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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!)

My tiny forest is 240sqm. It 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.