EPIC Project

what is an edible forest garden?

“The ultimate goals of forest gardening are the growing of an abundant diversity of tasty, nutritious, and healthy foods and the cultivation and perfection of an ecological way of seeing, thinking, being, and acting in the world”  
(David Jacke and Eric Toensmeier Edible Forest Gardens, 2005)

The Vision:  An ecological food producing system which is structured and functions like a forest.  It is low maintenance and largely self-supporting once established.   The structure mimics the forest with layers of vegetation – trees, shrubs, climbing vines, herbs and ground covers and root crops/tubers – and functions like a forest with plants and fungi working together to cycle nutrients and control pests and diseases .

Minerals accumulated by some plants are released back to the soil when the leaves break down; nitrogen fixing plants add additional nutrients from the air which are made available through bacteria living in nodules on their roots; nectary plants attract and feed beneficial insects to control pests; ground covers protect the soil, fungi in the soil support the system and transport nutrients through an underground matrix from one plant to another.  Overall the use of trees, shrubs and perennial plants dramatically reduces the labour required to produce food as they do not need to be replanted every year and their roots penetrate more deeply, thereby requiring less water and fertiliser to be added.

An edible forest garden is consciously designed; the choice and location of species which will produce a good yield when grown together, make full use of the available space and resources without requiring excessive inputs in the form of labour or materials, support  the functions and structure of the forest system, allow access for harvest whilst  reducing weed growth and maintenance (e.g. mowing) and still meet the aesthetic requirements of the site requires the major inputs of energy and expertise in the design and early implementation stages.  Ongoing maintenance will be required to fine tune the system but will be far less burdensome than a conventional orchard or vegetable system producing comparable overall yields.

What does it look like? An edible forest garden can look like a suburban garden (although with more plants than most), a wild forest, an informal garden, a natural woodland, a tropical garden….whatever will suit the site, the location, the intended use of the garden and the clients wishes (the owners of the land or the local community in the case of a public forest garden).   The forest garden can support multiple uses such as demonstration gardens for education in horticulture/permaculture, social and public spaces, providing food for people and wildlife and habitat for birds and other creatures. 

John Ferris
Edible Forest Gardens Wonga Park