Introduction: A Forest Gardener’s Tool Kit
Perhaps we seek to recreate the Garden of Eden, and why not? We believe that a low-energy, high-yield agriculture is a possible aim for the whole world, and that it needs only human energy and intellect to achieve this.
—Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, Permaculture One, 19781
The forest gardening vision brings humans and nature into a mutually enhancing embrace as co-creative participants in our shared health and evolution. In volume 1 we explored this vision as a practice that re-integrates humans with the natural world, and that both supports and requires a paradigm shift if we are to succeed. Forest gardening uses the overarching strategy of ecosystem mimicry to achieve this re-integration. Mimicry also helps us achieve our more practical goals of high, diverse yields of food and other products; a self-renewing, self-fertilizing, self-maintaining garden; and healthy ecosystem function. To mimic the forest, we must clearly comprehend the structure and function of our forest ecosystem models.
We have therefore also examined forest ecosystem architecture, social structure, underground economics, and vegetation dynamics. Our understanding of forest ecology supports the potential of the forest gardening idea, showing that mimicry of those structures and functions will help us achieve our goals. Numerous specific implications for design and management also arise from that understanding. However, these implications arise in a pattern that is not entirely useful or accessible to us as gardeners. We must organize these ideas in a way that is relevant to the specific issues gardeners face, and provide strategies for success in a format gardeners can easily approach. We must do that without losing touch with the new worldview and understandings we want to embody. This is no small task.
The tools of a forest gardener differ from those of a vegetable gardener in significant ways. Our tools have much to do with design and planning, with thinking things through before we act. What do we need to know to design our forest gardens? How do we deal with weeds in this new gardening paradigm? How do we prevent and manage pests and diseases? What are the key points to consider in designing an overyielding polyculture? We must prepare the ground exceptionally well before planting, or we will be more likely to position our ecosystem for poor performance. What site preparation problems might we face and how might we solve them? What are the key ideas we will need to keep in mind to manage our forest gardens well?
This volume of Edible Forest Gardens is essentially a “forest gardener’s tool kit” designed to answer the above questions. As such, there are many tools in it, some of these you may not need—at least not right away. You will have to pick and choose which tools fit your needs in the moment, but you have them all available to you in case you need them.
We begin by taking the forest gardening vision to a deeper, more practical, and more specific level. Chapter 1 thus explains exactly how we mimic forest ecosystem structure and function, and as such it is an overview of forest gardening’s conceptual and ecological foundations and its most essential strategies and techniques. However, these strategies and techniques are organized as a bridge between ecological theory and gardening practice, to provide easy reference as well as guidance for design and management problem solving. Those of you who have read volume 1 will find this chapter a useful catalog of the implications arising from the ecological analysis there, with a few new ideas thrown in for good measure. If you have not read Volume 1, this chapter will get you up to speed on what it’s all about. The chapter also foreshadows the rest of this volume.
Chapter 2 provides a different, but related summary of forest gardening by offering patterns for design. This pattern language or “idea bank” provides visceral and visual building blocks with which you can create your forest garden. The patterns presented there embody much of what arose from our ecological analysis in volume 1. There is some overlap between these first two chapters, but their purposes are different, and we expect people to reach for each chapter at different times, in different ways, for different reasons. Take what you like and leave the rest.
Chapters 3 and 4 offer conceptual frameworks and step-by-step assistance for the process of designing your forest garden. These chapters present the most robust, full-fledged, all-out design process we can think of, with variations and options for different circumstances. Please do not think you have to do everything we suggest there; think of these chapters as a menu from which you can create your own meal “from soup to nuts.” If you have a big appetite, great! If not, great! Pick and choose your design process from what we have on tap. Just remember that, as David Holmgren says, “Design is as natural as breathing, and, like breathing, most of us can learn to do it better.”2 We hope what we offer will help you acknowledge and value your own inherent design genius as well as help you wield that genius with greater skill and humility.
Almost any site will present challenges to the designer that require either adaptive design or preplanting site preparation. Chapter 5 provides a comprehensive discussion of many of these challenges and how we can deal with them. Good site preparation can make an immense difference in the long-term productivity and health of growing plants, thereby making your design and planting investments yield a better return and reducing the work required to run the garden ecosystem. This information ties into the design work you will go through in chapters 3 and 4, and will help you get your forest garden off to a good start.
Proper garden establishment also helps maximize the yield of your garden. In addition, it minimizes losses resulting from poor planting and aftercare practices. Chapter 6 discusses how to stake out your design; acquire high quality planting stock; organize for planting day; plant trees, shrubs, and herbs properly; and care for them afterward. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and the details of stock selection, plant placement, how you dig and refill holes, and how you lay mulch can make a huge difference in the survival of your plant allies. Use this chapter to take your planting practices to the next level.
Once your garden is planted and established, you enter the longest and most enjoyable phase of all, living with your forest garden. We only wax poetic in this chapter a little because we focus our discussion on the practicalities of management and maintenance. However, when we come around to the subject of coevolution, we begin connecting to the bigger potentials inherent in the forest garden for ourselves, our culture, and our world, and the potentials are great. Given what we know has worked, and given what we know is possible, who wouldn’t wax poetic? A low-energy, high-yield agriculture is a possible aim for the temperate humid forest biomes of the world; the Garden of Eden is a practical prospect for any of us in our lifetimes—if we only apply our human energy and intellect.
The appendices follow our poetic interlude to provide solid grounding for applying our human energy and intellect to this task. There we offer design data for over 600 useful and functional plant species, as well as data on edible mushrooms, beneficial animal habitat requirements, and informational, organizational, and supply resources to aid your quest.
We hope that you find this second volume of Edible Forest Gardens a useful companion and tool kit on your journey, that you will develop the tools you find here and share your developments with others. We are powerful beings that both see and create the world in our own image. May we find in ourselves the beauty, diversity, cooperation, dynamism, abundance, and promise that the forest garden embodies so we can remake our world in such a likeness.
1. Mollison and Holmgren, 1978, page 1.
2. Holmgren, 2002, page 15.