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Edible Forest Gardening

Updated on September 26, 2014

What the Heck Is an Edible Forest Garden?

"I don't like formal gardens. I like wild nature. It's just the wilderness instinct in me, I guess."
Walt Disney

That is a fair question! It is the art and science of arranging plants together in a forest setting so that they are mutually beneficial to one another, forming their own ecosystem. If planted properly, they can be basically self-sustaining, and provide a bountiful crop year after year.

In such a garden you can grow nuts, fruits, vegetables, herbs and other useful plants, and because they are mutually sustaining, they will provide you with years of crops with little or no care.

The theory behind it is called polyculture, which refers to many different plants growing with multiple layers of vegetation in one area. This theory is the exact opposite of most gardening done in the modern world, normally called monoculture, or unnaturally large plantings of only one species.

A forest garden in the city
A forest garden in the city | Source

Why Grow an Edible Forest Garden?

There are three main reasons for growing such a garden:

· High yields of diverse products

· The garden will be self-sustaining

· The creation of a healthy ecosystem

On a more ethereal level, we refer to a quote by Masanobu Fukuoka, who once said: “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” In other words, growing a forest garden puts us back in touch with nature the way nature was originally designed. Rather than tearing down an ecosystem to plant one crop, we are creating an ecosystem to provide multiple crops for many years, just as nature always has done.

A video about Living Simple

Where Can You Grow an Edible Forest Garden?

The quick answer is practically anywhere, but generally they are best grown where the natural vegetation is forest, and in particular deciduous forest. In the United States you could easily grow one of these on the East Coast, the areas around the Great Lakes, and from the Rocky Mountains westward to the Pacific Ocean.

It is fairly important to note that forest gardening is not gardening in a forest as much as it is gardening like a forest. You do not need an existing forest to start one of these, and you do not need a lot of land to do so either. An adequate forest garden can be created in a 30x50 foot space or over several acres, making it suitable for city-dwellers as well as rural residents.

Community gardens can incorporate forest gardening
Community gardens can incorporate forest gardening | Source
Designing a forest garden
Designing a forest garden | Source

How to Create an Edible Forest Garden

Remember, the point is to emulate nature. As with any forest, layers are important, from the highest canopies to the ground, all work together to form a healthy ecosystem.

The table below will give you some ideas for which plants and trees to grow in your forest garden.

A Perfect Variety

Edible Flowers, Roots and Bulbs
Shrubs, Herbs and Vines
Trees
Daylilly
Blueberry
Almond
Dianthus
Green Tea
American Persimmon
Balloon Flower
Raspberry
Apple
Asparagus
Siberian Pea Shrub
Autumn Olive
Aralia
Peppermint
Apricot
Udo
Anise Hyssop
Hardy Orange
Jerusalem Artichoke
Korean Mint
Black Elderberry
Skirret
Bee Balm
Chinese Dogwood
Parsnip
Rose Hips
Hazelnut
Gobo
Hardy Kiwi
Chestnut Sprecies
Garlic
Akebia
Black Locust
Groundnut
Mountain Yam
Black Walnut
Potato
Tuberous Nasturtium
Heartnut

Nutritional Value

Many of the plants and trees grown in an edible forest garden are high in nutritional value and have a high yield of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, and anti-oxidants.

It has been found the perennials are more nutritious, on average yielding 2 to 3 times more Vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, iron and protein than annual vegetables and plants. They are the super plants of the world and as such should be included in any garden for health benefits.

An edible forest garden offers variety, and variety is the secret to proper nutrition.

How about you?

Would you consider having an edible forest garden?

See results

So Why Don’t We See Forest Gardening on a Large Scale?

Simply stated, forest gardening requires manual labor. Machines cannot be used in forest gardening because the entire area is a garden. Large tractors would do more damage than good, crushing parts of the garden while cultivating others. Man must be directly involved in forest gardening and that means large-scale gardening, which is what is needed to feed a community, is not practical for communities of any size.

However, on an individual basis, forest gardening is the best of all worlds, lending itself to small-scale efforts and providing maximum benefits.

Edible forest gardens are the epitome of Living Simple! This is getting back to basics at its most fundamental level. This is growing your own food, taking care of the environment, and taking care of yourself and your family. This is pulling away from large-scale and adopting small-scale, and in the process re-discovering something about you as a responsible member of this planet.

For more on edible forest gardening, these books are recommended:

“How to Grow a Forest Garden: by Patrick Whitefield

“Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway

“Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally” by Robert Kourik

“Plants for a Future” by Ken Fern

“Edible Forest Gardens” by Dave Jacke

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, yes, it is obvious you have some time on your hands. :)

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      You too, Bill. Can you tell I'm between assignments?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey Sha, thank you! I ran across this idea at a street fair a couple months ago and it seemed fascinating to me. Glad you liked it. Have a great weekend Sha!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Great idea, Bill. Something I will certainly consider for my back yard. I have a ton of compost I need to use!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It was a gooseberry....great job of spotting. Glad you liked it; thank you my friend!

    • goego profile image

      goego 4 years ago from Loserland

      Was that a gooseberry in that basket??? Those were my favorite as a kid!!! Another great hub bill, keep em' coming good sir.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Imogen, you are very welcome. I hope it works well for you; your climate should be perfect for this, as you have a similar climate as we do in the Pacific Northwest. Best of luck to you and thank you!

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      Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England

      I have a traditional vegetable garden all laid out in rows, but I love this idea of having it all mixed together in a forest setting - it looks so natural and ornamental too. I might just try integrating a few things in amongst the trees and shrubs, and see how it goes! Thanks for the tips :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Farmloft, glad you found it useful. Thank you for taking the time to visit!

    • farmloft profile image

      farmloft 4 years ago from Michigan

      Really like this hub and the chart is so useful! I will be back to this again to plan some plantings in our "woods" I already had in mind to add herbs and flowers but now I will use your suggestions. Thanks

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Tammy, i agree, we all should, and more will, because this economy is not going to improve for us little folk. Thank you my dear.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      beindustrial, thank you and I'm glad you can enjoy a garden as we do.

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      Tammy 4 years ago from North Carolina

      What about pinecones? I live in the south with sand and pine trees. This is a GREAT hub! I think we should all know what plants are edible in our area for survivalism.

    • beindustrial profile image

      beindustrial 4 years ago from Effingham, IL

      It is cool to have edible garden. We have one as well and my wife and I love it. It's really nice to use freshly pick vegetable and herbs right from our own backyard... Thumbs up for you hub Billy!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Avian, what am I going to do with all this attention from you? :) Thank you and I agree! I think I have had an epiphany of sorts. I have always loved nature and rarely lived beyond my means, but just recently I have a deeper appreciation for this simple lifestyle.

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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      A terrific piece. It's about time that we get back to nature and live like our forefathers did. They were healthier, too.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, I think you'll see the advantages of it if you give it a try; you can almost harvest nine months a year using this method. Thanks for taking a look.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 4 years ago from Iowa

      This is a really cool idea. We have about a third of an acre of woods in our backyard full of wild berry trees like mulberries and hackberries. The birds love it, but other than the pear tree we planted and the stray morel mushroom in the spring, we haven't really used it as a resource for our own food. I'm going to think about this some more.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dianna, thank you! I'm really enjoying the living simple concept. Of course, it helps that I believe in it. :) I will have to look for that gelato since I've never heard of it.

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      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I caught this earlier, but thought I would stop in and leave a comment on how much I really enjoyed the topic and concept of gardening and simple living. I was at a shop downtown last week where I had a sampling of Rose Hip gelato. It was quite interesting to taste, but I imagine it was much healthier than the fancy store bought kind.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, I love your comment about it making sense and that's why it isn't done on a larger scale. LOL Thank you my friend, and happy gardening!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. Seems like something we should all be doing. Just makes sense. Which is probably why it's not done on a large scale. My father has been gardening forever. I think I need to pay more attention to his gardening skills and learn a thing or two. Bill, this is just great advice. Maybe next year I can give this a shot. Thanks for reawakening the gardener in all of us.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Denise, a black thumb is definitely going to hurt you with this project. :) Thank you for stopping by!

    • denisemai profile image

      Denise Mai 4 years ago from Idaho

      Very interesting. If I weren't a plant assassin, I would try it but, unfortunately, black thumbs. And fingers. Great info for gardeners!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Ruby! It is an old concept that is now gaining popularity. We tried it on a small scale this year and we'll add to it next year.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      How very interesting and a great idea. I am amazed how one plant helps the other. I plant a garden every year, just tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers. The peppers and cucumbers are already gone. Enjoyed your article..Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sasha, you are very welcome. It will work quite nicely where you live. I am working on that hub about living simple for parents...I should have it by the end of the week.

      Thank you my dear!

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 4 years ago

      My garden recently grew in size and I'm currently planning it out for late winter/early spring planting. I love this idea and I'm all on board for trying this... it will take some studying though ^_^ Guess I better get started ^_^ Thank you for yet another wonderful hub. voted up and shared.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      PS, keep me posted when you do....I will be curious how it works out there.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Paula, good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise! :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rebecca, it's a new one to most people...I hope you are able to use part of this....in northeastern Georgia it would probably work. Thank you!

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Angelo, perhaps....best of luck to you, and thank you!

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      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      I will. I will be disappointed if I can't try this.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      DON"T SAY THINGS LIKE THAT!! Of course you're going to live that long!! Surprise, bill.....ornery old men never die!!!!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This is great. I love your chart. Edible forest garden! This is a new one on me!

    • Angelo52 profile image

      Angelo52 4 years ago from Central Florida

      A good concept well presented. Wish I had a bit of land to put the ideas to work. Perhaps in the future.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you PS....north central Florida might be a problem, but if you call your Extension Service they might be able to suggest substitutes that will work. Glad you like it and thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jackie, thank you, and I hope this, or a variation of this, works for you. It really is marvelous once it has been established.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      billybuc... BINGO...you nailed it again...no surprise here...this is so cool. I am always planting and gardening and trying new things. So I will need to explore the plants you have listed and give this a try. I also will share it with my sister as she is as passionate about gardening as I am .

      So glad you shared this. Voted up and pinned.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Wow this is a keeper, I wish it were spring! I have quite a few things now that just grow freely like plantain, dandelion, wild onions and garlic, but then I have a dozen neighbor cats...so. Going to have to cat proof things, this is fantastic, thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Yes indeed, Paula! Page one of Google? Now wouldn't that be something? I would be happy if the article enticed just one new person to grow a garden next year. That would be very cool. I am so eager to move to the country...three more years my friend. Sure hope I live that long. :)

      Thank you, as always, for everything.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      bill...always thinking, always teaching. This idea is a definite winner. In fact, I foresee this particular hub on Google Page One......More and more people, some who have never planted a garden before, are doing so. If we dig for "positive" actions coming from our current economic disasters.......getting back to sustainable living......utilizing what Mother Nature gives us.....could be looked at as very positive. Yes? YES!!

      Voted UP...as always U & I

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kris, I think it would work but it would require different species than the one I have listed. Thanks for the visit and share.

    • KrisL profile image

      KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

      Great hub! I wonder how we can do that in South Florida, in a subtropical environment. Voted "beautiful" and shared.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jesada, so glad you enjoyed this; it really is very practical and you will be amazed at the bounty of crops you can have after the first year.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks TT! Nice of you to drop by.

    • JesadaB profile image

      JesadaB 4 years ago from Home!

      Love this idea, thanks so much! Our yard is not huge but we had planned on expanding the garden next year, so now we can try to squeeze out some space to have this lovely little forest! Great Hub!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Fabulous idea, Bill. Will have to make one of these eventually! :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dianna, thank you! I ran across this at a street fair and fell in love with it. We will start to incorporate some of these ideas in next year's garden.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Bill, you truly are living large and well! Love this idea and makes me want to just go out and live among the trees and give everything else up! What a wonderful idea in gardening.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Amy, I would kill for three acres. What a great opportunity you have, and the good news is, that once you get the plot planted, it will keep doing it's thing year after year and you can sit back and reap the bounty. Thank you my dear; I hope it works out for you.

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Bill, thank you so much for this cornucopia of information about a subject I'd never even heard of before your article. My mom has almost 3-acres, which is far more than is necessary for this system, and since I love working outside, this is a project I plan on instigating. The yard has some beautiful trees already, so plotting the lay of the garden will be great productive fun. Thank you, again, for a great idea that fosters positive steps towards self-sufficiency.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Irc, thank you so much! I think this is a great concept, one I plan on using next year. I appreciate the share very much.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Kelly; we had a great harvest this year and it will be better next year for sure.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      tobusiness....aww, retirement. I'm not sure what that looks like but it's a lovely concept. LOL Thank you my loyal friend.

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mvillecat, I will do that soon; thank you so much.

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      Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

      Good Morning. I couldn't resist reading this. What an incredible concept and, one I had never heard of. It is a brilliant idea and you have put your magic to it (as nature intended). I continue to find that the best things in life are the ones that are unadulterated by humans. I am renting so can't create a forest garden now, but, I will share this with friends who will jump at the chance to plant one. Great content and clarity!

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      Kelly Umphenour 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Awesome! I love gardening and sustainable living. I do have a nice garden but it isn't too huge. I do eat and preserve everything that comes out of it. Very cool Bill!

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      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Getting back to basic, what a lovely idea, I do grow some fruits and veg. but at the moment, there just don't seem to be enough time in the day. Maybe after retirement. Keep those great ideas coming.

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      Catherine Dean 4 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      Really great Hub. I voted up, pinned and tweeted. Check out my blog on simple living: sowingasimpleharvest.com.

      I would love your feedback.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol, I don't think there is much chance of it working in Arizona, although there may be some trees, herbs, etc, that would do alright there. Thank you for the compliment and read.

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      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      This may not work in Arizona..However, I found this hub interesting and well thought out as always. I always enjoy the photos.Voted UP

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Alicia, it really does work, and cuts down on the amount of work you have to do in the garden. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Crystal, i got it. LOL very good pun! Glad to see you as always.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Dr. Pooja; you won't be disappointed if you do.

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      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the information, Bill. I love the idea of an edible forest garden! Most of my garden is used by my dogs, but I do grow fruits and vegetables in a small section. I'll think about how I can change it to make it a polyculture.

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      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      Ah, instructions on how to make a personal Garden of Eatin'. Get it? Great job Billy, very useful info. Voted up, of course.

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      Dr Pooja 4 years ago

      I have been planning to have a herb garden in my apartment but somehow it is not working out.May I should give a good try .Thanks for an inspiring hub as usual.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Yvonne, you crack me up. The potatoes...they take on a life of their own and can show up anywhere after the initial planting.....other things that surprised us....lettuce showed up fifty feet from where we planted it...I don't know if the wind blew the seeds or birds spread them....same with tomatoes.....we had four plants grow in areas we never planted plants.....so weird once nature takes over. Anyway, good luck with that jungle. LOL

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      Yvonne Spence 4 years ago from UK

      We do try to grow an edible forest in our back garden, but urban jungle would probably be a more accurate term for it! Most of the plants we eat are ones that seem to keep returning with minimal help from us - herbs such as mint and lemon balm, and then our potatoes which grow more plentiful every year even when we haven't planted any! I'm not even sure where they come from, but I suspect it's the compost! After a bumper crop last year, our pear tree seems to be having a year off, I don't think we've a single pear this year.

      This is a very interesting and useful hub: for instance, I didn't know perennials were more nutritious. I will refer back to this next year when we think about some deliberate planting for our jungle - sorry - forest.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Joseph; that's the first hub in which I put a chart, so thanks for mentioning that. We all need encouragement. We ate berries and veggies all summer long from our garden and we are expanding next year.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, the beauty of these gardens is the fact that they will return every year with very little work on your part; the gift that keeps on giving. Thank you my friend!

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, you are a doll...thank you! We have been eating our own berries and produce all summer long and you are correct, that stuff is expensive at stores nowadays. I hope one day you will be able to use this info. Thank you my dear for the sharing.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Thunder! I look forward to reading a hub by you telling us how it worked out.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well thank you Suzette; we actually did this at one of the schools I taught at and the kids loved it and it gave us so much in the way of fruits, veggies, herbs and nuts.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rich, I do indeed understand about rental restrictions. Thanks for stopping by buddy!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Spy; it's always nice to see you stop by. I appreciate the share and I hope one day you will be able to have your own garden.

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      Joseph De Cross 4 years ago

      Perfect example for living simple and away from the local produce, if possible. Love garlic and onions. Love hot peppers, and would try to check on my own yard and get more info from the soil and its potentials. Not much to add, but you are right Bill on this one. I wonder if the farming industry don't want us to branch out from their produce. We do what we can in order to save money anyway. Thanks for taking your time to write this green hub. The Chart is beyond expectations and useful!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Interesting concept especially if started now for future generations (thinking about the trees). Aside from herbs I stick to growing flowers, but I definitely see the benefits of this kind of gardening. I have seen more neighbors transforming their grassy areas to vegetable gardens and adding fruit trees. Thanks for an interesting hub that taught me something new!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Bill, this was so ingenious and such a good read especially during the current times we are now living in. I swear I bought produce this weekend to make a homemade pizza (peppers, onions, tomatoes) and spent almost $20 just on these ingredients to try to feed my family a semi-healthy nutritious meal. So this would be totally great to be able to have edible food growing in my own backyard instead of spending the ridiculous amount of money on store bought produce. Thank you for again thinking outside the box and for writing about something so creative, yet so needed in this day in age. Have shared, pinned and tweeted too!!

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 4 years ago from Canada

      Fascinating! We just bought an acre of forest beside our home and I plan on giving this a try. Well researched and written as usual BB!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Great hub Bill! Too bad we don't do this in our country. These types of gardens are so practical and beautiful at the same time. Saving the ecosystem is so important and these forest gardens will do just that. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us. I enjoyed reading this so much - Voted up!

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      Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Bill -

      More great ideas, my friend! I wish I had an area to pursue this. One thing bad about rental property is the rules one has to abide by.

      Keep 'em coming! You've got some great ideas! Great Hub!

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      IAmForbidden 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      this would be my next project after we moved to our new own lot. I'm still halfway of paying the price but I'm really looking forward to have some forest gardening there..flowers, berries, plants..trees.. :)

      shared

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Michelle, these types of gardens are amazing; you can still find things to eat during the winter if you plant properly. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Natasha, some day you will have the space, and then you can garden the way we were meant to garden. Thank you my friend and I will be by to see your new hub shortly.

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      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Agree with Natashalh... I wish I had the space too. My grandmother used to grow her own veggies in her own garden when she had the space. Was delicious....and she didn't have to go to the market so often!! Thanks for sharing!!

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      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Love it! I wish I had the space to have this beautiful, naturalistic style of garden. All I have the space for is containers, though, and even they don't always get enough sun.