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Food Forest Permaculture, Design, Creation of Food Forest

Food Forest Permaculture, Design, Creation of Food Forest

Food Forest Permaculture, and its Design

Today, we are discussing Food Forest Permaculture, Design, and Creation of Food Forest.

A food forest is a type of plan to design a forest or garden which imitates the patterns forest growth to make sure that there is a good yield, maximum exposure to light, and management which is simple and also encourages biodiversity to a greater extent.

The main goal of a food forest is the implementation of a system where the land will be used as forest ecosystem and the design is also done to get the harvests which are good to consume through minimum care, less maintenance and through sustainable agro-forestry.

A food forest is a part of permaculture where people try to design the systems which are eco-friendly, permanent and work with interference from external sources.

Layers of  food forest permaculture: 

The pattern of food forest if highly optimized. It uses multiple layers by making use of the entire space available in horizontal and vertical form. A food forest generally consists of seven layers.

  • The uppermost layer is called as the canopy layer or tall tree layer and it is the layer which consists of tall trees which bear large fruits and nuts.
  • In between the tall trees of canopy layer, there would be another layer called a low tree layer which consists of trees which are low growing and dwarf. The dwarf trees here will be up to a length of 3 meters to 4 meters and they are not very low for consideration.
  • Between these trees which are small, shrubs are located. These shrubs are represented by berries and currants. As usual, this layer is called a shrub layer.
  • The remaining space is filled with herbaceous layer and this layer is filled with culinary and medicinal herbs along with bee-forage, companion and poultry forage plants.
  • If any other space has remained, then it is covered by ground cover plants. These are the ones which help in the formation of a living mulch which involves in the protection of soil, reduction in loss of water due to evaporation and prevention of the growth of weeds.
  • Though it may look like many plants are placed at a single location, we will need to still fill the vertical space which is upright. This vertical space is filled with vines and climbers which can crawl through fences, trellises or any other support which is vertical. This will include berries of many varieties, kiwi, climbing beans and peas, grapes etc.
  • You can also go deeper into the root zone which is also called as rhizosphere which is completely underground level and occupied by root crops like ginger, potato, onion etc.
Layers of  food forest permaculture.
Layers of  food forest permaculture.

Misconceptions on food forest permaculture:

  • When people see a continuous row of trees, then they consider them as forests. Those can be described as orchards.
  • When there are rows of trees which have some other variety of plant at their base, those are not food forests and they can be termed as under-plantings.
  • When there are rows of trees which have some other plants alternatively in between them, those are not food forests but orchards which have employed the intercropping method.
  • There is no rule that the food forest should have seven layers. It will have multiple layers or sometimes even more than seven layers if necessary. The most important thing to identify a food forest is its capability to self-sustain and be a very good ecosystem for a living.

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Form and Functionality of Food forest permaculture:

  • When coming to the form of the food forest, it is three-dimensional structure and this is the main factor which differentiates it from the fields which are two-dimensional or any other fields which follow monoculture.
  • When coming to the functionality of food forest, it is a living ecosystem and the properties which it attains are the ones which cannot be seen in any system of agriculture or gardens.

Benefits of  Food Forest permaculture:

Benefits Of Food Forest.
Benefits Of Food Forest.
  • The productivity of food forests would be very high due to the high-density plantation.
  • Biodiversity which is followed in food forests will make sure that the supply of food is continuous all around the year.
  • Food forests are self-mulching just like any other forest. These food forests will cover the soil by themselves for the purpose of retainment of moisture.
  • Due to the plant density which is high, there would be a high amount of leaves which would be falling. These leaves accumulate and get rotten down thereby adding organic matter to the soil.
  • A particular section of insects which act as decomposers such as earthworms, millipedes, pill bugs etc will break down the organic matter and help the process of natural composting.
  • There would be no requirement of chemicals as the food forests will make use of predators which are available naturally in order to prevent pests.
  • The predators will have a very good home which is permanent to them with sources of food which are available in an abundant way.
  • The living ecosystem which is abundant in terms of natural resources will play a vital role in attracting birds and other predators which in turn contribute to the natural way of pest control.
  • Biodiversity is the one which is preferred by nature always. So, by mixing varieties of plants and growing them in a better way, natural synergy will be created so that all the plants which are involved in the food forest will be benefitted.
  • In the forests or nature, the plants which die will fall lie in the same place. They will not be binned. Same way, in the food forests, the plants which fall off should not be uprooted. Their stem should be cut at the soil level so that air and water channels which are intricate will be created in thousands of numbers. The soil will be preserved and paths will be built. The soil will always be alive and fertile in the food forests.
  • Food forests are built for the emulation of a real forest but the difference is that we have a choice of choosing plants and trees we want to grow in that.
  • Food forests do not need any kind of pesticides, herbicides which will save the atmosphere from getting polluted.
  • There would not be any works required to be done such as digging, crop rotation etc. We would get more food with less amount of work done.

Things you need to do before you start creating the food forest permaculture

  • Knowing your Requirements:
    • You need to set the goals for the food forest project you are undertaking. This is the most important step because when the goal is clear, each and everything will be simple to handle.
    • You need to know where your efforts should be placed and also your priorities in undertaking this project. You need to know the points you are going to focus and also the things which can be postponed for now.
    • As a permaculturist, your main aim would be to be self-reliant, production of healthy food, making others learn the things and working on a project which involves working with fun.
    • To satisfy all the above requirements, you need to consider different things and in addition to this, you need to have enough time and money.

So it is very important for you to be with very good clarity on what you are going to begin.

  • Exploration:

Begin exploring the local forest by going for casual walks because, in order to design a food forest, you need to learn something from the real forest which will give you an idea of the ecosystem of your locality. It is important to make such kind of observations and by this, you will be able to discover the variety of plants which grow in your area perfectly.

  • Observation :

After exploring the local forest, you need to sit at the site where you are going to build your food forest. Irrespective of the time, whether it is less or more, you need to just sit there without uttering any word. Just observe the things around you and get to know what is happening. You can learn many things by sitting quietly. Observe the sounds of nature, listen to the natural sounds and get immersed in the study about wildlife. This would help in giving you a perspective about the side and you will get very good information about the food forest site you have chosen.

  • Analyzation:

After observation of the sire, now the time has come for you to behave like a permaculturist and note all the observations you have done while observing. The list includes the situation of water, shape, the soil in the site, wildlife, climatic conditions etc. Then test your soil in a lab and also do some basic soil tests on your own. For example, you can gig holes all over the site and pour water in them to check the porosity of the soil.

Depending on the collected information, prepare a map which is hand-drawn or you can also use google earth and take a printout of the site map along with your notes. The map should be in such a way that the layout of the potentials of the site should be visible so that you will be able to know for what you need to design.

Creation of food forest permaculture :

Start with the design:

For the determination of the look of the food forest, there is four number of layouts.

  • Savanna type
  • Orchards
  • Mid
  • Closed canopy forest

Mid and closed canopy forests are the ones which give you a chance to grow the patterns which are productive, interesting, complex and also different. You can choose different patterns of shrubs, herbs, and trees.

The orchards and the systems of agroforestry are the best ones to have commercial growth of fruits, nuts, and herbs. 

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List your infrastructure:

  • Begin designing your farm forest keeping in mind the scale of permanence. You need to prepare a plan for water, structures, and access in the first place.
  • If you have a very good design of infrastructure, then it would help you by reducing the cost of maintenance, improving the production and by providing good habitat for the animals.
  • The infrastructure list will include patios, lines of irrigation, fences, cold frames, elements of water, greenhouses. It is always better to start with these essential things because they are the ones which are permanent for your food forest.

List the plants you want to grow in your food forest:

  • Start making the list of plants with the species of plants you desire to keep in your food forest and the other plants which are necessary to meet your purpose.
  • Now start giving a thought regarding the functions of ecology which are needed all over the food forest such as the production of food, gathering of nutrients, retention of nutrients, ground cover to control the weed.
  • If you have a species of plants which you desire, but they do not work out on your food forest site, then you always have an opportunity to find an equivalent ecologically.
  • You can investigate the species which are similar to the one which you desired and also ecological.
  • It is always important to remember that the species which are already existing in the site should be retained because they are the natives of the site and are also the natural ones.

Select the plants which have similar requirements from your list of plants:

  • This is the main part of the creation of a food forest. Your motto should be the creation of polyculture which is effective so that the species planted will share the resources among themselves and offer support in a mutual way.
  • The tough thing here is to select the plants which are considered to be a correct combination.
  • You can select the plants depending upon the information you know about the plants, the place of their species, interaction. You can also research on the internet and also read books about the right combinations for food forests.
  • Creation of a mixture which is random is also possible. Most of the people will choose a group of plants, club and throw them and will just check what happens next. This experiment can be done by selecting a small space. But if you choose to do this experiment on the entire food forest, then things will fail.
  • You can try emulating a habitat and make use of a model of the ecosystem as a template which would help in the design. The species can be incorporated from the model habitat directly. Your local forest can also act as your model habitat.

Start working on patch design:

  • You can start designing the patches one after the other. A patch can be in the form of a row, a contour or group of plants in a single location. While doing patch design, the main point is to decide the distance of planting.
  • This can be done by using the Rule of crown touching. By using this rule, every tree can be placed at a distance of diameter of the crown.
  • During patch design, the most common and big mistake which people do is they give spacing which is too much dense which interlocks the crowns of the tree.
  • If your plantation is on a hedge or screen, then this can be done, or it will stress the plants which will lead to limitation of their growth.
  • Woody plants should have 40% more space between and around them because they need sunlight.
  • You should not follow the crown touching rule while planting them and widen the space between them as it will increase the competition among them for the sources which are limited.

Make changes to your site if required:

  • If you have just started to build the food forest from the scratch with nothing on the field, then there would be a chance of some other plants which are already growing there and in that situation, you need to change your site as per your requirements.
  • Adaptation or change will involve cleaning of the vegetation which is unnecessary. You can also make use of any biomass which is available for the purpose of mulching, preparing compost, inoculation of mushroom etc.

    After all, the unwanted or unnecessary vegetation is cleared, you can begin the earthwork for the optimization of retention of water on your food forest site. This will involve tasks like digging ponds, dams, ploughing for the purpose of keyline and any task which would help you for the spreading, sinking and slowing the rainfall which is available.
  • After all the earthworks are done, then you need to start with the elements of the food forest which are permanent and also very much important.
  • Start constructing pathways all along the food forest site as you will again need to reduce the compaction in the places where the plantation takes place.
  • Fences should be built and it is the next important task to be completed because fences are the ones which prevent the animals from entering into the fields and nibble your seeds.
  • If required, you can also start irrigation by installing water tanks. This should be done only if you are sure that there is no sufficient water at the times of drought.
  • It is an ideal fact that the soils in the food forests will have ten times the high presence of the fungi than the bacteria. So you need to make sure that you are recreating those climatic conditions.
  • At the starting stage, you would start with a bare field and you will continue nudging the soil towards the domination of fungi. It can be done by inoculation of soil with fungi or by covering the crops with the crops of green manure.

Begin the plantation for food forest permaculture:

  • As all the work of preparation is done, you can now begin with the plantation. You will be having two choices based on the budget. One choice is to grow the trees on your own and the other choice is to buy the young ones.
  • If you do not have enough budget, try to grow the trees by yourself.
  • If you have a good budget, then you have an option of buying trees which are young from the nurseries. The trees will be costly, mainly the trees which are grafted and the trees which attained the age of 2 years. By choosing this option, you have an opportunity to create an orchard instantly without facing any problems which you need to face to grow your own trees.
  • Plantation in the food forests can be done in stages or all at a time. It is very difficult to plant them all at a time and moreover, it is not suggestable. Plantation in stages will involve planting canopy trees in the starting year. Then shrubs can be grown along with the ground cover layer.
  • As a final stage, you can start planting. Ensure that you are digging a hole which is large enough to plant. Then start spreading the roots and after that dip the roots in a mycorrhizal root dip if necessary. After this, again full the dug hole with the same soil you took out while digging the hole.
  • In every step, you will require a sheet mulch for the sake of plantation so that the weeds would be controlled. Addition of extra materials should be prevented until and unless you find the soil is very poor.


Creation of food forest is a process which involves multiple stages and there is no compulsion that you need to go through all the steps which are mentioned in the article. The main agenda of this article is to provide you with the framework about how to plan and plant the trees at the starting stage of the creation of your food forest.

Read: Soil pH Importance in Agriculture.

Last Updated: February 24, 2019
Author: Jagdish

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