Sunday, September 27, 2015

9 level food forest. not 7

9 level food forest. not 7

Are you familiar with the 7 level food forest that was championed by Robert Hart long ago?  Well, for a while here in the Pacific Northwest it is easy to observe the 8th level, or the Mycellium layer of connections, but there is one many commercial farmers neglect and that is the soil, it has to be fed too, and that is the 9th layer.  So I believe and am trying to work on a 9 layer system in my food forest areas.

Here, our canopy height can vary greatly depending on where someone is along the coast of Oregon, let alone the entire Pacific Northwest coast.  It can be as high as Redwoods (300' high) or as low as standard fruit & nut trees.   It all depends on the needs of the property and the land owner.    

The next layer is the Lower Tree Layer, which can be semi-dwarf or dwarf fruit and nut trees.  Diversity is key always.  Monocultures of any kind of tree is bad for your food forest, mix it up, diversify the portfolio that is your food forest.  Grafts are a great way to add more types of food diversity. 

Shrub Layer such as large berry bushes be they currents, high bush blueberries, goumi, autumn olive, huckleberries.  Many are nitrogen fixing for our trees when chopped and dropped.  It is important to have some in the food forest to continue having nitrogen available at the root and myclieum layers.

The Herbaceous layer such as comfreys, artichokes, cardoons, is next.  Not only do you find your herbs here, but you can chop and drop many as rough mulch which will eventually compost over your winter season. 

A Rhizosphere layer such as beets, carrots, daikon, burdoc, wasabi, horseradish has an important job in the forest.  They break up the deep soil, and bring up nutrients from deep in the soil back up to the surface to be recycled by other plants.

Ground cover such as strawberries or low insectirary plants such as Bugleweed.   I am actively trying to rid ourselves of a lawn here, I don't feel the need to have a noble lords estate, I would rather feel part of nature as opposed to it. 

The seventh layer is that of the Vertical climbers such as Ivy, Kiwi fruit, Wisteria, Nasturtium and more.  This would normally end the typical 7 layer food forest, but I have to keep going, observation has taught me otherwise.   To see these growing up trees is often a very beautiful sight.

Next is the Mycellium layer.  Mushrooms & fungi, the decayers of the forest have their own layer.  They help trees & plants of the forest communicate between each other, they break down carbon materials on the forest floor and provide food.    These are the hard working carbon sequestering members that make trees happy in the forest.  This is why chemical orchards have to spray so much as well.  Grass & prairies are normally bacteria dominated soils.  Trees want the opposite, they want a mushroom and fungal dominated soil which allows the tree to be more resilent and resist things like blight.  Two things to read up on this subject would be Wild Apples by Henry David Thoreau and Akinori Kimura's MIRACLE APPLES by Takuji Ishikawa. which you can find online translated into English by Yoko Ono at

The last layer is the soil itself.  It in my opinion should be regarded as a living thing, although I understand it to be so much more.  Our farm soils were once filled with billions upon billions of microscopic life feeding, sharing, breaking down the soil.  You can understand this life without ever seeing it.  When you double dig or till up soil and you are exposing them to the sunlight and without any protection they all die in a flash.  This is why you get a bumper crop when you first start out, but then the soil is hurting for lack of better written illustration and you have to start supplementing.  A result of this is why some monoculture farmers believe they need chemicals to grow food, just like an addict that needs his daily crack.   Now a days people buy humus from other places such as Alaska and shipped to all climates of the world to help with this very problem, not realizing that local microrganisms would be better off to be taken care of.  To do this, all you need to do is add your 18 day Berkeley method compost once or twice a year. 

So there you have it, a new way of looking at the traditional food forest.  Thank you and good night.