When people think of a food forest, they might picture a sprawling landscape filled with fruit trees, vines, and lush undergrowth filled with edible berries and herbs.
While this is the dream, food forests don’t always have to be big. They can also be fit into small spaces like yards and balconies if you get creative with your solutions. The main goal is to mimic natural ecosystems and cultivate appropriate plants for your climate and soil.
What is a Food Forest?
Also called a forest garden, a food forest attempts to imitate nature. Unlike a farm that cultivates a single crop in a vertical position, food forests utilize up to eight different growth layers found in the woods. The focus is on growing plants that benefit each other and promote growth and a healthy ecosystem.
Food forests emphasize trees, shrubs, perennials, and self-seeding annuals. To manage a food forest, you should avoid disturbing natural systems and use minimally invasive cultivation methods. These include designing natural water-catchment areas and arranging plants to create micro-climates and windbreaks.
How Do You Build a Food Forest With Limited Space?
When it comes to food forests, the more space, the better. However, you can still replicate some of the principles of food forest design even in a small area like a backyard.
Here are some tips to follow when designing your food forest:
Make a list of suitable plants according to growth layer
Try to include as many growth layers as possible, from vines and shrubs to roots and trees. A thriving food forest will have several plants in each layer.
Plan according to terrain and plant size
Think about the mature size of your plants when laying out your plans. It’s better to space them out more than have them overcrowd each other. Use the terrain to your advantage when designing water drainage and collection points. Plant around these features according to your plants’ needs.
Don’t forget about the animals
Animals are essential for healthy food forests. Ponds, bug hotels, birdhouses, and small caves will attract various animals to help manage pests and contribute to a vibrant ecosystem.
Use permeable materials
Use gravel and stepping stones for your walking paths to create natural drainage. It will help water and oxygen permeate the soil and benefit the root systems.
Planning a Food Forest in Accordance to Environment
Since food forests are built to mimic nature, first conduct a soil test to learn more about the types of plants that will grow best in your soil. Remember, food forests are more permanent than gardens, so it will be difficult to amend the soil after your plants are established.
You should never apply non-organic fertilizers to a forest garden. Instead, utilize nutrient-accumulating plants and nitrogen-fixers to add nutrients to the soil. If your soil is deficient in specific nutrients, add organic compost or organic soil amendments in limited quantities.
Then, conduct some research on the plants that are native to your area. These plants will thrive in your native soil and won’t require additional soil amendments. They’ve also evolved to grow alongside each other, not compete with each other, and contribute to the ecosystem’s overall health.
In addition, never spray any herbicides or pesticides. If you maintain a healthy, balanced ecosystem, natural predators will manage pest populations.
When building a food forest in a limited space, don’t rush the planning process. You don’t have as much room for mistakes, so think about what your food forest will look like in a year, in five years, and ten years.
Take inspiration from full-sized food forests and try to replicate them on a smaller scale by limiting your plant selection to those that will thrive in your specific climate. With careful planning and hard work, you’ll be able to enjoy harvesting food from your miniature food forest for years to come.