A New Vision
Plants and Gardens News
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
by Patricia Jonas
But even if you grow enough organic food to feed yourself, are you doing what's best for the ecosystem? "Many drawbacks of modern agriculture persist in organic farming and gardening," Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier write in Edible Forest Gardens, because they do not "mimic the structure of natural systems, only selected functions." Even Quail Hill Farm members are still harvesting mostly annual crops grown in plowed fields. Jacke and Toensmeier offer a radical vision for stepping out of the conceptual continuum of conventional agriculture and organic farming. They point to the productivity of temperate forests—which is twice that of agricultural land in terms of net calories—and take that as their design model. Building on Robert Hart's classic book, Forest Gardening, and incorporating permaculture practice, Jacke and Toensmeier propose a garden where many species of edible perennial plants are grown together in a design that mimics forest structure and function.
Edible Forest Gardens is an ambitious two-volume work whose influence should extend well beyond ecologists and permaculturists and, in the best of all outcomes, reach into the mainstream. Volume one lays out the "Ecological Vision and Theory for Temperate Climate Permaculture," and it also includes a very useful analysis of existing forest gardens (one only 50 by 90 feet) and a tantalizing 30-page appendix of "top 100" species. As of this writing, volume two, which focuses on practical design and maintenance considerations, is just being released, but on the evidence of volume one, I have no doubt the set will be an indispensable reference for gardeners and farmers for decades.
"When people have food gardens," the authors write, "they usually are tucked out of sight and out of view of the neighbors. They rely on external inputs of energy, nutrients, insect and disease controls, and water and are based primarily on annual plants. For some reason, growing food is considered unsightly, unseemly, possibly antisocial, and in some towns and cities, illegal! The tremendous infrastructure we have built in our cities and towns reflects a culture and horticulture of separation and isolation." The consequences of such attitudes about growing food have been disastrous, and each of us can contribute to the repair effort. Jacke and Toensmeier say that the principles of forest gardening can be applied even in a tiny urban yard or on a rooftop. Containers of edible perennials and annuals on a rooftop are not most farmers' idea of agriculture, but I grow nearly 20 percent of the authors' top 100 species and intend to look for ways to take this small start much further.
And what about chocolate and oranges? Clearly there are foods that cannot be grown in a temperate forest. "We do not expect forest gardening to replace regular gardening or the foods we know and love," the authors admit. "Just how far we can take forest gardening in supplying food for ourselves is not yet determined." Finding the answer may be the most optimistic work gardeners and farmers can do.
Review from Bookwatch
Don't expect the usual light gardening guide reading, Volume 1 of EDIBLE FOREST GARDENS: ECOLOGICAL VISION AND THEORY FOR TEMPERATE CLIMATE PERMACULTURE packs in serious surveys of the ancient practice of forest gardening, which offers homeowners and gardeners a new way of viewing modern home landscaping and nature. Useful plants can be blended to supply daily needs, the land can be 'untamed' to return support to healthy populations of plant and animal species. Years of experience goes into EDIBLE FOREST GARDENS; this first volume provides a review of the ecological and cultural foundations for recognizing forest gardening as a viable ecological alternative in modern North America. Dave Jacke runs his own ecological design firm consulting on permaculture and landscapes around the world; his co-author Eric Toensmeier founded the former Perennial Vegetable Seed Company and has worked with the New England Small Farm Institute. A highly recommended pick; especially for college-level and serious collections on permaculture and horticulture.
by Greg Williams
We’ve been eagerly awaiting this book (and Volume 2, Ecological Design and Practice for Temperate Climate Permaculture, due out soon) for several years. Years ago, we publicized an offer from Dave Jacke (a long-time HortIdeas subscriber) for pre-orders to help subsidize research. Probably no one who pre-ordered (and certainly not ourselves), nor even Jacke himself, expected the enormity of the outcome: two weighty tomes with the potential to found a new discipline in temperate-zone horticultural science: “forest gardening.”
There have been numerous previous attempts to extol “gardening in the image of the forest.” But Edible Forest Gardens stands apart from those attempts not only in its comprehensiveness and detail, but also (and most importantly to us) in its approach….
… Edible Forest Gardens, … makes absolutely no pretense to contain cut-and-dried answers. Jacke and Toenmeier are refreshingly candid about the need for (a lot of) scientific research to point toward methods and plant species that might allow truly advantageous alternatives to conventional resourceintensive horticultural practices. And they don’t claim that the pathway to, and the practice of, forest gardening will be easy. On the other hand, they succeed admirably in giving investigations into forest gardening possibilities the aura of a grand adventure—an adventure that could be hugely rewarding for backyard gardeners. (And with the current and projected directions of professional horticultural research in developed countries, the most significant research on forest gardening techniques is likely to be accomplished by amateurs!) That isn’t to say that such research is destined to show that forest gardening in some form can replace annual-based gardening in general in temperate areas. What it will show, assuming that the research is properly carried out, is the extent to which at least some forest gardening methods truly deserve adoption on a large scale. This is the way to move enthusiasm for studying the potential of temperate-zone forest farming beyond enclaves of cult-like veneration into mainstream consciousness.
So, we unreservedly recommend Edible Forest Gardens as a textbook for gardeners who are able to participate, with their peers, in a research program that might show how industrial agriculture can be supplanted in temperate zones. The very real possibility that amateurs could be instrumental in “reforming” 21st-century food production provides a great opportunity for gardeners to become scientists. We’d like to see an amateur research network get underway with Internet communication among participants and electronic dissemination of significant findings.
The first volume of Edible Forest Gardens is, as its subtitle indicates, mainly about the general ecological basis for forest gardening in temperate zones, with chapters on natural forest features, the forest as a metaphor for structuring production of food and other goods, forest plant and soil structures, social organizations in forests, soil microbiology, and forest changes over time (with a particularly valuable review of hypotheses about how forest plant populations change over time, including critiques of the venerable notion of “succession”). There are many references to scientific publications, case studies of existing temperate-zone gardens that emphasize perennial crops, and an appendix with information on “Forest Gardening’s ‘Top 100’ Species,” selected from the hundreds of species included in the second volume. The “Top 100” list whets our appetite to devour volume two! Also included is a glossary of (mainly) biological terms. The index unfortunately lists plants only by common names—only a tiny flaw in a lovely gem!
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by Greg Williams
We reviewed the first volume of this two-volume set in September 2005 HortIdeas—in fact, we were so impressed by it that we devoted that month’s Book Reviews section entirely to it. Until Mycelium Running—another amazingly important and well-done book—appeared, we were considering doing the same this month for the second volume of Edible Forest Gardens, which is much thicker (by more than 270 pages!) than the first volume. The shorter length of this review certainly does not reflect the relative importance of the volumes—we recommend that anyone interested in experimenting with temperate-zone “gardening in the image of the forest” should study both.
Although Volume 2 ostensibly emphasizes “practical” information building on the “theoretical” ideas in Volume 1, it is clear that both volumes are essentially theoretical. That’s because (as we discussed in our review of Volume 1) nobody has yet convincingly shown the viability of forest gardening (relying heavily on perennial crops) in temperate areas as a sustainable alternative to conventional gardening (based mainly on annual crops). Jacke and Toensmeier are, admirably, attempting to disseminate ideas gathered from a variety of source that might enable such viability. Ultimately, at this stage development of temperate-zone forest gardening techniques, virtually all approaches are experimental and in need of validation. We simply do not currently know their limitations.
Understanding that knowledge on “nest practices” for temperate-zone forest gardening needs to be established experimentally can be exciting for those willing and able to adopt the scientific attitude: no matter how they turn out, the results of an experiment, performed appropriately (meaning especially that adequate control treatments are provided), are never “bad.” In other words, we think that would-be temperate-zone forest gardeners who are sincerely interested in helping to establish this novel form of agriculture should proceed by trying to test some of Jacke and Toensmeier’s numerous design, site preparation, species choice and establishment, and management guidelines. We view Volume 2 of Edible Forest Gardens not as a recipe book for what works but rather as a compendium of possibilities for what could work—an invitation par excellence to experimentation instead of complacency. Right on!
By Verlyn Klinkenborg
New York Times
June 5, 2005
...the book I will be keeping by me for the seasons ahead -- aside from one or two by Farrer -- is EDIBLE FOREST GARDENS (Chelsea Green, $75), by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. In its way, this book -- the first of two volumes -- is a sequel to the wonderful 'Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture
(1929), by J. Russell Smith. Dense, knotty, as apparently inedible as an acorn lying in the road, Edible Forest Gardens
nonetheless offers a vision of the garden that reaches well beneath its aesthetic surface and into its ecological depths. It reminds us that whatever gardens are an oasis from, they can never be an oasis from the natural world or our own underlying economic needs.