What’s Edible Forest Gardening? January 11, 2011Posted by gfsa in Countdown to P2S, Food Thoughts.
Forest gardening is an idea whose time has come. We can consciously apply the principles of ecology to the design of home and community scale gardens that mimic forest ecosystem structure and function, but grow food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, “farmaceuticals,” and fun!
Edible forest gardening is not necessarily gardening in the forest, it is gardening like the forest. According to David Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, authors of Edible Forest Gardens, “Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodlandlike patterns that forge mutually beneficial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts. You can grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, other useful plants, and animals in a way that mimics natural ecosystems.”
What most people are surprised to discover is that edible forest gardening has been around for hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of years. In Morocco, for example there exists a 2000 year old food forest consisting of date palms, bananas, olives, figs, pomegranates, guavas, mulberries, tamarinds, carobs, quinces, grapes and many other species. You might say, “sure, but that’s a tropical climate!”. OK, let’s move a little closer to home… at least in terms of climate.
In the UK – Shropshire to be precise – the late Robert Hart turned his back yard into a thriving, temperate-climate forest garden. Hart’s forest garden was a replacement for the food he had once gotten from his livestock. He focused on a one acre tract beside his house and began planting. About an eighth of the garden was an old orchard, full of apples, pears, and damsons (plum-like fruits), while the rest of the area was originally a traditional vegetable garden. Hart began planting herbs and black currants in the understory of the orchard, mulching heavily with with straw, compost, and grass clippings in the spring and early winter. He quickly realized that the combination of mulch and perennials made the forest garden much simpler to keep up than the traditional vegetable garden, though he noted that he would occasionally have to go on a “crawl-and-claw expedition through the undergrowth” to weed. The forest began 30 years ago and stands as the largest and most successful of its kind to be grown in the northern hemisphere.
Still skeptical? Well, forest gardeners are doing their thing at 7,000 feet (2,100 m) of elevation in the Rocky Mountains and on the coastal plain of the mid-Atlantic. And even “right in our own backyard” 2-acres has been reserved and awaits the planting of Alberta’s first large-scale edible forest garden. Spruce Lane Organic Farm is the home of what’s been endearingly dubbed “The Garden of Weedin'” where the plan is to produce a vast variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables, gourmet mushrooms, and culinary & medicinal herbs – with as many perennial and native species as possible. This demonstration project will showcase the practice of edible forest gardening in the temperate Canadian climate and show that anyone with a patch of land can grow a forest garden.
Master farmer and naturalist, Masanobu Fukuoka once said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” How we garden reflects our worldview. The ultimate goal of forest gardening is not only the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of new ways of seeing, of thinking, and of acting in the world.