- Education and Science
Planting a Food Forest
Freeway Food Forest
What is a food forest?
There is both a long and short answer to that question and I will try to keep it short and simple.
“A food forest is the intentional planting of food producing plants designed to mimic a natural forest.”
That wasn’t so bad right well unfortunately that definition while short and easy to digest does a poor job of fully encompassing what exactly a food forest is. To be a food forest it must contain the following attributes,
· Multiple layers of trees, shrubs and other plants
· Mimics a natural forest setting
· Is relatively self-sufficient and low maintenance
· Managed with minimal chemical inputs
To me you can’t truly call something food forest without meeting those criteria. Now I know there will be people out there that will disagree with me and that is ok. What makes up a food forest is a very local thing with the climate, soils and need of the people determining what will make up the nature of a food forest.
You start a food forest you need three things to make it worth your time,
· Good Soil
· Good Sun
Once you have those things you can start thinking about how to incorporate the many different elements that make up a food forest in the space you have available. Now when you design or build something you usually start from the ground up, this is usually the best space to start but not in the case of a food forest. This is because the most important thing when designing a food forest is access to the sun. Everything you will be planting with need access to some sunlight (except mushrooms) and the amount of sun they need will determine what goes where.
So with that in mind you know that you need to start the design with the tallest thing which is your canopy layer which would typically be made up of nut trees, oaks, or maples. Below you can see a sample diagram for how a small patch of food forest can be laid out. The large canopy tree is located in the south east corner of the design. This keeps the large shade cast by the tree on the smaller fruit trees only in the morning and lets them get plenty of midday and afternoon sun.
It also puts things in groups and layers. You can put smaller planting underneath larger one assuming that they can get adequate sun to grow and produce. This layering allows you to pack more into a small space and in a well-designed food forest you can up to 7 layers of plants, mushrooms and root crops growing in the same space.
A system like this a permaculture design by its very nature. If done correctly and maintained correctly it will provide continuous food supplies for years to come with very little effort in the long run. The end goal like I said above is to establish something that mimic a natural forest ecosystem that will maintain itself like a forest with with checks and balances for pest and disease issues. A food forest will not be as productive as a commercial orchard due to the nature of the design but the trade off for the lowered productivity should be reduced overall maintenance when compared to a orchard.