A few years ago I helped some friends start a food forest near Orlando.
Last week the owner sent me some photos from this project and said I could share them here. Things are really starting to grow up – it’s amazing what a bit of time can do, particularly when you start a food forest on decent soil with lots of mulch.
The area where this food forest is located is surrounded by citrus groves and swamp. The soil has a good organic matter content with black muck mixed into the sand wherever you dig.
It’s hot and the air is still, however, so despite the decent (though sandy) soil, it’s not the easiest place to grow a food forest. The area is in between tropical and temperate, with at least a few freezes each winter that keep the owners from growing great tropical fruit like sapotes and mango… but not enough chill hours for good temperate fruit trees like apple and pear.
That said, the few freezes in winter haven’t hurt their banana crops too much:
Those are “Dwarf Cavendish” banana trees. They also have some of my previous collection of bananas, including “Raja Puri,” “1,000 Fingers,” “Ice Cream”, “Orinoco” and even Cheeseman’s Banana, which is a wild type that’s more of an ornamental than edible.
Another difficulty when growing a food forest near Orlando is the brutal summer heat. To head off the weeds and the hot sand, the homeowners dumped tons of mulch from a local tree company.
The mulch adds organic matter, keeps roots cool and conserves moisture. It just took a lot of work to acquire and then spread around, particularly considering the half-acre size of this food forest project.
Right now the food forest is at what I call the “bad haircut” phase, where it’s in between being perfect little trees surrounded by an ocean of mulch… and a full-on, cool forest with a close-to-closed canopy.
If you’ve ever decided to grow your hair long from a short haircut, you know what I mean. Nothing quite looks how you want it to until it reaches the right length.
By next spring, this system is going to really look amazing. Check out the fruit that’s coming in now:
Peaches, nectarines and mulberries in abundance.
When I plan out a food forest for a client, I always like to include some fast-producing trees as encouragement. Mulberries, figs, nectarines, peaches… these will start paying their rent quickly. At the same time, I try not to overlook producers that take their time, like pears (6 years) and pecans (8-10 years). When new fruit come in every year, it builds enthusiasm. I really can’t wait to see where the progress will take a food forest next.
This Orlando food forest is one of seven food forest projects I’ve provided assistance or plants for, not counting the many others I’ve helped indirectly through my books and this site.
There’s a reason I named my business “Florida Food Forests!”
I hope to expand my food forest consultation into some new climates, too. I think it would be amazing to create one in the arid Southwest… or one in Quebec! The possibilities for species… my goodness…
More Pictures from the Orlando Food Forest Project
I wish more yards looked like this:
Mulberries, bananas, native weeds…
Here’s a patch of beautiful variegated ginger:
That ginger makes a very nice herbal tea – great flavor – though the roots aren’t big enough to use for anything.
Here’s another “bad haircut” shot:
I like this lush patch of green with gingers and blooms:
Having lots of species growing together helps fight pests. You can bet there are good insects, amphibians and reptiles all over the place in these un-mown places, just waiting to come in and gobble up evil aphids and caterpillars!
Here’s another shot of some producing bananas:
Check out this kale and ginger growing in the shade – it almost looks like a watercolor with the splashes of light dancing through the canopy:
Here’s another good mix of plants next to the greenhouse:
In the photo above I see guava, nopale cactus, rootbeer plant, Surinam cherry, papaya and mango. Looks like a pleasant little microclimate to me.
Here’s another shot of the thriving root beer plant colony:
And more crazy growth:
Now check out this sugarcane, with a cassava in the foreground:
And a beautiful loquat, encircled by wild blackberries:
With some jealously, I note that their moringa trees are setting pods:
Truly beautiful. This area was just hot, empty pasture a few years ago and now it’s rapidly being transformed into a cool, moist forest of beautiful and useful species.
I can’t wait to see what happens next!
If you live in Florida and want to plant your own food forest, I have helpful species lists and encouragement in my short book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest – you’ll enjoy it.
This level of crazy gardening may not appeal to everyone, but I salute those of you who are creating food forests across the state. Florida wants to be forest – grow with nature, instead of against it, and you will have more food than you know what to deal with. That’s a great place to be.
(All photos by the homeowner)