This section is connected to exercise 14 Food forests
A food forest, also called a forest garden, is a diverse planting of edible plants that attempts to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature. This means that the forest is more resilient against outside influence and can take on more threats from the outside. In contrast, in a monoculture planting of one crop, e.g corn or oats, the entire field has to be cleared for that one species to grow. That same species is more vulnerable for pests when it stands alone, and therefore the farmer often uses pesticides. In addition, because the crop is growing alone, all nutrients are used up in the same way and the soils nutrients can be quickly taken up. To ensure a speedier growth, the farmer often relies on external nutrients in the form of fertilizers, of which excess leaks into the waterways causing eutrophication (excess growth of algae that will cause the depletion of ogyxen of waterbodies etc.
Generally, 7 layers of food forest are recognized:
- the overstory (fruit trees, nut trees oaks, pecans
- the understory (semi dwarf fruit trees)
- shrub layer (dwarf fruit trees, hazel, serviceberry, feijoa)
- hebaceous layer (asparagus, artichoke, sage)
- root layer (root crops)
- ground cover layer strawberrry thyme, mind
- vine layer (passion, kiwi)
A food forest does not have to be re planted year after year. Once it is established, it is generally very resilient even if it experiences some visits from e.g rabbits, snails or deers. Even if someone would trample on a plant, majority of the plants have healthy underground systems, they will grow back.
Forest garden design can reduce the workload of the caretaker It takes care of itself. This means that the trees, shrubs and perennials do not need to be replanted every year. In addition, in a forest garden or food forest, annuals are used that disperse their seeds themselves and take care of next year’s growth in this manner. Forest gardens do not have to take up a lot of space as they grow in layers and can be harvested from several heights. The species that are planted for shading and suppresess weed are also edible, as are the nitrogen fixing and nutrient accumulating plants like beans and peas. It is a closed system in which the chop and drop technique is used (when pruning a healthy plant, the cuttings are dropped on the mulch layer, adding to the mulch), and returning wastes to the land to create healthy soil rather than applying fertilizer which is always an addition to the system.
According to the food forest philosophy, the food forest must be organic and planted on a soil that has had the time to recover from any pesticide and herbicide using agriculture. Organic means that the in the production of the produce chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals have been used. Food forest products cannot be sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. Only organic fertilizers, such as nettle water, can be applied. This should translate to products that are more nutrition packed than products grown with fertilizers and pesticides.
Organic foods also often have more antioxidants and other nutrients Because of the vast array of (mostly) edible plants it uses, a food forest attracts beneficial insects that pollinate the fruit crops and keep pest populations abay. The food forest does not easily dry as it utilizes techniques for ground shaping that keep rainwater on the site. Finally, it allows for flexibility in design so that plants can be placed so that they create micro climates and windbreaks where needed.