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About Food Forests in General

A food forest, or edible forest garden, is a permanent, self-sustaining, food production ecosystem.

Think of a time that you went for a walk in a forest. Now imagine that every plant around you was edible. That’s basically what a food forest tries to achieve.

Food forest typically includes seven layers: tall trees, low trees, shrubs, non woody plants, root vegetables, ground covers and vines.

Each layer provides a home and food for beneficial insects, animals, and bacteria that then provide food or services to the other layers.

Together, they produce a vibrant, productive, abundant and mostly self-maintaining ecosystem.

Just like forests in nature, the food forest or forest garden doesn’t need humans to fertilize, weed or deal with pests. It’s a fully enclosed ecosystem designed so it can take care of almost everything on its own.

An example food forest might include chestnut trees as a tall canopy tree layer. Apple trees grow below the chestnut trees. Meanwhile, currant bushes grow as an understory layer beneath the apple trees. A host of edible herbs and mushrooms grow underneath, and perhaps even grapevines use the apple trees as trellises.

A food forest consists of mostly perennial plants, takes full advantage of vertical space, and fills all plant niches (growing spaces).

Perennial plants include trees and shrubs, as well as perennial vegetables.

By creating a system that consists mostly of perennial plants, you avoid having to replant each year as you would in your vegetable garden. The result is that you’ll need to water less (or not all).

Also, since you’ll be disturbing the soil far less than in a traditional garden, your food forest will support more soil life than a regular garden.

A food forest will result in an increase in your harvest because you’re making full use of all available space, including vertical space.

Imagine you plant a fruit tree. On the shady side, you add some currants and other shade-tolerant berries, and on the sunny side you add some sun-loving berries. At the base of the sun-loving berries, you plant some perennial and annual vegetables and herbs.

Make sure to throw in some climbers, a few root crops, some edible groundcovers like strawberries, plus some nitrogen-fixing plants like lupines to help fertilize and support the other plants.

This system can give you fruits, nuts, berries, vegetables, herbs, and more, all from the area around a single fruit tree.

If you repeat that setup a dozen times with more fruit and nut trees, now you have a true food forest.

This food forest would result in a truly immense harvest that would dwarf what a regular garden the same size could provide. Plus, the food forest would result in a much more diverse harvest.

By filling all the plant niches intentionally, a food forest greatly reduces issues with weeds and potential pests.

Plus, with the high diversity of plants providing a harvest, you will still have a large range of plants to harvest even if you do lose 1 crop to pests.

The overall result is a system that produces abundant, diverse harvests that require less inputs and less maintenance than a regular garden.

As with anything, food forests come with pros and cons.
I believe that the pros of them heavily outweigh the cons.
However it’s still worth considering the drawbacks before creating a food garden of your own.

Pros of Creating a Food Forest 

1. Less work than other types of gardens
After the initial setup and design, you can pretty much let nature take over if you’ve designed your food forest correctly. Weeding, fertilizing and pest control is minimal in a food forest. Only harvesting and the occasional pruning is required.

2. Long-term harvest
A food forest creates a food legacy that you can pass down to your children and future generations. A conventional vegetable garden has to get planted every year, but a food forest will still be producing decades into the future. 

3. Can use otherwise unsuitable land
Some plots of land might not be usable for growing crops in a conventional way. But by growing a variety of different crops that are adapted for the specific conditions of your area, you can make use of otherwise vacant land. Even a swamp or desert-like conditions can get turned into a food forest.

4. Source of healthier food
Organic fruits and vegetables grown in a food forest aren’t treated with chemical pesticides or fertilizers. They also tend to create more nutrients and vitamins than produce you find at the grocery store, which may have been picked before it was even ripe. Plus it has a smaller carbon footprint since the crops aren’t shipped across the country.

Cons of Creating a Food Forest

1. It takes more time to set up than a conventional garden
Food forests need planning and setup. Large fruit or nut trees won’t produce a yield for five or more years.

2. More initial design, setup and labor
A lot goes into designing a food forest to make sure that all of the plants will work in harmony with each other. For example, many common vegetables won’t grow well near black walnut trees.

3. They can look messy
If you’re used to planting vegetables in neat little rows, then a food forest may look like chaos to you at first. They imitate real forests, which have a wild and unkempt look to them.

There is no such thing as a food forest that uses chemical sprays or pest control methods.

Food forests depend on an active, diverse insect and animal population, which should keep pests under control.

Ground covers prevent weeds growing for the above-ground layers, trees and shrubs prevent compaction for the root layers, flowering plants provide food for pollinating insects, and other plants provide shelter for birds and insects that snack on pests.

Not really. While a food forest contains vegetable plants, it is not a traditional vegetable garden.

Vegetable gardens are generally planted each spring and either mowed over or tilled under each fall/winter. The process repeats each growing season.

While a vegetable garden technically contains fruits, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelons, it does not include established fruits and nuts like apple trees, walnut trees, or blueberries. These are all permanent plants outside the scope of an annual vegetable garden.

Perennials are plants that live for more than a year.

One of the most important principles of sustainable agriculture is total coverage of the soil, all the time, with plants or at the very least mulch.

Perennial plants are more sustainable, as they provide a permanent ground cover protecting your precious soil from drying out and erosion.

Biodiverse systems are resilient systems, less prone to disease and pest attack, and better equipped to make optimal use of light, water and nutrients.

You also get a variety of harvests spread throughout the seasons, and a beautiful, interesting garden, full of wildlife.

This is exactly what you want your own food forest to be like.

To achieve a low maintenance abundance of fruit, nuts, berries and herbs you’ll want to create a forest-like system.

Where fertility comes from many sources, where fungi helps create organic material, where wildlife is your primary pest control, where soil holds water like a sponge, and where you have a high diversity of plants.

About YOUR Own Food Forest

Most backyards are suitable for some kind of food forest, although it may not work for all the foods you want to grow.

Walnut trees, for example, take 10-13 years to mature and produce nuts. They will reach up to 45 meter (150 feet) tall over their lifetime. This tree produces a lot of shade, so unless you have a large backyard, this is not a sustainable option.

Before you install a food forest, plan out what kind of foods you would like to produce. Expand beyond typical fruits and vegetables; look into fruit trees, nut trees, edible vines, and groundcovers.

If you have a small backyard, you may want to look into vertical growing options. Pergola with vines, larger containers with multiple plantings, and hanging planters can provide a miniature food forest setting.

The short answer is that you can create a food forest on any amount of land, from a single tree in a pot on your balcony to a multi-acre farm.

The long answer is that the amount of land you need will depend on several factors, including your climate, soil type, water availability, and intended use.

For example, if you want to create a food forest that will supply all of your family’s fruit and nut needs, you will need more land than if you are only interested in growing edible mushrooms.

To get started, I recommend conducting a Walk & Talk Consultation to assess your land’s strengths and weaknesses. Once we have a better idea of what your land can support, we can start planning your food forest design.

And remember, even if you only have a small space available, you can still create an abundant and productive food forest!

The yield of a monocultured field of grain can be pretty easy to predict. But time and time again, studies and experience have shown that this type of farming is harmful to the soil, the environment, and our health.

A multi-tiered, polycultural, successional food forest’s yield will vary every year, especially in its youth.

In the beginning, most of the yields will be from annuals that thrive in the sunlight allowed in by the young trees.

As the years go by, the system will evolve from annuals to perennials, from short to tall, from limited life to high biodiversity.

The yields will depend on condition of the soil, the slope of the land, the solar aspect, the wind conditions, the pest pressure, the human pressure, and the weather from year to year.

The site conditions will dictate which plants we can choose and how much those plants produce.

The yield of a system that mimics nature is not something I can accurately predict, but by taking that “risk”, you are rewarded with a resilience that is not possible with conventional farming methods.

That depends on which plants make up the food forest.

A food forest will take longer than an annual vegetable bed to reach its true potential.

However, a food forest will last much longer than an annual bed, and the return on investment (of time) is exponential.

But while you are waiting for nut and fruit trees to mature, you will certainly be able to take advantage of all the sunshine available without a mature tree canopy.

You will be able to plant annual vegetables in between the trees or in dedicated vegetable beds – which will produce abundance of food within a few months.

I would love to include a vegetable garden in your design!

I can recommend the best annual (and perennial) vegetables for you, but this will be up to your preferences what you actually grow in the vegetable garden.

In my experience, it takes some trial and error, until you find the right combination of vegetables that are tasty to your palate and easy to grow.

While you are determining if a contractor is right for you and your project, there are a few things to think about. Here are some assessment points (+) and red flags (-) to watch out for.

Did the contractor arrive on time? Are they effective and timely with their communications?
+ This is important to keep in mind when moving forward. They should be present and ready to answer questions for you and follow up with further research when necessary.

– If your contractor is late without contacting you or impossible to get a hold of, this might be a red flag about their communication style. If this is something you value, you might want to reassess the partnership.

Would you trust them at your house if you weren’t there?
+ Contractors are there to get the job done, but also to work closely with you and ensure you’re feeling good about the project.

– If you won’t be home during the install of your design, go with your instincts here.

Are they respectful and informative?
+ Contractors are experts, but they should feel like a partner. You should be able to speak openly with them on pricing and budget, as well as gauge priorities.

– If the contractor is unwilling to answer questions or is condescending, they probably aren’t the best choice if you’re looking for more of a collaborative relationship.

Can the contractor answer estimate, material, and execution questions on the spot?
+ Speaking about each of these things should be second nature for your contractor, and they should be able to communicate with you and help educate you on the project with their industry knowledge. They can also steer the conversation in a collaborative way.

– If the contractor refuses to create an estimate for you or talk through your ideas, it’s best to move on and find a more collaborative partner.

Can they help make any necessary changes and create updated estimates?
+ Contractors can work with you to markup your plans and reflect any collaboration or changes you agree on. A week to create an estimate is common, 3 days is great.

– It is a big red flag if the contractor is unwilling to make changes to suit your needs, or needs more than one week to give you an estimate.

One final tip!
Keep in mind when meeting with your contractor, they are typically not compensated for this time. Be as respectful and efficient with their time as you can. 

Contractors are also in high demand more and more, and as such, most good contractors can be booked 2-4 months in advance. Think of your contractor as a collaborative partner, not a commoditised service provider.

When you are ready for the installation phase of your food forest, there is a lot to know ahead of time. Here are some helpful tips and pointers on ways to stay prepared before you have your first meeting with your contractor.

  1. Be ready to be upfront and talk about money and budget.

  2. Print and give the contractor a copy of the design plan I created for you, planting plan, or any other images from your design that you want to focus on and discuss.

  3. Take notes, make requests, or write out suggestions on the printed copies you make.
    Make sure to give them to the contractor, as well.

  4. If there are multiple decision-makers in your household, be sure you compare notes in advance of your meeting.

  5. If possible, ensure all of the decision-makers are present at the site walk and/or are available for discussion.
    This helps if the contractor has any questions, or if you want to talk some ideas through with them directly.

About Me and What I Do for You

Here are a few of the things that set me apart than any other landscape or garden designer in Tenerife:

  1. No Chemicals Whatsoever. Never!
    My designs include companion plants that will work together to support the ecosystem – so you will never need to use any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.

  2. Use Gray Water Whenever Possible
    I’m a great advocate for re-using any drop of water and if possible, I will show you how to use the water from your sinks and showers to grow bananas, papayas and other water-guzzling plants.

  3. Every Tree Gets a Supporting Family
    I have a vast knowledge and experience with companion planting and each fruit or nut tree gets between 5-9 plants around it to attract the right pollinators, detract its pests, increase soil fertility, protect the soil and more…

  4. Tenerife is My Specialty
    This volcanic island with its unique climate, micro climates, soil, environment and endemic plants – offers both challenges and opportunities. Let me help you navigate those for a successful food forest.

  5. Your Satisfaction is Guaranteed!
    Your design is not complete, until you are completely, 100% satisfied.

I believe that anyone who controls a patch of Earth has the potential to affect positive change.

I am here to empower people to make good decisions, which is why I will lead you toward a low-water food forest and educate you about rain catchment systems and why there are better choices than traditional sod.

As a general rule, every design includes low-water wildlife attracting plants that lay the groundwork for wildlife corridors. I believe that if we all do a little we can do a lot.

One of my main efforts with my food forest designs is to support biodiversity and healthy ecosystems by encouraging the use of climate-adapted and habitat-supporting plants in gardens throughout Tenerife.

I believe that budget needs to be a central part of the design process!

At the beginning of the design process, during our Walk & Talk Consultation, I will ask you to share your all-in budget.

If you plan to phase your build-out, as many of my clients do, this is the budget for all phases.

I will then create your design with that number in mind. However, there are always variables – like the materials and plant sizes you ultimately choose – that can increase cost up or bring it down. 

I can design for most budgets, but please reach out if you want to chat about your specific constraints!

Yes, I do.

And it’s a very simple, straightforward guarantee.

I love my work and I am proud of it.
I will always go the extra mile for you and beyond.

So, while your design process comes with one revision, I will keep revising your design until you are completely, 100% satisfied – for FREE!

Yes. I do have a premium service, which includes professional installation and 12-month maintenance – to the highest standards.

I will tell you more about the possibilities when I deliver you the final design of your food forest.

My food forest designs are low-maintenance and, over time, self-sustaining like a natural forest would be.

I will create a design that suits your lifestyle and provide any necessary care instructions, support, and training.

The best way to maintain is to observe and interact with joy.

The cost of starting a food forest will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the area you want to plant, the type of plants you choose, and whether you plan to do the work yourself or hire someone to do it for you.

If you buy and plant all the trees and plants yourself, in Tenerife, you look at an average cost of €500 for every 100 sqm.

Earth works, irrigation, soil amendments, landscape elements and, of course, the costs of hiring someone to help you with the planting and maintenance are not included in this estimate.

If you have experience gardening or landscaping, then you may be able to do it yourself. However, if you’re starting from scratch, it’s probably best to hire someone who knows what they’re doing.

The cost of hiring a professional will depend on their experience level and the size of the job. Expect to pay anywhere from €50 to €150 per hour for their services.

Ready to Start Your Food Forest Design?

Invite me for a Walk & Talk Consultation