines to create no more than 50% shade at maturity and brought in cows. The loggers now give him more cause of the ease of harvesting cause of all the space between trees.

While I'm planting food producing trees, I'm running cows on the property. All that was needed was 3 t posts and 15ft of remesh per tree to protect them. This was needed with or without cows as deer were girdling them to de-fur their antlers.

I guess it's like any other permie project. My food forest is not your food forest. Milk was mentioned by a previous poster. My food forest has that option.
 
John Saltveit
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Hi Lori,
Yes, OR is your neighbor state up north.  I had to at the beginning when they were seedlings, but most mature semi-dwarf or larger trees don't really need irrigation here, which is a plus.  I do water my paw paws in a dry spell, because they are from the South and Midwest, where it rains in the summer, and I find the fruit will drop in a drought, which is known as July to October here. 
John S
PDX OR
 
duane hennon
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food forests
forest gardens
savanna
edible woods

does it have 7 layers or only 5?
who cares?

your planting should be suitable to your site and tastes
I have found that trying to plant to closely doesn't work
here in cool and cloudy west pa
cloud cover is our canopy layer

I plant in beds with  several layers (2-5, depending of what's growing)
but have wide pathways between them
to allow for sunlight and airflow
as cool and cloudy =damp = mold and slugs
volunteer ground covers are chopped and dropped
to maintain law and order


 
Darrell Frey
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There are many way to make and maintain a forest garden. As the Craford video shows, the open woodland, or, forest edge pattern is very useful.  For one or two trees, make use of the sunny side and the  denser shady underneath and the shady north side, to grow  wide range of plants in the varios niches
 
Su Ba
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Lori, two answers for you.......this applies to my own situation on my own homestead.

1- Does my food forest supply me with all my food? No. And I hope I never have to survive on just my food forest food. My forest is just one aspect of a quite varied homestead farm. By the way, my farm provides me with the means for 100% of our food. So yes, I do eat out of my food forest, but it's not the sole source of food.

2- Is it less work? Yes, compared to my main food production. But it was a lot of work to create. It is work to maintain. No way can I plant something then walk away expecting it to self maintain. Trees often need pruning to remove damaged branches. I prune some trees to keep their fruiting branches within safe reach. The ground plants need to be replanted after harvesting. Others need trimming back to make them productive. The bananas need tending so that they don't overcrowd themselves. The lilikoi vines need to be kept in check so that they don't kill all the trees. Tropical soil leaches its nutrients when left to itself, so I'm always spreading mulches and compost to maintain fertility.

 
Lori Ziemba
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Su Ba wrote:Lori, two answers for you.......this applies to my own situation on my own homestead.

1- Does my food forest supply me with all my food? No. And I hope I never have to survive on just my food forest food. My forest is just one aspect of a quite varied homestead farm. By the way, my farm provides me with the means for 100% of our food. So yes, I do eat out of my food forest, but it's not the sole source of food.


OK, that clears up a lot of questions.  I guess food forests, like anything else, are subject to hyperbole   I've just heard so much about them being able to feed a person, and I've had my doubts about that.  Especially on a small piece of land.  Seems like if you have an average sized back yard, your best bet would be to plant dwarf fruit trees along the north side, with an underplanting of herbs, berries, medicinal plants, and perennial vegs.  Leave room on the south side for traditional beds for "regular" vegs, like potatoes, tomatoes, etc.  

Tropical soil leaches its nutrients when left to itself, so I'm always spreading mulches and compost to maintain fertility.



This is very interesting to me, as I thought the whole concept of the food forest was originally created for the tropics!  I thought a big point of it was that you don't need to mulch and make compost, just chop and drop.  I think I have a lot of trouble with certain concepts, and things get mixed together in my head.  Especially when I am just reading and not seeing.
 
Lori Ziemba
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duane hennon wrote:

food forests
forest gardens
savanna
edible woods

does it have 7 layers or only 5?
who cares?


You're right.  I tend to think too rigidly about things until I gain experience.  Then I get the ah-ha moment when it comes together for me.  I'm not there yet



your planting should be suitable to your site and tastes
I have found that trying to plant to closely doesn't work
here in cool and cloudy west pa
cloud cover is our canopy layer

I plant in beds with  several layers (2-5, depending of what's growing)
but have wide pathways between them
to allow for sunlight and airflow
as cool and cloudy =damp = mold and slugs
volunteer ground covers are chopped and dropped
to maintain law and order




Believe it or not, I have a lot of the same problems here in California!  San Francisco is cool and foggy most of the summer.  It can be snail/slug heaven, altho a lot of the snails seem to have died out after 4 years of terrible drought.  Somehow, the slugs survived
 
Michelle Czolba
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The forest garden is designed based on guilds so each plant in the system has a purpose in supporting the whole. If food is your primary goal (could be a combination of food, medicine, craft, etc), most of the plants will be edible while also supporting the other needs of the system, nutrient accumulators, nitrogen fixers, insectary, etc. You'll need to space according to the plants needs. If you want to maintain lots of sunshine loving companion plants, then your top tier will be bushes or dwarf fruit trees. There are a fair amount of edible plants and berries that can do well in the shade or part shade. Generally in urban areas or small spaces, I wouldn't design anything larger than a dwarf fruit free. The idea of a forest is adaptable and speaks more to the relationship between all the members of the garden.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Lori Ziemba wrote:

OK, that clears up a lot of questions.  I guess food forests, like anything else, are subject to hyperbole   I've just heard so much about them being able to feed a person, and I've had my doubts about that.  Especially on a small piece of land.  Seems like if you have an average sized back yard, your best bet would be to plant dwarf fruit trees along the north side, with an underplanting of herbs, berries, medicinal plants, and perennial vegs.  Leave room on the south side for traditional beds for "regular" vegs, like potatoes, tomatoes, etc.  



BINGO! At least, that's pretty much how I do things on my property. Often people have intensive raised beds/gardens/hugels in the sunniest spot in their "zone 1 and 2" (areas where you frequent the most, usually close to your house). A lot of annuals need soils that are dominated by bacteria, rather than fungi-dominated soils of the forest. Bacteria-sominated soils are usually places of disturbance. So, you grow those close by where you can weed and add amendments if need be, and the soils microorganisms stay the ones that help your plants grow best. These gardens usually are polycultures, maybe with some perennial veggies mixed in, often with lots of self-seeding veggies. Many grow it like it's a typical organic or biointensive garden.

Here's a great video on the soil science. I honestly can't recommend it enough.



Further out, in your zones 3 and 4--and/or in your shadier or more northern spots--are your food forests. There you plant fruit and nut trees with edible berries, maybe some peas and green beans when the trees are small and when they are large you might be able to throw in some kiwi or grapes. On the north/shady side of the tree, you plant edibles like wild strawberries, miners lettuce, siberian miners lettuce, bunchberry, violets, hostas. Salmonberries, trailing blackberry, thimbleberry will all also grow on the shady side. Or you could just fill the shady side with clover or trefoil to fix nitrogen. In front/sunny side of your more mature fruit trees, you plant things that do well in partial shade--strawberries, chives, walking onions, etc. You can start out your food forest--just like in nature--with a lot of annuals and sun-loving plants. My forest is only 4 years old. I grow nasturtiums, strawberries, sweet cicily, chives, miners lettuce, and echinacia under my trees. I could do more, but life is crazy right now and I don't have money to buy lots of plants. I used to grow peas and green beans under them, and there's radishes that self-seeded there. too. I even put a garden bed between two of my trees and grow beets, carrots, radishes, squash, cucumbers, green beans, and green onons there. As it gets shaded out, I'll transition it to more shade-loving edibles.

Here's my apple tree garden bed: https://permies.com/t/50364/Raised-Garden-Bed-Hugel-Fruit


Fruit and nut trees and shrubs create a LOT of food, a lot easier than annual gardens. They also provide habitat and cooler temperatures and a host of other benefits. A food forest is a way of growing even more food along side those wonderful trees, while helping those trees be healthier. Permaculture isn't just food forests, but they are a wonderful component that may or may not work with what you want to achieve. Joeseph Lofthouse, for example, grows a LOT of annuals in an amazing permaulture way that works for him, his and his community's needs, and his environment. https://permies.com/t/57161/Photos-Joseph-Lofthouse-Garden

And, yeah, figuring this all out takes time--it sure did for me! I very much recall my times of "rigid" thinking as I tried to consolidate all these ideas together. I still am!

Oh, and ducks are wonderful for your slug problem. I had an insane amount of slugs, being by a pond in the rainy northwest, surrounded by wetlands on a north-facing slope. Now, I can't even find a slug if I try! But, I have duck eggs, and duck bedding that I can then use for mulch around my trees and to build garden beds. It all works together!
 
S Bengi
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Our regular agricultural system is closer to a grassland, what we call a food forest is more like a food savanna/woodland. It is not really a grassland and not really a real forest, we like edge.

Also if we are going to be technical alot of these food forest the we are creating are on 1acres of land, maybe 5acres of land. At no point can we call 1acres of plants a "FOREST".
But there are some people creating 1000 acre food forest and other with a 1/5 acre city lot creating food forest. And it will vary.

But to be more specific what are you trying to grow and what problem are you trying to solve. If you can define that it will be easier to get some help from the crowd.
 
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