Prepping Positively

Choosing a Site and the Trees for Your Food Forest

August 08, 2022 Ann Marie Season 1 Episode 12
Prepping Positively
Choosing a Site and the Trees for Your Food Forest
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we will be talking about choosing the correct location for your new food forest, and deciding which trees will be best for your climate and zone. We will cover the soil, and finish up the canopy layer.

Episode 12 PP

Choosing a Site and Trees for Your Food Forest

Last week on the podcast was all about learning what a food forest is and why you should start one on your property. I explained the layers and what each one provides.

In todays episode we are going to talk about location, needs, and plants to consider for your food forest. Here we go...

Hi and welcome back to the Prepping Positively Podcast. I’m Annie and today we are getting started with planning for your food forest.

Now, just like in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location.

You see, the location you choose will determine how well your food forest performs. And if you are anything like most people, you may not have a choice of where to start yours.

You may live in a residential location where the space you have to work with is only a 50ft x 100 ft lot, filled with restrictions about what you can grow and how tall your trees can be. That’s ok.

The beauty of a food forest is that you can design it to whatever specifications you need it to be.

If you do have a decent piece of land and more opportunities and less restrictions, then, lucky you. You are not as limited.

Now I am blessed with having 15 acres, 8 of which I could meander about on to find the perfect spot. My perfect spot was an already wooded area that had some sunny spots and some shade.

However the first food forest we started a few years ago started in the front yard of our current house which had a few oak trees off to the side, but was basically a dessert.

We had nothing but sand and a few sprigs of grass that were hanging on in the heat. Our original food forest was about 380 feet from east to west and 80 feet running from north to south. Yours will be whatever size you choose and have available.

Pick your spot and get a rough measurement. It can be 20ft x 20ft. The only difference between mine and yours...I have a lot more work, and a lot more plants to start or buy so keep that in mind too.

Once you decide where to start your food forest you need to start considering the soil and the plants.

So to start, you needed some shade. After all we needed a canopy layer to protect the rest of the food forest.

Now I can list tons of trees to plant, however, this is where you are going to have to do the legwork and research. What grows here in central Florida may not grow where you live.

What you are looking for are some trees that grow tall. Now here again, I can plant trees that grow 50 feet. You may not be able to do that.

In our original food forest we started with the oaks that already provided some after noon shade. Keep in mind that this layer does not have to provide food necessarily. It does have to provide shade and protection. If you can choose taller trees that can provide both shade and protection, yet offer a form of food too, thats a bonus.

I can use the acorns from the oak trees to make acorn flour with so I got the bonus.

On your property, especially if you are limited to what trees you can plant, you may want to use some shorter trees, even if shade and protection is all they will offer. You can also combine your canopy with the understory and use fruit trees or flowering trees if that’s all that’s available to you.

What matters here is that you are providing a “roof” so to speak over your new plants you will be adding later.

There are 3 things I want you to keep in mind when choosing your trees.

  1. Whether the species of trees grow naturally in your climate. Don’t choose apple trees if they do not grow there. Research trees native to your climate and your zone.
  2. The purpose of the trees you are choosing. If you are choosing trees for shade, make sure the species you choose does just that at maturity.
  3. The maintenance requirements. Remember that these are the tallest trees for your food forest and they may get all enough that you can’t prune them. Will stacking ladders and ropes for tree trimming later be an issue?

Once you choose your trees, we need to make sure your trees get the best possible start when you plant them.

Good soil is so important to the success of any garden, be it small or large. To have good soil, most of us have to amend it and add compost to it. In other words, most of us can not work at all with what we already have.

Instead, our current soil acts as a base to which we must add certain other parts to make it as usable and fertile as possible. You won't have a clue what those amendments are until you test the soil.

Testing the soil is simple. Take a sample, place it in a jar and take it to your local agricultural center. If you don't have one nearby, you can pick up a soil test kit in just about any department or gardening store.

Once you know your soil type chances are you will have to amend it. Most plants grow extremely well in rich soil that is filled with organic nutrients and good minerals. After all, that's what the forest floor is. It is a mixture of decomposed leaves, animal droppings, and moisture that have balanced out naturally over time.

You need to replicate that soil as close as you can in your food forest. To do this there are many ways to add to what you already have.

Amending your soil may include any of the following, depending on the results of your soil test:

• Manure - chicken, rabbit, cow, horse, pig, or goat • Hay - preferably weed-free
• Dead plants, leaves, cut grass
• Wood ashes - in small amounts only

• Compost - preferably your own • Lime: to neutralize acidic soils • Fish fertilizer

I want to mention here that I want you to pay attention, the next time you are walking through the forest or woods, to the ground. The forest floor is never bare. It is always covered up by moss, leaves, grass, and branches. These act as a layer of mulch to protect the soil that is underneath. You should never have bare ground either.

I had sand like I said. Sand is great for drainage but it is not good for anything else.

Now, because I started a rather large food forest to begin with, I couldn’t possibly make enough rich compost to cover every square inch of mine right from the start. Instead, as we purchased or moved a tree for our canopy layer, we added tons of compost to build up that particular area.

We repeated that process every time we planting something and still add compost as we can to this day. There is no such thing as too much here.

So once you have your trees chosen, the soil is either ready or you have the compost to add to the soil, you are ready to start panting your trees.

Make sure before you even start digging that you allow enough room between trees so that when they reach maturity they will not be crowding each other. Allow them space to breathe.

If you purchased these trees, you should see planting instructions on the tag. If there are no instructions, ask the nursery or gardening department where you bought them about its planting requirements before you take them home.

If you live in an area where the winds can be substantial, consider purchasing stakes and ties to keep your trees growing up straight as they get established.

If you choose very tall tress such as Pecans, Walnuts, or chestnuts for example, you should place these trees to the northern side of your food forest. These trees grow near 50 ft or more.

This allows the smaller trees and plants to receive plenty of sun during the beginning and ending dates of the growing season when the days are usually shorter.

This will not be as big of a concern if you choose smaller trees to begin with, for example, ones that may only reach 20 feet or so.

Now all that’s left is to start planting your trees and creating your canopy layer.

Now I mentioned that you could start a food forest on your deck or patio earlier. Obviously you won’t plant tall trees that reach 50 foot on your deck. This is where you have to downsize everything. How about dwarf fruit trees?

Apples. Pear, peaches all can be bought as a dwarf version and will act as the canopy for your food forest on the patio or deck. Remember, it’s all about being the tallest plants to provide shade and protection.

Be sure to plant these trees in large enough pots to allow their root systems to grow.

So whether you are in the yard. In the woods, or on the patio, you have chosen your trees, for your canopy layer.

In next weeks episode, we will discuss the understory layer and the shrub layers.

So until next week, pick your spot, test your soil, choose your trees, and get that canopy layer planted. See ya next week.