Starting a food forest in portugal

With 46 acers of land, multiple fields, daily yoga classes, a community to run and a huge permaculture project, starting a food forest can be very overwhelming. We decided to fence off a smaller area which had three old burnt down pear trees, named it the pear food forest and made it our focus for the first half of 2017.

Before the food forest
The pear Food Forest before we started working on it was full of grass, weeds and three burnt down pear trees.

A food forest is a method of intensively gardening food, with as wide a variety of food coming from as many layers (canopy, tree, shrub, ground, underground and climbing) as possible and replicating a natural forest, a self fertilizig eco system of abundance.

As we are a volunteer based project, we decided to ask all our volunteers that when here during the winter to plant two trees. We asked each volunteer or community member to research one species of fruit tree and present their research back to the group so we could learn together. From this information, we knew where to plant the trees, what companion plants to plant with them and how to look after them. Each volunteer then went on to plant their trees and make a sign for the trees. This allowed for a lot of effort and love to be put into every tree that was planted and for me to collate all the information.

Food Forest Portugal
Thank you louise for the sign above the gate for the food forest

We would normally want to design the entire food forest first and then go out and source the trees, however as we were working on improving facilities on the land, had limited time to plant the trees (due to the rains stopping in march), we first sourced trees and planted them based on their requirement such as sun, soil, water and future size.

I also made  scale drawing of the food forest so I can record what has been planted where to help us with planning where to plant each tree.

food forest design portugal
Scale map of the small area of land we are focusing on for our first food forest, this shows the trees but not details of what is planted in each guild. we will redraw this soon showing the trees at full size when they reach maturity

Each tree that is planted in the food forest is planted with larger spacing than usual to allow for light to come down between the trees to other layers of the food forest such as shrubs and ground layers. However right now as the trees are so small that leaves a lot of space between all the trees. We decided to make annual vegetable patches in all the space we could between the trees in the pear food forest so we can get the maximum amount of food from the space and minimise the amount of area that we have to check and irrigate daily.

Some annual beds between the trees are already giving us harvests of salads, broccoli and spinach and soon much more
Some annual beds between the trees are already giving us harvests of salads, broccoli and spinach and soon much more

As we learnt on a food forest course with Doug Crouch in Portugal, the method we use to plant trees is as follows, we remove the grass and weed top layer with a hoe, create a circular mound so that when you water the tree it can fill up with water and slowly sink down into the ground instead of spreading around. We then dig a hole for the tree, plant it, plant a few other items in the guild, then spread a thin layer of compost, then a thick layer of green mulch (grass, wild green leaves, broom, ferns) , then a thick layer of brown mulch (dried ferns, homemade wood chips, dried dead plants, leaves, twigs, cardboard), the brown mulch is most important as this feeds the fungi in the ground which has a symbiotic relationship with the trees and making them thrive. At this point stepping in the circle or the mound is prohibited as that can damage the fungi we are trying too promote. The mulch also keeps the weeds out and sun from drying out the soil.
Gogi Berry

Every tree attracts different pests and ideally a gardener would plant plants that deter these pests next to the tree, or plant plants that attract predatory insects that eat the pests. We would also plant plants that attract pollinating insects for trees that are pollinated by insects, include plants that fix nitrogen or biodynamic accumulators or just plants that provide ground cover to prevent weeds such as new Zealand spinach, ultimately we check all our books for each tree and type in google ‘companion plants for xxx tree’ and ‘xxx tree guilds in good forests’, read a few results and plant what comes up if we can. The only issue is that when we have a lot of work on the farm, a lot of trees that need companion plants and a limited variety of plants in the local shops its very hard to complete guilds as desired. We ended up being quite limited on companion plants to plant in the guilds, so we bought the seeds online and planted them in the greenhouse for a future of abundance of perennials we can plant in guilds with the trees. we also visit local projects and got lots of cuttings which we planted. N.b. A guild is the group of companion plants planted around a tree (including the tree)

Permaculture Greenhouse
Thanks to all the volunteers, our greenhouse (once a pig house) is growing more vegetables and perennials for our food forest than we can hope to plant out. However soon we will increase the amount of perennials planted around our trees by planting out herbs, flowers and medicinal plants from our greenhouse.

I also planted shrubs and berries along the walls that get some shade and spread perennial strawberries and spinach along the ground between them. Along the other edges with fencing we have planted vines, kiwis and passion fruits to climb up. All of these shrubs, climbers and ground cover have also been planted around the food forest

food forest design portugal
Although ths is a small part of our land, this is a large area and I cant write every name on here, but i have included some of the vegtables we have planted together in the beds. I have not included the plants we have planted in the guilds as there is just not enough space

More recently we planted indicator plants next to each tree, I either planted a pumpkin or a tomato next to each tree as they will wilt when the ground is dry, indicating we haven’t watered the guild enough so we can water them before it gets too dry for the tree.

Peach guild
Peach tree planted with lavender, rosemary, spinach and a pumpkin as an indicator

When the rains stopped we started to get bored of carrying buckets to every tree so I bought two 16mm irrigation pipes and some drip nozzles and rolled out one for each half of the food forest, I then water them deeply two of three times a week and plan to reduce that to 2 times a week later in the year and 1 time a week next year. I then turn them on, walk along the irrigation route, check for issues, weed and mulch, its much more fun than carrying buckets.

Installing irrigation
Johanna installing irrigation by drilling small holes in plastic pipes and then inserting a nozzle, you can also see some people planting up on terrace 1 (not part of the food forest)

I also installed sprinklers and found that the just spread water everywhere including the paths which was a waste so we have been switching these out for drip irrigation which saves a lot of water. We have ditches in annual beds and next to trees which can fill with water from the drip and slowly penetrate the soils to encourage root growth.

Irrigation for food forest
Thats me installing irrigation, another reason to do yoga is so you can be flexible and strong enough to make sure you don’t step on any beds
Forest Garden Portugal
The food forest from breakfast rock, in the foreground you have some windows over plastic pipes which heats up water for our outdoor solar shower. You can also see the small greenhouse we made to put over the tomatoes to extend their growing season

For more about food forests please click here

If you want to learn more about food forests, help improve this one and plan the next one while living in nature and practicing daily yoga and eating healthy food, please join the community as a short term volunteer

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