The Sidmouth Community Food Forest in April. Though Only Weeks Old Fine Weather Is Helping Us. Take An Online Tour & See What Is Growing.
It’s April and, though only weeks old, our new community food forest is taking shape. We’ve now held three volunteer sessions, moved and spread a lot of woodchip and created beds in which to plant.
The beds are necessary to prevent our edible plants being swamped by grass and other plants. It’s not that we don’t want a wide range of plants, we do, but we need to give the new plants a fighting chance to establish. After that they are on their own as we want our forest to decide what grows best and allow nature to decide our eventual plant mix. That’s not to say we don’t have preferences, it’s that we don’t want to shoehorn in plants that don’t suit the natural conditions.
Of course, our presence upsets the natural conditions, just as walking through a landscape impacts its future makeup. Mankind has been doing that since the dawn of our species. And so has every other species on the planet. Nature is what we get when every species makes its mark. The trick is not letting mankind take over!
How to Lay Woodchip in a Food Forest
There is no right or wrong way to lay woodchip. But there are two ways in which we are doing it. Both have merit.
Where we have beds, and most are based around those set up when the land was managed by a pre-school group, we are laying cardboard down first and then adding a 2-3 inch layer of woodchip. The idea is to limit the grass coming through until the plants get established, then let nature take over. When the plants establish they will limit light levels at soil level and this will limit some growth and encourage others. It’s a minimally invasive type of “gardening” that tries to replicate the best that a natural woodland would offer with the best were can provide in creating an area that will produce edibles. It’s an imperfect science .. if indeed we can call it science at all!
The second method is much simpler. We are just adding a layer of woodchip without card. We don’t want to prevent vegetation growing through. We want it there. But we want to create a woodland floor that is modified by the addition of organic matter. Why? Because we are modifying the area into a food forest .. and the emphasis is on the word forest (or woodland) and what we have at present is an arable field that had been fenced, with a few trees added, after which it went semi wild. It’s neither an arable or grass field, a wood, or anything other than what it is now.
If that sounds a bit artificial I’d agree with you. But in the UK we have no natural landscape. All of it is created by mankind, our livestock or our actions.
In some areas of the food forest we have used woodchip, without cardboard, there were nettles. More to the point, there still are nettles. The idea isn’t to kill them. A thin layer of woodchip will allow them to continue growing and to be there for all the insects that depend on them.
Weeds, Amphibian, Insects, Birds & More In Our Food Forest in April
Despite what I’ve written above, don’t think the area has no natural plants, animals or other features. It has.
In the manmade pond we have tadpoles. This surprised us a bit as the frogspawn looked doomed when the pond started to dry out. Then it rained and it’s now looking far better.
There will be a lot of work to clean out debris in and around the pond in the autumn, but not now when there are tadpoles there.
The area also has its fair share of insects, from Queen bumble bees looking for nesting place to the occasional butterfly and other pollinators.
We are also discovering how rich the area is for wild flowers. Celandines and dandelions are showing their distinct bright yellow flowers amongst the rich green grasses. And we have daises, primroses and various other plants flowering. Vetches are also showing and will flower in due course as will a multitude of other plants yet to make themselves obvious ,
Food Forest Edible Plants In April
We are now a few days not April and plants are coming to life. Even at the end of March we had Osmanthus fragrans (aka tea olive) in flower and ready for harvest. What is it used for? Follow the link to discover more.
Looking around many people may think that is it. But cooks might spot bay, sage, fennel, rosemary and a few other herbs. And we will soon have some rhubarb, though it will be better if that isn’t harvested this year. They are young plants and will do better if left to form a good sized plant to give a higher yield next year.
More Planting in the Sidmouth Community Food Forest in April
We’ve pushed a few blackcurrant twigs in to some beds and they are already shooting. It’s a crude but effective form of propagation. Currants tend to root very easily so there’s a good chance some of them will grow into bigger plants. We’ve also planted an olive tree. It’s one that has been in pot for years and used to produce cuttings. So it isn’t more that a foot high bush. But I predict it’ll put on several feet in the next few years and could be the start of a group of productive olive trees as the climate gets warmer.
We have also planted a perennial kale, which should start to crop next winter, plus some Jerusalem artichokes. And over the next months more plants, of various types, will be added to the forest area.
Will Everything Grow?
Absolutely not. Nothing does on farms, or in natural settings. Nature encourages survival of the fittest. As we modify conditions some life forms will love it and some not like it at all. We want both edible plants AND a biodiverse area rich with native species, a haven for wildlife.
But despite food forests becoming popular there is no playbook that we can consult and follow. Whatever we do nature will take its course and we will bend with the wind and follow natures lead. That’s partly why food forests are so exciting. We are learning, or perhaps relearning what previous generations understand better, and every plot of land is different. So we will have successes and failures as we experiment.
Of course others have already conducted some experiments and we can look to them. But each area will be different and we must expect different responses to whatever we do.
I’m fortunate in the my grandfather had a five acre orchard come food forest so I’ve seen some of this first hand. But he was on heavy clay and our soil is much lighter.
Watch this space for more reports as our food first experiment continues.