The Suburban Food Forest

Creating A Backyard Ecosystem

Food Foresting in a 240 square square metre Backyard

Many times I have dreamed of living on acreage – out of the rat race, with no neighbours, permaculturing myself into self-sufficiency. But it is not possible for most of us who are either tied to cities for work or simply unable to afford that block of land we have always fantasised about.

So what does a frustrated smallholder do? Luckily there is an enormous amount of good growing land in the suburbs and small towns around Australia, and most of it is lawn.

I am one of the lucky ones who was able to afford a house in a small, Northern NSW town with a backyard 240sqm in size. In 2016 I moved in, and after one monsoonal year and the next three struggling with drought and severe water restrictions, I decided to create a food forest.

What Is A Food Forest?

Food forests address a lot of the uniquely Australian issues that our predominantly Anglo concept of vegetable gardening does not. Put simply, a food forest is a self sustaining, mini eco-system where food is produced in different layers – the tree canopy, understorey, perennial veg, herbs, roots and fungi.

And in a town that regularly reaches 40 degrees plus during summer, they make some magic…

  • They create shade (preferably dappled shade) – essential in most areas of Australia during long hot summers, which are likely to get longer and hotter
  • Shade cools the temperature of the soil – good for plant roots and soil organisms
  • Shade cools the air temperature – good for plants and good for me!
  • Shade means less water use
  • Tree canopy creates leaf litter – absolutely the best compost ever
  • The interaction between a variety of plants increases their vigour and resistance to disease and pests
  • The creation of a forest-like garden provides habitat for a greater diversity of birds, animals and insects – good for the garden and good for the animals
  • Once the food forest is more or less established, it becomes far lower maintenance than traditional garden beds (that’s the plan anyway!)

After almost five years I am not there yet – mainly due to many wrong turns along the way. I will admit, it is more of a bumbling work in progress as I struggle through problems and find solutions that sometimes turn out to be disasters, but other times turn out to be strokes of genius.

This blog is for all those frustrated smallholders out there who must be content with their small suburban back gardens in which to be self-suffiicient. I hope it shows the potential that lies in every back lawn and patch of dirt.

I’d love to hear from others who are doing similar or who want to, so make free with the comments section…

And, Most Importantly…

I am very privileged to be living and gardening on Bundjalung land. I pay my respect to the Galibal people of Djanangmum, the original custodians of this land, and acknowledge that their land was never ceded.

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