Planning a food forest – trees

We have a 1.5 acre field we call ‘The Hill’ that is currently laid to pasture. It is a gentle south facing slope with a steep bank at the bottom and west edges. The bottom edge is also shaded by a bridge and the west side, for part of the day by woodland. Due to the sloping nature of the site it is not suitable for traditional vegetable planting so we are instead planning to plant a ‘food forest’.

So what is a food forest?

Essentially a ‘food forest’ (also know as a ‘forest garden’ or ‘edible woodland’) is the permaculture version of an orchard. Where an orchard usually has one ‘layer’ of produce, i.e. the fruit trees, and usually a single type i.e. apples, a food forest has multiple layers of different ‘fruits’, growing at different heights. For example:

Top layer – Fruit and nut trees
Shrub layer – Nut bushes, soft fruit
Ground cover – Perennial edible ground cover

Food forests also usually have multiple species. For example the fruit trees might be a mix of apples, pears, plums and cherries. The layered approach coupled with the variety of species means that pests and diseases spread less rapidly and an organic approach to growing is more likely to be achieved. This approach is ideally suited to a market or home garden where variety of produce and staggered harvest times are desired.

Planning the food forest

Some of the factors we had to consider were:

  1. Neighbours – we have three neighbours with a lovely ‘view’ out across our field and beyond, we need to be considerate of this as well as where any shade from planting may be cast.
  2. Lay of the land – some areas of the site are very steep, which would make fruit picking there quite difficult. Some areas receive a lot of shade and one area is quite boggy. The rest gets full sun on a gentle south facing slope – this is the area we will plant our best sun-loving fruit trees.
  3. Mixing up the produce – We need to mix up the types of planting so that the same type are not all together, which will mean pests and diseases are less easily spread.

The above plan is showing the position of the trees. It includes Apple, Cherry, Pear, Plum, Greengage, Quince, Mirabelle (also as a bush), Almond, Cobnut and Walnut. The green triangular areas denote the areas we have to consider our neighbours view and will be planted with soft fruit only. When ordering the trees we have to pay attention to the rootstock which will ultimately determine the size of the mature tree. The Plums and Greengages for example will be on a MM106 rootstock so should be around 3m when full grown to make picking (by shaking the tree) easier whereas most of the apples and pears will be on an M25 rootstock and should grow to around 4m.

We will be creating the food forest in stages. Once the trees are in (planting should take place this coming winter while the trees are dormant) and are well established we will be planning the soft fruit and finally the perennial layer.

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