Planting a food forest

Zone II design

After two years of careful observations, of chicken ploughing, sanitizing, and fertilising the ground, and alas, after such a big storm that soaked the ground wet down a few shovels deep, there was no better time to plant our fruit forest than a few weeks ago.

I know the norm is to plant deciduous trees in winter and evergreen ones all year round expect during the hot summer months. I, instead, go by what my observations tell me – I choose to plant a tree when the ground is moist. I wait for either a minimum of 20mm rain for three to four days… or a drowning storm with 200mm of rain. So far, this technique always works. The wet ground helps roots establish more efficiently and greatly reduces the need for supplementary watering during establishment.

Let the animals do the work of fertilising, weeding, ploughing

Let the animals do the work of fertilising, weeding, ploughing

Now a fruit forest isn’t an orchard. A fruit forest is a system of growing a variety of fruit or nut trees, alongside perennial vegetables, flowers, bulbs and vines. The purpose of a fruit forest is to imitate the most resilient natural systems of all – a forest. Nobody waters a tree in the forest. Nobody adds mulch or sprinkle fertiliser. A fruit forest aims at being a self-watering self-fertilising food producing system.

Some will advocate the necessary carving of swales to capture surface run off and nutrients. I chose not to carve any scar on the landscape that I have been given to care for. Instead, I am using the intrinsic features of the land to grow trees in accordance with their nutrients and moisture requirements and the availability of those on the land. Native fruit and nut trees hug the bush that surrounds our clearing, dry land species go at the top of the slope, Mediterranean settle in the middle, subtropical at the bottom where moisture accumulates.

Each level in the landscape has its own living swale: Lomandra close to the native layer, sitting high on the slope, vetiver along the middle wedge of the slope, and lemongrass where moisture gathers near the subtropical level.  These living swales act just like dug out swales and they have an extremely low footprint. Come at one of our farm open days to understand more about the rational and functioning of those living swales.

So now that the bulk of the planting is done, one only sees twiggy branches poking out of a heavily mulched circle and surrounded by a protective wall of chicken wire! But underneath that soft blanket of mulch lay already four layers:

  1. Vetiver on contour

    the rhisosphere with mycelium running, soil biota thriving, spring bulbs, onions or garlic reaching down their enlarged roots and starting to point outward their green arrow leaves through the mulch layer and root vegetable acting like miniature underground watertanks.

  2. the ground level with nitrogen fixing clover, lupins or lucerne, or dynamic accumulators like comfrey and yarrow, or other living mulch like mints, lemon balm and violet
  3. the herbaceous layer with living swales of lemongrass, vetiver or lomandra
  4. the shrub layer with other support species, dynamic accumulators, insectary plants, fumigatory plants, windbreak species: salvias, geraniums, rosemary, tansy, grevillea, tea trees, bottlebrushes and Jerusalem artichokes
  5. and finally, the canopy species with fruit trees ranging from tropical apples, pears and cherries, to cherimoyas, jaboticabas and Brazilian guavas and finally, the much loved stone fruits…

There is no better time to planting trees than now when the ground is wet and the weather is fair.

(article recently posted on Permaculture Central Coast)

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