Forests are part of our heritage and more than 1 billion people across the planet depend on forests for their livelihood.
Forests play a major part in helping to stabilise the climate, and they provide food, shelter, wood, & medicines for us as well as many of the worlds birds, animals and insects.
Mankind has a long history of dwelling in and enjoying forests and yet we are destroying them at an alarming rate. According to the World Resources Institute-
“30 percent of global forest cover has been cleared, while another 20 percent has been degraded. Most of the rest has been fragmented, leaving only about 15 percent intact.”
With an ever increasing population needing more and more food, and a significant portion of the world turning to desert as traditional farming methods harm the top soil, a new way of producing food is needed.
What Is A Food Forest?
Within the permaculture movement a new method of providing food is being offered. When talking about Tree Planting Holidays, I often get asked what a food forest is when I mention it. So here is an explanation of what a food forest can offer-
A food forest is a forest that has been planted with the emphasis on producing food. Instead of the hectares upon hectares of monoculture that provide one crop of (usually) heavily pesticide laden fruit & vegetables, at the expense of insects and wildlife, a food forest encourages biodiversity and food for us humans, birds, and animals alike.
When planting a food forest, one of the most important aspects of it is working with nature, and not against her. If you give plants and trees what they need, they will happily provide for you and yours.
One of the keys to the success of your food forest is mulching. This is using any form of organic matter, so wood chips, straw, plant matter etc to give yourself a ground covering. There are many reasons to mulch, and one of the most important is water retention, especially in dry areas.
Another great benefit of mulching is that you are building your soil. As the mulch breaks down over time, it will feed the soil around your plants and provide them with the nutrients that they need. When the ground is bare, it dries out very quickly and then gets blown away or washed away with wind or heavy rain. Mulch helps to prevent this soil erosion at the same time as retaining water and building your soil.
Another benefit of mulching is that it encourages a myriad of small animals and fungi that are both beneficial to the soil and to your plants. They thrive in the dark, damp soil provided by the mulching and are then able to aid the roots of the plant, break down the soil further, and return nutrients to the soil, amongst other important tasks.
How much you need to build your soil will depend upon what you have to start with. Try to avoid land that has been consistently sprayed with pesticides or worse.
Other things that can be used to build your soil – straw, untreated grass, leaves, rock dust, vegetable scraps, plant matter, and compost. This is not a definitive list, but anything that is organic and handy will feed your soil.
Once the soil has been fed, you can start to plant your food forest. Choose fruit bearing trees that you like to eat the fruit from and start planting. It would be a good idea here to either go to Youtube or a bookstore to find out more about planting a food forest if you have not come across the term before.
There are usually seven layers to a food forest, which is densely planted, in order to produce maximum output.
The first layer is the canopy layer and this consists of tall fruit and nut trees that will grow tall and provide shade across some of your plants.
Next is the low tree level, made up of dwarf fruit trees and the idea here is to plant a large variety of fruit trees in order to provide a mixed harvest. Choose trees that fruit at different times of year and plant different varieties of the same fruit tree to see which ones prosper, and which ones do not like your soil, or need more attention.
After this, is the shrub layer- this is your berries and currants. Again plant a large variety of berries and currants as these are very high in nutrients and grow fast and provide large harvests.
Next is the herbaceous layer – this is herbs, and vegetables that grow on the ground like squashes, kale, courgettes, aubergine, marrows, cucumbers and so on. Plant a huge variety of these as they are fabulous to eat, and also provide ground cover to further protect the ground from drying out.
Next we have the rhizosphere layer- and this is root crops like carrots, onions, garlic, & parsnips. Again, plant as many varieties as you can as these provide a good food source and can provide you with food at different times of the year.
After this we have the soil surface or the ground cover crops. These include mustards, rye grass, radishes, and buckwheat. Comfrey is very popular with some food foresters as it grows really easily and is high in nitrogen and potassium so a great mulch around fruit trees.
And lastly, we have the vertical layer. These are the climbers and the vines. Grapes, & pomegranates are examples of plants that will fill your vertical space.
As you can see, a food forest is a completely different idea to that of standard agriculture. Once it is set up and starting to grow, without the use of pesticides or needing to be watered regularly, you should start to be able to harvest fruit after two years, and vegetables that same year. Of course, this will depend on how you have planted each tree and looked after it- it is a guide line rather than a statement. Instead of needing hectares of land, you can plant a food forest in your back garden. Once set up, it can provide you with food throughout the year, and should attract bees, butterflies and a whole variety of birds to your garden. You generally use much less water in the garden with this method of planting, and it also provides hours of healthy activity.
Tree Planting Holidays will be setting up a food forest in order to feed those that come on holiday to help us plant a forest with fresh, organic life- giving food. For more information about tree planting holidays, go to the website to find out more – Tree Planting Holidays
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