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Who is growing a food forest?

 
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I have planted trees over the years, and I have gardened. This is all relatively new to me, and I'm stoked but also somewhat overwhelmed and scattered. The area that I have always gardened is about an acre in size, give or take. It lies NW of the house about 20 yards out. The area where I have planted trees is out in front of the house (east) and is about five acres or so, I guess - maybe a bit less -and has a mix of trees from longleaf and slash pines, burr oaks, live oaks, ash, redbud and others to fruit trees such as peaches, pears, plums and such. My father is OLD SCHOOL, and he's got a little dementia creeping up now at 85. It severely disturbs his Wah to not keep the Bermuda grass around the Turrentine Natl Forest out front mowed like a billiard table. I used to like that myself, even wishing some of the trees out front didn't have such low limbs to slap my face as I mowed with the tractor around them. Over the last year or so I floated the idea by him of creating paths among the trees out front and planting around the trees with native plants and edibles, rather than mowing it flat all the time. He rejected that outright and screwed up his face in such a way that I figured it'll take quite a bit more work to bring him around.

Dad was an executive in a defense firm for thirty years or so, and he's a little to the right of Brother John Birch in some ways. It is difficult to make a dent in the paradigm that governs his thinking on aesthetics and functionality and, well, everything else.

So what I'm left with presently is converting the garden acre into a food forest of sorts and letting the results guide me in my efforts to expand that notion outward to the rest of the farm.

Our place is shaped a bit like Oklahoma with the panhandle portion being the acre or more that extends down to the banks of the Brazos River just west of Weatherford. I could do whatever I like with the river property as well, for that matter, though it floods periodically every few years or so.

Needless to say we've had some dry years around the farm recently, and it sometimes gets as hot as 110F at the worst of times. It also gets a little cooler down by the river in winter than it would elsewhere in the county. Along the west side of the garden acre is a low area that has developed over the years as a result of my plowing. I figure I can take advantage of my former ineptness (permaculture principles at work there) and create a Hugelkultur in that space for starters. We have a good many pecan trees around the place that were grafted back in 1927, and they drop a lot of limbs now and then - more often lately as a result of the drought, I think. I've been dragging a few of those limbs over to that Hugelkultur area and even stealing some of the old fireplace logs dad has on the north side of the house that are too big for him to use without me splitting them for him. I need to stop that for now and get the area dug out a bit, I think, in order to accommodate an actual Hugelkultur as I've seen it done here and elsewhere online. I've considered renting one of those tiny backhoes perhaps, though I'd feel like I had more cred if I dug it all out with a shovel.

Something has bothered me this morning while I was watching one of Paul's lecture vids over breakfast. He mentioned that watering trees negates their inclination to send down good taproots and makes them dependent upon irrigation forever after. This past summer I didn't water the trees we had planted the previous autumn, partly because of sloth and partly from intervening circumstance beyond my control. Well, that all died. All my paw-paws, plums, peaches, quince, pear, etc. Everything except a cedar elm and a handful of oaks and such perished from drought, and also because the plague of grasshoppers ate every leaf off of everything that was under a certain age on the farm.

What I'm gathering as I read is that I have a few possible solutions, only some of which I can employ for the trees I have on order at the moment that are due to arrive in the next few weeks.

First and foremost I can create Hugelkulturs everywhere, but at least in the one spot in the garden I've already mentioned. I trust that these may solve at least some of my water issues for trees.

I cage my trees when they're very young, and I can wrap those cages with scraps of row cover that I've used for my winter gardens in the past over greens and such. This should help with the grasshopper problem.

One long, low area to the north of the garden could be converted into a pond, though this is currently quite beyond my ken and has the potential to be something of a boondoggle, if I know my personal history with projects well enough.

I can begin to plant trees by seed rather than mail-ordering 18-24" seedlings online as I've been accustomed to doing. I'm not sure why I think this will make a dramatic difference, but, again, I'd like to have some cred. I don't want to buy my way into permie status. I couldn't if I really wanted to anyway, given that I live most of the time in abject penury and prefer to remain that way, oddly enough.

I do have incidental plantings that occur by accident, such as the greens coming up in the north yard right now from the area where me and a friend were making seedballs for our eco-terror projects back in Dallas. I don't mow there, and I try to repeat those accidents elsewhere as well.

As an aside, I periodically scatter seeds into planters here in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas as I walk the dog during work hours. There is a restaurant full of hipsters a block from my office that has cacti growing in planters outside. It's full of greens I planted over time, though they occasionally pull them up when they get big and healthy looking. I was walking by the other day and plucked some kale out of it and shoved it in my mouth as I went by with my dog Otis and a friend of mine. I quickly realized that there were tiny cactus hairs all over it. My mouth just healed up the other day.

Anyway, I'm planning on planting the paw-paws, or some of them, and perhaps a few of the native fruit trees in the garden acre this month and planting or seed-balling around them as I go, staying away from the Hugelkultur area in the process, and starting the food forest there.

Dad just called me here at the office to let me know he's still alive and well after a day without me going to the farm. I mentioned all this to him, and he chuckled. He thinks I'm a bit of a wingnut, but he humors me.

That is the farm report for November 13, 2012.


This is the garden area:





I feel a little guilty about churning up all that wonderful sandy loam over the years now.





So now I guess it'll look like a moundy jungle if I do it right.

 
Frank Turrentine
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One of my pear trees.

 
Frank Turrentine
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Here are two crappy satellite pics of the farm.





Pink circles are where I think ponds might work. Light blue lines are where Hugelkulturs could go. The trees we've planted are more or less contained within the red circle. The garden area is within the yellow line. The river is over to the left just out of the frame.
 
Posts: 14
Location: Middle Georgia
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I have a "food forest". It is self sustaining and grows rampantly and mulches like crazy, feeds itself as well as birds and animals.
I did not grow it. I moved there. The forest does not need me to sustain itself. The question is: what can I do to make a place for
(me/you) in the ecosystem? When I got my 5 acres I was afraid to mow anything down. I did not know the trees and plants well
enough to know what were the beneficial herbs and plants. So I just started planting trees. Like another poster said, some did not
it. My general vegetable gardening has a lot to be desired too, but it is getting better. Your land will begin to teach you what and
where things will grow and what will not. I have a long way to go. But this year my Bees are doing well, so that is a big step forward.

Start a big compost pile. When you toss in your fresh fruit and vegetable scraps, it will help show you what to grow. Your place will
surprise you, like it did me.In addition to blackberries and muscadines,I have a bunch of small sassafras trees and beauty bushes,
both repel mosquitoes. Check with local extension and they can help you identify your "good stuff", and recommend companions for
the things you already have. May I suggest trying Almonds. I love pecans, but I am too old to wait 20 years for a good crop. Almonds
will grow anywhere peaches grow, and it only takes 5 or six years for a big crop. Northerners look for those needing more chill hours.

Good luck, sounds like a worthy endeavor.
 
Posts: 182
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Nick, I think your definition of Food Forest is too limiting. Patrick Whitefield, in How to Make a Forest Garden, showed several designs for forest gardens that were essentially a garden bed with 1 tree, 1 or 2 shrubs, and some understory plants, for someone with a tiny urban space.

My home garden is on a 1/8 acre lot, with about half of that space being buildings, paths, firewood and lumber storage, etc. But in the rest of the yard, we have a food forest. I have 2 apple trees, 2 plum trees, 1 peach. None are mature enough to produce fruit yet. I tried pears but they got eaten by rampaging deer and haven't been replaced. I have some young willows to help form a windbreak, in spots where they receive runoff from the alley or the compost pile. I also have a couple of suckering plum bushes, not sure what they will turn out to be, they are from a plum seedling someone gave me several years ago. I also have a young boxelder under a tall canopy of elms.

My shrub layer has Nanking cherries, which had their first crop last year, some Siberian pea shrubs, currants and gooseberries, a buffalo berry, serviceberry, and sumac. Also some purple leaf sand cherry. I tried elderberry, but I think they have died back. Have to wait for spring to see what is still alive. I have planted lots of things that didn't survive, like raspberries, blackberries, grapes, and other fruits.

In the lower layers I have lots of chives and perennial onions, comfrey, rhubarb, garlic chives, marshmallow herb and purple poppy mallow, asparagus, alfalfa, yellow sweet clover, daylilies, hollyhocks, thyme, yarrow, tarragon, mint, and garden sorrel, along with useful "weeds" like dandelion, plantain, purslane, lamb's quarters, shepherd's purse, amaranth, malva, and wild spinach. There are probably more that I have forgotten over the past few months. I keep planting strawberries, but they haven't really taken to my yard.

My vine layer is hops on a fence, that gives afternoon shade to a small sitting area, with horseradish and sunchokes as a root layer. I also have lots of volunteer sunflowers, which the wild birds love, as well as ants and aphids to feed the predator insects.

In small beds beneath all this abundance, I plant leafy greens like kale, chard, parsley, and spinach, sometimes am able to grow beans on my fence, and last year had a nice crop of winter squash in a sunnier spot.

I figure I have about 50 species of perennials in this small yard, which provides part of my food needs, while producing buckets of greens to feed my chickens last year. So I think that qualifies as a food forest. I am also in the beginning stage of planning and planting a food forest at my market garden a couple blocks away (does that count as a zone 4?), but that will be a story for another time.
 
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I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who is attempting a food forest in a place similar to mine. I manage a family forest of 116 acres on the Olympic Peninsula in NW Washington. I live in this forest part of each year. Our goals for the forest are educational for our descendants, recreational for all of us now, and financial. (if any logging ever takes place it will be selective and sustainable....never a clearcut) I have a degree in Ag. and was a Biology teacher many years ago.

I've read Crawford and much of it is interesting, however our forest is alive with bears, deer and elk. Fencing is out of the question, so whatever we do has to be self-sustaining, self-protecting, self-regulating. Natural!! We can do some things around the edges such as thinning for species that can survive and spread. At 77 years of age I will never see the results of what I do now but I can envision where it might go if I start the right thing. I began by asking for help from (highly paid) and well-known permaculture "experts" who either because they were too busy or because they had no idea about how to approach it, were not interested in it, and gave me one really stupid suggestion which I will not relate here.

The forest was re-planted to Doug Fir by a timber company, post clearcut, in 2000, so it is at a very young age and nearly impenetrable. I cleared about an acre just to plant a set of native edible shrubs/berries and it looks like I got about a 50% survival rate, which is a success, but the animals will get more interested in them as they mature. I'm hoping birds will carry seed to other "edges" of light. The bears will kill a percentage of the young firs over time which may be okay, since this is a Hemlock Spruce climax forest which is where it will end up in time. Ironically, when it is more mature there will be less light for the edible stuff and whatever I do now will be confined to edges which naturally occur only with blowdown or fire. We do have small groves of young Red Alder which are probably our best areas to approach some form of ag. (I've begun some Shitake culture on Alder stumps. No results yet.) The climax species however will attempt to move in and will succeed if left unattended.

Which leads me to a question. In all of the comments about forest gardens I don't see mention of what the succession really is. Left to its own devices any land will proceed to some ecological climax over time. Why aren't forest gardeners and permaculture people discussing this as the template within which they must intervene? If they don't, it seems to me they are just temporary farmers like my more urban home where I grow veggies, fruits and chickens. (the hawks and coyotes in our forest would love it if I raised chickens there!) I could go on here but for now is there anyone out there who is attempting a food forest in a coniferous climax forest area of a size large enough for predators and mature enough to approach mature forest light, or the absence thereof?

Thanks,

 
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