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Food Forests: Start Growing One in Your Backyard!

January 9, 2016       Green-Minded
Grow Food Forests Too!
A Vertical Stacking, Biodiverse, and
Naturally Self-regenerating Food Farm

A HUGE worldwide movement for growing one’s own food garden has been slowly but surely taking place...from urban container gardens to Freight Farms crate farm systems for enterprise food growing needs.

Maybe the best way to get fresh organic food for free is by planning a Food Forest in your backyard.  Whether you are situated in a suburban environment or a homestead farm, food forests may just be the surest optimal farm system over field mono-cropping.   Food forests have been around forever and are a proven AND sustainable food cultivation system, even among native indigenous cultures in the world.

In fact the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon may just have been the first, well-planned, food forest in an urban setting.  If any local urban planner had foresight and good sense, they would start having food forests set up in as many locales with available public spaces and offer free seedlings to urban residents as incentives to grow their own food forests.  When the local or national food supply grid gets cut off or is choked off, local trees growing food can sustain the populace as an emergency resource.  Not many see it that way.

Image is by Graham Burnett, for Permaculture a Beginner’s Guide

Think of food forests as the ultimate in scalable companion farming--AKA planting squash and beans alongside corn (native American Indians taught the first pilgirms how to cultivate their own fields to survive).  Companion crop planting has been around for ages and only among proponents of organics and natural cultivation systems is it being recognized as a better agriculture method than clearing fields and mono-cropping.  With food forests, the whole system almost runs by itself.

Current industrial agricultural bio-tech mono-cropping use artificial herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers that turn the land barren after long use.  Even when left to run wild, food forests are self-sustaining and yield more food!

What is Nature's Call?

Forests are home to approximately 50-90% of all the world’s terrestrial (land-living) biodiversity. Tropical rain forests alone are estimated to contain between 10-50 million species -over 50% of species on the planet and cover 2% of the Earth’s surface and 6% of its land mass, yet they are home to over half of the world’s plant and animal species. Forests are THE best ecosystems for biodiversity and fertility on land.

Food Forest Image by Justin Radford

Life gathers around a forest. Plants and other organisms that grow in a forest have mutually beneficial life webs that proliferate and sustain food abundance (not only for predator biologicals) such that anything less than a forest is most likely to be less suited to supporting life.

Food's Not in Season!

Society has been conditioned to clear the land and plant fields with just one crop and this method uses up enormous resources to be sustainable.  Food forests may even surpass 'modern' industrial agriculture farming methods for yielding significantly more produce and useful organic byproducts than conventional mono-crop fields which degrade the soil and need plenty of resource inputs. 
A food forest is not as dependent on massive irrigation works to keep it sustainable, and can be grown in almost climate zones.  High biodiversity by itself may be enough reason to use Forest Farming.  Biodiversity in food varieties reduces the chances of getting hit by plant sickness and food famines.

Feel the Good Feed of the Forest Farm

Designed as a vertically stacked food farm, a forest may be the best use for any suburban and urban areas for any community looking to make the most out of empty spaces. Ornamental plants and landscaped parks may be obsolete and always cost plenty of resources to maintain.  A food forest offers more long term value and even when running wild, looks gorgeous.  Here is a rundown of each layer of a vertical stack food growing system using a forest enclosure as working design:

Canopy Fruit Trees or Timber Trees

Rising over 30 feet ( under 9 meters) high, these trees will only work for larger forest gardens with wide spaces. Timber trees create shade and can be a source for lumber and building material, and the larger nut trees provide good harvests.  Tropical fruit trees that tower up and across a field will also be good for this layer such as mango trees and duhat trees.

Sub-Canopy Fruit Trees

Reaching 10-30 feet (ranging 3-9 meters) high, limited space allows trees of this type which do not grow too tall. Get tropical trees like kaimito, sineguelas, guava apple, calamansi trees and the like. Large shrubs like keffir lime, small trees like malunggay also work here.

Nut and Fruiting Shrubs

Rising up to 10 feet ( or 3 meters) high. Most fruiting bushes fall are just this tall. Nut shrubs, flowering trees like the Ilang-Ilang tree have blooms with healing and medicinal properties while other plants that have beneficial use are ideal for the shrub layer. Suggestions include smaller banana trees, some midget fruit trees will work too and can even grow in planters inside your home.

Herbaceous Bushes

Culinary and medicinal herbs are grown in this layer. The largest growth would look like a bush. You can plant mint, thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage and more. 


Creeper plants are useful foliage that are shade tolerant, grow much closer to the ground, grow densely to fill bare patches of soil. Creepers even survive some foot traffic. Devil vine is a very good plant for cleaning urban zones of pollutants and providing a very low maintenance and hardy vine that looks spectacular even if they manage to overrun your tree trunks with their rabid vines--you can prune them so they keep your tree branches in open sunlight.

Underground Crops

Root crops don't only work for field mono-cropping, you can get some to grow in your food forest too. Potatoes, kamote, tuber roots, carrots and radishes provide a sweet harvest in areas where the rainy season doesn't keep the ground too soaked or even flooded.  You may even grow these in containers like planter boxes if the ground gets too soaked in rainwater.

You may attempt some landscaping so your land drains well or is rolling down to have the rainwater flow to lower ground and away from rootcrop plots.  Or else the excess water will rot your harvest.

Climber Vegetables

These vining and climbing plants span multiple layers depending on how they are trained or what they climb all on their own. A great way to add more productivity to a small space, but be warned. Think of karela or ampalaya, upo, or other fruiting vines like tropical grapes. These can grow up a tree and trained to be an accessible overhang or fixed on a makeshift trellis off some low branches.

Stream / Pond / or Wetlands

If you have a homestead, you might include a man-made pond in the middle or a stream running through your property that feeds off rainfall and does not dry out, this also serves as a water source for your Forest Farm. Many useful species thrive in wetlands and they attract fireflies too: firefly larvae live in moist conditions and are known predators of other insects, killing off pests like mosquito larvae in your area. Bamboo grow well in wetland type grounds and can be used as building material, tools and even homemade survival weapons and containers!  You can even raise catfish in limited numbers if you wish.


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