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SUSTAINABILITY Forest gardens bear more than fruit

Outdoor Living
Forest gardens bear more than fruit

It takes constant interference, power input and management by humankind to keep fields of grain or pasture, to grow food, animals and generate fuel and other products. How much easier and simpler to work with our land’s natural tendency and plant a productive woodland.
Anyone harvesting tree fruit will appreciate how much less labour intensive it would be to grow peas and lettuces on trees. The forest garden (aka the forest food farm), aims to do just that – use trees, shrubs and other mostly perennial plants to produce a wide range of life’s necessities in a labour-efficient, nature-managed, organic and permaculture way. The only necessity is that you – the grower – should suspend natural prejudices and be prepared to try new foods, new tastes and new plant species.
Developed over the past 25 years in the UK, the temperate forest garden copies a young or mid-term woodland, with a tree canopy, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, annuals, root crops, and climbing plants – most of which will be dual-purpose and most of which will give food or fuel, fiber or dye, oils or spices. The growers design the system to suit their soil and local climate, to be biodiverse and beneficial to the plants grown together, and to suit their lifestyle and plot size.
It starts with good design and soil management, and continues with the (potentially) year-round production of food for the table. You don’t have to clear your growing plot, double-dig, weed, start seeds, plant, weed again and so on – the annual round of work that most gardeners and growers are only too familiar with. Instead, you choose and plant diverse layers in Year One and in following years, you’ll be able to nourish your soil and yourself and shelter and heat your home. You’ll even be able to use what you grow to make soap, oils for light, basketry materials and much more. Using clearings between trees permits you to grow those annual vegetables you simply can’t live without.   
The likely effects of climate change on our food production, especially from our gardens, include more abrupt weather changes, periods of drought or flooding, new pests and diseases moving into our areas, less predictable light levels. The woodland has built-in resilience, with a wider range of species, higher humidity beneath the trees as well as a more-moderate temperature range, less risk of flooding, amongst other benefits.  Growing your own food, locally and sustainably, cuts financial and environmental costs, reduces fuel use and is very satisfying. Doing this by means of the forest food farm is also biologically sustainable, resilient and aesthetically beautiful.

To find out more contact Cleo Devito or Cy O’Hara, members of Mayo Sustainability Forum and Mayo Organic Group, on Cleo and Cy will be running a low-cost course in forest food farming (FFF), commencing in early 2011, at a number of venues around Mayo. They also plan to encourage setting-up local FFF networks around the county.

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