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Food Forest

A food forest, or forest garden, is a type of sustainable agroforestry system that mimics the structure and functions of a natural forest but focuses on growing edible plants, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and nuts. In a food forest, plants are strategically arranged in different layers, creating a diverse and productive ecosystem that requires less maintenance and supports biodiversity.

Key Features of a Food Forest:

  1. Layers: Food forests typically have seven layers:
    • Canopy Trees: Tall fruit and nut trees that provide shade and shelter.
    • Subcanopy Trees: Smaller fruit and nut trees that thrive in the partial shade of the canopy layer.
    • Shrubs: Berry bushes and fruiting shrubs.
    • Herbaceous Layer: Low-growing herbs and vegetables.
    • Ground Cover: Plants that cover the soil, suppress weeds, and protect against erosion.
    • Climbers: Vines and climbing plants that utilize vertical space.
    • Root Layer: Edible plants with underground parts, like tubers and bulbs.
  2. Polyculture: Food forests promote polyculture, which means growing multiple species together. This diversity enhances ecological resilience and reduces the risk of pests and diseases.
  3. Perennial Plants: Most plants in a food forest are perennials, which means they live for multiple years. This minimizes the need for replanting and promotes long-term sustainability.
  4. Natural Processes: Food forests aim to mimic natural ecosystems by using natural processes like nutrient cycling and beneficial interactions between plants and organisms.

Species to Include in Arid Southern Africa: When creating a food forest in arid regions of Southern Africa, it’s essential to choose plants that are well-adapted to dry conditions. Here are some suitable species for each layer:

  1. Canopy Trees:
    • Marula (Sclerocarya birrea)
    • Baobab (Adansonia digitata)
    • Moringa (Moringa oleifera)
  2. Subcanopy Trees:
    • Wild Plum (Harpephyllum caffrum)
    • Monkey Orange (Strychnos spp.)
  3. Shrubs:
    • Num-Num (Carissa macrocarpa)
    • Natal Plum (Carissa bispinosa)
  4. Herbaceous Layer:
    • Spekboom (Portulacaria afra)
    • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
  5. Ground Cover:
    • Creeping Rosemary (Carpobrotus edulis)
    • Namaqualand Daisy (Dimorphotheca sinuata)
  6. Climbers:
    • Indigenous Grapevine (Rhoicissus spp.)
    • Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis)
  7. Root Layer:
    • Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
    • Wild Onion (Tulbaghia violacea)

These are just a few examples, and there are many more suitable species for an arid food forest in Southern Africa. It’s essential to consider factors such as local climate, soil conditions, and water availability when selecting plants for your food forest. Additionally, incorporating native and drought-resistant species can enhance the ecosystem’s sustainability and promote biodiversity.

Creating a food forest is an exciting and rewarding way to grow food while supporting the environment. By embracing the principles of a food forest and choosing appropriate species, you can create a resilient and abundant oasis even in arid regions.

Here’s some more info:

Plant Wild forests in circles. Make a bed of 2.5m diameter. Put a big tree (ideally food or fodder tree) in the middle for shade and wind protection. Plant medium trees in the rest of the circle, plant climbers like cucumbers to climb up the tree, plant pumpkins etc on the outside so they have space to grow out and they will fix nitrogen

This is an incredible natural food forest grown in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India

Here are some common combinations you could try:

Rain fed Forest

Use a high growing legume (nitrogen fixer) and grow it like a large umbrella, then plant everything else underneath (like cleavers” or “stickywilly.” under a Camelthorn). Our Acacias are Legumes – so we can use all of them. Perhaps use fast growing ones like the Apies doring.

We should also plant a lot of big trees in rows across the landscape – species which can survive and thrive over time and grow fast – these rows will influence the wind which will in turn create more rainfall. (Would be an interesting experiment :))

We can use tree planting water pots (pots holding a years supply of water, 16 Litres. See the Groasis Waterboxx ) to establish these trees without irrigation pipes.

You should not grow root crops in greywater reed beds – but you can grow leaf crops.

Desert food forest chop n drop – coppicing to increase yield by building soil. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKHRjAEgjHM

We protect our young trees with a tree shelter such as those from Tubex. https://www.tubex.com/

Drip Irrigated Forest

Some forests guilds may thrive but we will need to “seed” them with drip irrigation so that the trees can establish themselves.

How about Apiesdoring, Sweetpotato?

Greywater Forest

Our more productive forests will likely need more water. These can be established close to greywater or blackwater reed beds or gravel pits. As the forest gets established we can grow them out from there. Can we grow coffee here?? We could get 40kg of coffee per tree…lets try!!

Designing the food forest;

When designing Food forests, consider the physical layers (7 layers) and the time stack (so you have fast growing nitrogen fixing ground covers first, then shrubs, bushes, small trees then large trees and you end up with permanent nitrogen fixer as climax. You will have the time layers at the edge of the forest where you keep growing it outward.

Worthwhile videos

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