Summer jobs or Summer care for a young food forest


I look forward to the food forest being more grown up at this time of year -meaning that the the food forest will have more shrubs and trees, making shade, mulch, and cycling more water. I wish I had more of these things right now. But besides being patient, there are several things I am doing to speed up the growth, and make this dream of an established food forest a reality.

First priority is to introduce more species and plants to fill in the huge gaps between the trees. This is what happens in nature where fields begin reverting back to forests from grass.  The species in the open field change from grasses, to woody perennials like goldenrod (Solidago species), then to blackberries (Rubus species), multiflora roses (Rosa multiflora), and dogwoods (Cornus controversa), until oaks and the like begin to establish themselves.

By the time the forest trees start to grow up, there is a thick mulch of blackberry and multiflora canes, nicely manured by all the animals attracted there by the multiflora rose hips in the winter, and blackberries in the summer. Nature is not a “Veganic” gardener.

That being said, when I say ‘adding species,’ I do mean adding animal species as well as plant. I have moved our chicken pens across some of the more open places in the food forest, and the effect on the grass has been amazing. Rather than scraggly short stuff, I have lovely swaths of emerald green -nearly a foot taller than the grass next to it; all the green grass growing in the exact shape of the chicken pens.

This extra grass makes more food my rabbit. She can eat exclusively in-system grass and clover, providing lovely “bunny gold” for adding to the mulched beds.

This mulch has been helpful in killing of the scraggly grass under my trees, since to get rid of any sizable patch with mulch I need all the grass I can get.

Mulching to kill grass illustrates the best way to work with these newly introduced species of plants and animals: keep the life moving. In other words, cycle the life as fast as you can, keep all the species of plants and animals as dependent on each other as you can. That is how an ecosystem is built; through the interaction of a lot of species. If you have grass, mulch with it -or feed it to an animal, wild or domesticated. Whatever the case, keep those nutrients active!

Comfrey and nitrogen fixers are most of what I am planting under the trees, along with some Jerusalem artichokes here and there. They compete with the grass masterfully, and at the same time make more biomass.

Whatever I do, there is a lot to be done, not the least of these being to stand back and observe, so I had better get back out there.


  1. Five minutes’ walk from my house is ground which used to be a coal mine and which is now being allowed to return to nature. It is interesting watching its metamorphosis – although I haven’t lived here long enough to have seen massive changes…. but the trees are moving in.


    1. We have a lot of strip mines in our area which were used for coal. Part of our farm in fact was considered for a strip mine long ago but the coal deposits are too soft. I wrote specifically about these, and the nitrogen fixer that’s helping rehabilitate them here if you’re interested:

      I have noticed they grow trees quite well, but herebaceous plants in the lower storeys are still quite scarce compared to normal forest. Have you noticed the same?



      1. Yes, I have noticed that, too. There are lots of silver birches and blackberries galore, as well as some kind of tree which bears rosehips (I’m going to investigate the name of this further). Apart from that it is mostly scrub, except for bulrushes in the ponds, and a couple of apple trees which must have grown from discarded apple cores.

        I will have a look at your blog post about nitrogen fixers.


        1. More diverse than ours. Maple, oak, pine, and beech with some scraggly multiflora rose with lots of the autumn olive I linked to about covers the list. Andropogan grass and Japanese knotweed grow in some of the more soil-rich and sun rich spots (as opposed to pure coal and rock). I know one strip mine patch that has a birch, but this is quite unusual. They often die over here. Interesting.


          1. Silver birch is native to this region, which might at least in part account for its success. As for blackberries, I think they would grow anywhere.

            Himalayan balsam is a plant which now grows freely everywhere but not on the pit head. So that would suggest to me there is a problem with the soil, though. Don’t think I’ve seen any Japanese knotweed either.

            It was an underground mine, which I guess that affects diversity in a different way from open-cast mining. That said, you can see the remnants of coal on the surface.


  2. I’m browsing your old posts this morning, and found myself wishing for an update on this one. What are you thinking these days about plant/animal agriculture integration? To me it’s seeming more and more that I would lose a great deal of both protein and pleasure without the animals, and any excess plants that I produce are seamlessly absorbed into the larger system and turned into protein and fertilizer.
    So far I don’t have a system like yours in which the chickens can be moved around, because my chicken runs have to be heavily fortified against coyotes. But a nearby feed store now carries an expensive but lovely animal run entirely made of heavy steel wire and I’m thinking of giving that a try, because shoveling manure out of the existing run is getting old.


    1. Yes, there is that give and take between the run systems and the moveable pens. I think the best marriage of the two would ge larger runs so you could grow annual crops that need such fertility. I gave one of my clients such a design, with each run containg a golden spiral garden (the same from PASSIVE Gardening. The gardens are still establishing fornthem, but I am excited to see the end results. In your case I can see how such large runs would be hard to fortify though. That heavy duty movable pen sounds like your best bet. I haven’t had a chicken pen in the food forest since thebyear this post was written. I have kept the rabbit in a raised pen until last year. Thia is mostly because my parents have moved the chicken operation to other parts of the farm. As my N-fixers mature, I am less inclined to bring in the extra nitrogen through animals. With more fruit plants and habitat forming in the food forest, there is actrually a lot of manure from wild rabbits, deer and groundhog I am trying to get along with. Protein sources from the food forest is a very important subject though. I’m working on the third book now, and am taking some time in the last chapter to talk about how to design a food forest to suit diet. For instance I have had clients who avoided all high sugary food, so didn’t want the majority of the high sugar fruits everyone plants in a food forest. So I’m providing a list of low sugar fruits and perennial greens. Considering the protein requirements of most diets, many designs would best suit diet with a minimal amount of fruits, and a maximum amount of forage for healthy eggs, milk or meat. So I’m still thinking along the same lines as at the time of this post, but have some new ways of satisfying fertility needs. I look forward to seeing how the new chicken project goes. >


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