Friday, October 21, 2011

How To Make a Forest Garden, part three

This is the third part of a three part essay on how to get started in forest gardening (read part one and part two). For those unfamiliar with the concept, I would suggest reading my Introduction to Forest Gardening.

Check out these organizations and websites for more information on forest gardening, including ideas for what trees, shrubs and other plants may be suitable for your forest garden.

Agroforestry Research Trust - The world's leading temperate forest garden research institution. Excellent publications, including Agroforestry News.

American Bamboo Society - Amateur and professional bamboo enthusiasts.

American Chestnut Foundation - The American Chestnut Foundation is working to restore the American chestnut tree to its native range within the woodlands of the eastern United States.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How To Make a Forest Garden, part two

This is the second part of a three part essay on how to get started in forest gardening (read part one by clicking here). For those unfamiliar with the concept, I would suggest reading my Introduction to Forest Gardening.

The Shrub Layer

In part one, we examined the canopy and understory layers of a forest garden. The next layer to consider is the shrub layer. Most shrubs can tolerate shade, and can do well planted beneath larger trees of the canopy and understory layers. Here are some ideas for plants in the shrub layer:

Friday, October 14, 2011

How To Make a Forest Garden, part one

Forest gardening is a type of permaculture in which trees and other plants are grown for food, fuel, fiber, medicine and other resources in a method that mimics a forest ecosystem. The advantages of forest gardening include extreme productivity, relatively low maintenance requirements, and the fact that it does not require inputs of artificial fertilizers, pesticides or other chemicals. Forest gardening can be done by anyone with even a small plot of land. See my Introduction to Forest Gardening article for more on the general concept.

How To Make a Forest Garden, part one

Once started, a forest garden can be relatively low-maintenance, but it does take some planning to get there. Your approach to the design of your particular forest garden will be affected by the current state of the land you are using:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Lasagna Gardening

I am very enthusiastic about forest gardening, as you can probably tell from my previous post, but there are some vegetables and herbs that need full sunlight in order to do well. For those crops, I prefer to use a form of permaculture called sheet mulching, of which there are several styles promoted by various experts.

Sheet mulching is a type of no-till, no dig gardening that requires little weeding and retains moisture very well, thus reducing the amount of watering necessary. It also requires no artificial fertilizers. When combined with companion planting (which I will discuss in a future post), there is typically no need for pesticides.

Here is a simple explanation of the idea: Mark off a plot of land that you want to turn into a garden, cover it with a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard (which chokes out the grass and weeds), cover the cardboard with a couple inches of compost, then put a layer of organic material (straw, leaves, grass clippings, etc) on top of the compost, then another layer of compost on top of that, and so forth until you reach the desired depth. 

You can also incorporate kitchen scraps (no meat or fat), crushed egg shells, used coffee grounds, cow manure, rabbit manure and other "ingredients" into your the lasagna garden, just keep alternating a layer of compost with a layer of organic material. The organic material will slowly compost over time, releasing nutrients into the soil, eliminating the need for artificial fertilizers. 

In two areas of my yard, I am using the lasagna gardening technique of Patricia Lanza - the areas immediately in front of and beside my front and back porches. Between them I have about 544 sq. ft. of garden space. I use these beds for my "salad crops" such as cabbages, mixed lettuce, yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers, carrots, radishes and broccoli. The lasagna beds have proved to be very productive and low-maintenance. In six years of having lasagna gardens, I have had no insect problems and very few weeds.

An added benefit is that these are the plants that need to be watched, cared for and picked the most frequently. Being right beside where I walk several times daily means it is very quick and easy to keep an eye on my salad crops.

The above picture, from early 2007, is of one corner of my back yard lasagna garden (since then, I've wrapped the garden entirely around my back porch). In the upper left is garlic, below that is loose leaf lettuce. Onions are in the middle and carrots are last things visible on the right side of the photo. And, if you click on the photo to get a larger version, you may be able to notice two young doves sitting among the onions. :-)

Patricia Lanza has written several books on lasagna gardening, which I own and recommend - Lasagna Gardening, and Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces

Friday, September 2, 2011

Introduction To Forest Gardening

Since the beginning of mankind, various groups of people have purposely maintained forests and woodland areas, benefiting from the food, fuel, fibers, medicine and other resources they provide. These peoples depended on the forests for their very lives. Today we know that forests also provide numerous ecological services upon which all life on Earth depends.

Today, "Forest Gardening" is a type of permaculture in which trees and other plants are grown for food and other renewable resources in a method that mimics a woodland ecosystem or forest edge. Pioneered and popularized by the late Robert Hart in the UK, the idea has been further developed by Ken Fern (see the Plants for a Future website) and others. The concept is sometimes also called woodland gardening, edible landscaping or food forests.

Forest gardening, by whatever name offers enormous benefits for human civilization.

Why Forest Gardening Is a Good Idea

In addition to the abundant food and other renewable resources they provide, forest gardens have several other benefits for the environment and people, including cleaning the air, preventing soil erosion, controlling flooding, maintaining freshwater supplies and increasing biodiversity.

"Obviously, few of us are in a position to restore the forests. But tens of millions of us have gardens, or access to open spaces such as industrial wastelands, where trees can be planted. and if full advantage can be taken of the potentialities that are available even in heavily built up areas, new ‘city forests’ can arise." -- Robert Hart
The advantages of forest gardening over typical gardens and modern agricultural methods include: 1) extremely productive, 2) relatively low maintenance, 3) do not require inputs of man-made fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals, 4) make more efficient use of water, and 5) can be grown and maintained by anyone with even a very small plot of land.

What Makes a Forest Garden a Forest Garden?

Forest gardening isn't gardening in a forest. Rather, it is gardening like a forest, using the principles that are used by nature itself. One of the main differences between a traditional backyard garden or agricultural field is the emphasis on perennials (trees, shrubs, vines, etc.) rather than annuals (most garden vegetables). Here is how Harvey Usserydescribes this difference and what it means, in his Mother Earth News article Plant an Edible Forest Garden:

"One of the main differences between a forest garden and the typical food garden is that forest gardens rely on perennials. Most vegetable gardens include mainly annuals — such as tomatoes, lettuce or radishes.
To understand the difference this makes, consider the role of annual plants in nature. Annuals colonize and cover disturbed ground, because theirs is a high-energy, in-a-hurry lifestyle. In a single season, an annual sprouts from seed, grows to maturity, ripens fruits and seeds, then dies.
Because of the speed and fecundity of the annuals’ lifestyle, they are able to cover patches of bare ground quickly. This energy intensive lifestyle is only possible in full sun — in shade, most annuals will not receive sufficient power for their task. Over time, however, as the annuals protect and build the soil of the disturbed area, they give way to perennials, and these are the plants we want to establish in a forest garden.
Most gardeners are used to a fair amount of disturbance and change in their gardens, from tillage, crop rotation, and so on. In contrast, a natural forest tends to maintain its character over time, and resists rapid change. Changes in plant species do happen in a forest, but they usually take place very slowly. The goal of the forest gardener is to follow these patterns and establish a perennial polyculture from which food is harvested with minimal disturbance."

Texture in a Forest Garden

A forest garden contains seven layers according to Robert Hart:

  1. A canopy layer consisting of mature fruit & nut trees.
  2. A low-tree layer of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
  3. A shrub layer of fruit bushes such as berries and currants.
  4. A herbaceous layer of perennial vegetables and herbs.
  5. A ground cover layer of edible plants that spread horizontally, such as strawberry.
  6. A underground layer of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
  7. A vertical layer of vines and climbers.
Other authors change these layers up slightly, sometimes combining layers such as the canopy and low-tree layers into one or talking about mushrooms as if they were a separate layer unto themselves. The basic idea remains the same - to take full advantage of all the texture, the different layers within a woodland-like ecosystem.

Fruit- and nut-bearing trees, shrubs and vines are an important part of a forest garden. However, there are a lot of vegetables, legumes, tubers and herbs that tolerate shade well and could be included in any forest garden. I will talk specifically about which plants do well in a forest garden in future posts.

Edible mushrooms could be grown in a forest garden, as well as those producing dyes. Free range chickens could be raised within a forest garden for both eggs and meat, as could other small livestock. Wild game could also be encouraged within a forest garden. Medicinal plants and herbs could be grown (make sure you know what you are doing, of course). Host and food plants for butterflies, native bees and other pollinators are another good idea. The possibilities are virtually unlimited as to how you can use your forest garden.

For other articles on  Forest Gardening, click here see an index.

Monday, August 29, 2011

History of Victory Gardens

During World War I, the United States and Canada had to provide food not only for their populations, but for war-ravaged Europe as well. As more food stuffs were shipped overseas, availability of food in North America decreased and prices increased on such staples as milk, butter, eggs and coffee. Meatless and wheatless days were encouraged by government officials to try to cut consumption. Community gardens began to spring up everywhere as people started growing their own food.

In 1917, the National War Garden Commission was founded to "arouse the patriots of America to the importance of putting all idle land to work, to teach them how to do it, and to educate them to conserve by canning and drying all food that they could not use while fresh" (Charles Pack, The War Garden Victorious, copyright 1919, page10). The Commission used posters, slogans, cartoons, press releases and pamphlets to educate people.

The Charles Pack pamphlet can be downloaded by clicking here. Click the picture on the right for a larger image of a WWI victory garden poster.

After the end of World War I, the idea of victory gardens went out-of-style. But the idea made a comeback during the Great Depression with Depression Relief Gardens. Early during the Depression, these gardens were promoted by local governments and were a bureaucratic nightmare, with squabbles and in-fighting over where to put the gardens, what to grow and how much control individuals should have over their plots in the community gardens. By 1933, however, local governments had relinquished control of these community gardens to private organizations, such as the Family Welfare Society, which did a remarkably better job organizing them.

After a few years of private success, the federal government eventually took control, changed the names from "relief gardens" to "welfare gardens" and greatly restricted eligibility for participation. By the end of the 1930s the Depression era gardening movement was dead.

Then came World War II, and the Victory Garden movement was back. But the Victory Movement was about more than just growing food, though the gardens did continue to be a big part. Conservation of resources was also promoted. Scrap metal drives were commonplace, as were rubber drives. Salvaged kitchen fat was collected and used to produce glycerin, which was used in the production of drugs and explosives. War bonds were sold. Societal norms were changed as women were encouraged to go to work in order to fill jobs left vacant by the men who went off to at war. Rosie the Riveter (poster on the left) became a symbol to rally around.

War time efforts of the common folks were promoted by posters, slogans, pamphlets, billboards, cartoons, comics, TV and films. Whatever it took to get the word out and promote gardening and conservation efforts was done. A massive change in people's behavior took place. It is estimated that by 1943, 40% of America's vegetables were grown in over twenty million victory gardens.

The year 1946, after the end of World War II, saw a sharp decline in gardens planted by average people. Home gardens eventually became little more than a hobby pursued by only a small percentage of Americans.

The Arab oil embargo and economic problems in the 1970s resulted in a renewed interest in gardening. 1975 saw the creation of the television gardening show entitled The Victory Garden.

By the late 1990s, the rise in concern over issues such as peak oil and climate change lead to several efforts to encourage relocalization of agriculture, organic gardening and homesteading. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The “Green Movement” Is Decidedly Anti-Human

Most people love nature. After all, what’s not to love about chirping birds, cute penguins and fuzzy polar bear cubs? Besides, we all want to live in a healthy environment with clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. It only makes sense that people care about the environment and want to be “green”.

But most people don’t know the truth about the very ugly and dangerous underside of the environmental movement. The environmental movement as it exists today is decidedly anti-human at its very core.