Embracing the Bounty of Food Forests

When it comes to growing your own food, there are various approaches you can take, each with its own unique benefits and characteristics.  The most popular method is the traditional kitchen garden featuring raised garden beds, annual vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuce and carrots; common herbs and small fruit plants such as strawberries and dwarf fruit trees.  Kitchen gardens are easy and fun with a focus on supplying a steady supply of fresh produce for daily meals. Just what we all need with the growing cost of living.

Now, imagine stepping into a lush, green haven where the air is filled with the sweet scent of ripening fruit, the gentle rustle of leaves, and the soft buzz of busy pollinators at work. This is the world of a food forest, a thriving ecosystem that blends the principles of permaculture with the abundance of nature. Unlike the traditional kitchen garden, food forests are designed to mimic the structure and function of natural forests, providing a sustainable source of food, medicine, and habitat for wildlife.

At its heart, a food forest is all about diversity and harmony. Picture a multi-layered landscape where trees, shrubs, herbs, and ground cover plants coexist in harmony with each other. Tall fruit and nut trees form the canopy, their branches stretching skyward. Below them, shorter trees like apples and pears create a secondary layer. Further down, berry bushes and perennial vegetables flourish in the dappled sunlight. Ground covers such as herbs and nitrogen-fixing plants carpet the forest floor, enriching the soil and keeping weeds at bay. (Sometimes weeds are an asset, great for reducing the amount of work you have to do!)

The following seven layers would be in a typical food forest.

    1. Canopy Trees: Tall fruit and nut trees like apples, pears, walnuts, and pecans.

    2. Low Trees: Smaller fruit trees such as plums, cherries, and feijoas.

   3. Shrubs: Berry bushes like blueberries, currants, and gooseberries.

   4. Herbaceous Plants: Perennial vegetables and herbs like rhubarb, artichokes, and mint.

   5. Root Crops: Edible roots like potatoes, kumara, and carrots.

   6. Ground Covers: Low-growing plants such as strawberries and clover.

    7. Vines: Climbing plants such as grapes and kiwifruit.

The Seven Layers of a Food Forest (image borrowed from beaconfoodforest.org)

One of the most appealing aspects of food forests is their ability to create a self-sustaining system. By incorporating a variety of plant species, each with different roles, food forests enhance soil health, conserve water, and reduce the need for chemicals. Nitrogen-fixing plants like clover and lupine draw nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that plants can use, effectively fertilising the soil naturally. Mulching with leaves and plant debris helps retain moisture and suppress weeds, while the diverse plant life attracts beneficial insects and pollinators.

Creating a food forest might sound like a daunting task, but it's an adventure that anyone with a bit of space and a passion for nature can embark on. It can be done in stages, so start small, perhaps with a few fruit trees and companion plants, and gradually expand your forest overtime. The key is to observe and learn from nature. Notice which plants thrive together, how the sunlight moves through your space, where your water lies or runs across the ground. Every food forest is unique!

As you wander through a food forest, you’ll notice that it’s not just about the plants. Birds find refuge in the trees, insects play their crucial roles in pollination and pest control, and micro organisms enrich the soil.

In a world facing challenges like climate change, soil degradation, and food insecurity, food forests offer a beacon of hope. They demonstrate that it’s possible to produce food in a way that restores, rather than depletes, our natural resources.

So, whether you have a sprawling lifestyle block or a modest town section, consider planting the seeds (pun intended!) of a food forest. Start with a few trees, add some companion plants, embrace the journey of creating your own food forest and enjoy the abundance it brings!  And of that’s too overwhelming then you will still get a huge amount of satisfaction from a simple kitchen garden.

To read more tips and tricks from an established Food Forrest, this is a great article in Life & Leisure: https://thisnzlife.co.nz/why-growing-a-food-forest-can-be-trickier-than-you-think/ or view their excellent video https://youtu.be/6GJFL0MD9fc

Stay updated

We'll send the latest resources straight to your inbox.