How to Plant a Food Forest | Part 3 – Selecting Species and Planting

Once the soil has been prepared, you can begin selecting species and planting trees for your site. There are several options for this:

  1. Do online research to see which trees, bushes, and wildflowers are hardy in your area.
  2. Visit a locally owned greenhouse or nursery to see which ones may do well for you. Big box stores are something we recommend avoiding when it comes to fruit trees and berry bushes. They generally sell the same varieties nation wide (which means they may not work in your area) and their quality often suffers. Find a local nursery and build a relationship with one that you respect their growing methods (hopefully organic).
  3. Get a permaculture consultation to help you determine what your site can handle. These can be done in person OR virtually.

There are many things to consider when putting fruit trees and berry bushes in the ground. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as merely deciding what you like to eat and planting it. If you live in Michigan, no matter how much you like avocados, they just won’t survive without a heated greenhouse. Likewise, if you live in Florida, the traditional Haas avocado that you buy in the grocery store hates the humidity. So, there are other varieties that will do better in that region. Learning what does best in your area is an important step and also a lifelong journey. Enjoy that learning process.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when selecting species and planting your new food forest

  1. Understand the cold hardiness zone for where you live. More important than the higher temps, it’s critical to know your minimum temps. Freezing is generally more likely to harm a sensitive plant than higher temperatures. If you want to learn more about your growing zone, click here.
  2. Know your sun exposure. If your yard is mostly shade, you are unlikely to do well planting tree species that prefer full sun. Though a mis-planted tree may “survive”, it may not do well or produce fruit. Keep in mind that there is full sun and full shade in every USDA growing zone, so regardless of where you live – there is something that will grow and thrive on your site. Choose well and work in harmony with your site.
  3. Plant during the right season. Depending on where you live, the ideal time for planting fruit trees may GREATLY vary. Don’t assume that just because a nursery tells you to plant it that it is the ideal time to do so. Remember, their job is to get you the plant – it’s your job to steward it well.
  4. Understand the differences in varieties. Within each type of tree (peach, pear, mango, etc.) there are hundreds and even thousands of different varieties to choose from. A peach is simply NOT a peach. For example, those peaching grown in Georgia are bred for that specific growing zone and will not produce fruit in Central Florida. However, varieties of peaches like Tropic Beauty (our staff favorite), Tropic Snow, and Florida prince are bred to require less “chill hours”, so they will bare fruit much better in zone 9 and 10. Likewise, avocados have a WIDE range in their varieties. Some (like “Fantastic” or “Joey”) are cold hardy down to 15 degrees. Some avocados are better for slicing and dicing (like Winter Mexican or Wurtz), while other avocados are more ideal for guacamole (like Brogdon, Oro Negro, or Mexicola). The benefit of having someone to consult with is that you are more likely to get a variety that meets your preferences in flavor, but also one that will THRIVE on your particular site.
  5. Think in layers. Don’t just plant one height of trees all over the property. Think about creating production at various heights and levels. What can you grow as a root crop? A smaller perennial? A bush layer? A dwarf tree? Top story tree? Vine? By choosing to plant multiple layers in your system, you not only maximize your space, but create a scenario where various plants can work in synergy with one another. One might provide the needed shade for another. Or, better yet, one might actually fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil to fertilize another plant.
New Food Forest Installation

Now, it’s time to get planting

  1. Plant away! Use something to suppress weeds. Apply compost. Layer up 4-6″ of wood chip mulch. For more in-depth planting instructions, CLICK HERE.
  2. Finish a smaller area before moving on to the next. This is one of the most common mistakes that new food foresters make… they want to just put the tree in the ground and walk away. However, one of the worst things you can do for your new tree is leave it to fight with the grass around the base. Cover the soil properly, using the method above and completely finish one area before moving on. This will not only give your tree its best chance at thriving, but it will also give you a sense of completion.
  3. Know when to water. There is no possible way to simply say, “water your plants three times a week.” Differences in heat, sun exposure, wind, and humidity all vary so much that it’s impossible to set a specific watering schedule. So, to know when to water, put your finger in the soil down to your big knuckle. If you feel moisture, do NOT water. Plants actually need to dry out between watering. This not only causes their roots to expand and grow deeper into the soil, but also helps prevent root rot.
  4. Maintain your food forest and garden by checking back on the blog for our free monthly To-Do Lists. We will help remind you when to fertilize, when to plant the next crops, and when to prune.

So, now that you’ve read the theories and have done some research – it’s time to get outside and plant. Remember, you can always find more help, information, and inspiration on our social media account.

See you in the Garden!

May Gardening To-Do List for USDA Zones 9-11

NOTE: This list is geared toward USDA Growing Zones 9-11. If you are looking for the May Gardening List for Zones 3-8, click here.

We are officially past any dangers of frost and cold, and now the warm part of spring is certainly upon us! In many subtropical regions, this late spring season is often very dry, which can make it challenging in the garden and food forest. The rainy season, in places like Central Florida, is generally from the last week of May to the first week of October. So, for many folks, until rainy season arrives, our time is consumed with harvesting the last of the spring vegetables and daily checking gardens for watering needs.

Remember (especially in Florida), you cannot water gardens and fruit trees very well on a “perfect schedule”. Because of temperature fluctuations, wind, humidity, and other elements the length of time between watering can vary dramatically. Anyone who tells you to just water every day is going to have major issues as the season progresses.

Here is how to water properly

Use the “Finger Test” to see if your plants actually need water. Never just assume that they do. Put your finger in the soil down to the second knuckle. If it’s dry, then go ahead and water. However, if you feel coolness or moisture – then let it be. Generally speaking, most plants (especially fruit trees and berry bushes) actually like to dry out a bit between waterings.

“As a practice, it’s far better to water LESS frequently and MORE deeply.

Doing this will help establish a healthier root system and overall plant.”

-KRIS EDLER | PERMACULTUREFX FOUNDER

So, get ready for an exciting month! May is the time when our region makes the shift from “annual vegetable gardening” being the focus to a primary focus on perennial production from our fruit trees and berry bushes. So here is your May Gardening To-Do List to help you jumpstart your late-spring projects. For some, it may be helpful to print out this list and hang it somewhere to refer to it each week to check progress.

NOTE: This list is geared toward USDA Growing Zones 9-11. If you are looking for the May Gardening List for Zones 3-8, click here.

Tropic Beauty Peach
Tropic Beauty Peach | Self-pollinating, hardy to 20 degrees, low chill hours, deliciously sweet and juicy.

May Gardening To-Do List for USDA Zones 9-11

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Fertilizing the vegetable garden: If you have not applied a late spring probiotic to your soil or as a foliar spray, then now is the time to do that! This application will increase the health of your soil microbiome, give plants a better chance at fighting off disease and fungus, and is a proactive way to address garden pests before they do any damage. BioAg is my preferred spray for this.
  • To plant: Okra, potatoes, sweet potatoes, summer beans / peas. Vegetable planting season is now over for sub-tropical zones, so it’s time to plant your cover crop. We recommend sunn hemp as a nitrogen-fixing cover-crop that can be tilled into the soil in August.
  • Tropical Spinaches: It’s time to plant tropical spinaches like longevity spinach, Okinawa, Surinam, Jewels of Opar, Brazilian Sisso, etc!
  • Salad Trees & Hibiscus: In this climate, some of the best edible greens actually grow as trees or bushes during the hot weather months. Some of our favorites include: South Sea Salad, Bele Hibiscus, Roselle (Jamaican Sorrel), Cranberry Hibiscus, and Katuk, and Kenaf.
  • To harvest: Salad greens, kale, tropical spinaches, last of the peas, beets, turnips, etc. Harvest tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc. When they start to struggle because of heat and/or powdery mildew – just put the garden to bed and cover crop it until after the rainy season. Focus on fruit trees, berry bushes, and edible tropical plants for the summer.
  • Compost: Turn pile 1x per week.
    • NOTE: For most people an outdoor compost pile doesn’t really generate a lot. However, using a worm bin (like the ones from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm), can provide worm tea which creates way more bang for your buck. For most families, composting worms are going to give you a better result than a mere compost pile.
  • Cover Crops: For garden beds that are being put to rest for the summer, this is a great time to plant a cover crop. Sunn Hemp is in the legume family and does an excellent job with this. Not only will it grow 8-10′ tall by August, but produces gorgeous blooms and actually repairs the soil. Sunn Hemp repairs the soil in two ways. First, it fixes atmospheric nitrogen into the soil with nodules on the roots, which interact with bacteria in the soil. Secondly, when you till it in (or bury it) in your garden later in August, it will add much needed biomass to your soil. It can be used as animal fodder, but must be fed to livestock before it flowers.
Sunn Hemp Cover Crop

In the Food Forest

  • Consider probiotics for your garden and yard (if you didn’t do it last month) FREE 11-minute talk on probiotics for the yard, click here.
  • Plant new fruit trees and berry bushes. Here is a step-by-step process (with diagram) of how to plant a fruit tree or berry bush. Some of the info may surprise you. This is a great time to plant avocado, mango, strawberry tree and other tropical trees. Planting this time of year gives them 7-8 months to root in and settle before winter. It should be noted that you will need to water more often until rainy season starts.
  • Harvest (and enjoy): peaches, nectarines, plums, mulberries, strawberry tree, moringa leaves / flowers, elderberry, blueberries, jaboticaba, cattleya guava (in some areas). Anyone else in food forest heaven, yet?!
  • Apply mulch (wood chips) to any areas that need it. Fruit trees like to have 4-6″ of wood chips around the base (extending all the way to the drip line). Remember to keep mulch a few inches back from the truck, because you don’t want the decomposing wood touching your tree.
  • Pruning: NO major pruning once trees flower. After they awaken for the spring, there is a lot of sap flowing, so you don’t want to cause a fungal or bacterial issue by pruning this time of year. Pruning should be done during late winter dormancy, so if you haven’t pruned fruit trees yet, it’s best to wait at this point. You can, however, still prune pines, decorative shrubs, and ornamental trees now.
The Strawberry Tree (or Jamaican cherry) is a new favorite! The fruit is low in sugar, high in vitamin-C, and (get this) it tastes like strawberry skittles or cotton candy. Grows best in Zones 9b-12 and produces fruit from April – Decemeber.

In the Shed

  • Put out yellow jacket and fly traps
  • Reset mouse / rat traps (peppermint essential oil on a cotton ball in storage areas will also repel them)
  • Spring cleaning time: Go through a couple storage areas this month and recycle, donate, and reorganize. Steward what you have with excellence.

Livestock

  • Water rotations: In nature, animals don’t drink out of the purified, and chemically treatred tap. Sometimes their water is from a rain puddle, but other times from a stream or pond. To help mimic this and give their immune system a boost, try doing something different every time you refill their water.
    • Apple Cider Vinegar: 1 tsp per gallon
    • Honey: 1 TBSP per gallon
    • BioIivestock Probiotic: Dilution rate on bottle depending on species
    • Herbs: Add fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc to their water to make a “tea”
    • Rainwater
  • Spring Chickens: This is a great time to add to the flock by either purchasing heritage breeds or hatching your own. Whatever you do, stay away from Cornish Rock or Cornish Cross “meat birds”… more on that to come. It’s also an ideal time to add rabbits, quail, or other animals into your system.
  • Dogs: It’s time for spring check-ups on the fur babies. Once they are up to date on their appointments, go support a local groomer and send them to the doggie spa for a day. NOTE: I’d give a tip on cats… but the only thing I can think of is how much I don’t like them. Sorry, not sorry.

In the Pasture

  • Plant: Last chance to plant Timothy grass, perennial peanut, wildflower mixes, tobacco, clover mixes, and alfalfa can still be planted in some regions. Due to the usual dry weather this time of year, supplemental watering may be needed.
  • Hay / Straw: Any rotting or wet bales can be used in the garden or food forest as deep mulch. It can be spread 5-7″ thick in areas that are going to be “future” garden beds in order to prep the soil. First, roll out contractor paper (usually found in the paint section of a hardware store) over the grass and then cover with the straw or other mulch. This is a great opportunity to do “layer mulching” if you have other materials available.
New food forest installation example. There are three 100′ long rows of fruit trees, berry bushes, and native pollinators with over 90 plants. These rows have been layered with contractor paper (for weed suppression), 1″ of compost, and 6″ deep of wood chip mulch. The rows are 3′ wide. Between the lanes, the grass has been removed and reseeded with a clover mix (and lightly covered with straw).

Around the House and Perennial Beds

  • Power washing time: Use an organic soap (like Basic H) to power-wash the house, sidewalks, and other recreational vehicles.
  • Cut back last years growth: Remove any dead material left over from last fall and add to the compost pile.
  • Fertilize flower beds: Use kelp, blood meal, and/or fish emulsion. I like to use blood meal in March/April and then in May/June use bone meal. Kelp and fish emulsion can be used anytime during the growing season. Alternatively, apply a 1/2″ layer of compost to flower beds or at the base of each flower. Keep away from the stems, so it doesn’t “burn”.
  • Perennial Flowers: Using native wildflowers is so much easier than annuals, not to mention will save you money because they come back every year. Here are some of our favorites!
  • Air out the house: On a day you are home, open up every window in the house and turn on fans to circulate fresh air into the house. Change the filters in the HVAC system for the spring months. This is also a great time to vacuum out floor vents and air returns.
  • Clean out the freezer and disinfect really well. It’s often best to do this the day before garbage day, so you can take old items directly to the road.
Bele Hibiscus (aka Mahoe Hibiscus Tree): Delicious, edible leaves that are great in soups, stews, salads, or used for dolmas. Flowers are also edible (fresh). Grows in zones 9-12 in part sun to full shade.

Kids & Family Ideas

  • Nature Hike: Create a mini-scavenger hunt before going on your nature hike. Have kids look for things like: a feather, a seed pod, a leaf bigger than their hand, a cool rock, a weird stick, etc.
  • Wild Bird Feeding
    • Set out orange halves and grape jelly for the arriving orioles
    • Put hummingbird feeders out on April 15th (never use the kind with red dye), and be sure to change the water in them every week.
    • Hang a new birdhouse for spring nesting season
    • Add white millet to feeders to attract indigo buntings (bright blue birds)
  • Local Farm Visit: Many local farms offer free tours, kids activities, etc. Look up a local farm to visit in your area and give your kiddos exposure to the animals, crops, and fruit trees.
April gardening list peaches
Tropic Beauty Peach in Central Florida

See you in the garden

As always, thanks for taking time to join on the gardening and permaculture journey. Be sure to check out the continual flow of content available via our social media channels. Remember, PermacultureFX also does virtual consulting (using facetime, zoom, satellite images, etc.). We’d love to help you get a plan for your property and help you create abundance and wonder.

If this article was helpful, consider sharing on social media (or with your garden groups) to help set others up to win on their property. Happy spring, and I’ll see you in the garden!

– Kristofer Edler

April Gardening To-Do List (Zones 9-11)

Spring is officially in motion and is showing off with all her glory. The flowers are blooming, the bees & butterflies have awakened from their slumber, and fruit is beginning to ripen in the food forest. Right now, the mango trees are finishing their blooming and have started to set fruit. Avocado trees are blooming and stone fruits are beginning to grow! One of my favorite things to do in the springtime is to visit local garden centers and see what is new for the coming growing season. Even though I usually gravitate toward native wildflowers and perennials, I often splurge on a few annual flowers or herbs to add splashes of color. Not to mention, I always seem to find one more place to hang a bird feeder or bird house. There is something about walking around a local (and independently owned) nursery that makes the gardeners heart come alive. Maybe it’s seeing others with the same plant addiction… I mean passion… yeah… passion. Or maybe it’s the plants themselves that make me feel alive on the inside. This is the season that my inner hobbit comes to life again and I start dreaming of the spring fruiting that is right around the corner.

In the midst of the busyness of the season though, it always helps to stay organized. So here is your April Gardening To-Do List to help you jumpstart your spring projects. For me it’s helpful to print out this list and hang it somewhere so I can refer to it each week to check my progress, but do whatever is best for you.

Be sure to comment below and give this article a share to other gardeners who might be interested.

NOTE: This list is geared toward USDA Growing Zones 9-11. If you are looking for the April Gardening List for Zones 3-8, click here.

April gardening list turmeric
curcuma zedoaria (Spicy White)

April Gardening To-Do List for USDA Zones 9-11

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Fertilizing the vegetable garden: Remember, we are what we eat, so stay away from both chemical and synthetic fertilizers. My top choice to fertilize is always to apply compost (regular for veggies and mushroom based for fruit trees and berry bushes). If you do not have access to organic compost, then my second choice is usually a rotation of worm tea, bone meal, blood meal, azomite, fish emulsion, kelp, or other “whole ingredient” fertilizers. Unfortunately, even some name brand organic fertilizers are hiding things like MSG under the name “soy protein hydrolysate”. So, use wisdom when picking out the best fertilizers for you and your family.
  • To plant: Cabbage, sweet potatoes, potatoes, Swiss chard, beans (all kinds), corn, squash, watermelon, okra, tomatoes (up to zone 9a only), herbs (all zones), nasturtiums, edible flowers. You can also plant cosmos, zinnia, sunflowers, etc.
  • To harvest: Salad greens, kale, tropical spinaches, snow peas, daikon, radishes, beets, herbs.
  • Compost: Turn pile 1-2x per week.
    • NOTE: For most people an outdoor compost pile doesn’t really generate a lot. However, using a worm bin (like the ones from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm), can provide worm tea which creates way more bang for your buck. For most families, composting worms are going to give you a better result.
April gardening list raised beds
Raised beds being planted at Empower School and Farm

In the Food Forest

  • Prune back brambles (raspberries and blackberries)
  • Apply a late spring foliar spray.
  • Consider probiotics for your garden and yard. FREE 11-minute talk on probiotics for the yard, click here.
  • Plant new fruit trees and berry bushes. Here is a step-by-step process (with diagram) of how to plant a fruit tree or berry bush. Some of the info may surprise you. This is a great time to plant avocado, mango, strawberry tree and other tropical trees. Planting this time of year gives them 7-8 months to root in and settle before winter.
  • Pinch off “first year fruit”. Never let a fruit tree produce fruit the first year that it is in the ground. Remove any fruit so all the energy goes to establishing a heathy root system. Even leaving a single fruit will cause the nutrient requirements of the tree to change, so make sure to remove all fruit the first year it’s in the ground. This is soooo hard to do, but it will help create a much healthier tree in the long-run.
  • Apply mulch (wood chips) to any areas that need it. Fruit trees like to have 4-6″ of wood chips around the base (extending all the way to the drip line). This helps conserve moisture, but also creates a rich fungal compost at the base of the tree. Remember, keep mulch a few inches back from the truck, because you don’t want the decomposing wood touching your tree.
  • Pruning: NO pruning once trees flower. After they awaken for the spring, there is a lot of sap flowing. You don’t want to cause a fungal or bacterial issue by pruning this time of year. Pruning should be done during late winter dormancy, so if you haven’t pruned fruit trees yet, it’s best to wait. You can, however, still prune pines, decorative shrubs, and ornamental trees now.
April gardening list foliar spray
Spring foliar spray being applied by a permaculture design course participant in 2021 at Empower School and Farm.

In the Shed

  • Use Seafoam in the gas tank of all small engines as you start them for the first time this year. Seafoam will help clean out all the lines and help things run more smoothly as you enter the gardening season.
  • Check hand tools: If you oiled your garden tools before winter, everything should be ready to rock. However, if you forgot, you might need to use sandpaper to clean the rust off. Oil them up when you are finished to protect them. This is a great time to sharpen shovels and other tools with a grinder or dremel tool. Use linseed oil on handles to give everything a fresh look for the season.
  • Check for mold: Winter months and bad airflow can often result in a bit of mold. Look inside totes and stored items in the shed to make sure there is no mold or off-smelling areas. Open up the garage and shed on a day you are there to let things air out.
Cattley Guava – tart strawberry flavor, very hardy.

Livestock

  • Water rotations: In nature, animals don’t drink out of the purified tap. Sometimes their water is from a rain puddle, but other times from a stream or pond. To help mimic this and give their immune system a boost, try doing something different every time you refill their water.
    • Apple Cider Vinegar: 1 tsp per gallon
    • Honey: 1 TBSP per gallon
    • BioIivestock Probiotic: Dilution rate on bottle depending on species
    • Herbs: Add fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc to their water to make a “tea”
    • Rainwater
  • Deworming Cattle / Horses: 1-1.5 cups of Basic H per 100 gallon watering container OR 1TBSP per gallon for chickens, goats, lamb.
  • Nesting box boosters: For a little treat in your nesting boxes, consider adding fresh or dried flower petals and herbs. Fennel, cilantro, and parsley are great laying stimulants. Remember, with spring rains, it is important to change bedding frequently and make sure everything remains dry and clean.

In the Pasture

  • Plant: Timothy grass, perennial peanut, wildflower mixes, tobacco, clovers, alfalfa.
  • Hay / Straw: Any rotting or wet bales can be used in the garden or food forest as deep mulch. It can be spread 5-7″ thick in areas that are going to be “future” garden beds in order to prep the soil. First, roll out contractor paper (usually found in the paint section of a hardware store) over the grass and then cover with the straw or other mulch. This is a great opportunity to do “layer mulching” if you have other materials available.
Pond and pasture
Pond and pasture

Around the House and Perennial Beds

  • Flower pots from last year should be emptied and refreshed. Old soil can be put in a wheel barrow and have new compost mixed in. You can also empty old soil directly onto the compost pile to let it refresh over the next month or so. Wash flower pots well with an organic soap to kill any remaining bacteria before adding new soil and planting fresh plants.
  • Cut back last years growth: Remove any dead material left over from last fall and add to the compost pile.
  • Clean up bananas: It’s finally time to cut back the dead leaves and branches from bananas and other fruit trees. Removing dead leaves this time of year will help prevent rot and fungal issues. Not to mention, getting rid of the dead makes everything look a lot better.
  • Fertilize flower beds: Use kelp, bone meal, blood meal, and/or fish emulsion. I like to use blood meal in March/April and then in May/June use bone meal. Kelp and fish emulsion can be used anytime during the growing season. Alternatively, apply a 1/2″ layer of compost to flower beds or at the base of each flower. Keep away from the stems, so it doesn’t “burn”.
  • Annual Flowers: Plant some pops of color around the garden. Use as many native wildflowers and perennials as possible, because the vast majority of annuals do NOT provide nectar for bees and butterflies. However, using them sparingly can still give lasting bursts of color. Some annual flowers (nasturtiums, marigolds, calendula, etc.) are also edible and medicinal and can even be used as vegetable companion plants.
  • Air out the house: On a day you are home, open up every window in the house and turn on fans to circulate fresh air into the house. Change the filters in the HVAC system for the spring months. This is also a great time to vacuum out floor vents and air returns.
  • Check / replace smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries
  • Clean out the refrigerator and disinfect shelves. It’s often best to do this the day before garbage day, so you can take old items directly to the road.
dill herb
Dill – used for culinary purposes, as a pollinator, and in chicken nesting areas as a laying stimulant.

Kids & Family Ideas

  • Visit a local arboretum or community garden: Often these will have special programs for kids and families.
  • Wild Bird Feeding
    • Set out orange halves and grape jelly for the arriving orioles
    • Put hummingbird feeders out on April 15th (never use the kind with red dye), and be sure to change the water in them every week.
    • Hang a new birdhouse for spring nesting season
    • Add white millet to feeders to attract indigo buntings (bright blue birds)
  • Decorate a garden corner and create a gnome or fairy garden. Personally, I can’t get enough garden gnomes hidden in the flower beds or at the base of fruit trees.
  • Spring flower drawing or painting: Pick a flower or two for each kid and have them draw or paint it. When they finish, frame the artwork and hang for seasonal decorations in the house.
April gardening list peaches
Tropic Beauty Peach in Central Florida

See you in the garden

As always, thanks for taking time to join on the gardening and permaculture journey. Be sure to check out the continual flow of content available via our social media channels. Remember, PermacultureFX also does virtual consulting (using facetime, zoom, satellite images, etc.). We’d love to help you get a plan for your property and help you create abundance and wonder.

If this article was helpful, consider sharing on social media (or with your garden groups) to help set others up to win on their property. Happy spring, and I’ll see you in the garden!

– Kristofer Edler

March Gardening To-Do List (zones 3-8)

Here’s a list of what you should do in your garden in March, if you live in the Midwest (specifically in USDA zones 3-8). Granted, weather isn’t exactly a science… well it is… it’s just not an exact science. Just keep a close watch on your weather and plan your planting accordingly. If you are not sure what your growing zone is (or how to use it), watch this tutorial video. If you are in a warmer climate, don’t worry, you can CLICK HERE for the Zone 9-11 March To-Do List.

Without further delay, ladies and gentlemen, here is your completely arbitrary March Gardening To-Do List!

crocus bulbs in bloom
Crocus in the spring garden

In the Garden

  • Take soil tests and send to your local extension office. Take samples from each area of your yard and make sure to get the detailed report. The most important part for me is not the NPK… it’s the amount of organic matter! Generally speaking if you have a higher percentage of organic material in your soil, the rest of the soil health will follow suit.
  • Make minor amendments before the spring rains (add bone meal, blood meal, etc.).
  • Spread chicken poop and hay from the nesting boxes on the compost pile and get it working before it’s warm.
  • Start planting some frost friendly veggies (radish, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, some lettuces, etc.)  We recommend direct sowing a little every week, so that way your harvest is staggered.  It also helps to insure a diversified crop and give extra insurance that if one round dies… another one will do just fine!

In the Greenhouse

  • Plant seed trays: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale, broccoli, cabbage, etc. Start perennial seeds for food forest planting: goji berries, gooseberries, trees from seed, etc.
  • Add black 5-gallon buckets of water (with lids) for radiant heat source, if you do not have a heated greenhouse.
  • TIP: Always plants more than what you think you’ll need. The worst case scenario is that you have some to share with neighbors, friends, or gorilla plant in a local park.

In the Food Forest

This hori hori tool, from Barebones Living is one of my new favorite gardening tools.
  • Break up any large sticks and twigs. They will decompose much faster if they are in direct contact with the soil.
  • Remove leaf cover from the soil and use as a mulch around the base of trees / bushes (cover the sticks). You can chop it up a bit with the mower if the leaves are still crispy.
  • Plant alley crops between rows and plantings. In our area I often use a blend of red clover, white dutch, yellow closer, and crimson clover. I plant this between the rows.
  • Plant living mulches around the base of the trees (turnips, bocking 14 comfrey root, berries, herb roots, etc.).
  • Feed native wild birds before nesting season starts in order to encourage them to live in your area. They are fantastic bug control and leave behind little bits of birdie poo.
  • Hang wild bird houses and bat houses before nesting season begins.
  • Set out orange halves and grape jelly to attract early migrating orioles.
  • Last chance to prune apple trees (before buds open)!
  • Spray your spring foliar spray on every perennial in the food forest! Get our recipe here.
  • Add fresh mulch to trees and shrubs (up to 5″ thick). Remember to always keep the mulch away from the trunks of the trees.
  • Get a permaculture consultation to help you come up with a game plan for your overall property, garden, and food forest. PermacultureFX now offers both in-person and digital consultations (at a reduced rate).

In the Shed

  • Sharpen mower blades and all cutting tools.
  • Oil any metal that rusted over the winter. Remove tarnish with steel wool. Ax heads should be treated with bees wax.
  • Check for broken pots from winter cold.
  • Set a few extra mouse traps in the shed, greenhouse, and garage.
  • Start up the mower, weed whipper, and other tools for the first time. If you have difficulty starting them, you can always use a bit of Sea Foam to get things moving. Use two ounces per gallon of gas. It will work wonders!

In the Chicken Coop

  • Remove winter bedding, if you used the deep bedding method.
  • Deep clean…deep clean…deep clean! We use Shaklee’s Basic H2, because it’s organic and will also take care of mites, lice, etc.
  • Lower fat content (corn) and increase protein sources. If you are doing a mealworm farm, it’s a great time to give the girls an extra boost!
  • Feed extra omega-3’s. Get some feeder fish (minnows) from a local pet store and put them in a shallow pan. Watch your chooks go nuts for them!
  • Use honey, garlic, and ACV in their water once per week to give them an extra immune boost before the springtime. I also add a product for livestock by SCD Probiotics based out of KCMO.

Around the House

  • Clean out the gutters from any winter debris.
  • Remove winter window treatments and wash windows (inside and out).
  • Power-wash the sides of the house, cement, and garage doors. We use Basic H2 for this as well, because it organically takes care of mold and mildew easily.
  • Oil doors (interior and exterior).
  • Prune any trees around the yard before leaf buds begin to open.
  • Get hoses ready to bring outside.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Finish cutting back any dead growth from last year.
  • Trim back winter ferns and greens (holly, lenten roses, etc.)
  • Remove leaves or debris from the top of bulb areas, leaving only compost or wood chips. The debris should be composted and added back to the beds later.
  • Start planning mulch and compost deliveries now. Look for sales or companies to bring it to you in bulk.
  • You can also plant cold season annual flowers at this time as well. Snap dragons, violas, pansies, and calendulas do great this time of year.
  • Spring sow any native wildflowers. One of my favorite Midwest companies for this is Prairie Moon Nursery (online), because they do seed mixes geared toward your specific sun exposure and soil type.

  • TIP: Never use mulch that has been colored or dyed (red or black). Let’s just use our heads on why that’s a bad idea.

What To Do on Your Property in November (Zones 3-8)

November Garden Tasks

Home, Garden, & Food Forest To-Do List

The summer air is now officially crisp.  The mornings require jackets and scarves, and the evenings are perfect for snuggling under a blanket next to a campfire.  It’s time to finish cleaning up from the growing season and get ready for winter rest and planning.  This To-Do List is geared toward those in cooler climate areas (USDA Zones 3-8), but if you are looking for a list for this month for USDA Growing Zones 9-11, CLICK HERE.

For those of you enjoying “true fall”… here is your November property to-do list.  Be sure to share it with friends on social media and let’s get out into the garden together!

In the Garden

  • Things to Plant by Seed:  Garlic and spring bulbs.  For a list of what you can do all winter for spring bulbs…click here.  
  • Harvest:  The last of the winter veggies… kale, cabbage, fall turnips, swiss chard, and greens.
  • Mulch:  It’s time to cover those gardens for the winter.  NEVER leave soil exposed to the winter elements in the garden, food forest, or flower beds.  Add wood chips around fruit trees and berry bushes (wood chips create a fungal dominated soil, which trees prefer).  Keep the chips away from the stems and trucks though.   Add another layer of straw around garden veggies, because straw creates a bacterially dominated soil, which is preferred by annual veggies.  These will decompose slowly over the winter and make things nice and rich for you in the springtime. 

Enjoy the last blooms of the native asters before they go into dormancy. Save seed to spread other places too!

In the Greenhouse

  • Start taking cuttings: If you are planting in the ground, it’s time to start greens like radishes, turnips, and beets. If you are planting in raised beds or tray in the green house, you can do much of the same and even microgreens!
  • Clean and sterilize equipment and unused pots
  • Store pots in a shed or garage with cardboard between them
  • Set mouse traps to control critters in sheds and greenhouses
  • Stop fertilizing all houseplants until spring

Cold season flowers and cover crops can be grown in the greenhouse or hoop house all winter long! This calendula pic was from December in Kansas.

In the Food Forest

  • Harvest ripe fruit: Persimmon, last of the paw paw, acorns, nuts, and other final forest gifts.
  • Plant cold hardy fruit trees: Peach, plum, pear, nectarine, blueberry, elderberry, goji berry, lingonberry, aronia berry, hazelnut, pecan, persimmon, and appleUse our FREE GUIDE on “How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush” as a quick tutorial.
  • Probiotic time! This is an excellent time to refresh the probiotic in your soil, spray fruit trees, berry bushes, and help activate compost piles before winter. We recommend using BioAg, by SCDProbiotics. Use the code: __________ for a 10% OFF your purchase.
  • Mulch: Apply mulch / wood-chips around the base of fruit trees. Keep the wood chips away from the base of the tree, because if they touch the trunk it can cause rot or bacterial issues. Wood chips will encourage mycorrhizal activity and strengthen the root system.
  • Chop & Drop: Time to harvest the last of the legume trees (honeysuckle, Japanese pagoda, Siberian pea, Russian Olive, etc.) and drop them at the base of your fruit trees.
  • Watch for fungal issues on leaves and apply organic neem spray as needed. This time of year with cool air and moisture, fungal issues can pop-up overnight, so a nice fall application can help prevent this damage over the winter months.
  • Pastures: Fall sow wildflower seeds to improve pasture health.
  • TIP: When your neighbors rake their leaves and do their fall yard clean-up, ask for the bags of leaf litter (usually out at the road) to add to your compost pile. That’s free organic matter to help build your soil! Their trash is your treasure.

Persimmon are best when fully ripe or after falling from the tree.

In the Shed

  • After heavy fall use, give power tools a quick check (oil, air filters, and clean off exteriors). Use SeaFoam in each power tool to help clean things out a bit before fall storage.
  • Check mouse traps and keep animal feed in sealed containers.
  • Give cutting tools a good cleaning (using rubbing alcohol) and oil afterwards to prevent rust while they are stored for the winter.
  • Check for holes in the walls or along the floor to prevent mice from entering over the winter. Fill or patch accordingly.
  • Bleach all storage containers to sterilize them for the winter.
  • Plug in ultrasonic mouse deterrents to prevent nesting during winter months.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Chickens:  Feed extra protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and B-vitamins this month. Birds are finishing with their fall molting season, so they need the extra boost to help replenish their feathers and energy reserves. You can help them out by feeding them live minnows, meal worms, canned tuna, etc. Do NOT heat your coops over the winter. Instead, follow this guide on “How to Help Chickens Stay Warm in the Winter.
  • Quail:  Mix apple cider vinegar and honey with their water once a week. Pick fresh flowers and grass seed heads to put inside their coop and nesting area. This is a great time to provide supplemental protein using meal worms and small crickets.
  • Add wood ash to the dustbath to help prevent and treat lice and mites.
  • Add BioLiveStock (probiotics) to all animal waterers this month to help their microbiome and gut health as they enter the winter months.
  • Feed spent pumpkins and fall gourds to the chickens and goats. They might need to be cut open first, but this highly nutritious snack is perfect for the barnyard friends!
Chickens eating a ground cover of wheatgrass, radish, and clover.

Around the House

  • Open up the windows on warmer days to help air out the house and let in fresh air
  • Check batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Have chimney cleaned and inspected before starting for the first time in the winter
  • Spray tire shine and protectant on vehicle and trailer tires to prevent winter damage
  • Slow down or stop fertilization from November – February (especially nitrogen). Instead, use kelp to help stimulate uptake of remaining minerals and stimulate root growth.
Bring gourds, pumpkins, and squash indoors are “store” on your table as an edible decoration until you are ready to eat them. Collect dried grasses and branches while out on nature walks, but always ask for permission if you don’t own the land yourself.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Dead-heading: Only cut back perennials with “soft stems” that will rot over the winter. Leave as many seed heads and spent flowers as you can for winter homes for insects and food sources for wild birds. Wait until early spring to cut them back.
  • Add extra wood chips to areas that are in full sun in order to protect soil health and microbial activity
  • Before a rainy day, add probiotics to your soil for the winter months. This is a great way to help balance out nematodes in the soil, build soil structure, and improve overall soil health. You can purchase organic products like BioAG (that’s what we have used for over a decade), which will store on the shelf for years and has a fantastic probiotic blend.

Fall is a great time to plant native wild flower seed mixes

Comment below and let us know what YOU are doing this month in your garden.

If this list was helpful to you, consider sharing it on social media or sending to friends who may benefit from it as well.

How to Plant a Food Forest | Part 1 MYTHS

How to start a food forest

Part One: Food Forest Myths

There is a growing desire in the gardening and regenerative agriculture movements to grow low-maintenance gardens that still offer productive abundance. Learning how to start a food forest is one way to have a productive area with minimal long-term maintenance. Since there are many ways to build these areas, the system described in this series of articles is intended to be adapted to your individual space and growing zone. Keep in mind, there is not a perfect copy-and-paste method of how to build a food forest, but there some key points to keep in mind. Before explaining a few of those broad-brush stokes, let’s talk about a few myths regarding food forests.

Food Forest Myths

  1. “Think about plants before thinking about soil.” – This is, perhaps, the easiest trap to fall into when it comes to building a food forest. Yes, it is GOOD to get excited about the plants, varieties, colors, and textures. Gimme all the plants! However, if we do not first think about soil health and biology, then we cannot expect it to provide abundance in return. The more we partner with the ecosystem by building soil, the more the soil will give back to us by nourishing our trees and shrubs. By skipping the step of soil building, we are essentially taking nutrients from the ground without offering something in return, which will be detrimental in the long-term. Before you put in any plants – add organic matter to your soil.
  2. “Get the trees in the ground, then figure out water later.” – No matter how many beautiful trees and shrubs we put in the ground, if we don’t water them enough in their establishment phase – the trees will suffer and possibly die. Moisture retention in the soil is what will help increase mulch decomposition and soil microbial activity. This moisture will also help increase the needed mycorrhizal fungi in our soil structure. Remember, new plants are often very sensitive (and young), so they need extra care when they first go into the ground.
Food Forest at A Natural Farm and Educational Center – volunteers from one of the PermacultureFX Design Courses.
  1. “Plant things closer together so it looks better.” – Remember, when building a food forest, the goal is to partner with nature in establishing a system in 3-5 years that might take 50 years under natural conditions. With that in mind, it’s important to carefully consider the spacing of the plants to allow for their mature growth and height. Over-planting generally results in a lush green system, but lower levels of fruit and production because the excess shade does not allow for fruiting and pollination. Plan your spacing for mature plant height, and be patient in the initial years while your system gets established. To fill in space during the initial years, use nitrogen fixing ground covers and pollinating wildflowers to provide visual interest.
  2. “You will get fruit the first year.” – This goal may be possible if you spend hundreds of dollars per fruit tree to get specimens that are 5+ years old, however in most cases it will take 3 years to get substantial fruit and 5 years to reach near maximum productivity. Generally speaking, plant growth follows this pattern: Survive – Grow – Thrive. Year one the plant will work on survival and establishing its root system. During the first year, it’s advisable to remove any fruit to allow the plants energy to go to the root system. Next, during the second year, the plant will grow slightly and possibly produce a few small fruit, but most of the energy is focused on the plant becoming established in your specific growing conditions. Finally, in years 3+, the plant will begin to thrive and flourish. At this point, you should begin to see a significant increase and the yield and production levels.

“The Garden was the birthplace of partnership and stewardship. It continues to be a place that is centered upon connection.”

Kris Edler

More Food Forest Myths…

  1. “Food forests do not require any maintenance or upkeep.” – Unfortunately, nothing in life is free. We simply never get something for nothing. The purpose of gardening, specifically in permaculture, is recognizing that we are an active part of the system. Which means, the human element and stewardship greatly increases yield and can help build and regenerate the system. Just like we have the power to destroy a system quickly through mismanagement, we also have the ability to quicken its rejuvenation. The goal of a food forest is NOT to remove ourselves from the equation, but rather to integrate intelligent design in a way that our involvement results in a healed ecosystem. Though a food forest may require less maintenance long-term than a traditional annual vegetable garden, the human connection is still essential in proper stewardship of the land.
  2. “Mowing and tilling the soil are always bad.” – Though there are benefits to a low-till or no-till methods of gardening, they are often necessary in the first 3-5 years in order to help the system reboot. Mowing allows you to bag up nutrients and mulch around trees, creating a microclimate and nutrient dense soil covering that is rich in biomass. It also helps remove invasive species in order for the native plants to have a better chance. Tilling (in small doses) can help remove invasive weed species and can pave the way for replanting in larger areas (i.e. native prairie management or pasture maintenance). Controlled burning methods were used by the First Nation tribes all over North America and arguably around the world over the last thousands of years. These methods may not be an everyday tool, but are often necessary to help restart a damaged system and bring it back into balance.
How to start a food forest
Permaculture in Central Florida (second year example of a small food forest installation)

The Last Few Food Forest Myths

  1. “Only plant native species.” – This one is controversial for sure. Personally, I prefer to use as many native plants (especially pollinators) as possible, because I know it’s best for the birds, bees, and butterflies. Generally speaking, the native plants are also known to be far more disease resistant and tolerant of local weather conditions. At the end of the day, native species will always require less maintenance. That being said, traders have been moving species around the planet for as long as we have historical records. In Europe, the seeds of tomatoes, brassicas, and beans were saved and traded among pre-historic tribes. Sailers, traders, and merchants brought squash, corn, and pumpkins with them to North America 600 years ago and have been used here ever since. So, as long as a species is not invasive or damaging to the local ecosystem, they may actually provide human and wildlife benefit when properly introduced. If in doubt, grow your new plant in a pot for 3-5 years and test it out. Better yet, call your local extension office to ask them about any questionable species.
  2. “Summer is the best time to plant my food forest.” – For most of us, the summer is the time we are up and moving, full of energy, and ready to be productive. The same is true with plants – this is a time for them to be productive, but it’s rarely the best time to plant. Summer heat and drier weather can be hard on newly transplanted stock. Generally speaking, the best time to plant is when the trees are still dormant. In USDA Growing Zones 3-8 that would be either September – early November OR March – April. However, in Growing Zones 9-11 the best time to plant is in the winter months. That being said, winters in the Southern US are often dry, so some people prefer to wait until March – April. The ONLY benefit of planting in the summer in the south is that it’s rainy season. However, sometimes that helps and sometimes the heat + rain is actually harder on the plants. For those of us who garden in Florida… it’s a toss up!
How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush
  1. “Dig a hole, put the tree in the ground, and you’re done. “ – There is actually a best practice process when planting fruit trees and berry bushes. Most of the time they prefer extra water while they are getting established, but like to dry slightly out between waterings. Secondly, fruit trees should never just be planted in the grass, because the grass will both compete for moisture and nutrients. Click here to read the blog post about “How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush.” The primary exceptions to these are citrus and mango, because they prefer sandy and well drained soil. They like compost top dressings, but don’t do well with traditional wood chip mulching.
  2. “We should randomly plant unmaintained food forests in the city.” – In theory, the fruit trees will provide free food for the community and for the poor. In theory, these trees will thrive and produce food for inner city kids. In theory… HOWEVER, in actuality, fruit trees and bushes need maintenance to not only keep their shape and overall health, but they need to be appropriately harvested. Fallen fruit that is not properly harvested can actually feed rats, raccoons, and other city pests. Food forests are an incredible tool, but they are not a magic cure-all for every scenario. They require proper stewardship, and like all living things… they require connection.

NEXT ARTICLE: How to Plant a Food Forest Part 2 – SOIL

How to Find and Harvest Chaga Mushroom

how to find and harvest chaga

Mushroom hunting is something that many foragers and homesteaders want to try, but for some reason are put off by the fear of being poisoned. However, I would suggest that although mushroom identification can be challenging at first, there are a few species that are easy to identify, hard to miss, and have very few (if any) look a-likes. These species are great starting points for those who want to get starting in the mushroom world. Lion’s Mane, Chaga, Chicken of the Woods, Morel, and Oyster mushrooms are among some of these species that are both easy to identify and use. In this article, we’ll give you a step-by-step process of how to find and harvest chaga mushrooms. A later article (after ours have dried) will be created with tea and tincture recipes for chaga and a few bonus tips on how to use chaga in your coffee.

Health Benefits of Chaga – The King of Mushrooms

  • Nutrient-dense superfood. …
  • Slowing the aging process. …
  • Lowering cholesterol. …
  • Preventing and fighting cancer. …
  • Lowering blood pressure. …
  • Supporting the immune system. …
  • Fighting inflammation. …
  • Lowering blood sugar.

How to Find Chaga

trees for chaga

Step One: Find White Birch

Though chaga will grow on a varieties of trees, the most common is the white (or paper) birch tree (Betula papyrifera). In fact, when growing on this type of tree, the chaga mushroom is the only species that has this growth habit, so you don’t have to worry about mistaking it for another species. Often times, these species of trees grow in sandy soil near pine and oak trees. Because of the bright white bark pealing from the tree, they can be easily seen in the distance. The white bark also makes chaga easy to spot on the side of the trunk.

identifying chaga

Step 2: Look Up

More often than not, chaga will grow 8-10′ or higher in the tree. When hunting, bring a ladder and leave it in the truck while you are looking. Then either mark the tree with bright ribbon OR by dropping a pin on your GPS. You have found a specimen, you can go back and get the ladder. Generally speaking, the larger and healthier species will be higher up in the tree, so be sure to bring a friend with you to help hold the ladder while harvesting. It’s also helpful to have someone to hand the chunks to as you cut them, so you don’t have to drop them on the ground.

How to Identify Chaga

How to identify chaga

Step 3: Look for back and red

When you cut open the chaga, a healthy specimen will have a rough black exterior that resembles burned wood. The interior will have a red / burned orange umber. If the interior looks like wood and has rings, you have found a birch canker which is not edible. However, the black and umber coloring are your primary indicators for a healthy chaga specimen.

How to Harvest Chaga

Step 4: Think about safety

It’s highly recommended to have two people harvesting chaga. One person to hold the ladder (preferably with a helmet and glasses) and a second person who is climbing and chopping. A safety helmet is wise, in case the axe is dropped during harvesting, and the eye protection is best for the person below because chaga tends to come off in hard chunks (with lots of dust).

How to harvest chaga mushroom

Step 5: Use a hand axe to remove

Chaga is nearly impossible to remove with just a knife. The black exterior is extremely hard and the high moisture content makes it like removing part of the tree itself. Use the axe to cut it off in manageable chunks. At this time, you’ll see the healthy and living red interior of the mushroom. Only remove <80% of the mushroom, as it may continue to grow in the years ahead. Often times, the same tree will produce more mushrooms.

foraging chaga

Step 6: Bag it up

As you harvest, because of the way chaga breaks free, you’ll have a variety of sized chunks. I try to bring a few gallon zip-lock bags for the smaller pieces, because I don’t want to waste any. In some cases, you can even bring a tarp for the base of the tree to help collect the smaller chunks as they fall. Don’t worry, if you miss any pieces, the wild turkeys will eat them and be thankful.

How to Prepare Chaga for Use and Storage

how to prepare chaga

Step 7: Cut it up

Chaga has a very high moisture content, so it needs to dry well before consuming and storage. Using a band saw, cut the chaga into chunks about 1″ each. This is possible using a knife, but will likely dull the blade, because the black exterior of the mushroom is extremely hard.

preparing chaga

Step 8: Lay it out to dry

Chaga needs to dry for 6-8 weeks before storage and use. Spread your 1″ chunks out on a sterile surface and turn them weekly to help them dry on all sides. This step should be done in a warm, dry location (i.e. on top of a refrigerator). Once dried, chaga can be used and stored for years.

Your chaga mushroom is now ready for storage and use. There are many ways to incorporate chaga into your diet. In a later article, we’ll give you more tips on how to process, store, and use the chaga.

This is just one of the many topics that will be covered in our winter permaculture design certification course. For more information on this course or upcoming events, click here.

Cancer Fighting Food and Medicinal Forest

In this article, we explore the possibilities of a cancer fighting food and medicinal forest, which has been specifically designed for the Midwest USA.

Food forests are a low-maintenance agroforestry system that mimic the natural production of a woodland forest edge.  Plants in a food forest are arranged in a way that work in synergy with the natural succession of species in an ecosystem and maximizes their food producing potential.  The practice of permaculture (permanent agriculture) seeks to work in harmony with the natural growth processes in order to create a system that speeds up the natural growth pattern of an area.  What might take over 100 years in a natural, untouched system, permaculture systems can accomplish in a matter of 3-5 years.  After just a few years, there could be a food and medicine producing forest that would provide for those fighting cancer.  The food forest creates an ecosystem of productive abundance and is both low-maintenance and long-lasting.  This type of system can last hundreds of years, once established, and can provide abundant healing foods for generations to come.  

In our cancer fighting planting guild, we have strategically selected plant varieties that have specific anti-carcinogenic properties and immune boosting benefits.  We have designed a system where each plant can serve the one planted next to it.  For example, nitrogen fixing cassia plants help fertilize walnut and plum trees.  Locust trees provide compost and living mulch, creating biomass for elderberries and goji berries.  Cancer fighting herbs are also used to attract beneficial insects to help pollinate the berry bushes.  

Each and every element in this system have been selected for growing US Growing Zone 6, but the pattern could be mimicked in other regions as well by swapping out certain species.  This Cancer Fighting Medicinal & Memorial Garden is designed specifically for climate in Kansas City, MO.

As someone who has battled cancer, I have designed this system using elements that were beneficial me in my fight against cancer.  Though natural health remedies have not been approved by the US Food and Drub Administration, there is on-going research taking place across the globe and growing anecdotal evidence regarding the benefits of natural health and food as medicine.  

Cancer fighting food and medicinal forest
Cancer Fighting Food and Medicinal Forest (Diagram above is for zone 9a)

Goals of the project

  1. To create a productive food system to benefit those who are currently in their own battle against cancer.
  2. To create a learning garden for students, kids, and families.
  3. To create a Memorial Garden for those of us who have lost loved ones to this horrible disease, and who believe that the cure for cancer may lie beyond the pharmaceutical industry.  

In essence, this Cancer Fighting Medical Garden is being planted to inspire hope, remember loved ones, and to provide productive abundance for those battling this sickness.

Elements of the Cancer Fighting Food Forest


Layer 1: Top Story Trees

Black Walnuts in a food forest

BLACK WALNUT TREE
Walnuts have multiple cancer fighting benefits, and are the only nut that contain a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (2.5 grams per ounce). Walnuts also contain a variety of antioxidants (3.7 mmol/ounce) and numerous vitamins and minerals.  Walnuts have fatty acids are also shown to have cancer fighting benefits.

Siberian pea in a food forest

SIBERIAN PEA
This nitrogen fixing tree help fertilize the soil using nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots.  It can also be “chopped and dropped” to provide biomass and much for other elements in the food forest system.  The tree provides edible seeds which have 36% protein, which is comparable to soybeans

plum tree cancer fighting

PLUM TREE
Shown to have cancer fighting benefits including high fiber and polyphenols.  They have high levels of anti-oxidants and vitamin C.  There is ongoing research specifically for colon and breast cancers.  In the food forest, plums are a delicious over-story tree, which also provide pollination for insects.


Layer 2: Small Trees and Shrubs

elderberry benefits for fighting cancer

ELDERBERRY
Flowers and berries have been traditionally used as an immune tonic to help strengthen the natural defense against disease.  The berries are also high in vitamin C, which is a known cancer fighter and immune system booster.  In the food forest, it’s an excellent pollinator as well as shade producer.


Layer 3: Small Shrubs and Bushes

Goji berries and cancer fighting

GOJI BERRIES
High levels of vitamin C, strong antioxidant, and all around superfood.  This plant in the food forest has stunning flowers and provides not only food, but also pollination .

Currants in the food forest

CURRANTS
Help create healthy bacteria in the gut as well as having high amounts of anthocyanin, which have an ‘anti-tumour’ effect on some cancers.  Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

gooseberries and cancer

GOOSEBERRY
Contain alma, which is being studied by the European Cancer Institute as a ‘wonder berry’ to combat tumor growth in several types of cancers.  High in antioxidants, and as a plant is cold-hardy and disease resistant. 


Layer 4: Herbaceous

echinacea purpurea and cancer

ECHINACEA PURPUREA
All parts of this plant can be used to make an herbal tea to boost the immune system.  It’s an excellent pollinator for beneficial insects and bees, and provides natural beauty and color in the food forest.  There are several native bees and caterpillars that use this plant as their host plant, all of which are beneficial in the garden.

oregano medicinal herb

OREGANO
Anti-viral, anti-fungal, cancer fighting properties.  Helps boost the overall immune response.  Provides pollination and ground cover benefits to keep the soil protected.  Keeps away garden pests and repels deer and other animals who would eat the tree branches.

rosemary to fight cancer

ROSEMARY
Rich in carnosol, rosemary has been found to detoxify substances that can initiate the breast cancer process, and it’s a rich source of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), another powerful antioxidant.  Serves as a pollinator and insectary plant.


Layer 5: Ground Covers

astragalus

ASTRAGALUS
 It has immune-stimulating effects and may help to reduce side effects from chemotherapy, and boosts the immune-response of the body.  In the food forest, it’s an excellent pollinator, ground cover, and insectary plant.  

red clover ground cover

RED CLOVER
 Extracts act as an estrogen agonist and stimulates proliferation of ER-positive breast cancer cells in vitro.  It’s also used for skin cancer treatment and as a tea to detoxify the body and boost circulation of the blood.  In the medicinal garden it is not only a nitrogen fixing plant, but also a colorful pollinator. 


Layer 6: Roots and Mushrooms

turmeric for fighting cancer

TURMERIC
Curcumin, the constituent in turmeric has been shown to inhibit bone cancer cells while promoting growth of healthy bone cells.  It also has strong anti-inflammatory properties.

garlic in the food forest

GARLIC
Several compounds are involved in garlics possible anticancer effects. Garlic contains allyl sulfur and other compounds that slow or prevent the growth of tumor cells.

reishi mushrooms to fight cancer


REISHI MUSHROOM
Research in cancer patients has shown that some of the molecules found in the mushroom can increase the activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells. Reishi mushroom can enhance immune function through its effects on white blood cells, which can help  fight infection and cancer.

turkey tail to fight cancer

TURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM
The polysaccharopeptide found in turkey tail mushrooms, inhibited the growth and spread of human colon cancer cells.  A certain type of polysaccharide found in turkey tail mushrooms called Coriolus versicolor glucan (CVG) may suppress certain tumors, specifically breast cancer cells. 


Layer 7: Vines

Hardy Kiwi midwest food forest

HARDY KIWI
Kiwi is a little hand grenade of cancer-fighting antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, and copper.   This cold-hardy vine is a high producer, great pollinator, and does well in a food forests part shade.

purple yams

PURPLE YAM
Climbing vine and support species that has also been shown to benefit breast and colon cancer patients. Promising research suggests that two anthocyanins in purple yams — cyanidin and peonidin — may reduce the growth of certain types of cancers.


Sample of a Full System

NOTE:  The diagram below is actually for a similar guild for Zone 9a/b, but the concept of placement and repetition is similar for a Midwest planting


Ground Covers for Midwest Food Forests

Using Ground Covers to Repair Nitrogen, Pollinate, and Create Beauty

Things to Consider

  1. Succession of plants and species –  When you first plant your food forest, you’ll likely have much more sun available because the trees are thinner and there is less canopy creating shade.  This gives you the opportunity to plant more sun loving, nitrogen fixing plants, which will help get your food forest off to a great start. For more articles about starting a Midwest Food Forest, click here.
  2. Annual vs perennial benefits – Obviously having a plant come back year-after-year is less work on our end, but at the same time, we shouldn’t overlook the benefit of annual crops to help meet specific functions.  Sometimes those functions need to serve a short-term purpose, which is where annuals play a really important roll.  For example, does the soil need tilling or aeration?  Consider annual root crops like turnips, dandelion, or daikon radishes.  Does the soil need biomass?  Consider buckwheat or something in the vetch family.  Does the area need fast pollination?  Consider creeping thyme or a crimson clover.
  3. How the area will fill out over time – Some species may work really well for a few years, but as the over story canopy grows, production increases, or as new plants are introduced small adjustments are often needed to the original species.  As the canopy of top story trees thickens, the succession of species around it will need to evolve with it.
  4. Where ground covers are located within the forest – Some ground covers can get tall and lush, but also serve as a chop and drop mulch.  Comfrey (the bocking 14 variety) is great for this, because it creates substantial biomass, but will still still stay localized.  It works great at the base of young fruit trees and provides needed pollination.  There is some debate as to what it provides for the soil, but at the very least it is proven to increases minerals in the top soil region and provide shade for the tree roots that it’s planted by.  At the same time, other ground covers need more sun, so will do better away from the base of the trees.  For example, planting clover varieties in the alleys between orchard rows will help keep grass at bay, prevent the need for frequent mowing, and provide pollination sources. For more on selecting a location in your food forest or permaculture orchard, click here.

Depending on your region, there are a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to ground covers for a food forest or permaculture orchard.  Before spreading seeds, it’s important to research and study your site thoroughly, because some ground covers can be harder to get rid of once established.  It’s also important to pay attention to the sun and moisture requirements these species need to really help your ground cover be a show stopper. Lastly, be sure to research the ground cover you have selected so you prepare the soil correctly before seeing. Doing research beforehand will save time and money in the long run.

However, to get you started, here are a few suggestions for those of you who live in the Midwestern USA.

Ground Cover Comparisons

Species Annual vs
Perennial
Height &
Description
Benefits Drawbacks
Dutch White Clover

Hardy perennial 3-6”, but can be easily mowed. Nitrogen fixer, soil builder, dense foliage to cover soil.  Great for sunny areas in food forest and for alleys between rows.  Can also be used as a forage for animals and poultry.  Can spread easily to other areas if allowed to flower and go to seed.  Should not be planted next to other plants it’s name height, because it can choke them out.
Ladino Clover Perennial (4-5 year max) 4-8” Nitrogen fixer, soil builder, dense foliage to cover soil.  Great for sunny areas in food forest and for alleys between rows.  Can be used as a forage for animals and poultry.  Does better rebounding after animal pasturing and often more economic. Spreads easily.  Attracts deer more than other clover varieties.  
Red Clover 1-2 year perennial 6-8” Highest nitrogen fixing among the clovers, great for bees and honey flavor, excellent for adapting to a wide variety of soil types.  Easily tilled under.   Short lived, does not do well in shady areas.
Crimson Clover Annual 5-8” Stunning flower display, similar nitrogen fixing to other clovers.  Excellent source of nectar for bees and butterflies.  Great for areas that need a temporary ground cover. Short lived, attracts a full spectrum of insects (some good and some bad), including moths in southern regions. 
Hairy Vetch Tender perennial Up to 3’ Very high nitrogen fixing ability and an excellent pollinator.  Great for larger areas that do not have bushes or understory, fields, etc.  

Best used in larger fields, livestock areas, and places that are not farmed multiple times per year. Great for soil stabilizing along water areas.
Hard to get rid of, because the vines can grow to 12’ long and get wrapped around smaller farm equipment.  It’s best to till them under in April, before they are too invasive, and will likely need additional turning to terminate them (in a commercial or large scale setting).
Cow pea Annual 2’ tall areas, but vines can be 12’ long. Excellent at fixing nitrogen, but also gives an edible crop for dried beans.  Easy to harvest, dry, and remove at the end of season. They are a great no-till cover crop that can be “mowed over” at the end of the season. Not a great pollinator.  Can climb up nearby trees and bushes if allowed.  However, this is easy managed and pruned back.
Buckwheet Annual (self sowing) 30-50” Pollinator, usable seed for ancient grain, excellent bio mass producer.  Great at choking out unwanted species. Some animals will use it for forage. Thick, harder to harvest the seed without equipment.   Will resow itself if you let it go to seed before chopping and dropping.
Tokinashi Turnip Annual 12” Greens are edible when cooked and roots are a pleasant food source (raw or cooked).  Greens are excellent for animal and poultry forage.  Excellent understory crop that can tolerate dappled shade.   Needs sunlight and space to grow if you are harvesting the roots.  If you are harvesting greens, they are very easy to grow, even in lightly shaded areas.  
Comfrey (Bocking 14) Perennial (4-5 year max) 12-18”  Very resilliant, pollinator, medicinal usage for humans (bone and muscle healing), roots for tea and tonic.  Biomass and mineral accumulation, chop and drop mulch, excellent forage for animals. Hard to get rid of once established.  Do not use anything other than bocking 14 or it will spread at a near uncontrolable rate.  
Creeping Thyme Perennial (4-5 year max) 3” Herbal use, excellent pollinator, hardy once established, and great for areas that need lower growth.  Needs sun to flourish.  Can be walked on and moderate tolerate foot traffic. Needs sunlight to do well and get established.  It can be harder to get established in mass plantings, but once it has take root, it never needs to be mowed and covers the ground well.
Sweet Woodruff Perennial 3-5” Flowers can be used as a tea or added to white wine, pollinator, shade loving. Spreads once established.
Wild Ginger Perennial 4-5” Shade loving, wild edible, small flowers under leaves. Does well for smaller areas, but not ideal for large scale.  

How to Select a Location for a Food Forest

food forest planning
food forest planning
Food forest planning

Knowing how to select the location for a food forest or perennial garden is possibly just as important as knowing what to plant. Before you start digging, take time to examine your site. Study. Watch. Learn from the environment around you. Take notes on some of the topics below to help you decide which location will be most suitable for your new food forest or perennial garden.

  1. Sun and soil requirements:  What pH will be needed for those plants?  How much organic matter exists on site already?  Does the site meet the sun requirements for the species selected?
  2. Identify precursor species:  Knowing what plants are already thriving will tell you about the site, soil, and environment.  For example, if there are a lot of dandelions or tap root plants, the soil is trying to rebuild minerals and nutrients.  If there are signs of plants with shallow, hair-hair-like roots, the soil may be trying to stabilize itself from erosion or drying out.  Do you see acid or alkaline loving plants growing native?  
  3. Space to grow and fill out:  Do the plants have room to thrive and have airflow at their mature size?  Do you have room to move among the plants or rows?  Do you need extra or protected space to make allowance for animals or livestock?
  4. Ease of watering:  Is there water access?  The first 30 days are often the most important as the plants establish, so you will want to have easy water access points.
  5. Ease of maintenance:  Is the area something that you frequently visit or drive by?  Is this area one that can be easily maintained or get tools and equipment to as needed?  Will you need truck or tractor access?
  6. What is the long-term use for this area?  Consider mapping out 3-5-10+ years.  Is your current use of the space preparing the site adequately for those goals?
  7. Ease of Harvesting:  Will you or others be able to quickly and successfully harvest?  Are there rows or adequate spacing between key areas?  Are 90% of the crops within arms reach?  Will you see and be able to easily use the crops you have planted when the harvest time arrives?