One of my favorite aspects of permaculture is food forests. What is a food forest? Imagine walking through acres of beautiful apple trees, surrounded by fruiting mulberries, ripe tomatoes, creeping clusters of mint and wild strawberries, as you walk you can pick and eat whatever your heart desires. All the plants benefit each other in a closed loop system that draws pollinators, adds minerals to the soil, fertilizes itself naturally, and mulches itself naturally. Food Forest gardening is a low maintenance sustainable plant-based food production system, inspired wholly by the way woodland ecosystems work without human interference.
In a woodland ecosystem there are multiple layers that contribute to its overall health and longevity. When planting a Food Forest we work to replicate these layers, creating a polyculture that requires minimal human interference to produce and survive.
What is a polyculture? What helped me best understand this term was understanding its antithesis, a monoculture. All of those rows of corn for miles and miles? That is a monoculture. One plant growing in abundance invites disease, nutrient deficiencies in the soil, and soil erosion. With a polyculture that has many different varieties of plants growing together, it nurtures and builds the soil by fixing nitrogen, drawing pollinators, and pulling up much needed minerals. Let's take a look at the seven different layers of the Food Forest.
The Seven Food Forest Layers
The goal with a food forest is to plant as many native perennials as you can. By doing so, you decrease the amount of work you have to do and increase the output of edible produce. Planting a cultivar in the climate, soil conditions, and correct amount of sun is a sure fire way to a lasting crop yield. Your soil and plants will thank you for it!
Our Wisconsin Food Forest Plan
For the Canopy Layer we have a few different trees we will be using based on the texture and drainage of our soil. For this first year, our chosen Canopy Layer species include black cherry, sugar maple, and crab apple. We will eventually do apples and plums.
For the Low Tree Layer we are going to skip out on because of budget reasons, but only for now.
For the Shrub Layer we are working with the existing wild raspberries bushes.
For the Herbaceous Layer we are planting a wildflower mix of Calendula, Cornflower, Red Flax, Poppy, Black Eyed Susans, Spring Beauty, Lupine, and Lead Plant. These flowers will do their part to draw pollinators and fix nitrogen into the soil.
For the Root Layer we are planting Culver's Root and Prairie Dock, eventually we will plant dandelion, horse radish, and maybe some carrots or parsnips.
For the Ground Cover Layer we are planting wild strawberries, tons of them.
We don't foresee on having a vine layer for a while, but when we do I'll think about grapes or beans.
There is an amazing tree sale at Camp Tapawingo that happens every spring. This is where we are getting all of our Canopy Layer. Wehr Nature Center has a great native plant sale that we are getting nearly all of the remaining plants from. The rest will be bought as organic seeds that I'll sow after the last frost date.
So that concludes our Wisconsin Food Forest Plan! It definitely is a baby step, but it a step in the right direction nonetheless. Do you have any plants you would like to add to the list when it comes to building a Food Forest in the Midwest or Wisconsin? Leave a comment below!
Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to orchard planting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we strive to live a toxin-free life and turn these five acres from just property to a fully functioning small-scale homestead.
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