By Shae Gillmartin Shae is a member of the Border Permaculture Association
So what is a food forest? It is an edible garden that uses the model of a forest to meet people’s needs of food, medicinal plants and an enjoyable setting. Food forests have a diverse range of plants and can also provide wood for fires and a habitat and food for chickens and even a bee hive. Plant diversity, healthy soil and ecosystem help it to be largely self-maintaining with a reduced occurrence of pests and plant diseases and weeds.
Food forests have a stacking of plants. The layers and examples of trees/plants are
- The canopy – nut trees
- A lower tree layer – fruit trees
- Shrubs – currents, berries or non-food shrubs for attracting bees
- Smaller plants – vegetables, bulbs and herbs
- Root zone – garlic, ginger, potatoes
- A layer of mulch and living mulches -pumpkins or lucerne
- Vertical climbing plants – passionfruit, grapes or beans
Food forests do not need a large space. They can be as small as an area under one fruit tree, or a combination of plants on a balcony through to larger areas that include large trees like nut trees.
When I bought my house 18 months ago (a normal suburban block in central Albury) I was lucky to inherit established fruit trees. I have fenced off the area to develop a food forest and have since added another 6 heritage fruit trees and berries and a passionfruit along the fence line.
The main focus has been soil health as I could hardly get the pitch fork into the soil and couch grass. I have used animal manures, heavy mulching (over invasive grasses) and throw around kitchen scraps and lawn clippings. It may appear a rather “lazy” way of composting, but that’s what happens in nature- it decomposes where it falls on the forest floor! We have five chickens which fertilise the soil and assist with controlling pest such a fruit fly. Our food forest is certainly still in development, so I continue planting for increased diversity. In the middle of our food forest is a fire pit, for sitting around on a winter’s day and having a cup of soup or baking potatoes. It is also a beautiful place to sit and watch our chooks on a spring day under the blossoming fruit trees. So our food forest is more than just food production, it’s a pleasant space to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
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