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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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Comment by Cres on January 11, 2020 at 10:14

That is an awesome transformation. I love that you're using BSF's for composting, they are such an underutilised resource for both compost breakdown and animal fodder. In a week they can turn 100kg of food into 12 kg of waste (mostly cellulose) that worms can then finish off and the fat little pupae are 40% protein and the chooks love them.

Comment by Sophie on December 18, 2019 at 9:35

well done!! looks great!! how exciting ;) :)

Comment by Lily on December 17, 2019 at 0:12

Thanks, Andrew!  Valerie, I get the compots from https://www.directcompostsolutions.com/  Honestly, can't recommend them highly enough.  They're like magic invisible scraps-eating machines, and my soil has just exploded with life after putting them in.  And being able to put anything in without worrying about overfeeding or giving them the wrong things is like choirs of angels to my ears.  XD

And thanks, Christa! Yes, it's nice to be able to experiment with different plants.  I've been doing a lot of experimenting over the last year in different areas and discovered some surprising things about, for example, planting cooler climate sun-lovers in full shade in the pool yard, where they actually get as much sun as they want just off the surface reflections. So pleased with my surprise avocado. :D What an embarrassment of riches you have with trees getting too big for their homes! :) Yes, our tank is filled up, the soil thoroughly enjoyed getting a deep drink in that beautiful rain--and I got to do some important observations about the movement of water into and over our property, and perhaps some points where more of it could be directed onto garden rather than into the stormwater drains. Some swale digging in my future, I think... :)

Comment by Valerie on December 16, 2019 at 14:32

That looks fabulous. Where did you get the in-ground soldier fly composting pots from? 

Comment by Christa on December 16, 2019 at 12:24

That is a definite improvement from brown to green and growing.  If you manage to get any plants for nothing, plant them and if they grow, then its great or cut them down if not.  You are in control of how much you can plant or grow.  There is always hanging space or climbing space as Dave has taught us. 

What about that surprise avo tree, you are lucky with that one. 

My garden is mainly ground plants and trees in wicking tubs (about 150-180 tubs) and I have found that some of them are too big for their tubs, so we pulled them out to the front yard to sell and someone has committed to buy them cheap.  3 black sapote trees, one big amla tree and 2 big saba nuts and more, going to a new home.    There will be more going as soon as we cull the plants we find are too big for the bins.  Some will be planted into the ground as well.

Did you get the lovely rain the other day, our 4 tanks filled up and we are happy chappies.  

Good luck with your garden Lily, and thank you for sharing.

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on December 16, 2019 at 11:39

That's fantastic Lily.  You made an unused space really productive and attractive.  

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