Having the energy and vision for a project is important, Trevor and Jenna got that. Fortunately, Trevor also happens to be an obsessed student of forest gardening-and lets be honest ya’ll- food forests are sexy. It never fails, in the first weekend of every Pdc we teach somebody exclaims; ”I came to learn how to start a forest garden.” I myself dove into permaculture fifteen years ago, seduced by the idea of abundant landscapes with food dripping onto my head, thanks to permaculture thinkers and communicators like Geoff Lawton and Dave Jacke.
Since those heady and bold years of permaculture experimentation we’ve picked up quite a bit of practical knowledge. I’ve even weathered an unhealthy obsession with swales, evolving to view them as unnecessary for fruit trees in the mid-atlantic.
In our bioregion, (the mid-atlantic), there are great examples of practitioners and sites demonstrating effective forest gardening. Michael Judd comes to mind-a charismatic writer and designer from Maryland, Michael has simplified forest garden application into repeatable techniques like the expanding islands strategy. Then there is Dave O’neill-a mixed vegetable farming wizard and mad man with endless energy who has successfully implemented the linear guild as a pattern for establishing food forests. I have experimented with both of these techniques on a homestead scale to successful ends complete with hand dug permed out berm and basin fish scale swales. It’s a lot of work! Something I would want to avoid at all cost on a market scale.
At Wild Rose Orchard Trevor has simplified the design and installment of his system. Recently, he walked our 6th annual SPI Pdc through installment at his future orchard site. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, in this work he is standing on the shoulders of Michael Judd, Dave O’neill, Stefan Sobkowiak of Miracle Farms, Michael Phillips of Heartsong Farms, and Darren Doherty.
Step 1. Design your system complete with species selection. Trevor believes strongly in the central valley that it is important to mimic our natural ecosystem of chestnut savannahs with the use of linear guilds and wide grassy alleys between them. He selects his species and plants them in linear guilds based on when the fruit ripens. This is known as the grocery aisle concept taken from the work of Stefan Sobkowiak.
Step 2. Lay out your site in keyline patterned rows. This could easily be a book of it’s own, but in our experience, it is a skill best learned through doing rather than reading. A recommended resource can be found at earthintegral.com. Trevor recommends slightly raised “planting strips” rather than full-on swales. Combining keyline patterning with planting strips allows for alleys of uniform width and prevents having to use the energy required to dig swales.
Step 3. Till and than, using a rotary plow or hand shovel shape your raised planting strips. This is all that is needed to direct water from valleys to ridges even in large rain events. It’s a low risk, low energy intervention. Step 4. Sow cover crop (Trevor recommends fall planted oats for winter kill and red clover as a nitrogen fixer.) Step 5. Plant trees with myco inoculant. Step 6. Provide fencing for deer pressure, tree tubes for vole and rabbit pressure, and staking for wind pressure. Step 7. Keep tree drip line weed free during the establishment years using wood chip mulch and/or landscaping fabric.
Daniel Firth Griffith