Survival gardening and sustainability are more than growing a single garden, but a way of life. Instead of stopping at a herb or vegetable garden, consider maximizing the space on your property with a thriving food forest. These forests are packed with nutrients and ready to take your sustainability goals to new levels.
What Is a Food Forest?
A food forest, or a forest garden, embraces the ecosystems and natural patterns of food you would otherwise find in nature. Food forests are typically diverse and rich with edible plants that offer a long-term yield for you and your family. They usually grow up, down, or out to maximize space and resources.
How Do You Start a Food Forest?
Much like a survival garden, food forests take some planning and design. Here's a rundown of what you'll need to get started.
Choose a Food Forest Location
The location of your food forest will directly impact your success. Just like a survival garden, you don't need acres and acres of land to get started, although the more space you have, the more you'll probably grow. Best practices call for growing a food forest on 1/10th of an acre, although you should start with whatever space you have.
Observe the Area
Before you start designing your garden, it's important to observe the area at different times of the day. Where are the shadiest spots? Where does the rainwater pool together and sit, stagnate, or run off? The more you understand your land, the more efficiently you can plan.
Make a Plan and Design Your Garden
Once you know how big your space is and the unique characteristics of your land, you can start to plan and design your garden. You can plant 500 trees per acre, one every 5 to 15 square meters, depending on what you’re planting.
Prep the Soil
Before you plant your survival seeds for your food forest, you need to prep your soil to maximize its nutrients. The good news is you probably won't need fertilizers for your food forest, but you can consider sheet mulching. Lay down cardboard anywhere you want to plant and cover it with manure, grass clippings, and wood chips.
Worms should eventually show up and help work in the compost you created. If your food forest is very small, try tilling it with soil amendments to make it as healthy as possible.
Plant Your Canopy Layer
The first thing to plant in your food forest is the canopy layer, which will become your tallest-reaching trees. The goal is to have the canopy rise above your other plantings, but keep in mind it can take your top layer up to seven years to grow and yield food. Consider taller fruit and nut trees, including cherries, plums, chestnuts, and pine nuts.
Plant Your Understory and Shrub Layers
Understory and shrub layers can help improve the fertility of your soil and protect your trees. Unlike your canopy layers, the shrubs will grow in just a year or two and produce a faster food yield. Try planting raspberries, currants, gooseberries, and similar shrubs.
Plant the Herbaceous Layer
Similar to your survival garden, the herbaceous layer of your food forest will include vegetables and herbs. You end up with a more immediate food supply, including asparagus, garlic, kale, rhubarb, and horseradish. Beyond producing food, the herbaceous layer enriches your soil, suppresses weed growth, and helps sustain helpful insect species and wildlife.
Browse our seed vaults for the best veggies and herbs.
Add Root Crops
The bottom layer of your food forest will consist of root plants, including potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes, and other edible roots. They also provide a quick food source and help make the most of your forest garden and long-term sustainability. You'll also end up with a powerhouse of soil protection and additional nutrients for your soil.
Create a Food Forest Map
You can make your first map before or after you plant, depending on what makes the most sense for you. For example, you may want to map out your plantings in advance if you have an expansive forest garden to work with. But if you have a small plot, you could also see what you can realistically plant and draw up your map.
Regardless of when you design your map, you'll need navigational help to find your plants, trees, and herbs. You may remember what you planted this year, but the canopy layer takes years to produce, making it easy to forget what you put where.
How Many Times Do You Need to Plant a Food Forest?
Food forests grow and thrive without much intervention. In theory, you won't need to replant your food forest, with some exceptions. If your herbaceous and root layer aren't producing year after year, you should plant again and consider adding some more soil amendments. But for the most part, you can let a food forest go and watch it (slowly) grow!
What Are the Pros of a Food Forest?
Food forests take some time to get going but come with plenty of pros.
Minimal Ongoing Work
After an initial set-up, a food forest takes little work and can flourish on its own. While focusing on your survival garden, you can rest easy knowing nature is taking care of your forest. Adding soil amendments and bat houses can also help improve your results.
Complements Your Survival Garden
Food forests can produce an incredible bounty of food, but it takes years to build the yield you need for sustainability. Instead of waiting for them to grow and enjoying the results, a survival garden complements your efforts with more immediate results.
Creates a Healthy Food Legacy
Imagine growing a dense food forest with fruit and nut trees, vegetables, herbs, and more that lasts for generations. One day your grandchildren can eat from the same fruit trees as you and enjoy a healthy, nutritious, and sustainable food source.
Cons of a Food Forest
Despite all the major wins of a food forest, they come with their share of drawbacks.
Requires Intense Planning
Due to the sheer size of a food forest, they take time to plan and properly execute. They require multiple layers that complement each other and some initial maintenance. Unlike a survival garden, you typically can't get a forest up and running in a single day.
Takes Years to Grow
One of the biggest cons to a food forest is how long they can take to grow. You should see some of your root and herbaceous layers produce food in the first year, but it could take seven years or more to enjoy your fruit and nut trees.
May Get Trampled or Damaged
Food forests are surrounded by nature and are part of the surrounding ecosystem. Unlike a survival garden that is protected by barriers and carefully planted and maintained near your home, a food forest could lie in the middle of a play area, foot traffic, and is subjected to curious (and hungry) wildlife.
Growing a food forest is an excellent choice for survival gardeners who want to expand their goal of growing a healthy, sustainable food source. Imagine harvesting tomatoes, watermelons, lettuce, and peas from your survival garden in the morning and cherries and nuts from your food forest in the evening. You could spend the day grazing on delicious, healthy food from your property and sharing your yield with family and friends.