The term “Fruit Forest” or “Food Forest” has become a common term for us [and our kids], but it hasn’t always been. My husband had been listening to podcasts where he was introduced to the ideas of Permaculture and food forests. Here’s our definition of a Fruit Forest:
A food or fruit forest is a low maintenance perennial garden that mimics a natural forest, with a variety of plants growing at different levels. Some plants provide fruit, some provide nutrient, some attract beneficial insects, and others are ground cover.
Evan built this “A-Frame level” device to help him find the contour lines- so we could plant the Fruit Forest along them. Even on a steep slope there are perfectly level lines running sideways across the hill. By digging a swale (a ditch for catching and soaking in water) on contour we can slow down water coming from above and give it time to soak into the mound where our trees are planted. This gives our trees a good drink, but most importantly it stops the soil from being washed away by a hard rain. He stuck little sticks in the ground to mark the contour lines. Not the best idea with small children around. Boys #1 & #2 kept collecting them again for Daddy. “Here Daddy, we got you another stick!” They kept pulling the sticks out and handing them to him. By the time he got to the other end, he realized they had taken all the ones out from the beginning. Such good helpers! 🙂
Here it is freshly tilled. It was 60ft x 10ft. With the swale/ path on the uphill side to catch and slow water and a mound of soil to plant into on the downhill side.
What We Planted:
- Apple Trees- Gala, Jonathan, Jonagold & Northern Spy
- Peach Trees- Elberta & Hale Haven
- Raspberries- Heritage, Prelude & Polka
- Blackberries- Chester Thornless, Navaho, & Marionberry
- Blueberries- Blue Crop & Draper
- Nanking Cherry
- Sea Berry (Sea Buckthorn)
- Red & White Currents
- Goji Berries
For a total of 29 plants & 11 different fruits.
We tried to select apple and peach varieties that could cross pollinate and ripen at different times to give us more days with fresh fruit. Since we didn’t know what would do well and what wouldn’t we played it safe by diversifying. We mixed the Goumi and Sea Berry bushes in between our fruit trees as they are nitrogen fixers and can help feed their friends.
We also planted sweet potatoes and comfrey in between the fruit trees and berry bushes. We put the sweet potatoes in because we didn’t have any other place to put them. And the comfrey was for a ”green fertilizer”. Comfrey is great at getting minerals out of the soil. Then we cut the leaves and use it for mulch around our plants. So the comfrey ‘mines’ the minerals from deep within the soil. They put the minerals into their leaves, then we cut them and let them decompose on top of the soil. The trees and other plants can then have easy access to the minerals. Plus, we can feed the comfrey to our geese and chickens and it’s a good medicinal plant. It’s pretty cool.
Oh, and a last minute addition to the one end [after we were out of trees]- strawberries, watermelon & cantaloupe. We didn’t plant anything there because the soil was so rocky and shaded, but I had a good yard sale week and couldn’t resist the extra plants I found. Evan was very surprised that I found plants at two different yard sale. I was kind of surprised myself. So we put the adopted plants into some of the worst soil ever. They did surprisingly well. Everything grew fruit. It all tasted terrible, but it was still good for adding organic matter! The chickens enjoyed it at least.
Our fruit forest isn’t really much of a “forest” and maybe we should just call it a perennial garden, but it’s simple and low maintenance. We are hoping that in the years to come it will turn into a cool place to walk, pick, and eat fruit.
A “Pick-Your-Own” in our backyard.