During November 2017 we held our first Food Forest course at Keela Yoga Farm. This month long course was designed to give the students the full experience of how to design and set up a food forest on an off-grid farm. Take a look at what we got up to, and read on to learn more about what we planted.
To join our next one month long food forest course click here
The photographs below demonstrate some of the things that we got up to during the month long course:
What we built and planted
We have a strong wind that comes in from the North West most days so we planned a windbreak along the west and north west side of the food forest along an existing stone wall. The wall acts as a windbreak for the young trees as they get established. This windbreak not only reduces wind, it also reduces water evaporation and can give us a yield in fruit or timber depending on what you plant. Although our land has a low risk of fire and we have made many fire breaks already, we also put fire into consideration with planting fire resistant trees to protect the food forest from any potential fires. On the wind break we already had cork oak, holm oak and hawthorn growing. We removed all the fire risks such as brambles, broom and mimosa and used them for mulch and compost piles. We then additionally planted cypress, chinese cedar, loquat, fig, pomegranate, honey locust, tilia, paulownia, and silver birch. We set up an irrigation line to all of the trees so that we are ready for the dry summer. Since there were gaps between all of the trees on the wind break as they are young, and already having an irrigation pipe running there, we planted decorative shrubs, cuttings (as a tree nursery in the ground) and slower growing trees such as oaks and corks to succeed the shorter lived trees.
Earth works – a track, a swale and a pond.
We hired a small digger to help us with some of the earthworks for the food forest. We created a new track for car access going around the food forest that was not previously accessible by car. This track now acts as a water catchment feature for the swale and the banks of the track are held together by a compost pile made up from all the material that was collected when clearing the area. This will be used to bring nutrients into the food forest in future years.
Next we created a large swale across the whole of the highest end of the food forest to catch water runoff from the track and rainwater. On the higher end of the swale is a tangerine tree that we planted last year. We also planted bamboo and a guild with a carob tree as a large nitrogen fixer for the food forest. On the lower side of the swale we created a hugelkultur bed with the earth collected from digging the swale, and then we planted two types of nitrogen fixing fuschia trees within the new bed. The whole mound is to be used as a tree propagation bed where we planted many different types of trees that we had previously propagated from a neighbour’s land. We covered both sides of the mound with shrubs, herbs, flowers, ground covers, nitrogen fixing clovers and fava beans as well as garlic seeds which we had saved and stratified from last year.
Our next task was to dig a small but deep pond to catch rainwater which the swale can overflow into. Around this pond area the group planted herbs, shrubs and decorative plants. We plan to also plant aquatic plants and a large nitrogen fixing tree to provide shade to the pond in the future. We had one very rainy night and the swale almost completely filled up and over a few ours drained back into the ground and the pond is already holding water.
The trees and guilds
Five circular guilds in the new food forest
Our new food forest is made up of guilds. Each guild has a keystone tree (the main tree in the guild) as well as a number of supporting plants that support this tree. These are a variety of pollinator attractors, pest deterring plants, predatory insect attractors, nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, groundcovers and shrubs. As it is a new food forest we have placed the climbers by the fences so that they have something to climb up right now, and later we will propagate these and place them back into the food forest. Each guild is planted in a 3 metre diameter circle. We dug out the circle, creating a circular mound around where the tree will be planted. Next we planted the tree and many supporting plants, then filled the circle with fungal dominated compost from our hot compost pile and lots of mulch. When creating a guild, it is important to know what the soil may need from performing tests, and also knowing what the keystone tree needs in terms of nutrients and PH levels. The team was each given certain trees to research so that this information was available prior to planting. We also performed the soil tests early on in the course. The keystone trees were also arranged in order that they support each other. Not only do these plants support the keystone tree but they also provide us with a yield and cover the area where weeds could potentially grow. Planting guilds together aims to mimic a natural forest system that eventually requires minimal maintenance (minimal planting, weeding and digging) and inputs (they should provide their own fertilisers, mulch and propagations)
I will be doing a detailed blog about these guilds but here is a quick summary:
The Orange Tree Guild
In the food forest we planted orange valencia with a guild including: Nitrogen fixing rhizome liquorice to provide the area with some ongoing nitrogen and to provide us with liquorish. Barberry that provides berries which is prevalent in my mother’s Persian cooking. Rhubarb as a shurb. Allium Chinese, a perennial chive like plant to deter pests. Lavender, to attract bees that will pollinate the orange tree. Borage, to bring up nutrients from below the top soil. New Zealand Spinach to cover the ground and give us some green, it is also delicious raw. Oregano and thyme to cover the ground and provide us with herbs. Chamomile, planted all around the circle on the mound as a decorative ground cover, bee attractor and mineral accumulator. Fennel, planted into the guild to attract predatory insects. Fava beans and clovers, planted in all of the left over spaces so that the nitrogen fixing bacteria that live on their roots can fix nitrogen from the air back into the soil and make it availible to the nitrogen loving orange tree.Tulip bulbs, to give us flowers in spring and use up any excess nutrients when the orange tree no longer needs them
Grapefruit Ruby Star
Grapefruit tree, to provide us with fruits and leaves for tea, as the soil is slightly acidic here we included Blueberry liberty as a shrub, Silverweed as a nitrogen fixer, Dynamic Accumulator, Beneficial Insect Attractor, Ground Cover, Edible Roots and Tea Plant, Borage to accumulate minerals, New Zealand Spinach as a ground cover that grows well here, Oregano, myrtle shrub for fruits and leaves and possibly fixing nitrogen, Fennel to attract predatory insect, nitrogen fixer Himalayan indigo shrub to attract pollinators and lemon balm to deter pests. As with all guilds we added fava beans, clovers to fix nitrogen and bulbs for spring flowers.
We also planted many seeds in the greenhouse to add into the guilds in spring such as nasturtium, hysopp, physalis and marigold.
Pineapple Guava tree guild
Guavas can support citrus trees by preventing citrus greening so this is placed central to the ruby star grapefruit, tangerine and orange valencia, with space left to also add a strawberry guava on the other side of the food forest to assist with cross pollination of the guavas.
In this guild we planted Sweet Cicily as a ground cover to also attract pollinators and with edible stalks and leaves, Rosemary to attract bees, Cumfory as a dynamic accumulator, Sage to deter pests, Iris bulbs, Tulip bulbs to hold weeds off add use up nutrients in the spring, Fennel, Oregano, fava beans and clovers
We had already planted two pomegranates we propagated one year ago from a friends house, we planted them with no roots and they grew, we transplanted one to the wind break and the roots looks lovely, it made us realise how much better it is to buy bare rooted trees instead of pot grown ones as the roots are pot bound. The other tree we increased the size of the guild from 1 meter to three meters, this not only ensures people don’t walk on the young root system and compact the soil, but also means the protected area is big enough for a the next few years of growth. Here we added Rosemary, Borage, Bulbs, local rhubarb, chamomile and acid loving plants blueberry and creeping dogwood as a ground cover to go with the pomegranate that also prefers acidic soils.
We also had a cherry tree we planted in march which we increased the size of the guild and added Nz spinach, Fennel, Hyssop, Marigold, Borage, Lemon Grass, Sage, Cramble mertime lilywhite as a ground cover with edible shoots, allium bulbs
Apple Tree guild
We planted an apple with Tayberry (a cross between raspberry and blackberry), NZ Spinach, Welsh onion (Japanese leek), Globe Artichoke, Rosemary, we have sorrel everywhere on the land and its great in salad but quite invasive, we planted a type of sorrel that accumulates minerals with larger leaves and easier to harvest, Rhubarb, Thyme and Oregano
Grey Water System
We have several grey water systems to work on but this November we completed one that we were experimenting with for the kitchen water waste. We made a grease trap, reed bed and irrigation system. The grease trap consists of a box with gravel at the bottom to above the exit hole, it is then filled with straw and composting worms. The straw catches the food scraps and the worms eat them. All the water leaves the box without many sediments but it is often nutrient rich. We made the reed bed system in a bucket full of sand and stones. The reeds use up the nutrients and the sand and stones clean the water further, we also put edible aquatic plants here. Coming out of the reed bed system we installed an irrigation system with taps, one tap for days without rain to a flood based system that waters a new bed of decorative plants. The other tap allows the water to go to an area that we dug and filled with garden waste to compost down. This hole is surrounded by a raised bed that is irrigated by the water, where we planted various shrubs and vegetables. Next year we will review this system as well as work on the grey water system for the outdoor solar shower, the indoor shower and the washing machine.
In our next food forest course in March we plan to study and design the rest of the space and select keystone trees to plant including Loquat, Chinese Dogwood, Bamboo, Black Fig, Strawberry Tree, alder, nitrogen fixers- such as??, chinese wisteria, mulberry, lemon and lime. We will learn about all the requirements of the trees and select the best locations for them and plant them with supporting guild plants. We will also plant around the edges of the food forest and install irrigation systems. We will prepare and build soil for future locations by doing earth tests, and make compost piles, home made fertilizers and compost teas. We will propagate seeds, cuttings and grafts to be added in the future. We will also prune some of the older trees and create a living fence with willow. Building a food forest from scratch is a lot of work and there are a lot of moving parts so we allow one month for the course. If you are interested to learn how to live off grid and set up a food forest from scratch then please click here for more information.
A big thank you to all that attended the course; you inspired us, helped build and fund our food forest.
Our main source of reference for this course include our learnings at Rak Tamachat, Thailand with Bo and a Food Forest course with Doug Crouch, ‘Forest Garden and Perennial Vegetables and Trees’ by Martin Crawford, ‘Managing Woodlands’ and ‘Teaming with Microbes’ by by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. So a big thank you to the authors of these books and course leaders.
We plan to continue with hands on one month long permaculture courses so that you can see what it is really like to do this for yourself. In 2018 we will run two month long food forest courses in March and October, the rest of the year will be natural building focused with courses and volunteer programs to help us build a community building. click here for more information.