PDC # 5 – Designing the food forest

As I mentioned in the previous post, during the second half of the PDC class we worked on designing the food forest. Having the ability to discuss, create, and design a functioning ecosystem is really empowering. Knowing that you are creating something that will function long past the time you turn back into the earth is breathtaking.

Farmer apprentices designing

In order to create a functioning ecosystem you must understand what each plant produces and what its needs are. Taking the time to research what the selected plants need in order to thrive, can help you find its specific niche. The more you know about the plant, the better you can design a plant community — better known as a guild in permaculture. When I first got into permaculture three years ago, I wanted to find a resource for every single guild out there. However, there isn’t one, and even if there was such a resource, the guilds would not be designed specifically for your site. Remember, every single site is different, so we must not treat them all the same.

Getting Professional

Designing our 2.75 acre food forest

My fellow farmer apprentices decided it would be best if we took some time to research the 24 different plants that we chose to work with. Mind you, these 24 plants are either in the canopy or understory range. We will be planting a plethora of varieties, but these are the first ones we have chosen to start with.

Since there were four farmer apprentices (I say were because now we have five), we each got six plants. If you are designing your own food forest, what you want to look at is each plant’s needs, inputs, and outputs. This information will help you design an effectively functioning guild.

Here are the plants I researched:
Allspice-Pimenta diocia:
Needs: Mid-canopy; small plants are not frost tolerant; most need male and females to propagate (polygamo dioecious); best germinates after passing through an avian gut; requires full sun; slow growing.
Produces: Edible leaves and unripe fruits; very aromatic flowers which appear mid-summer; wood is perfect for tool making;  its essential oils can be used as deodorant; grows well with guava; can be used for trellising.

Araza- Eugenia stipitata:
Needs: Susceptible to anthracnose; needs potassium and enjoys nitrogen; tolerates limited flooding, but can adopt to flooding over time; occupies shrub layer of the food forest; enjoys dense, humid areas; can withstand 2 month drought.
Produces: Multiple harvests; branches from base (great for critters); edible tart fruit.

Atemoya- Anona x Atemoya:
Needs: Mature trees killed at 24F and young trees killed 29F; needs windbreak; enjoys humidity and well drained soil; not flood tolerant; propagation best at the end of winter; appreciates full sun; does not favor high nitrogen when mature; optimum temperatures 72F-90F.
Produces: Delicious fruit with lots of seed; definitely has more outputs than what I was able to find.

Avocado-Persea americana:
Needs: Strong pest issues in Florida (Redbay Ambrosia Beetle); needs windbreak; some varieties are not frost tolerant, yet others can moderately tolerate frost; not flood tolerant; prefers some shade.
Produces: Thick canopy provides strong shade; drops its leaves in winter (biomass); produces edible fruit; limbs can fall with lots of fruit which provides shelter for animals.

Banana- Musa sp.:
Needs: Irreversible freeze damage — 28F or below may kill plants to ground; heavy feeders; not flood tolerant; needs windbreak for winds from 25-45mph; full/near full sun recommended; needs mulch; heavy drinker.
Produces: Edible fruits; potassium; great for mulch; can be used as trellis; produces partial shade; suckers.

Cacao- Theobroma cacao:
Needs: Pollinated via crawling and flying insects; 65F-90F optimum growing temperature — 50F or below can kill the plant; enjoys water (do not over water); understory crop; needs windbreak; enjoys mulch; low pests.
Produces: Edible juicy fruits; seeds used for chocolate; large taproot; great for nutrient recycling within soil; cacao shells are great mulch; timber.

Now that we’ve found the plants’ needs and what they can provide for other plants and animals, we must figure out where they work best.

Carolina is focused

Carolina imagining the design

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