Back again for another round of “Instagram catch-up”! This time we’ll focus on the food forest, which is basically the western half of the fenced garden area. The idea is to use the eastern half (raised beds, hugelkultur mounds, and in-ground beds) for most of our annual veggies. The food forest will include fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, other perennials like rhubarb, and companion plants such as comfrey, yarrow, wild strawberry, goumi, and seaberry (among others).
One of the permaculture ideas I find so compelling is to make gardening less regimented and more “ecological.” That is, plantings will be more robust and resilient if you allow for multiple niches to be filled, such as herbaceous ground cover, woody shrubs, low- and high-canopy trees, vines, and even underground components all working together. You can think of it as attempting to replicate the roles within an ecological community, but selectively using plants that are edible or provide other important functions (improving soil fertility, accumulating nutrients, attracting beneficial pollinators, etc.). If you’d like to learn more, one of the most accessible (and completely wonderful) books I read on the topic is Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway.
One critical component for our location was improving the ability of the land to catch and retain water. Because our property is adjacent to an old quarry, the soil here was heavily disturbed over the years (aerial photos from the 1950s and 60s look like the surface of the moon!). The result is a strange mix of very sandy areas, and others that are almost pure clay. The soil was also very compacted, and rainwater tended to run out of the garden, down a hill to our stream and off into the river. As any good permie knows, this is a job for swales! Swales are just ditches dug EXACTLY on contour. When it rains, the water pools in the swale, and then slowly infiltrates into the soil, rather than running over the surface and down into the river.
As you can see above, we had a crew come with a bobcat to do some grading. They thought I was 100% nuts when I ran home at lunch, dragged out my homemade A-frame level, and flagged out the contours for the swales. “You want us to do what? Just dig ditches along here? ooooookaaayyyy…”
But they did! We added some compost/topsoil blend, as well as a whole lotta mulch. Then we planted like crazy. And if you know me at all, you already know that I made a spreadsheet… duh… here’s a piece of it. It also includes size, sun requirements, pollination requirements, date planted, location, and source. 🤓
|Apple||4-in-1 (Gravenstein, Jonagold, Yellow Delicious, Honeycrisp)|
|Apple||Cox’s orange pippin (semi-dwarf)|
|Apricot||Stark Sweetheart (dwarf)|
|Aronia berry||Autumn Magic|
|Cherry||Montmorency pie cherry (semi-dwarf)|
|Cherry||Stella sweet cherry (semi-dwarf)|
|Goji berry||Big Lifeberry|
|Goji berry||Sweet Lifeberry|
|Hardy Kiwi||Anna Hardy Kiwi + Pollinator|
|Plum||Methley plum tree|
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I can't believe the evolution of this space this season–and this isn't even a true "before & after." Dead trees removed, new fence, swales, hugels, literally tons of organic matter added to the poor soil… and plants! We have a dozen trees planted and a few more on the way. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, currants, grapes… I'll be holding my breath all winter to see how it looks in the spring. #garden #gardening #backyardgarden #growfood #permaculture #permies
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The south mini-swale has hazelnut, fig, goumi, seaberry, and red currants planted, plus grapes and gooseberry along the fence. Bigger trees along the longer north swale–but it's hard to get a good photo of the whole thing! #garden #gardening #backyardgarden #growfood #foodforest #permaculture #permies
The only trees that didn’t make it through the winter were the two little figs (Chicago Hardy… not so hardy). I was told that you’re supposed to bring them inside for the first few winters, and then plant them out, and… I did not do that. This spring I replaced them with an apricot and a peach. I’d like to try figs again, but moving big potted trees is not my favorite thing!
(I surely know now that’s a thistle… dang things pop up everywhere!)
I’ll have to take another walkaround soon to get summer pictures. We planted a cover crop between the swales (a mix of rye, pea, vetch, and clover) and then “chopped and dropped” as a green mulch. These pics are a bit crummy, but you can get a sense for how lush things are looking compared to last year’s dirt patch!
(Ooh, and you can see another wonderful addition–the little red shed! HOORAY for storage!)