How would you like to have a Food Forest in your own backyard where you can harvest fresh fruits and vegetables whenever you desire? Fresh picked food saves money at the grocery store and is far more nutritious than produce that is shipped thousands of miles. Eliminating your lawn saves money too. A Food Forest helps out the native bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife by providing food and habitat for them. You will also help the environment by saving energy and reducing carbon dioxide. What’s not to like?
Using a real forest as our model, the guiding principle is that we observe and mimic nature and not fight it. Let’s start at the forest floor which is covered with leaves, needles, and debris from all the trees and plants. This provides organic matter that breaks down and feeds the microorganisms in the soil that provide the trees and plants with the nutrients they need to grow. We can mimic the forest and build up the soil by covering the lawn with cardboard and then dumping lots of mulch and compost on it. You can often get free truckloads of mulch from local tree trimmers. Here in Florida this mulch breaks down rapidly, killing the grass and enriching the soil.
Next, comes the exciting part, planting your Food Forest. Observing the forest we see that there are plants at every level from ground covers, to understory plants, shrubs, trees of varying size, and vines, up to the canopy trees, usually pine and oaks. If you already have some canopy trees providing shade then you can move to the next step. If not, plant some fast growing trees like Moringa or Jamaican Cherry to provide shade quickly. Then, you can plant your trees to go under the canopy trees. These can be fruit trees like Mango, Citrus, Jujube, Carambola, Avocado, Mulberry, Barbados Cherry, Lychee, Sapodilla, and Papaya. Underneath your trees you can plant shrubs such as Surinam Cherry, Guava, Jaboticaba, Fig, and Everbearing Mulberry for fruits; Dwarf Poinciana and Pigeon Pea for fixing nitrogen; and perennial vegetables such as Chaya and Katuk. Your understory plants might include herbs and vegetables like Comfrey, Spotted Bee Balm, African Basil, Tomatoes, Kale, Seminole Pumpkin, Cowpeas, and Squash. Choose ground covers such as Sweet Potatoes, Strawberries, Longevity Spinach for food and Perennial Peanut and Sunshine Mimosa for fixing nitrogen. The list of vines you can grow are numerous. Try Passionflower, Yams, Tindora, Loofa, Bitter Melon, Chayote, and Jicama. Mix in natives and ornamentals to attract pollinators and to increase the beauty of your landscape. All of this beautifully combined and intertwining is what is referred to as a polyculture.
You may think this sounds like too much work. Yes, the initial planting requires a bit of work but with various techniques the workload can be reduced and the process accelerated so that in less than a year you can harvest fresh fruits and vegetables from your own backyard. If unable to do the work yourself you can use the money saved on lawn service to hire someone to plant a Food Forest for you. There are a growing number of landscapers who specialize in edible landscapes. With plenty of mulch and abundant summer rains even a snowbird can grow a Food Forest.
So, now instead of a lawn to maintain you have a Food Forest which not only provides you and your family with nourishing food it also saves money. It is low maintenance because the mulch will suppress the weeds and retain moisture. Occasional pruning may be necessary for optimal fruiting and your seasonal planting and harvesting will take a bit of time but it’s fairly minimal. When your Food Forest is complete you will see how you have mimicked the forest and created a polyculture of great biodiversity utilizing both horizontal and vertical spaces. This will not only beautify your yard, it will provide shade and have a positive environmental impact.
Greg and his wife Linda are landscape designers who have transformed their Englewood yard using Permaculture techniques. They offer consultations, design services, and free monthly tours through their business: Love Your Yard. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-449-9012 or visit https://weloveyouryard.wixsite.com/swfl.