Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Growing a Low-maintenance Edible Garden or Food Forest

Everyone loves the idea of homegrown produce, but in reality, it is a lot of work many of our favorite food crops like carrots, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, beans, melons must be planted every year. 

Most of the work happens in spring and fall when we prepare the soil every year, plant every year, and maybe start seeds indoors before the last spring frost. Then there is cleanup in fall after the plants have died.
The typical vegetable garden is also resource-intensive; plants may need to be mulched, fertilized, and watered regularly throughout the season. And unless seeds are saved, new seeds or seedlings must be bought every year. 

But there is another way to grow food. Which in another countries is quite common a returning garden. I’m slowing making most of my garden a returning gift. 

Many food bearing plants can live through winters, even in colder climates, and bear food every year. Hardy perennial plants include common vegetables like asparagus and rhubarb, herbs like thyme and sage, and fruiting plants from groundcover strawberries to caning blackberries and shrubby currants to tree crops like apples, cherries, pears, and nuts. 

Once they are settled in your garden, these plants grow and bear more crops as the years pass, and most of them demand less work with each passing year. There's no replanting, no tilling the soil, no yanking out and disposing of dead plants. There is only a minimal amount of caring for the live plants, and of course, harvesting the food. 

Returning gardens or Food Forest  are communities of perennial plants—from trees down to groundcovers and including plants of varied sizes and habits, many of which produce food for people, and many others of which work to keep the plant community healthy by doing such jobs as attracting pollinators, suppressing weeds, and converting airborne nitrogen to a form other plants can use. 

The biggest work of a returning garden lies in its design. This entails thinking through, as clearly as possible, how plants will perform in the chosen site, and even more importantly, how they will interact with each. Not all plants are friends it is important to research the art of companion gardening to know what works well together. 

Some Things to Remember in a Returning Garden/Food Forest:

Plants Resources:
Remember that different plants grow at different heights; have differently structured roots; leaf out, flower, and set fruit at different times; and manufacture a wide array of chemicals for protection, advertising, and other functions. If you research you will find that some of the chemicals a plant makes will harm or fight other plants growing in the same area. So make sure to check the companion gardening to make sure that the plants are friendly. 

Stagger Your Harvest:
Design your edible garden with the harvest dates for each species in mind. Choose different varieties of a plants to extend the season during which you'll have it fresh food.

A wonderful example of a food forest that inspired me a couple years ago is a 300 year old food forest or returning garden in Vietnam I have attached the video below. 


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