Thursday, February 19, 2015

Forest Gardening: What is it and what's in it for me?

I just  recently realized that the techniques and gardening processes I have reading about and trying to implement for the last 12 years can all be gathered under one umbrella heading: Permaculture.
Edible landscaping, lasagna gardening, Ruth Stout, Winter sowing, low tunnels, plant guilds, companion planting, three sisters, homesteading, perennial vegetables, using mushrooms in gardens, square foot gardening, straw bale gardening, gardening with livestock, and sustainable homesteading are all components of an amazing system that strives to mimic nature while accommodating humans needs and pleasures.

Paraphrasing one of my favorite Permaculture teachers, Larry Korn,"Permaculture is a system where we can grow an abundance of food with decreased effort while increasing the health and vitality of the soil and the diversity of life in the environment." Now that sounds good to me.

A wonderful place to learn the hands on process of Permaculture is Toby Hemenway's book, Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (2001, ISBN 978-1890132521).  Toby does a wonderful job of explaining Permaculture, and provides an easy to follow 'how-to' for the novice. I've read it cover to cover and made copious notes in the margins.

As I've begun learning about Permaculture I've encountered the term "Forest Gardening". This is a concept that I initially had trouble wrapping my head around. I dismissed it thinking, "I can not grow the things I want to grow under a canopy of trees". Then I had an 'Oh, I get it' moment.

Maybe the term Forest Gardening, as a communication tool, is a bit like the term Global Warming. In retrospect, a title like 'Climate Chaos' might better describe the threat. Similarly, Forest Gardening might have been easier for me to embrace if it was called "Gardening to Mimic Nature's Amazing and Time Tested Patterns". Or "Sustainable Gardening" for short.

This winter I am expanding my front yard (Zone 1) gardens to include more fruit trees, berry shrubs, perennials and most of my annual veggies. I am using sheet mulching and straw/compost to get the area ready for spring planting. Since part of the area has been a"Lasagna Garden" for years, and all of it has been 'cared for' by my chickens since fall, I am expecting great things form the area.

So, what about the shade? A Forest Garden will eventually develop a canopy that will provide areas of shade, but it is designed so that when it has grown out and begun to mature, it is not just an area filled with trees. My Forest Garden contains areas of full sun, areas of filtered or partial sun  and some areas of shade. In my Forest Garden we will be growing and doing many different things, and sunlight will be a valuable component.

As Larry Corn says: A Forest Garden is Not a dark dense place, it is a sunny happy place with a wonderful diversity of plants and animal life.

I had been adding fruit trees to my yard for several years. Now I am creating guilds around them. Last week we made a trip to an amazing bamboo farm and I've begun several bamboo guilds with the help of my grandson Rusty and a great neighbor, Brody.

Is establishing a Forest Garden in my yard worth the "work"? I'll have to let you know.

What's in it for me? How about fruit, vegetables, herbs, medicinals, rabbit feed, chicken feed, cattle fodder, hog food,timber, pleasure, a place for friends and family to gather and a place to feel centered and close to nature.I believe it will be worth far more than the initial effort. And I'm trusting Larry when he says the Forest Garden becomes less work and more productive as time goes on. I am very optimistic, but guess we'll see.