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Eating Your Way to Sustainability: A Permaculture Food Forest Adventure

Embarking on a permaculture food forest adventure allows you to transform your garden and kitchen into a bountiful, sustainable ecosystem. By modeling natural environments, permaculture provides abundant fresh foods while regenerating the land.

Permaculture Ethics Guide Sustainable Land Design

Permaculture operates by three core ethics:

  • Earth care – Caring for the planet and its natural systems
  • People care – Supporting people to access resources they need
  • Surplus share – Setting limits and redistributing surplus wealth

These ideals drive permaculture designers to create landscapes that sustain both the environment and communities.

Key permaculture principles like observing nature, valuing diversity, and capturing energy also instruct food forest creators. Utilizing the patterns and relationships found in natural ecosystems results in harmonious, low-maintenance systems.

“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” – Bill Mollison, co-founder of permaculture

Applying these ethics and principles allows the design of a food forest that sustains people and planet together.

Site Planning for Your Permaculture Oasis

Choosing the right site sets your food forest up for success. Consider the following when assessing locations:

  • Sunlight – Most plants need at least 6 hours of direct sun daily
  • Slope & drainage – Choose flat or gently sloping areas that avoid frost pockets
  • Access – Allow easy entry for construction and later harvesting
  • Structures – Take note of existing buildings, roads, fences etc.
  • Soil quality – Fertile, loamy soils with organic matter grow plants fastest
  • Zoning – Place intensive areas like veggie beds and herb gardens closer to your home

Sketch out a base map highlighting pertinent site features, structures, slopes and access points. This allows you to allocate different areas and flow paths sensibly during the design stage.

When deciding what plants will go where, consider:

  • Mature plant height and width
  • Shade tolerance – Place more delicate greens under canopy
  • Climbing support needs – What structures will vines climb?
  • Root zones – Keep greedy, allelopathic roots contained

Stacked Ecosystem Layers Maximize Abundance

A key concept in food forests is vertical layering which maximizes yield in smaller spaces:


  • Large fruit & nut trees like walnuts, chestnuts, apples
  • Provides essential shade and habitat


  • Berries – currants, gooseberries plus dwarf fruit trees
  • Vines – kiwi, grape, passionfruit grow on trellises & edges


  • Nitrogen fixing plants like ceanothus aide soil fertility
  • Useful herbs – rosemary, sage, tea plants


  • Veggies, annuals & ornamentals grown in guilds for symbiosis
  • Heavy yielding plants like tomatoes & squash

Ground covers

  • Nitrogen fixers like clover & lupin plus dynamic accumulators
  • Mulches suppress weeds and retain moisture

Placing plants into cooperative guilds where they benefit their neighbors saves effort while increasing health.

Installing Garden Infrastructure

Adequate water and safe access are intrinsic for any landscape. Construct:

Raised garden beds

  • Use boards, bricks or logs to elevate beds improving drainage
  • Add arches, obelisks and trellises for vertical growing space
  • Espalier fruit trees and berries along fences


  • Drip lines, pipes & timers reduce water usage drastically
  • Channel rain via swales and ponds to hydrate plant roots


  • Wood chip, gravel or paved tracks grant entry through the system
  • Place 4 ft wide main paths with smaller 1-2 ft paths between beds


  • Sheds safely store tools while greenhouses and cold frames extend seasons
  • Compost bins, worm farms and leaf molds decompose waste into plant food

Propagating Plants & Effective Species

The easiest way to accumulate diverse flora is by propagating tried-and-true plants suited to your climate. Seed annual crops while taking perennial cuttings forexponential yields. Plants that perform well in food forests include:


  • Oak, sweet chestnut, mulberry, apple, peach, cherry, pecan


  • Blueberry, gooseberry, honeyberry, jostaberry × gooseberry hybrid
  • Grape, kiwi, passionfruit, climbing hardy kiwi


  • Tea camellia, butterfly bush, sumac, sage, rosemary


  • Asparagus, artichoke, yacon, tree collards, mashua, Egyptian walking onion

Ground covers

  • Purple dead nettle, white clover, red clover, winter tares

Nitrogen fixers

  • Siberian pea shrub, black locust, alder, seaberry

“Observation over many years has taught us that it is much more important to have a highly integrated system where species assist each other than it is to have plants of great individual potential.” – Dave Jacke

Maintaining Your Food Forest

Little effort sustains a well-designed permaculture system. Assist natural connections through:

Mulching – Wood chips, hay, and leaves conserve moisture while suppressing weeds

Support structures – Trellises lift vining plants, reducing pests and diseases

Pruning – Strategic thinning improves air flow and harvesting

Weeding – Stay on top of unwanted sprouts competing for resources

Pest control – Encourage predatory insects. Remove infested plants as required. Consider netting.

Fertilizing – Nitrogen-fixers, manures, worm castings and compost feeds soils

Watering– Drip irrigation targets roots during dry periods

Harvesting & Evolution of the System

With care, your food forest will provide year-round:

  • Salad greens, peas and beans in spring
  • Soft fruits in summer – currants, berries and stone fruits
  • Nut crops plus grapes, figs and exotic fruits through fall
  • Overwintered greens and root veggies in winter

Preserve gluts by:

  • Canning high-acid produce like tomatoes into sauce
  • Fermenting veggies via pickling, kimchi or sauerkraut
  • Drying fruits in a dehydrator or herbs by hanging bundles

Share surplus stock with friends or local food banks. Save seeds from best performing plants. Propagate more using cutting, division or layering methods.

Experiment with new species as your knowledge grows. A food forest always evolves.

Embrace the Adventure

Creating a permaculture food forest transforms your landscape into a sustainable, regenerative ecosystem. Based on the patterns and relationships observed in nature, food forests act as lush, proclaimed gardens that feed both body and spirit. They require relatively minimal labor while producing versatile crops only limited by your imagination and experimentation. With ethics of earth and people care at the core, food forests enable anyone to tread lightly, eat well, and maybe even save the world.

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