What Exactly Is An Edible Landscape?

We endorse a gardening system known as forest gardening, wherein an edible landscape is designed to act like a natural ecosystem so as to reduce maintenance and work. The most common yield is food, but forest gardens can also provide products such as medicine, fibre, firewood, dye, building materials, and more.

Forest gardens incorporate trees, shrubs, ground-covers, vines, perennial vegetables and salad greens, all interplanted so as to minimize competition and maximize co-operation.  They can be created on any scale, from a small backyard to a few acres; a large, mature forest garden can take ten to twenty years to create, though many crops will be available after the first year.  It takes a lot of work to build any kind of garden, but forest gardens become easier with each passing year, because nearly all of the plants are perennial; they establish themselves and, eventually, thrive.  The point of putting in all the work up front is that if it is designed properly, it will, over time, become a largely self-maintaining system that will give back huge yields each year..

One of the key features of forest garden design is building fertility into the system. Because we want high yields, the soil will require a lot of fertility. In conventional and organic agriculture, this is normally accomplished by bringing in fertilizers in the form of chemicals or manure, or by making compost. Forest gardening differs in that most of the fertility needs of the system can be designed into the garden itself. As an example, a plum tree needs a certain amount of nitrogen in order to produce an abundance of fruit each year. This can be achieved by planting a nitrogen-fixing tree, such a black locust, nearby; (black locust flowers also make a delicious treat).  There are also plants, like comfrey, that have deep taproots which reach deep into the subsoils and pull minerals up into their leaves.  When the leaves decompose in the fall, these minerals are made available to nearby plants..

Forest gardening is a form of agriculture that sequesters carbon in the soil. When you till the soil, some carbon is lost as soil erodes. In a forest garden, as in a natural forest, the soil is rarely disturbed, and has a chance to build itself up naturally, thereby getting increasingly healthy and fertile, and locking up carbon in the creation of humus.

Another benefit of forest gardening is the resiliency of the system.  In a mature forest garden, the diversity of species and of the structure leads to a robust garden that can resist weather extremes; perennial plants develop large root systems that can access water and nutrients, and if a few crops fail, there are many more to fill the gap.

Forest gardening in temperate climates is still in its infancy, and there is a lot of experimentation to do.  But there are a lot of people starting to garden in this way.  Starting small is key; a couple of sorrel plants by the backdoor is a great place to start!