Thursday, January 17, 2019

Food Forests

"S" just questioned me about food forests. Guess she has been reading permaculture websites recently. While I do incorporate many aspects of permaculture into this homestead farm, I'm not a permaculture farm. At least, not yet. Maybe some day.  I keep edging closer and closer. 

So what is a food forest? It's a type of gardening that uses a young forest model to grow a diversity of edible crops. Most plants are perennials. Food production is layered, going from ground covers to canopy trees, and everything in between. Much of the food forest is not tilled, thus relying upon mulches and nutrient teas for soil additives. But that's not strictly the case, depending upon the crops used. Things like root crops require soil cultivation to plant and harvest them. But generally the area mimics a forest habitat. Come to think about it, I guess you could say that digging those roots crops mimics a forest pig rooting around for a meal. Ah-ha, just like nature after all. 

Why have a food forest? It's less time consuming that intensive gardening. But the diversity of food is more limited. Land that I may not have the time to tend can be made to be food productive via a food forest. A food forest need not destroy the native trees already growing there. The soil biome need not be destroyed. Wildlife can still utilize the area. Land perhaps not suitable for conventional gardening can be used for a food forest, perhaps someplace too steep or too rocky.  

Some food forest characteristics..... Predominately perennials. A mix of trees, shrubs, low growing plants, ground covers, root crops, climbing vines. Use of multi layers : subsurface, ground level, mid level, high canopy. Utilizes both sun and shade oriented plants. Provides other resources, such as firewood (from tree pruning) and mulch material (from pruning, spent plants, natural leaf drop). 

On my own homestead farm, I don't have just one area dedicated as a food forest. My food forests tend to meander through the 20 acres, and they morph from one type of food production to another. Over by the barn the forest area was originally eucalyptus trees. It now hosts in addition -- lemon trees, bananas, pipnolas, papaya, and chaya. I'm still adding plants and plan to put in sweet potatoes, cholesterol spinach, ginger, ti, and some herbs. 

     Along the dry river bed and up the driveway, ohia and feral guavas were the original trees. I kept the ohias and thinned out the guavas. I added a cinnamon tree, an allspice, a clove, moringa, coffee, and several citrus trees. Also growing there are pipinola, turmeric, sweet potato vines, bananas, and a variety of herbs. 

     The pastures are in the process of being converted from dense, inedible ferns under ohia and wild guava. The ground cover consists of various pasture oriented plants, both grasses and forbs (in the places where the ferns have been removed). I've already added avocado trees. There's a whole lot of work still needed back there, 

     The Secret Garden has the most diversity so far. Originally mostly ohia trees and ferns, I've added quite an assortment of food bearing plants. Pipinolas, sweet potatoes, okinawan spinach, cholesterol spinach, a sapote tree, a white guava, mulberry trees, several citrus, coffee, and many different kinds of bananas, lots of taro, lots of ti, a cacao tree, turmeric, lilikoi, pineapples, plus a few herbs. It's still a work in progress. 

    Just so "S" and others understand, I didn't set out to create permaculture food forests. I set out to grow food, period. I recently discovered that it's now in vogue to have a food forest. How nice. I'm not one for fads, trends, what's in vogue. I do what I'm interested in and figure out how to make it work. And by the way, my macadamia nut trees aren't a part of any particular system. They simply line the driveway. 


  1. Hello! I somehow stumbled onto your blog through the permies forum. Are you looking for last-minute work-trade help? I'd love to connect if so. My friend and I are on the Big Island now and available starting next week. I did a PDC in 2017 and work as a writer, gardener, and farmer. Feel free to email if interested! Mahalo!

    1. Sorry but the timing isn't right. We currently have a live in wwoofer on the farm (Adam) and a part time worker, plus a neighbor who pops over to work on the garden aspects. The farm currently has a plethora of humans scurrying about.