Is it possible to create food forests in small spaces?
I replied to this comment yesterday on the YouTube channel:Will a 50′ x 50′ space really be a “forest?”
Perhaps not, but it would sure be close.
Growing a Small Food Forest
You could fit about 8-16 small trees in that space, then put shrubs around them, then put herbs and ground covers in, and then – hey – that looks like a little forest!
The benefit of working over a small space is that it is much easier to focus on the soil. When you’re trying to improve a half-acre, your effort is spread over too much space. A smaller space is much easier to sheet-mulch, plant with cover crops, provide lots of mulch and amendments for, etc. It’s also easier to tend and water.
It would be worth drawing out a square of that size and filling it up with potential plants. I’m seeing multiple apples, hazelnuts, a Chinese chestnut, plum and peach and cherry, Nanking cherry bushes, blueberries, blackberries, currants, raspberry, Jerusalem artichokes, goumi berry, autumn olive, pawpaw… just mix in as many species as you can manage!
The Great South Florida Food Forest Project isn’t much bigger than that. (I should probably pace it off at some point.)
At this point, that space was planted with two citrus trees, a mango, two mulberry trees, grumichama, Surinam cherry, cassava, chaya, Indian curry tree, papaya and more. And it was just getting started.
Here is the same view in a more recent photo:
Now there is also a Jamaican cherry tree, sweet potatoes, star fruit, more bananas and plantains, and lots of tropical ground covers that sort of helped themselves to the gaps.
What possibilities there are in a small space!
Just be sure not to plant everything too close or else the space will become less productive. We once rented a house in the tropics where the front yard had been planted with fruit trees in a very tight spacing. Later, they grew tall and fought with each other, and many of the trees were barely productive – or didn’t produce at all – and the there wasn’t much light beneath them for even grass to thrive, let alone fruiting shrubs and perennial vegetables.
If you find yourself facing that sort of a situation, it make sense to bust out the chainsaw and let the light back in!
A small space food forest won’t allow you to grow gigantic nut trees or full-size specimens of many species, but it will give you many of the benefits of a larger system, including easy care, nutrient cycling, shade on the ground in the heat of summer, some temperature moderation during the cold days of winter, a no-till soil biome, long-term production, much fewer pest issues due to the mixture of species, etc.
A small food forest doesn’t have to be just a “well, we’re doing our best…” food forest. It could be a beautiful showpiece echoing the design inherent in nature and providing diverse yields for decades.