Creating a Food Forest in North Florida
Creating a food forest in North Florida is something I’m good at (I literally wrote the book on it), so I like questions like the one that arrived in my inbox early this week.
I’ve read 3 of your books. They’re awesome, thanks!
My hubby and I just bought an acre + by a lake in (North Florida).
The property is pretty wild. Many (most) trees need to come down, as they are a hazard. (One already fell on the house…)
We want to transform the yard into an edible forest! J
(Along with a square foot gardening section as well.)
I wanted to reach out to you before we start for a few reasons.
We’ve had horrible experiences with termites, so the idea of leaving logs to rot on the property is super scary.
To this end we’re trying to figure out how far from the home such a pile should be and how many trees do we actually need to leave to slowly convert the whole property from sand to soil?
Also, is there anything in the lake that would be good for composting? I didn’t find anything in your composting book about it.
Third and final question, is there anyone in our area who would be suited for cutting down and removing/leaving/chipping the correct amounts for a food forest that you could recommend?
The aerial map shows our bushy property in the middle of a bunch of manicured properties. We don’t want to see our neighbors, so privacy towards the sides is on the wish list with regard to what to plant there in the future.
Looking at the picture, top right is where we thought we’d put our square foot veggie garden. The sun starts its journey on that side in the morning.
Any tips/help is appreciated to help tackle this project!!!
Here’s a shot off the back porch:
And an aerial view:
And one of those dangerous randomly falling Florida oaks:
Let’s jump in.
Rotting Wood and Termites
Hanna is rightly concerned by termites:
“We’ve had horrible experiences with termites, so the idea of leaving logs to rot on the property is super scary.
To this end we’re trying to figure out how far from the home such a pile should be and how many trees do we actually need to leave to slowly convert the whole property from sand to soil?”
Termites are everywhere in Florida, including in mulch. They will even eat sweet potatoes and sugarcane on occasion.
I paid to have my house treated, as I figure it’s pretty much impossible to keep them out, logs or no logs. They were chewing their way through the walls of my bathroom at one point. If you were quiet, you could hear the creak of their gnawing. We hired a pro and the problem was eliminated. As much as I hate poisons, there are times they are necessary.
If you don’t want termites and don’t want to spray, you basically need to have a desert around your house. Even then… you’re not guaranteed safety.
I let the termites eat logs in my yard but most all of the logs were 20 or more feet from the house itself. Termites are great at making soil, so I let them make soil. In your yard they’re an asset to your food forest project.
It’s hard to say how many trees you would need. I’m guessing Hanna means trees that would be mulched or buried to make soil. The more, the better. I would leave quite a few trees standing, though, as their leaves keep falling year after year and building the ground.
“Also, is there anything in the lake that would be good for composting? I didn’t find anything in your composting book about it.”
Yes, lakes can be good sources for biomass. Water hyacinth makes great compost but many Florida waterways are sprayed with weedkillers to eliminate that resource.
Muck from the lake is a good addition to garden beds and compost heaps.
All the weeds along the shoreline can be cut and used as mulch. Cattails and other reeds are good for this.
Wood Chip Resources
“is there anyone in our area who would be suited for cutting down and removing/leaving chipping the correct amounts for a food forest that you could recommend?”
I don’t have a recommendation, unfortunately, but I would call around locally and tell tree guys what you want.
My wood chips for the food forest came from the guys that were clearing the power lines in the neighborhood. I asked them to dump mulch and they did, leaving literal tons of it. We spread it a foot thick and a year later I had great soil.
If you have more than enough, leave a bunch of it in a pile. You’ll want it later – I guarantee it. After two years it makes good potting soil and garden bed compost.
My North Florida Food Forest Suggestions
First, leave as many trees as possible.
When the trees are removed in Florida, you end up with higher heat during the summer and colder lows during the winter. I describe this effect in my book Push the Zone. Trees moderate the climate around your home, and North Florida has huge swings in temperature that really mess up gardens.
Cutting the dangerous oaks around the house makes sense, but don’t clear too exuberantly. I did, and I regretted it.
Second, search for useful species carefully before removing anything
Your area has wild grapes (I can see some in the image with the fallen tree) which are quite nice to eat. You may also have persimmon, black cherry, pawpaw species, blueberries, sparkleberries and multiple other good forage species. Chances are you also have colonies of good edible mushrooms such as boletes and chanterelles, which only live around specific trees and fruit at specific times of the years. If you chop too fast you can lose a lot. It may all look like scrub and brush, but if your eyes are good you’ll see more than you think. I have picked excellent wild blueberries at the edge of a gardener’s yard – he had no idea they were there and was thrilled to find them.
Third, try double-digging beds instead of square foot beds
Just double-digging the ground and adding some compost has worked better for me than building beds. Raised beds in Florida need more water than in-ground beds. Plus, you don’t have to build anything to get planting when you go for double-digging.
Fourth, plant things on purpose to feed the soil
Get some Tithonia diversifolia and start popping it into the ground. When you put down mulch, plant black-eyed peas in it. Stick nitrogen-fixing trees all over the place. Having material to chop-and-drop will be a big help. Florida sand is always greedy for organic matter.
If anyone is reading this and has questions about establishing a Florida food forest, get in touch. I am available for consulting via Skype at a reasonable rate and it will be worth it. A food forest is a long-term investment of time and money. Getting it started right can save you.
Good luck, Hanna – you have a beautiful piece of property and I think you’ll have a wonderful time.
* Water hyacinth image credit