A food forest, also called a forest garden, is defined as ‘a perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants‘.
Perennial means that the plants have a longer lifespan than 2 years, as for example fruit trees that might live for 20 or ever 50 years. This longer lifespan gives more stability to the ecosystem as root systems establish, pull up nutrients from deeper levels, allow water filtration into the soil and prevent erosion on a soil which doesn’t need to be worked on as between annual plantings. Work load goes down as the plants are planted once in many years.
Polyculture, as opposed to a monoculture is a plantation that consists of many (poly) different species instead of one (mono) singular one. The food forester tries to mimic a natural forest system in bringing in the different levels that all forests are made of and so the diversity that makes a natural system resilient. A natural forest and the well designed food forest consist of seven layers:
The first one is the canopy layer which consists of high growing trees, mostly teek trees. The second layer is the intermediate layer consisting of smaller trees, in a food forest mostly fruit trees that grow in between the higher ones. Their crowns are at different levels of hight so that they do not take each other’s space. The third layer is the shrub layer, mostly consisting of fruit giving shrubs and perennial vegetable varieties. The fourth layer is the herb layer, consisting of non-woody, small plants, mostly herbs. The fifth layer is the ground layer covering the whole ground and not letting unwanted plants come up. Often this plant is a legume which fix nitrogen and therefore improve the soil in being a source of fertiliser for other plants. The sixth layer is the climbing layer, often ivory or other vines which are part of every natural forest ecosystem. In the food forest many different edible plants will replace the usual forest species. The seventh layer is the root layer consisting of usable and edible roots like cassava.
Multipurpose means that the yields that the food forest gives, so the purposes of the plants in these different layers, are many, often summarised as the 7 Fs of the food forest:
In this way, the food forest is mimicking a natural resilient climax ecosystem with the focus of providing for human needs and the perfect example of Permaculture Design.
The two most important elements in the designing of the food forest are space and time. Space as we’ve seen in the combination of layers, using the vertical space as well as the horizontal and time in working with and speeding up succession through design and planned planting to bring the forest to its climax state.
More on Food Forest following soon …