Farmopractic – Forest Gardens 2012-11-26T09:22:04+00:00

No one likes weeding, though that said I can get quite into it once I get going.  It’s probably more accurate to say that no one really has the time to do weeding, but then again some people probably do, in particular people that are paid to weed of course.  Anyway, my point is, which I always seem to beat around the bush to get to, is that growing food is time consuming, a commodity most of don’t have enough of.  But what if you had access to a garden that you just walked into, picked the food that was growing there and walked back out again?  Sounds good eh?  Free food, that is fresh, on your doorstep, has minimal impact on your busy schedule, environmentally friendly because it took no energy to grow, pack or deliver it and because its providing wildlife a natural environment.  Awesome.  I want one.

No I have not just been reading the bible and got to thinking how Adam and Eve really had it so good in the Garden of Eden.  It was earlier this year that I came across the concept of Forest Gardens and loved the idea the more I learnt about them.  In the UK the idea was first developed by Robert Hart in the 1980s, and since then advanced further by people such as Martin Crawford, whose book ‘Creating a Forest Garden’ has been my main inspiration and guide.

Forest gardening is the idea of planting trees, shrubs and plants that bear edible fruit, nuts, leaves and tubers to provide a rich source of food.  It does this by creating a growing space that mimics a forest, a natural, symbiotic environment, where relationships between plants and wildlife interact and work together.  For example the trees tap deep into the earth, pull up nutrients into their leaves and then shed them to the ground to decompose and be utilised by more shallow rooting plants.  The taller trees and shrubs provide wind protection thus create a warmer and more protected microclimate for plants to grow.  Perienial ground cover means the soil and its life is never exposed to the elements: washed away by rain, destroyed by the sun or dried by the wind.  It means you don’t have to go digging it up every 5 minutes as what you grow there lives for years and provides you with food for many months of the year, year in year out.

Its not completely work free however.  It takes time to harvest, prune here and there and generally manage, but nowhere near what would be required in a common vegetable garden.  It also needs time to create and the space to do it, but there is no minimum or maximum space needed.  The concepts of forest gardening can be used for a tiny back garden or acres of land.  And forest gardens can be just as, if not more productive than other gardening or farming systems.  They can also be places of recreation and provide wood for fuel and building materials.

Forest gardens are almost the complete opposite of monoculture or very simply a vegetable patch.  With this you first have to dig it all up. Then you have to plant it, weed it, water it, feed it harvest it, and then low and behold do the same thing all over again the next year.  Its time and energy consuming, and whats more is far removed from most natural systems where there is a great diversity of plant species and wildlife working together.  On a farm scale it it usually takes gallons of diesel, tons of fertiliser and gallons of pesticides and/or herbicides.  Horrible.  Industrialised, factory farming.  My dad and brother who run the family farm, cannot deny that everyday of their lives they are essentially fighting against nature and its laws.  We can’t beat nature, so to work with it is far far easier.

So my forest garden is just under way.  The only thing I can harvest from it at the moment are grasses and weeds.  But I have just ordered the first batch of trees to plant in the coming week to act as wind breaks, and am finalising the fruit bearing trees, trying to ensure that I have different varieties that will give fruit at different times of the year, and not  just a ton of apples in September that I can’t possibly make use of.  I have also planned the space that I will leave bare to grow more traditional annual vegetables which should benefit from being grown in this more protected microclimate, and even an area to put in a swimming pond.  Over the coming months and years it will be something that evolves.  Some things will be added and some removed as I learn from my mistakes and as it becomes clearer what what works and what does not.

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