Forest Garden – The art of growing forest

This article was published in the newspaper Re 3/18. Would you rather read the article in PDF format in their original form with many pictures you can find it here.

What exactly is the secret behind the forest's ability to produce an abundance of greenery from early spring to late autumn, completely on their own? Should we humans be able to produce some of our food in the same way? This is precisely what we are trying to accomplish in the forestry horticulture, a growing technology that is deeply rooted in ecology and has great potential for self-breaker, in addition to the usual crops.

When I began my farming career eleven years ago was big ambitions. We would be completely self-sufficient in vegetables in my family and soon much of the lawn around the newly purchased croft, in Stjärnsund in southern Dalarna, converted to the culture beds. Somehow wanted cultures seldom really took off in the impoverished moraine soil. It was an eternal watering and weed cleaning. Constantly came the vermin that struck our tender vegetable plants and more than once we wondered if these plants city life really. While we toiled with the reluctant vegetables we saw how it sprouted around us. Nature managed to produce green leaves when we had not even begun förkultivera our plants indoors. One sumptuous flowering succeeded another, it buzzed in full in the air of all life. But in our farming land was still just a little puny plants in a vast sea of ​​disturbed soil that required constant defense against invasive weeds.

Although the amazing flavors we experienced when it finally became a little harvest compensated for part of the effort, I began to question the cultivation of sensitive annual crops more and more. If most of the plants in nature is multiannual, why we insist people to go for the one-year? And how does nature really to create this abundance, particularly in some poorer soils?

English pioneers

I was of course not the first thought these thoughts, and pretty soon I got in touch with the concept of forest garden. It was coined by the Englishman Robert Hart (1913-2000) who in the late 1980s, released a book about his growing trials, even if the mindset is much older than that. Hart had a small smallholders in southwest England and in parts of their culture, he experimented with growing on the forest way to get a more varied crop over a longer period of the year. Only by building forest garden he created also living spaces for countless farm animals that have been difficult in today's impoverished cultural landscape, something he had noticed a large positive impact on his usual crops. The forest garden, we can get a positive ecological footprint, while we produce food for ourselves. It was probably this that made me fell for the concept and has spent much of the past ten years to explore its possibilities and limitations in the harsh climate.

Garden Transformation

While I write these lines, ten years after I began planting the first perennial vegetable plants in the garden, I look out of the bushes of jostaberry full of maps, with a örtskikt consisting of mint, major Bistort and strawberries. South of krusvinbären grow a portfolio of nutkahallon that have just finished flowering, a large blåbärstrybuske and scattered quince. The apple tree has been joined by Amelanchier alnifolia and daylilies. Where we once tore most of the one-year growing vegetables now a sea of ​​Blitum Bonus-Henricus, the leaf vegetable we use most in the kitchen, and tree onion, Allium Victorialis, kantlök, Allium Scorodoprasum, Welsh onion, different Hostas and not least myskmalvor in clumps here and there, whose leaves are the basis of our salads from early spring to early July. Minikiwin growing against the walls of the houses have delivered little gooseberry large fruit every late summer in nearly a decade. In the warmest locations we have planted grapes, apricots, mullbär, real walnut, chestnut and look forward to our first crop of peaches. Not bad considering that we are in cultivation zone V.

Even in the shaded positions, where no ordinary vegetables would grow, we produce edible. Jätteramsens asparagus-like shoots are a delicacy in spring, vårskönans small leaves, we eat in salads for a large part of the year and the ostrich fern is another vårprimör we do not want to be without. Altogether, we grow around 150 various species of edible perennial plants in our small garden of just under 1000 kvm. There we spend the most time on is to harvest and to fill the last gaps with more edible. Nutrients we added will largely from our own latrine compost and now maintains forest garden fertility on your own, thanks to all biomass produced each year, feeding the countless little helpers that thrive in the fine soil that we have not touched on in years now.

Although the home garden is almost completely transformed into a largely edible, multi-annual ecosystem, we have not stopped growing ordinary vegetables. Instead of continuing to fight in a steep uphill climb here at home we bought 2011 to a small patch of ground with much better growing conditions. Where we grow potatoes, bondbönor, carrots, beetroot, peas, squash, pump, onion and cabbages in ordinary vegetable garden. The combination is perfect. Just when many of the perennial vegetables begin to take a vacation ahead early July, we can reap the first annual vegetables. In the fall, we get twice abundance - both storage vegetables are harvested when ready and perennial vegetables are with new vigor back from holiday, not to mention all the nuts and fruits we can harvest.

Many ways to go

The beauty of timber gardening is that it is a very flexible concept. The scale, farmer's preferences, natural role models and, not least, the site's unique conditions, the variation possibilities are almost endless. It can be a little culture bed against a wall with figs, grapes and Agastache Foeniculum or pallet collars filled with perennial vegetables that mimics fertile meadows. There may be a culture bed in the middle of the lawn that links two existing apple tree with another multi-year edibles. It can be the whole villa gardens that slowly transformed into an edible shrub savanna, where the apple's original environment is the model. In the right place, it can of course also be about creating something that over time gives a real jungle feeling, a multi-layered forest with tree species such as walnut, Turkish hazel tree, pepper tree, asimina, creepers like kiwi and butterfly creeper, shade tolerant shrubs Cornus mas and staphylea pinnata and many of the herbaceous delicacies that thrive in the soil layer. Personally, I think the protracted, natural woods, where there is plenty of light and heat to produce fruit, is a fantastic role model. Which is where many of the species that I like most about, plum, apples, hazelnuts, hawthorn, pink and sötrönn. Forestry Horticulture is therefore not necessarily grow in the forest, without having the mechanisms that create the production of natural, perennial ecosystem as a model and use them to avoid many of the elements included in the ordinary food production. However, what is common to all variants of the basic idea is that they are based on co-operation with a huge force of nature known as ecological succession.

Take the succession rapids

Get familiar with the concept of ecological succession, but everyone knows what it means. If you leave a piece of bare soil or grassland to its own devices, it will eventually grow back and become forest in most places in our country, provided that no will and plows, harrows, burning or grazing. Succession is simply the change in vegetation at a site over time, and that all growers know is nature's efforts to form forest insanely strong.

It may therefore resemble succession during heavy rapids. In principle all farmers and ordinary vegetable growers are trying to go upstream on this rapids. It is entirely possible, but it requires a lot of energy, either in the form of hard physical work, or large amounts of fossil fuels. Once you stop adding energy to go upstream pulled it down, so it is important to never stop fighting. Otherwise it thistles, dandelions, later small trees and eventually growing forest cultivation. Forest horticulturist trying instead to go with the flow. Paddling down the succession of power requires active presence and vigilance. Otherwise you could crash against the rocks spruce or get stuck in the marsh vole when you thought it was heading to the quiet woodland garden lagoon.

It is this force of nature that I struggled in my attempts to produce food in the villa grounds and it is the fight against this force of nature that has been the cornerstone of our food systems then we put down the pick of the earth 10 000 years ago.

Working with the succession does a pretty big mental adjustment. Couch grass, dandelions, tistlar, asp, willow and birch are suddenly no longer opponents, but potential partners, whose energy we can channel to shift the ecological balance closer to something like a deciduous forest. The deciduous forest is in fact the ecosystem in our latitudes that can produce the most biomass at a season. Can we get into the deciduous forest track in the succession race, we are on the right path, although as I said, requires active participation and guidance to get there. One can say that the forest garden is constantly on the road to becoming the hardwood, but the need for that matter never arrive. Through wise management measures can we keep the culture of production in a position that is optimal based on our goals and the plants we want to grow. If cooperation with the succession success awaits eventually a fine reward. A vibrant ecosystem teeming with life, who rarely need watering, where there are few or no weeds, who can do without annual tillage and is packed with useful, usually edible plants.

Get started

Getting started with a timber garden is not as difficult as it may seem. That said, there are many different starting points and many roads ahead. Here I want to describe one of the most common starting points, the turf dominated home garden. Most people who have such a garden already has the frame of a timber garden on site: an apple tree in the middle of the lawn, some currant bushes in the corner and a few perennials in another. There it is only to connect them, give them some company of other plants that they are happier with than the thirsty lawn that barely lets through neither water nor food.

The start of this scale is wise, because the mental transition from successionsmotverkare to successionssamarbetare takes some time and from personal experience I know that it is easy to get in over his head. There is still some work to establish trees, bushes, creepers and herbs so that they eventually become independent individuals. It takes time to get to know the place well and find a compromise between what the site can deliver and what the grower wants to achieve. You must start with a rather 100 sqm culture than with 6000 kvm, which is what I did when it started to get crowded in the home garden.

To begin to build a timber garden on the lawn is a pretty rewarding position, and so this can work time to look over the first seasons.

  1. Mark the outline of the area that will become the first timber garden that will link the various perennial crops you already have. Do this any time in the spring when the grass is just starting to turn green.
  2. Take a grip and loosen the soil over the entire surface without turning the, by tilting the fork back and forth a few times.
  3. Place a few cm of manure or compost right on the lawn and mix happily with other organic materials such as leaves and small twigs. This means that the soil becomes more hardwood-like by the right kind of microorganisms are attracted.
  4. Cover the entire surface with newspapers added overlapped with the third part overlap, corrugated cardboard or some other biodegradable materials can also.
  5. Add on a loose mulch such as straw, woodchips, silage or leaves, gladly 10 cm thick.
  6. Wait until late summer, early autumn or next spring before putting out trees and shrubs that you think fits with the plants you already have. Plant happy tight if you can afford it, so you can take advantage of the surface perfectly from day one. The closer you plant, the more you will have to cull the future as the competition between the plants become too large. Do you want to plant sparser can usefully cultivate annual crops like pumpkin or potatoes between the bushes during the establishment years.
  7. Water thoroughly and regularly throughout the first season so that the plants can build strong root systems and can find their own water.
  8. A year or two after the trees and bushes are planted, they take care of themselves, and when it is time to plant a örtskikt that acts as mulch. It replaces the dead ground cover you laid out at the beginning. Plant as close as you can to reduce the risk of weed encroachment. To a surface of 100 sqm it can go to the 1000 plants, so building up your own happy multiplication operations while the trees and bushes are growing.
  9. Water the herbs regularly and remove any unwanted plants that take into cultivation.

If everything goes as it should (which it rarely does) you can now look forward to fine harvest moments and quite a bit of maintenance work. Beginners Plants that I can recommend for this type of position is chokeberry, Amelanchier alnifolia, blåbärstry, raspberries, hasselnöt, havtorn, gooseberry, mullbär, currants and happy mini kiwi which can use the existing vegetation klänghjälp. In örtskiktet suit robust tuvbildande perennials that Blitum Bonus-Henricus, Orpine, tree onion and garden acid, which can be supplemented with creeping ground cover such löparfetblad (a fine lettuce plant) and favorite.

What you should be aware of is that this planting will change character from year to year as the succession progresses. Many of us have small trädgårdsdiktatorer within us, but I think it's good just to release the need to control and simply accept that raspberries will wander around, the sea buckthorn bush will be utskuggad ten years or so, that some plants disappear, and not least the new ones in the vegetable might have been called weeds.

beyond the home garden

I mentioned earlier that forest gardening is a flexible concept. We have established small timber garden plants at the edges around our vegetable garden, where it would not go to cultivate common vegetables in any convenient way, because of the topography or shape of the growing surfaces. The bushes and trees are beautiful, creating shelter and attracts a variety of farm animals to help us keep the pests in the vegetable garden at an acceptable level. Occasionally, we turn to örtskiktet and will thus cover material to the vegetable lands. Forest Garden feeds us, our little helpers and some vegetable lands where we so far produces much of the food we eat during the fall and winter.

The same mindset we can use in a variety of other contexts. Think of all the city's unimaginative green areas consisting mostly of large turf deserts. Could we fill them with forest gardens would biodiversity increase substantially, urban poor self-sufficiency would improve slightly and the townspeople would have a nicer environment to stay in. Likewise, there are many areas related to forest- and agricultural land where forest gardens could take place and produce much needed green corridors for both humans and animals to get around in the rather dull landscape of the industrial way of thinking has produced. We start in the end, together we can build a lot of new knowledge about the techniques that work in what context and what is not working. Eventually we will find the keys to pursue this growing form even in some larger and more efficient scale, something that a handful of pioneers in Swedish agriculture are already exploring. But that's another story.

An old farming techniques

This forest gardening may sound new and cool, but I would say that it really is a much older culture techniques than the techniques we build our food supply on today. For us westerners does farming almost always that we create bare earth so our seeds, but more and more research shows that even the so-called hunters and gatherers used the earth, In a different way. The Europeans saw as untouched wilderness when they came to parts of North America was in fact a human-created landscapes. For millennia, people had benefited some individual trees with tasty fruits in the forests by thinning out so they were less interested in. They had created clearings and burnt by overgrown fields to provide better conditions for crops such as blueberries, gooseberry and cranberries. They brought with them small root pieces and cuttings wherever they moved to shed more edible landscape. In some cultures included the annual planting nut- and fruit-bearing trees, so that future generations could always find something to eat in the woods. Even here in Sweden is the pattern again. Parts of northern Sweden is marketed as "Europe's last wilderness" when in fact it is an ancient cultural landscape, characterized by the Sami way of farming in.

Being forest horticulturists is for me a way to connect with this ancient way of relating to the landscape and food production. Although I'd rather be an active player in a landscape that can be a home for many species than to be with and total ruin functioning ecosystems to cover my basic needs. With our population density, we can of course do not live as hunter-gatherers anymore. Forest garden with its high-yielding crops is then a good compromise to bring their old mindset a little smarter future.

9 thoughts on “Forest Garden – The art of growing forest”

  • What a great reading. I am soo happy to read how you did to get to your timber garden. We are a group of people in Malmö in ECO town of Augustenborg who built a private woodland garden to the test and now we are building for the public. There are two lawns in the area that are taken into possession. Very consistent with your description and so exciting to see our work as well as your. Otherwise we'll change that with the help of this article and your books. Greetings from Gunilla Ericson in Augustenborg Growers Group.

  • jättebra och spännande läsning, sitter i novembermörkret och drömmer!
    Förra året läste jag “Perennial vegetables: Discover, grow, enjoy”, och började odla perenna grönsaker.
    I år läser jag “Forest Garden : growing edible everywhere”, och vill anlägga en Skogsträdgård. Vi är flera stycken i gruppen, så vi får se vad vi kommer fram till. Jag har lånat boken tre gånger, men nu köper jag den. Vi ses på Angereds gård, torsdag 5 dec. 2019.
    Best regards, Ola Lundholm. Tillsammansodlingen i Mölndal

  • Interesting reading. Your knowledge is spreading like a vitamin injection for cultivation Sweden and especially for me, who am in the privileged position of both apple orchard and forest edges to work with and transformation underway. Not least, I think of how good it will feel to just be able to let some areas to live his own life and merge with the surroundings when I can not manage to grow longer. As a kind of pension.
    I hope you look into when you are in the area of ​​Alvesta
    /Anette Brunsell

  • Hej Philipp!
    Jag är arkitektstudent på KTH i Stockholm och gör just nu mitt examensprojekt.
    Jag kommer att rita och designa en Permakulturträdgård med tillhörande byggnader.

    Reading your posts are so incredibly instructive and inspiring that I get very touched.
    What if the municipalities could focus on introducing more stuff in our cities.
    What if a part of the green carpet in our parks and our could be small woodland gardens.
    I feel full of inspiration and joy!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Jennifer,
      thanks for the nice words! The funny thing is that it is happening in many places in Sweden. In Lund, I have drawn a 1600 square-meter forest garden that will be built in a new park that is about to emerge. In Örebro I am involved in the creation of a school / park with very elements of edible plants. In Malmö, there will be built a park with a focus on edible and there are a number of similar projects across the country. The planners are starting to open their eyes to it edible for real now, and this is just the beginning, I think.
      All's Well!

  • Couch grass

    I read that you write that you see turnips as a partner. Since I have an enormous amount of turnip, I wonder how if you can develop it a little how I should think / do?

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