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Tomas Remiarz

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since Jul 25, 2018
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forest garden trees urban
There are plenty of books and websites telling you how forest gardens should work. I am more interested in how they do (and sometimes don't) work, and in the people who are working in and with them.
In my book, Forest Gardening in Practice you will meet some of the pioneers who have been planting, tending and harvesting their sites, often away from the spotlight of media and research, for years and sometimes decades. Each of these case studies is a tale of discovery and self-discovery, of successes and setbacks, sometimes planned and often unsuspected.
If you want to dig deeper have a look at the Resources page. And if you're would like to discuss a new forest garden projects or get advice for the maintenance and repair of an existing one please get in touch.
About me
I first came across permaculture in 1995, and I have been hooked on the subject ever since. After six years of helping to reforest the Pennine hills in Northern England I spent six years travelling Britain by bike with my partner and collaborator Jed Picksley. In 2012 I settled at Earthworm Housing Cooperative in Herefordshire, where a team of us has been busy renovating three old buildings and looking after 7 acres of land. Much of this is woodland and orchards, and I am finding plenty of opportunity to integrate forest garden patches on this patch of earth. Over the years I have helped design, plant and maintain permaculture systems across Britain and Europe, and learned a great deal in the process. I have also enjoyed sharing my learning in many courses on forest gardening and permaculture.
Herefordshire, England, UK
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Recent posts by Tomas Remiarz

Hi Ben,

this sounds like a fantastic project. Congratulations for getting it off the ground in challenging conditions! Food forests can make such a big difference in urban neighboruhoods. I look forward to hearing more about your project as you progress.

Following from what you write I have a couple more questions: who are the projected end users of the food forest, what do they want to get out of it, and do you have strategies for getting them invovled from the start? In my experience that is probably the most important aspect to get right for the long term success of a food forest.

best wishes
Tomas Remiarz
2 years ago
Hi John,

some expectation management first: I don't think you'll fit 7 layers into that space. For more detailed advice could you let us know where in the world you live? A couple of photos of the site from different angles would also help.  

Latitude and climatic zone has a massive impact on the amount of layers you can fit on top of each other. In temperate and cool climates, you could probably fit three or at most four layers under a mature maple.

In a 22x15 ft space you could probably fit a small tree, 2 or 3 shrubs. That could still give you a lot of opportuntity for crop diversity in the herb layers.

Good luck!
2 years ago
Which way is your site facing? You've got some big trees to the left of the picture there, and their impact will vary greatly depending if that's the north or south edge.
Grass responds pretty well to light exclusion so sheet mulching without tilling would be a cheaper and less intrusive option.
With soil this sandy I'd suggest two approaches: choosing plants that can handle lack of water, and adding organic matter to improve water holding capacity. Some compost in planting holes and a mulch of woodchip over the patches you want to plant up would probably do the trick.
Look out for other perennials in the grass - a lot of the are more resistant to mulch than the grass itself. They could also give you clues to the nature of the land, they may have some good uses in themselves or could be replaced with plants of similar growing habit.

2 years ago

Xisca Nicolas wrote:
What did you conclude (about how a forest garden is supposed to work)?

You’ll have to read my book for that
In short, the strategies are as diverse as the people.

what is different between a garden and a forest garden?

A forest garden is a specific type of garden. In a way I much prefer Dave Jacke’s term, “edible ecosystem”, which hints at the possibility of using other structures. But in the end the “forest” in FG is more a metaphor than an instruction – what we aim for is supposed to work like a natural ecosystem, but it doesn’t have to look like one. In that sense a forest garden is like any other permaculture garden, and combines well with many other ways of using small and medium sized spaces.

I want room for animals, so I see that if I want to cultivate just for me, I will have to fight all critters who want to eat too! And if we live on veggies and good fruits, well, we actually grow the most tender stuff, and they are good for other animals... After all, have a look at a cabage after the hen has eaten it.... she leaves the tough fiber and has eaten the most tender parts!

You can design a forage garden that priorities the animals, or a garden where you allow for both humans and other species to share the crops and ideally share some of the labour – chicken (and ducks even more so) are good for pest control and nutrient cycling. On a larger scale, there are many variants of silvopasture out there that combine trees with grazing animals and/or field crops.

If I grow and eat the animals, then I do not have to fight and prtect, I just eat the eaters.... just the surplus, and also I can leave more weeds and local grasses and plants. Usually they are ones that we cannot eat, and animals can.

That is part of the silvopasture approach, which you could also use on a smaller scale. Except that most people aren’t too keen on fresh animal manure in their domestic garden, and free range animals will poop wherever they like!

2 years ago
If you can take the survey (or even if you can't but are itnersted in its results) it would be good to psot a quick reply on this forum, just so the topic remains visible to new people. Thanks!
2 years ago

Here's a survey on community food forests. The only drawback: the deadline is in two days! If you are involved in one or have visited any forest gardens in communty spaces, Andreas Samus would like to hear from you. He is based in Germany, but I believe the survey is global.
2 years ago

John Saltveit wrote:I give this book 8.5 out of 10 acorns.

There may be some terms that are unfamiliar to North Americans, such as tree onions and hedge garlic.  There are also examples of places in which you may not understand the specific climatological challenges if you can’t place Devon from Shropshire or Dorset.  
John S

Thank you for your kind words John. I'm glad you find this practice review useful and agree with your last sentence - it was the kind of book I would have liked to have access to when I first started out in forest gardening. There wasn't one 25 years ago, and when there still wasn't one five years ago I knew it was time to write it myself!

Point taken on the climatic information. Most British places described in the book would fall into USDA zones 8 and 9. Here is a map of Britain that shows the overall range. Now that the first edition of the book is almost sold out I will look into includng such a map in a future edition.

I was aware of the drawback of using common names to describe plants, but I decided that the benefit of readability for non-experts was more important to me. I did include an index listing both common and scientific names among the appendices to satisfy more advanced readers. The index also includes information on growth form, root patterns and edible parts.
2 years ago

Starting slow allows you to make mistakes on the small scale, learn from them and not make them again as you expand. You'll learn a lot about plant biology, propagation and combinations by observing your initial patches.
If you introduce a plant that becomes a problem for some reason - maybe something that turns out to be invasive in your conditions - you can stop it in its tracks before it gets out of hand. And you can avoid planting masses of a crop that you find out you don't like.
Another advantage is that every small forest garden patch becomes a nursery for the next phase, so you will almost certainly save money.
I have seen quite a few places that were started ambitiously grand scale, where the owners became overwhelmed with the scale of the maintenance task and ended up abandoning all or most of the planting. If you start small you may decide after a couple of years that you have as much as you can take on for the time being.
2 years ago

Cris Fellows wrote:I am pretty excited for this book, especially the 14 case studies.  Tomas, any suggestions for thistle?  We are overrun by it.  Currently I pull and use as living mulch for the fruit trees.  It does keep the neighborhood out of that area, which I guess is a plus!

Hi Chris, hard to give specific advice on a site I've never seen!

I imagine the thistles don't exist on their own so pay attention to the other plants that thrive around them. Between them they fill the space above and below ground, and this is where you want to be with your forest garden ploants.  Remember, weeds are just a  successful plants with a bad reputation.

What type of root system does your thistle have? One theory is that every successful plant occupies a particular niche (or several niches) and we can attempt to replace that plant with another more useful one that fills the smame niche(s). If it's the kind of thistle that grows in a clump then a globe artichoke or cardoon might be a good choice (it's a relativ eof thistles). If it's the underground runner forming type then look out for other runner forming plants - mint maybe? Bamboo? But you want to be careful not to replace one plant that is "too successful" with another.

Thorough ground clearance followed by quickly established dense ground cover with many varied root patterns seems the best strategy to prevent weeds taking over. Thistles are early succession plants so the sooner you establish a canopy the more they lose their competitive advantage and the weaker they will become.

Understanding the ecology behind forest gardens will help you find strategies to deal with tricky customers like thistles, so I think you will gain as much from the ecology section of the book as from the case studies (which are all excellent of course!)
2 years ago

Alissa Shannon wrote:Welcome Tomas! I think your book sounds very interesting based on the title. I love the idea of Forest gardens, but it's the whole design part that bogs me down! There are sooooo many variables (like height, light requirements, pH requirements, water needs, pest and disease assistance requirements, and etc.)! I hope I can learn to understand it all better in time.

Alissa, you will find a whole section dedicated to planning and making your own forest garden at the back of the book. It takes you through all the stages from site assessment and goal setting to step-by-step planning, and also covers tips for the planting and maintenance phase. The main section of case studies gives you the stories of many people who have gone before you, who have been generous enough to share both their successes and frustrations so new forest gardeners like you can learn from them. On top of that there is a section on the ecological basics of forest gardening that explore some of the ideas behind it.

I agree the technical detail of plant selection can sometime feel daunting. Understanding the conditions of your site is key to making the right choices. There are some great online resources such as I would suggest makign your shortlist of plants and then checking it against a reference book or website such as this.

On the whole I'd say start small, dare to experiment, stay flexible and be bold enough to remove plants that obviously don't work in your place, either because the conditions aren't right or because you realise that you actually don't like them. You can then find a replacement that is better suited to your situation.

All the best with your forest garden experiments!
2 years ago