Food Forest Video Logs

The following video logs are in order from most recent, to earliest –ending with a link to a slide show of “before pics” of this property, which started out as a typical urban lawn.

August, 06, 2018:  Backyard Food Forest Video Log #5


July 07, 2018:  Backyard Food Forest Video Log #4


June 30, 2018:  Backyard Food Forest Video Log #3


June 23, 2018:  Backyard Food Forest Video Log #2


May 21, 2018:  Backyard Food Forest at 18 months old.


See the previous blog entry for “before” photos of this property.


The Food Forest: 18 Months

October 2016–on the heels of an 8 month cross-country road trip–Camille and I (Riley) moved into a new home and immediately set to work transforming our 1/4 acre lawn into an an abundant Food Forest.

To date, we have the following trees (and other perennials) growing on our urban, Central Florida property:  Avocado, Macadamia Nut, 3 varieties of figs, Papaya,  Moringa, Strawberry Guava, Sapote, Everbearing Mulberry, Jack Fruit, Lemon, Peach, Fuzzy Kiwi, Olive, Longan,  Monstera Delciosa,  Blueberry, Thornless Blackberry, Surinam Cherry, Barbados Cherry, Bananas, Passion Fruit, Dragon Fruit, Pigeon Pea, Screw pine, Pindo Palm, various herbs, tubers, and varieties of tropical spinach, nitrogen fixing ground covers, dynamic accumulators, and a 25 ft diameter keyhole bed for growing our favorite annual veggies.

We also have a small flock of chickens which provide us with fresh eggs (and manure for our garden) daily.

Below, is a slideshow of the backyard as it was on the day we moved in.  Click here to view a video showing the progress we’ve made over the course of 18 months.  (We are just now getting to work on the front yard and will document it’s transformation in future posts).

(If you’d like to do something similar to this on your own property, I am available for design consultation.)

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Proverbial Roots

February 2016–searching out a place to plant our proverbial roots– Camille and I (Riley) set out on a cross country road trip to explore the country’s various landscapes, climates, and communities.

Though we allotted ourselves a full year for travel, by September we had made up our minds:  After working on farms and homesteads in Florida, Alabama, North Carolina and Oregon, as well as traversing much of the east and west coast, and spending time visiting friends and family in Idaho, Iowa, California, Arizona and Texas, we ended up right back where we started:  Central Florida.

October 14, 2016–roughly 8 months after we started our journey–we moved into our new home:  A 3 bedroom, one bath, set on a beautifully landscaped, well lit, quarter acre:  a perfect canvas for our future food forest and urban homestead.

There were several factors that influenced our decision to settle in Florida, and more specifically, urban Florida. We considered things like length of growing season, yearly rain fall, real-estate & land prices, local culture and community, as well as availability & ease of access to resources.

While just about every place we visited had its own unique perks and appeal, ultimately Central Florida (specifically the Tampa Bay area) proved more so than any other location, to best meet our needs and desires.

Since moving in, we have been observing the property–making note of things like the sunniest and shadiest spots; where water tends to pool after rainstorms; wildlife; micro-climates; weather patterns, etc.  Keeping all these things in mind, we have been brainstorming, envisioning, and playing around with ideas–plotting and moving around various design elements on our hand drawn base-map.

Below are several pics of the property from different angles as it was on the day we moved in.  (Excuse the duplicates).  I will document the various stages of the design implementation, including updated pics, in future posts.  So stay tuned!






Camille and I (Riley) spent the first week of April (2016) volunteering at Circle T Farms in Brooksville, Florida–a newly forming 10 acre Permaculture Farm which (among other features) will include a large market garden, education center, and Forest Garden. Since Circle T is still in its initial phases of design/implementation, we actually got to help plant some of the first fruit trees and companion plants in the Forest Garden; this was our main project and a wonderful learning opportunity.  –And we were lucky enough to work along side, and pick the brain of professional Permaculture designer Koreen Brennan.

KoreenWe actually took one of Koreen’s Permaculture design courses back in 2014, and have been following her work ever since.  When we heard she was looking for volunteers at Circle T, we jumped at the opportunity, and are so glad we did.  In addition to learning more about the local flora and fauna, we got to play in the dirt and gain hands-on experience in creating a Food Forest from the ground up (literally) 🙂

(Circle T is home to endangered, protected, and keystone species such as the Burrowing Owl, Fox Squirrel, and Gopher Tortoise, as well as an old growth Slash Pine forest peppered with (edible) Sumac, Wax Myrtle, Dew Berry, Blackberry, and Native Milk Weed)

Because the site is extremely sandy, with hot, humid summers, Koreen is taking care to select exceptionally hardy fruit trees, including:  Pineapple Guava, Mulberry, kumquat, Tangelo, avocado, fig, loquat, blackberry, bluberry, and low-chill peaches (with more to come).

ForestTreeTo plant each tree we first selected the best location (taking into consideration sun and/or shade requirements) and dug a hole twice as wide, and slightly less deep than the height of the root ball.  We then filled the hole with water and let it drain twice. Once all the water had drained from the hole, we threw in a few cups of compost.  Next, we removed the tree from its pot, used our hands to carefully loosen the roots (they were tightly bound from being in the pot) and then sprinkled the roots with MYCO GROW–a soluble blend of mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria that will form a symbotic relationship with the tree–helping to ward off disease while delivering otherwise unavailable sources of water & nutrience to the tree.

After applying the MYCO GROW, we placed the tree in the hole and replaced the dirt we had removed when digging–making sure to pack the dirt tightly around the roots so as to avoid leaving pockets of air (which can be damaging to the roots).  Once the tree was firmly planted, we spread a ring of mulch around it–taking care to leave at least a six inch gap between the tree’s trunk and the mulch (the trunk needs air, and excess moisture can cause rot and make the tree susceptible to disease).

MulchRingThe mulch will serve many functions, including: retaining moisture, suppressing weeds, increasing organic matter in the soil, and regulating soil temperatures.  For maximum effect we laid the mulch 18 inches deep around each tree.  The exception to this was citrus trees, which are susceptible to root rot; we laid the mulch only 3 inches deep around them.

We then watered each tree with compost tea (to boost beneficial microbes), applied liberal amounts of composted cow manure (within the mulch ring), and then topped the manure with half a cup of Azomite powder (for organic trace minerals).

Once the trees were planted and mulched we got to  create some guilds and do some companion planting.  Companion planting  is a form of polyculture which helps control pests, increases pollination and crop production, and also provides habitat for beneficial creatures. (Guilds are just specific groups of companion plants).

To protect and promote the health of the fruit trees, we planted various aromatic herbs and flowers around them.  Rather than planting them in the ground, we actually planted them in the mulch rings.  To do this, we created pockets  in the mulch (the size of the plant’s root ball), filled the pockets with composted cow manure, and planted the flowers and herbs directly in the manure.

MulchHerbSpecific flowers and herbs we planted include:  Rosemary, Cuban Oregano, Lilies, Society Garlic, Spider Wart, Marigolds, Ginger,  Perennial Basil, Comfrey, and Sunshine Mimosa.-

Plants with bulbs (such as lilies and garlic) will help repel burrowing animals, like gophers; comfrey is a dynamic accumulator-which can be “chopped and dropped” to add nutrience to the soil and feed the trees and other plants; sunshine mimosa is a nitrogen fixer and a living mulch; the flowers and herbs will attract pollinators and ward off insect pests.










Tom2Camille and I (Riley) spent the first two weeks of March (2016) working at Blue Ridge Napping Institute in Moravian Falls, North Carolina.  Our main task was to help (owner) Tom direct seed and transplant hardy and semi-hardy vegetables into his Spring Garden.

First we started (from seed) several flats of onions, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, parsley and bell peppers which will be kept indoors under grow lights for several weeks.  We then transplanted young kale, lettuce, and broccoli plants directly into the garden, and also direct seeded several rows of carrots and snow peas, as well as 30 pounds of seed potatoes.

Tom03In addition to these plantings, we cut several sweet potatoes in half and partially submerged each half into a glass of water. Within a few weeks the potatoes should be covered in green shoots known as slips (this is where new sweet potatoes come from)

Tom will then remove the slips from the sweet potatoes and submerge the bottom half of the stems in a jar of water until they begin to sprout roots.  Once the slips have roots they can be planted in the garden, and come Fall, Tom should nave a nice sweet potato harvest.

Tom4Though planting the veggie garden was our main task, we also cared for Tom’s chickens (feeding , watering, and collecting eggs), and at the end of our stay helped to relocate their pen.

Every few months Tom moves the chickens to a different section of the garden (whatever area he is letting rest at that time).  –By doing this the chickens have a constant supply of fresh weeds and grubs, and the garden soil gets aerated and fertilized as the chickens scratch up the ground and make Nitrogen rich deposits  of manure.

Next to to the chickens and veggie garden, Tom  has a small fruit orchard where he practices companion planting as a means of pest management, which you can read more about here..

viewThe property also has a beautiful stream snaking though it, as well as a secluded swimming hole and some pretty spectacular views which we were able to enjoy in our down time. –Tom’s dogs, Stella and Little Dog, are sweet, trusty companions; they rarely left our side.  His cat Jasper is quite the character, and a great cuddler

StellaThough I just about always enjoy being outdoors in the fresh air–playing in the dirt and learning something new, I would NOT recommend this site to others looking to do a WorkAway or WWOOF work exchange (nor would I return).   I will not go into specific details as to why, but I will be happy to provide more information via private email correspondence.  

I will say that this site is especially NOT recommended for young women traveling alone ( or even with a partner).






Today at Blue Ridge Napping Institute, Camille, our friend Jess, and I (Riley) helped Tom open the flood gates on his pond in order to flush out two years worth of sediment.


Before we opened the gates, the pond’s dam was filled to the brim with sand, and the water was only a few inches deep.  I was shocked to learn that just two years ago, the pond had a depth of six feet.

So what happened?  —Erosion happened.

Flood3Although some degree of stream and bank erosion is normal, Tom’s dam has no doubt sped up and even worsened the otherwise natural phenomenon (Read more about how dams increase erosion here).

As we struggled to open the flood gates, I began thinking about all the other short-sighted and unsustainable human activities that have so dramatically increased the erosion of Earth’s topsoil.

Deforestation; the overgrazing of livestock; continuously tilling and monocropping farmland.  –Not only are these myopic and irresponsible practices eroding topsoil at break-neck speed, but this (unnecessary and unnatural) erosion is resulting in the desertification of our land and the pollution of our waterways.

(Ever hear of the Dust Bowl?)

According to Volkert Engelsman, an activist with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (quoted in Scientific American), “We are losing 30 soccer fields of soil every minute, mostly due to intensive farming,”

This is astonishing considering (according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service)  most soil scientists agree that it takes at least 100 years, and in some places up to 500 years (depending on climate, vegetation, and other factors) for Nature to build just one inch of topsoil.

So how do we stop this madness? –What can we do to prevent and /or curb the effects of erosion?  Here are a few ideas:

Can you think of other ways we can prevent erosion?  –If so, please share your ideas in the comment section below.





daffodilOur second day at Blue Ridge Napping Institute was spent surrounding forest for wild daffodils, and then digging them up and transplanting them around the base of fruit trees in Tom’s small orchard.

 (Blue Ridge Napping Institute is Tom’s North Carolina homestead and an artist retreat; work-trade volunteers help him maintain the property in exchange for room, board, and hands-on learning).

Though familiar with the concept of companion planting, we were unaware that daffodils  are excellent companions to fruit trees because they are poisonous and therefore repellent to many mammals and insects that tend to cause problems in orchards. –Encircling a tree in a ring of daffodils provides a protective barrier against pests, and as an added bonus, the daffodils will also attract beneficial insects and pollinators while suppressing the growth of grass.

CompanMaking them even more appealing is the fact that, once planted, daffodils require no maintenance and will continue to bloom year-after-year all on their own. And–although high doses can cause headaches and vomiting–in small, carefully controlled amounts, the flower’s essential oil helps to calm nerves and relieve stress in humans.

Not only are daffodils extremely useful, they are also quite elegant and beautiful.  –If you can’t find any growing wild nearby, bulbs can be purchased at local nurseries or even ordered online….. Happy Gardening 🙂