Besides our food-harvest, we also harvest lots of wonderful moments in the forest garden, and we get to know lots of interesting, kind and dedicated people who come and visit us to learn more about forest gardening.
Once upon a time – around 10 years ago – I participated in the first online experimentation with Carbon Conversations facilitated by Pam Candea. That was the starting point of a journey that has changed everything in our lives.
After the Carbon Conversation-sessions I considered if I should translate the concept to Danish and started looking for a Danish organisation to team up with – and found the Danish permaculture association. I never translated the concept, and I am not a member of the permaculture association, but I became, together with my husband Steffen, completely engrossed by the concept of forest gardening, which is an integrated part of permaculture.
Carbon Conversations covers – as most readers here will know – the fields of energy in houses, transport, food and commodities. I had already worked a lot with the energy-issues both professionally and in our home, but really got caught by the food-issue. At that time, we had a holiday home in the deep forests of Småland in Sweden, where we enjoyed being so much closer to nature – plants, birds, animals, air, water – than in our city-life north of Copenhagen in Denmark. The idea of combining nature with the production of food simply caught us both. Now we have sold the summerhouse and our house in Copenhagen and bought an old farmhouse, still in Småland but a little closer to Denmark and our children and grandchildren. Here we experiment with all the Carbon Conversation-issues – and with extra energy dedicated to the production of our own food, in a plot for annual vegetables as well as in our 1000m2 forest garden.
What is a forest garden?
A forest garden is a food producing ecosystem that imitates natural ecosystems, being rich in biodiversity and much more resilient than a traditional vegetable garden where you grow annual vegetables like carrots, potatoes and lettuce. In a forest garden you grow a diversity of perennial food crops mixed in a diverse, polyculture system with several storeys. In the top you have trees with fruits and nuts, next storey houses the berries, then comes the larger perennial vegetables and in the bottom, you have cover plants. All mixed with each other to avoid the risks and disadvantages of monocultures – exactly as in the fringe of a forest.
In a fully developed forest garden, most plants are perennial. They are part of a balanced and relatively stable ecosystem that doesn’t start from fresh every year. The plants stand stable with their roots deep into the soil where they participate with fungi in an exchange of nutrients and energy. That makes them much more resilient against heat, drought and wind.
Most plants in a forest garden are food-producing and the rest are either insect plants or nutrient collectors. Some (most) of them are very pretty as well – but the purpose of a forest garden is not to look good (like in a flower garden). The purpose is to produce food while at the same time supporting biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
The polyculture-mixture of trees, bushes and herbs is important for several reasons. Most important is it to create lots of hiding places and lots of different food sources for many different insects. With a very biodiverse food-producing ecosystem, you get a much more resilient system, with lots of predators to balance the number of vermin. Furthermore, biodiversity is decreasing globally, and we should all do our utmost to provide living spaces and food for as many insects, birds and wild animals as possible – also in our food-production.
In a forest garden you don’t have naked soil. In a full-grown forest garden, the soil is covered with plants, and in a developing forest garden, we cover the space between plants with organic material. Naked soil is very vulnerable to drought and erosion, and life in the soil – micro-organisms, fungi and bacteria – has much better chances to live and thrive if the ground is covered with either plants or organic material. The soil stays moist and the organic material composts into humus which contributes to the life of both animals and plants. And carbon in the form of CO2 is sequestrated and stored as different carbon-connections in the stems, branches and roots of the plants and the humus in the soil.
Our experiences with forest gardening
We started developing our forest garden in 2016 and now only six years later we are harvesting lots of fruits, berries and vegetables, from early spring till late fall. We get many visits in the forest garden by people interested in a more sustainable life and food production.
You are also welcome – either if you come to Sweden some day or on our website (unfortunately so far only in Danish – but with lots of photos): https://gammelgaard.se/skovhave/
By Christina Meyer
Here’s a collection of some of our articles which have been in our newsletters or published elsewhere.