“Establishing a food forest” – Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton shows how to establish a food forest in Wales, Australia.  He begins by explaining what makes a food forest.

The main layers of a forest, every forest: ‘climax’, ‘under story’, ‘shrubs/bushes’,’herbs’ and ‘climbers’

Besides the main five, there are two different layers of herbs in cooler climates.  There are also ‘clumpers’ and the ‘root yield’.  In the Tropics, there’s also palms and in the wet Tropics, there are two layers of palms, there are larger, ’emergent palms’.

How do you create a forest from whatever condition you’re starting with?  You look at imitating how nature repairs itself.  As a permaculturist, you’re looking at a design study of the ecology.

You need a support species.  Start with a ground cover of nitrogen fixing plants to add nitrogen to the soil.  Mass plant ground cover, as it only grows for one season, so has to do everything fast. (Plant 100,000 of them over 1,000 square meters)

Next element would be small bushes, selected out of nitrogen fixers, beans and peas family.  Short-term legume bush may live for four or five years.  Plant ground cover and legumes by seed. (10,000 of them)

Medium-term legume trees will live for 10-15 years.  They can be grown from seed, just as the ground cover and short-term legumes (100 of them)

Long term legume trees live full term and go on as a ‘canopy’ of the forest.  These legumes add long term cycles of nitrogen to the ground.  (Only 10 of them in 1,000 sq. meters)

While this is going on, plant the ‘under story’ fruit trees, medium size fruit trees and some ‘over story’ fruit trees.  These may include other types of ‘productive trees’ as well.

90% of the mass of the forest has been ‘support species’ in the early years.  Productive trees are 10% of the mass in the early years.

At the end, it reverses.  The support species are only 10%, and the productive trees are 90% of the mass of the food forest in later years.  The layers have been kept full.

Planting at the right time:  Plant when the rainfall is over the evaporation line.  Leave the shade during low evaporation.

Selected species will ‘pollard’ – be recycled for organic matter.  You can cut them at head high, so they shade us and then they will re-grow again.  Short legumes are sacrificial and will re-grow.  We have ‘over stacked’ the area, so there’s hardly any room for weeds.  Take the mulch to fruit trees from the tops of short legumes.

This basic system works to maintain permanent forest ecology, It is long-term, diverse and productive.

After giving the basics, Lawton demonstrates the food forest building process on the land near the Permaculture Research Institute in Wales.

Lawton shows how to plant Lupin(winter legume) and cow pea(summer legume).  Diverse fungi are also very important to a food forest.  They eat wood.  He says that forest grows on fallen forest.  The more diversity, the better with fungi too.

Working with weeds: Make a ‘designer weed system’ using both short term and long term weed species.  Work with the strengths of the weeds.  ‘Interactive diversity’ is what keeps the food forest systems stable.

Pests in the garden:  If you have a plague of grasshoppers, you have a deficiency of ground birds, your habitat has diminished.  You can put turkeys over grasshoppers and for every three kilos of grasshoppers, you get one kilo of turkey.  If you have a diverse bird population, you won’t have a grasshopper problem.  With a snail or slug problem, you have a duck deficiency.  And if you don’t want to keep ducks, you can have a ‘stumpy tailed lizard’, native to Australia.  The lizards will live 30 years, longer than your ducks.

Watch the 2nd half of this generous video offering by Geoff Lawton for more hands-on guidance for building a food forest.


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