Daron Williams

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since Oct 08, 2016
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Hi, I’m Daron, and there’s nothing I love more than cultivating food, habitat, and beauty for my family and the wild critters that share our home.
Home, for me, is the Wild Ride Homestead—the little piece of earth where my wife, Michaela, and I are raising a family and running a business.
Michaela tends to the “home” part of the homestead—turning our harvests into wholesome, tasty meals, and taking the lead raising our little toddler. She also helps out quite a bit with Wild Homesteading, acting as my editor and helping me translate some of the abstract concepts into concise, actionable tips.
Our son Arden is also a cornerstone of our life and work, keeping us smiling and laughing even when times are tough.
Michaela and I both work outside the home to pay the bills—I work as a restoration project manager, and Michaela works at our local public library.
Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Recent posts by Daron Williams

I started reading through that thread - interesting discussion. Thanks for sharing!
1 day ago
Chris – I don’t think having all the features are necessary but I do think a good mix is. Rocks and stumps and even logs to me all provide different and similar benefits. For example, I see evergreen huckleberries growing on stumps but I don’t really see them growing on logs. Perhaps that is because a stump rots differently than a log?

I debated landforms and I think those to me are separate from what I was imagining at least. I was trying to think of the elements that make a forest a forest. Landforms of course modify a forest but any one type is not necessary for a forest. But landforms can of course be used to benefit the forest—I would put them in a separate grouping. But having  a list of landforms and the benefits they provide would be beneficial for people designing a food forest.

Devin – Thanks for sharing that, I had seen that list before. I like that it mentions the aquatic/wetland layer and mycelial/fungal layer. The fungal layer is a defining part of a forest.

Good points about mycelial/fungal life and the microbial life. All that is very important.

The aquatic/wetland is interesting. A forest does not need those to be a forest but that does add more diversity and benefits to a forest. I would agree that this would be a great addition to a food forest where possible.

Jay – I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the topic of soil missing key elements to offer much on that.

As far as the woody layers I do think it is important to separate them at least to a point. Large woody debris (big logs and stumps) provide very different habitat from small branches. I would want to encourage people to include logs in addition to say chop-and-drop material and fallen branches. The original layer list does break trees into 2 groups—I was thinking about something similar for woody debris. Perhaps small and large?

Tyler – Geoff is one person that I see who does a great job with some of this. He always seems to just chop-and-drop instead of hauling the woody debris away.

But I do see a lot of people on YouTube with some great food forests but when you look they have no woody debris. No branches, no logs, etc. They have leaves and wood chips but they seem to remove the rest. I have seen some doing pruning videos or cutting down a tree and they just haul the stuff away.

Seeing those videos made me want to write about this. I also don’t see the non-living elements in the books on food forests that I have read or blog posts about the subject. Just seems to be missing from a lot of otherwise good information resources.
Thanks all and great conversation! Please keep it coming! I think sometimes the whole concept of a food forest gets simplified a bit too much so discussing the non-living elements and other elements like water and landforms and soil is great!
1 day ago

Steve Thorn wrote:I have a few rock piles, stumps, leaf piles, and lots of naturally wild areas currently on our property, and the amount of animals it's attracted has been amazing!

The other day, I saw a little lizard near one of the large leaf piles, and it took cover in it when I walked by.

Our yard seems to be a bird and pollinator sanctuary too.

It's always fun and fascinating to me, seeing all the beneficial critters enjoying themselves!

The next thing I'd like to do is make a small pond or ponds like those mentioned above. I remember as a little boy going to a really wet area near our home that had lots of big puddles everywhere. We called it the mudhole, and had lots of fun there!

That is great and I love the story about the lizard Thanks for sharing!
2 days ago
Are there more than 7 layers in a food forest? I think so and I'm going to share with you all why. But I also want your feedback. Is this a crazy idea? Or does it make sense? Is it interesting? I may write a full blog post all about this concept but I want to see what you all think first.

Before I outline the new layers I think should be added to the food forest model here is a brief overview of what a food forest is and the traditional 7 layers. National Geographic has a great quick video all about food forests that I highly recommend as a good intro to the topic.

In brief a food forest is a system that mimics the natural structure of a forest to grow an abundance of food, wood, medicine, etc. for human consumption. A food forest (aka forest garden) is the ultimate expression of working with nature to generate a useful harvest for your homestead.

The traditional layers are:

1. A canopy layer with large fruit or nut trees (support trees and timber trees could be here too)
2. A sub-canopy layer of smaller trees such as dwarf fruit trees (coppiced trees could be here)
3. A shrub layer for fruiting bushes but again support plants such as nitrogen fixing shrubs work too
4. The herbaceous layer for herbs (cooking and medicinal), flowers, vegetables, etc.
5. Ground cover as a living mulch which can be edible.
6. The root crops
7. And a layer consisting of vines and climbers

Each of these layers would blend together in a natural forest and a forest garden tries to mimic that. Though sometimes you may choose to keep it as an open woodland with greater spacing between the large trees so more sun reaches the ground for the lower layers.

Instead of calling these the traditional layers how about we call them the living layers--sound good?

My Proposed Addition to this Model

This is all building off of what I was talking about in this week's blog post about rewilding your homestead. In that post I talk about adding features such as snags (dead standing trees) to your homestead. I do this on mine by taking old logs and "planting" them upright.

For my day job I run large restoration projects across 4 counties in the South Puget Sound in WA. I have also done habitat assessments in Idaho and Washington for past jobs. Plus I grew up running through forests around the small rural Eastern WA town I grew up in. All of this has taught me that a forest is not just made up of the living elements such as plants and wildlife. The non-living elements such as rocks, woody debris, snags, etc. are a core part of a healthy vibrant forest.

So what does that mean for a food forest? Well these non-living elements tend to be ignored overall (though people are generally good about mulching). To help change that I propose these layers be added to the food forest model:

1. Large snags (10+ feet high and 1+ feet across)
2. Small snags (Less than 10 feet high)
3. The stump layer (Short and thick woody debris that mimic a stump)
4. Large woody debris (logs, root wads, etc. laying on the ground)
5. Rocks (both rock piles and individual large rocks)
6. Small woody debris (twigs, branches, etc.)
7. Mulch layer (leaves, wood chips, etc.)

The large snags might not always be safe in a food forest that sees a lot of traffic and they would be difficult to install. But if you have a large tree die then this could be an opportunity to cut it down to a safe but still tall height and remove the limbs. If large enough these snags are great habitat for woodpeckers, owls, and other birds plus other wildlife.

Small snags are easier and can be installed just like a fence post. I have added several of these to my homestead.

This is an example of a relatively small "stump" added to my in-progress food forest. The picture at the start of this section shows a small rock pile and here is an example of a larger one at one of my restoration sites.

Amphibians and reptiles love to hide in these rock piles. They can also capture a small amount of water and create a moist area below them that plant roots can tap into.

If you look at a forest floor there is a layer made up of logs, branches, leaves, etc. This layer to me is what truly defines something as a forest. The result is a fungal dominated system that is great for trees and shrubs. It is filled with life and also works as a sponge soaking up water and keeping the forest hydrated through dry spells. It also creates rich soil as it breaks down.

Here you can see one of my new planting areas in my in-progress food forest. I added a large log plus wood chips and fall leaves. All of this is to mimic a natural forest floor. I could add some branches and of course I need to add a lot more plants.

Each element in these layers would only provide a small benefit. But just like the original living layers of a food forest it is the interaction of them all together that adds complexity and diversity to the system. This is what can truly create a vibrant and abundant system.

Putting it all together

In this expanded model of a food forest there would be 7 living layers and 7 non-living layers. My view is that a forest is only truly a forest if it has at least a portion of these 7 non-living layers. From fungal systems to woodpeckers so much of the life of a forest depends on these non-living elements.

So what do you all think?

Please share your thoughts below I would love to hear from you all!
2 days ago
Great to see how many items are now part of this! I hope this results in a big rush of people supporting the kickstarter at the start
2 days ago
Thanks for sharing Hugo! I love what you are doing and that pond looks really nice! Great to see the combination of different types of features (rocks, wood, ponds, etc.). Thanks for sharing!
2 days ago

Jay Angler wrote:Nice photo Daron - sooo.... my understanding is that in the Pacific NW, birds eat red huckleberries and poop onto stumps and that's why so many natural red huckleberry bushes are growing out of stumps. Are you taking bets whether your artificial snags will start growing?

lol, I hope so! To respond to Nicole's comment... they do seem to love cedars but I do often see them growing out of old Douglas fir stumps too. Most of my snags are from Douglas firs so here is hoping!
2 days ago

Xisca Nicolas wrote:For those who can propagate sweet potatoes from stems:
- make a loop and cross the stem like an alpha letter.
They will grow more tubers and make more roots quicker.
Burry the "lasso" horizontally with some leaves outside.
Roots appear at each place where you cut leaves  on the burried stem.

Nice! Thanks for the tip! Sweet potatoes are on my list to try maybe next year. I will have to try out your tip!
2 days ago

Rosemary Hansen wrote:

Rosemary – that is great! Thanks for sharing! If you want to share any info about how you cook with them I’m sure a lot of us would be very interested 😊

Sweet potatoes will be new to me. I have not grown them yet and I still need to get an area prepared for them. Perhaps next year.

Thanks for the reply, Daron! I have to say, you always have very nice, kind things to say to people who reply to your threads. And you clearly take the extra time to read everyone's thoughts in detail. So thanks for that

I would love to share some recipes, once we get our roots producing! Thanks for the idea! Cheers

Thank you! I try but it is easy to fall behind and older threads are not getting as much attention from me as new ones come out. But I still try to check back from time to time I look forward to the recipes!
2 days ago
Ralph – Hugel beds are a good use of snags and I salvaged a bunch for that use from a salvage site recently. The ones that looked the best from a landscaping perspective are the ones I’m using as snags on my property 😊
Good luck with your property and the little ground hog! Hopefully, the ground hog will stick to the one garden bed!

Cool to hear about the frogs at your place!

Hugo – Thank you very much and thank you for sharing! 😊 I would love to see some pictures of your garden. Please feel free to share in this thread or leave a link to another thread if you already shared them. Thanks again!

Bryan – Thank you! I agree—sometimes I feel that the non-living structure of the forest gets left out in the conversation about the layers of a food forest. I think there should be the 7 living layers and then the X non-living layers. But that is for a future blog post 😉

Very true about the domesticated farm animals. I don’t have any now but my goal is to get chickens and rabbits one day and potentially ducks too down the road.

Tyler – Great to hear! Sounds like you are doing a lot on those 20 acres. That is cool that Texas has that tax status for wildlife management. I had to get my property removed from agricultural tax status before buying it because it only counted traditional agricultural practices and I could not meet the requirements. Thanks again!


Just to add so I put up that snag just yesterday and this morning a robin was already perched on it! It was great to see it from the backdoor. The picture is not great but I had to share.
2 days ago