Farming 4 Change: How to Plant a Food Forest

Here’s a collection of research on creating a food forest from scratch on barren or degraded land. It’s the ultimate project plan.transform vacant land into food forest

As Rick Austin points out in his book, Secret Garden of Survival: How to Grow a Camouflaged Food Forest – people have survived for generations without electricity by eating fruits and nuts from the land, plus small animals for protein (dairy goats, fish, etc) without planting in rows, weeding, fertilizing, or watering plants. Simply as “hunters/gatherers.” The basic idea is you plant once, harvest for a lifetime.

Food Forests: The Ultimate Way to Grow Food

No rows: Plant in guilds and use companion planting to allow your garden to sustain itself naturally.Grow in 3D (ex. vines grow on trees, shrubs, herbs, ground cover, tubers). Plant by zones – zone 1 closest to house, 5 furthest away. For annuals and kitchen herbs – use keyhole gardens in zone 1 to make the most of your space.

No pesticide: Attract beneficial insects with plants and use plants to keep away four legged pests (ex. onions at base of tree to repel mice; daffodils around drop line of tree to repel deer)

No fertilizer: Leaf drop and chop and drop add nutrients continuously over time. Birds and small animals pooping. Can start up the process by adding manure, compost, wood chips.

No watering: Build swales, catch rainwater, dig ponds, thick mulch layers

If you want to learn more about planting a food forest near your home, check out the inspirational projects below that are already growing on Planet Earth. YOU should plant food species that are native or at least suitable to grow in your area. The food forests below are growing in a range of climates from hot and tropical Hawaii to areas where it gets more cold like New Jersey and New Zealand. Under each video, I notate where the food forest is located, what plants are thriving there, and other key tips to make OUR job of replicating them that much easier. Because this needs to be happening worldwide.

At the end of this post is a draft plan for creating a food forest in an unspecified location. Please comment with other great plants to grow in your area, other things to add to the action plan, or even a vid of your or your friend’s food forest to add to this post. 

Kauai Food Forest

The Kauai food forest in the tour below is a community ran project, the forest is cared for by 20 stewards and two non-profits:

  • Stacking layers of food plants – Sweet potato ground cover, collard trees, fruit trees, lilikoi vines
  • Stacking food plants in time – many fruit trees take years, papayas grow in a few months (green papayas are edible) so they are planted between other fruits
  • Spend more time with nature and do things that will help future generations (not instant gratification, money) – “nature doesn’t give a shit about profit”
  • Community food forest — if you come and put effort into the forest, you can come and eat from it. Such a simple community philosophy! Love it.

South Florida Food Forest

Pete takes us on a virtual tour of SandHill Farm just 30 minutes north of Tampa, Florida. This site is his home and personal collection of plants. Zone 9B Florida, 4 years into the project.

  • Experience with market gardening, still does some of it
  • Deciduous fruits, stone fruits, perennial vegetables, mangos, plums, bananas, persimmons, papaya, guava, longevity spinach, thai ginger, pineapple guava, lemongrass, cranberry hibiscus
  • Focusing on planting things that thrive, dig up plants off the side of the road
  • Plant the “weeds” or cover cover crops you want – mimosa, peanut, sweet potato
  • Plant stuff to attract beneficial insects and birds. Native elderberry to attract birds -a catch crop to keep birds from eating all the mulberry and other foods YOU want to eat. Goldenrod to attract beneficial insects.
  • No irrigation, fertilizer, no nothing – “plants are thriving on neglect” – liking that!

Australian Food Forest

In the video below, Ian walks through Noosa Forest Retreat on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland Australia, showing various stages in establishing a food forest. Ian explains the process of changing Grasslands to a subtropical Permaculture Food Forest Paradise in Queensland Australia.

  • Creating a forest using permaculture methods
    • First dig a swale to capture water, hydrate landscape, build top soil quantity and quality.
    • Cover swale with fungal ground covers to retain moisture, protect growing soil, add nitrogen and convert the bacterial dominated grassland to a fungal system to support a forest community.
    • Plant bananas into the protected fungal based fertility zone to establish the first quick growing shade. This creates a nursery for the fruit trees that are interplanted when swales are created.
    • Eventually, larger fruit trees  — citrus, mango, etc will outgrow bananas
  • Free range chicken paradise – they fertilize trees daily naturally, no weeding, no fertilizing, establishing a self-sustaining food forest

New Jersey Food Forest

Here’s a very educational and inspirational tour of this 5 year old perennial food forest in New Jersey by James, the farmer:

  • Plums, strawberries, persimmon, echinacea, hazelnut bush, grapes, potatoes, zinnias, eggplant, peppers, nectarine, raspberries, blackberries, cherry, apples, peach, asparagus, green beans, lettuce, tomatoes,
  • Wood chips, chop and drop, prune things to provide enough light
  • Recycled window greenhouse
  • Started planting everything leftover in a pot – ready to grow everywhere!

New Zealand’s South Island Food Forest

In the small town of Riverton at the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island is Robert and Robyn Guyton’s amazing 23-year-old food forest. The 2-acre property has been transformed from a neglected piece of land into a thriving ecosystem of native and exotic trees where birds and insects live in abundance. Robert and Robyn, with their beautiful approach to healing the land and saving heritage trees and seeds, are a huge inspiration to us.

  • Robert’s philosophy in life was to find a place that is degraded and fix it up
  • This land is in a temperate zone, exposed to elements / winds, faces North
  • At first, area was covered in junk and burnt down house
  • Now they have over 480 species of food plants on property – 120 fruit trees, 80 types of apples, 60 types of gooseberries, grapes at base of trees, medicinals, root crops, vines, hops – everything is tied together
  • Birds and insects do the hard work in the forest now. The humans just stomp on weeds and harvest food – loving it!

Southeast Idaho Food Forest

4 year old food forest in the cold high desert of southeast Idaho – zone 4 high cold desert — where the soil is dry and alkaline. With deep mulch, swales, and planting hundreds of trees and herbs, one woman very slowly and thoroughly explains how they have turned a 1.5 acres into a food oasis in the video below.

  • Repropagating your property with wild crafted perennials (self-seeding) in a cold climate
  • How to get economic, good food forest plants
  • Lots of fruit trees, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, grapes, garlic, comfrey, mint, wormwood and medicinal herbs
  • Keeping rabbits, geese, and ducks.

Northern California Food Forest

In the video below, Dan shares with you the early beginnings of the backyard food forest project (years 1, 2 and 3) and tips on how to start a food forest from scratch. Garden Location: Northern CA, Zone 9b:

  • Cardboard and wood chips
  • Seed bomb technique and natural farming – check out a great book called One Straw Revolution Masanobu Fukowoka. 
  • Raised beds with cardboard, chicken wire, and 3” T-posts
    • wood chips, native soil / compost, straw top layer in beds
  • Off grid automatic watering garden system
  • Chickens – free range and chicken tractors
  • Perennials – fruit trees, tree collards, and chives

Colorado Food Forest

Woman gives an amazing thorough tour of her permaculture food forest in her front yard. Unfortunately, the audio is very low so I transcribed much of it below the vid. From Youtube description:

A no till permaculture garden using sheet mulch. Year 3 of establishment. I forgot to show the Sea Kale (perennial), Banana Yucca (perennial) and Siberian Pea Shrub (perennial nitrogen fixer) that work well here in Denver. Garden is watered with a drip system (about $350 to set up- I already had a sprinkler system installed). I used local fresh manure, cardboard, newspaper and free wood chips from XCEL to get the majority of sheet mulch built. I now use “natural fines” mulch from a local landscaping company to add to the top of the sheet mulch in the spring. I also added rock dust this year which I believe is helping with the pests (aphids) that I struggled with last year. I did weed the tree of heaven sprouts and bindweed earlier in the season to keep it under control. Weeds are fine to leave in if you wish, but very easy to pull out of the deep mulch.

  • Edible front yard with annuals and perennials, no till garden, sheet mulch + organic matter, chop and drop permaculture technique, rock dust
  • Just some of the plants growing in this woman’s front yard: rhubarb, raspberry, pumpkin, melons, cherries, collard greens, currents, chives, cabbage, goji berry, sunflowers, grapes, peppers, basil, brassicas, broccoli, celery, kale, raddichio, sorrel, beets, marigold, corn, arugula, loveage, eggplant, tomato, onions, asparagus, borage, yarrow, kohlrabi, bee balm, and many native plants
  • Fruit tree guilds with comfrey (chop and drop), cherry, strawberries, tomatoes, herbs, basil
  • Herb garden – rosemary, sage, basil, horseradish, tarragon, dill, savory, malabar spinach, stevia, lemon balm, mint, thyme, oregano, chives, echinacea, garlic chives
  • Experiment with cover crop mixed seed mainly of buckwheat

Draft Tropical Food Forest Plan of Action

This is the project plan. It still needs to be fleshed out and edited. Any feedback and/or advice is welcomed! It’s high time to get it down on paper and up on Earth. Who’s with me?!

Mission statement: to procure and care for a small piece of land, plant a food forest, build a community, and repeat around the world.

Procure Land: ideally tropical, warm weather, on a south facing slope (in northern hemisphere) or north facing slope (southern hemisphere), near good surf.

  • Investors get a room in the house or entire house under their name, where they can come live anytime. When not present – beds in room/house are made available to others.
  • Investment for land, trees/plants, excavator for ponds/swales, pavilion with rain catchment, shower, tents, beds, blender, gas grill — $15-20k ($5-10k from ME)
  • Raise money to reinvest in land thru revenue streams (see below)

Plant Stuff: fruit and nut trees, other perennial edible plants, annual food crops, ponds with fish and edible plants (aquaponics), all native plants in zone 5

  • fruit: citrus, avocado, mango, coconut, papaya, bananas, caju, lychee, sweetsop, siriguela, other native fruits
  • nut/seed: macadamia, cashew, sunflower, chia, flax, moringa
  • vine: lilikoi, beans, squash, melons, cucumber, garlic, onions
  • herbs: collards, chard, kale, asparagus, rosemary, lemongrass, parsley, basil, cilantro
  • ground cover: sweet potato, strawberries, mint, clover, dandelion, quebra pedra

Build Stuff: pavilion to house resident farmers and surf/yoga classes and retreats immediately, then hostel-style farmhouse for resident farmers, investors, paying guests

  • 1st build pavilion on the highest part of the land and equip with gas grill, blender, composting toilets, water catchment, shower, sink, and tents with mattresses. Will house resident farmers and campers, cafe and nursery, and any classes, camps, or events on the property. It serves as the central community hub and protection from the elements. Personal or family-sized tents will provide protection from mosquitos
  • Then the focus is on planting lots of stuff.
  • After getting most fruit trees and garden planted, build the big farmhouse(s) for investors/farmers/hostel

Revenue Streams: several income streams -surf/yoga/farm classes and retreats, nursery plants, organic cafe, excess farm produce, farm hotel

  • Reinvest profits in land // use to procure new land, plant, and build again and again
  • Very sustainable because there is no labor cost no – self powered, work/trade
  • Share tried and true business plan on blog and support new farmsteads, share tips, etc.

So what do you think? Comment below!


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