Quit Working So Hard – Plant a Food Forest Instead!


Many of us are killing ourselves right now digging garden beds and getting ready for the spring rush. However at the same time we’re doing that, we can also plan for a future where we no longer have to fight the weeds, till the ground and toil for a few basketfuls of veggies. No, I’m not talking about entering the pearly gates - I'm talking about planting long-term, edible perennials.

Front yard food forestI took my family to the local Taco Bell one day last fall and we had a little picnic out back beneath some large trees. (Caveat: My wife wants me to mention that we almost never eat Taco Bell and our children are generally fed nothing but the purest and healthiest whole-bran tender handpicked certified incredible organic free-trade manna.) Anyhow, as I was eating my amazing organic five-grain sustainably harvested 7-layer burrito, I wandered around, not paying much attention to the greenery around me… until I spotted a squirrel-gnawed pecan shell on the ground and looked up. The tree we were beneath was a beautiful, large pecan… still producing food years after it was planted. I found out later that a chunk of the neighborhood used to be dedicated to pecan orchards and specimens remain here and there, dotted about through neighborhoods and industrial parks. A friend of mine gathers bags and bags of free nuts each year thanks to the work of some long-forgotten farmer who planted these trees. Once you’ve planted a pecan… or a persimmon… or a pear tree… or another long-term species… and gotten it established, you can almost walk away. Your grandkids and great grandkids could likely eat from the same tree. Houses may be built and demolished, highways run through, Taco Bells built - and this tree could still be providing fruit or nuts. How many can say that about their cabbage bed? Or their radishes, potatoes or tomatoes? Heck, if you even look at a cantaloupe sideways it’s dead.

Permaculture buffs are sold on the “food forest” idea – and it’s no wonder. A long-term, perennial forest of edible and medicinal species sounds more like Eden than what we generally consider as a “garden.” Rather than planting beds, you plant trees. Rather than tilling, you plant edible perennial groundcovers and nutrient accumulating species that can be “chop n’ dropped” as mulch.

Don’t have a big yard? You can pick a corner, plant a fruit tree, plant a ring of small edible shrubs around that, plant herbs around that, and “voila!” you have a small, highly-productive space. Don’t even own your property? Or live in a restricted area? Think container gardening on a bigger scale. Grab a few whiskey barrels or cut 55 gallon drums in half, use bathtubs, an old wheelbarrow, or whatever you have lying around, then plant them with dwarf fruit trees or blueberries/figs, etc., and plant lettuces and edible herbs around the bases of those. By incorporating long-term plants, you won’t have to replant constantly - and if you ever do move to a place with dirt, you can plant your tree or shrub there.

Thinking long-term about your property and your food production is a way to find freedom not only from a lot of hoeing and weeding, but freedom from the tenuous food supply lines and the cost of food. As has been said before, the best time to plant a fruit tree is ten years ago. Start today and you’ll put in motion something that could feed future generations and make the world a nicer place to live.

Of course, the big question after making the decision to go with perennials is “so… what in the world do I plant?”

7/20/2017 10:58:22 PM

Yes, we need to plant and plant again and again. Too sad to know in Venezuela people are putting trees down in their protest against their president. That's not to let cars passing in the streets. Gosy, they could use some objects instead. Not trees! What a crime.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters