Permaculture seeks to mimic natural ecosystems. –So, when creating a food forest, a permaculturist aims to duplicate the diversity and distinct spacial layers found within nature’s forests. In doing so, beneficial relationships emerge, and the result is a healthy, functional ecosystem; one less vulnerable to disease, and maximally productive. Another benefit to the food forest, is that once it is established–other than harvesting, and the occasional casting of cover crop seeds–it requires very little work or maintenance.
The successful food forest has seven distinct layers:
1. Canopy (Standard sized fruit and nut trees) 2. Low tree layer (dwarf fruit trees)
5. Rhizosphere (root crops)
6. Soil Surface (cover crops)
7. Vertical Layer (climbers, vines)
Each layer serves serves various and unique functions that promote the health of the others. For instance, the large trees of the canopy create shady, moist micro-climates; groundcovers hold topsoil in place and pull nutrients (such as nitrogen) from the subsoil and make them available to other plants; tree trunks provide something for the vertical layer to cling to, and there are many other interrelationships.
Here are some specific examples of plants that might be found in the different layers:
1. Canopy Trees: Standard size fruit and nut trees.
2. Low Tree Layer: Dwarf fruit trees.
3. Shrubs: Hazelnut, aronia, elderberry, lavender
4. Herbaceous: Marigolds, Tansy, perennial veggies
5. Root Crops: Garlic, leeks
6. Ground Cover: Comfrey, Nasturtium
7. Vertical Climbers: Peas, beans