Food Forestry Course at Terra Alta, Portugal

Whilst staying is Lisbon we visited Terra Alta in Sintra for a weekend course on Food Forests. This is a method of growing food using nature’s way. In nature, forests are made up of hundreds of types of trees, shrubs and plants all growing with and around each other in an ecosystem. The forest is abundant with life without the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides that is needed for conventional farming.

Doug Crouch Portugal
Doug teaching us how to prune the fruit trees. Behind Doug is a deep sunken bed and the anchor tree is surrounded by edible plants. All of the land at Terra Alta is green like this.

This was an incredibly inspirational weekend with some practical tree planting, a lot of theory and displays of examples. Doug Crouch’s course managed to help take my understanding to the next level. Now with the continuation of study on individual plants that can be grown here in Portugal, I can really plan our food forests at Keela to be the most efficient possible.

Dong and Kimbo
Doug and Kimbo digging to add to an existing guild. A guild is where you put various plants and trees together (companion planting) in a mini ecosystem.

All over Terra Alta are food forests at different stages, but what was most amazing was how abundant and alive the land was with vegetation that supplies food.

Laurence Food Forest
Planting a new fruit tree in the food forest in a guild

We also got to see some of the systems they had there like compost toilets, irrigation, natural buildings, stream management and the kitchen. I am going back there in July for a timber framing course to learn how to make a frame for a house, shed, or box using traditional methods without nails.

Terra Alta Community
Community based eating is an important part for all Permaculture communities


Natural Building
Terra Alta has many examples of natural building and sustainable methods. Pedro makes everything himself from solar heaters to compost toilets and houses!


Food Forest Portugal
A guild in a food forest at Terra Alta, Portugal


Camping at Terra Alta Portugal
Kimbo getting out of our tent. They had made small terraces among the cork trees for us to camp in
Terra Alta Music
There are large stones around a fire for classes, eating, or just for hanging out. Here we were experimenting with various instruments that Pedro has in his music shed!

Terra Alta website:

Doug Crouch’s website:

My summary on food forests: Food Forest Portugal

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Food Forest Portugal

Click here for information on our food forest courses

Click here to read about our food forests at Keela Yoga Farm

In conventional farming, woodland is aggressively cleared so that rows and rows of the same species of plants can be planted. These are prone to pests and therefore require harsh pesticides and herbicides which kill the soil, and then in turn requires the further use of harmful chemical fertilisers. Instead of clearing the natural environment, we can restore and mimic woodland where there is an abundance of plant life that can provide us with a variety of food. This is called a food forest, or a food garden.

Terra Alta Food Forest
Diverse fauna at one of Terra Alta’s food forests in Portugal

We live on land that was once woodland cut down by civilizations through the ages; by the Saxons, Romans, Aristocracy, Monarchy and more recently, property developers. We buy food that is shipped from all over the world and has not grown organically meaning it may give us the energy to go about our daily lives, but it does not give us the nutrients and minerals that we need to be healthy and free from illness. (For more information on this, please refer to my previous blog on nutrients in soils HERE) On top of this it is grown in areas that was once abundant with woodland. Through the production of food forests in your back garden, a community garden or on a larger scale like what we will be doing at Keela Yoga Farm, we can restore woodland. Food forests have the ability to reduce greenhouse gasses by fixing carbon back into the ground (click here for more on carbon offsetting), increase bio-diversity, increase the fertility of the soil and eventually will provide your community with food, with minimum effort. There is higher effort required in the first couple of years when starting a food forest that is very low cost, or alternatively you can hire an expert to do it. Contact us if you want to find someone to do this.

Food Forest Portugal
Saved overgrown Orchard at Osho gardens. I cut back long grass, cleared around the trees and added layers of mulch. Next, paths are to be laid and then companion plants everywhere else.

A food forest is a garden full of plants and trees of different sizes that support each other in an ecosystem, just like in your local forest. The difference is however, that these plants and trees will provide you with food. Food forests are diverse and have a mixture of tall trees for nuts, smaller trees for fruits, shrubs for berries, bushes for herbs, small plants for vegetables and even potatoes and ginger under the ground. This is what is called ‘layers of the food forest’. A forest will even have vines growing up the trees that provide grapes and other fruits.

Planting Guilds in Portugal
Planting our first guild in Portugal at Terra Alta

Many trees and shrubs will take many years to establish and provide food, but once they have, they mostly require little effort to maintain and can provide you with harvest at different times of the year due to the diversity.

Food Forest Rak Tamachat
In the food forest at Rak Tamachat, Thailand. They planted banana tress as they grew fast and gave a quick yield. Around the banana trees where the long term slower growing trees and nitrogen fixers.

In nature soil is built up year after year until even old buildings are covered. That’s what gives archaeologists jobs right? But has that happened to your house, local farm, park or back garden? No! Thats because most people are fighting nature, adding chemicals and removing biomass. Let’s use nature to make our food, it’s cheaper (it is free!), it is more healthy and it is better for the planet.

Laurence Manchee Food Forests
Walking through the Rak Tamachat food forest. We liked the idea they have of making paths in food forests 2-3 meters wide, so even after the growth of the shrubs you can easily push a wheel barrow through and have minimum path maintenance

A food forest can be small or large and is planted in guilds. Each tree planted will have a few other carefully selected plants next to it that will provide shade, attract bees, repel pests, attract predator insects, fix nitrogen and provide biomass for mulching which feeds the tree and prevents weeds. Over time the guild changes but most of the plants provide food. Animals like chickens, goats or pigs can be added to eat weeds and waste fruit which will instantly convert biomass into manure, providing natural fertiliser.

Food Forest Thailand
Kimbo doing something at one of the newer Rak Tamachat food forests

I first learnt about food forests when researching about how to grow food for our rooftop garden in Singapore where I tried small scale intensive container gardening for two years. Then, we jumped into the world of permaculture and studied food forestry as part of our PDC at Rak Tamachat in Thailand. When we first arrived in Portugal, we attended a food forest course with Doug Crouch from Treeyo Permaculture at Terra Alta, Sintra and have since been able to implement these skills by helping to replenish a food forest at Osho Gardens in South Portugal.

Click here to join our Food Forest course in Portugal

Click here to read about our food forests at Keela Yoga Farm