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Starting Our Dream Food Forest

Our Dream Food Forest

Our goal for our little farmstead is to have a permaculture-based food forest combining fruit and nut trees, vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants and companion plants.

My vision is something like an overgrown English cottage garden – plants left to grow wild and free with winding pathways through the jungle, annuals reseeding themselves so different things pop up in different seasons, edibles and medicinals that can be found and foraged with a look here and a look there, lots of biodiversity and plenty to share.

We made surprisingly quick progress in clearing the (largely alien) overgrowth on the top half of the property. I must admit I felt a pang of guilt looking out at the suddenly bare land around me, despite knowing we’d be replanting with lots of useful and beneficial plants to replace the masses of brambles, thorny bushes and bugweed. I was definitely motivated to get going on our vision of a permaculture based food forest!

First Food Forest Plants Arrive

At the end of July, our first big load of plants arrived from the nursery. I was like a 5 year old on Christmas morning!

Our soil is mostly compacted, slightly acidic clay. Some areas are much harder than others. Right from clearing, we followed the chop and drop method – leaving the majority of what we cut on the ground as mulch and compost to decompose into the soil. 

We have a sawmill about half an hour from us, which is a fantastic resource. We got a bakkie load of untreated pine offcuts, as well as bags of wood shavings for mulch and for use in the compost toilet. I used some of the offcuts to build a (rather rickety) compost enclosure, which Russ later made a bit more secure. 

To make beds, I started with a hoe to lift the deep bramble roots and other invasive wildlings from the area, then added compost to the top layer (a mixture of cow and horse dung collected from the neighbouring animals that wander freely around, collected and chopped up bush clearing cuttings, and some nursery bought organic, well rotted compost).

I outlined the beds with the pine offcuts from the sawmill, paving bricks we’d had lying around at our old place in Muizenberg, and rocks collected around the property. Once planted, I covered the bed area with a thick layer of wood shavings for mulch. I planted a kitchen herb garden outside the cabin, then slowly expanded up the side of the property, working in stages.

I made mini guilds around each fruit tree, filled with their specific companion plants that assist with deterring pests (eg rosemary, marigolds), attracting pollinators (eg holy basil, bee balm) and adding nutrients to the soil through chop and drop (eg comfrey, borage, tansy).

We still have a few more fruit trees to get, mostly doubles of what we already have to boost pollination, but other than that we have mostly ticked off the trees that were on our wishlist. Our long term plan is to invest in a solar dehydrator and make organic dried fruit with excess harvests to potentially sell or trade within the community and at the local markets. So the majority of the groundwork has been done! Here are some photos of what the farmstead was looking like within a few months:

There’s also been lots of flowers – mostly edibles and medicinals, but also a few just for beauty (and to attract pollinators of course). Margaret Roberts has a brilliant book called Edible & Medicinal Flowers that I have used extensively, it’s a real treasure trove of South African delight

We are just coming up on our first year here on the farmstead, and I am delighted to see plants popping up from self seeding last season – mustard, pansy, dill, nasturtium and more! 

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