Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why a Forest Garden?

Pondering the above question, I thought, "How would I explain this to a perspective customer, what are the qualities of a Forest Garden that would help them to decide if this was right for their needs." I have come up with a few points that will be expanded on to help shed a little light and insight to show what makes a Forest Garden so damn awesome!

The first point is Resiliency. Resiliency in the dictionary says "the ability to recovery from illness, depression, adversity or the like. Bouyancy." A Forest Garden creates resiliency in several ways. We plant our forest garden in a polyculture, the inter-planting of many plant species that guild together, protect the soil and confuse pests. (The traditional row cropping of mono-culture in conventional agriculture is the complete opposite of resiliency, have no bounce back ability. If corn production fails, it fails!) Polyculture allows for resiliency because we have many other food sources to fall back on if one crop does not produce. For example, last spring, due to a late frost or heavy rain at an in-opportune time, the apple trees in both my yard and my neighbors yard failed to produce. My tree had not one apple on its branches. It was very disappointing. If we were relying on those trees to supplement our nourishment, we would have been in trouble. Those two trees the fall before yielded hundreds of pounds of fruit that were processed for future enjoyment. If there was a Forest Garden present maybe the micro-climate could have protected the blossoms, or a mixture of varieties could have blossomed at different times and save the harvest. It is imperative that we build resilience in our planting so we have options to fall back on if we have an unexpected natural events, such as late frost, heavy rain or pests.

Along with resiliency is Food Security. Food security is the same but different as resilient systems. We build food security to deal with events that happen further from our local food shed, in general. If one was to rely on buying most of their groceries from a conventional super market, it does not take much of a wrinkle to effect the distribution chain. Luck as I am to live on the west coast of Canada, where we have very little in the way of massive storms, events like hurricanes don't happen here, we are in an area that historically has been seismically active. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, fault lines are underneath our feet. I am not trying to scare or depress you, but it is the truth. Food security during a natural disaster will greatly increase your comfort levels during such an event, and helping to feed your neighbors is one of the most significant things one can do during such a crisis. Barring such a catastrophic event locally, what happens if there is a drought or late frost in the main agriculture areas of the supermarket food shed. California and Mexico is where the majority of our produce is grown all through the year. We are at the mercy of the growers in different countries, with different weather patterns, plus a long transportation chain. Say, perhaps, there is a truckers strike south of the border. The grocery stores order on-demand, meaning they have very little in the way of reserves "in the back". Three days is the average amount of time a store would run out of food if the transportation links were kinked. Not to mention living on a island. A large storm that disrupts marine traffic could also have a detrimental effect on our food security. If you are growing at least some of your own, that gives your family resiliency and food security!

I have been observing my front yard Forest Garden this fall and winter, to see who comes to visit. I have been surprised and excited for the amount of birds that have been frequenting the space. This fall, flocks of Red Winged Blackbirds were soaring in and cleaning up the sunflower seeds that were literally everywhere. I planted so many sunflowers, which did really well in the sun soaked beds. They grew to over ten feet tall, and were even more impressive being on top of a three foot high wood core bed! Those sunnies yielded an incredible numbers of seeds, that I was, frankly, a little worried about. Was I going to have sunflowers volunteering EVERYWHERE in my garden next spring? I am now not so worried. Those voracious and beautiful birds found a food source, with shelter in close proximity, and cleaned up. It was fun to watch them fly in and out, watching for predators, and come right back after startling to continue to feed. And this winter I put out a suet feeder, homemade suet from deer tallow and various old seeds I had in my pantry. The little black capped chickadees swarmed this suet. I placed out several sunflower heads that were dried on the wood pile, and they made a feast out of it all. Our neighborhood is polluted with feral cats unfortunately, and they are opportunistic hunters, as cats are. My garden has become a favorite place for these felines to hunt, much to my dismay. However with the textured landscape and trees, the birds have perches and high look out points to escape from the prowling beasts. I am not super thrilled with the kitties but I have no control, so I just have to try to limit their destruction and using my garden as a bathroom! A Forest Garden is such a fantastic way to teach children about the cycles of life, to watch wildlife, to feed and shelter the fragile little songbirds, and to listen to their melody drifting in their bedroom window. I love seeing the fauna of my area using something created by my hands, and helping them through the tougher months of the year.

Forest Gardens are not only productive and practical, they are so beautiful! Thick, lush green landscapes with texture. Curving contour beds tall with trees, flowers and multicolored shrubs. The smell of freshly applied wood mulch. A gurgle of a purpose built fountain, that hydrates the soil and eases the mind. We can sit on the edge of our forest and stare at the foliage, the bees, the birds, mesmerized by the life in front of us. The pure, real sweetness of a strawberry, lovingly held above the soil by a mat of mulch, protecting it from wee predators, not a spec of dirt on it. The rustle of leaves, the plants solar panels, on a warm summers evening. Touching the skin of a large pumpkin, so massive you can't believe you grew it! Our five senses get a work out every time we visit our Forest Gardens. A quick trip out for some greens for dinner turn into an interactive walk that can last much longer than anticipated, touching and smelling the abundance. A handful of blueberries, dessert before dinner, fresh carrots pulled from beneath a pear tree, its top going back down as mulch. Adding value to your property, not only monetarily also in the soul healing value of relaxation and a connection with the earth that we humans are missing in huge amounts. We need soil under our finger nails, walk barefoot on dried leaves, grazing like the hunter-gathers man used to be. It is intrinsically who we are. Find this in you and feel much more at peace and more secure in your being.

My final point, the one that sold me on the concept, is ease of maintenance. I am not a lazy person in general. I love to work hard, and rarely sit down with our trying to accomplish anything. Probably putting too much emphasis on being busy and finishing something, or researching. I am one who always wants to learn and create. While this is not a problem most days, it is a problem with conventional gardening. I tend to forget about a regular garden bed. Watering and weeding are very low on my list of priorities. Thinking of recreation, camping trips, work, child activities, spending time with my girlfriend, walking the dog, making dinner. We all multi-task constantly! For some a conventional garden fits the bill. They take great pride and enjoyment from weeding, watering, making their borders neat and tidy. Finding Permaculture and Forest Gardens made it clear. We can never beat Mother Nature, she is just too damn good at what she does, so lets work with her! We can use machines and chemicals to briefly beat her back, but watch out! She will send more pioneer species(weeds) and pests to rebuild the system. A natural state with covered soil, diverse flora and fauna, and water retention not water removal. No one ever weeds a forest, and forests contain no weeds! Every plant has a function(or three!) So we mimic her style and reap the rewards. I know on my nightly wanders around the garden, the odd weed that came up was chopped as dinner was harvested. Compost was delivered at the same time. The rare time that the sprinkler was applied, it was also done then. One trip, many functions, and back to life. Gardening chores done in ten minutes. That is it. I remember spending many, many hours of my free time weeding conventional beds, trying to keep the soil bare, so my crops were not in competition. I see how silly I was then and have a much more productive system, and more free time. What is not to like about that!

Those are just five examples of the benefits of a Forest Garden. There are so many more that are smaller, however minute and insignificant, all make a Forest Garden a benefit to your landscape. They are just frickin' awesome!

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