The temperate Edible Forest Garden (EFG) movement began in the UK with Robert Hart. Even though some think he made ‘every mistake in the book’ it still fed him and his brother with leftovers for locals over many years. A forest garden is such a highly productive system that even first attempts at the idea created an abundance of food. Robert wrote several books on forest gardening as well as ecology. His best known work is "Forest Gardening".
Patrick Whitefield built on Hart’s idea and his book “How to make a Forest Garden” was one of my first permaculture books. It inspired me to turn three plum trees with grass under them into a forest garden that I ate out of daily.
When I came across Dave Jacke’s double volumed "Edible Forest Gardens" (with Eric Toensmeier) I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and dipped in and out of them until I did Dave's course recently at Milkwood Permaculture. Over many years of design and implementation of edible forest gardens, with the largest project to date at Wellesley College in Massechusetts, the tomes have much to share. His course re-introduced me to the appendices at the back of volume 2 – with many tables on plant use, how they work in forest garden guilds, and a huge amount of useful information for people growing fruit trees.
Also of use for fruit tree growers are two ways Dave uses guilds – the ‘resource partitioning guild’ and the ‘mutual support guild’. EFGs are a mimic of a forest. As permaculturists we recognise that forests have at least three vegetation layers above the ground. These layers partition the light coming into the system. Fruit trees are often the overstory in a mixed orchard, but they can be a middle story growing near to but not under other larger food trees like oaks and chestnuts, for example in a ‘forest edge’ type pattern.
In EFGs we must also be aware that a resource partitioning guild also takes the underground economy into account, with soil moisture and nutrients also being shared with other plants. When we look at fruit trees in our systems we must look at their root structure and tolerances as well as their above ground habits. This tells us the best way to work with the physical structures when choosing the plants in our EFG and how we work with succession.
When we create guilds around our heavily cropping fruit trees it is also important to create a mutual support guild. What plants and animals aid our fruit trees varies with each species, root stock and cultivar and requires a detailed needs analysis for each variation. The pear is an example that Dave Jacke uses; European Pears need calcium, and growing an understory of comfrey that bio-accumulates calcium is a good pairing for around its roots. This guild with more suitable plants can be seen above, from the cover of Dave Jacke’s Edible forest garden books. A full size pic is at Milkwood’s blog: http://milkwood.net/2011/11/18/gardening-like-a-forest-podcast-with-dave-jacke/
In our mutual support guilds we can also create year round nectar availability for bees and specialist feeders like hoverflies and give these important pollinators and predator species habitat and fodder and increase our fruit tree yields. Plants like yarrow with many functions as a nectarary, dynamic accumulator and living much plant are excellent additions to forest gardens.
The Wellesley EFG project can be found here:
This article was originally written for the Permaculture Melbourne Newsletter - "Permaculture Information Exchange" or "PIE". This edition has pages of excellent info on fruit trees - you can join Permaculture Melbourne for access to this amazing resource. There is so much more for me to write on my learning from Dave Jacke - but I do recommend people get the books I've mentioned above and give forest gardening a go. And let me know how you're going or if you need some advice!
I have lots of pics of my forest gardens at http://www.flickr.com/photos/boodicusducky/sets/72157625608069701/
and implementation of the Heritage fruit orchard/forest garden at