Growing a food forest has many advantages over a traditional garden style. Once it has been established, the benefits more than makeup for the work needed to maintain it. To grow an effective food forest, effective layering is crucial. With the right plants in each layer and the proper tools, you can create an ecosystem that will provide for you and the surrounding environment for years to come.
What is a Food Forest?
A food forest, also known as a forest garden, is a garden that mimics the structure of a natural forest ecosystem. It’s layered vertically, which uses space more efficiently than the average garden and allows plants within to receive the optimal amount of sunlight. This results in a larger harvest, a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, and less work to maintain it.
Essential Plants by Layer
Effective food forest layers and planning are crucial for a productive yield. There are seven layers of food forest plants that make use of the most vertical space, and each layer has an important purpose.
Large trees that bear fruits and nuts make up the canopy layer of your food forest. You may also use trees, like nitrogen-fixers, which improve your soil. This layer is probably only useful to you if you have a large space for your food forest. Walnut trees are an excellent choice for the canopy layer of a forest because they grow quickly, provide broad canopies, and produce tasty walnuts.
If you’re growing your food forest in your backyard or a space that’s similar in size, the sub-canopy layer will probably be your top layer. It includes dwarf trees or naturally smaller trees that reach between 10 and 30 feet, such as pear trees, which add another food-bearing layer to your food forest.
Shrubs are great for food forests, as they improve the fertility of the soil, which helps your trees grow. They can also reduce stress on your trees as they grow by blocking wind and keeping the soil moist and shaded. Shrubs, such as raspberry bushes, produce a quicker harvest than most plants and are self-fertile.
The herbaceous layer of your food forest is for your vegetables. Using perennial vegetables or varieties that self-seed can eliminate a lot of the maintenance work for you. Alternatively, you can plant flowers that support the insects that benefit your food forest. There are many plants to choose from for your herbaceous layer, including garlic, thyme, and camomile plants.
The groundcover layer fills in the space left by the taller layers and provides more shade for the soil. It also helps to prevent weeds from growing in your food forest. For your groundcover layer, strawberry plants bear delicious strawberries and provide sufficient soil coverage.
Root crops are excellent as food or for their medicinal properties. You can use your root crop layer to grow perennial vegetables, such as onions or leeks, or roots, like ginger or ginseng for an effective root crop layer.
Climbers are the vines or vertical layers that climb the woody plants and can grow from the ground all the way to the top. Just make sure they don’t wrap around your other plants as they grow. Grape vines are a beautiful, fruit-bearing plant for the climber layer of your food forest.
You can grow a diverse and sustainable food forest with many types of plants. It largely depends on what you want to achieve. If you layer your food forest plants the right way, you can achieve amazing results that last for years and years!