Edible Forest garden
Created: 16.01.2019, 15:05 Póvoa Nova
Updated: 09.02.2019, 10:35
Designing and selecting plants
After more than sixteen months of living and observing this site with an unusual start with the October 2017 firestorm, I got a fairly good idea how to continue with my permaculture project and more specific the edible forest garden. For a realistic start for one man on an 1,5 ha land, I will concentrate on Zone 1 and partially on Zone 2 and 3. Furthermore plan ahead for several years, not doing it all in one go, which is not feasible.
This means that I will concentrate on perennial plants that are suited for my conditions: Zone 8b (-9.4°C to -6.7°C), 924m above sea level, a temperate Mediterranean climate: hot summers, cold winters with rain and wind gushes. The prevailing wind is from the East. This is currently already protected by very mature sweet chestnut trees and pine. So only the West flank is a bit exposed. It is expected to have a rainy month around April each year. The soil is sandy, at some places even very rocky, pH is acidic (4.5-5 pH), well drained but has also some very wet water logging spots (mainly near the stream and the numerous springs). Compacted grass and weeds are dominating the plot, this means that sowing seeds is not an option. Ground preparation is the main goal and priority right now.
At the start of my project I was somewhat naive. I was only looking at plants that suited the hardiness zone, not the soil conditions. So I now want to choose carefully based on my conditions rather than quickly responding to an impuls decision at the local garden centre.
I have been reading and studying the ‘Creating A Forest Garden’ by the author Martin Crawford (Agroforestry Research Trust), and at the start of every edible forest, it seems to concentrate on nitrogen-fixing trees and scrubs and with a self-fertilising nature and with multipurpose; they may have a main function or crop but will very often also have a number of other uses. Based on this I have come up with a list of plants for the windbreak and hedge, but also gradually preparing other areas with nitrogen fixing plants with a plus bonus that they have secondary use like edible fruits or leaves, coppicing, or having thorns to keep out the unwanted ‘guest’.
For Zone 1, the garden nearest the main building and North facing, this means ground preparation and planting acidic tolerant pioneer shrubs, because I want to keep the growing low to not shade the underneath terraces, including the Ericaceae family (blueberries, gooseberries, cranberries, Gaultheria spp.), the strawberry tree (Arbutues unedo). And I will bring in livestock (chickens).
For Zone 2 and 3 I will concentrate on ground preparation on those areas for the windbreaker and hedge (e.g. Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umb.) by keeping the grass and weeds cut down and if mulch is nearby available, mulch the area.
Elaeagnus x ebbingei
Elaeagnus x ebbingei
Main use: Nitrogen fixer for several zones (1, 2 and 3)
Secondary use: Edible fruits and bee plant
The main reason why I am choosing the Elaeagnus x ebbingei is because it is very tolerant of different site conditions. I can plant them in the full shade but also in full sun exposure. A Bee plant and a nitrogen fixer.
It is an evergreen shrub growing 4 metres high and eventually about the same width. When planted under trees it will adopt a semi-climbing habit and will reach its way up into the bottom branches. It is very tolerant of pruning, however, and can be easily kept much smaller.
It far prefers a well-drained soil, is capable of growing in very poor soils and, once established, is very drought resistant and will succeed in quite dry soils. The plants are said to be hardy to about -20 C, though of course this is an arbitrary figure and the actual cold hardiness will also depend on other factors such as wetness and exposure.
The plants are usually very easy to grow. They have shown considerable resistance to honey fungus and, apart from slugs eating out the young shoots of small plants, they are not usually attacked by insects, pests or diseases.
I have not seen the E. x ebbingei in local nurseries yet, so I ordered these online and they come from the UK. Lower picture: I received the first three ones two weeks ago. They will continue in my nursery and will be planted when they reach at least an height of 45-50 cm.
Elaeagnus umbellata, AUTUMN OLIVE
Main use: Windbreaker, hedge. Very good nitrogen fixer for several zones (1, 2 and 3)
Secondary use: Edible fruits. Great plant for wild /bumble bees
For my hedge and windbreaker on the West/North flank of the property this multipurpose plant can grow up to 5m high (or higher in warmer climates) and wide. This is a deciduous Elaeagnus and comes early into leave in February and loses leaves in December, so is not out of leaf for long. The fruits make fine jams and leathers*.
It is unfussy as to soil, tolerates some shade and exporsure - good in hedges. Little maintenance needed.
I have ordered my first 10 plants online and as the E x ebbingei, they will first stay in the nursery until they are big enough to survive on their own.
*Fruit leathers: This is a method of preserving fruit. The fruit is made into a puree, then dried. Spread thinly in a pan then dried in sunlight or low temp oven until it is like leather. Then cut it to strips.
Symphytum spp., COMFREYS
Main use: Mulching, a clump-forming evergreen herbaceous perennial that creeps slowly via rhizomes. Nitrogen-fixer and well-known for an excellant mineral accumulator. Firstly to be used in zone 1 and later on also zone 2.
Secondary use: Great bee plant. The leaves and roots of S. officinale have long been used medicinally.
This is a great plant with multipurpose uses: Nitrogen-fixer and a very good nutrient accumulator. Cut comfrey is an excellent mulch, degrading fast and supplying nitrogen and potassium. Comfrey plants can be cut once or twice a year without having to particularly feed them, but they can be cut four or five times a year if they are fed, for example with urine.
Easy propagation method via root cuttings: Comfreys are known for being propagated like this. So I can keep on increasing and expanding the use of this plant.
Perfect ground layer for nut trees: Most nuts have to be harvested from beneath the tree as they either fall naturally or are shaken down. If they are to be allowed to land on the ground and collected from there, it is no good having a thick perennial layer of plants actively growing - you’ll be forever peering amongst the foliage to search for nuts. Commercial growers use either grass or bare soil beneath nut trees (or olive) for this reason. But there are other possibilities in a forest garden - for example, you could have a dense patch of comfrey beneath the tree canopy, which is cut to the ground in autumn just before the nuts start to fall. You’ll then, in effect, have bare soil to harvest from. The comfrey plants will regrow strongly the next spring, though you’ll have mostly bare soil there over the winter. (source: ‘Creating a Forest Garden’, Martin Crawford)
More future nitrogen-fixing plants on my wish-list
As soon as I have introduced the here-under listed plants into my Forest garden, I will explain the main use (and the secondary) and the design why and where (multi-function elements) I want these plants in my permaculture project.
In this start-up phase, while the perennials are still in the ‘nursery’ stage, I will grow for the first two or more seasons: annuals, and experimenting with guilds; See what works (and what not) and think of some of my own creations on a system that is self-supporting, accumulating nutrients, creating shade and moisture, and eliminating weeds and grass. Thus having produce to becoming more self-sufficient.
|Bayberries||Myrica spp.||Nitrogen-fixing trees|
|Bog myrtle||Myrica gale||Nitrogen-fixing shrubs|
|Northern bayberry||Myrica pensylvanica||Nitrogen-fixing shrubs|
|Common Alder||Alnus glutinosa||Large/med tree: Nitrogen & coppicing|
|Californian bayberry||Myrica californica||Small tree/large shrub|
|Wax myrtle ||Myrica cerifera||Small tree/large shrub|
|Russian liquorice||Glycyrrhiza echinata||Herbaceous perennials|
|Liquorice||Glycyrrhiza glabra||Herbaceous perennials|
|Gunnera||Gunnera magellanica||Herbaceous perennials|
|Chilean rhubarb||Gunnera tinctoria||Herbaceous perennials|
|Everlasting pea (climber)||Lathyrus latifolius||Herbaceous perennials|
|Wood pea (climber)||Lathyrus sylvestris||Herbaceous perennials|
|Earthnut pea||Lathyrus tuberosus||Herbaceous perennials|
|Greater bird's foot trefoil||Lotus uliginosus||Herbaceous perennials|
|White clover||Trifolium repens||Herbaceous perennials|
|Wood vetch (climber)||Vicia sylvatica||Herbaceous perennials|