An edible forest garden is a productive forest with edible and perennial plants and trees. It is not a natural forest, but it’s also not an orchard. Besides this, there’s much diversity to create a sustainable ecosystem. It is built in 7 layers:
- Big trees (seven metres and higher: oak trees, tall-trunk fruit trees, walnut trees)
- Small trees (low-trunk fruit trees)
- Bushes (soft fruit)
- Herbaceous plants (annual and perennial vegetables, flowers)
- Climbing plants
- Ground cover plants
- Root crops (including mushrooms)
Nature automatically has the urge to cover the ground with plants. In the long term, a forest will arise that can maintain itself. So, the less natural vegetation, the more labour people have to maintain the ground. We turn a forest into an orchard, an orchard into a meadow and a meadow into a field. The goal of an edible forest garden is to let nature do all the work, so the people only have to harvest. In this way, we can work together with nature, instead of against it.
Without any help of people, nature needs around 100 years to turn a bare piece of ground into a forest. But, if we follow the rules of nature and work together with it, we can do it in 10 years. We can make a difference and for this, nature will give us lots of food. For these reasons, an edible forest garden fits perfectly in the vision of permaculture.
People in permaculture talk about an edible forest garden, but people in agro ecology talk about agro forestry. Wikipedia defines agro ecology as a concept that uses agriculture techniques and sciences for a better agriculture and more biodiversity. Both systems are almost the same, but the terminologies differ. The science side uses agro ecology as an alternative for regular agriculture and on the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, agro ecology is even a specialisation.
Edible forest garden is alive!
Currently in the Netherlands, there are 100 hectares of edible forest gardens! You can see this on the edible forest garden map. The are many individual initiatives and local authorities are giving more support. When you have enough knowledge, skills and experience, you can create your own edible forest garden!