A Forest Garden Year: DVD review

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Martin Crawford’s forest garden in Devon might not be in a biosphere anything like the climate at Milkwood Farm, but it’s a project that’s been an inspiration to me for a while, nonetheless.

Martin’s forest garden is a poem of time and space and the seasons – or a big jumbly mess of green stuff, depending on how you look at it. But one thing is not debatable. That forest garden of his produces a lot of very edible food, in a very stable, resilient and low-energy input system. Like.

So it was with great excitement that we finally got our hands on a copy of Martin’s DVD A Forest Garden Year: Perennial crops for a changing climate. There’s many things i like about this DVD, and not much, really, that I don’t.

The DVD is a very simple, straightforward product, that takes you through all four seasons in the forest garden. By the end of it, you understand the basic gist of many concepts inherent to forest garden (or food forest) systems, including stuff like:

– why layering species from ground covers to canopy is a good idea

– some of the various ways one can approach managing different tree heights while using them to grow vines

– grafting techniques (used extensively in this garden to accelerate various harvests of edibles)

– planning ahead for height and density in a forest system

That last point is a big one. It’s quite common to embark on a small orchard or food forest project only to realize, 3 years in, you’ve not planted everything in the right spot – you didn’t accurately project forwards in terms of designing the 3 dimensional space attributes of each tree, and their flow-on effects.

All of which makes designing and planting a food forest sound a bit tricky – which it is – and which is why i like this DVD. By the end of it, you feel like giving forest gardening a go, rather than being daunted and the grandeur of design and energy needed to get a forest of food happening at your place.

Martin Crawford is also the author of what i would term a stoutly comprehensive beginners forest gardening book- Creating a Forest Garden: working with nature to grow edible crops.

This book is by no means on the scale of the amazing 2 volume Edible Forest Gardens by David Jake, but then, I don’t think its trying to be. It’s a good ‘first bite’ type of publication. That said, Creating a Forest Garden is pretty darn comprehensive in it’s own right. There’s a great review of this book here.

Also, we’re running a food forest workshop at Milkwood Farm in early September this year. Feel free to join Dan Harris Pascal (horticulturalist / permaculturalist) and Nick Ritar (permaculturalist) for three days for designing and implementing a section of our food forest system here at Milkwood Farm. Details here.

While I’m here, does anyone know of any thriving examples of forest gardens or food forests in rather harsh, temperate climates? We know of some, but would like to know of more?

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9 responses to “A Forest Garden Year: DVD review

  1. Why is it you’re writing about nearly everything I love! First chickens, now forest gardens. 😉

    I only recently discovered Martin Crawfords forest garden, and it gives me hope that what we’re working towards can have the same benefits here.

    The more trees we’ve put in (or allowed to sprout naturally) we’ve noticed a less extreme climate difference than normal. Planting food crops near these areas, appears to have less diseased and less coddling by us involved.

    We’ve just planted some more native food trees in a stretch of land we’re dubbing the bush orchard. It’s in stark contrast to the other side of the property, where we’ve planted just your regular European style fruit trees on cultivated land. It’s in contrast because we’re planting native fruit trees directly into the grass (with added gypsm and compost in the hole) and we want to see how it performs against the traditional model.

    In between these two styles of fruit producing trees and shrubs however, we’re linking them up with a combination of both natives and european. As if we couldn’t get enough of gardening, hey! But really this is survival stuff. We cut open a large track of land to build the house, which erodes terribly. We also live on a slope. Can’t have those two extremes and have a great outcome? So we decided if we were going to put stuff in to hold the soil together, it might as well be edible stuff!

    Anyway, I’ve done a lot of research and love this kind of information, I live for it! I will have to see if I can get that DVD (I’ll try at the local library first).

    I’m not sure if you’ve come across this particular site called, The Food Forest: http://www.foodforest.com.au/theFoodForest.htm

    Interestingly enough, they have incorporated a breeding program for The Brush Tailed Bettong, which helps to manage their orchards (along with geese) and keeps this little marcupial off the extinct list. I loved that particular aspect about this property. I love how they use native solutions and that’s what we’re all about too!

    I’ve often wondered why no-one has written a difinitive book about farming to Australian conditions. Ones where native plants are used to feed exotic ones, and native animals are used in a symbiotic relationship with keeping non-native livestock. We undervalue our native resources, and by doing so we create more manhours for ourselves, trying to keep our exotics alive. They would probably do much better with a symbiotic relationship with our natives (flora and fauna).

  2. Similarly, the wonderful book “The Wilderness Garden” by Jackie French is packed with great ideas for edible forests and groves in Australian conditions.

  3. Hi Cecilia, I’ve got that book of Jackie Frenchs’ and it’s a really good read for Australian gardeners! It’s helped me understand my bush block a lot more.

    I like Martin Crawfords work too because he actually shows you with pictures and images, how the systems work. It’s great to see a 16 years old forest garden when mine is only 4 years in the making so far.

    There are some great pictures on Jackie French’s website from her garden, but without the dialogue to explain those images, it’s a little harder to follow. Not impossible though, I get the gist after reading her book but it’s good to see a working model in Crawford’s part of the world too.

    Totally different climate zones though. For example, I noticed Crawford explained the importance of having adequate spacing between plants so they don’t shade each other out, where Jackie recommends closer plantings of trees because in our hot weather, evaporation is lost a lot more readily.

    Jason you can do canopies any way you like, even for minimal spaces. You just have to find the plants which are thin enough to fit in, but with a spouting canopy higher up. Things like clumping bamboo (not the running varieties) paw-paw, bananas, you can even train a grape vine over a pergola. Because grapes are deciduous, they shade in summer but lose their leaves in winter to allow sun in.

    There is just about any plant to meet just about any situation. Permaculture principles encourages people to consider the design to emphasis with the need and resources available. I reckon you should do the research to follow what your gut is telling you.

    Sorry for hijacking, Kirsten. I just love encouraging people to plant forests wherever they are. One tree is good, two fine – lots of trees, spectacular! You learn a lot about relationships, when you watch a forest of trees grow amongst each other. 🙂

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