Who is growing a food forest ? Well I will timidly raise my hand that my intent is to. I have varieties of fruit and nut trees planted interplanted with things like hawthorne , cedar, willow, honey locust, fir also planted in what was an empty pasture . Most of my plantings are tiny whips and saplings with some mature apples, walnut , spruce and fir , plums, figs, hazelnut, peach, nectarine , grapes, kiwi . I have two ponds dug and a liner salvaged to put in the larger 20 ft x 40 ft pond this summer out in the pasture area which hopefully will one day be denser food forest with small avenues and clearings left for small livestock grazing and or other food production like small lots of grains perhaps . Right now it looks more like a hopeful orchard planted with salvaged pallets tied to form boxes around the planted trees to give protection from the horses I currently have. It is a challenge and I have as many fails as successes . Being in Canada , nothing seems to grow as fast as I would like .
It is a start and that is all any of us have. I think one of the pieces of starting is research about what local indigenous people ate in our location. (until they were either pushed out or killed, of course) Out here it would appear that Native Americans were all out on the shore. They must have journeyed inland some, for hunting and gathering but they were primarily people living on the marine edge of the forest. There are a few native people around here who can teach a little about wild foods, but not much. Just one plant is significant however. In my more urban gardening I have evolved to relying on giant red mustard for my greens almost exclusively because it is so easy. Could be its spicy flavor makes it somewhat uninteresting to deer? I'm going to find out.
It seems to me that wild food is the place to start because it is adapted to the place. I also have no problem with introducing domestics into the forest. (sigh) So much to learn. So little time.
Some time ago I noticed something about hugelkultur and just passed it by. Now I have looked into it more and realize that it may have important meaning for our forest project. We have huge trashpiles, left from the clearcut, that are small areas of several thousand square feet where there is still a lot of light and not much growing. With an excavator I can get into those and create giant hugelkulturs where I could do some intensive planting. My deer and elk, being browsers, move as they eat and do not usually destroy plants totally. If I plant enough there will be some left for humans, especially if we also eat the deer and elk. (Strangely, they find this frightening.)
Thank you Dave, adding comment to what you mentioned , I started a hugelkulture style bed with windfalls and brambles exposed over winter, added prunings and will slowly work to cover it further with soiled bedding from our barns and it came together as a means to clean up and put to use the woody fibrous materials and serve as a buffer to absorb or deflect road noise since it is a small 4 acres in a suburban area of hobby farms but when this slow project matures to fruition it will serve to additionally to grow food and add privacy from the public road for an outdoor living area off of the front of the house .
I also have no problems introducing species at this point , and in fact I think it is imperative we add biodiversity even with introduced species as our conventional forestry management has introduced so much cloned and GMO trees that I have concerns our forests have the genetic diversity to adapt to climate change and worry our biomass will decline at far greater rates due to that lack of genetic diversity and also I doubt diversity can naturally spread and adapt at the excalated rate of change we may experience due to our impacts and natural feedback processes set in motion.
Mine is a bare bones work in progress at this point. There is a 80 yard section of wooded creek bed that was overgrown with honeysuckle when we moved here in 2000. 80% of the trees in that 5-20' strip of woods at the creeks edge were boxelder, dying back as the result of early strangulation with the vines. I cleared out most of the honeysuckle and a lot of chinese privet, leaving a couple mimosa(nitrogen fixers), several large wild black walnuts, a few very large tulip poplars, and a couple hackberry and mulberry in among the boxelders. I'm very slowly developing it by transplanting in wildlings that I find elsewhere in the yard (mulberries, elderberries, blackberries) and seedgrown desireables (Pawpaw, hawthorn, serviceberry, peashrub).
Tallest to smallest:
Tulip poplars--very large, produce large amounts of leaves (mulch), have teacup sized blooms that various local wild bee species love, and tremendous numbers of seeds that feed the grey and red squirrels (protein portion of the food forest ) Light strong wood, useful for various things if a tree comes down.
Mulberry--potentially huge--the biggest one I've ever seen (at least 60' tall, with a trunk diameter of over 5'!) is just a quarter mile from where I sit)--produces lots of berries for me and my hens, as well as the wild turkeys. I have one in fine shape, one with a lot of damage, and a bunch of small ones transplanted from the yard where wild birds dropped them. Berries in the higher branches draw birds whose droppings are decent as fertilizer.
Black walnut--large, very open canopy to let light down to smaller juglone tolerant plants, heavy crop of nuts to feed the family and the aforementioned flufftailed protein. The juglone makes planning/planting tricky, but wild elders, blackberries, mimosa, mulaberries and several others are already happily growing nearby.
Boxelders--medium sized short lived trees wth brittle wood. The wood is good for hugelkulture, though quite a few craftsmen use pieces twisted by honeysuckle to make interesting walking sticks. Said to be useful for sap to make syrup and edible seeds, though I have yet to try that. Mine are mostly dying back, so the wood is slowly rotting in place beneath the trees like tremendously large pieces of bark mulch.
Pawpaw--medium sized, pyramidal tree that naturally grows as an understory, juglone tolerant, with big tropical fruit. I bought seeds from a catalog, and have over a dozen young trees along the creek now. They ought to start flowering this year or next.
Hawthorne--large shrub/small tree, flowers for bees, fruit for me. Starting from seed this year.
Serviceberry--large shrub/small tree, flowers for bees, fruit for me. Starting from seed this year.
Elderberry--shrub, grows wild around here. small, shortlived perennial that resproutsand spreads readily from the roots. Flowers for the bees, and for wine according to Euell Gibbons; berries for wine and pies.
Peashrub--shrub, Nitrogen fixer, beans for me and for my chickens. Starting from seed this year.
Currant--native clove currant, growing some from cuttings, flowers for bees, fruit for me.
Blackberry--native, birds drop the seeds everywhere; I'm transplanting them from around the yard to patches along the creek. Love the berries, though so do rodents...and their hunters--I waded into one patch a couple years ago and smelled the 'wet goat' smell of a disturbed copperhead. I backed out slowly and let him have the patch for the rest of the season.
Wild Ginger--haven't tried this native groundcover yet--it grows wild and was used by the first settlers as a replacement for real ginger. There are a couple of small patches near the creek that I might ought to expand and try.
rivercane--the 5-6' variety around here grows in thick patches and takes over, but as I cut the patch here back I'm using the hollow sections to stick in tin cans to make homes for mason bees to hang around the property.
Honeysuckle--invasive foreign perennial that damages trees, I've been killing out as much of it as I can, though the birds start new patches by eating and pooping out the berries. Hummingbirds do love them though, and I think I could use them adn the river cane to make some short cone shaped trellises by teepeeing the stakes and using the pliable vines for weaving in and out.
Native Cedars--I have a long windbreak of these paralelling the creek--they serve as winter shelter/summer nesting sites for the wild birds. Some of these are 15' tall now, but I was thrilled when they were only 4-6' tall, as I found many praying mantis egg cases in them, rabbits ducking under them when I walked nearby, and even a baby bluebird puttering around amid them.
Rose of Sharon--these are a self seeding large shrub/small tree that a previous owner had planted along the other side of the creek. They've seeded themselves around the area over the past 20 years--they are very shade tolerant and draw bees quite well, so I'm leaving them for the time being although they do cast a LOT of seedlings. I suppose some of these could be potted up for plant swaps or sold, or just be decorative.
Attached is an image of a two-year-old mini food forest I'm working on in South FL. About a dozen fruit trees, plus climbing yams, cassava, nutrient accumulators, etc. Everything grows fast down there.
The food forest at my house in N FL. is bigger (almost 3 years old) but I've had trouble getting good nitrogen fixers here. It also doesn't look that impressive right now since the frosts have knocked everything back. By mid-summer, it's rocking.
I actually wrote a simple article on food forests for Mother Earth News a week or so ago:
I am basically in the same situation as you. I live with my "four legged" child in a urban style setting. I will be starting the transformation of my .42 acre lot this spring with food forest/permaculture techniques. Right now I am in a PDC course and I am working on a lot layout for my wish list design. I first drew up what was existing. I am now starting to sketch in hardscape elements and starting to plan for the seeds/plants that I have. In doing all of this, I have been doing a lot of research into layering along the edges to best minimize the wind, but still allow for frost to drain. I want to also use the various layers to develop microclimates in which not only natives survive, but in which I can start to push the zone limits for plants that can survive, so as to further encourage diversity with sytem stability as well. I am trying to take into consideration a lot of things and trying not to get overwhelmed in the process. Nitrogen fixing, edibility, supporting pollinators, attracting birds/insects, root structure, medicinal/herbal use possiblities, potential guilds, other uses, and the list goes on. I know that the system will be pretty labor intensive intially, but I do need it to develop into a system that will become quite self sustaining. Being a one woman show for the care of the lot garden/forest who also works full time, I don't want to have a system that will overwhelm me and deter me from continuing the process. My thought is to start at the edges, build the layers there, learn from them and work my way in. As I work in, the enviroment should become more and more favorable for experimentation and support of the many plants that I hope to someday grow. Initially, as I develop the edge areas, I also want to plant wild areas in wildflowers and the likes to not only start to attract bird, pollinators and other beneficial insects, but they should help to start to break up the soil, add biomass, some will be edible, herbal and medicinal and they will also be beautiful, hopefully interesting and appeasing my neighbors to be open to the process that my lot will be going through in the coming years.
All in all, I am really looking forward to moving from the planning stage into starting to execute. Mistakes will be made, I am sure, but they will be lessons in what works in my system and what doesn't. Hopefully the system will become a major source of edibles and the like for not only myself, but my family, neighbors and friends. Hopefully it will open up doors so that people ask questions and have it become an inspiration for others of what they can do.
Best of luck to everyone with their food forest paradises. I look forward to seeing how everyone's systems develop and learn from those that have forged ahead of me.
"Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you." ~Maori Proverb
some of my beds are self fertilizing, as they have been established for many years..most still are too young though.
I have some beds around my house that have been self fertilizing for about 7 or 8 years includiing the beds with the pears, peaches, sweet cherries and strawberries in them. I have some that are reaching self fertilizing level about now, that is another area with cherries and hazelnuts. Also the walnut food forest areas are pretty much self fertilizing as they are on the edges of the woods so they are getting blown in leaves and debris from the woods itself.
I have a lot of new baby trees that I've mulched with wood chips or bark chips, they still do require some care and then I have been putting in even newer smaller baby trees the past year or two and they require a lot of care yet..
my more established beds though have been self fertilizing now for about 8 years (since our housefire nearly 12 years ago we had to re do all of our beds)
Bloom where you are planted.