I was watching an old video from geoff lawton and i was struck by how fast he created a forest that towered over him. He said it took about 10 years to go from grassland to forest. I thought wow its been 3 years for some of my trees here and all of them except the asian pears are small. I planted them and then a year later planted autumn olives, comfrey and various herbs around them. If i remember correctly i think geoff first starts with large canopy nitrogen fixers. At some point later he fills in spaces with smaller nitrogen fixers and fruit trees. Could that possibly be the reason why the food forests he plants take off like rockets and mine is taking longer? Granted i haven't waited the entire 10 years and i know tree growth accelerates once they get established but i cant imagine they will be towering over me in 7 more years 😄. I feel like permaculture is making more sense as i go out there, do things, observe and then go back watch the videos and read the books again.
I guess my question is what should i be doing now to keep things moving along? I’m putting wood chips around all the fruit trees. The spacing was worked out by my wife who took a PDC. Every fruit tree has a nitrogen fixing bush near it, comfrey, herbs for pest confusion. Things are changing for the better but really slowly. It seems like geoff gets these forests going super fast and i don't understand how.
I have found that 3 years is when the growth really starts. The old saying applies: the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap.
I would suspect water to be the #1 thing. Not sure your situation. With mine, its literally filling an ibc tote and hauling it to water 30+ trees. Needless to say, its hard to stay on it. After the third year they can fend for themselves. If geoff has irrigation set up and I (we) don't......
Good point. Yeah for 2 years I’ve hauled water by hand to each tree. Needless to say i wasn’t perfect about it. In Portland we typically have a several month drought in the summer. I try to give each tree about 2-4 gallons a week until the rains start again in the fall but sometimes I forget. A rain catchment system is in the permaculture design but not installed yet. Large rain barrels can be pretty expensive so I’ve been putting it off.
William - No he's in the subtropics and I'm in the Cold-summer Mediterranean according to wikipedia.
Michael- yeah I've been beginning to suspect that's what is going on. The growth there is crazy. The positive about that is if you direct succession towards food forest you get a massive food forest really fast. I wish he'd do some temperate climate videos to show what's possible in those areas.
I told my wife to take pictures of the property every year so in 7 more years she can tell me I was wrong about growth being slow haha
I know exactly what you mean- I started my food forest less than 6 months ago and am sometimes impatient with it.. I want mulberries and bananas and figs and guavas and star fruit now, dammit! I find myself searching for things to do to make it grow faster, but look at a real forest with all native plants... it takes a looong time to get there, especially to the point of being self-sufficient. Also I feel like I would be a lot less motivated if I lived in a climate with real winters.. I am lucky to be close to the tropics (south florida) where things grow too fast sometimes. Gotta just enjoy it while it's happening.
Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you sow.
As you mentioned, I believe one of the things that Lawton does is that he doesn't just plant 100% fruit trees in the beginning. If I remember correctly, he has something like 90% fast growing nitrogen fixers at the start. As he is rehabbing the land, he expects a higher rate of tree loss when starting out, and it isn't a complete wash to have to chop and drop a nitrogen fixer. As time progresses, between natural losses and selective chop and drop, the biodiversity of the trees changes from 90% pioneer nitrogen fixers and 10% fruit trees to 10% nitrogen fixers and 90% fruit trees, nut trees, and natives. The improvement to the soil creates conditions so there is a lower casualty rate to the fruit trees and they grow quicker and stronger.
Another thing to note is he isn't growing from seed at day one. I'm pretty certain all of his trees are started in a greenhouse a few years ahead of time, so it is more like a 13 year old food forest. Having irrigation set up in advance so the trees are never thirsty probably helps towards consistent fast growth. He also has many years of experience, and isn't just picking random fruit trees that he likes, or that he 'thinks' will grow well for him. I am fairly certain he is very deliberate with his choices to stack the deck in his favor to get the outcome he wants. This is one thing I notice a lot with gardeners around here. Many of them are from the north and want to grow exactly what they did in the past. The climate here is different and you can't expect everything to acclimate. Even simple microclimate changes can cause big wins or losses.
It's probably much easier to succeed with trees that are very well known to work, and then slowly change out a few trees at a time to things you would like to have or experiment with, than it is to start out with a bunch of experiments at day one and expecting a high rate of success. It can be hard to tell what went right or wrong when there are lots of experiments and not enough control specimens. Lawton is a wizard in his climate and extremely knowledgeable of other climates. I think for anyone to get to his ten year food forest in 15 years time would be doing exceptionally well!
Since you aren't too terribly far along yet, it might be worthwhile to look in to some native nitrogen fixing pioneer tree species. I remembered something about alder being used, and came across this article:
Since you already have some trees started, it would take some time for pioneer species like the red alder to create any significant shade on your existing trees. By the time they get that far, they could easily be chopped back to improve the soil. Until that time, they can create a tiny bit of shade and habitat both above and below ground. Since they will be culled anyway, you could probably just plug them in between the existing tree spacing without any worry of crowding. As a native plant, it should be easy to source and only cost a little bit of time. It might be something worth investigating. Good luck!
I think the thing I often fail to realize ( and this is hard for humans in general ) is that plant growth is exponential. Well maybe not exponential but exponential like. Getting 2 strawberries the first year and 5 the second year doesn't mean you'll get 10 the 3rd year. You might get 30. I've seen this on a bunch of trees here where it'll make a few flowers the first year, a bunch the second year and then a hundred or so the third year. Year 8, 9 and 10 of the food forest might see extreme growth even though it looked like not much was happening in years 1-8.
My in-laws farmed bananas (until they retired) about 20kms away from Geoff Lawtons place. I was amazed how things grew there, you could have a clear area and then trees like Toona ciliata would be 20' tall in the same spot the following year. 80" rainfall and long humid subtropical summers help a lot when it comes to instant gardening! But gardening is actually easier in temperate climates, less pests, bugs etc. And I personally sleep better with cooler night time temps.
Chris Holcombe wrote:So without the usual 6 month break that trees in the temperate zone take would you say that a 10yr old food forest in the subtropics is equivalent to a 20yr old temperate forest?
Nah that equation is too simplistic. Taking into account site characteristics like temperature and diurnal variaiton, rainfall and drought/flooding intensity, light levels (often significantly lower in the subtropics due to summer rainfall pattern), soil texture and depth, mineral and microbiological characteristics as well as the plant physiology and the whole thing is complex. Subtropical primary coloniser trees can grow extremely fast, but so can their temperate coloniser equivalents, eg red alder.
In the subtropics you can realistically expect to be eating your first harvested bananas within 2 years of planting, and other fruits not too long after. But even in my much cooler NZ climate I am getting fruit within 5 years from seedling cool-tolerant trees like nectarine, peach, cherimoya, white sapote, and in less time from grafted trees like citrus and avocados. No doubt Portland would be similar. The higher the latitude the longer the summer light levels, so latitude alone is not the defining issue... unless you are trying to grow a tree that requires a 12 month long hot growth period of course.
The main difference between gardening in the wet subtropics and temperate zones is the work level needed to maintain the lush vitality of the subtropical growth rate. The subtropical site is trying to evolve into rainforest, and it takes a lot to keep it in check.
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