Taste of chaos

Years ago, a hillside was tidied up. An apple tree growing there was pruned, grass around it ripped up. At the roots of the tree, clear plastic was laid; a layer of black plastic was laid over this, on top of this was laid colored woodchips

Alone, surrounded by short, browning grass in the heat of summer, its lower limbs sawed off, the apple tree died.

The owner changed. A new hand touched the wounds on this mortal tree, felt sorry, pulled back the layers of plastic, let the grass grow wild.


It was chaos. Briars and thorns grew up amidst the grass. Alongside these were fruit trees, vines, and shrubs.

Today I walked up the stone steps of this hillside, followed the meandering path that cuts through the long grass, and grasped one of many rusty-red peaches dripping from my trees.

Several of the peaches are fruiting abundantly this year. Because I have several kinds, some are ripe now, others a couple of months from now.


A fruit here, a fruit there has been the norm for years. This year there are just loads of fruit, beyond fresh eating, from goumi, gooseberry, saskatoon, currant. I often emerge from the food forest with fruits and berries for others to try.  Some look at the fruit, look at the food forest, look at me puzzled and ask: “Where did you get those?”

I have actually done the least in the food forest this year than any year before. I haven’t even mowed much of it. The rose bushes and blackberries I let grow up in the back of the food forest actually provided some fine mulch when I trimmed them back.


The amorpha and comfrey provided some very nice mulch also. I mainly mowed beside the road in order to mulch a new bed. Yet, as I walk around, plucking clusters of shining sweetness, I‘m quite pleased to see my beds are expanding themselves. Within the beds, several plants have achieved some of the most lush growth yet, with the turnip rooted chervil way above my head, and forming new patches in new beds.

To bite into the dewy sweetness of a fruit warm with sunlight here is unlike that of anywhere else. All fruit is a process. It is the workings of a place, coming to such a refined state as food. To bring in a fertilizer here, and bring in a spray there, is like making a patchwork of places and processes, in my mind. I much prefer fruits with vibrant flavor from comfrey mulch growing at the trees’ feet,  (comfrey mulch and tea does produce a notably rich flavor in garden vegetables too) and the spice of essential oils wafting around the air from such pest confusers as oregano or Spiraea.


I’ve had the privilege of working with chaos after letting it back into the garden. I think it’s got the idea of what I’m after. At this point in the food forest’s development, I am sure the chaos quite eagerly gets to work as I walk away from Mortal Tree, a fresh pit of a peach at its roots.

19 thoughts on “Taste of chaos”

  1. Mortal Tree! I so needed to read this. A vision of the future that can emerge if I trust in the hand of nature. I haven’t been surfing so much lately as crashing against the wave and flailing around. No more. Surf’s up!

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    1. I see you’ve got the idea! All power to ya’ man! My heart’s gone out to you reading the latest posts. Just remember those big waves come from tiny, tiny ebbs and flows way out there. So glad you liked it!

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  2. This was a lovely thing to read. As a gardener I am very chaos-tolerant, and I think that others who see the most productive parts of my yard just see a mess. But I see nature furiously at work.

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    1. Thank you Heather. I would say you know the proper use of chaos -a very refined art in my opinion. This ability to use chaos is the reason so many people need measures to keep it out, while still gaining its benefits, such as fertilizers, irrigation, poisons and the like. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

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  3. Hi Luke,

    I emailed you a few years ago about my endless acres of poison ivy, multiflora rose, goldenrod and mugwort. Since then I have been using panel fencing to move my 5-7 goats at least once daily in browsing season. The results are quite amazing. The places I have now run them through 3 or 4 times are hosting dozens of species of plants, as well as a smattering of the cover crop mixes I have broadcast after pasturing. The places where I have actively removed the large poison ivy vines are now safest…But I have also discovered, after cleaning their home pen into the garden the first year, that it is far easier to house them in trailers and just move their pen and consider it mulched. So now I have 5 patches, in one set of 2 and one set of 3, that get great sunlight and are densely buried under 6″ or so of goat droppings, urine, and their so-called ‘waste’ hay, the size of 9 dog kennel panels….I guess that’s about 70′ circumference or so. Last year I direct seeded sweet corn into the first ‘pad’ which grew amazing, then I planted garlic when the corn was finished. I seeded this year’s pads with corn but it didn’t work so well this time. All the while the mugwort is crowding the edge, closing in on this juicy terrain, practically slathering….

    Anyway I homeschool my 3 kids, 10, 8 and 4, and taking care of the goats, moving their browse pens etc has really turned out to be way more fun for all of us than the annual garden, where it seems like every plant is like a newborn that has to be nursed and nursed along only to feed a slug or preferably a baby bunny. And the bunnies and woodchucks that love them are so cute! I would rather be friends with them and join a CSA. So all of this is to say, do you have print copies of either of your books available? I could really use some help with the next steps here, turning these pads into passive gardens or food forests. I just can’t really stand to be on my phone to read them, and we anyway strive in our home to model non-addictive phone behavior to the kids. So I can’t really read a book online until they drop in their beds, which because they are immensely happy and healthy is rarely before 10pm! They like to stay up and watch me make cheese or jam or just catch up on the dishes, whatever is going on that night.

    Thanks for your reply,

    Marly Hornik Plattekill, NY

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    1. Thank you so much Marly for updating me! I’ve often wondered how things are progressing for you, and am so pleased to hear it is going so well. Definitely figuring your own way.

      Both my books are in print, and available for purchase on the same Amazon pages that sell the ebooks. They often show the ebook first. You are welcome to email me any questions you have about them through my current email: luke (at) simonorganics.com.

      Glad to hear you are homeschooling. I and my three siblings were homeschooled all the way through highschool. So I have some inkling of what it’s like.

      Thanks again for letting me know how things are going. I look forward to hearing more in the future.

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  4. Ah, peaches… Mmm…. I dream of peaches…

    We’ve been struck by a strong late frost for two consecutive years. So we have no fruit from the prunus family, a small sample of apples so we don’t forget what apples are, and a weak harvest of pears. Quinces were wiped out too.

    Goumi and friends are quite reliable and so are the various ribes varieties. Triple crown blackberries are great this year despite the challening winter and spring condition. Rasps are currently suffering from drought as they’re very young and have not been mulched as heavily as I would have liked due to our schedule.

    Same as you we follow the mostly-bening-neglect school of horticulture. Out of chaos comes abundance 🙂

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    1. Sorry about that. I have been in a similar situation with the peaches for a while, accept for that we get cold enough winters to just wipe them out before they even bud? I can see why you have invested so much in the Eleagnus species.

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    1. Thanks for letting me know. I added them to the sidebar. Have you tried out the site map? Just wondering. I have anjoued it forngetting around the site, but I don’t see a lot of use in the stats. Feel free to drop any other feedback on the site’s use. Do you still have my email?

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  5. Aah, much better, thank you. As to email, I did try that first but could not find it even in the archived emails of the last few… Uh… Decades. After your question I’ve gone looking again and happily found it in another email account.

    By sitemap you mean the visual map? I’ve tried it sporadically (you see how often I appear here – hit and run) and while it feels like a super idea in theory (I’m all for patterns and macro-micro overview), in practice it somehow doesn’t click for me. It likely would if I could see all of it at once with all elements being legible, like on a really large sheet of paper – and that’s just not possible inside the physical constraints of the screen.

    Because of being an infrequent visitor I’m not really much use considering any other site usability aspects… I was just being That Guy who feels something has been taken away from his habits (the horror!) and needed to speak up 🙂

    I ordered the other book today – the Kindle version of Mastering the growing edge. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to actually read and review it.

    I have a suggestion on my mind what could be interesting to convey to readers but at the moment I don’t yet know what’s inside the book so it may be that you’ve already covered it.

    Some time ago I came upon a book titled How not to play chess. And it was like a revelation right there at the title before even opening it. Because – when you start out with something there are a gazillion possibilities and combinations. And you are aware that there is no single way. You’re curious, you want to explore and try this and that. But you’re lost in the multitude. And you don’t want to keep being disappointed.

    So you either become dogmatic (this one way is THE way!!!) or give up because of overload. Ah, if only someone would help you out with filtering what NOT to do, that would be so helpful by heavily pruning the explosion of choices.

    Therefore – how NOT to design your landscape / grow your forest garden / take care of your plants…. I’d say that would be a good read for a wide audience.

    … But no, sadly I don’t have a starting set of suggestions at hand, I need to go and be a software guy again for a while now.

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    1. Thank you for the feedback on the map. I think most users agree with you.

      Thanks for grabbing a copy of MtGE. By all means, please let me know what you think of it. I think you’ll like it.

      On your point of ‘Don’t do this, do this’ food forest creation, I am actually in the thick of working on the magnum opus of food forest creation now. I actually began this one before the other two. I keep setting it aside though because the idea and approach has kept changing. I do give as concise of directions as possible in this book. Definitely a lot of ‘pruning’ as you said. Perhaps I’ll have it launched by next time you have a moment to spare from computer work. I certainly look forward to hearing what you think of it.

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  6. I keep coming back to this post because I love reading about what I think of as Mortaltree Forest. And I love reading positive things about gardening chaos. Nature, after all, is pretty damn chaotic. Would you mind if I reblogged this at some point in the near future?

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    1. I would have no problems whatsoever! If you would like the original content, and just post with “Originally posted on Mortal Tree” I’ll be glad to get you the text and images. I’m so glad to hear this blog can offer some spark of inspiration for you in your food forest work. I remeber looking over that handful of blogs that really inspired me long ago just wishing I could give that same feeling of excitement and interest to others. You’ve just made that dream a reality for me. Thank you so much Heather!

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  7. A very well written post. I too couldn’t be without a wild and chaotic touch in my garden. Everything else feels so artificial. I think the right balance is crucial. Best wishes on your way!

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