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The Suburban Food Forest

Creating A Backyard Ecosystem

Why A Food Forest?

I bought my house in small town Northern NSW in 2016 and, after one monsoonal year, spent the next three struggling with drought and severe water restrictions. I knew I would have to find a better way if I was going to produce a steady supply of food in this garden. Which is when I discovered the food forest.

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

  • 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!)

I am by no means an expert in gardening or creating a food forest. Even after completing a Permaculture Design Certificate in my youth, I have made many fundamental mistakes when I should have known better. But some of those mistakes have given me a deeper practical knowledge of permaculture principles in action rather than just a theoretical knowledge. For those who are starting their journey, read the books and follow the principles – you will get there quicker and easier than I did!

My tiny forest on 240sqm is not the ideal of a pure permacultured garden – for example I currently have no chooks or other livestock and the only animals in my garden are the wild ones that visit for food. But I am encouraging diversity into the garden, the goal being to create that self-sustaining mini eco-system that will produce the greatest yield for the minimum of labour.

After almost five years I am not there yet, but that is mainly due to many wrong turns along the way – which I will share with you! 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.

I hope this blog shows the potential that lies in every back lawn and patch of dirt. I will share my experiences and learning, as well as the journey of a small group of people creating a community food forest in our regional town. I will document the joys and challenges, and visit other gardeners and food foresters to see what they are doing. I also hope this will be a place to meet virtually with others who are doing similar or who want to so feel free to leave comments and contact me.

Acknowledgement

I am 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.