The Ant Farm’s food forest is finally up and rolling, and it’s been a long time coming.
Beginnings of a Food Forest
Last summer we rented an excavator and installed the framework for cultivation of an area north of the house. The area was cleared during the initial phase of our development back in the Fall of 2013, but with all of the chaos related to selling our old house, building roads, installing a septic system and the move, the food forest was way down the list at the time.
By the summer of 2014, we were finally situated on the property. We rented an excavator and installed the basic framework for our food forest. We buried the bulk of the remaining brush piles in 200ft of raised hugelkultur beds on contour and dug an additional 75ft of swale. These earthworks were designed to store a tremendous amount of water in the landscape and serve as a reservoir for the fruit trees and support species that would one day inhabit the forest garden.
The earthworks were quickly planted with iron clay peas to protect the soil and begin preparation for the eventual addition of the fruit trees and support plantings.
A Sustainable Orchard
The main purpose for this food forest is to provide healthy, pesticide-free fruits for my family. We’ll also be using some portion of the fallen fruit as feed for our chickens (and maybe eventually goats or pigs).
We planted 20 fruit trees in the system. Based on normal yields we should expect around 64 bushels of apples, 10 bushels of pears, 20 bushels of peaches & nectarines, plus plums and apricots.
The planned system will provide WAY more than the four of us can possibly consume, so we’re thinking we’ll eat fresh fruit through the fall and winter, can and store enough for spring and summer, and then shower our friends and family with the mountain of apples, peaches & pears that remains.
A Little Help From My Friends
We’re providing a healthy list of support species to help our fruit trees along. Biodiversity is key to effective permaculture systems, and to that end we’re including over 30 species of plants in our initial system. Our ultimate goal will be to have 100+ species growing in our food forest. This approach will encourage growth, increase total outputs, provide a wider variety of food for us, and provide an environment conducive to frogs, lizards, birds, bees and a host of other critters.
Comfrey is an insanely beneficial plant in a fruit tree guild. One plant will go under each fruit tree to provide mulch, minerals and a host of other benefits to the trees. We’re also going to attempt to plant daffodils in a border around the growing area. These should provide a rhizome barrier, which simply means that the roots of these plants will prevent grass from spreading to the orchard area. Also, deer hate them, and that’s always a plus in our book!
We’re including a wide range of nectary plants to attract pollinators, repel undesirable insects and to look nice. Beauty is always one of Leigh’s prime requirements for our gardens, so it gets top bill in my list of priorities. Many of these will self-sow, and we’ll enjoy them for years to come. These plants include:
- Yarrow – edible leaves; aromatic pest confuser; dynamic accumulator; attracts pollinators; deer hate them
- Nasturtiums – edible leaves; attract ladybirds, bees & predatory wasps; repel slugs, snails & aphids
- Tansy – repels flies, beetles, moths & fleas
- Bee Balm – attracts bees & predatory wasps
- Anise Hyssop – attracts bees, butterflies & hummingbirds; medicinal (cough suppressant)
- Hollyhock – edible flowers; attracts bees; dynamic accumulator of minerals; used to be planted near the outhouse, so ladies wouldn’t have to ask where it was!
- Zinnia – attract pollinators; deer hate them
- Gilia – attracts pollinators
- Catchfly -attracts birds
- Lupines – nitrogen fixer; attracts pollinators
- Borage – edible leaves & flowers; repels hornworms; attracts pollinators; helps plants resist pests & disease; deer hate them
We’re also including herbs and some vegetables that will eventually phase out as the trees grow and begin to shade out the area. These include:
- Fennel – herb; edible leaves & flowers; lacewings, bees, parasitic wasps & spiders love it
- Gooseberry – fruit is edible; small birds nest in them; attracts hummingbirds & bees
- Chamomile – herb for tea; attracts pollinators; enhances flavor of other plants
- Lambs Quarters
- Sweet Potatoes
Honestly, I’m not exactly sure of what to expect with this whole endeavor. I’ve read and researched a ton, but it’s all one big experiment. My plan is to try a lot of different things, keep what works, and then add more to the mix. In a few years I expect to have a good handle on what should be in a forest garden based on this experience.