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Subject: The Overstory #216--Introduction to temperate edible forest
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2009 18:27:38 -1000
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Paraserianthes falcataria canopy
**/The Overstory/* #216/
*Introduction to temperate edible forest gardens *
By Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier
March 16, 2009
*Conference announcement <#Anchor-49575>*
*Internship opportunity <#Anchor-47857>*
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This edition marks the eleventh anniversary of /The Overstory/. Our
first edition was published on March 2, 1998 to a list of 200 addresses.
This 216^th edition is being sent to over 8,400 addresses in 184
countries, attesting to the growth in interest in the role of trees in
agriculture, resource and habitat conservation, health of people and
ecosystems, and human culture and economy. Thank you for your work to
support sustainable stewardship of our planet and communities.
I am proud to continue publishing impressive new work from around the
world. This edition excerpts a two-volume book entitled /Edible Forest
Gardens/ by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, which covers theory and
practice for temperate environments. I am always looking for new and
exciting material related to trees such as the source material for this
edition of /The Overstory/. If you have something in mind for us to
publish, please see our unique selection criteria at
Please support The Overstory’s publication by sponsoring an edition,
purchasing books, or making a donation
Aloha and thank you,
*The Overstory #216*
*Introduction to temperate edible forest gardens*
By Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier
Picture yourself in a forest where almost everything around you is food.
Mature and maturing fruit and nut trees form an open canopy. If you look
carefully, you can see fruits swelling on many branches-pears, apples,
persimmons, pecans, and chestnuts. Shrubs fill the gaps in the canopy.
They bear raspberries, blueberries, currants, hazelnuts, and other
lesser-known fruits, flowers, and nuts at different times of the year.
Assorted native wildflowers, wild edibles, herbs, and perennial
vegetables thickly cover the ground. You use many of these plants for
food or medicine. Some attract beneficial insects, birds, and
butterflies. Others act as soil builders or simply help keep out weeds.
Here and there vines climb on trees, shrubs, or arbors with fruit
hanging through the foliage-hardy kiwis, grapes, and passionflower
fruits. In sunnier glades large stands of Jerusalem artichokes grow
together with groundnut vines. These plants support one another as they
store energy in their roots for later harvest and winter storage. Their
bright yellow and deep violet flowers enjoy the radiant warmth from the sky.
*WHAT IS AN EDIBLE FOREST GARDEN?*
An edible forest garden is a perennial polyculture of multipurpose
plants. Most plants regrow every year without replanting: perennials.
Many species grow together: a polyculture. Each plant contributes to the
success of the whole by fulfilling many functions: multipurpose. In
other words, a forest garden is an edible ecosystem, a consciously
designed community of mutually beneficial plants and animals intended
for human food production. Edible forest gardens provide more than just
a variety of foods. The seven Fs apply here: food, fuel, fiber, fodder,
fertilizer, and "farmaceuticals," as well as fun. A beautiful, lush
environment can be a conscious focus of your garden design, or a side
benefit you enjoy.
Forest gardens mimic forest ecosystems, those natural perennial
polycultures once found throughout the world's humid climates. In much
of North America, your garden would soon start reverting to forest if
you were to stop tilling and weeding it. Annual and perennial weeds
would first colonize the bare soil. Shrubs would soon shade out the
weeds. Then, sun-loving pioneer trees would move in and a forest would
be born. Eventually, even these pioneers would succumb to longer-lived,
more shade-tolerant species. It can take many decades for this process,
called succession, to result in a mature forest.
We humans work hard to hold back succession: mowing, weeding, plowing,
and spraying. If the succession process were the wind, we would be
constantly motoring against it. Why not put up a sail and glide along
with the land's natural tendency to become forest? Edible forest
gardening is about expanding the horizons of our food gardening across
the full range of the successional sequence, from field to forest, and
everything in between.
Besides the food and other products, you should design your forest
garden for self-renewing, self-fertilizing self-maintenance. For a
self-renewing garden, plant mainly perennials and self-sowing annuals.
Allow a healthy soil community to develop by mulching and leaving the
soil undisturbed. Build soil fertility with plants that fix nitrogen,
amass soil minerals, act as mulch sources, or a blend of these. Reduce
or eliminate your pest control work by providing food and shelter for
insectivorous birds and predatory and parasitic insects. Fragrant
plants, such as onions, may confuse insect pests and slow their march
toward your crops. In fact, you can reduce pest and disease problems
simply by mixing things up, rather than planting in blocks of the same
species! All these things, and more, reduce the amount of maintenance
your garden needs and increase its yields. When we mimic how nature
works and design well, we can reduce the work of sustaining ourselves to
mulching, some pruning, occasional weeding, and minimal pest and disease
management (depending on the crops you grow). Oh, and then there's the
Essentially, edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting
plants together in woodland-like 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. You can create a beautiful, diverse, high-yield garden that
is largely self-maintained.
*GARDENING LIKE THE FOREST VS. GARDENING IN THE FOREST*
Edible forest gardening is not necessarily gardening in the forest. It
is gardening like the forest. You don't need to have an existing
woodland if you want to forest garden, though you can certainly work
with one. Forest gardeners use the forest as a design metaphor, a model
of structure and function, while adapting the design to focus on meeting
human needs in a small space. We learn how forests work and then
participate in the creation of an ecosystem in our backyards that can
teach us things about ecology and ourselves while we eat our way through
it. Gardening like a forest is what this book is all about.
Gardening in the forest is different. We can transform an existing piece
of woodland into an edible forest garden, and this book will explain
how, but there are many other ways to garden in the forest. These
include the restoration of natural woodlands, ecological forestry, and
the creation of primarily aesthetic woodland gardens. The latter forms
of gardening in the forest are not what this book is about. If you want
to garden in the forest in any of those ways, see the resources listed
in the appendix. If you want to grow food in a garden like a forest,
*WHERE CAN YOU GROW A FOREST GARDEN?*
Forest gardens are viable in small urban yards and large parks, on
suburban lots, or in a corner of a rural farm. We have seen examples
ranging from a 2-acre (0.8 ha) rural research garden, to a jungle of
food plants on a quarter-acre lot, to a heavily planted 30-by-50 foot (9
by 15 m) embankment behind an urban housing project. Smaller versions
are definitely possible; the same principles and ideas still apply,
though it might stretch the word forest rather far. Despite the name
forest garden, it is best if your site has good sun. Of course, if your
land is shady and wooded, this book has plenty of ideas and information
you can use.
You can most easily grow forest gardens where forest, especially
deciduous forest, is the native vegetation. This means a climate with
ample rainfall during the growing season and relatively mild winters.
The principles of ecology still apply in other locales. Those of you in
drier climates, such as the prairies and desert, can grow forest gardens
too, if you provide irrigation and wind protection. You should, however,
look to your native habitats as models for sustainable agriculture.
*THE GARDEN OF EDEN: IT SOUNDS GREAT, BUT IS IT PRACTICAL?*
We like to think of edible forest gardening as recreating the Garden of
Eden. The introduction's first paragraph makes it sound like it is. Is
such an abundant, low-maintenance food garden really possible? Let's
take a few lessons from history.
The notion of edible forest gardening is ancient in many ways but
relatively new to modern Western culture, especially in North America.
The peoples of tropical Africa, Asia, and Latin America have a long
tradition of multistoried agriculture. Their farms and gardens often
integrate trees, shrubs, livestock, and herbaceous crops in various
ways-a set of strategies called agroforestry. Fodder trees in pastures
provide windbreaks, livestock forage, and shade. Some of these trees
also improve the soil by fixing nitrogen from the air and putting it
into the soil. Alley cropping systems combine rows of nitrogen-fixing
and food-producing trees with strips of annual crops like corn and
potatoes. Multistoried "food forest" systems used in many tropical
regions mimic the rain forest, growing crops such as coconut, oil palms,
bananas, coffee, pineapples, and ginger. The Javanese have grown
village- and home-scale forest gardens since at least the tenth century.
These compose 15 to 50 percent of village croplands. Obviously, forest
gardens work in tropical climates, and have for a long time. Similar
systems existed in cooler climates hundreds of years ago.
An intensive land-use system called coppice forestry was used throughout
Britain and continental Europe beginning at least in the Middle Ages.
Many trees can sprout from the stump and regrow vigorously after being
cut down. These stump sprouts, called coppice, can provide fuel, fiber,
fodder, or mulch, depending on the species. In medieval Europe, coppice
plots produced logs, poles, saplings, and brush for use in crafts,
industry, and building construction. Cut on seven- to twenty-five-year
rotations, they offered excellent habitat for wild game, as well as for
wild edible and medicinal plants essential to the medieval diet.
Coppicing dramatically prolongs a tree's life, so coppice stumps can
produce material for generations. British researchers have proven that
several continuously coppiced stumps, known as stools, are five hundred
to eight hundred years old, two to three times a tree's normal life
span. Talk about sustain ability! Unfortunately, coppice forestry
systems almost disappeared during the Industrial Revolution, but they
are experiencing a budding revival, at least in Britain.
The record certainly shows that forest-gardenlike systems have been
viable and practical in temperate climates. Isn't it possible for us to
do far better now if we put our hearts and minds to it? A small but
growing number of people in the cold climates of the world have been
developing these ideas for the current era.
J. Russell Smith's seminal 1950 work Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture
first sparked renewed interest in the potential of agroforestry
throughout the world. However, tropical countries and large-scale
tree-crop systems received most of the resulting research attention.
Bill Mollison and David Holmgren also studied tropical and subtropical
ecosystems, along with arid lands. As cofounders of the permaculture
concept in late 1970s Australia, they gathered ideas for designing
"permanent agricultures" using ecological principles and dispersed them
to virtually every continent. Tree crops and agroforestry systems were a
large part of permaculture's initial toolbox. Permaculture practices now
extend beyond agriculture into all aspects of human culture and range
from regional to household scales. Unfortunately, permaculture's
subtropical origins and the overwhelming need for these ideas in lower
latitudes has led most permaculture literature to focus outside of
temperate climates, at least until recently.
Robert Hart pioneered temperate agroforestry at a home scale with his
inspirational 1991 book Forest Gardening. Hart's insights arose from his
tropical agroforestry works his Gandhi an beliefs, and his experiments
on a tiny smallholding in Shropshire, England, where he started his
garden in 1981. That makes it the oldest known temperate-climate forest
garden in the world. His forest garden was a beautiful testament to his
vision. Unfortunately, last we knew it was in legal limbo after his
death in March 2000. Permaculture designer and teacher Patrick
Whitefield followed Hart's book with his more practical How to Make a
Forest Garden, a solid book with a British focus. These two books,
combined with numerous works on permaculture, sparked widespread
planting of forest gardens in Britain. These gardens and books all
demonstrate the potential of edible forest gardens, if not the actual
How we garden reflects our worldview. When we see the world as a
collection of independent and isolated elements, it is difficult, if not
impossible, for us to grasp the interconnectedness of natural systems.
How could we then garden ecologically, or live and act responsibly in an
Western culture, for all its benefits, has created immense problems for
the forests, for the people living in the lands once occupied by them,
and for anyone who wants healthy food to eat in the twenty-first
century. We can solve these problems only with significantly different
ways of thinking. The ultimate goal of forest gardening is hot only the
growing of crops, but also the cultivation and perfection of new ways of
seeing, of thinking, and of acting in the world.
Douglas, J. Sholto, and Robert A. de J. Hart. 1984. Forest Farming:
Towards a Solution to Problems of World Hunger and Conservation.
Intermediate Technology Publications, London, UK.
Hart, Robert A. de J. 1991. Forest Gardening. Green Books, Totnes,
Mollison, Bill. 1988. Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. Tagari
Publications, Tyalgum, Australia.
Mollison, Bill with Reny Mia Slay. 1991. Introduction to Permaculture,
2^nd Ed. Tagari Publications, Tyalgum, Australia.
Whitefield, Patrick. 1996. How to Make a Forest Garden. Permanent
Publications, Clanfield, Hampshire, UK.
This article was excerpted with the kind permission of the publisher and
Jacke, Dave, with Eric Toensmeier. 2005. Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 1,
Ecological Vision and Theory for Temperate Climate Permaculture. Chelsea
Green Publishing, White River Jct., Vermont. 396 pp.
Book orders: Chelsea Green Publishing, 85 North Main Street, Suite 120,
White River Jct., Vermont 05001, USA; Orders: 800.639.4099; Offices:
802.295.6300; Fax: 802.295.6444
*ABOUT THE AUTHORS*
Primary author Dave Jacke has been a student of ecology and design since
the 1970s, and has run his own ecological design firm-Dynamics
Ecological Design-since 1984 (click here for a PDF of Dave's resume
. Dave is an
engaging and passionate teacher of ecological design and permaculture,
and a meticulous designer. He has consulted on, designed, built, and
planted landscapes, homes, farms, and communities in the many parts of
the United States, as well as overseas, but mainly in the Northeast. A
cofounder of Land Trust at Gap Mountain in Jaffrey, NH, he homesteaded
there for a number of years. He holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies
from Simon's Rock College (1980) and a M.A. in Landscape Design from the
Conway School of Landscape Design (1984). You may reach Dave by email
Eric Toensmeier has studied and practiced permaculture since 1990. He
has spent much of his adult life exploring edible and useful plants of
the world and their use in perennial agroecosystems. He is the author of
Perennial Vegetables and co-author of Edible Forest Gardens with Dave
Jacke. Both books have received multiple awards. Eric manages an urban
farm project for Nuestras Raices Inc., which provides immigrants and
refugees with access to plots and start-up support on a 30-acre farm. He
gives courses and presentations in English, Spanish, and Botanical Latin.
The authors' own Edible Forest Gardens links page:
*RELATED EDITIONS OF THE OVERSTORY*
The Overstory #166--NWFP from Temperate Broad-Leaved Trees
The Overstory #140--Nitrogen-Fixing Plants (Temperate)
The Overstory #135--Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in Agroforestry
The Overstory #128--Wild Foods
The Overstory #117--Between Wildcrafting and Monocultures
The Overstory #106--The Hidden Bounty of the Urban Forest
The Overstory #71--Nontimber Forest Products (temperate)
The Overstory #47--Coppice-with-Standards
The 2nd World Congress of Agroforestry will be held in
Nairobi, Kenya, 20-29 August 2009. The overall Congress theme is
"Agroforestry - The Future of Global Land Use". For the latest information,
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