Planning and What to Grow in Your Food Forest

Dan Fruits, Specialty Crops, This Land of Ours, Vegetables

Yesterday you learned about food forest and why you should grow one. Today Cathy Isom tells you how to get started on planning your own food forests and what to grow. That’s coming up on This Land of Ours.


If you’ve got the time and the space why wouldn’t you create your own food forest and literally enjoy the fruits of your labor for years to come?

To get started, pick your location. Instead of grassy, weed-free landscapes, you’ll actually want to pile up organic material where the trees will grow. Start with a thick layer of leaves, grass clippings, pulled weeds, and even kitchen waste. Wherever a tree is going to be planted, mulch the space around it so that new growth will be snuffed out and organic matter decomposes to enrich the soil.

A rule of thumb for starting a food forest from scratch is to grow about 90 percent nitrogen-fixing trees, such as black locust, mimosa, acacia, mesquite or Siberian pea trees to name a few that will be coppiced and cut for firewood and organic material as the fruit trees develop. This nitrogen and organic matter will naturally fertilize the productive trees. Underneath the trees and along the edges should be a collection of culinary herb plants, bushes and shrubs. Pick some that are great pest deterrents – and some that will serve well as health-promoting foods and will also be appealing for bees and butterflies. Groundcovers can be edible, nitrogen-fixing plants like red clovers, that will carpet the ground to prevent it drying out.

In the beginning, everything should be planted at the same time.  Make sure they are perennial or self-seeding so you’re not replanting every year.

I’m Cathy Isom…

Image Credits: (top right) A young Jasper Place High School food forest after its first summer of growth. Containing more than seventy perennial herbs and berries, the food forest is located in the school’s central courtyard. The project was completed by student volunteers from the Jasper Place Permaculture Club. By Dgbajer (Teacher Photo) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

(bottom left) Trees are pruned for backyard orchards at Hayes Valley Farm, a community-built farm on San Francisco’s former Central freeway. After the Loma Prieta earthquake of ’89 damaged the onramp and off ramp, the lot between Oak Street, Fell Street, Octavia and Laguna was vacant for 21 years before the City authorized the site for interim use. The farm is now a permaculture demonstration site. All the soil has been upcycled from the urban waste stream. The farm has used 1,000 cubic yards of horse manure, 2,000 cubic yards of woodchips, and 100,000 pounds of cardboard to cover over an acre of its 2.2 acre lot. By Zoey Kroll (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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