Upon reading the above title, you might begin to wonder what it is like to grow your own food forest. Does it mean having a forest in your own garden?
Don’t let the word ‘forest’ confuse you, though. We are here to explain the essential details you need to know, including some tips on how you can achieve a food forest of your own!
What Is a Food Forest?
For those who are new to the forest garden concept, it is an area where a green-fingered individual cultivates a multi-layered covering of edible plants — these are tall and low trees, shrubs, herbs, vines, roots, and ground covers.
This gardening concept is called permaculture, which is a term for growing sustainable and self-sufficient plants, like in a forest.
Creating a food forest, on the other hand, means you’re cultivating an environment that looks much like nature, instead of gardening in a modern way using beds and rows.
What Can You Plant in Your Forest Garden?
- Large fruit trees such as apples, pears and nuts
- Smaller trees like peach and almonds
- Shrubs such as hazelnut, blueberries, raspberries and gooseberries
- Herbs like mint, thyme, dill, sage, and parsley
- Climbing plants including grapes, kiwi fruits and passionfruits
- Plants with shallow roots such as onions, garlic, and potatoes.
Now, are you ready to grow your own food forest? Let’s get started!
1. Choose an Ideal Spot
Just like establishing a vegetable patch and installing a garden building, such as a greenhouse, in your outdoor space, one of the most crucial things to consider when creating a food forest is the location.
The first thing you need to keep in mind is this: once a forest garden is established, moving it to another area is unlikely.
It’s best to take enough time to decide where you want to plant it in your garden so you won’t worry about the possibilities of tearing it down just because you don’t like where it is placed.
Make sure to choose a spot that gets full sun and, at the same time, a place that’s level and protected from the worst of the wind and bad weather. Avoid a location near swamping areas too, unless you plan on planting moisture-loving plants, e.g. Helenium, Trollius, etc.
2. Soil Preparation
Unlike vegetable gardens, fertilizers and organic compost are not necessary for food forests. The same goes for weeding, replanting and watering. Here’s why.
A forest garden can thrive and handle these situations on its own, such as dropping leaves, twigs, branches to feed the soil life. In exchange, this will create a rich soil which will eventually help grow new trees and plants.
When you’re getting started, make sure you have good, lively soil. You can pile up organic material (e.g. a thick layer of leaves, grass clippings, kitchen waste) to enrich the soil before you grow trees and plants.
3. Pick Your Best Plants
If you’re starting from scratch, it’s advisable to grow about 90 per cent nitrogen-fixing trees, such as acacia, mimosa, black locust, or Siberian pea tree, to name a few. Once these fruit trees begin to develop, they can be coppiced and cut for firewood and organic material.
Herbs like mint, basil, and parsley are an excellent addition to your food forest too as they make great pest deterrents and can encourage wildlife such as bees and butterflies.
To help prevent the ground from drying out, having nitrogen-fixing plants like red clover as a groundcover is your best bet. Moreover, deep-rooting shrubs like borage and comfrey can provide medicines, flowers for pollinators, and minerals for the shallow soils.
Note: The plants you use for your forest garden must be suitable for your zone. Consider the number of seasons and weather variations you have in your place.
4. Consider Adding Pathways
Creating a pathway is a big plus as this will help you to avoid getting your plants trampled as you walk through your food forest. It’s a practical idea too, especially during rainy days.
With the use of bricks, paving stones, concrete, slabs, or some combinations, you can create a path that best suits your forest. Here’s how you can create a garden path, courtesy of MidwestLiving.
After choosing the best location, preparing the soil and picking the best plants for your forest garden, it’s time to get your plants in the ground. We hope these four easy steps will serve as a guide for you to achieve your dream food forest in no time!