Modern gardening often involves weeding, turning the soil, fertilisation, and pest control. But permaculture is the practice of growing a garden with the least amount of intervention possible, relying on companion planting, native insects, and adding cover crops to control weeds. In a permaculture food forest, fruit trees are combined with other plants to produce as much food as possible in a small space. It’s not only kid and pet safe, but also offers increased yield and low maintenance, making it a great choice if you’re growing your own food. Here’s how to get started if you want to try your hand at growing your own food forest.
Food forests aren’t anything new
The idea of a food forest is new to many of us, but it’s actually an ancient way of growing food, dating back at least 2,000 years. While European colonists often didn’t recognise the permaculture food forests planted by indigenous people in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, nomadic and semi-nomadic people have been cultivating crops to use for food and medicine for thousands of years. Rather than strict rows and bare soil between plants, the features of a food forest are layered, looking to an uninitiated observer like a naturally occurring feature in a forest, so it wasn’t until the 1970’s that the idea became popularised as a form of gardening for the urban and suburban gardener.
Plant your forest from tall to short
Starting a permaculture food forest requires enough space for at least a few trees and shrubs so that you can plant your forest from tall to short. For maximum sun exposure, plant your tallest trees first — from south to north in the northern hemisphere, and north to south in the southern hemisphere. You might start with nut trees; then fruit trees like pear, cherry, and apple; then shrubs like blueberries, raspberries, hazelnuts, and rosemary; then herbs like oregano, thyme, and sage; and finally use a cover crop that will help attract pollinators and add nutrients, like clover, vetch, bush beans, or other nitrogen fixing plants.
Add some pest control plants
Adding some natural pest deterrents can help your emerging food forest thrive. Marigold, lavender, onions, garlic, and petunias help prevent aphids. Daffodils, geraniums, and hyacinth will help discourage squirrel and rabbit raiders. While there’s no way to keep interlopers from foraging in your food forest, creating healthy diversity will make your plants more resilient, even if some animal or insect friends stop by for a nibble.
Diversify your plants
The trick is that your plants should form a diverse ecosystem, rather than creating a monoculture environment that needs lots of fertiliser, weeding, and pest control. Since many plants are perennials, they won’t need to be replanted every year to grow food. And using a variety of plants help for a healthier soil than typical garden soil. Having cover crops also allows the soil to hold onto more moisture, even in hot weather. All of these factors mean less water, pesticides, and work, all while producing more food than a more contemporary garden.
Food forests are also beautiful
Less pesticides and a rotation of flowering plants means more pollinators than a typical vegetable patch would bring, so you can enjoy more species of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Increasing your local biodiversity isn’t just good for food production — it makes for a beautiful garden view as well.
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