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Creating canopy and understory?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 76
Location: Ontario zone 4b
2
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I am currently new to forest gardening and i am very fascinated by this concept and would love to create a way for my family to have fresh food throughout the growing season ...my understanding is layering you're forest consists of 7 different layers ..i have concerns with the first two canopy and understory trees. Currently i am growing apple pear white mullberry persimmon and cherry plum. My question is can i use mullberry as a canopy layer and then use either apple plum or pear as the next layer. I know that the understory should be shade tolerant but can i not guild these plants and face one south and the other west or any other direction. Any feedback on this would be great thank you.
 
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Hi Jordan, I'm also pretty new to this (2 years in- so no canopy in place yet) but I think I know what you mean. I'm growing a canopy layer close to the road, which is my north side, and starting to grow another canopy layer, which is on my west side (southern hemisphere), where it is also a windbreak. I think this is working really well so far. That said:

I think it may depend a lot on the size of your food forest, and your climate whether this is a good system. We have about 1/2 acre to have a food forest, but we're not using it all yet. I was nervous to create too much shade too soon. What I've realised in our climate (Mediterranean) is that shade is super valuable even for sun loving fruit trees. So we could probably afford to have more tall trees -- i.e. another canopy layer.

My house casts quite a bit of shade, also, so trying to figure out how your house factors in might also be valuable.
 
Jordan Johnston
Posts: 76
Location: Ontario zone 4b
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House is northern facing and the southern yard is just long enough to catch full sun the western part of the yard does not get sun until midday as it is shaded by the house. All in all i have some restrictions to deal with I'm in a suburban area my south side is next to a busy road also I'm across from a park full of deer i have a big old crab tree in the western facing part of the yard that takes up a considerable amount of space and i really only have room for four trees in a way i would love to guild my way into saving space and prune the trees heavily to a lead. My little forest if too densely covered could produce a lot of food but would have to be managed not like a typical food forest that can just be left alone. All in all its like a mini forest I'm figuring a canopy can consist of some tall growing trees that can save space vertically on the south and if i face them to the northern side of the south yard  and plant a under story tree  on the southern tip it will still get sun in the morning and evening . Lol its such a conundrum. Anyway thanks for the feedback i appreciate it
 
pollinator
Posts: 942
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur urban
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I wouldn't get too fussy about getting everything just perfect.  I've seen people lose sight of the big picture as they try to get all 7 layers of the forest working in perfect harmony and trying to find a little niche for every little plant.  Don't sweat it and become frozen in your need to make it perfect.

1. Start with the big stuff.  What are the trees you want or absolutely must have?  Will it be apples?  Avocados? Nut trees?  Get the big stuff planted first, and then look to see what kinds of understory plants will work within that framework.  Its like packing the trunk of your car: you put the big stuff in first (suitcases) before you put the little stuff.  A lemon tree usually gets massive, so give the trees the space they'll need in 10 years.  I've found that the whole "backyard orchard culture" thing is more work than it's worth, as is the practice of planting 2 or 3 or more trees in a single hole.  Let the tree be a tree -- let it grow.

2.  Your forest will change from year to year.  What you are able to grow beneath your canopy layer will differ significantly from year 1 to year 5.  By year 10, it'll be far different still.  So planting an understory of perennial plants may work short-term, but long-term, there may not be enough sunlight to support productivity.  I wouldn't spend a lot of money on understory perennials unless you are sure they'll thrive.  Annuals, on the other hand, are cheap and easy to located in micro-climates around your food forest.  The commitment to a package of cabbage seeds is far less than the cost of expensive bushes.

3.  The whole "vining layer" thing: it's really much more complex than just letting vines run up and over whatever they  want to grow on.  Vines are tremendously heavy as they grow.  They can break branches and created a tangled mess, so I keep those plants to a minimum.  I train vines to cover shade structures around my house, but don't let them climb into my fruit trees.  I've got passion fruit on a pergola right outside my back door.  But I don't want vines growing in my pom fruits or stone fruits.

4.  There is a spectrum of management with the whole food-forest thing.  My food forest is highly managed.  Nothing is left to just go wild.  I prune my trees annually, plant veggies and other crops throughout the system, and I'm even careful about where I let the chickens scavenge.  I mulch aggressively with wood chips and pull weeds as they emerge.  Others plant a food forest and then, basically, walk away.  They select plants that don't need much ongoing care and supervision.  You may find yourself somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum.  Make it work for you: don't be a slave to someone's vision of a 7-layer forest.  If you've only got 4 layers, but you are growing what you want, that's fantastic.

Best of luck.
 
Posts: 1918
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Food forests are a much misunderstood beast. Some people view constructing them as a project in getting as much planting as possible into as dense an area as possible. This generally leads to unproductive plants, deep shading and disappointment.

Edible Forest Gardens - Amazon

The books linked above look at these issues in detail, and visit a whole series of established food forests to look at what worked well, and what did not.

I think of one the issues is that the word "forest" sets up some preconceptions which are unhelpful. In general, forests have dense closed canopies, tends to be comprised of a few major species, and tend to be mature. A forest garden, on the other hand, is more productive when it is not a dense closed canopy. You want light at lots of levels. You want gaps and openings with lots of edge effects. You want to carefully plan the aspect, to make sun traps and sheltered glades. You want crops that are in reach so you can pick them. I definitely recommend the books linked above.
 
Jordan Johnston
Posts: 76
Location: Ontario zone 4b
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Thank you very much this advice is really helpful i think i know what to do i do have some shorter trees that i like and have some space for them the myrobalan cherry plum will be perfect they can get anywhere from 12 to 20 ft and it sure beats the 50 ft white mullberry or the slow growing persimmon all the trees i truly love but i am growing them from seed and i think i will just guerilla garden those trees around the nieghbourhood.
 
Posts: 19
Location: Northern Kentucky
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forest garden homestead
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The persimmon needs a male and female tree to fruit and may not be suitable for a small lot. But you could aggressively prune the mulberry into a small tree or bush if it is a favorite fruit. Then you would have to opportunity to guerilla garden all those nice cuttings you prune off.
 
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