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Perennial plants and trees - a food forest

In February I've been writing posts about the permaculture principle of "Catch and Store Energy".  One of the less obvious forms of energy is in seeds and perennial plants and trees.

Seeds saving
Saving seeds from annual plants is a form of catching and storing energy and a very simple way to ensure that food can be grown year to year.  Seed can either we saved directly by drying seed pods and keeping the seeds secure, or indirectly by simply letting plants go to seed and seedling to spring up again where the seeds fall.  This is described in Masanobu Fukuoka's classic book "One straw revolution".  I like to do a bit of both, I keep a small amount of seed for myself, I give lots away and I scatter the rest.  Everything I know about saving seeds is here.

leek seeds ripening
Perennial plants
An important aspect of permaculture is to let nature do the work for you.  One of the easiest ways to obtain food year after year is to plant perennial plants that do not need to be replanted and tended at the start of each season.  The only work required is to harvest the fruit, roots or leaves (in One Straw Revolution, Masanobu talks about not even pruning the fruit trees!).  My garden was originally designed around annual plants, but as I've learnt more about perennial plants, I've made space for them around the perimeter of the garden.  I grow perennials such as sweet potato, jerusalum artichoke, strawberries, raspberries, lots of herbs in pots, arrowroot, comfrey and lavender.  Fruit trees are also perennials, and at the moment I only have a lemon and a lime in pots and a very sad tangelo in the ground.  I will be planting plenty more at Cheslyn Rise when we have water organised.

raspberries and sweet potato in the background
Non-food Trees
Trees are a source of timber for building and fencing, firewood, shelter and fertility.  Trees have deep roots and are able to bring various minerals to the surface to be available to other plants through leaf-drop.  Contrary to popular farmer belief (and I have heard this one several times now), the trees do not "suck all the water away and stop the grass growing"!!!  As Peter Andrew explains, the trees actually exert suction on the water table and raise water closer to the surface, so that it will be available to other plants.  Why would they have such deep roots if they only take water from the surface where the grass roots are?!  A good stand of trees, such as our small forest at Cheslyn Rise, will provide these needs indefinitely if it is well managed.

we have lots of trees....
Food Forest
A common permaculture technique is to plant many perennial plants together in a "food forest" that mimics natural forest conditions.  This means fruit trees, bushes, herbs, ground cover and root crops all growing together, arranged so that each can take advantage of different root depths and mineral requirements.  When it is well-established poultry, and eventually larger animals, can forage in the food forest to clean up fallen fruit.  Self-seeding annuals can also be incorporated in the food forest.  The type of forest will depend on the climate and micro-climate.  In tropical areas, the food forest can be densely planted with tropical fruit trees.  I think in our climate I will be growing more temperate fruit trees and they will need to be spaced so that they get enough sun.

How do you ensure that you plan to catch and store energy from plants in your garden/farm?

Each month in 2013 I reviewed a principle from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability:


  1. Interesting - I have been reading "The permaculture home garden" by Linda Woodrow who I know you also follow on her blog. At Cheslyn Ridge you should be able to follow her mandala type garden design. How wonderful to have that information ready at hand while you are planning. So many of us learn by experimenting and are continually pulling out and changing things. I had heard that sweet potatoes should not always be grown in the same place, so I move mine around from year to year. Do you grow asparagus - it should do well in your area.

    1. Hi AA, yes it is very exciting to be able to apply Linda's (and others) garden ideas at our new place and maybe get some things right from the start :) I haven't started asparagus yet, I was waiting until we move, but it definitely a good one for the food forest. Cheers, Liz

  2. Lets not forget Jackie French's amazing book The Wilderness Garden for our own local conditions. Too many permaculture books aim to give us a Northern experience when that is totally out of the running in our Aussie conditions. Jackie offers an amazing philosophy about living with nature and tithing some of our food forests to allowing the insects, birds etc. to predate them and in the process attracting our own pest management strategy. I love her book and will be using it as we start to plant out our food forest this autumn (when the soil isn't like porcelain and the poor plants get a good run into next summer and some root growth while we still have springs rain).

    1. oh I love Jackie French, but I haven't read that book (yet), will be great to read another Australian perspective. Thanks for the tip!

  3. I think water and the associated earth works is a big deal when it comes to catching energy. In fact my thinking of late has been that generally it is probably one of the most under estimated factors on peoples properties. When I reflect on what people talk about when discussing their garden, crop and pasture issues it is usually something like its too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry or the soil is no good. We don't have the power to change the weather, but where and how water is stored and moves across our land is a major factor in where micro climates will be. how stable the climate there is and how the surrounding soil will develop. I've been reading a bit about Sepp Holzer who tours the world restoring landscapes, one of the first things he does is put in lots of dams (ponds for US readers) .

    This video also shows how the capturing of water can effect different parts of your property in different ways.

    The problem is of course that extensive earthworks are a big investment, its so tempting to just start plonking down Permaculture systems on top of the land because they are smaller, easier to start and cheaper. I know I have been doing this. You cold even say that many Permaculture systems are incomplete, the cycles involved are interrupted or potentially disrupted by variable weather conditions to a much greater degree than they should be. I'm pretty sure a complete Permaculture system should not be that fragile. Something I have a lot more to learn about :P

    1. Hi Ian, I agree, water and earthworks are one of the most expensive but important aspects of developing a property, and until they are perfected, the landscape will remain vulnerable. Although, I'm reading Gaia's Garden at the moment, and that talks about storing water in the soil as well, so I suppose there are lower cost/ higher effort methods to think about too....


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