Currently, ‘food forests’ are much talked about by many gardeners. If this term is new to you, then contemplate what you know about forests, out there in the bush, in the wild. The bush is a layered and co-operative collection of plants of different heights; seven layers in all.
There will be very tall trees providing a canopy over smaller trees, under which bushes will flourish, then shorter flowering and herbal plants, ground covering plants, and vines – and beneath the ground a world of fungi will exist. Together these plants work together to support each other. A food forest operates similarly.
In an edible garden, a food forest will contain one or more large trees such as those of certain fruits or nuts. These will provide the canopy. Dwarf fruit trees will be the next layer. Bushes such as currants, blueberries and gooseberries will provide a third layer. Our vegetables – above and below ground offer two further layers. Ground cover include plants such as thyme and purslane. Vines such as passionfruit, grape or kiwi might wind themselves around the plants in the garden if not staked, trellised or otherwise supported. In addition to root vegetables, when the tubers etc are removed, a gardener may notice the white ‘strings’ of mycelium fungi through the soil. Helpful. Useful decomposers of organic matter. All an essential component of the food forest.
Okay. What is the connection with the Permablitz?
One major aim of the day was to build the bones of a food forest and plant out. The dedicated area contained four fruit trees including a greengage plum and lots of green lawn.
The first task was to define the area as determined on a plan. Preparation and planning was deemed the key to success. A sketch, with details elsewhere indicating where gardens beds would be located and which key plants would be added, was posted on a wall for us to read. This was instructive. A useful reminder.
The edges of the area for the food forest were defined with fluorescent paint before being dug out. The lawn surface was covered with the compost of broken down hay bales.
One of the slowest jobs for the day was to remove adhesive tape and other stickers (none of which will break down in the soil) from flattened cardboard boxes. The cardboard was soaked, or at least wetted in large containers (large wheelie bins) before use on the garden.
Newspapers were soaked. Much amusement was had when reading these old 1983 papers collected recently from the Tip Shop adjacent to the Municipal Rubbish Tip. If only we could buy a three bedroom house with acreage for under $60,000 now! The newspaper was used to line the trenched edges of the food forest. Rocks were collected from a large pile ready for fitting into the trenches.
Time for layers of wet cardboard to be laid across the ground. Once in position then barrow loads of wood mulch were poured.
Large flattish stones were chosen as ‘pavers’ to create a pathway across the food forest garden.
Finally it was time for planting. Some plants came from the refurbished hugelkultur, others from elsewhere in the garden such as comfrey and rosemary. Not the least were the strawberries. One persistent volunteer dug out strawberry plants impressively, for a long time. It was hard going and I only lasted awhile.
Clumps of rhubarb were separated.
At the end of the day, the food garden was developing impressively.
This Permablitz was a day of immense achievement by a committed team of people, many strangers to each other but all working toward the common goal of helping to make a garden based on Permaculture principles.
Why? In the certain knowledge that the plants have the best chance of success ultimately requiring less water and other resources, and because beneficial insects (above and below ground) and birds will be attracted to fertilise and nurture the plants. In other words, we were helping to encourage natural ecosystems to redevelop on a suburban block which had been subjected to different uses by previous owners. Collectively, when the different garden beds are considered, the planting allows for sustainable food production into the future, without causing degradation of the soil or local environment and it sets the stage for higher food quality. Finally, the success of this garden will be measured without the use of damaging chemicals. And if nothing else, the garden smelled terrific and looked great.
I feel sure the owners are contentedly contemplating their ‘new’ gardens, and surely my fellow workers still feel a warm glow of satisfaction from the results.