The Forest Garden has seven layers including tall trees, small trees, shrubs, perennials, and root crops among other things.
With rising temperature becoming the norm with every passing year, an ideal way to grow food might be to start a forest garden. Yes, you heard that right. Martin Crawford, a farmer from England, has been growing more than 500 types of food in a mini-forest for the past 20 years and he believes it's the way forward for humanity. The best part about the project is that it requires a fraction of the work required when compared to growing a normal crop/fruit. Crawford's project is known as agroforestry and it helps grow food with minimum effort because the "forest" is largely self-sustaining, reported Good News Network. Crawford spends just a few hours of work a month while enjoying a high amount of produce of different varieties. The seasoned farmer reasoned that we had to return to nature's original way of growing food as opposed to focusing our energy on growing annual plants on agricultural fields.
“What we think of as normal in terms of food production is actually not normal at all,” said Crawford as he revealed his methods in a National Geographic short about his garden that was both wild and tamed. “Annual plants are very rare in nature, and yet most of our agricultural fields are full of annual plants. What’s normal is a forested or semi-forested system.” When Crawford used the word system, he refers to an ecosystem because that's how nature has always existed, without the interference of man. Every forest has its own complex bio-diverse ecosystem capable of sustaining itself under any weather conditions. Man's need to isolate food cultivation under specific conditions has eaten into forest lands. This also meant that humans had to put in more hours to create an environment that favored the particular crop.
Crawford believes creating one's own garden that has its own complex ecosystem is the most efficient and nature-friendly way to produce food. Crawford has also penned a book titled Creating a Forest Garden about the process. He states there that a Forest Garden needs to have seven layers: tall trees, small trees, shrubs, perennials, ground cover, root crops, and climbers. He says it's important to have plants outside of food-producing crops. Crawford calls them system plants as they help with the upkeep of the system, including nitrogen distribution or mineral accumulating, or plants that attract pollinating species that eat pests. He also has plants that are utilitarian in nature. They help in providing material for basket making, medicinal plants, and some to provide fine timber. He also has fruit bushes.
“It can seem a bit overwhelming, there’s just so many different species,” said Martin Crawford. “You shouldn’t let that stop you from beginning a project because you don’t have to know everything to begin with, just start, plant some trees, and go from there.” Agroforestry means the forest is capable of sustaining itself without having the need to till and re-till the ground, add manure, fertilizer, or nitrogen. The canopy will hold moisture in the undergrowth, which will mean you won't even need to water your garden. The advantage of not tilling is that it also helps reduce human carbon emissions. “Because of course when you [till] the soil, a load of carbon goes into the air,” explains Crawford. Tilling also releases micronutrients and exposes vital fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms to sunlight, which often kills them and reduces the biodiversity of the soil.
He says this kind of eco-system also helps weather the temperature rises. “It’s not the gradually increasing temperatures that damage plants, it’s the increase in extreme events,” says Crawford in the Nat Geo short. “By having a very diverse system whatever happens to the weather, most of your crops will probably do fine — some will fail, some may do better.” Crawford believes farmers will find it hard to identify species of fruits and vegetables that are capable of withstanding the constant threat of changing weather. For sustaining our planet and reduce the workload, agroforestry could change the way we look at food production.