Creating a Food Forest From Scratch Has Been Taxing & Rewarding In Equal Measure. We’ve Learnt a Lot, Including Pacing Ourselves & Learning Something New Everyday. We’ve Also Harvested Crops In Our First Year.
Though often claimed to be a new concept in the UK my grandfather harvested multiple crops from his food forest during WWII and later. I recall it in the 50s – 70s where he would harvest crops from it and barter for tea, coffee and candles at the local shop. But a Community Food Forest is (probably) a newer idea.
But of course our forebearers have always foraged and the difference between foraging and moving plants into a nearby area, be it garden or food forest, is perhaps detail they wouldn’t have considered worth discussing.
The Community Food Forest at Sidford is now beginning to take shape. We’ve laid out our first beds of deep woodchip and this has suppressed 99% of the dense grass, including a lot of couchgrass in places. More beds have been marked out and will be slowly filled as more woodchip is delivered.
Harvesting Our First Sidmouth Community Food Forest Crops
We didn’t expect many crops in the first year as we didn’t start planting until quite late .. we wanted to ensure the beds were weed free!
But this season has seen small quantities of everything from bay leaves and raspberries to mint and tomatoes. Sadly, even in a food forest we get some diseases and our tomatoes showed signs of blight and were harvested green. We also have sunflowers nearing harvest and a constant supply of assorted herbs, ready for using fresh or drying.
Many people don’t see the crops we have as they aren’t standard veg and fruit. Mulberries are one example. They were tart to say the least. But welcome all the same. As the tree grows it should give more and more fruit, but trees take time to reach their full potential. Another crop I picked several times were dandelion leaves. Some people think them weeds, but in France they have named varieties and plant them as a veg. More about them in a future article.
Several cardoons are now well established. They are another crop we see more often in France than the UK, but very tasty all the same. I sometimes wonder why we ignore so many plants that would have been eaten a few centuries ago. Alexanders is one that I see people complaining is getting out of control on Peak Hill, but until the 17th century was grown in gardens as a veg or condiment.
Perennial crops are one of my ideal plants in a food forest, or even veg garden on occasion. The downside in gardens is that they take up space all year, but in a food forest that is outweighed by the fact we aren’t forever sowing, nurturing, harvesting and then ripping out the plants. They sit there and often produce crops over a long season.
One of my favourites is perennial kale and we haver planted several of them in the forest. They are getting established and the bigger ones should crop all winter.
Ongoing Food Forest Work
Over the next few weeks we will be laying part of the hedge. this will increase the light under the taller trees and will encourage new growth for the wildlife. Over time we will then cut other sections of hedge so we have a natural cycle of renewal.
Tree planting is also needed this autumn. We have elder, plum, cherries etc to plant quite soon. And in November plan to plant a second row of shrub species to thicken the hedge at the back of the first. This will provide both more edible species for us and a thicker more biodiverse habitat for wildlife. Creating a balance between productivity and wildlife is an essential in food forests. We want a diverse mix of plants, rarely more than three in any one spot. Monocultures are to be avoided.
Another thing to be avoided is tidiness. Or at least being over-tidy. We are creating habitat piles in places. These are areas where insects, fungi and amphibians can find refuge and thrive. The right mix of wildlife will help the forest to be fruitful and abundant. We aren’t trying to create a regimented garden. We want as natural an area as possible, though of course it’s not totally natural as we are planting . But our management of the space needs to be as light touch and natural as possible, consistent with creating a food forest.
A big thank you to all the volunteers and sponsors that have made this community project possible.
How To Volunteer Your Time, Effort And Plants
We run regular food forest sessions and announce them on our Facebook group. We also have a WhatsApp group, contact us if you want your name added for updates.
Should you have plants that you want to donate please contact us by any of the above methods or by commenting on this post.
Join the Facebook Groups Here
To join the How to Dig For Victory Facebook group follow the link.
And here is the link to UK Garden Flowers, Trees, Shrubs & More