Gardens modeled on natural woodland are becoming more and more popular nowadays. And while they have been around for a long time with many of the native cultures practicing this form of sustainable agriculture, most of us are still quite new to this concept. The so-called food forests could in the future bring free produce to everyone.
It is a form of low-maintenance plant-based food production which replicates natural ecosystems in that climate, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, running vines and perennial vegetables. Beneficial plants and companion planting is a big part of the food forest system. Food forests are not “natural”, but are designed and managed ecosystems that are very rich in biodiversity and productivity.
Unlike much of the modern industrial agricultural system which relies heavily of inputs such as fossil fuels and artificial herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, a food forest once established is self-regulating and highly abundant in yield.
Forests are synonymous with life, biodiversity and fertility
Where life gathers, complex and mutually beneficial relationships are created between organisms; natural harmonious communities form, and life forms multiply and proliferate. If forests are where most of the life on the planet is, then anything less than a forest is most likely less suited to supporting life. Life supports life but unfortunately society has been conditioned to clear the land and create unsustainable fields which need high inputs to be maintained.
Food forests are abundant and can yield significantly more than the conventional farming
As well as being high yielding food forests are high in biodiversity and life. Food forests can be developed and grown in most climate zones and because they involve vertical stacking are great for suburban and urban areas. Soon, even NYC will get its own floating food forest!
Check out this video to see how a couple has transformed a traditional suburban landscape into a highly productive forest garden.
The 7 layers of the forest garden
Typically over 30 feet (~9 meters) high. This layer is for larger Forest Gardens. Timber trees, large nut trees and nitrogen-fixing trees are the typical trees in this category. There are a number of larger fruiting trees that can be used here as well depending on the species, varieties and rootstocks used.
2. Low Tree Layer
Typically 10-30 feet (3-9 meters) high. In most Forest Gardens, or at least those with limited space, these plants often make up the acting Canopy layer. The majority of fruit trees fall into this layer.
3. Shrub Layer
Typically up to 10 feet (3 meters) high. The majority of fruiting bushes fall into this layer. Includes many nut, flowering, medicinal and other beneficial plants as well.
Plants in this layer die back to the ground every winter… if winters are cold enough, that is. They do not produce woody stems as the Shrub layer does. Many culinary and medicinal herbs are in this layer. A large variety of other beneficial plants fall into this layer.
There is some overlap with the Herbaceous layer and the Groundcover layer; however plants in this layer are often shade tolerant, grow much closer to the ground, grow densely to fill bare patches of soil, and often can tolerate some foot traffic.
6. Soil Surface
These are root crops. There are an amazing variety of edible roots that most people have never heard of. Many of these plants can be utilized in the Herbaceous Layer, the Vining/Climbing Layer, and the Groundcover/Creeper Layer.
7. Vertical Layer
These vining and climbing plants span multiple layers depending on how they are trained or what they climb all on their own. They are a great way to add more productivity to a small space, but be warned. Trying to pick grapes that have climbed up a 60 foot Walnut Tree can be interesting to say the least.
H/T to offgridquest