Forest Garden Design – A part of Permaculture

Forest Garden Design – A part of Permaculture

So what is all this Forest Garden Design Stuff

This post explains what forest garden design is and gives examples and pictures of plants in a forest garden design and even touches on companion planting.

Forest Garden Design - 1st Year Forest Garden

Forest Garden Design – 1st Year Forest Garden

A “forest garden” and a “food forest” and a “permaculture garden” are pretty much the same thing so I will just use the term “forest garden” to mean all three of these terms for the purpose of this article.  They are a form of gardening where you try to mimic the way nature does things in a forest. We choose plantings that benefit other plants through companion planting, but the one big difference between what nature does in a forest and what we do in a forest garden is we gear the plantings toward our needs as well.  These needs could include food, fertilizer, fodder, or fuel.

The Wikipedia Definition: “Forest Gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans.  Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat.”

Robert Hart is credited with coining the term Forest Gardening in the 1980s.  He took the pre-historic tropics method of gardening and did it in a temperate climate on his .12-acre parcel.

Forest Garden Design - The Plants

Forest Garden Design – The Plants

Permaculture

Forest gardening is closely aligned with permaculture.  One aspect of the similarities of the two are the seven dimensions of a food forest: canopy layer, low-tree layer, shrub layer, herbaceous layer, ground cover layer, rhizosphere layer, and the vertical layer.  These are the same as is taught in a permaculture course or manual.  In fact, most permaculture manuals include forest gardening as one aspect of permaculture.

Forest gardening is based on perennial systems that you don’t have to plant yearly and the maintenance is less. The maintenance is less because you put plants in that are companions to each other and the plants help and provide for the other plants in the forest garden.

Companion Plants

An example of a companion plant is comfrey which is a dynamic accumulator.  It uses an extremely long tap root and mines down to levels that other plants can not get to.  Comfrey brings nutrients from deep down up to the surface.  Then as the comfrey leaves die back each year the nutrients from deep down are made available to other plants through these dead and decaying leaves.

Another example of a companion plant is mimosa.  It is a member of the legume (Fabaceae) plant family and is capable of fixing nitrogen.  The nitrogen fixation is accomplished by a symbiotic bacteria called rhizobia within the nodules in their root systems.  The plant and the bacteria work together to make nitrogen.  When the plant dies that nitrogen is released into the soil for other plants to use.  If a branch breaks or is pruned, some of the nitrogen will be released to other plants.

My Forest Garden

I put in a forest garden this past year out at the farm in WV.  I put in perennial canopy trees, low tree layer, shrubs, a few herbaceous plants, and groundcover (clover).  In the next year or two I will add the vertical layer (vines).  I want to give the other plants a little while to establish before I add the vertical layer.  This is simply so I don’t disadvantage certain slow growing species.

As you can see in the picture titled “1st Year Forest Garden” the area looks a little untidy.  That is in part because I threw down a bunch of clover, and diacon radish seeds to help with the bare soil.  The clover will add nitrogen and the radish will use deep taproots to loosen the soil.  This fall I covered the ground with a deep layer of oak leaf leaves to conserve water and build topsoil.

The picture titled “Forest Garden Design – The Plants” give you an idea of what is planted in this area.  It actually takes two pages to show the entire forest garden.

I’ll give you updates on the forest garden in the spring and as time goes on.

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Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

This post is titled Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review. Wednesday night I watched the DVD “Establishing a Food Forest” which was presented by Geoff Lawton.  This is at least the third time I have watched this 80-minute DVD and every time I watch it I still pick up something new.

Food Forest Definition

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Before I get into the review of the DVD, lets define Food Forest.  On Wikipedia, the term Food Forest re-directs to Forest Gardening.  Here is Wikipedia’s definition of Forest Gardening:

“Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat.”

DVD Overview

The DVD starts out with classroom lecture going over what a food forest is and how to design one.  They go into looking at patterns of existing forests and the layers of a forest.  The layers as described by Geoff are; canopy, understory, shrub, herbaceous, ground cover, vine/climbers, and root yield.  He does go into a few additional layers that are specific to the tropics.

Many of these layers are support species planted for the future end results.  He talks about support species as follows:

  • Ground cover – hundreds of thousands of nitrogen fixers per acre that will only survive for 6 months. This could be clover or other nitrogen fixing ground cover.
  • Herbaceous / bush layer – tens of thousands of nitrogen fixers per acre that will only survive for 4 to 5 years. Examples are certain legumes and peas.
  • Understory layer – thousands of small trees that fix nitrogen that will survive 10 to 15 years.
  • Canopy – hundreds of trees that will go full term.
  • The above are all support species used just to fix the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients and provide mulch through chop and drop. Mixed in with all of the above will be our fruit and nut trees.
  • In the beginning the mix will be 90/10. 90% of mass is support species and 10% is our fruit trees.  As time goes on we end up with 10% of mass is support species and 90% is our fruit trees.  This happens as the fruit trees get larger and the support species die out.
  • The support species is coppiced, pollarded, and chop & dropped. This happens during the wet season, which is when there is more rainfall than evaporation.
Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

After the classroom portion of the DVD, Geoff goes to the field and plants a food forest into a swale at the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI).  He demonstrates mixing a nitrogen fixing inoculant with some legumes (cowpea and lupin).  He shows a large variety of plants that they are putting in, how to put them in and why.

He then goes back to that same swale after 3 months and gives you a tour, shows the progress and explains what is going on.  He talks about too many grass hoppers not being a grass hopper problem but a deficiency in Turkeys.  He talks about too many slugs/snails not being a slug/snail issue but a deficiency in ducks.  He also demonstrates “feed the forest” by doing some chop and drop.

He shows fungus being the “teeth” of the forest and explains how the fungus is breaking down the dead plant life to feed the living.  He shows how chickens help establish a food forest and also explains how a food forest is low maintenance once established.

He shows a kitchen garden that has over 400 species of plants in it.  He goes on to explain how all of the diversity confuses the pest and how they make climates attractive to predator insects to predate on those confused pests.

My thoughts on this DVD are that it is a wonderful learning resource and I wouldn’t understand why anyone that likes gardening doesn’t want to put in a food forest after watching this DVD.  It is also one of the reasons I put a food forest in last year and will put more in going forward.  It is a wonderful concept and I enjoy the thought of high yield and low maintenance in the future.

Extras

In addition to the 80-minute main feature, there are five clips in the bonus section of the DVD:

  • 30-Year-Old Food Forest – 10-minute video walk through of a 30-year-old food forest in Thailand. Most of the plants in this clip are tropical and likely wouldn’t grow in temperate climate North America.
  • 300-Year-Old Food Forest – a 6-minute video walk through of a 300-year-old food forest in Hanoi.
  • 2000-Year-Old Food Forest – a 4+ minute video walk through of a 2000-year-old food forest in Morocco. This video has many fruits that do grow in North America.
  • Permaculture World Wide – a 4+ minute video about how to grow permaculture plants world wide and how to raise funds to do so.
  • Harvesting Water DVD – This is the trailer for another of Geoff’s videos “Harvesting Water DVD”

About Geoff:

According to Wikipedia: “Geoff Lawton is a permaculture consultant, designer and teacher. Since 1995 he has specialized in permaculture education, design, implementation, system establishment, administration and community development.”

He is Managing Director of The Permaculture Research Institute – www.permaculturenews.org. and is the go-to practicing expert on anything permaculture.

 

To Buy the DVD:

A downloadable copy of the DVD can be bought at:

permaculturenews.org/product-category/digital-downloads/

 

The physical DVD can be bought at:

www.ecofilms.com.au/store/

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Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

This post, Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening, provides information on care and edibility of this medicinal wonder plant. The purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea,  is a showy flower that will add color and texture to any flower garden. The flowers are long lasting usually displaying the purple-pink color for the entire summer. I have been growing purple coneflower for fourteen years now and found that they are very hardy, tolerate neglect and drought well and are little affected by any pest pressure.  It is a perfect plant for forest gardening.

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening Purple Cone Flower

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

Purple Coneflower is a perennial flower hardy in USDA zones 3-8 (one site stated zone 2-10) and native to the eastern United States. It has purple daisy like flower heads, blooms from June until September, grows two to three feet tall and prefers full sun. The flowers can be used in wildflower gardens, as cut flowers, and as dried flowers. Cut flowers last seven to ten days in a vase.  The pictures in this post were taken this morning – October 6th and I still have some plants blooming.

They have a vertical stalk with a flower on top. The stalk has leaves on opposite sides of the stalk. The leaves on the stalks are teardrop shape with the narrow end away from the stalk. The leaves can be up to 4” long and 2” wide and are smaller the higher on the stalk they are.

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening Purple Cone Flower

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

Dividing the crown into multiple clumps and replanting can propagate purple coneflower. Seeds can be planted as well. The seeds need to be planted in the fall or stratified over the winter (stratified means wetting and putting in a cold environment 35-40 degrees). I seem to have volunteers (self seeded from previous year) every year and just transplant the volunteers when I need some new plants.

In the Maryland area beetles seem to like to eat the petals off at night. This plant attracts bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects like the soldier beetle. I also have one area where a vole or mole eats the roots every year. Somehow the plants survive and come back. In the Mid-Atlantic we have a fair number of gold finches (pretty little yellow birds) and they love to eat the seeds of the coneflowers in August and September. According to multiple sites that I have run across deer tend to leave this plant alone.

According to the USDA, Echinacea is widely used as an herbal remedy. The USDA goes on to say; “A purple coneflower product containing the juice of the fresh aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea was found to make mouse cells 50 -80 percent resistant to influenza, herpes, and vesicular somatitis viruses.” *

(Source: USDA http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_ecpu.pdf)

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

Autumn Olive Tree Facts and Propagation at Great Escape Farms

Autumn Olive Tree Facts and Propagation at Great Escape Farms

Autumn Olive Tree Facts and Propagation

This article provide information on Autumn Olive Tree Facts and Propagation. This tree or bush bears edible fruit and is a nitrogen fixer. Autumn-Olive (elaegnus umbellate) also known as Autumn-Berry, is a deciduous shrub that can grow into a small multi-trunked tree reaching as high as 20 feet. The leaves are a grayish green and looks as though it has scales on the bottom of the leaves. The leaves are about three inches long and very narrow measuring only about one inch wide.  It is often used in forest garden design to assist in repairing soil as the food forest garden matures.

The Autumn Olive Tree Facts and Propagation

Autumn Olive Tree Facts and Propagation

It is a drought tolerant plant that can grow in full sun or partial shade. It does prefer well drained soil and does well on the edges of forests, hillsides, and abandoned fields. Birds like the fruit and propagate the seeds. It is a very hardy plant and is usually not bothered by deer. Some view Autumn Olive as a noxious invasive weed.

Forest Garden Design

Autumn olive is one of the few non-legume plants that fixes nitrogen in the soil. This is accomplished with the assistance of a certain bacteria called Frankia. This allows it to be a pioneer plant to grow where others can’t and begin to repair the land and soil making it a perfect plant in a Forest Garden Design.

Autumn Olive Fruit

Autumn Olive has tiny flowers in the spring that give way to berry fruit in the late summer and early fall. The flowers are fragrant and the plants are self-fertile. I have plants that bear red berries and plants that produce gold berries on my farm (both pictured on this post). The fruit is astringent (makes your mouth pucker) but sweet.   As they sit on the bush they get softer, sweeter, and less astringent. The birds and small mammals like the berries as well, so don’t wait to long to harvest. A single bush can produce 20 to 70 pounds of fruit.

Autumn Olive Tree Facts and Propagation

Autumn Olive Tree Facts and Propagation

The fruit contains the carotenoid lycopene, which is several times higher than that of tomatoes. The fruit does contain seeds and it has been said that the seeds are chewable, but I have just eaten the flesh and spit the seeds out. I’ll have to try chewing them sometime and see what they are like.

Autumn Olive berries can be eaten right off the bush. They can also be used in jams, pies, fruit leathers, other deserts and juices. They store well frozen once cleaned.

Autumn olive is native to Asia and was introduced to North America in early to mid 1800s. It is hardy down to USDA zone 3 can be found growing in southern Canada and the majority of the United States.

I bought one of my Autumn Olives from RainTreeNursery.com and had good luck with them. Autumn Olive is one of the plants I will have for sale in the Great Escape Nursery store in 2016 or 2017.

Purchase Autumn Olive at Great Escape Nursery

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Lemon balm plant uses are many.  Lemon Balm, melissa officinalis, is a perennial herb in the mint family that is hardy down to zone 4 or 5 and can be used as a forest garden plant.  It is a native to Europe, central Asia and Iran, but is now naturalized around the world. Lemon Balm has a mild lemon sent that is enhanced if the leaves are bruised or torn. The leaves have a lemon flavor and can be used for culinary uses in sweets and teas. During the summer the plant has small flowers that are great for attracting bees and other beneficial insects.

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Propagation can be done through seeds that require sunlight to germinate, so press the seeds into the soil surface, but do not cover with soil. The seeds require a minimum of 70 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. Propagation can also be done with softwood cuttings and by digging up “clumps” of the plant while dormant.

I bought my seeds from www.rareseeds.com. You get about 300 seeds for $2.50 (in the 2015 catalog.) I planted Lemon Balm for the first time in 2013. I planted the seeds in my basement under grow lights in March and then moved them out to the garden after the danger of frost had past. I put two plants in a 1×1 square (doing square foot gardening). By the end of 2013 they took up a 2×2 area and that was after being trimmed several times that year. Now in September 2015 I still have those plants growing, coming back every year, and needing to be trimmed back on a regular basis (they are in the mint family, so they spread readily and grow rapidly).

I like the leaves mixed into a tossed salad as that gives it a little extra flavor and zip. I have also added some of the leaves to a smoothie for a little extra zest. I have not tried it yet, but I’ve heard that Lemon Balm is a great addition to herbal teas. It can also be used as garnish for deserts.

Lemon Balm contains 24% Cintronellal with which is one of the main compounds in citronella. It is said that crushed Lemon Balm rubbed on your skin is a repellent to mosquitos.

Lemon Balm is high in flavonoids and can have an antioxidant effect. It also contains Vitamin C and Thiamin (a B Vitamin).

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Lemon Balm was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic).

The University of Maryland Medical Center also posts the following warning regarding all herbs: “The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.” And “Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take lemon balm.”

Disclaimer: This document is for informational and educational purposes only. Great Escape Farms is not recommending, prescribing, or advising the use of any herb for medicinal purposes. Please consult a qualified medical professional for herbal treatments.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melissa_officinalis

https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lemon-balm

The Herb Society of America

Lemon Balm, melissa officinalis, is a great herb and I will continue to grow this at Great Escape Farms.  I plan on using it as a food forest garden plant on the farm.

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Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds at Great Escape Farms

Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds at Great Escape Farms

Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds at Great Escape Farms

Ever since I first heard about permaculture I wanted Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds at Great Escape Farms.  Below are pictures of my first Hugelkultur Bed.  It is basically a trench dug down about 2 foot which then has wood put into it mounding up.  It is suppose to be several feet high (about 6-7 foot high) with grades going up to the peak at about 70 degrees.  Mine are only about 3 foot high as I’m in a residential community and a 7 foot berm would look a little out of place.  I will cover more on what a Hugelkultur is and how to build one in a future post.  The hugelkultur bed will should have plants on the sides and the top.  In my permaculture garden in Maryland I’m working on an edible forest garden.  I discuss later what is planted in that edible food forest.  In my permaculture garden in West Virgina, I am planting all kinds of unusual things to grow in your garden.  I will write a future article about that edible food forest and will cover the easiest edible plants to grow.

The first three pictures below are of the installation of the Hugelkultur Bed in April of 2014.

Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds

Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds

Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds

Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds

Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds

Hugelkultur Permaculture Beds

The third picture shows a trench, which was not part of the Hugelkultur bed.  I was running a 3/4″ water line out to my garden area and it just so happened to run right next to my Hugel bed.

The picture below was taken in mid-Septbmber 2015.  It is difficult to even see the mound through the plants.  I have the following plants in this bed: Brown Turkey Fig, Goji, 4 types of Honeyberry, 2 types of high bush Blueberry, 1 low bush Blueberry, 2 Nanking Cherry, Lavender, Lambs Ear, Black Currant, Pomegranate, Rhubarb, and some volunteer cherry tomato plants.  You’ll also notice my two photogenic Rat Terrier dogs, Molly and Murphy, had to be in the photo as well.

Hugelkultur Bed

Hugelkultur Bed

The Spring of 2015 was wet in the mid-Atlantic area but from mid-June through September it was extremely dry.  The plants in the Hugelkultur bed did very well.  I can only surmise that this was because of the wood under the soil and the deep mulch around the plants above the soil.

Great Escape Farms

Great Escape Farms

Great Escape Farms is officially launched as a company that provides information on permaculture gardens, forest garden design, edible forest gardens, and permaculture garden layout.  We will be providing permaculture garden design ideas and how to grow a sustainable living garden using permaculture plants.  In the future our store, linked on the menu bar above, will sell unusual edible plants to grow as well as provide information on the easiest edible plants to grow.