Forest Farming &
photo by Sam.D
Forest Gardening and, on a larger scale, Forest Farming, are the most productive of all forms of land use.
Modeled on natural woodland and designed to be edible, a Forest Garden has several layers of vegetation, including trees of varying sizes, shrubs and plants. These layers may include The Higher Canopy of tall trees, The Lower Canopy consisting of standard-size fruit and nut trees, The Shrub Layer consisting of fruit and nut trees on dwarfing rootstocks, along with soft-fruit bushes, The Herbaceous Layer consisting of vegetables and herbs, The Ground-Cover Layer consisting of dewberries and creeping herbs, The Rhizosphere consisting of roots, rhizomes, tubers and bulbs, and The Vertical Layer, consisting of edible climbers which may reach to the heights of the canopy. On all levels of this Garden of Abundance, there are Nature’s gifts of crops.
photo by hopkinsii
In Forest Gardening, the entire landscape can become edible, not only woodlands on many levels from tree canopy to ground cover to subterranean, but also from ponds to lawns and hedges, including ornamental garden shrubs. In the creation of such gardens, there are around 7,500 edible or otherwise useful trees, shrubs and plants to choose from, whose edible parts include leaves, flowers, fruits, nuts, stems, sap and roots, and all of which grow or may be grown in temperate climates such as the United Kingdom and Ireland. A Forest Garden, small or large-scale, thriving on diversity, may include any of these, providing foods for a vast range of delicious and nourishing dishes, along with culinary and medicinal herbs, and materials for an array of survival needs.
Unfortunately, few have much knowledge of these trees, plants and shrubs. While a rare few may be versed in their botanical names, we know almost nothing of their gifts, their nourishing, healing, and other qualities, not even our farmers, agriculturalists and horticulturalists, whose task it is to provide us with these fruits of Nature.
The Most Efficient form of Agriculture
Forest Garden of Robert Hart, founder of Forest Gardening.
photo by Graham Burnett
The Forest Garden is an integrated whole-system approach to the cultivation of wholesome foods, which is Earth-friendly, life-enhancing, productive, healthy and delightful for all involved. It has many special features and advantages, one of the greatest of which is that, once created, it requires the minimum of external inputs. Like the natural forest, it is a multi-story, self-regulating eco-system and, thus, close to self-perpetuating. Composed of perennial trees, shrubs and plants, and annuals that are self-seeding, the soil is never ploughed and rarely dug. There is no use of chemical fertilizers, because there is no need for them. Properly designed, the Forest Garden is self-fertilizing. Deep-rooting trees, bushes and herbs draw upon minerals in the subsoil, making them available to their neighbours. The system includes edible legumes that inject nitrogen into the soil and mineral-rich plants which inject calcium. There is no use of pesticides, because these too are not required. Any complex comprising a wide spectrum of different plants does not allow the build-up of epidemics such as those which affect monocultures. There is no unnatural buildup of insects which, by human definition, become “pests”, purely as a result of unwholesome and destructive agricultural practices that upset Nature’s balances. Nor is there any build-up of disease germs, for the same reasons. Simply allowed to be, the Forest Garden, aided by the presence of aromatic and other herbs with their healing radiations, is self-healing. It becomes self-mulching and substantially self-weed-suppressing as rapidly spreading herbs, such as mints and balm, soon cover the ground between trees and bushes, thus creating permanent living mulch. It is also self-watering, even in times of drought, as deep-rooting plants tap spring-veins in the subsoil, pumping up water for the benefit of the whole system.
photo by CaptPiper
The Most Productive form of Land Use
Foresting Gardening/Farming accomplishes the ultimate in diversity and abundance. While it is the most productive of all forms of land use it is also the most wholesome and efficient of all forms of food production, vastly more so than what is called ‘modern’ agriculture, an absurdly costly, hugely damaging, relatively unproductive, heavily oil-dependent, and ultimately unsustainable activity, which has been described as “one of the greatest misadventures of our age”.
We need sane, viable and sustainable alternatives. Forest Gardening (& Farming) – a whole-system approach and one of the most intelligent, productive, efficient, cost-effective, Earth-Friendly, Nature-friendly, People-friendly, and sustainable of all land usages – is one of them; and needs to be promoted.
Unfortunately, there are few demonstration models. They are urgently required.
Aims of the Foundation
The aims of The Living Tree Educational Foundation include:
- Promoting the concept of Forest Gardens – particularly, though not exclusively, in Ireland
- Encouraging the creation of Forest Gardens as demonstration models for inspirational as well as educational purposes
- Developing modules and conducting educational workshops and courses relating to the creation and maintenance of Forest Gardens
- Establishing a Faculty of Forest Gardening, which warrants being a subject of study in its own right
photo by Harper Stone
The Foundation has acquired four acres of woodland, known as The Grove of Akademus, in the townland of Drimnamore, near Sneem, County Kerry, on the west coast of Ireland, as the location of its first Forest Garden. Clearly, where trees are concerned, this is a medium to long-term project. Preliminary landscaping, which includes basic infrastructural work such as drainage and the clearing of invasive rhododendrons, has only just begun.
The above extracts are from Gospel of the Living Tree: for Mystics, Lovers, Poets & Warriors by Roderic Knowles, published by (and available online from) Earth Cosmos Press