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Thriving 23-Year-Old Permaculture Food Forest

A food forest is a permanent planting. So you want to set it up just like a forest system. The big trees and the middle-size trees, the bottom layer and the ground layer. They work together, some plants take up some minerals and give others back and another one does something else. It’s really lovely to put them together and create a forest system that’s for birds and insects and for us.

We’ve got 480 different species of plants at last count and that doesn’t include the 80 different types of apples and the 60 different types of gooseberries. Growing out in the forest garden there, aside from the native trees, which I’ve used as a framework or a platform for building everything else – and those provide me with shelter from the wind and also nest sites for the birds, and the birds are a really important player in the management of the garden.
In the second layer down to that we have our fruit tree layer, which is our heritage apples and pears and plums, and nectarines and peaches, apricots, those kinds of “production trees”, I suppose you’d call them, but that’s not really how I think of them.

In our forest garden I’ve got about 120 fruit trees, there are 80 different apple trees alone of all different names that I’ve got from the old heritage orchards.

The apple trees are a special favourite of mine because each one has a different story and history, and some are more than 500 years So as I walk around here I know each of the trees very well and the… some are eating, some are cooking, some are sweet and crunchy, some are quite dense and firm, and, like humans, they’re very individual and they’ve all got a special way that they’re worth passing on. And then below that a layer of berry fruits and currents, red currants, black currants, white currants, and gooseberries, worcesterberries, all of those sorts of shrubby plants that like to grow in the semi-shade.

In December you start getting berries and then the plums come on, then the pears and apples, and so we have fruit here to harvest 10 months of the year. Wrapping around all of that are the biennial and perennial herbs, some of which are edible, some of which are medicinal, and then below that there are bulbs and root crops that grow, such as parsnips and wild carrots – those kinds of things. And then winding their way up through these things are vines like grape vines and kiwifruit and Manchurian gooseberries and hops and all sorts of things, which kind of bind everything together and tie the forest together.

In terms of making a positive change in the world, creating a forest garden has to be one of the most effective things a person, a community or a city council can do, especially if it’s done in a way that respects the natural rhythms of the world and doesn’t fight natural processes.

Through building a forest garden an incredible amount of life is generated and sustained. The microorganisms in the soil, the birds, the insects, the fish, the plants, and the people, who are just as integral to that web of life.

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