The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Mollison and Hemenway on forest gardening

Hemenway forest gardenThe theme of Will Hooker's lecture 5 is biomes and trees, and even though I have a poster of the former on my bedroom wall and adore the latter, the lecture bored me stiff.  If you're going to skip one lecture, it should be this one.  Hooker's take-home message, though, is very valid --- if you're not settled in one spot yet, be sure to learn about the ecosystem you move into and tweak your permaculture plans accordingly.

On the other hand, the associated readings were riveting, so that's what I'll write about today.  As you'll recall, both Toby Hemenway and Bill Mollison included a chapter on forest gardening in their introductory texts, and it's fascinating to compare and contrast their recommendations. 

Both gurus recommend interplanting trees, shrubs, and herbs, but Mollison focuses in on including lots of legumes to make your forest self-fertilizing, and he also writes about using animals in your orchards.  "Should you be so unfortunate as to inherit a monocultural orchard," he wrote, "add 3-4 hens, a pig, and 4-6 large leguminous trees per 1000 square meters (1/4 acre), with many smaller legumes."  Mollison went on to recommend introducing pigs to your orchard when the trees are three-to-seven years old, then sheep and cattle at seven-to-twenty years.

Bill MollisonAlthough both authors wrote about cover crops and kill mulches, I preferred Hemenway's suggestions to kill mulch zones 1 and 2, then use low-maintenance cover crops in zone 3.  (Specifically, Hemenway prefers a mixture of clover, annual rye, yarrow, dill, fennel, and daikon radishes that only needs to be mown once or twice a year.)  Mollison adds that your orchard for personal use should be considered zone 2, while any commercial operation extends out into zone 3.

My main disappointment with both explanations of forest gardens is their recommendation to include prolific understory herbs.  In fact, Mollison writes that broadleaf plants are much better around the feet of young trees than grass is, but my own experience has shown that anything interfering with the root zone of young trees slows growth markedly when compared to a solid mulch.  Of course, my original soil is terrible, so those of you with deep, well-drained loam might have better luck applying these guru's wisdom without tweaking.

Learn more about cover crops that work in a no-till garden in Homegrown Humus.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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