Thursday, September 10, 2015

7 Layer Food Forest

     If you've ever been able to enjoy a walk in the woods, you've probably never come across someone watering the trees in the middle of the woods. Why is that? Do the trees in the woods need water? What about nutrients to grow? Where do they get what need to live?

Image source: Permaculture a Beginner’s Guide, by Graham Burnett

     Mother nature has a way of doing what it wants, eventually. Even if humans destroy our ability to live on Planet Earth, she will eventually fix
it long after we are gone. So, if we are going to try to create a system that creates food for us without us having to do an incredible amount of energy each year to get it, we need to observe how nature does it.
7 Layers of a Food Forest

Seven Layers

     Close your eyes and think about the woods. How many different layers of plants can you think of? You've got the really tall trees, some shorter trees and some bush-type plants. Don't forget about the tiny herb-like plants. Also, what about the vines that climb up the trees or across the ground? Tall tree, short tree, bush, herb, climbing vines and crawling vines. That's 6. If you think about the layer that is under the ground, that makes seven. Other people add more to these seven but these are the main ones that we plan on putting into the food forest at Pine Grove.

     The really cool thing about plants is that there are types of edible food for each of these layers. For each of these layers, there is something yummy and nutritious that can be grown. The tall and small trees may produce nuts or fruit. The bushes can produce berries. The vines can yield grapes and fruit. The herbs can produce edible leaves and the sub-soil layer can make things like potatoes.

Aerial view of a possible Food Forest

Some people argue that there are 9 layers in a food forest. See #8 & #9.

More Layers

     Some people argue that there are two more layers that can be added to a food forest but we don't have these layers at PGM. These two are the aquatic and mycelial layers. Some places may have a small pond or area where water sits for long times after it rains. This would be another area to grow plants like rice or other water-loving plants. The mycelial layer is what many of us would call mushrooms. The mushroom is just the fruit of the organism like an apple is the fruit of a tree. The mycelium in the ground sometimes pop up mushrooms and this is evidence of a potentially large network of fungi under the surface. Actually, the largest organism on earth is thought to be a giant fungus.

     Your "take away" from this post: there is no reason to fill up your yard with plants that don't give you something in return for living in your yard. Their "rent" should be fruit, nuts, leaves, or something that is beneficial to you. Otherwise, it is a commensalistic relationship (a type of symbiosis).Our goal in creating a full food forest is to have each of the plants helping each other and us. We are the caretakers and we reap the benefits. This is a mutualistic relationship (another type of symbiosis).

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