Food Forests

Really the whole land is a giant food forest as the remnants of past land use combine with our earthworks and plantings of bio-diversity. Our system is one of layers just like any food forest

pepino dulce flower- a subtropical sprawling plant

pepino dulce flower- a subtropical sprawling plant

as we are still trying to figure out what is the best combination in this unique microclimate.  Here we are less than a KM from the sea so we will most likely never experience frost but will get sea spray and tough winds.  Being in the Mediterranean context we will also go months with no rain yet we have an abundant spring that we can gravity feed to just about every spot on the land. So we search for those who preform on this north facing slope, sub-tropical in some ways yet temperate in other facets.

food forest layers

Due to zone planning, slope planning and zones more hydrated by water, we are planting for

Anona Leaves and new growth

Anona new growth

themes and motifs to deal with all these interrellating factors.  Caminhoa Das Fadas, the walk up to the water tank with a small stream along its borders, provides a warm zone and more moist so we have choosed to focus on sup-tropical species such as feijoa, white sapote, avocado, tamarillo, and anona.  While another area that receives less water, goji berries and olives dominate since they need very little water. Some zones are more or less established already so we are doing more maintenance like pruning and soil fertility work.

1. The Canopy- Cork and English Oaks dominate this layer at Terra Alta.  Their age is unknown but give shade to species below, some shrubby some fall bulbs.  We have begun to collect their acorns to begin to see how viable of a food source they are for us as a community. Also on site we have some older English Walnut trees that aren’t in the best shape but are recovering from years and years of neglect.  Also a hedge of three very mature plums forms a nice canopy in one section of the land.  Finally the willows near the tank really do create a microclimate below with its deciduous habit. We hope that our Avocado’s and White Sapotes will occupy more of this layer in the future as well.

2. Sub Canopy- Apples and pears of local grafted origin (low chill hour varieties) form the anchor of this layer.  Some are in the shadows of the cork oaks while others stand alone and our apple circle is a unique feature on the land.  We get quite a harvest from our two varieties of pears and the apples are mainly for cooking and cider varieties. We have also added in citrus, persimmons, olives, anona, pomegranate and hazels to name a few.

Apple Harvest from Oly in 2013 Autumn

Apple Harvest from Oly in 2013 Autumn

3. Shrub Layer- This layer falls just beneath the subcanopy layer and varies with species depending on the context of the land.  The native cherry grows in and amongst the shade of the cork oak and pears.  It adds a nice blossom and wild fruit for the wildlife.  Also the quince rootstocks that have sprouted after the grafted pears on top of them have died are now growing well.  We added prickly pear cactus in one dry part of the land as well as a nitrogen fixing shrub that we don’t know the name of that we got from a friend.  Ornamentals like the fuschia also add to this layer as well as our Eleagnus bush with its multifunctions of nitrogen fixing, bee fodder, windbreak, and divine smelling flowers.

4. Bush layer- This layer includes raspberries and goji berries as well as one of our favorites-

Immature Tamarillo fruit

Immature Tamarillo fruit

Tamarillo.  The raspberries require extra moisture so we put them in relative location to one of our spickets which distributes water in the serpent like earthworks that make up the water garden. We hope to have tamarillo’s all over the place in the young years of the system since it produces quickly and demonstrates the principle of time and plant stacking.

5. Grasses Layer: In this context grasses form an important part of the ecosystems.  A cane grass known here as Canas proliferates on

Chop and drop of canas at Terra Alta

Chop and drop of canas at Terra Alta

the edges and is a great soil builder.  However it is a running species so its control can be difficult.  It does make a great building material.  Also the clumping grasses are featured in the form of Sugar Cane which know is thriving greatly after years of growth.  Also lemongrass helps to form our guilds quite often for its chop and drop possibilities

6. Herbaceous Layer- this layer is extensive and includes a mix of annual vegetables, perennial vegetables, medicinal herbs, biomass plants, and nitrogen fixers.  From Comfrey in our wetter zones to Globe Artichoke in our drier zones, we have a great diversity and are continuing to acquire more and more plants to make our system more diverse and thus resilient.

Flower of Physalis or cape  gooseberry

Flower of Physalis or cape gooseberry

7. Rhizome layer- Our root crops come in the form of some annual vegetables like beets but

Horseradish in the fall

Horseradish in the fall

also perennials like Horseradish and Jerusalem Artichoke .  The later likes moist climates like the one that it is from in the US so it struggles while we continue to build more resilient soils.  We are also trying to grow more tropical species like Ginger in our greenhouse.  As always its soil temps and soil moisture that limit this growth of more tropical species but again we hope to bridge that gap as time goes by and carbon breakdown forms humus.

8. Groundcover layer- some of these plants are seasonal as the dry season limits the proliferation of these furthering.  Clovers thrive in the cooler, wetter months as well as New Zealand Spinach, a wonderful sub-tropical low grower that is eaten like a spinach.  Strawberries are beginning to be planted and while types of mints and mediterranean herbs such as thyme and oregano and growing.


nasturtium- one of our ground covers at Terra Alta

9. Vine Layer: We have both native species that climb in the cork forest and also cultivated species.  We utilize grapes mostly for their dry hardiness but would like to expand into Kiwis as well once more wind protection is established. Also a recent addition is Wisteria as its nitrogen fixing, biomass production and its ridiculously beautiful flowers which are also amazing bee fodder makes it a great plant for any food forest. We hope to add Banana Passion fruit and we are experimenting in and out of the greenhouse with Chayote.  The greenhouse one in relative location of the shower is very strong and yielding as well.

10. People Layer: An unmistakable part of any food forest is the human interaction.  In times of early establishment we have used annual vegetables as gauges for soil water content to remind us to water our young trees and guilds.  Also humans prune, humans mulch, humans harvest, and humans admire and have an energetic exchange.  The canopy trees really provide a lot of shade in the summers so our comfort is greatly aided by them so our presence can be seen amongst them in the form of cob benches and also terraces for tables. Finally our main presence is to expand and expand in this stage of the food forest.

Doug leading Earthworks at Terra Alta PDC 2013

Doug leading Earthworks at Terra Alta PDC 2013 to further the food forest with circle design additions

Thus we have decided in 2014 to expand the food forest range and concentrate more of annuals in specific areas where drip irrigation is possible.  We still mix the two early on in the system but as more canopy is forming we are seeing where it makes more sense to do intensive annual food production.  We also integrated the animal layer of chickens, both in the chicken tractor and free range, to help manage the overall system and are definitely apart of our guild (providing nutrients and pest control).  We intend to further increase their numbers now that the experimental phase is over.  The aesthetics and functionality of the site have been greatly improved and we look forward to more fruits to come.

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