A few food forest mini-documentaries

From New Zealand.

Also from New Zealand.

A brief overview of a forest garden in England.

A tour of Andrew Millison’s small-scale (and abundant) forest garden in Oregon. (My old home ground.)

An update to the “23 Year Old” video above.

There are a lot of good videos on food forests (forest gardens) online, so I thought I would share a few here. I have included gardens from different climate zones since it’s possible to do it just about everywhere.

Food forests & revolution disguised as gardening

Over the last few months, we have been working to establish a food forest on our land in the Andes mountains. So far, it’s mostly close to the house, and it will likely expand in time and as we get more experience.

To me, food forests make a lot of sense. If I have a piece of land, I cannot see any reason not to establish a food forest. I would do the same even if I lived in another climate. (It would be different, of course, but it’s still fully possible to establish a nature garden that produces a good amount of food.)

THE HISTORY OF THE LAND

The land was owned by the same family for several generations and was used mainly for grazing (cows and goats) and small-scale food production (tobacco, yucca, etc.). Only the area close to the main pond has a relatively mature and healthy forest. The rest is eroded, has a young forest of pioneer trees, and/or has grass.

Before then, in pre-Columbian times, it was part of the land of the indigenous people in the area, the Guane. I am not exactly sure how they used it, but I assume they may have had a kind of food forest there. They may have cultivated food plants, likely mostly perennials, inside of the existing native forest.

THE TWO MAIN ZONES

The plan is to have a food forest in the area close to the houses, starting next to the houses and expanding out, and also to have a food forest along the main path through the land. This food forest will consist of native trees, bushes, and flowers to support the local ecosystem, and a variety of food-producing trees and plants to feed insects, birds, animals, and us, and to provide income in the future.

The rest of the land will be a kind of nature preserve, and an organization will plant a mix of native trees throughout the land over the next several months and years. (They sell the carbon credits to big international corporations, and our land gets to be reforested.)

OTHER THINGS WE ARE DOING

We are also doing other things to minimize our impact on the land and our life-support systems in general.

We are building using traditional techniques and local materials. These are rammed-earth buildings that stay cooler during the day and can last for centuries with a little maintenance.

We are in the process of setting up rainwater collection systems for watering the plants. We can get 1 liter for each millimeter of rain for each square meter of roof surface, so that adds up quickly.

We will install a solar power system. Since we are close to the equator, there is a lot of solar radiation, and it’s not more expensive than buying and installing a transformer which would be the alternative.

The big house that’s being built now will have a vermicomposting system. Inside the house is a regular flush toilet, the water goes to a worm composting bin where the solids stays and is eaten happily by worms, and the water continues and is deposited underground to nourish parts of the food forest. It’s a simple and low-maintenance system with a lot of benefits.

I will most likely replace the conventional flush toilet in the current small house with a compost toilet 10-15 meters away.

In addition, we are getting to know and create connections with neighbors and like-minded people in the region with similar projects. That’s crucial for several reasons, including sharing of knowledge and some material resources. For instance, we are right now buying high-quality compost from permaculture friends in the area. (After a while, we will have our own.)

WHY A FOOD FOREST?

For me, the question is more: Why not a food forest?

It just makes sense all around. It’s fun and rewarding. It provides habitat and food for insects, birds, and animals. It helps revitalize and feed the soil. It will provide food for us as well as income in the future. It takes a little effort in the beginning, but when it’s established, there is much less effort required and mostly just harvesting the rewards. It’s an example to others and may motivate others in the area to do the same.

PLANTING & HELPING THE SOIL

The area around the first small house has poor and compacted soil, so we are using a lot of mulch – combined with compost and some organic goat manure – to help it. The mulch helps retain moisture, and it also provides nutrients and microbes to the soil.

Since the soil is so compacted, it’s important to dig relatively large and deep holes for the trees and mix the soil with a good amount of compost and a little bit of manure. That helps retain moisture in the soil, it provides better drainage for the rainwater, it makes it easier for the roots to spread out, and it gives nutrients for the plants.

We also plant a lot of different things around these trees: peanuts, peas, flowers, vegetables, and so on. These provide more variety which helps keep pests and diseases at bay, the plants support each other, they help the soil, and the variety and liveliness is fun and enjoyable.

As you can see from the photos, we are just getting started, and the photos were taken well into the dry season so it’s not nearly as lush as it will be now that the rain has returned.

We are trying to plant as much as possible now at the beginning of the rain season, so they can get a good foothold while the rain is here. Some will likely need some watering during the dry season, but we are focusing on plants that will survive a period of drought once they are established and have deeper roots.

RAINWATER COLLECTION AND EROSION CONTROL

We are in an area that gets a lot of rain most of the year and has a dry period over a few months during the northern hemisphere winter.

Because of deforestation, rainwater runs off quickly and brings the soil with it. The erosion is worse along the ridge that goes across the land.

We are doing several things to slow down the water and help it absorb into the ground. The main project is to plant a large variety of native trees, bushes, and flowers. That takes time, so in the meantime, and in especially exposed areas, we are building dams using rocks found on the surface, and we are planting agave, mata ratón, and other plants that help keep the soil in place.

We are also channeling rainwater into a pond, and will – as mentioned above – collect rainwater from the roofs of the houses.

There is a dry river going through the land. With reforestation on our land, and hopefully also on the land higher up the side of the canyon, we may bring water back to this river.

THE LAYERS OF A FOOD FOREST

A food forest has several layers, just like a mature natural forest.

It has everything from tall to medium to small trees, bushes, flowers, and vines. This helps us make full use of the vertical space.

All of this vegetation and water – in the soil and the plants – also helps regulate the temperature. It changes the microclimate significantly, and this allows other species to grow and makes it more comfortable for us.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE & FOOD FORESTS

Many or most of the indigenous people in the Americas created food forests.

They planted food-producing plants in the forests to have better and more regular access to food.

When I am doing the same here, I feel a kind of kinship across times and cultures. We want much of the same. We want to work with nature. We want to support the native forest and our four-legged, winged and crawling relatives and friends. We want to provide for our own needs in a way that also enhances the life around us.

THE MANY BENEFITS OF A FOREST GARDEN

So there are many benefits to a food forest, or a forest garden as it’s also called.

It requires some work in the beginning – in terms of planning, gaining knowledge and experience, and planting and maintenance. As soon as it’s established, it’s largely self-maintaining and we can reap the rewards without much input.

It provides habitat – shelter & food – for a wide range of insects, birds, and animals, especially when native trees, bushes, and flowers are included.

It’s densely planted, and it makes use of horizontal and vertical space. It works in 3D.

The diversity reduces problems with insects and diseases.

It helps nourish and build healthy soil.

It’s a project that will provide enjoyment, food, and possibly income for decades and even centuries into the future.

It will provide income in the future. We can sell food, compost, seeds and seedlings, knowledge and experience, and so on.

It’s profoundly alive, lush, and productive.

It’s fun and deeply rewarding and meaningful, at least for me.

It nourishes the soil and the soul. What can be better than that?

It creates connections with like-minded people working on similar projects. It creates a community.

THE PROBLEMS WITH MONOCULTURES

This is in contrast to the many problems with conventional monocultures.

They are deserts. They don’t provide much of a habitat for insects, birds, or animals.

They rely on chemicals: Pesticides and fertilizers. Pesticides are designed to kill insects, so that’s what they do, and it has led to a dramatic general loss of insects even far away from the growing areas. It’s ecocidal and suicidal. Chemical fertilizers require a lot of energy to produce.

They set the stage for pests and diseases. Having a big area of one plant allows pests and diseases to flourish, which then requires pesticides. Monocultures create a big problem and create another big problem by trying to fix it.

They require a lot of work each year. They often start from scratch each year.

They don’t build soil. Often, through disturbing the soil, laying the soil bare, and using a lot of space between each plant, there is a loss of valuable topsoil. (Which eventually goes into and pollutes the oceans.)

They are inefficient. They often use a big space between each plant, and they only make use of horizontal space.

They are boring. They don’t nourish the soil or the soul.

REVOLUTION DISGUISED AS GARDENING

Permaculture is sometimes called revolution disguised as gardening.

That’s how I feel about this project.

It’s profoundly subversive in the best possible way. It goes against so much of the destructiveness of our civilization (monocultures, pesticides, soil depletion, destruction of ecosystems) and provides an attractive and productive alternative.