Food Forest is a flexible concept. It can mean you start from bare land and plant only layers of edible plants that you prefer. It can be a glorious hodgepodge of plants from all over the world and it can be irrigated and tended lovingly. It can be small or large, whatever is comfortable for you.
My half acre in Greenville, Texas was a smaller example, it had large trees trimmed up about 20 feet and soft dappled sun underneath. The trees were a mixture of elm, pecan, oak, and hackberry. My largest cedar elm shaded the west side of my 2-1/2 story house. It was marked with lightning strikes, and survived them all. It’s shade made my house more livable in the summer 100°F weather. It also made nice dappled shade for my garden underneath. I had an old Santa Rosa plum tree underneath it that produced large crops, but if the rains were too heavy they were insipid. Those years I ate fewer fresh and preserved more. Plum butter is flavorful since you simmer the excess water out. I planted a maypop vine and not only got fruit but it hosted butterflies. I added two more and had gorgeous flowers and fruit… and butterflies. I planted a row of blueberries against the fence. There was a medium size Redbud tree and I harvested seeds for my soups. Under it all I grew a profusion of flowers and vegetables.
On the east side, two old pecan trees were dominant and provided more pecans than we could eat in a year. Squirrels got a lot, but my Corgi got rotund eating pecans in the fall. Under the pecans I had two peach trees and an apricot tree, with blackberries and raspberries along the fence line. I had a crazy patch of elephant garlic that had gorgeous 4 foot bloom stalks with big round flowers. Enough garlic to feed the whole town, but they sure did put on a show.
As I worked that half acre with its 20 huge trees, tree guilds melded into a tiny forest in the middle of town. One year Texas winds took out the back fence and the neighbors offered to replace it. Months later it was still open. I had watched them struggle with their garden while my lush property bloomed and produced food. Finally they admitted they were enchanted by the view into my garden and wanted to wait til winter to put up the fence. I showed them the wonders of mulch on clay soil. Three days later they had a dump truck drop a mountain of mulch on their driveway and they were hauling mulch to their beds by the wheelbarrow load. By winter, their plants were looking fabulous. They began composting behind the garage and had a good start to a half acre food forest of their own… giving us a beautiful acre.
Here in New Mexico I am approaching my mature pinyon-juniper forest more as an enhanced foraging project. I looked up the pinyon-juniper biome and am adding the native edibles that would naturally grow with my biome. None need work from me beyond good siting and planting. Wildflower seeds are tossed everywhere and I have flowers spring through fall. It is not as static as my Texas garden, which had more imported flowers. It is wild and beautiful, more like the forests I grew up in. Wildflowers bloom in succession and share space. Some years favor one variety and they don’t bloom again until the next “good” year. I never know what might come up, but have a few reliable beauties that bloom every year. Dry years have a different crew than wet years. I just keep adding seed.
Even though my entire garden was barren the first year, I started tossing local wildseed on it. It now is thick with wildflowers. I have patches of Amaranth infiltrated with Cow pen daisies, horehound mixed with penstemon, mustard mixed with Mexican Hats, and so on. When it rains, I pull anything I don’t like, they come out easily then, and go in the compost. I have been leaving this garden standing all winter to provide birdseed, and they bring in other seed. By spring it composts in place. Three years later my soil is much improved and the flower mix changes, perennial species are getting a good start. I have a couple rare flowers, one corals bells that only exist in this part of the world. I saw one my second year and now have more. Very exciting! I carefully weed around them. I have another plant that is spreading out now and have not identified it yet. Haven’t seen a bloom which makes that harder.
I have several now, this is the first one. It got two braces close to the base this year. If it bloomed, I missed it, but no seeds. It does not come from a bulb. I have looked at a lot of New Mexico plant photos, nothing yet? Any ideas?
or my middle layer, fruit trees and fruiting shrubs. The soil is improving enough to carry shrubs!
All these new plants are not competing with the pinyons and junipers. They improve the soil and by burying deadwood under trees and shrubs, I increase moisture retention for pinyons as well. It shifts from threatened to healthy.
This is the opposite end of food foresting, and there is everything in between. I read a new word today, wildtending. My enhanced food forest is easy, and is wildtending. Wildtending is how I earned my name Treeseed. I have been reading a blog called The Druid’s Garden. Wonderful stuff about wildtending.
Every garden I have created has worked on what was already there. I enhanced my prairie with trees along the edges, and increased edible prairie species. I took an urban yard to a small food forest. I made a small suburban lot sing. Start where you are and keep as much as you can. Add new species before cutting out old ones. Thin undesirables out and let the best expand.
A Food Forest not only produces a lot of food, it produces fresh food over a long period, it is easier to keep up with preserving for winter.