Is this beginning to feel like a big subject? Just as a food forest has many layers, so too do the principles that govern a food forest. Succinctly put, edible forest gardens are “perennial polycultures of multi-purpose plants powered by the sun.”
|Lupines, a legume|
Following the patterns and ecological functioning of established forests, we are attempting to create stable, resilient, and diverse systems that require few outside inputs and are highly productive in relation to the amount of labor required. To be clear, these gardens are not an attempt to replace existing natural forests. Rather, we are developing parallel forest systems that can provide a wide range of yields to people, while at the same time offering back numerous ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, soil building, the creation of microclimates and water retention.
Forest garden design depends on the careful mimicry of natural forest systems. One of the core principles is that forest architecture is typically multi-layered with a variety of plants occupying niches at different heights: tall trees, small trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, ground covers, vining plants, and the root zone.
All species are carefully selected and placed so that functional communities, or guilds, of plants that support each other are created. These guilds may include the following:
- soil-building species, such as legumes (clovers, alfalfa, lupines, vetch, caragana, sea buckthorn, buffalo berry)
- “dynamic accumulators” (plants such as comfrey, valerian, dandelion, nettles, yarrow, linden trees and others known to accumulate sub-soil nutrients). Dynamic accumulators have very deep tap roots that reach deep into the soil and bring up minerals.
- insectary plants for attracting pollinators and other beneficials
- aromatic species to confound pests
- ”nurse plants” that grow up quickly to shelter younger more vulnerable species.