One of the easiest ways to create an edible garden is to work to emulate one of nature's most successful ecosystems – the forest. By creating a 'food forest' you will be able to feed yourself and those with whom you share your space with far less effort than annual vegetable gardening. Forest gardening is a great solution for busy professionals in the modern world, and for anyone who cares about the environment. By learning lessons from the way a forest works in a self-sustaining way almost anywhere on the planet, people are able to grow food in far more sensible and sustainable ways.
Understanding Your Backyard
The first stage in creating a food forest is always getting to know the location. What works well in one place will not work as effectively in another. It is all about choosing the right plants for the right place, and gardening based on your specific climate and geographical location.
The Process of Design
Forest gardening is all about getting a higher yield from a smaller area, while still allowing free reign to the natural processes in the system. A forest garden can help you think vertically and make the most of the space in your garden. You can create a forest garden on a very small scale, or something much more grand. The key is to think about layering the plants, so that they grow one beneath the other. It is important to consider how the plants interact with one another, and with other natural elements, and to maximise the number of beneficial interactions that occur between the elements of the diverse system.
Creating a Planting Scheme
Any food forest planting scheme will begin with the trees. Choosing trees for a forest garden can be as simple as selecting a few fruit or nut bearing trees that will do well in your area. You can also choose trees for other reasons – for firewood or kindling, to fix nitrogen or as wind break, for example.
Below the trees you will have shade-loving shrubs, and around them some other fruit bushes or canes can also thrive on the forest edge. Shrubs can often provide fruits or another edible yield, and when they do not, may be chosen for their nitrogen fixing abilities, or for their flowers which attract wildlife.
Below and around the shrubs, herbaceous plants will also provide an abundance of food. In the herbaceous layer you will also find flowers and aromatic herbs that can help fruit trees to perform at their best by attracting pollinators or by repelling pest species. You may also have vining plants climbing up through the layers. A ground cover layer will not only help to retain moisture for the use of the roots of other plants, it will also suppress unwanted plants, and can protect the soil.
The layers do not end there. You may have some root vegetables in the under-storey which can be harvested from below the soil. It is also important to remember that beneficial fungi and bacteria living below the soil are also a crucial part of a forest garden ecosystem.
If you get it right, and work with nature to achieve your goals, a food forest can be the ideal way to grow food for yourself and your family.