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15368Re: 1 acre subtropical food forest: what would you do?

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  • linda_shewan
    Jun 15, 2013
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      HI Marcos,

      Yes I have been reading about food forests for a long time, but haven't been very active for a few years now. This is an area where there have been various upsets over the years on this forum, with some believing that you shouldn't `design' the system (aka permaculture or similar) as it is not `natural farming'. I disagree with this entirely and believe natural farming can only be really effective if the `spaces' are designed well from the beginning to ensure efficient energy flows including water, human, nutrient etc.

      You do have my intention right – completely self-sufficient area of food producing land, requiring no inputs on a long term basis. All of the points you mention/quote below being relevant and important.

      I would first say that every plot of land is unique and will require a slightly different approach – swales are not effective in all environments for instance. So reading the landscape and understanding the soil are the first vital skills you need to design a site well. That is why in permaculture you shouldn't `do' anything for the first year. You need to see how the landscape changes and responds to the different seasons – as you indicated with observing storm water flows etc. Having said that, there are things you can do that will not interfere with any future design plans – number one is to increase the fertility of the soil. So if possible, and certainly from a natural farming perspective, use cover crops. If not possible (which it wasn't where I started one food forest) then mulch – as deeply as possible, using any natural materials you can that will break down over time. Even one year of deep mulch can radically change the soil (from either rock hard or almost sand) to one that will absorb moisture and sustain a tree being planted within it.

      I would absolutely always incorporate bodies of water – for microclimate development, for integrated pest management, for food, for mulch production, for irrigation etc.

      In food forests established plants trees create their own moisture and the humidity stays significantly higher within the `forest' than it is outside – as you can experience in a natural rainforest. So water through rainfall is less of an issue using food forest design principles, although getting the initial cover trees established in a hot dry environment will most likely require support, depending also on the levels of mulch etc you support the growing trees with.

      Designing a food forest can be very complex – Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeiers has a wealth of information for example on the interactions between tree roots (some like being planted with others of their own family, others don't). It also has incredible tables in the appendix detailing vast information about a huge number of edible plants for a food forest. They go through a very detailed design process as well – more than I am interested in… I don't have a scanner

      Or you can make it really simple and entirely natural. Use your knowledge and intuition. Plant some trees, set up your microclimate areas, put in your water sources, plant some more trees, provide protection for those that you believe will/may need it and observe the results. Keep planting, keep observing and build on the knowledge you learn. This way you may get a closer bond with your land and the little unique spaces within it as well…

      Here is a list of trees with edible leaves:

      Cheers, Linda

      --- In fukuoka_farming@yahoogroups.com, "Marcos G. " <marcos@...> wrote:
      > Hi Again, from a friend in another forum:
      > "Linda
      > You have obviously been researching this for some time, the current planning stage as LEOOEL
      > mentioned is important, its like a mental time travel, looking ahead and imagining how everything
      > will look, years from now.
      > questions to ask yourself when "designing" these systems, is, will there be enough water during the
      > dry season, where will the water flow during a storm? are there measures to prevent erosion?, will
      > you have a pond? animals? what about the nutrients for the plants?
      > Most of the projects I have seen of reclaiming land to make a food forest usually starts off by
      > preparing the land some how, with swales, then adding some nitrogen short term ground covers to
      > build soil fertility. then adding misc trees and shrubs, in certain ratios, but typically at first,
      > you may only have 10% fruiting trees to 90% service trees, which over time gradually is reduced and
      > more and more fruiting trees are added. the end ratio I believe depends on the environmental
      > factors, but the idea is to be self sustaining where no outside nutrients are needed. If I am not
      > mistaken I think that is your intention.
      > Service trees build the soil, both from the leaves they drop, but also when you coppice them, by
      > being pro active, you are speeding up the natural process. in a few years, even the nastiest soils
      > can be fertile again. of course if your soils are not that bad, a different strategy can be taken.
      > and less time will be needed to build the soils up before many fruit trees go in. but its still
      > important that you have support trees that will be able to "feed" your fruit trees.
      > I think animals can be useful here, even if you do not consume the animals, a small pond can supply
      > lots of fish, Tilapia grow fast, and are a good source of protein. in and around the pond, you can
      > have plants that like marshes, for example Lotus grow in the water, are beautiful, but the seeds
      > and roots are edible, some are medicinal. the location of the pond can help regulate temperatures,
      > the reflected light used to keep some areas warmer.
      > Ducks can keep some pest in control, like snails. duckweed in the pond is another source of food for
      > the ducks. the duckweed gets its nutrients from the pond from the tilapia waste.
      > Fungi in my opinion is very important, inoculating with many different types of beneficial fungi will
      > benefit the whole system.
      > Pages could be written on all the things you can do, and plants that can be used. for example,
      > Comfrey, is a wonderful medicinal, that also makes a great natural fertilizer, as it brings up
      > minerals from deep in the ground. vetivar grass is good for creating borders and preventing
      > erosion, just make sure you use non spreading versions of these plants. "
      > http://tropicalfruitforum.com/index.php?topic=5990.0
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