Week 6 (Back to Part 1)

We’re moving along in our mini food forest.  When I drove away last week I just knew my cuttings of the African Blue Basil were toast…they were in a sad state after the crazy heat that Saturday (week 5).  Even the “established” plants were showing bad stress from the heat.  Then, on Sunday, we were blessed with rain…lots and lots of rain…for three days it rained in my part of the world and when I showed up this week to take a look at the growing area, BOTH of the basil plants appear to have taken and everything else is happy!  I shouldn’t be so surprised but I keep waiting for the eventual losses to talk about all the reasons that is a great thing…For now, we’ll keep talking about life and growing.

Back to our roots

The plants this week primarily focus on the Rhizosphere Layer (Root Zone) in our forest.   We’ve talked previously about plant function but not about their place.  In every forest system, be it garden scale or rain forest, there are layers that different plants occupy.  In a home scale food forest we mimic the natural forest layers in order to attempt to replicate the cohesive harmony which allows a forest to sustain. I can’t really do the layers justice in one blog post, and I won’t try to speak about all of them, but as you drive around town, look at wooded areas and see if you can spot some of the layers.  I bet you’ll see a pattern.  Check out this example of a 7 layer guild I found on Wikipedia… 


There are more layers than these 7 in most systems but for our purposes this image does a great job if representing most of the common layers.  By making sure we cover as many of the layers with plants occupying as many of the functions as possible, we stack the deck in our favor for success.  In our forest garden we are using an Oak as our canopy layer.  Eventually the Chaya, Moringa, and Pigeon Pea will occupy the lower tree space.  The moringa could get large enough to play in the canopy space, but it will freeze back to the ground each year and start the climb again.  For shrubs we have Roselle and Cassava (new this week), herbaceous we have comfrey and quail grass, etc.  I think you’re getting the idea by now.  The trick is to create your layers while thinking about space as well as time.  The concept of designing for space AND time using plant succession will have to come later as it deserves its own blog post at a minimum.  For our purposes this week, starting to see the layers of a natural system, and paying attention to the relationships in spacing and function, is the take-away concept.  Look around…Once you see it, can’t un-see it.  Nature is so cool…

About the plants    

Sweet Potato I brought two varieties of sweet potato I had started in pots.  I don’t know the variety of either but the first one I’ve grown for years.  It’s a beautiful plant with HUGE leaves when planted in good soil.  I get nice traditional looking orange sweet potatoes but not too many compared to other varieties.  This one is a great ground cover.  The large leaves are a bit too chewy for me but the young leaves are nice in a salad. The other variety is growing from a cutting a friend gave me a while ago.  It’s supposed to be a white sweet potato but I haven’t harvested any yet…hopefully we’ll find out now that it’s in the ground.  The leaves on this one are quite delicious which is why the plant looks a bit pitiful since I snack on leaves often.  These plants fulfill multiple functions AND reside in multiple layers.  Ground covers, with edible tubers, edible leaves.  The tubers in addition to food also help with fighting soil compaction.  A must have plant in Florida IMHO.

Cassava is a tropical staple.  I grew up eating the root boiled or fried.  In my culture it’s known as Yuca.  In addition to large edible roots, it has edible leaves (must be cooked) but I have no experience with eating the leaves since there is always another option around…one of these days I’ll give it a shot. (Do your research before eating)

More seeds…I grabbed some seeds to throw this week as well.  I had a bag of carrot seed but the variety was blurred.  I suspect it’s a Danvers Half Long since I like those for my area.  I also grabbed some Broccoli seed (Waltham 29) and scattered both throughout the growing area.  Much of the clover is already sprouting and while I expect some of these to sprout and grow for food as well, the carrots’ primary role here is to help break up the soil with the large tap root.  I typically use some kind of radish (because they grow fast) for this job and prefer Daikon, but I couldn’t find the daikon and didn’t want to waste time looking.  Carrots will do the job nicely but they will take a little longer to do it.  I’m in no hurry.  The Broccoli is there as a gift for the future.  If it shows up strong, as some of my cold sensitive plants fade away, the broccoli should step up to the plate (Literally!).

Can I get a volunteer from the Universe?

Look who joined the party!  This little guy is Hairy Indigo.  It’s a nitrogen fixer, produces plenty of biomass, attracts pollinators, and provides habitat for beneficial insects.  He popped up in our mini forest and he’s got a job to do, so he’s a welcome addition.  Multifunction volunteers!  Gotta love it!

Help me welcome Melvin to the team…

I brought Melvin in to keep an eye on things for me…he’s not much help but he don’t talk back either…never sleeps though and still free!

Next Week…

I think I’ll leave the next topic open for now.  I would like to observe the space and see what about the forest garden makes the most sense to discuss.  I’m not sure which plants I’ll take either…probably some more seeds to broadcast.  Maybe I’ll explain why someone might “waste” all that seed by throwing it on the surface rather than carefully planting it the way we’ve all been told it MUST be done?  Maybe we can discuss the edge effect?  For now, look for layers.  We’ll find our next topic…Next week.

Click here to read part 8

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