Tips for starting a food forest
wife and I just bought a piece of land out in central MA (zone 6A), and
I'm planning to put in a whole slew of fruit and nut trees next spring.
It's exciting, but also a daunting exercise trying to figure out what
to put in, how to arrange them, what spacing, etc. Do you have any
advice for a novice? Anything you wish you knew when you were planting
your first trees?"
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Starting a new food
forest is an exciting undertaking, although also fraught with a lot of
difficulties. What I wish I'd known before I planted the first tree is
that our initial site had such high deer pressure that nothing could
survive, then the second site had such high groundwater that winter
water once again killed all of my expensive trees, and finally that our
entire homestead exists in a frost pocket where spring blooms are
inevitably nipped by late frosts. Moral so you don't repeat my mistakes:
spend a year growing annual crops in your future food forest site to
find out which problems will need to be overcome before you throw a lot
of money away with perennials.
that year, you can learn grafting and can read up on forest gardening.
However, be aware that many of the authors of bestselling forest
gardening books are theorizers rather than practitioners with decades of
success under their belts. For example, I learned the hard way that planting comfrey within the root zones of young fruit trees results in nitrogen-starved trees,
despite the fact that many books advocate this type of interplanting.
And even though many texts list dozens of fruiting plants that can
handle heavy shade, scientific experiments suggest that yields are much reduced in these scenarios.
To be honest, I'm working my way out of wishing to create forest
gardening guilds and am focusing more on a diverse planting in which
each productive plant is given lots of mulched elbow room.
Since I'm keen on
no-spray organic gardening, I also wish I'd realized that many of the
commonly sold varieties will flounder in these conditions. Hunting down disease-resistant apples, pears, and stone fruits will reduce future headaches dramatically. While you're at it, high-density methods with dwarf trees
is a great way to get a head start on what will inevitably be a bit of a
game of trial and error figuring out which varieties thrive in your
unique conditions and suit your tastebuds. Of course, trees planted in
this manner require more work in the weeding, mulching, and
summer-pruning departments, but you'll cut years off your experiments
and will enjoy fruit much sooner. Once you figure out what grows well
for you, you can use that information to plant larger, less needy trees.
After almost a decade of experimentation, we're still very much getting our woody perennial legs under us. The only variety that has been an unabashed success has been the hybrid hazel
bush that started producing last year. It survived everything our farm
threw at it...so we planted three more bushes. Luckily, various types of
have filled in the gap, but I'm still waiting for those bushels of
apples I dreamed about when we first moved to the farm. Maybe easily
coverable espaliers or that sunny hillside across the way will overcome
our spring freeze problems....