Food forrest

This post is from Lisa


For the original homesteaders, food security was of utmost importance. If they could not make sure they had a steady food source, there was no way they would survive in their new home. They had to be resourceful and creative and the same can be said for us.

We have all come to prepping for various reasons. No matter what our reasons are, our basic needs are all the same. Besides water, the most important thing we have to look at is food security. Most of us think of the ability to grow or hunt your own food when we mention food security but there is another aspect that I wanted to look at today.

For anyone who has worried about a dooms day scenario, you have probably imagined what you would do to protect not only the food you have stored but the food you have worked so hard to grow in your garden. First, I want us to think about two words: Monoculture and Polyculture.

What is a monoculture? A monoculture is simply a single plant. You usually hear the term monoculture used to refer to big farming. When we drive by a field and see row after row of corn, wheat, or potatoes, this is a monoculture. It is also used to describe backyard gardens that are traditionally planted in rows of single plants much like their farming big brothers.

A polyculture refers to a grouping of more than one plant. Now you may be wondering why a backyard garden is not considered a polyculture when you are growing more than one type of plant. Because in most gardens the plants that are alike are grown together. All of the tomatoes are in a row, the peas have their row, etc. If you are using the square foot gardening method, you have taken a step away from monoculture but it is still not a true polyculture. To get the idea about what a polyculture is, simply walk into an undeveloped field or a wooded area. When you see the variety of plant life growing there, that is a polyculture.

So what does monocultures and polycultures have to do with food security? Everyone knows what a garden looks like. Even a raised bed system would be easily identifiable as a garden. In a crisis situation it would be almost impossible to disguise your crops and keep others from finding your source of food. However, if we were to follow nature’s example and develop polyculture systems, the food would be less recognizable to those that don’t know and would provide us with better food security.

One way to do this is to develop food forests. When you look at a forest you do not see just one species of tree growing. There are multiple species as well as various layers to the forest. In a food forest there are seven layers:

1. The canopy: large fruit and nut trees
2. The low tree layer: dwarf fruit trees
3. The shrub layer: currants and berries
4. Herbaceous: comfrey, beets, herbs
5. Rhizosphere: root vegetables
6. Soil surface: ground cover ie strawberries, etc.
7. Vertical layer: climbers, vines ie pole beans, etc.

Now a food forest is not an orchard. An orchard is simply another form of monoculture. To the untrained eye, this would look like a jumbled mess with little to no prospects for food. We, however, would know that this is a rich part of our diet that provides a variety of food at different times of the year.

If you live in an urban area, this may not seem like something you can do. I believe it can be done but it is up to us to get creative with it. When I took my Permaculture course, we were taken to a gentelman’s home that lived in your typical suburban neighborhood. His front yard didn’t look that different from everyone else’s although he did have one fruit bearing tree in his front yard and a few fruit bearing bushes beside the house. His backyard however was amazing. It was a veritable jungle. He had a couple of banana trees, various types of edible flowers and bushes, not mention the other dwarf trees he had growing in his yard. He had also set up a rain water catchment system that fed into two 500 gallon cisterns to help water his plants during the dry summer months.

This type of system does not happen overnight. It takes time to put the plants into place and for them to mature. However, I believe that developing a polyculture system is a crucial piece of everyone’s food security plans. What types of plants and how many you want to use is up to you and of course will vary with your personal situation. Ideally, I would suggest having anywhere from 20 to 50 different species. I hope this sparks some ideas for you guys and I look forward to hearing what you think about utilizing this system.

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