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

Reinvisioning the forest garden

Old forest garden planA little less than four years ago, I read Edible Forest Gardens and got all fired up.  You can read my ambitious plan from that winter.  Now here's what didn't work:

Current forest gardenFour years later, the area is really more of an orchard than a forest garden, but a couple of years of adding high value vegetables beyond the trees' root zone has won the troubled area from the weeds, and I feel ready to start expanding back out into more diversified plantings.  Now I realize that my goals with non-fruit plantings should be much simpler, focused around building quality soil as quickly as possible so the trees will have something other than waterlogged clay to expand their roots into as they grow.

Soil-building zonesMy new plan is to keep the soil directly under the current trees' branches completely mulched, at least until the trees are large enough to handle competition.  Meanwhile, a ring of annual cover crops (buckwheat in the summer, oats, oilseed radishes, or rye in the winter) will be building soil in the zone where tree roots will soon be growing.  I'll concentrate perennial mulch producers (like comfrey) beyond the eventual spread of the tree.

Stay tuned for more specifics on the mulch producers I'm thinking of branching out into in a later post.  Meanwhile, I'd love to hear from others who have started young forest gardens.  Which parts of your book learning worked and didn't work for you?

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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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I planted a couple guilds two years ago...and then we moved, so I don't have a ton of experience yet. I am actively planning my next fruit tree and annual gardens, which will literally be on a forest edge. The hard part is knowing how to orient any swales, as you mention. Do I want to catch the runoff? This area is the natural drainage path from forest to wetland, so drainage might be more important than catchment.

Can't wait to hear about your alternative perennial mulches! I'm leery of comfrey because my food forest is on the edge of some relatively undisturbed forest and fen, and I don't want to introduce something non-native that can't be stopped.

I'm also happy to hear someone point out the shortcomings of "keyhole" gardens. I have had the same trouble with encroaching weeds/grass on all that edge. I've also found that planting annual vegetables in rows within rectangular raised beds is much easier to maintain than offset or totally nonlinear layouts.

Comment by Emily Sun Oct 28 11:53:45 2012

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