Tag Archives: Backyard Food Forest

Exploring Forest Gardens in Chile – The Huerto Forestal

Many english speakers are not familiar with the concept of a Huerto so I thought I’d start to showcase some of the fantastic Huertos that I have seen here in Chile.

Productive Huerto in Hualqui

Productive Huerto in Hualqui

In Spanish, a Huerto is a site of Horticultural cultivation. The term can encompass vegetable gardens at home, school gardens and even market garden scale operations. Infact, unlike in Australia, most farms here have a defined, large Huerto with a fence around it to exclude animals and a great mix of broad bed crops (corn, beans, potatos, Tomatos) and picking bed crops (lettuce, onions, strawberries, basil). In addition to these invaluable vegetable crops many of these Huertas include flowers and fruit trees. Continue reading

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Forest Garden City: What a Forest Garden is and how they could change the urban environment

Last month, I had the great privilege to get up in front of a larger crowd than I had ever spoke to before. The occasion was TEDx Canberra 2014 where I had been invited to speak on Forest Gardening. It was a great day and I really enjoyed the opportunity to present on a topic that I am passionate about and also to see all the other great speakers on the day.

On stage at TEDx Canberra.

On stage at TEDx Canberra. Image courtesy of TEDx Canberra.

As I developed my ideas for my presentation I decided that I did not want to only present on the theories of Forest Gardening but rather try and show people that it is a technique that is based on working examples from the past which can provide for our needs in the future. Please enjoy the video of the talk below and let me know if you have an questions in the comments. I’ve explained some of the parts of the talk in a little more detail below aswell.

We have many great examples of historical edible forest gardens. The oak forests of California, The Arucaria forests of Chile, The Dehesa and Montado systems of the Mediterranean, The Bunya Forests of East Coast Australia and parts of the Amazon rainforest are but a few. These forests were all systems that were actively managed by humans so that they were producing food and remained as productive ecosystems. The idea that they were wilderness, untouched by the actions of people is ridiculous.

arucaria forests

I first delved into across the concepts of people actively managing landscapes for food when I was studying at Uni, but it was when I was working at the Botanic Gardens in Kauai’i that I really came to understand the extent to which people managed the ecosystems of the planet so that they produced food. In Kauai’i at the gardens was a remnant Ahupua’a system and we were taught how it had functioned and provided for the community that lived in each distinct water catchment on the island.

A cartoon of an A'hapua'ha system on Kauai'i. This systems of landscape management was used throughout the Hawai'ian islands and much of polynesia

A cartoon of an Ahupua’a system on Kauai’i, which saw communities being managed and coordiated within catchments. This systems of landscape management was used throughout the Hawai’ian islands and much of polynesia

In the Ahupua’a system (Ahapua’a translates as Stone Pig, as stone markers were placed on the boundaries of the catchment and carved as pigs) the forest at the top of the catchment was tapu (taboo) and was not cut or harvested from. This was because the intact forest was critical to the system functioning and supplied a refuge for wildlife. When Europeans began to cut these upper forests down, landslides and erosion resulted. Hawai’ian cultivated a secondary forest below the tapu forest where they would cultivate and harvest timber for building canoes, weapons and housing.

Further down the catchment, the Hawai’ian undertook both irrigated and dry-land agriculture. In the dry-land areas the main crops were Taro, Breadfruit, Coconuts, Bananas, sweet potato and Sugarcane which were cultivated according to their different requirements. Sometimes grown beneath the candle-nut tree which functioned as a suppourt species, providing shade. In the irrigated areas they grew abundant taro-crops with a stone aquaduct system. The taro-patch would be refertilised using the a fallow system, where exhausted patches where re-mineralised using the leaves of the candle-nut tree.

Working with my colleagues in the Taro-patch at Hana Gardens. The aquaducts are evident

Working with my colleagues in the Taro-patch at Hana Gardens. The aquaducts are evident on the left of the photo

The irrigation system on the island would mobilise a lot of nutrients and sediments into the river which was a big problem as it would kill off the reef fish which were another source of food. As a design solution, the Hawai’ians constructed fish ponds at the river mouth known as Lo’i. These trapped sediments and nutrients. Through a gate system fish were let in at high tide and trapped at low tide. The carnivorous fish would be caught and the herbivorous fish raised in the fish-pond in a poly-culture with edible and medicinal seaweeds.

These examples from Hawai’i and around the world show us that perennial poly-culture farming is possible and productive. But the next step is for us to modernize the practice so that is applicable to solve the modern problems of needing to produce more food for a growing population and a global population which is urbanising. In my presentation to TEDx Canberra I outlined examples of how any city could start to adopt forest gardens as part of their urban design.

Getting excited about a Forest Garden City

Getting excited about a Forest Garden City

In my city, Canberra, there is an abundance of green-space given it’s history as a planned city and its initial design as a garden city. This was idealised to be a city with 1/3 agriculture, 1/3 industry and 1/3 housing. Many cities around the world have productive space which is not realising it’s potential. A number of years back I met a friend and colleague who was transforming neglected green space into a productive edible forest garden.

A productive Edible Forest Garden in Canberra

A productive Edible Forest Garden in Canberra

Paul is now cultivating more than 50 fruit trees in his urban site as well as native support species and greens and herbs from the ground-layer. If one person can achieve this with an hour a day, imagine what a city could achieve if it started to integrate forest gardens into their urban planning. Rather than paying mowing contractors every three months, suitable areas could be transformed to produce food, aesthetic spaces and help to support urban wildlife. Canberra has a precedent in this with its redevelopment of several drains into urban wetlands. Just as the drains used to be un-productive and are now beautiful and ecologically vibrant, our parks with one or two species of tree could be transformed into thriving forest gardens.


An urban wetlands in the North of Canberra. It has high structural diversity and an abundance of flowers through the year to support native wildlife

Our cities are going to need to produce more of the food that they consume in the future. Urbanisation is going to continue and we need to integrate food production into cities through different forms of urban agriculture. Forest Gardens are unique urban agriculture solutions because in addition to producing food for the citizens, they can provide the ecological base that all organic food production systems need. Many cities around the world have urban horticulture programs and a city forest. It is not a far leap to redesign and reforest parts of our cities in a way that is aesthetic and productive.


Smaller steps that you might be able to undertake could include working with a community group to develop a community forest garden. I have been involved in assisting a number of projects around Canberra to start growing food in public spaces. In addition to applying to the local government for space it is worthwhile approaching local clubs and community groups that often have halls or buildings and are paying for someone to mow the lawns. With a good design and some realistic ambitions, these are great spaces to start growing more food in our cities. Indeed, if we start designing and planting today, then we will surely have fruit in abundance for our children and nuts in abundance for our grandchildren.

Please take some time to check out the video, and continue the discussion in the comments below. Gracias.

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Backyard Forest Garden Course Wrap up

Last Week, Veronica and I had the pleasure of teaching a Backyard Forest Garden course at the school garden where I used to work. Between the two existing food forests was some vacant space which was always intended for development into a Forest Garden and this course seemed like the ideal opportunity.

Preparing the planting site

Preparing the planting site during the garden gathering.

A few months ago when Permaculture Exchange held the garden gathering at the school we had prepared the site, scraping of the cooch grass layer, adding new top soil and sheet-mulching the space with newspaper and woody mulch. This was ideal as the site could site undisturbed before we put holes in the sheet-mulch during planting.


Spreading a woody mulch which will help to develop a fungal soil that supports trees

This was a great course to deliver in Canberra as there was so much knowledge in the room about gardening. Following some morning theory sessions we spent the afternoon with students developing designs for their backyards so that they could define the goals of the space and start to analyse their sites. We also spent a lot of time answering student questions about solutions for problem areas of their back-yards and brainstorming design solutions with the group.

fg teaching

Morning Theory session covering layers

That next morning we had another theory session about how to build guilds and group plants together. Following this, the theory was put into practice as students were given information regarding the plants we had available and the site analysis we had all completed yesterday.


Outlining the space and available plants

Students split into three groups and each developed a guild design around one of the three fruit-trees we were planting. In addition, some students also worked to rebuild some pathways that had become overgrown so that it was easier to access the site.


Watering in the plantings

Three small mounds were created, each with a fruit tree and a support guild. This well defined space was in deliberate contrast with the more free-form groupings of the existing forest gardens.


Students hard at work with me on a wheelbarrow.

The weekend was a great success and it was great to see students apply the knowledge they had learned over the past two days to successfully design and plant a backyard forest garden.


Students admiring the completed design

Great work guys, I can’t wait to see the forest garden designs you developed for home put into practice. Happy Gardening.


The plantings and pathway successfully established.

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Orchard Notes for the ACT Orchadist and Home Gardener – General Fruit Culture


I was keen to share with you guys my top 5 support shrubs for Backyard Food Forest Gardens but have decided that they will have to wait until next week. This week I wanted to share with you some Gems from the above Book.


This Horticulture classic was released in 1975 before the ACT had a legislative assembly and was administered solely by the Federal Government. I’m not sure when the Department of the Capital Territory disbanded its Conservation and Agriculture Branch but I’m glad they printed this little primer before disappearing into bureaucratic oblivion.

The book has great tips about soil prep, tree planting and common pests in the Canberra region. Just as a disclaimer early in the post the book also has a lot of bad information. The book includes spraying regimes for most fruit trees which includes Lead Arsenate, Lindane and Karathane. These have all been found to be neurotoxins and extremely carcinogenic. I’d disregard all of the spraying and pest control advise in this thing and look for pest control through organic means and by building a system that pest controlers (beneficial insects) can live in.


Anyway, I wanted to share the best bits here for anyone waiting for their bare root fruit trees to arrive.

Fruit Culture

Selection of varieties

Intending fruit growers in the ACT should ensure that the trees or vines they wish to grow are suitable to the district and not susceptible to variable and severe climatic conditions. Most Apples, Pears, Quinces, Stone Fruits, Figs, Grapes, Berry-fruits and Nuts can be grown successfully, but Citrus varieties can be recommended only where there is maximum protection and warm sheltered positions.


Normally the home gardener has little or no choice of soil or site. They should use the best available aspects with the general objectives of protection against frost, wind and movement of topsoil. Although the domestic orchard is usually on a small scale, it is still important that these factors be considered in the establishment of young fruit trees


Soil Requirements

Most fruit varieties have certain soil preferences, but the main requirements in the initial stages are depth, friability, good drainage and a reasonable supply and full range of nutrients. Where soil is poor it may be necessary to acquire top-soil and incorporate compost and well-rotted animal manure to build up humus content and improve fertility.

Pome fruits, which include Apples, Pears and Quinces, need deep, moderately rich, well drained loam for successful growth. Shallow, sandy soils overlying impenetrable sub-soils should be avoided wherever possible.

Stone fruit varieties such as Peaches, Nectarines, Cherries, Plums and Apricots, generally require light, warm, well-drained sandy or loamy soils. But they will thrive in heavy soil if it has good drainage and suitable fertility.

Little success can be expected by planting by planting in heavy clay soil or subsoil because after several years the trees will tend to gum badly causing die-back.

Broadly speaking, berry fruits including Raspberries, Gooseberries, Currants, Loganberries and Strawberries will flourish in a wide range of soils and climatic conditions, but normally they favour moisture retentive soils of good friable loam, rich in humus and well-drained.


When preparing to plant fruit trees, vines, berry fruits or nuts in permanent positions, consideration should be given to the height and spread of the varieties concerned. Trees of large stature when fully grown, such as walnuts and almonds are best planted where they will not interfere with walls, driveways, overhead wires or other domestic features.

The distance between trees can vary, with a minimum of 4m and up to 7m apart – depending on the size and disposition of the garden area. Where space is limited, certain trees may be trained in a higher density pattern along fences and trellises in the espalier or palmette espalier style.

When the position of the trees has been decided, holes should be prepared of sufficient width to allow the roots to be spread normally and to a depth so young trees will be planted to the same or a fraction greater depth than they were in the nursery. Do not dig into clay subsoil. This can form a sump or basin for water in wet weather. It is better to stop digging when clay is reached. this procedure does not encourage water logging and help with drainage.


Care Of Young Trees

During the growing season it is important to eliminate weeds and grass from around the young trees to avoid competition for the soil moisture available. Do not grow lawn up to the base of a new planting for several years or until they are properly established.

When cultivating with a hoe or other implement take care not to damage the trunk or lower limbs. Mechanical or other injuries in the early stages of growth can often lead to loss of trees and the expense of replanting. Quite often circumstances will warrant the erection of guards to protect the trees.

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Well ‘ about it for today. The two key things I think to keep in mind are not to dig too deep into our clay subsoils. Really, in Canberra you will be planting into clay so it’s a good idea to mound up with a mix of clay and compost so that the crown roots will not rot. Also, in a forest garden you will be planting herbs under the tree (rather than lawn). To ensure they do not compete, soil moisture levels should be maintained through the season. Remember the closer you plant your trees the more you will need to keep up levels of water and nutrients to prevent competition and very close plantings will likely exclude light from the understory. However, depending on the other features of the garden, light may still be available under the trees.


Until next time. Happy Gardening.









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