edible forest gardening 101


Attracting Beneficial Insects

I’ve written about the many benefits of insect hotels before, in terms of attracting pollinating and predatory insects to your space of cultivation.

As habitats of native bees, beetles, and butterflies are sometimes scarce, or in the way of cultivation, it is important to preserve refuges where these creatures can hide, and continue to symbiotically interact with your local ecosystem.

A number of solitary bees, and beetles like ladybugs–which pollinate fruit crops, and control aphids, respectively–live, have their young, and/or hibernate in hollow biological structures.

A solitary bee species, filling bamboo canes with mud to protect its larvae.

Dried “tubes” can be found all over the place in the spring, and are unfortunately often cleared from cultivated spaces: grasses, rushes, sedges, ferns, and flower stalks often leave behind a reasonably sturdy, dried hollow structure; I’ve also used cardboard tubing. 

These materials can be packed into a frame of sorts (I used a length of PVC pipe), along with things like bark, clay tiles, and conifer cones for spiders, in order to provide an array of habitats.

The insects and arachinids will move in and do the rest.

Beside the home-made “bee hotel” above, I’ve also hung up an old butterfly house. These kinds of structures provide shelter for migrating and local butterflies, and mimic the crevices in trees and rocks in which these insects would normally find shelter.

DIY Butterfly House

Between the bees, beetles, birds, moths, and butterflies, and the worms in my compost system, there is a house or habitat for almost every local beneficial creature: except for bats. As soon as one of my trees reaches a sufficient height, I will be putting in a bat house as well.

The benefits of having a biodiverse forest garden system are manifold: these organisms pollinate, decompose, control pest populations, and deposit both seeds and fertiliser. It is in my best interest to have them around, filling out their ecological niches.

Related: Insect Hotels


#Edible Forest Gardening 101: Plant a Mini-Orchard, with Columnar and Cordon Trees

My partner’s aunt is something of a horticultural guru in my life, and one maxim she seems to live by is: “a tree only gets as large as you allow it to.”

I am something of a plant hoarder myself, and because I believe preserving biodiversity in the food system is extremely important, I find myself more inclined to want 10 small but different tree cultivars (or a tree grafted with 40 cultivars) than a single large tree.

Training trees to grow in a compact form, such as a columnar or cordon tree, is a way to pack a huge amount of species diversity into a small space. These forms of tree maintenance are suitable for species and cultivars that fruit on what are called “spurs.”

Spurs are short, stocky shoots with shortened internodes, which is the space between two nodes; nodes are the part of a stem where leaves, and sometimes flowers, are attached. They form on shoots that are two years of age or older and can be branched or unbranched. Both flowers and fruit can form on spurs.

- What is a Fruit Spur?

It takes a little bit of practice, and quite a few visual references, but fruit spurs are easy to identify once you know what you are looking for.

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Viron, on The Home Orchard Society

This form of maintenance is best for certain cultivars of apples and pears, so research and observation is needed before choosing the right trees. Some cultivars can even be persuaded to fruit in pots when pruned properly, so a mini-orchard is even possible for an apartment gardener with a balcony.

In any case, when done right, it is a dense, attractive, and productive mode of cultivation. Species and cultivars can be chosen to cascade across a wide range of flowering and ripening times: an early-ripening ‘Clapp’s Favourite’ Pear, can be planted alongside a mid-season 'Brandy,’ and a late-season 'Bosc,’ so that pears are available over a period of months, instead of a period of weeks.

I use this high-diversity strategy with my blueberries and strawberries as well, so I have three months of harvest from the former, and five of the latter. It entails a bit of work in keeping plants artificially small, but the consistent, small harvests are much more practical than one-time, large harvests. I don’t worry about canning and preserving, so much as going out in the garden and finding something ripe for the picking.

Read more: Controlling Apple Tree Size by Horticultural Means

Related: Of Pears and Espaliers; Living Fences

Images: Pomona Fruits; htterina; The Meaning of the Columnar Apple Tree System (CATS) for the Market in Future by Helmut B. Jacob, The Geisenheim Research Institute, Department of Pomology

#pruning #fruit trees #forest gardening #edible landscaping 


A Permacultural Perspective

Most arbourists these days will tell you that tree topping (the practice of pollarding large trunks and branches on mature trees) is an excessively destructive process: it’s largely been replaced in the trade with spiral thinning.

There are a variety of reasons for this advice against tree topping: all having to do with the long-term health and integrity of the tree. The caution against topping trees is relevant for gardeners, landscapers, horticulturalists, arbourists, and city planners, but not neccessarily a hard and fast rule for permaculturalists.

The reasons for this have to do with differing ideas about the function of a tree:

  • In a heavily-landscaped garden or city street, there may be a few trees that constitute a significant investment, and the aesthetics and maintenance of those trees tie in to property values. Topping compromises the health and durability of the tree, which is fundamentally an economic concern.
  • In the permacultural ‘food forest’-style garden I’ve built, I currently have 50+ fruiting trees, and I am planting and grafting new trees every day, so it’s not a big deal if one dies. I use pruned lumber for a variety of purposes, and sometimes I deliberately do things that impair the health of a tree – such as planting parasitic mistletoe – in order to create wildlife habitats.

Last year, I topped one apple tree, and did some drastic ‘spiral thinning’ on another. Both survived, with the topped tree sending up much-maligned water sprouts, and the spiral-thinned tree leafing out as usual (albeit with a little sun scorch on the leaves).

Topped Crabapple, with grafted water sprouts

Drastically spiral-thinned canopy on a Skovfoged apple

I’ve noticed that on the topped tree, fungus has begun to be established on the two stumps. Far from being dismayed by this, I am actually overjoyed! If you want to understand why fungus on my apple tree is welcome, look no further than the first picture accompanying this piece of writing.

Topping can stimulate the development of tree hollows, which are vital habitats for bees, beetles, birds, and tree-dwelling rodents like squirrels.

Tree hollows in living trees are cavities where the heartwood has been degraded by fungi or bacteria. Trees compartmentalise decay, and the only actively growing or vascular tissues of a tree are concentrated towards the bark. This means a tree can potentially be almost completely hollowed out, but still continue living.

Bees in a tree hollow

Topping provides an opening for fungi and bacteria to create a cavity in the tree, and thus creates habitat. The excessive growth of water shoots is also a benefit, as timber is a valuable resource for mulch, hügelkultur, and carbon-sequestering soil building.

I’m doing my best to preserve these cavities in trees in the forest garden, even in trees that otherwise seem doomed. In the case of my European Ash tree with developing fungal lesions, instead of getting rid of the tree, I’ve done a bridge graft around the lesion. The hollow will continue to form, but the vascular pathways will remain intact.

Topping trees, like sheet mulching, can essentially be an accelerated way of promoting ecological succession in a forest garden. Fungi and bacteria also have a place in the ecosystem, and naturalistic garden maintenance means embracing those forces, rather than trying to control or eliminate them. We can always plant new trees, but bringing species back from the brink habitat loss-induced extinction is a little harder.

To me, local wildlife is included in the permacultural ethic of ‘fair share,’ as in, they too deserve a fair share of the space and harvest from this garden. You may be surprised at who moves in, when you make them welcome!

Tree Hollow Dwellers

I wrote quite a bit of content as a part of the #Edible Forest Gardening 101 series this year. So, as we approach the New Year, I thought I would put them all together in a master-post!

Look forward to much more forest gardening content in the future.

Posts gathered from around the internet on these topics are hosted in my #forest gardening #edible landscaping and #permaculture archives.


Soil and Terrain:

Microclimate Construction, and Earthworks:



The Blue Sausage Fruit a.k.a. “Dead-Man’s Fingers” (Decaisnea fargesii)

This is a rare flood-tolerant edible I’ve been wanting for quite some time, and I was finally able to track down and purchase two saplings from the UK.

Reportedly hardy in USDA zones 4-8, this native of Eastern Asia thrives in dappled shade. The bean-like fruits are valued by peoples in the Himalayas, particularly the Lepcha people of Sikkim.

Once harvested, the fruits are opened, the row of seeds in the middle is removed, and the soft gel-like pulp in the follicle can be scooped out and eaten.

I’m growing it as more of a specimen plant, but the fact that it is an understory tree that can provide calories is a welcome bonus to the Edible Forest Garden.

#botany #forest gardening #edible landscaping 

A Top Bar Honeybee Hive (a.k.a. the “Honey Cow”)

I’ve been building all sorts of beneficial insect habitats and hotels over the past few months, as I finish installing a food forest design. One of the last components of this little edible ecosystem I am going to add is a top bar beehive.

This subset of beehive designs is one of the oldest modes of beekeeping, and mimics the way bees build their combs in nature. A beeswax-coated bar is placed over a protected cavity, and the bees build the rest in the form of the vessel.

Short top-bar hive from Greece, as depicted in 1682: Wikimedia Commons

It is both a productive, and apicentric mode of beekeeping. Designs can be adapted to account for what materials are locally available, and the system can thrive with little to no upkeep. 

An interpretation of “The Honey Cow,”
by James Satterfield in Canton, Georgia, USA

My father-in-law works at the municipal recycling station, so I am going to try build a simple small top bar hive with a window, using what recycled materials and timber he can find for the project. After which time, I just need to come into some European Honeybees!

Images:  Medina Beekeepers User: Mike Rossander/Adventures with a Top-Bar Hive; Talking with Bees


Top-Working the Soil:

Converting from grass, to a polyculture edible forest system, without digging

So much of the ecological damage done in agriculture and horticulture comes from processes that are disruptive to soil integrity: like the excessive use of herbicides, fungicides, or fumigants, and heavy tilling.

I haven’t found a better mode for giving my young plants a competitive advantage than the physical suppression of competitor plants. It isn’t always pretty, but sheet mulching works, and builds extremely good soil.

My overall soil disturbance in installing new plants is minimal: I will mulch over an area, and create small openings in the mulch from the top when I want to add new plants. The plants that were in the area before (grasses, etc.) are starved of light, and converted into soil nutrition, instead of being carted away.

Most of my tilling and soil aeration is accomplished by soil-dwelling organisms like worms, whose natural habitats are akin to layers of decomposing paper.

Sheet mulching

This process diverts all household cardboard and paper waste, which means the energy used in transporting and recycling it is saved. Another benefit of this process is that plants with a bulb, like the crocus and snowdrops that are naturalised in the grass plane, usually survive, and manage to poke through the mulch in the following year.

In terms of “mindful living” I also appreciate that I am not cutting unseen organisms in half with a spade, digger or tilling apparatus. I like the gentleness of this approach in terms of allowing smaller forms of life to continue going about their business, even while I change the habitat.

Generally, when approaching an area I am about to convert, I’ve been planting the main fruiting tree/overstory crops, mulching, and then waiting a few months before installing the layers below the trees.

A few months to a year after a sheet mulch, the soil is pliable, crawling with life, and explodes with mycelial growth, so it is much easier to work with.

The plants I want to succeed are given a head start, and ideally become more vigorous than less-desirable plants, which allows for the system to be more stable over time (a successful “guild” requires minimal horticultural management). I am extremely happy with both how little labour it has required, and how productive this simple methodology has proven to be in building my forest garden.


Creating Insect Habitats

Today, I went around to all of the gardens or raised beds I have made with wood, and any standing decomposing pieces, and drilled some holes of varying sizes for wood-dwelling pollinators, like carpenter bees.

Related: Beneficial Insect Habitats; Insect Hotels

Continued from: Natural Insect Habitats

Edible Forest Gardening 101: Pollination

One of my many forays into the wonderful world of retail was working at a garden centre, as a “trees and shrub sales associate.” It was a crash course in memorising pertinent information on plants, in order to best advise the customers.

For example, in selling plants in the genus Prunus (plums, cherries, almonds, peaches, nectarines, bird cherries, sloe, and others), this meant closing my eyes and picturing a chart on cross-pollination every time I informed a customer they couldn’t purchase a single tree, and still expect fruit.

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Bron & Sons Nursery Co. Pollination Chart

Many (but not all) Prunus are “self-incompatible,” in that they need to be pollinated by a different, but closely related species, subspecies, cultivar, or variety. This is because when it comes to fruit trees, “cultivar” usually means that all trees sold with a particular name are clones of a single plant.

In the garden centre, we often got around this by selling trees that were grafted with 4-5 different compatible species/subspecies/cultivars/varieties, like the “tree of 40 fruit.”

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The picture of optimal pollination is further complicated by the fact that blooming times have to overlap significantly in order to guarantee a fruit set: fruit trees often have a window for best fertilisation that is smaller than the window in which blooms are open. 

Different plants in the Prunus genus, for example, have different seasonal windows in which they bloom, and despite attempts to chart and match trees with “pollination partners,” factors like the rootstock onto which a tree is grafted, or the microclimate in which it is planted can also alter flowering time.

Beyond that, there are genetic restrictions on which trees can successfully share reproductive material with each other, but they are full of exceptions. Take the Prunus example again:

“European plums (Prunus domestica [itself a hybrid species, likely descended from be Prunus spinosa and Prunus cerasifera]) can inter-pollinate with closely-related species such as damsons (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia), mirabelles (Prunus domestica subsp. syriaca) and cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera). European plums cannot generally cross-pollinate with Japanese plums (Prunus salicina). Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) and Acid cherries (Prunus cerasus) are also different species but can potentially cross-pollinate each other.”

     -  Orange Pippin Fruit Trees

Prunus avium is thought to be one of the parent species of Prunus cerasus (sour cherry) by way of ancient crosses between it and Prunus fruticosa (dwarf cherry) in the areas where the two species overlap. All three species can breed with each other.

     -  Prunus avium wiki

Pure wild plums – Prunus nigra and Prunus americana – are by far the best pollinizers for hybrid plums. 

     -  Plums on the Prairies

Peaches, nectarines, and almonds can all cross-pollinate as well: indeed, I have an almond tree that I originally thought was really a hybrid between an almond and a peach, which is a common hybrid made to create better rootstock for both almonds and peaches/nectarines.

Almonds are the seeds inside of peach-like fruits: it’s easy to see their genetic closeness.

There are a tonne of charts and online databases that can be used to look up the genetic and pollination relationships between fruiting trees, shrubs, and vines, but in general, good planning is essential in terms of choosing trees for a forest garden. Otherwise, you may get nothing but flowers!

I tend to think of the pollination relationships between plants as almost social: the forest garden is like a party where everyone is arriving and leaving at different times, and everyone has different—but extremely specific—genders, sexes, sexual preferences, and orientations.

My persimmon trees and kiwi vines are dioecious, for example, meaning male and female flowers are on different plants: a minimum of two plants are then required to produce fruit. 

Persimmon Flowers

My Prunus (Stone Fruit), Pyrus (Pear), and Malus (Apple) trees have both male and female parts (”perfect” or hermaphriditic flowers, botanically-speaking), but usually need to get a little strange cultivar-wise, and sometimes (rarely), the latter two genera trade pollen between each other. My Chaenomeles/Cydonia (Quince) are generally happy on their own, but can occasionally swap gametes with closely-related pears.

If you would like to avoid all of this hassle, research, and planning, look for trees and shrubs that are “self-fruitful” (not just “self-pollinating”).

Self-fruitful plants (and clones) set a crop of fruit after self-pollination; some of these plants bear fruit with no seeds (parthenocarpy); others develop seeds with embryos that are genetically identical to the parent plant (apomixis); and others produce haploid seeds that develop from an unfertilized egg cell. (When haploid seeds germinate they are very weak seedlings with only half the chromosomes of normal seedlings.) Regarding temperate zone tree fruits, self-pollination and fruit set does not mean self-fertility and the development of normal seeds.  

    -  Plums on the Prairies

There are so many complex relationships, and they are far from being 100% clear in the scientific record: orchards usually have a pretty good handle on this sort of thing in that there are tried-and-true combinations that are used for optimal pollination, but there is always room for experimentation, and “rules” with regards to plant genetics are plastic and ever-shifting.

Generally, my advice in handling this is the same as it always is: plant lots of trees, plant with redundancy, and plant genetically diverse species!

#tree planting #forest gardening #edible landscaping

The Bee Garden Guild

Denmark // Zone 8

The “bee garden” is a little right triangle-shaped bed – where I have been growing the showiest and most fragrant purple, blue and pink flowers I can find in order to provide a concentrated source of forage for bees and other pollinators – right in the middle of the forest garden.

The idea is to attract the insects to the middle of the space, so all my fruit trees and vegetables around the periphery are pollinated.

Last year, in June, it looked like this:

Currently, this rather sandy and elevated garden contains blossoms that open in different seasonal windows, so there is always something blooming.

Tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths early in the season fade to aquilegia and lilacs, while the lupins and giant alliums prepare to bloom throughout June; digitalis sends up a flowering spike in the meantime, as do mullein and astilbe. These are followed by gladiolus, wild daisies, and poppies. By that time all the blossoms in the bee garden have faded, the roses scattered throughout the rest of the garden start opening, and continue to do so well into winter.

I added the highbush blueberries and lilacs to this polyculture last year, training them to a single stem, so their fruit/flowers are above the herbaceous perennials. The fruit trees are some of this years’ seedlings: peach, apricot, and plum. They will benefit from the lupins fixing atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, and form a low canopy.

This is a simple 3-layer guild, but it stacks a number of functions into about a two square metre surface area.

I am happy with the way it’s begun to establish itself, and since it is so crowded with aggressive perennials, there is no virtually no weeding necessary. to maintain it. It generates its own mulch and fertiliser, and the carpet of plants hold water and humidity at the soil level, while sheltering all manner of insects below.

More edible forest gardening


Quick Vertical Garden for Strawberries

An old wine case and a waxed paper bag become home to twelve new strawberry cuttings, pruned from runners in the garden.

#DIY #upcycle #vertical gardening #container gardening #strawberries #edible landscaping #gif


#Edible Forest Gardening 101: Pushing Hardiness Zones

Primer: USDA Hardiness Zones and AHS Heat Zones

Most of us living in the temperate zone have that one species of tree–or in my case, 50+ species–that we’d love to grow, but the threat of frost or extended cold snaps deters us. Without an orangerie, we dare not try and grow oranges.

There are limits to how much you can push a plant to survive outside of it’s optimal conditions: in Zone 3 Alberta, I knew experienced gardeners who could grow Zone 5 plants, by providing plenty of winter protection and a microclimate (sheltered, and planted against an object with a high heat capacity and/or radiating heat, like a house). Generally, a good rule of thumb is that a plant can be pushed two zones above the natural climate, while still growing outdoors. Of course, this depends on how much effort you are willing to put in to wrapping and insulating a plant every year.

There are numerous strategies to insulate plants, but here are a few of the most common (and cheapest):

  • Combine the fermentation of leaf mould with plant insulation by building a cage around the plant, and filling it with leaves. Their fermentation and surface area provides both heat and shelter.
  • Use empty containers (pots, barrels, boxes, etc.) to provide windbreak
  • Wrap the plant in burlap (commonly used on evergreens)
  • Fresh compost or manure laid around the base of a tree, with a heat-retentive dome on top (an upside-down pot, cooler, or garbage can, filled with leaves, for example) can trap the warmth released by fermentation while insulating from winds and frosts
  • Straw bales stacked around the tree provide warmth and a high insulating capacity

Even if a plant is suited to the zone, it can still be a good idea to wrap it in the first year: I am wrapping my young persimmon trees, because their green wood is frost tender, and I don’t want to see them die back.

You can use any number or combination of these strategies depending on what you have on hand: sometimes providing windbreak is enough, but sometimes the plants need a little bit of extra heat or a greenhouse effect. Any way you look at it, if you’re willing to spend an extra hour or two insulating in the Autumn, you can try some more exotic fare in the garden next year!

#microclimates #over-wintering #DIY #garden hacks



Training into tree-form: do it like a browser

Part of the Edible Forest Gardening 101 series

It’s easy to picture how trees evolved the way they did (tall, with woody stems, and with softer leafy tissues well above the ground) when you picture the selective forces that act on them: herbivorous browsers have shaped trees into what they are today by eating the lower growth, inadvertently selecting for plants that grow taller and stronger on a central leader.

Nowhere in nature is the evolutionary arms race more apparent than in the relationship between the giraffe and the acacia.

Image: Shah Rogers photography

Part of maintaining a forest garden – according to agroforestry principles – is working groups of plants into shapes that maximise the number of photosynthetic reactions that are possible, stacking them vertically across “layers” of cultivation. As such, I often “train” plants that would normally take a shrub-like form into a tree-like shape, in order to create space for an understory of low-growing species.

Training my living fence of Japanese quince

Mimicking browsing is a low-impact way of training younger plants to grow on a single leader: basically this entails gently pulling off potential limbs when they consist of no more than a few leaves and a branch bud. Typically, I remove 2/3 of the total lower foliage this way in spring when the leaves emerge, which provokes the plant to concentrate more energy on growing skyward, rather then spreading. Removing too many leaves will compromise the plant’s ability to photosynthesise, so don’t pluck too vigorously until the plant is established..

All of my highbush blueberries and Japanese quince shrubs – both of which normally grow on multiple leaders – are maintained this way, and it’s also how I provoke vertical growth on seedling trees (I had done it to my Asian Persimmon trees just before taking this photo). I drop the foliage on the ground immediately below the tree, so it is cycled into soil nutrition as a mulch.

Though these practices can delay fruiting, in the long term, they allow you to grow a greater diversity of groundcover and herbaceous perennial species  below shrubs, and also maintain the harvest of small fruit shrubs at a height that is easier to pick for humans (no stooping to the ground level to find blueberries), and harder to pick for rodents. Fruit is also safe from soil backsplash when it is situated higher, and it therefore more hygienic.

More biomimcry and forest gardening here.

#Edible Forest Gardening 101: Creating Forest Soil

Autumn is here, meaning leaves are an abundant mulch resource. I’m continuing the expansion of the forest ecosystem into the grass plane, using the no-dig sheet-mulching technique.

I use successive layers of cardboard, newspaper, and carbon-heavy yard waste (“browns” like straw, spruce and pine cones, wood chips, leaves and dried grass), which starves the grass and weeds for light, and encourages worms to move in and start creating rich humus.

One thing that all forest soils have in common is a constant layer of decomposing organic matter. In order to accelerate the creation of a forest ecosystem while my trees are still young, I mimic those natural processes with liberal and constant applications of mulch.

This also means I am redirecting all paper and cardboard waste, and not bagging up organic matter for municipal collection. Everything serves a function in building up soil: so it reduces my labour, plastic waste, the labour of municipal workers, and the waste generated in treating, processing, trucking and recycling these outputs. My expansion of workable areas is actually limited by the speed at which we produce paper waste (or I can find it): I work much faster than the papers are delivered, so much of this process is simply waiting for resources to build up.

Within a few weeks, the worms will have tilled and aerated the former grass plane. This makes tree-planting much easier, because I don’t have to dig through dense sod. The paper takes a year or two to degrade, but in the meantime I can just lift up a layer of it, dig a hole and plant the tree, and then replace the paper, fitted around the base of the tree, to continue suppressing weeds and grasses.

#agroforestry #forest gardening

Worm Towers

Like keyhole gardening, lasagna gardening, hügelkultur, or sheet mulching, worm towers are a way to integrate composting directly in to your growing space, creating an environment that is rich in nutrients and beneficial microorganisms, as well as a habitat is welcoming to soil-enriching and -tilling worms.

Diagram: Ecofilms Australia

The towers can be made of almost any durable material, and should basically consist of a half-buried tube or bucket, with holes large enough so worms can enter and exit. 

I built my worm towers with leftover plastic piping and a handheld drill.

When not adding compost, it is best to cover the top of the tower with an inverted pot or lid, to discourage rodents or birds from digging in it.

Compost is added from the top, and the worms break it down and carry it out through the holes and/or open bottom, leaving rich casings from which the neighbouring plants to derive nutrition.

These towers can be moved around, and waste inputs can be tailored to the soil needs. More hazardous inputs like pet waste can be safely composted in a worm tower in areas where long-term crops like trees are growing.

Related: Beneficial Insect Habitats; Insect Hotels; Natural Insect Habitats; Creating Insect Habitats

#garden hacks #DIY #permaculture #compost #vermicomposting #worms


#Edible Forest Gardening 101: building terraced gardens with logs, for fruit and fungi

  • Building vertically allows you to provide excellent drainage for your plants, and also the increases the surface area on which you can plant.
  • Building with untreated natural woods allows you to integrate fungal cultivation into your planting space.

After I took down veggie bed #4, there was a bit of a void, so today I built this hügelkultur structure for the strawberries I am moving from the højmose garden across the pathway.

I inherited an old piece of flared concrete sewer piping from a neighbour, and I have been wanting to figure out a way to use it in the garden. I settled on using it to provide drainage for a shrub of some sort (planted in the middle), while it radiates heat to the strawberries around it.

I used wood from an old pear tree to build the terraces around the pipe, and in between the logs I packed the sides with a damp sandy soil mixed with with a fermented wood chip mulch, which provides stability to the sloped sides. The strawberries will prevent erosion with their roots once they are established.

This terraced strawberry garden, built not unlike an herb spiral, also provides an environment where the fruit can dangle off the structure and be more easily harvested, without touching the soil; and, a netting can be easily draped over the entirety to protect the fruit from birds.

In addition, pear tree logs can be used to grow shiitake mushrooms, so I am contemplating innoculating a few of the logs with shiitake spores and having a combined strawberry and mushroom garden!

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It costs around $16 CAD for 100 plugs of mycelium to innoculate logs, and each plug will fruit for several years: cultivating edible mushrooms in logs is incredibly easy to do if you have a drill. Log-grown shiitakes cost $80+ a kilogram, so growing them at home in rotting logs is a bargain.

#DIY #gif #mushrooms #edible landscaping #raised beds


$15 CAD / Hour, or $10 CAD / Page (whichever is lowest)

I am ten pages in to a document I am writing for fillingthespaces, who asked me to consult on applying permaculture principles to a yard in my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. Above is the first page, and the beginning of the appendices.

If you are looking for consultation to get started on a project like this, I can provide help in planning landscapes that are situated in:

  • USDA Hardiness Zones 2-8
  • Continental or coastal climates
  • North America or Europe

I have lived and worked in arid and grassland biomes in zone 2/3 Alberta, Canada; a humid continental climate in zone 5 Quebéc, Canada; high-precipitation inland climate in zone 6 Jutland, Denmark; and temperate maritime climate in zone 8 Zealand, Denmark. I have also done horticultural work in a moderate oceanic climate in zone 8b British Columbia, Canada. 

My educational background is in Medical Anthropology and Public Health, at McGill University in Montréal; my passion is landscaping and permaculture. I have also worked at a number of commercial greenhouses as a sales consultant for trees and shrubs, and on family farms. I am almost finished establishing my second successful edible landscape, and first complete food forest.

I have been running this blog for 2+ years now, and now have 31,000+ followers. I’m a weekly columnist for Urban Farm magazine, and I’m currently writing a feature for Horticulture magazine as well.

A consultation would include a basic evaluation of your space, and a list of native species and specialty cultivars that do well in your local bioregion. A custom 10-page report takes me about 4-5 hours to compile.

I don’t provide sketches, because I can’t do an evaluation of the site. However, with a 10-page report like this, I will also send 5 species of suitable plant germplasm (cuttings or seeds) to help you get started.

You can write to me in French, German, Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian, but I will write my report in English.

Email me at biodiverseed@gmail.com if you would like to engage my services! Let me know where you are, provide pictures if possible, and articulate what your goals are for your space.


Hand-Pollinating the Paw Paw Tree

The gorgeous burgundy flowers of A. triloba smell like carrion, and are therefore generally pollinated by flies and beetles. Unless you have your trees planted by a compost heap or a dung pile, maximum fruit yield will have to be artificially stimulated.

Lincoln Smith on the Apios Institute page about this tree had proved a step-by-step guide to hand-pollinating, including distinguishing between male and female flowers. He is growing three grafted Neil Peterson-selected cultivars: ‘Shenandoah’, 'Rappahannock’ and 'Susquehanna.’ Pollen needs to be transferred from one cultivar to another, as this tree is not self-fertile.

Photos are captioned

Related:  The Problem of Pollinating Pears; Cross-Pollination

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#Edible Forest Gardening 101:

Why Pollarding?

Pollarding is a pruning method that is much like coppicing, but branches are removed above the grazing line to avoid damage by herbivores; traditionally it has been performed to harvest food, fuel, and fodder on rotations that were between 2-15 years. The practice of pollarding has evolved into an aesthetic of tree maintenance that is common in urban areas, where trees cannot be allowed to grow to their full dimensions. Like many modes of forcing plants to maintain juvenile tissues (ie. bonsai), pollarding often makes the organisms that undergo it live longer.

The apple tree above is almost pollarded: as you can see, I took away a huge amount of the canopy.

This several-decades-old tree was not well-maintained, and fruit production was waning, so I opted for a drastic pruning strategy. Over the next three years, I will cut each of the three leaders down another metre (one per season, so as to avoid over-stressing the tree, and to maintain fruit production). I don’t think there is much of a point in having an apple tree in a domestic garden if you can’t easily reach up and pluck a fruit, and that’s not happening when the fruit-bearing limbs are 3 metres off the ground.

I had great success renewing an old crabapple tree using this method, cutting the two leaders down to shoulder-height stumps, reducing the tree to 1/3 of it’s former height, and provoking dense new growth.

I suggest this renewal strategy to a lot of people trying to add new trees to an established landscape. Pollarded trees allow more solar energy to reach shrubs, perennials, or seedling trees, and the process of pollarding generates resources like firewood, mulch, and timber for hügelkultur.

The lichen-covered wood from this single old apple tree made a dense hügelkultur mound that spans 5 metres in length, at 0.5 metres in height and width.

Adding these composite organisms, and sequestering the carbon from the wood to the soil does wonders for my soil fertility and feeds mycelial networks (on which bees are dependent). Before I cover these mounds in soil and compost, they also form an important habitat for a number of beneficial insects.

New forests grow on dead trees; therefore wood is one of the most important soil-building resources in a forest garden.

Related: Plant a Mini-Orchard, with Columnar and Cordon Trees


The Biodegradable Mulch Ring

Tree mulch rings are installations surrounding the base of a tree, usually one planted in a monoculture grass plane. They can simply be comprised of piled organic material, or, they can be more permanent fixtures made out of materials like coconut coir or recycled rubber.

Ideally, they prevent damage to the tree from lawnmowers and weed-whackers, suppress competitor plants, and cover the soil in order to prevent evaporation of surface water.

Landscapers have mixed opinions on tree mulch rings: they are often installed incorrectly (as “mulch volcanoes), and cover the base flare of the tree, provoking the growth of adventitious roots, or the spread of rot.

I only use tree mulch rings as a tool to promote succession of the grass plane into a forest garden: their permacultural utility comes in giving small or seedling trees a competitive leg up over the grass, and making seedlings visible to prevent them being trampled. A mulch ring allows seedlings to stand a chance until they are tall and vigorous enough to fend for themselves.

In general, I “top-work” the grass plane using many variations on the sheet mulch, in order plant polyculture systems: the tree mulch ring pictured above is a simple sheet mulch for seedling trees, and it is comprised of a ring of newspaper, and a 3 cm layer of year-old compost.

Neither the paper nor the compost should touch the base of the tree, but otherwise, seeds of native or flowering plants can be planted in the compost, and often root right in to the damp newspaper, breaking it down within a season or two: this creates a living natural barrier around the tree, while composting the grass below, and providing forage for pollinators.

Once the mulch around the seedling tree has broken down, I have usually converted the area into a multi-layer forest garden guild, so other than the normal “chop and drop” maintenance, this is a one-time application.

The plants that are worked into the landscape after a sheet mulch fill the original ecological function of the tree mulch ring application: they hold water, humidity, beneficial insects, and create a continuous supply of biomass for long term soil health.