Permaculture Orchard: A Sustainable Food Forest

The owner of Rukmapura Park Hotel has requested specific elements be included in the permalture design I am creating for his property.  These elements include grow beds, a greenhouse, compost bins, and a snack trail.  In addition to these elements I am recommending a sitting area for Zone 1 (to be discussed in future posts), and an orchard for Zone II.

To aid in the design process, I have been studying Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, by Rosemary Morrow; chapter 13 covers food forests.  *Morrow points out that in naturally occurring forests, plants and animals evolve along side one another–creating specialized ecosystems.  Because of this, they come to complement and serve each other’s functions and needs.

This being the case, it makes sense that removing  plants from their specialized ecosystems compromises their ability to survive; requiring a great deal of work on the part of whoever is caring for them. *Rather than plopping down fruit trees in monocultured isolation, permaculture orchards strive to mimic the specialized, polycultured ecosystems trees have grown accustomed to.

In doing so, the plants and animals within the orchard are provided with all that they need–not just to survive–but to thrive (and ideally, with very little work on the part of us humans).This type of orchard–better known as a food forest–has very specific design aims, including:

*Growing a diverse range of food trees.

*Creating environmental stability (by reducing pests and the need for artificial chemicals).

*Planting living groundcover mulches (for soil fertility and vigorous trees).

*Taking into account specific needs of each plant species; planting according to local conditions and microclimates (reducing crop losses and tree failure).

(Morrow, p.130)

Just like every other element within a permaculture design,  the food forest’s placement is determined according to its potential productivity, water and energy requirements, and maintenance inputs.  Because it will not require everyday maintenance, it is not a Zone 1 element.  It will however be visited relatively frequently because of its high productivity potential, and therefore should be placed just beyond Zone I, in Zone II.

Because most fruit trees require maximum sunlight, a food forest will ideally sit on a sunny, south facing slope.  The high points of the property are good places for dams (for water harvesting), and swales (for water retention); they will allow water to be gravity fed throughout the orchard.

Nitrogen fixing trees can be planted in a parabolic shape around the backside (north) of the  orchard–to provide protection from prevailing winds, as well as nutrients.  The parabolic shape will also create a suntrap, and a mixed species windbreak can have many purposes, including habitat, fuel, and grazing mulch for animals.

As far as selecting which trees to plant in your orchard, Morrow recommends local, hardy species to start with.  Also, you will want to research the needs of each species, including:  pruning, pollination, nutrients, pest management, light breezes, drainage, protection, seed disposal, harvesting, water, sunlight, space, and soil micro-organisms. (Morrow, p.131)

The tree’s needs will determine its placement within the food forest.  For example, trees which require well-drained to dry soil should be placed at the top of the slope, and the bottom of the slope will work best for trees that like cool, wet climates.

Other factors for tree placement include:  leaf drop of deciduous trees, size, shape, and fruit ripening.  *Trees that loose their leaves first should be placed further south (than evergreens or trees that lose leaves later). *Small trees should always be planted in front of taller trees so that they can receive sunlight. *Trees with fruit which ripens outside of the leaf canopy need more sun than trees with fruit inside the leaf canopy.

(Morrow, p. 135)

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3 Responses to Permaculture Orchard: A Sustainable Food Forest

  1. Diana Krystofiak says:

    Nice post. I’d love to see the plan on your site. Are you making a plan or doing as you go. Some pics of your site will be really nice. How is it going in the heat?

    • I will be starting a base map in the next month–after I’ve researched everything thoroughly, and conferred with some experts. –I did put in one grow bed, to hopefully get in a few harvests this season, and will also be building compost bins, but the rest of the plan will likely be implemented much later. There are some pics in previous posts, and will get more up soon. (The orchard will likely start along the slope the raised bed is sitting on). The heat is CRAZY! * Thanks for the feedback. Hope all is well 🙂

  2. John Oneill says:

    looks really good , thank you so much, we gratefully appreciate you , sending blessings from the team at Food forests for healing, health & peace

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