Milkwood Forest Garden

Milkwood Forest Garden:

The Milkwood Forest Garden began as an incremental permaculture design, or a retrofit. Milkwood began their Forest Garden using a chook tractor to clear ground and planted trees after the chooks. This worked great to establish fruit trees and pioneer species but the Forest Garden lacked defined paths and a herbal understory.

Starting out, Lots of Grass

I surveyed the site one cold week in Winter with the fantastic help of Trev Bamford and Adam Kennedy, during the day we marked the trees and contours of the 1/4 acre site and by night we holed up in a caravan making maps and eating Portuguese chicken.

Base Map of the Milkwood Forest Garden

After developing a base map I started developing paths and patches. The paths would help to access the site which is on a 20% slope and also serve as swales to catch water and break down woody mulch.

Paths in the forest garden cut by master track worker Trev Bamford

The site presented some other design challenges, there was an established cluster of trees that was protected by the yellow box woodland to the west and a more exposed area to the east. Using Dave Jacke’s Forest Garden Pattern Language I developed a patchwork design to implement different strategies for the established area, edge areas and exposed areas based on site conditions.

Patchwork and Path Design

Patch 1 was to have a planting strategy to diversify the understory with shrubs and herbs, patch 2, 4 & 5 a strategy of succession acceleration and patches 3, 6 & 8 an edge pattern planting as these patches are on the edges of roads and paths. Patch 7 was a windbreak to protect and shelter the site.

For the shrubs in the understory I decided on Currents and Ugni primarily and to stack heaps of herbs into the understory. Salvias, Daisys, Fat Hen, Alfalfa and more. In the following spring we ran a successful Forest Gardening course at Milkwood and implemented the design with the students.

With the herbs planted I installed a drip irrigation system with the interns at the farm and was confident that the plants would last the summer. When I returned in Febuary the Garden was thriving.

Relay planting in patches 2 & 3. Pioneer trees planted to create a micro-climate and a green manure sowed to fix nitrogen and build carbon in the soil. Green manures included Fat Hen, Chia, Vetch, Broad Beans & Fenugreek
Students Planting the shrub and herb layers in the forest garden. In the established section with a microclimate and some shade we planted currents and chilean guava and stacked the understory with flowering herbs for the insects and nearby apiary.

The herbs had taken off creating a habitat for insects and birds and shading the soil from the summer sun. Comfrey was exploding from every corner mining nutrients and building soil. One issue was that some of the pioneer trees were getting overgrown by the herbs but a quick arvo with the interns / wwoofers cleared all the herbs away so the trees had some space.

Herbs under the mulberry tree. Comfrey, green manures, fat hen, strawberries
Riot of herbs, comfrey, strawberries, rosemary

This coming season will see heaps of Apple trees planted into patchs 4&5 and the establishment of the windbreak and more habitat planting for the insects and birds that make the patterns of the forest.

concept of the Forest Garden with mature trees at 4m diameter

Some of the initial trees are being moved so as to accommodate more nodes for collecting mulch and teaching students. Canopy cover is being maintained at about 70% to allow light into the understory and keep the forest at maximum productivity.
Further, this season should see the extension of the forest garden to more of the farm as trees take over the landscape. Stay tuned.

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