October 20, 2021

Permaculture Notes: How to Plant a Forest Garden

In the comments of my "Forest Gardening: Planning" blog post, some of you expressed an interest in what a forest garden is and how to establish one. These notes are from my online Permaculture Design Course by Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton. I hope this outline is useful for answering your questions.

Notes from Bill Mollison's online Permaculture Design Course
Lecturers: Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton 

I. Types of forests
A. Natural and conservation - forest preservation
B. Structural - timber, lumber, poles
C. Shelterbelt and barrier - animal shelter and windbreaks
D. Fuel - firewood
E. Forage - for livestock
F. Food - forest garden
G. Combination of any of the above 

II. Layers of a forest garden
A. Canopy layer - climax trees
B. Understory trees
C. Shrubs 
D. Herbs (2 layers in temperate zones)
1. Tall
2. Short
E. Ground cover
F. Root crops
G. Climbers

III. Planting plan
A. At the start
90% support trees - 8 support trees per fruit or nut tree
10% production species
B. At maturity
90% production species
10% support species
C. Plant trees in clumps, fed by several drip points
1. Clumps of trees support one another
a. plant crown and flower bearers outside the clump
b. plant stem bearers inside the clump 
2. Individual trees 
a. Require more maintenance per tree
b. Suffer water stress, wind pruning, smothering by grasses

IV. Support species
A. Pioneer species 
1. Are first responders, i.e. the first plants to grow in an area of disturbed or debilitated soil (from tilling, bull dozing, plowing, fire, clear cutting, over-grazing, production abuse, etc.)
2. Functions
a. repair and restoration
b. to stabilize the soil and establish growing conditions for a mature ecosystem to follow
3. Are fast carbon pathways
4. Usually considered weeds and eliminated
B. Choose species that will build the soil
1. Nitrogen fixers- legume trees and species
a. decompose quickly
b. hierarchy of nitrogen containing parts
i. seeds are highest in nitrogen
ii. then pods
iii. leaves
iv. twigs
v. wood (can be 5% nitrogen)
2. Dynamic accumulators - pull up subsoil minerals through their roots (phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc.)
C. Time stacking
1. Cover crops last 6 months
2. Bushes for 1 year
3. Shrubs 3-7 years
4. Small trees 5-15 years
5. Tall trees 20 years
D. Chop and drop
1. Why
a. for mulch 
b. for quick soil building
2. When  
a. Temperate climate
i. herbaceous mulch - cut early and mid-summer
ii. tree mulch - cut at end of summer
b. Tropics - at beginning of wet season
c. Arid climate - at start of winter 

V. To establish a food forest in an existing grove of trees
A. Start with ground covers
1 annuals first
2. add perennials
B. Then support species
1. Legumes
2. Dynamic accumulators
C. Lastly, plant production trees (fruits and nuts)


So, there it is, and I hope it's of interest. I will probably add to these notes as I come across more information. I have to admit that seeing it in outline form is very helpful for me. As with any course, there is lots of information to process in the lectures, so it's useful to organize it like this. 


Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

That all seems very straightforward and informative. Thanks Leigh!

Leigh said...

Thanks TB. I really need to do this with some of the other topics as well, like swales. I have little tidbits sprinkled throughout my notes, and it's really nice to have the information organized. And if I put it on my blog, I can always find it!