My food forest is really starting to get established.
I put it in place at the end of winter this year on a slope out the back where nothing much has ever grown. Getting the garden in order there had always been a few phases of down the line after I'd done the more visible parts. Its number had actually just come up: I've worked my way around most of the rest and I was taking a breather before getting stuck in--and then we realised some trees had grown up there, tall enough to be shading our washing line over winter. When we went to take a closer look, there were four massive trees, maybe 8m tall, two of them environmental weeds, all growing against each other with a joint trunk diameter of a metre and a half, right against the sewer access point.
Crap. So to speak.
We haven’t had any problems with roots blocking things, but it was time to get those trees out of there before we did.
And then we had about 25 square metres of north-facing steep shale slope with nothing on it. A few bananas at the top of the slope and a native crepe myrtle in the middle, some monstera which was about to crisp in the unfiltered sun, and some golden cane at the bottom, but for the most part no shade, no roots, nothing. Too steep to safely or comfortably get up and down without sliding in torrents of dust and shale, and certainly not carrying anything, and too steep to retain mulch on it. Erosion was a certainty, and from the cracks in the architrave and ceiling, the back room on our house might well follow it all down the hill. So, something needed to go there. It’s a low-traffic area, but still reasonably convenient to get to, and visible from the busy street at the back of our property, so some medium trees would be good for privacy and for some shade on the wall (but not the washing line around the corner). My decision was to put in a perennial food forest.
I spent a few weeks putting in rows of corrugated garden edging held back by short star pickets to produce rough (although flimsy) terraces--more to slow the descent of the dirt while the plant roots got into place to properly hold it--and ordered plants. Lots of plants!!! I spread the terraces with a biochar & manure nutrient soup, covered it all with mushroom compost, and covered all that with sugar cane mulch. On the top terrace, I added a line of compots, which are in-ground soldier fly composting pots that I LOVE--all the goodness of composting even "uncompostable" items, none of the work. The hope is the leachate and general fertility and soil life that spreads out from them as the worms carry it around the garden will ooze gently in a down-hill direction. But mostly that was just the easiest place to reach them and low ongoing effort is the king for me. My 8 year old son, serving a week’s exclusion from school after dealing with Influenza A, helped me put stepping stones throughout so I can safely reach everything without sliding down the hill or putting too much pressure on the garden edging, and avoid compacting the soil too much.
I put in a white mulberry, jaboticaba, ice cream bean, two varieties of avocado, macadamia, grumichama, lychee, Panama berry, and some berry-fruit beds with raspberries and blackberries. I’ve grouped my most temptingly pest susceptible crops where it should be easier to put a large exclusion cover over the lot or parts thereof, and when I finally manage to convince my husband to let me get chickens, to range them through under that area collecting fallen fruit if I need to.
I made sure to plant comparatively shallow-rooted things around the sewer, and with my fresh baby trees looking small and forlorn in the big space, I poked in some medium shrubs/plants like rhubarb, katuk, midyim, queensland arrowroot, yacon, and tea, put in a few melons and pumpkins for some instant ground cover, and sowed the rest with flowers and green manure beans. The big wall at the end got some tall sun-loving gingers planted in front of it--which it turns out may not be sun-loving enough for that spot, but everything else is flourishing in there together now, apart from the young avocado trees, which are very sulky and reluctant to establish (I'm sure their drainage is fine and the soil seems exactly moist enough whenever I've checked--I've now erected a shadecloth teepee around them in the hopes a bit of sun and wind protection will let the settle in). What a difference three and a half months makes! :)
It’ll be a while before most of my fruit trees are producing anything much, but the clock’s ticking now on that waiting period. In the meantime, I’ve got alyssum, celosia and cosmos blooming beautifully and dropping seeds all over, we've harvested a handful of raspberries and a couple of strawberries, and some bok choy before the cabbage moth got to it. Today we cracked open the first ripe watermelon that we've beaten the pests to, there's swelling pumpkins lurking in the undergrowth, and the ground is getting close to covered with cool, green foliage. Best of all, nothing slid down the hill in the recent downpour. Success in the primary objective!
And the native crepe myrtle, identified for me by the arborist who came out to remove the large trees growing out of the sewer line, and which I left in place mainly as a nurse tree for my young fruit trees?
Well, it bushed up very nicely indeed, tripled in size and looks violently healthy, but didn't look terribly impressive when it flowered. I thought it wouldn't be long for this world once the everything else was established enough to start wanting more light. But then, it did something VERY impressive. Particularly for a crepe myrtle.
It's absolutely COVERED in the little blighters. The more you look, the more you realise you're seeing. I mean... I'm not crazy, am I? That's clearly an avocado. Isn't it? I feel so ridiculous. How can I have had an avocado tree there, for TEN YEARS and NEVER KNOWN?! How can I have come to close to cutting it OUT?! OMG, they look delicious--never mind those sulky avocado saplings, I mean I'll do my best to nurse them, but I have an established tree! I don't know what variety it is or what time of year it'll fruit when it hasn't just been abruptly exposed to a huge amount more sunlight, water, and kickstarted with the most delectable compost mix known to plantkind... But, all of a sudden, it seems, my food forest is up and running!
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