edible forest garden

First step towards an edible forest garden

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As blogged about previously, our long-term goal for our South Coast property is to create an “edible forest garden“, following the books by Dave Jacke.

This week we took the first steps towards this big vision, with the planting of our first fruit trees.

The trees were all transplanted from Lewisham, with the bulk being citrus trees:

  • Ruby grapefruit (dwarf)
  • Cumquat x 2 (dwarf)
  • Meyer lemon x 2 (dwarf)
  • Kaffir lime (dwarf)
  • Pomegranate (full-sized)
  • Aniseed myrtle & Cinnamon myrtle
  • Acacia (various, all shrubs rather than full-sized trees)

The plantings were carefully designed in advance to ensure that we get the most out of the trees, with the least maintenance work:

GCADPlus drawing

The design was laid out accurately on the ground using triangulation, to ensure that reality matched the plan.

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Triangulating the position of each plant, with two tape measures

After planting, the patch was sheet mulched, with a layer of cardboard covered by hardwood chip mulch. This should keep the weeds down long enough for the cover crops to do their work.

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Sheet mulching the patch with heavy cardboard and wood chip

A few notes on the approach, with references back to Jacke’s book:

  • The planting is done in patches, with are then combined to create the overall garden design.
  • In this instance, it’s a polyculture patch (design pattern #44 from the book), which is a set of complementary plants that support and assist each other.
  • As outlined in our post on citrus guilds, there’s a big focus on nitrogen-fixing plants to support the hungry fruit trees.
  • The diagram above shows the eventual size of the trees (which will be some years off), and to achieve this an approach of instant succession (pattern #31) has been taken. This involves interplanting the gaps in the short term, to direct the eventual outcome.
  • There are at least three layers in the patch (pattern #38), from ground covers, to the dwarf citrus up to the pomegranate (which while full-sized, is deciduous).
  • A lumpy texture (pattern #39) of larger and smaller plants gives better light access, and confuses the pests.
  • I’ve used a number of native species (pattern #43), including acacias (for nitrogen-fixing), plus aniseed and cinnamon myrtles (for culinary purposes).
  • Underneath all the plants will be a thick ground-cover layer (pattern #49) that will be a mix of flowering plants to attract insects (pattern #42), and further nitrogen-fixers.
  • The patch was fenced, with five strands of tensioned wire. This should deter the wallabies and wombats (note I didn’t say stop the animals, as that would be optimistic!).

All the preparation and planting work was knocked off by dad and myself in three days, making it about a man-week of work in total.

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The finished patch, in the last of the afternoon light

Phew! It’s been hard (but rewarding) work this week to get our first patch in place. I’m sure there will be huge successes and crushing failures to come, watch this space!

Creating an edible forest garden: the start of a 20 year journey

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edible-forest-gardens

The big plan for our rural property is to create something called an “edible forest garden”, as described in the book by the same name by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier.

This is like the “food forest” concept described in permaculture, but on steroids.

The overarching idea is to create a forest-like ecosystem, but with as many of the niches filled with food-producing plants. For example, this could consist of a:

  • canopy of fruit or nut trees
  • a middle layer of food-producing bushes (rainforest plants should be a good fit)
  • ground layer of supporting plants, adding nutrients or attracting beneficial bugs

Contrast this to a typical orchard: the trees are carefully spaced to maximise production, but underneath there’s nothing but grass that needs to be constantly mowed. The trees themselves need constant feeding and management.

The orchard produces the most fruit, but only the fruit. The edible forest garden has more competition between plants, so the canopy produces less. But when you add up all the food produced at all the layers, it wins hands-down. Better yet, by mimicking a normal forest, only a little management is needed, and hopefully no maintenance.

Has this been done in Australia?

The original ideas come out of North America and the UK, and this is where most of the real-life examples come from. I’ve heard of a few small-scale gardens in Australia, but I suspect there’s not many in total.

So my goal is to fully explore this concept in temperate Australia, utilising native bushfoods and rainforest plants wherever possible.

The books are very heavy-weight, and the approach requires a huge amount of planning. It may be 6-12 months before even the first plant goes into the ground.

I’ll write up our journey as it progresses, starting with our goals for the edible forest garden, and then working steadily down into design details.

Give us 10-20 years, and voila, there should be an edible forest! Lucky for us it’s the journey we’re looking forward to 🙂

PS. the pair of Edible Forest Gardens books are excellent, and I’d highly recommend you get a copy if you want to take food forests to the next step…