Edible Forest Garden

Imagine waking up in the morning, opening your front door and stepping out into an edible forest. Surrounding your home – and the homes of your neighbors – would be one continuous network of fruiting trees, shrubs and ground covers with vegetables, herbs and annual flowers popping up as well.
This forest would not only be a self-sustaining ecosystem, it would be a source of food, inspiration, tranquillity and recreation for you and your family. Based on the research of Larry Santoyo, a “food forest orchard” of this kind might consist of ecologically compatible – and Valley compatible – species such as apple, Asian pear, walnut and black mulberry trees; silverberry (Elaeagnus) shrubs; golden currants (Ribes aureum), strawberries, mushrooms, carrots and dill; and nasturtium and marigolds.
Even if you cannot get your entire neighborhood involved, you can still create a forest garden in your own back yard. This is exactly what Robert Hart, the noted English horticulturist, achieved. In his layered garden design, Hart produced a landscape growing in the manner of the seven “stories” (levels) of vegetation found in the classic forest ecosystem.
The stories and plants used in each were as follows: 1) high canopy of standard-size fruit trees, especially plums; 2) low canopy of semi-dwarf fruit and nut trees; 3) shrub story of currant bushes; 4) perennial vegetables, such as wild garlic and tree onions, edible weeds such as purslane and lambsquarters, and herbs and mints of every type; 5) horizontal growing ground cover such as creeping thyme, used to attract bees for pollination of edible crops; 6) rhizosphere root crops such as beets and potatoes; 7) vertically growing vines such as grape and kiwi, and climbing legumes such as peas and beans.
The forest garden concept just described is one application of permaculture. Around the world, permaculture has become a buzzword for ecological salvation. Permaculturists seek to create self-contained communities that efficiently utilize and recycle natural resources. Not only is garden debris composted, but rainwater is trapped in man-made ponds and laundry water stored for irrigation use.
In the eyes of a permaculturist, apparent problems in your garden are merely indications that your backyard ecosystem is out of balance and that a corrective measure is needed. For instance, a permaculturist would not despair at the sight of snails and slugs but instead recruit the services of a mollusk-eating goose or duck.
The manure of this bird could then be used to improve the garden’s fertility. The presence of gophers indicates that a nesting box for barn owls ought to be constructed in your neighborhood. Barn owls, which will soon appear as if by magic in your nesting box, will control not only gophers, but also mice and rats as well.
Permaculture would embrace the concept of using goats, as the state of Colorado has recently done, for weed and brush control. In the Valley, gas-powered weed-eaters are customarily used to cut down brush and grass that pose a fire hazard around many homes. A herd of goats would perform this same task without the fossil fuel burning and smog creation.

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