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!!! Let’s start a food forest  RSS feed

 
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Getting Started with Food Forests

This week's blog post - What is a Food Forest? (And How to Get Started) is all about the basics of food forests.

The post focuses on walking you through the concept of a food forest through a simplified structure with less layers than often discussed.

Later I will be releasing additional posts on food forests that will cover food forests in more detail and in more depth. But this post is really focused on what a food forest is, why you would want to grow a food forest, and the basics of how to grow a food forest.

Here is an outline of the post:

1. Introduction.
2. The Basic Structure of a Forest.
3. Benefits of a Food Forest.
4. How to Start Your Own Food Forest

I’m not going to cover all that here but let’s dive into the basics of how to start a food forest. But make sure to check out the full blog post and the cheat-sheet which has a sample guild structure for fruit trees and 2 example guilds for apple trees.

Time to Design/Plant a Food Forest



If you want to start your own food forest you need to first determine where to put it, how big to make it, and what you want to grow. This may seem obvious but sometimes it is easy to skip past the basics.

There is a fine line to walk between location and what you want to grow. Some plants like annual vegetables are better to plant if your food forest is in zone 1 or 2. But if you are focused on self-seeding annual vegetables, perennial vegetables, nut trees, and in general crops that you harvest mostly all at once then zone 3 or even zone 4 is likely a better choice location wise.

If you only have one location to plant a food forest let that guide what you end up planting there. Don’t forget the guidelines around permaculture zones. But that might mean you don’t grow what you originally wanted to if it does not fit the location.

Also, if this is your first food forest try to keep it small at first. You can always expand it later on as you get the hang of it.

Once you have a location picked out and you know what you want to grow it is time to determine the number and size of fruit / nut trees you want to plant.

After that I like to pick out berries and other shrubs to go around the trees. These can provide their own harvest or provide support (nitrogen fixing, mulch producers, etc.) for the other plants.

It is always a good idea to include nitrogen fixers. In fact at the start you can have more nitrogen fixers than you ultimately want and overtime remove them as the rest of your food forest gets going. But I always like to have a few nitrogen fixers even once the food forest is established.

Also, make sure to include some non-woody (herbaceous plants) around the shrubs. Mix in some good shade tolerant plants, some groundcovers, etc. These can be edible, medicinal, or support plants. Flowers are great for bringing in pollinators and beneficial insects that will help your trees.

Don’t forget that a forest often has logs, snags, rockpiles, etc. that provide great habitat for wildlife. Your food forest in my view won’t truly mimic a natural forest without some of these habitat features. I would try to add at least one to each tree.

Top it all off with a good mulch layer and your food forest is off to a great start!

Now obviously this is a fairly simple outline and designing a food forest can get much more complicated. You could add in swales, hugelkultur beds, etc. But this is enough to get you started and would be vastly superior to a traditional orchard.

Are You Going to Start Your Own Food Forest?


*This is 1 of 2 food forests I’m currently working on at my place. I still got a lot of work to do but already the 2 food forests are adding a lot to my homestead.

Make sure to visit the full blog post to get more information all about food forests. I share some of my wild tips and more to help you get started with your own food forest.

Food forests really are one of my favorite permaculture ideas and I’m excited to see my own grown and change overtime. Plus, I’m getting ready to design a large food forest for my day job that will ultimately be open to the public as a learning area.

I hope you will consider starting your own food forest if you have not already. Food forests really are a fantastic addition to any homestead.

I would love to hear what you think about food forests and if you have planted one or are going to plant one on your homestead!

If you are one of the first to leave a comment on this thread there will likely be apples waiting for you.

Plus, if you go to the blog post and are the first from permies to leave a "good" comment on the actual blog post I got a piece of pie for you! Just make sure to comment here too saying you commented on the blog post so I can give you your pie (if you use 2 separate names please tell me!).

Thank you!
 
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I think that planting a food forest is easier if you're starting with few to no existing trees. Trying to work around an existing forest, as I am, can be harder. Since I'm not in a position to make big plans, I've settled for small ones. For example, I am trying to plant shrubs in clusters with support plants to help with pollination. Recently I planted 4 Honeyberry shrubs and accompanied them with comfrey. There were existing iris, a couple of baby salal, and a sword fern just north of where I was planting, and lots of raspberry canes just south. The web said that chives are also good companions to Honeyberry, but they're not where I'd like regular chives, so I'm starting some Garlic chives and hoping that's similar enough. The elephant's in the room are two Wet Coast cedars (IOW big - ~150 ft tall) to the north-east and north-west and the new plants are within the drip line of the west one in particular. We shall see how they do...
 
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Yeah, I think adapting a current forest has to be harder than building a forest on grass land.  I'm doing it on an acre, and it takes a while to get grass/groundcover established, and digging for new plants.  Right now I have a huge Tulip Poplar over-story that provides good shade for new grass and trees, but will have to come down at some point

It's still fun, and you learn a lot... but definitely slows you down.  Seems to force you more to use hand tools.
 
Daron Williams
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Jay Angler wrote:I think that planting a food forest is easier if you're starting with few to no existing trees. Trying to work around an existing forest, as I am, can be harder. Since I'm not in a position to make big plans, I've settled for small ones. For example, I am trying to plant shrubs in clusters with support plants to help with pollination. Recently I planted 4 Honeyberry shrubs and accompanied them with comfrey. There were existing iris, a couple of baby salal, and a sword fern just north of where I was planting, and lots of raspberry canes just south. The web said that chives are also good companions to Honeyberry, but they're not where I'd like regular chives, so I'm starting some Garlic chives and hoping that's similar enough. The elephant's in the room are two Wet Coast cedars (IOW big - ~150 ft tall) to the north-east and north-west and the new plants are within the drip line of the west one in particular. We shall see how they do...



I would agree overall and it sounds like you are dealing with it the best you can. What I would add though is that grasslands are also a pain in their own way. I find that I can get trees established far easier in forest soils than I can in grasslands. For my day job I deal with large restoration projects and most of the time I'm restoring old pastures / farm fields to forests. But occasionally I get to work with old tree farms. Overall, dealing with the grass is more difficult and I tend to have lower survival rates in grass areas. The grass tends to compete heavily for water with the trees and when dealing with 5-10 acre plantings it is hard to water them (most of the time I can't).

But I'm not dealing with healthy forests with large trees and a decent understory. No need to restore those (from the point of view of my job). I can understand why it would be difficult to plant food forest plants into that type of forest.

One thing you might try is a restoration technique that is used to transition 2nd growth forests to old growth structure. In those situations the trees are often thinned to improve overall density but also small (can be decent in size) open areas are created by removing clusters of trees. The size of these open areas depend on the size of the overall forest and the specific habitat goals for the restoration work. But generally they are big enough that sun loving trees like red alder can grow in them. These open areas are then planted with hardwoods, shrubs, etc. that need a more open canopy and sunlight. I have always thought that this approach could work to establish fruit trees and berry bushes in an existing forest. You would end up with clusters of food forest scattered within the existing forest. In between the clusters you could work to establish more native edibles that are happy to grow under the shade of conifers.

Though unless you want to remove a fair number of the existing trees or even the majority it will always be much more shady than a regular temperate food forest as you are well aware.

In eastern Washington there was a forest where I would run for cross country training and in the middle there were these open pockets that were filled with old apple trees. The area had once been an orchard but was abandoned and the forest came back. But despite being surrounded by conifers the apples in these open areas still produced. My friends and I would stop and get apples during our runs

There are also a lot of native edibles that can grow and produce in semi-shade and shade. I'm currently designing a food forest that will be 90% native edibles for my day job. It will mostly be in an open area but also have parts with existing trees. I might extend it to include a nearby forested area that is overcrowded and not healthy. The UW Burke Museum has a list of native plants/animals that were used by native people in this area. I'm using this list to help pick out native plants. Here is the site and a link to the list:

- https://www.burkemuseum.org/blog/salish-bounty-traditional-native-foods-puget-sound
- https://www.burkemuseum.org/sites/default/files/reviving_traditional_food_knowledge.pdf

Also, the site Native Foods Nursery is a great place to learn about native edibles. I order plants from them but I also use their site as a reference guide.

- http://nativefoodsnursery.com/

These plants might help expand what is possible for your food forest.

I really like Pacific water leaf and miners lettuce for salads and as cooking greens. Red wood sorrel is another good one and there are several native violets that have edible leaves. There are several native onions--I just got these planted and have yet to try harvesting them. Then of course there are a ton of berries. Black cap raspberries and the huckleberries are my favorite but I also enjoy thimbleberries and salmonberries and of course serviceberries are also great. But I'm sure you are familiar with the berries.

I really think we have yet to figure out how to optimize our temperate forests for food production like people already did for the tropical areas. It would be interesting to see what combination of native edibles and non-native edibles would work in this type of environment. Perhaps with a few open clusters mixed in for more intense production. I think we might be surprised at what is possible.

Anyways, just some food for thought but I know you already have some great plans and are dealing with your situation in a way that works for you.

Good luck and thank you for the comment!
 
Daron Williams
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Josh Garbo wrote:Yeah, I think adapting a current forest has to be harder than building a forest on grass land.  I'm doing it on an acre, and it takes a while to get grass/groundcover established, and digging for new plants.  Right now I have a huge Tulip Poplar over-story that provides good shade for new grass and trees, but will have to come down at some point

It's still fun, and you learn a lot... but definitely slows you down.  Seems to force you more to use hand tools.



Thank you for your comment! Just a quick question for you. I'm curious why are you trying to get grass established in your food forest? Reason I'm asking is I'm going the opposite way and removing grass in both of mine. I'm still getting a good groundcover established... just without grass. I'm using sheet mulch to get rid of the grass and then planting living mulch plants that are edible, and/or nitrogen fixing, or beneficial in other ways.

Are you planning to graze animals through parts of your food forest? I have thought about establishing/leaving pasture in a future food forest of mine for that purpose. Anyways, just curious Thanks for your comment!
 
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Sounds very interesting but is that something for a garden of around 0.2 acre?
 
pioneer
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Florian Hübner wrote:Sounds very interesting but is that something for a garden of around 0.2 acre?



It can be scaled to any size.
 
Jay Angler
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Florian Hübner wrote:

Sounds very interesting but is that something for a garden of around 0.2 acre?  

Toby Hemenway did some very interesting work in the combined back yard of a duplex, but you have to choose your layers with care. For a negative example, Black Walnut discourages other plants (although there is a walnut guild), so I wouldn't recommend it in a small space. For positive examples, Hazelnut can be a taller plant, but can also be coppiced to keep it smaller and can provide both wood and nuts and Sea Buckthorn produces both berries and is a nitrogen fixer which can be managed as a hedge (although you need male and female plants for fruit).
Many gardens around here are planted purely with ornamental plants. Step one is to picture what replacing them with edible shrubs and trees would look like. For example, when we bought our house it came with a Flowering Dogwood in our front yard. If the owners had planted a Kousa Dogwood (http://eattheplanet.org/kousa-dogwood-fruit/) by now I'd be picking fruit. Its understory is a decorative plant in the mallow family, but there are edible plants in this family that could be substituted.
Depending on where you live, Jacke's "Edible Forest Gardens Vol 2" is an excellent reference as it has charts at the back giving the size and properties of many Northern North American plants. It's an expensive book, but I managed to convince my local library to buy and store it for me.  

 
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It’s cool to see what you’re doing with your food forest. I’m in a similar climate (just North of you on Haida Gwaii), and have just started my journey.

We’ve only been on this property since June and have a varied acre to work with - several different environments; swampy grassland / grassland with salmon berry brambles in zone 1 and 2, older red alder with young conifers around a large swale with stagnant pond filled with mud in zone 3, and a more mature area beyond that with even older alders and more young hemlock (very unhealthy forest) for zone 4/5.

The whole yard is full of slopes, with a few flat sections with more mature naturally forested areas in between.

I haven’t done much besides clean up (this was an old homestead site, with most of the remnants buried under the main yard), dig some minor earthworks to channel water and help with drainage, planted a couple small fruit trees, and knock up a mini hugelkultur/raised bed in zone 1 for some herbs. I’ve also just finished putting up a livestock fence around zone 1/2 to deter the overpopulation of invasive deer.

There are some interesting native plants around, which i’ve experimented with a bit; trimming back dead salmon berry canes, giving stink current bushes some breathing room (it’s really going hard this year!), clearing grass from around the patch of pearly everylsting, tapping a few red alders for sap, and of course collecting the wild bounty of salmon berry, salal berry, huckleberry and thimbleberry which grow in abundance wherever there’s space.

I have a bunch of saskatoon/serviceberry trees and beaked hazels coming next week which i’m excited to get into the ground; this will form the beginning of my food forest! I’ve built some terraces into a small slope, and built in some hugelkultur beds, which I will use as the first edge of the food forest. I’m planning to plant a couple of my new trees in it, with more in 3/4 sun with some morning shade, and a few more in full sun.

I’ve got a few beginner guilds around my zone 1 fruit trees (frankenstein apple and two plum, surrounded with strawberries and chives, with a few arugula which survived the winter), which i’ll pump up with some peas and borage as soon as this cold spell let’s my seeds germinate.

I’m still deep in design mode when it comes to food-foresting my zone 2, but i’ll start with the hugel beds and the saskatoon and hazelnut trees, inter planted with onions and strawberries and some annuals! I’m going to try to move some wild (naturalized?) yarrow and pearly everlasting around the trees as well, to provide some more benefits, and to help me propagate them in the future!

Anyways, thanks for the inspiration!

Are you growing any kind of nut trees down there?

 
Josh Garbo
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Hey Daron, thanks for your question.  By “grass” I really meant groundcover… anything that will grow in a partial sun fungally-dominated acidic red clay forest soil.  I shouldn’t complain – I have leaf duff in many sections, but the land is steep/eroded.  I won’t be grazing, but I want an herbaceous layer to minimize erosion and put carbon back into the soil.  The perennial Ryegrass does well, Hairy Vetch and Korean Lespedeza aren’t bad either.  I mow certain areas to keep the thorns down, but preserve others (I have hundreds of square feet of ferns that came up naturally in a semi-shaded area with rich moist soil).  Some land is “rooty”/steep, and can’t be mowed. The cordless brush trimmer works well to keep alleys between the trees open from baby trees, and then I put down nurse logs on contour for mini-terraces that collect run-off.  Ideally it will eventually become savannah with a productive over-story.

Others areas have different concerns – hard-packed clay subsoil from the house construction 40 years ago that was mowed to keep the trees out, but never developed anything aside from a thin layer of moss and crabgrass, and is still as red as when it was first dug up decades ago.  This area is getting Black Locust and a few other trees (fruit trees are struggling here).

Then I have actual grass-land with nice brown soil, which is slowly getting worked into a food forest with chips spread on contour with mini-terraces.

I had a mixed oak/poplar/hickory/maple over-story with beech and sweetgum understory, some shade-adapted thorns and vines.  I took out the understory and some of the poplars, so the whole acre has at least dappled shade now.  Haven’t had the time to plant much of an edible understory yet like berries; focusing on raised beds and planting trees.  I’d also like to try muscadine grapes on trees.  I haven’t had the time/money to really research/plant edible native and non-native plants.

And yes, as you mentioned the forest soil supports new plantings very well.  It should continue to improve over time as the MASSIVE amount of carbon (newly-cut stumps/roots) slowly decomposes.

I like your clearing idea.  It’s fascinating to watch the public forest on my northern side react to the openings in my land.  All kinds of baby trees are popping up, almost like a mini hedge, with lots of cover for birds.  Then as you walk into the forest the bigger oaks and poplars take over, and it’s more barren, with a few beeches and hollies.  Without regular fire, the shade-tolerant trees take over… there are a lot of beeches seeking the canopy but no new oaks except on the edges.  If I owned it I’d girdle everything except the oaks and hickories, potentially trying to plant pears, persimmons/paw-paws in the openings.  In an ideal world I’d have an American Chestnut over-story mixed with persimmons and other fruits, with some alley-cropping.  But I still love my white oaks, which are around 100 ft tall!
 
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Sea Buckthorn produces both berries and is a nitrogen fixer which can be managed as a hedge (although you need male and female plants for fruit). Many gardens around here are planted purely with ornamental plants. Step one is to picture what replacing them with edible shrubs and trees would look like. For example, when we bought our house it came with a Flowering Dogwood in our front yard. If the owners had planted a Kousa Dogwood (http://eattheplanet.org/kousa-dogwood-fruit/) by now I'd be picking fruit. Its understory is a decorative plant in the mallow family, but there are edible plants in this family that could be substituted.



I wonder if it is possible to graft Kousa Dogwood onto Flowering Dogwood? Makes me wish I had marked my flowering dogwood trees in case that is possible. Maybe next year I will.
 
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Very cool discussion, and great to see pictures of your work, Daron! Do folks have any thoughts on planning a food forest for an arid desert climate, and what guilds might work in what conditions here? If you don't mind, I'm going to do some thinking outloud about that here:

We're on raincatch alone, and we're in a bit of a rain shadow. That water is very much in demand, first for drinking, with irrigation essentially not on the priority list until the water has been used once for bathing or similar, so we're having some trouble figuring out how to establish any trees. (We'd try digging a well, but all the residential wells around here have gone or are going dry due to heavy agricultural pumping anyway, so it'd almost certainly be a waste of time and money.) We're slowly hand-digging a pond that should hold water seasonally, and we hope to establish a small food forest around that. I think that will be our primary and perhaps only really possible location for such plans. We discussed introducing some trees to our zone 1 food garden, because that is where our current water resources are (gravity-greywater year-round, and monsoon floodwater directed there in season), but I think there's not enough room for more than perhaps using it as a tree nursery to get some saplings established before transplanting them out to the pond area once it's got water.

Let me 'splain. No, there is no time. Let me sum up:

Our five acres is mostly pretty flat, just slight gradients. We've built some earthworks to move water around and make it stay in some areas and not others. Our mini canals run like small creeks during monsoon rains and bring all sorts of good stuff to our gardens from July through September or so (in some years, for now). It's far from bare, although of course it looks quite different than any five acres in Wisconsin or even northern Arizona. All of this has grown greatly since my partner started camping here a few years ago and foot and vehicle paths started redirecting water. We have some great mesquite clumps, surrounded by cholla and prickly pear; acacia clumps; some grasses; and a low-lying thicket (seems like an old dry wash or maybe even ancient canal) with leguminous trees, diverse shrubs, and various annuals. A seasonal creek runs about a half-mile from us (sometimes, in some years -- used to be year-round), and there's a livestock tank used by ranchers and hunters a quarter-mile from us.

We have two gardens close to the house: one closest, fully enclosed by tall chickenwire, with mulched-in greywater drip lines; and the other in process, with sunken beds dug and fencing purchased. The former has one established mesquite already in it, that I treat as a nurse tree, transplanting and seeding herbs and other small perennials around it. It's the first place the drip line hits, so there's enough water for mint, etc. During monsoon, it doesn't get flooded like other areas of the garden, but it gets plenty good rainwater. So that area is very in demand. My partner would like to transplant two native mulberries (small starts) in that general vicinity. I've expressed reluctance due to space constraints. Another area he proposed is in that same garden, but against the fence in another part that tends to retain both greywater and floodwater well once it gets there. The largest proposed spot would have maybe two feet diameter to grow -- the others much less. This garden is primarily devoted to edible annuals and some small, frequently harvested reseeding annuals and perennials. We'd like to avoid doing too much digging for things like root crops or large transplants here because the drip lines are just so (given our small gradients).

The second garden, which we're working on, will only have monsoon floodwater. It is a little larger, with more "edge" areas, and has a couple well-established mesquites and some young mesquite brush that will be within the chickenwire fence. We're about to seed natives like devil's claw (to eat immature pods like okra) and buffalo gourd (to eat fat-rich seeds) out there, and with the first monsoon rains we'll seed tepary beans and squash that have been bred for this region and its vagaries. We grew most of those things in the first garden last year, with great abundance. If they do well in the second garden, that will free up space for other things in the first. Depending on space constraints, I think we could definitely do prickly pear and similar things (like our other Opuntia, cholla) in there, too, mostly around the mesquites. (We already have three prickly pear beds elsewhere: two very close to the house and one in the first garden. We really like tunas and are curious about nopales -- and we'd love to collect cochineal bugs, but perhaps from plants elsewhere rather than encouraging infestation of ours.) Maybe we could do goji/wolfberry in there, too. My partner would like to try jujube and maybe fig in there. I've thought about jojoba, but that garden might actually get too much water for what it wants, at least during monsoon. Things like native mulberry and elderberry wouldn't get enough water there, though, I think -- or regularly enough.

We've started to dig the pond in a heavy clay area farther from the house. We hope to use this clay soil and the growing pit there to start mixing something like adobe bricks in the time before monsoon starts (hauling water from the livestock tank) and get them dried and inside. During monsoon, it will be easier to dig more; and towards the end of monsoon, we could start mixing more adobe to dry after the rain stops. Once the pond is big enough and we can confirm it holds water, we're hoping we can plant Emory oak, soapberry, native elderberry, native mulberry, our native wolfberry, jujube, fig, maybe even pecan, olive, and pomegranate around this, working from the theory that the pond will hold water from the wet season to get these through at least part of the dry season. Would we need a tree nursery closer to the house on greywater (or unfiltered rainwater overflow if we're able to do as we intend and get up more roofed structures and collection tanks to expand our water catchment) to establish these before transplanting them there?

(Greedily, I'd like to find space for fiber and dye plants in these three areas as well -- like local cotton and our native blue flax, maybe nettles by the pond or at the head of the greywater line, and dye perennials throughout depending on water needs. I'm trying to coax some of these, like cotton and madder, into life amongst the food annuals in the first garden right now.)

Mostly spitballing here, but any thoughts would be very welcome! I can take some pictures and post if folks are interested.
 
Jay Angler
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@ Beth Wilder - Are you aware that Mesquite actively pumps water underground during the rainy season? That is the coolest thing and I so wish there was a tree in my ecosystem that did the same, as we have very dark, wet winters followed by very dry summers.
 
Beth Wilder
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Yes, Jay, I'd heard that actually in a strange context. People around here spray the mesquite with herbicides, then tear them out and pile them up in their fields -- mostly ranchers, this area's royalty. Then they have the nerve to call it conservation (to "restore grasslands" by "eradicating non-natives"). Anyway, they time the spraying with monsoon rains so that the rain carries the poisons to the tree's roots and makes them more "effective," i.e. lethal. We asked how that worked and were told about mesquite's ability to sequester the rains that way. (If anyone wants to learn more, great long read here: https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/howard-buffetts-warren-buffet-son-border-war-cochise-county-11103225?fbclid=IwAR36Mbz2ZTNvfZYJnMNp0qy0mC1M2aTeJBp1tuCNse70dXr_fRMNpd-VtiY.)

But tree-poisoners aside, aren't these trees amazing?! I've been reading Gary Paul Nabhan's Mesquite: An Arboreal Love Affair with great relish.
 
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My partner and I have been working on establishing roughly 2.5 acres of edibles. Much of it is inspired by the forest garden model and have learned a lot the past 3 years. We have a mix of old field, scrubby trees and forest. The land was cleared 10 years ago and left alone, so they was plenty of coppicing oak, hickory, flowering dogwood, persimmon. Decades ago it may have been pasture based on fencing and rock pile. Our soils are extremely gravelly silty loam and very shallow.


We poured over " Edible Forest Gardens" and would HIGHLY recommend shelling out the the $ for the volumes. Our approach is to clear patch by patch and implement a mix of charing the brush, grinding into chips, layout brush piles and logs on contour and some hugel culture. This stage of succession had a lot of woody, biomass and fairly low diversity (understory mostly buckbrush, aromatic sumac and germander). We have seen great results from repeated cutting coppices and have stumps rotting back into soil. Just now we are seeing the results of our heavy imports of wood debris (chips, sawdust and shavings) and are seeing a much more alive soils food web. A lot of cardboard, dozen of loads in the pickup and a passion that some may call crazy. It as been a tremendous amount of hand labor (chainsaw, grub hoe, mattock, sheer grit) simply clearing the land. But in going slow we have "discovered" paw paws, blue berries and many unique and useful plants that may have been destroyed with machines. Also we are keeping in tact the soil life.

The biodiversity is always increasing as we establish a variety of nitrogen fixers, insectaries and continually expand our gene bank. We are seeing more complexity and new pollinators all the time. We are slowing propogating our plants and will continue to expand our fertility and pollination allies (yarrow, comfrey, false wild indigo, skirret etc..)

We lost some trees and are now seeing some renewed growth on trees that were hit by the drought summer last year. Our focus has been planting analogs for the present species. For example, grafting cultivated persimmons and paw paw ont wild rootstock, expanding paw paw patches, planting European currant where currants exist, thornless black berries where they grew wild etc.. We have established hundred of "conservation grade" trees from the state nursery to use as rootstock for future grafting. We even got a USDA grant to plant edible trees and shrubs. This has means low investment and inputs

Overall the process has been shaping me sooo much. It is a constant learning process. I'm so grateful for the opportunity and would hope all human would get to experience the co evolution between forest garden and steward. There is a near constant feedback loop and am looking forward to when the trees start shifting shade patterns and adding further complexity.
 
Daron Williams
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Florian – Yup! I’m focusing on an area on my property that is 0.33 acres in size. In that area I’m planting a food forest that is only 0.6 acres in size (I also have hedgerows, a kitchen garden, and multiple berry bushes, an eco-lawn and a kids play area). In the future this food forest will connect with a much larger one, but it could work on its own easily enough 😊

Thanks Trace and Jay for your responses to Florian’s question!

Jay – Yeah, replacing the ornamentals with edible types is great. Kousa dogwood is on my list of plants I want to try out. Have you tried the fruit from it? Is it good raw?

Simon – Nice! Sounds like you have a lot going on. My own property has a lot of different slopes to it. Slopes are great but do provide some challenges too!

I love it that you are exploring the awesome native plants we have in our area. Are your serviceberries the wild variety or a cultivator type? I have planted a few of the wild varieties but I have been planning to add a bunch of cultivator varieties in a year or so.

As far as nut trees go… I got some hazelnuts planted (cultivated type and native type) and I plan to keep planting hazelnuts. I think they are a great nut for our area. But I also want to try out a few other nut trees. The next one I try might be a butternut tree. There is a famous one growing down south of here but still in Thurston County that people have been growing seedlings from. The organization I work for worked with the current owner of the property with the tree to conserve the property with a conservation easement (not for the tree but that is a great bonus!).

Thanks for sharing!

Josh – That makes a lot of sense. The grass I have been removing is the stuff that forms thick mats that make it hard to get trees/shrubs going. I have some woodland sedges in my food forest, and I plan to grow bunch grasses. So, I don’t mind grasses, just need to be the right type 😊 I have been trying to get an herbaceous layer established too for the same reasons you mentioned.

For your hardpan area you might try getting some lupine seeds too. They get a big taproot and are nitrogen fixers. Good pollinator flowers too. I’m using them in a compacted area in one of my food forests. I also use them as a general support plant all over my property. Seems to work great!

Yeah, it seems that we will need to use disturbance on and off in our food forests to keep them at max productivity (for food crops). I’m hoping to do this through coppicing and chop-and-drop and eventually by running chickens through occasionally.

Thanks for sharing!

Gail – That would be interesting to try! If you do try doing that make sure to share with us all how it goes! 😊

Beth – Thank you! 😊 I’m afraid I don’t have much experience with your climate but as you and Jay mentioned the mesquite is a great tree. I would check out these 2 books:
- Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, 2nd Edition: Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain into Your Life and Landscape
- Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond (Vol. 2): Water-Harvesting Earthworks

The books are more focused on earthworks and features but does discuss plants a bit. The above links are to the Amazon pages for the books, but you could likely find them at your library. The author also has a website that might be helpful: https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/plant-lists-resources/

Good luck and thanks for sharing!

Ian – Thanks for sharing! 😊 I think your approach is a great one. Taking on a small amount at a time is great. I’m using a similar process on my property but I’m dealing more with grass than existing shrubs/trees… except for blackberries…

It is great to hear how biodiversity is increasing on your property as you and your partner work to improve it. I would love to see some pictures of what you both are achieving if you don’t mind sharing.

Thanks again!

------------------------------

Thanks again all! Also, no one has left a comment over on the blog post. Don’t miss out on that free piece of pie! Just go over to the site and leave a comment and then post back here mentioning that you did so I can give you the pie slice!
 
Beth Wilder
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Thanks, Daron! I love Brad's books. We have volume 1 and I need to get volume 2 back from the library again. I read on his site that he's updating it and I'm trying to wait until that's done to buy that one (slated for September, I think). And it's agony to wait for volume 3, which I have a feeling will have all the information I've wanted on roof catch but couldn't find -- especially not in one place. There really is a great community of folks in this region like him, Gary Paul Nabhan, Petey Mesquitey (Spadefoot Nursery), the Steins, etc. It's just that with the distances around here, we haven't been able to see their food forests yet. We end up just trying things on our own and seeing what sticks an awful lot of the time, although we research and read heavily, too. We see a lot of turnover -- people coming because there's cheap land in some of these parts, starting out all gung-ho (often without the original "work together" meaning of that in Chinese -- not that I'm blaming them, it's hard to connect out here!), then often not making it through one hot summer -- but there are some amazing folks who've been here a long time doing yeoman's work in this beautiful crucible of a desert.
 
Jay Angler
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Daron Williams wrote:

Yeah, replacing the ornamentals with edible types is great. Kousa dogwood is on my list of plants I want to try out. Have you tried the fruit from it? Is it good raw?  

Sorry - I've got the ornamental tree only. I thought I had, but I was going from a description and a damaged "tree site map" and it turned out that I'd tried Strawberry Tree fruit instead. Our flowering dogwood is doing well, but it sounds as if the Kousa dogwood would need more reliable moisture than I've got a location for. I've had no luck with grafting so far - again I've only read about the procedure and I don't think I'm being particular enough about the precise time of year to do it. At the moment, I've got too many plants that should be already in the ground to tackle anything new!
 
master steward
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Jay Angler wrote:I think that planting a food forest is easier if you're starting with few to no existing trees. Trying to work around an existing forest, as I am, can be harder. Since I'm not in a position to make big plans, I've settled for small ones. For example, I am trying to plant shrubs in clusters with support plants to help with pollination. Recently I planted 4 Honeyberry shrubs and accompanied them with comfrey. There were existing iris, a couple of baby salal, and a sword fern just north of where I was planting, and lots of raspberry canes just south. The web said that chives are also good companions to Honeyberry, but they're not where I'd like regular chives, so I'm starting some Garlic chives and hoping that's similar enough. The elephant's in the room are two Wet Coast cedars (IOW big - ~150 ft tall) to the north-east and north-west and the new plants are within the drip line of the west one in particular. We shall see how they do...



For me, it depends on the forest and how picky I am and what I'm aiming for. I have a deciduous forest that I'm slowly making more diverse and delectable. I transplant the thimbleberries that I love, and other native edibles (wood sorrel, bunchberry, blackcap raspberry, etc) into them as I have extra of those plants. Since it's the kind of environment they like, I don't have to modify the soil--I just have to prune back the salmonberries that try to take over.

But, a deep, dark forest is a LOT harder to try to make edible. And, it's harder to smother salmonberry and blackberry to introduce other plants, than it is to smother grass. Most of the food forests I've been making have been in the grassy areas, because those have the most sun, and I can't eat grass. Since those are in my zones 1&2, I want them transformed to more edibles, and not just the low-maintenance native edibles. But, in my zone 3, it's nice moving a current forest to a more edible on. I find and open-ish place, hack out the salonberries, and plant hazelnuts or buffleoberry or raspberries or blueberries or plums. Since the forest is already established, they don't need much care beyond hacking back the salmonberries a few times a year.
 
Florian Hübner
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Thanks for the information!
I still have a lot of reading ahead of me it seems but as me and my wife are still in the process of planning the house itself there is plenty of time to come up with a good plan for the garden.
 
Daron Williams
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Beth – Nice! My brother lives in Arizona and is doing some cool things on his property. Not all of it is what I think the average permies user would consider to be “permaculture” but he is doing a lot to retain water which is awesome. It has been interesting watching what works on his property in his climate because some of them would just not work well here in western WA. Just interesting to see the what works in different climates.

It is hard to stick with this sort of thing. The work can be tough and the rewards can be relatively slow.

Thanks for sharing!

Jay – Yeah, I hear you on having too many plants/projects! If you get it going please share on here! 😊

Nicole – Very good points. A deep dark forest would be a big challenge. I have one that I’m considering modifying (at a restoration site) and the only way I can imagine doing it is to thin and clear some of the low branches to let in some sunlight. Though the soil is so poor that it will take time to get things going…

Florian – Pie for you! Thanks for the comment over on the blog and thanks for your comments here! Good luck with your projects and feel free to ask me or anyone else on here any questions you might have. Send me a PM if I don’t respond since I don’t always see posts on older threads.
 
Simon Gooder
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Daron - I haven’t been able to find the native serviceberry plants, but apparently they exist in some secret locations around the island - and ill keep looking for a source. I just planted my Smoky Saskatoon variety around margins of the yard.
The hazels I planted this year were native beaked hazels, but i would love to supplement with with hazelberts or some other cultivars.

 
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We're beginning with efforts to gradually convert the surrounding 8th-grown oak woods into a food forest.

We're convinced that Schisandra would be a very valuable component of this. However, we are consistently failing in our efforts to get purchased Schisandra seeds to germinate!

Does anyone have some free advice for us about this? Just what do these seeds want anyway???
 
Nicole Alderman
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Daron Williams wrote:

Nicole – Very good points. A deep dark forest would be a big challenge. I have one that I’m considering modifying (at a restoration site) and the only way I can imagine doing it is to thin and clear some of the low branches to let in some sunlight. Though the soil is so poor that it will take time to get things going…



Maybe start with things that don't mind the low-nutrient soil, like red huckleberries, thimbleberries, salal and Oregon grape?
 
Liar, liar, pants on fire! refreshing plug:
permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
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