Designs, Tricks, and Schemes

Help me Understand Edible Forest Gardening

Recently I’ve noticed a bumper crop of talks promoting something I’d never heard of before – forest gardening and the “food forests” or “edible forest gardens” that result from it.  Turns out my initial assumption – that a forest garden is a shady woodland garden of ornamental plants – is totally wrong; this is all about producing food.

And this is big-picture stuff.  Edible Forest Gardens tells us:

We can consciously apply the principles of ecology to the design of home scale gardens that mimic forest ecosystem structure and function, but grow food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, “farmaceuticals,” and fun.

And they explain that this isn’t about gardening IN forests at all:

Edible forest gardening is not necessarily gardening in the forest, it is gardening like the forest.Anyone with a patch of land can grow a forest garden. They’ve been created in small urban yards and large parks, on suburban lots, and in small plots of rural farms.

I attended a talk by Lincoln Smith, a teacher of forest gardening, (photo above) and learned a bit more – that unlike most edible plants, the ones in forest gardens last at least two seasons and usually many more.  Plants are in layers – at varying heights, like fruit trees underplanted with herbs.  But importantly, the plant mix is diverse, nothing like the monocultures of conventional agriculture.  And if you mix the plants correctly, as a group they feed themselves and share space efficiently – both underground and aboveground.  That’s a lot to ask but it’s how it happens in nature, so it can be done.

Plants that need lots of nitrogen, like apples, can get what they need from “Nitrogen-fixing” plants growing near them.  Prime Nitrogen-fixers (plants that turn nitrogen in the air into nitrogen in the soil that plants can use) are clover, sweet fern, groundnut, false indigo, New Jersey tea, American wisteria, and vetch…. Larger plants that produce their own Nitrogen include black locust, alder and bayberry.

Lincoln showed data from a California researcher showing that as much flour can be made from acorns as from the same space devoted to wheat.  Here’s the link (it’s a Word document) or you can Google: “Bainbridge Use of Acorns for Food in California.”  Wow.  Makes you totally rethink our assumptions about food production and understand a bit how people sustained themselves centuries ago in forested regions like ours.  Sure enough, check out this website about cooking with acorns,  and this nursery in Michigan is growing oaks for food production.

But Here’s my Question:  Really?

I don’t know why, but this all brings out the doubter in me.  I’ve asked around and found other doubters among experienced gardeners, which makes me feel a bit better.  Maybe I just need to see some results.

So readers, what’s YOUR reaction to this radical notion?  Has anyone tried this?  Please help!  I want to support forest gardening but like the permaculture movement that spawned it, my honest reaction to it is:  Huh?

Posted by on May 29, 2012 at 6:04 am, in the category Designs, Tricks, and Schemes.
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61 Responses to “Help me Understand Edible Forest Gardening”

  1. Well, an interesting idea, certainly. New ideas always make us better gardeners; lasagna gardening, rain gardens, etc. I didn’t understand the latter until I realized every bit of prairie I don’t mow becomes a rain garden. Not that simple with forest gardening, but it’s a neat idea.

  2. Mary Gray says:

    Equally skeptical here, Susan. Bottom line: I don’t want to have to rely on my own food-growing skills to survive. I like dabbling in food growing as a hobby ONLY. I believe that, while it may have some drawbacks, developing a more complex economy where people specialize is a better, healthier way to live.

    No way I will be making flour from acorns.

  3. Lisa-St. Marys ON says:

    Interesting definitely. The only part of this that I do is eat the serviceberries (before the birds). They will grow under my neighbours black walnut. I won’t be making flour from acorns either.

  4. Margit VanSchaick says:

    I recommend that you check out the blog of Robert Straw in Wisconsin:One Straw: be the change. Very Informative and engaging. Lives with his wife and two children in a typical suburb and is turning his yard into a productive, ecologically thriving, creative adventure. Lots of knowledge addressing the questions you raise—– also has a great sense of humor!

  5. Kaviani says:

    I fail to see how this is revolutionary or major in any way. It’s pragmatic gardening – planting what you can where you can and getting the most out of it (culinary, industrial, aesthetic, etc.). I guess I’ve been an “edible forest gardener” all along. I should set off on an attentionwhoring seminar circuit now.

    • deethunder says:

      Just like in fashion, something old is new again. This is what’s happening with forest gardening. I’m just getting into this because I live the Pacific Northwest, where there’s lots of forest and rain. The thing that’s important is to learn what grows naturally where you live and learn how to cook with it. Less work while eating abundantly. I’m tired of caring for lawn except when it grows naturally where it is. Having lived in different parts of the country, I can see doing this anywhere. Less of a carbon footprint.
      ~ Dee ~

  6. yolana says:

    Count me as a doubter. I would love to see more people growing there own food, but all of these ‘movements’ make it seem so complicated that lots of people get discouraged. Plus to be frank, all the pictures I’ve seen of these gardens so far, are fugly.

  7. yolana says:

    oops, their own food of course, instead of there own.

  8. Very well done Garden Rant. I love it. This is exactly what I write about in my other blog “Earth’s Internet” which deals with mycorrhizal connections working with all plants as it interconnects them for sharing various componants they all use for manufacturing their own fruits or seeds.

    One of my posts was about my experience living in Idyllwild California where Apple trees and even Cheery trees were as equally productive as any orchard grown trees in full sunlight using flawed science-based chemical technologis brought to us from WWII’s ‘Manhattan Project’ which gave us the so-called Green Revolution.

    I have always planted my strawberries in a woodland garden setting and received as many or more berries than if I had them in the formal conventional garden setting. People forget that in nature they are a forest floor plant anyway, as are gooseberries, currants etc.

    In 1982 when I moved to Idyllwild CA, I was hiking Strawberry Creek (named for the obvious reason) and noticed what I thought was a dogwood shrub. It wasn’t as I found out a few years later. It was a Queen Anne Cheery tree. Apparently someone had been eating cherries years before as they walked the creek and spit the seed out, one of which got lucky. Over the years this tree produced countless cherries for which the Stellars Jays were grateful. Now there are several dozen trees in this area and under the canopy of massive old growth Ponderosa pines. They don’t receive sunlight. So how do they manage ? Through the networked underground grid. Same with Apple trees in the same area, no sun, but productive anyway.

    Thanks for this, it confirms what I’ve already known and been doing for years.

  9. K.B. says:

    I’ve read a few permaculture books, and they all seem to suffer from the same affliction as many gardening books: “If you don’t do it exactly like this, you are doing it wrong”.

    I get the point of “forest gardens” and permaculture, but, one size does not fit all. I think any movement has a few things we can all learn, but more and more, I tend to see these things as a way to sell books and workshops and conferences, etc.

    Oh, and those acorns? Did anyone happen to mention how much water is required to get them to the point of edibility?

  10. commonweeder says:

    We have a substantial ‘forest gardening’ and permaculture movement in our area. I think it is very complicated and don’t know whether someone on a suburban lot can do it – but I am going to look for an example or two. I do grow my own berries, which is about as close as I get to permaculture for food. Herbs, too.

  11. @K.B.

    I agree K.B. Folks need to taylor these concepts to their own local climate and environment. Joel Salatin has some great ideas and methods he uses for pasturized beef and pig raising, but the same techniques he uses won’t work exactly with the same results in other areas and he readily admits that. When one buys a piece of land or some other property for farming or just gardening, you need to take that first year and get to know your own local habitat. Not all plants will work in the same setting, although over time you may build on a microclimate of woodland you create in the yard to do just that type of gardening being discussed here. However patience will be needed.Still the concept is a fun and exciting one.

    I also know what you mean about the Acorn and water amount or quantities question. If you follow the link she gave on the preparations, you’ll notice that all acorns are not equal. Some have more Tannins than others and they show this on that chart. I use to create a tannin free acorn mash all the time in Anza CA, but for the moment I couldn’t tell you what amount of water I had to use. We did large batches of the ground meal and stored these in bags in the freezer. It produces a meal that has a sweet mild nutty flavour and used it for pancakes.

    This may not have help much, but perhaps someone could add to the Acorn varieties they have used. We had Interior Live Oak and Black Oak which didn’t require alot of leaching.

    Kevin

  12. skr says:

    Most of the permaculture/forest gardening information I have seen has been long on rhetoric and short on data. There seems to be a tendency to extrapolate single data points into large scale output. For instance taking a single mature tree harvest in a good year multiplying that by number per acre and then comparing it to wheat. I have also seen a lot of criticism that revolves around solar output and photosynthesis maximization. If you live in a jungle then it works a lot better. Now that is not to mean that there isn’t something to learn from permaculture. Ornamental landscapes can easily be adapted to still be ornamental and yet produce food and build soil.

  13. Sara says:

    One of my problems with these movements are the ardent believers who take themselves so very seriously. Let’s be perfectly honest, there’s a self righteous smugness with most of the green movements. I support a lot of these ideas and information, but I’ve also seen a lot of pseudo-science being touted as though it’s objective peer-reviewed research–and that drives me crazy. I wish more people were skeptical before embracing movements. So, my hat’s off to you for raising an eyebrow! :)

  14. Tara Dillard says:

    It’s just a name. And it’s nothing more than maximum pollinator habitat.

    Via agriculture & ornamental horticulture endeavors.

    Again, those Italians been doing it for centuries.

    Been copying them for 23 years, since my first visit.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  15. Laura says:

    My main hesitation: moving. Last I heard, a majority of Americans move every five years or so… not long enough to appreciate the fruit of a food forest. Also, there’s real estate. As a unique new theory in gardening when most people are looking for a lawn and a few flower beds, I think you’d be bringing down the value of your home by following this technique as well.

  16. skr says:

    Is that linked document from D.A. Bainbridge, because if not there are some direct word for word quotes from his published materials without quotation marks.

  17. Deirdre says:

    I like the idea. Personally, any garden without trees seems totally unnatural. I guess that’s one reason I’ve never devoted significant space to vegetable gardening. I’d plant hazelnuts. They do well here. Hmmm….huckleberries, salal, salmonberries, Oregon grape, wood strawberries. I don’t imagine I’d live off it exclusively, and I’d have to beat the chickens to the berries, but then again, if I let the chickens have the berries, I’m still eating them indirectly. I see a plan forming.

  18. Liz says:

    This seems too confusing to ever be widely used. If you can’t adequetly describe a method with a few sentances, than I don’t think it will stick. Permeculture still confuses me a bit even after reading up on it. If we ever want sustainable gardening practices to take off with the general public they also need to.be simple and easy to understand. In many ways I think that is why companies like Scott’s have a lot of succes.

  19. katy says:

    Ah! If only there was a silver bullet to solving hunger and world peace!

    Overall, I agree with the idea of growing plants in a habitat similar to what they evolved to grow in. However, the challenge I think it to make these landscapes or gardens attractive and not just “Oh, this is an example of forest gardening so it doesn’t need to look pretty.” Especially for residential implications

  20. Alex says:

    I approach the topic from almost the opposite end of the gardening spectrum as the author and most of the commenters. I find myself looking at gardens with so much concern for visual aesthetics that I find myself saying “huh?” I come from a rather pragmatic viewpoint such that if a component of my yard does not benefit my family, my animals, or other components of the yard, then I don’t need it. I find the aesthetic aspect of gardening in the functioning of the system as a whole and don’t particularly give a “compost” as to what it looks like.

  21. erin bailey says:

    Well, I have read that acorn flour will sustain life, but I also read that it doesn’t taste very good–rather bitter.

    It is hard to believe the dirt ecology can substitute for sunlight for orchard trees. I’d really like to see it. I’m not doubting–I do not know enough to judge this–but it interests me, as long as I do not have to turn my ornamental garden into this type of forest.

  22. Ira Mann says:

    I really like the idea but, I feel alot like you do. I try to do this in my garden but, I do not have that much space to work with, let alone growing small fruit trees. I do on the other hand have some dwarf lemon and lime trees growing in containers and that is working out really well. I did not think that I would be able to keep them alive. Luckly, I was wrong. Keep up posted.

  23. We have essentially been using a Forest Garden in Peru with Eco Ola. On our land at Eco Ola we grow numerous superfoods including a fare of the ancient Incans, Sachi Inchi, Camu Camu, Maca and an extraordinary Peruvian Cacao. Our farm is a scalable project, incorporating elements of organic permaculture and agro-ecology. We have been doing this for three years and it functions very well.

    Further, Eco Ola’s permaculture and agroforestry initiatives are also an integrated part of the surrounding community. We work together to assure the development of the local populace, many of whom are from the indigenous Yagua community and neighboring tribes. To remedy this instability, our contracts with our partner farmers exceed Fair Trade standards. To further understand the integrality of our work, please feel free to consult this recent interview with Mongabay. The piece will undoubtedly give you a greater sense of our ideals and operations:

    http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0503-park-interview-eco-ola.html

    Kindly,

    Prof. Sabich
    Eco Ola

  24. greg draiss says:

    Sounds like the usual bunch of crap
    The TROLL

  25. Jason says:

    It’s an appealing concept, but I don’t know enough to judge it. I suspect that the proponents are overstating the potential, and would like to see some independent research testing their claims. I also think the proponents should consider promoting more limited applications of the concept that would seem less weird to the average US homeowner.

  26. Perhaps the only difference between edible forest gardening and the layered concept in typical landscape design in a forest setting is now you are choosing more plants that produce food instead of just for ornament.

    Only the literal minded would think the intent is for a family to be able to sustain themselves completely from such a garden on a suburban lot. That is no more possible than with a front yard vegetable garden. The idea is to supplement your diet and break the chain of bondage to industrial food production. If a community does this on a larger scale with diversified species, one person’s tree or berries can feed many families.

    One thing for sure is that this can not happen in a true forest setting. It would have to be more of a mixed forest with open sunny spaces in the tree canopy for an actual layering of plants to occur. I live in the forest. In the deep forest there are no layers. There are trees and the spring ephemerals, no bushes, no mid level, nothing unless you count all the dead fall. Even small trees will give up and die if they don’t get sun after the first couple of years.

    You won’t find me grinding acorns into flour either and some years we get bumper crops.

  27. jemma says:

    I see forest farming as the antithesis of industrial monoculture. It’s not “one true path” or easily transferable from one site to another because climate and soil and the intended eaters differ. I interpret it to mean “plant what you like and let it all grow together,” but with at least some knowledge of what grows well under particular conditions. I also see it as endlessly experimental. An aspect that’s attractive to many people is that it’s intended to need minimal work to produce a good yield.

    My version, at the community garden where no shrubs are allowed, is a perennial kale overstory (I usually keep them under 6-7 ft. so that I can reach the tops) with a variety of plants underneath. This season it’s sunchokes, cilantro, shiso, parsley, columbines, boysenberries, mints (in containers!), echinacea. I encourage volunteers. Last year I had a volunteer cucurbit growing among my tomatoes, and it turned out to be mini pumpkins. In the winter I have an abundance of self-seeded mache and nettles.

    But tomatoes are the most popular edible crop in suburbia, no? And they do require full sun and minimal competition, at least to get a good yield of larger fruit. The only way tomatoes lend themselves to the “food forest” idea is as a tomato jungle, or as stray cherry tomatoes growing up through whatever else grows there.

  28. emily says:

    I think the squirrels are going to get more aggressive if I start collecting most of the acorns…

  29. Penryn says:

    I can reference you to edible forest gardens from CA and OR to NY or FL or probably most states in between. Gardens which produce perennial food crops and other useful crops like coppiced wood (to be used for furniture making, home heating, livestock fodder, etc). Further, these gardens can be aesthetically beautiful. Like many other streams of thinking in life, permaculture and forest gardening address a myriad of ideas, reference points, and extremes. People are free to take on the basics and see how that works for them. What I have seen happen is that people will then want to dive deeper, dig faster, and plant more! Gardening Like the forest is simply creating mimicry of systems that clearly already work. Whole systems. Working together. Definitely high input on the front end, but totally useful and low maintenance as time goes on. One does not have to pound acorns into flour to garden like a forest (just because they could). Many food forests simply utilize low canopy trees such as pear or mazard cherry, or honey locust or willow as the top layer of the food forest. As I look outside my window right now, I see butterflies, mason bees, honey bees and hummingbirds flying in one of my food forest patches… jujube trees, elderberry bushes, raspberries, blackberries, hollyhocks, hibiscus, lemon grass, comfrey, horseradish, etc. etc. It is not “fugly”.. it is stellar. thanks for your post.. and thanks for listening!

  30. Sally in SC says:

    Remember Euell Gibbons? “Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible…” I named one of my meat rabbits Pinetree in his honor.

  31. UrsulaV says:

    I think it’s a neat idea, but I also don’t think it’s terribly revolutionary–sounds like the usual permaculture concepts, particularly the layering and whatnot.

    I want to like permaculture more than I do, but a number of the proponents are pretty crazed survivalists, and it tends to put me off. A lot. (The proper response to “Autumn olive is a horrible weed in my area, and I have to keep fighting it back,” is not “Well, I planted it in my yard and you can’t stop me because this is America!” Dude. Whoa.)

    Leaving aside the name, though, I know people manage to create extraordinary abundance in small areas with correct siting and whatnot, and I say more power to ‘em.

  32. Linnea Borealis says:

    Hey – why so skeptical? Too cool to be curious? I applaud anyone trying to work more ecology into agriculture and gardening. Maybe it won’t make everyone eat acorns and weird roots, but as a counterpoint to velvet lawns and spray-on mulch (can’t get over that one!) I think it’s excellent!

    Currently my strawberries grow under my peach trees, mixed in with various flowers, and seem very happy. Only problem is I can’t easily net them so never get there before the birds do.

  33. christy olson says:

    I completely second the earlier comment to check out Rob Frost’s website: http://onestrawrob.com/ Lots of great information.

    I love that people are passionate about these specific, if complex, approaches to gardening. Sure, there are always extremists, but then there are the observing others who latch on to some of the ideas and find that they work well and incorporate them easily into less strict gardening approaches. Avoid the extremists, find the educators, and just try not to learn something new and relevant. I credit permaculture blogs with helping me think more creatively about how I use “waste” in my garden (lilac thinnings turn into mini trellises, large dead branches form the basis of mini raised beds in “hill culture”, to name 2).

    Another perspective — The way some of us doubters look at forest gardening might not be that different compared to how conventional gardeners look at organic gardening. I sure wish more conventional gardeners would ask questions and be interested in how I garden organically instead of quietly doubting.

  34. karenj says:

    “…food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, ‘farmaceuticals’ and fun.” Oooof. While I am all for not having a monocultural garden scheme, anything sold with alliteration makes me queasy. My gardens tend to be non-linear, mixing the limited items to limit the spread of pests, layering the tall with the short according to need for sun, etc etc. But I cannot get past “‘farmaceuticals’ and fun”.

  35. karenj says:

    to say nothing of “fantabulous”.

  36. donna says:

    I use a canopy gardening approach to help protect plants from extreme hot and cold temps, and to grow plants that get along well together in minimal space with less water use. It’s certainly not a new idea and goes back thousands of years.

    Doesn’t matter what you call it, but it makes more sense than monoculture, which is just soil killing and unsustainable.

  37. My first and foremost interest when creating a woodland garden has always been for it’s ornmental asthetic value. I would never throw anything into the mix that would detract from that, but things like currants and strawberries are a given. They fit perfectly into the forested floor pattern.

    Ever hear of Brazilian Nuts, those large earthy tasting nuts found by themselves or in mixes ? They cannot be plantation grown. They are all still to this day wild collected. Apparently they extract something from the Amazon Forest’s mycorrhizal grid which are interconnected to other trees and which cannot be replicated in plantations. Think about it. Not only will such a permaculture situation fail in growing any holistic ornamental woodland setting, but you might as well kiss off any hopes of adding or inserting any edibles into the mix. Add mycorrhizal inoculant and most anything could be possible. But you’ll have to feed this holisitc urban environment with alot of mulch. The biota present in the soil will devour it all much faster and redistribute the carbons up into your landscape which will be quite evident.

    Not that any of this would matter to a few select chronic critics where the water beads of truth roll of the proverbial duck’s back anyway.

    Enjoy!

    -

  38. I wonder how it compares in productivity to a more conventional vegetable plot. I remember talking to an ecologist about forest ecosystems. He said while they are serene wonderlands for us, they are brutally competitive warzones for plants. Sunlight, nutrients, moisture are all in limited supply. Of course, established plant communities have learned to deal with these limitations. But do you need more land to get the same yields as a full sun garden? And do you have to limit yourself to shade tolerant edibles? That cuts the list of plants down drastically. When you mentioned herbs under shrubs, I immediately thought, well not traditional Mediterranean herbs. Certainly their not growing heirloom tomatoes in deep shade. Does forest gardening mean an entirely different set of crops? I would like to see an experiment: compare one year of yields from a forest garden to one year of yields from a conventional garden of the same size. My hypothesis is it would not be the same.

    Of course, we have so much to learn from nature.

  39. anon says:

    I’m with you. I’ve been reading through permaculture and forest gardening stuff for years and I’ve yet to see any actual sites:

    1. work somewhere in harsh northern climates
    2. actually support a family like a traditional farm would. All these demonstration sites rely on nonprofit tax status, unpaid interns, and/or paying students.

  40. I think everyone has to first realize that no one should be talking vegetables. Mostly fruits. Vegetables like most ruberals are out in the open plants in need of rich soil and sunshine.

    Most forests themselves are not rich in nutrients, though the appearance of them can be deceiving. All that carbon is up in the trees. Their main function is helping climate and encouraging rainfall which eventually washes nutrients into valley floors where vegetables like it best.

    Think Apple, Pear and Cheery Trees. Think currants, gooseberries, strawberries, etc all of which can look very ornamental and blend into the landscape.

    Don’t really know what to say about the Acorn critics. You gotta get out more and experience life away from the city and your computers, though I’m sure the NET has a Google answer for that somewhere. If not, try Dogpile.

    *smile*

    -

  41. bryan says:

    Hi I am Graduate Student at Cornell University, studying Horticultural Production Systems. To me, Forest Farming is the utilization of the unique environment created by the forest canopy to produce specialty niche crops. Utilizing crops for food, medicine, and aesthetics, we can develop markets and income opportunities that may be incorporated into a forest management plan. Forest farming may be used as a substitute to extractive forest enterprise, or used in conjunction, to generate income, while timber stands mature.

    Many of our common garden plants are not especially suited for life in the forest, so we have to expand our repertoire. Current research at Cornell focuses on a number of plants as well as mushrooms such as shiitake and lion’s mane. American Ginseng, Goldenseal, and bloodroot are all popular medicinal plants that are under pressure from wild collection. Through forest farming we can reduce the pressure on wild populations while still capturing high value markets.

    There is also emerging evidence that products of forest farming may be better than their non-forest counterpart. The shiitake mushroom is a valuable gourmet/medicinal mushroom that can be grown in a log-cultivation system as a part of a forest farming enterprise, or it can be grown indoors on prepared substrates. Consumers are starting to appreciate the comparative advantage of log-grown shiitakes and are willing to pay a premium for the what is thought to be a better tasting product. In addition, forest grown mushrooms may have greater ability, when compared to their indoor counterpart, to prevent chronic degenerative diseases such as Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease.

    So, in conclusion, forest farming can be a great opportunity for rural economic development, environmental conservation, and the maintenance of traditional livelihoods. Cornell maintains a demonstration forest farm called the MacDaniels Nut Grove. More information about forest farming can be found here; http://hwwff.cce.cornell.edu “The How, When, and Why of Forest Farming”

  42. gardengeri says:

    In my woodland shade garden I grow 14 blueberry bushes and lots of strawberries in the partial shade of tall Loblolly Pines. I expect good harvests from 3 colors of potatoes, 4 kinds tomatoes, 2 kinds cukes, and 3 kinds zucchini. Plus on Memorial Day I just sowed seed for Alpine Strawberries (from Renee’s Seeds) b/c I can’t afford to buy the plants. I might have trouble digging the peanuts, though. Yum.

  43. @bryan
    Thanks bryan for the post and info, especially your link. I’ve book marked it.

    @gardengeri
    Well done Geri, but for me in my ornamental garden I don’t think Zucchine, tomatoes or potato plants would work in that type of woodland setting. I prefer to have them out in the open sunshine. The other plants clearly belong there.

    Thanks again for comments – Kevin

    -

  44. Fleur says:

    This is amazing, and further reinforces how our world is such a finely balanced eco-system. For plants to feed others is simply amazing, us humans have probably just discovered the tip of the iceberg here. I am going to look into this in closer detail, thanks for highlighting your findings. I don’t have much more room in my garden, but I can still plant a couple of trees with planting beneath. Where there is a will, there is a way!

  45. Jen says:

    I’ve read a bit about it, but honestly it seems to be a lot of guess work, very little usable information and way too chaotic for my liking.

  46. DC Lacy says:

    As an urban dweller, I see this as something applied to a larger, public forest park setting with some elbow room. Smaller city lot sizes would have to be scaled way down; perhaps edible shrubs then a smaller understory. Forest plant layers are nothing new and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if humans didn’t wreck most natural habitats and the soil in the first place. It seems like we’re always trying to recreate what was there in the first place, like we invented it all and then put a label on it.

    Nature doesn’t create edible forests just for human consumption alone. Creating an edible forest that is human centered is still creating a sort of monoculture don’t you think?

  47. Megan says:

    Sounds like a more complicated spin of an old idea. Reading the blog reminded me of the Native American concept of the “three sisters.” You plant your maize, squash and beans together because the three crops provided one another with necessary nutrients and share space effectively. Sounds like forest gardening grows that idea to the nth degree. Great concept but definitely needs to be broken down to simpler steps for the average gardener.

  48. Laura Bell says:

    Not being a fan of tannin, I’ll not be eating anything made with acorn flour. But a lot of what they are saying sounds like how my parents raised/foraged for food, and what I’m aiming for as well. While they lived a rural life & had lots of space (14 acres), I live in suburbia & don’t (6000 sf). I cram food plants in everywhere I can, at times “stacking” one on top of another. And I look for wild sources, too – I know where there are blackberries & crabapples & figs nearby. It’s great to encourage people to think outside of the grocery store/farmer’s market/CSA box re: food. But I don’t think many people will see this as a primary way to get food in the coming years. Unless there’s an apocalypse in our near future.

  49. Sarah says:

    It’s interesting because, like you said, it does resemble more closely (perhaps) the way gardening was done in the past. However, it does seem like that would be a lot more effort and not many people would actually do it.

  50. jemma says:

    I don’t get the acorn disparagement. Read the chapter on eating acorn meal in Logan’s Oak: The Frame of Civilization. He tried some and said it kept him sated for hours longer than his usual breakfast. It’s available in some ethnic grocery stores because it’s still eaten today.

    In urban/suburban areas, it’d be wonderful to see more fruit trees planted when ornamentals need to be replaced. And each fruit tree needs someone to take responsibility for it. It’s hard to persuade people to plant fruiting trees in public areas because they’re concerned about the “mess.”

    • Very good logical well thought out points jemma., I think folks who have never tried the Acorn leaching and meal making are missing out. I’ve done it and it’s great. But if I’m correct, I don’t think the average person enjoy just general canning either. Clearly some have to learn to make practical hands on application and they are not even willing to try.

      Kevin

  51. Nell Jean says:

    Remember all those Bradford Pears that people planted a couple of decades ago? What if they’d been fruiting pears and herbs and asparagus were planted under them?

    Something to eat takes no more room or water than most ornamentals. Tara is right: think of it as habitat. We’re eating blueberries every day now.

  52. maggie says:

    The Beacon Food Forest in Seattle is an example that might help. Here’s a plan view:

    http://beaconfoodforest.weebly.com/design.html

    It has various areas, designed for different uses. Vegetable plots are traditional, flat and open, while fruit and nut tree areas host understory plants.

  53. Leo White says:

    Sounds like another way to take all the fun out of something; I’ll stick with what I am doing with the backyard garden which is on its way to producing another season of tasty goodies.
    As for acorns in California I will take a pass on two easy jokes that come to mind.

  54. Gail says:

    I grow daylilies under my fruit trees-you can eat the flowers after all. I went to a talk from Lee Reich a couple years ago on his book Landscaping with Fruit. I think people would be more apt to try this vs forest gardening.

  55. Kate says:

    I am intrigued, but have never seen much (other than the one-straw blog) on permaculture that seems relevant to my 4b, short-season garden. I do have currants planted on the edge of the woods, and we certainly have no shortage of blackberries and black rasberries everywhere on our property that isn’t regularly mowed (which, come to think of it, may be a big part of my lack of enthusiasm for gardening in those areas!) But the wooded parts are pretty “dark and deep”, and I don’t see much food growing under there.

  56. Nell says:

    I’m just starting with the forest garden/permaculture concept. I too read books on permaculture and couldn’t wrap my head around it until I read ‘Gaia’s Garden’. Everything fell into place then. I just finished planting my mini orchard and have understoried it with daffodils, yarrow, artichokes, rhubarb and comfrey At the edge of the orchard I’ve also planted alpine strawberries. Since the fruit trees are just babies, I’ll wait to see how they grow before I put in currants and blueberries, but I’m planning on growing lettuce at the base of the trees while they’re still young.

    Permaculture works best with perennials and does not take the place of vegetable gardens, but rather uses space – and time – better for perennials. It can be a beautiful place, it all depends on how you design it. The concept is to learn more about plants and how they work together so that they feed each other and you don’t have to lug around compost (which hopefully you’re making yourself) everywhere as the permaculture garden feeds itself and all you do is “chop and drop” a couple times a year. And you can use it for one fruit tree – or many. It’s really just learning how plants work with each other – for your benefit.

    I agree there is a smugness to some “sustainable” folks, but get past that and you’ll see they do have something to share that will help all of us in the gardening world. Of course, if you’re wedded to Scotts products, and spraying chemicals on roses, this kind of garden’s not for you. But if you understand that weeds have something to say about the quality of soil they’re growing in and that you feed the soil and not the plant, then I say buy, borrow, go to the library and read “Gaia’s Garden” – it’ll open a whole new world up to you.

    • You’ll very much enjoy it Neil. The books of course are important as with any education, but it’s that actual hands on practical applications part where you’ll make some mistakes and have some succeses which will burn all that experience into your memory banks and will be with you forever. Being in the field for years out in the wildlands and actually learning how sophisitcated and complex the natural world has been put together allowed me to use things I learned there into any urban landscape I installed and maintained or any organic gardening venture I considered.

      Best wishes on your projects

      Kevin

  57. Nell says:

    Please note: I do like visiting gardens that have a perfect lawn and perfect roses, they are very lovely – no smugness intended in my previous statement. It’s just not for me, which is what I really wanted to say. Thanks!

  58. This sounds like a great idea, though around in some towns and communities I’ve heard that once water cutbacks are going to be made the first use their limiting is gardening. Now what kind of person does that? Greenery for the world, forever.

    -Oscar Valencia

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