Choosing the right method of establishing a food forest could save you a lot of time. Here Andy Cambeis offers some background and describes two different approaches – each right in its own context.
The pioneer in Western Food Forests, Robert Hart, started his Forest Garden without an establishment concept to guide him. When Bill Mollison picked up the Food Forest idea from him, there was little in the way of methodology for how to establish a Food Forest.
Geoff Lawton was, to my knowledge, the first one who documented a method for establishing a Food Forest. Geoff is used to working on difficult sites, so his method is tailored for this, and ensures you end up with a Food Food even in a very difficult location.
Geoff’s approach is based around phases of succession for every layer of the Food Forest, his goal is to slowly outgrow/out-compete the former plants with his chosen species. He starts with his own aggressive pioneer species that make room for the next species, until it’s all conquered and secured.
Geoff Lawton’s establishment approach is a perfect imitation of how natures works to establish a forest, a sure but slow process. This kind of approach will take 3-5 years of support and escort work, and this is where Geoff uses a lot of “chop & drop” to transit the existing soil into a fertile fungi dominated forest soil.
But wait. . .
What if I want convert a nice flat piece of fertile, formerly farmed land into a Food Forest? Well, you can use Geoff Lawton’s method for every type of site, but why spend 3 years (in colder climates likely longer) if you have land where such an approach is not necessary?
This was my starting point.
I had to modify Geoff Lawton’s method to meet the needs of my client, and the main differences are:
No need for the (conquer) phases of succession.
Everything goes in once the ground cover is established.
– Production plants.
– Nitrogen fixing plants.
– Dynamic nutrient accumulator class plants.
– Beneficial predator and pollinator insects attract plants.
– All planted at the same time.
No need for nursing plants.
– Plants receive proper treatment at planting time and that’s it.
The establishment of a very-dense ground cover, is the key to success
Sufficient nitrogen fixing and nutrient accumulation plants at each layer, from the start.
Establishment in small (700m2) but fully functional forest clusters.
– Stackable to unlimited sizes.
Geoff Lawton’s priority is to keep the ground cover and herb layer securely occupied rather than to have these layers be productive (to humans). This is certainly something you might have to do if your Food Forest is surrounded by aggressive and invasive species. Using a productive ground cover and herb layer approach in sub-tropical bush, with it’s high pressure of invasive species, is not realistic, but you can do this in Hawea Flat or Urban areas of Waiheke.
So be aware to tailor your Food Forest establishment method to your needs, and it probably makes sense to not mix different establishment methods.
There’s no reason to spend lots of time to completely remove the grass in the subtropical bush
– You won’t be able to grow much on the ground cover layer anyway.
There’s no reason to use a time-consuming strategy of “over-stacking” with pioneer species, for a Food Forest in Hawea Flat.
Andy Cambeis was the driving force behind the establishment of the Hawea Flat Food Forest and will be at the Food Forest Hui (Sep 26-28) to share his ideas.