Friday 2nd Spetember. I've been researching ways to increase our harvest whilst also improving the land on which we live. Time and time again I come back to a permaculture idea of a food forest. It seems to me to make absolute sense to work with nature, not against it and emulate it as it is so successful at being self sustaining.
The idea of a food forest is that just like any forest there are several layers of growth from tall canopy trees to root crops, each layer is comprised edible plants of some sort and as leaves drop from trees and annuals die off, the forest floor becomes richer with organic matter feeding the plants for the next year. This is a long term plan. We can't plant fully grown trees and shrubs, so we will plant young trees and plants and over time they will grow to provide the layers.
|Image source: Permaculture a Beginner’s Guide, by Graham Burnett|
By recreating a forest with it's multi layers of growth I can have a highly productive area of edible plants that doesn't need constant tending and planting each year. It will become more productive as years pass and will build better and better soil. We want to leave this small space in better condition and with more trees and vegetation on it than when we arrived.
So I've identified an area that would be ideal for a food forest. Ideally I would lay down a very thick layer of cardboard and cover it in around 30 - 40 cms of wood chippings, but I don't think we will have access to that volume wood chippings and so, to start off with, I am going to put down a weed suppressing membrane and a 15 - 20 cms layer of wood chippings and then in a couple of years remove the membrane disturbing the soil layer as little as possible and let nature take over.
I ordered some membrane which arrived yesterday and to keep myself distracted from the latest hatch that was happening in the incubator I started to lay the membrane.
This first section of membrane is six and a half feet (2 metres) wide and approximately 40 feet (12 metres) long and it seems to hardly make a dent in the area that I've earmarked for the food forest. I am excited by this project, I like the idea of creating something more permanent on this land. It won't replace the raised beds which I will continue to use for growing annual food crops, cutting flowers and herbs, but it should add a new dimension to the smallholding.
As luck would have it, on Wednesday evening the tree surgeon delivered another load of composted wood chippings. This is by far the most well composted material that he has dropped off. Much of it is a rich almost black colour, just like the soil found on a forest floor, so will be ideal for the food forest area as well as being used to enrich the soil in the raised beds.
Once I had lightly pegged down the membrane I loaded a wheel barrow to overflowing with wood chippings and tipped it onto the membrane. As you can see, it hardly shows on this large space and this sheet of membrane is only the first of many. It's going to take an awful lot of wheel barrow loads to cover this area! I thought that I'd cover the areas that I want to put plants in first and leave the pathways clear until later. As we are having some tall but spindly sycamore trees taken down from just behind the piggeries before too long, I will use the chipped upper branches to cover the pathways as these don't need to be composted chippings.
I already have some fruit shrubs and perennial herbs that I can plant in the food forest and will propagate as many more as I can from these small plants.
I've recently started reading the blog of a couple who live not too far away from us who have outgrown their garden and two allotments and are taking the plunge to become even more self sufficient and are buying a smallholding in Orkney. James and Dee's blog about their adventure to self sufficiency and living in a more environmentally friendly way can be found at Happy Homestead. It's well worth a read.
I've been chatting with them via social media and invited them to come for a cuppa and to have a look at what we are doing here (what this really means is that I'm going to pick their brains and ask them for lots of advice). To my delight they have offered to give us some of their fruit bushes and herbs that they have growing in tubs and that are too large or too many to take with them to their new home. They will be ideal for planting in the food forest and I am extremely grateful for their generosity. We are also going to rehome their chickens which they feel would be too stressed by a fifteen hour car journey to their new homestead.
Saturday 3rd. Yesterday I continued to add barrow loads of composted wood chippings to the first stretch of weed suppressing membrane and planted it with a tayberry and loganberry given to me by my daughter's father in law. I also put in some autumn fruiting raspberries which came from Mr J's mother's garden, a rowan tree that my daughter gave me for Mother's Day, some herbs that I grew from seed and some currants that came from the local garden centre. I am starting to think that the food forest will be filled with plants that came from, and therefore remind me of, friends and family.
I've identified a small area that is lower than the surrounding soil and it seems to be a perfect place to have a small wildlife pond. In heavy rain it fills with water and creates a puddle about four feet by three feet and around four inches deep. If I line the base of this area with waterproof membrane, it should fill up in no time which will give us a pond that ends up about seven or eight inches deep. It won't be very big, but it would be nice to have an area that attracts frogs, toads and other wildlife. There is a large sheet of bitumous liner at the back of the piggeries, I think it is what was used to line a large surplus water store as I can see a circular outline on a concrete base by the rear piggery and the liner seems circular, so I will use a piece of that as a liner for the small wildlife pond.
As I am creating pathways through the food forest area I will make sure that a path goes around the potential pond and that I leave some space for planting around the edges of it. The good thing about the location of the pond is that it will be away from the chickens and the ducks so that the wildlife won't be a sitting target for their beaky attentions.
It is very wet today, I have tried laying out the next section of weed suppressing membrane, but the wind has picked up and is blowing it all over the place. Instead of working outside, I am doing more research and firming up ideas about the food forest and catch up with reading a few of my favourite blogs. I'm looking forward to an afternoon curled up on the sofa under a quilt reading. It must be time to make a cuppa!
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If you want to know more about food forests, this article on the Permaculture Research Institute is useful.