It’s Day 49 of the edible forest garden project, (note the handy project counter on the side) and I’ve been thinking about the master plan. I’ve actually really struggled writing this post, but in the end, it helped me organize my priorities and thoughts. The more I work in the garden, the more I’m understanding how terrible the soil is. It’s straight up clay, like I could make a killing in the pottery business. The third picture is dirt that I was able to roll up in a ball.
IT. IS . BAD.
As I was watching one of Geoff Lawton’s videos for the 18th time, it hit me what I need to do. The first years of the edible forest garden shouldn’t be all about planting the edibles plants I expect to have at the end. This primary stage is going to set me back a little bit longer from perfection, but I think it’s the right thing to do long term.
I’ve decided that I need to start with the plants that will improve the garden conditions, like nitrogen fixing plants, good insect plants, tap roots plants, and mulch plants. I’ve already laid my foundation of fruit trees and berry bushes that were already purchased. This way, the fruit trees will mature at the same time I’m building good soil conditions. The older the garden gets, the less of these plants I will need, and the more edibles I can add.
NITROGEN FIXING PLANTS
I’m not an expert on exactly what happens, but nitrogen fixing plants take the carbon in the air and put it in the soil by partnering up with bacteria. I don’t completely get it, but that’s generally what happens.
It’s like I’m a farmer that cover crops intensively before growing my cash crops. A farmer typically just cover crops with ground covers, but I’m also ‘cover cropping’ with nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs.
I’m copying nature because these are the first plants nature would grow to repair the soil. First *weeds and the *ugly species grow to mend the soils, then the edible forest garden is able to grow at its full potential. I’m growing a few different kinds of nitrogen fixers like vetch, a few types of bush clover, and red clover.
*I really don’t believe in weeds, they are there for a reason. They aren’t ugly either. I used these words because these are the words I was taught to think of those types of plants.
GOOD INSECT PLANTS
It’s important to invite the good bugs to the garden to help fight the bad guys because you know the bad guys are guaranteed to come. Besides the bees, I also want the insect predictors like dragon flies and praying mantis to help with the work load. The precious edibles will be protected because the good bugs have already made a home in the garden.
Lucky for me, the nitrogen fixing plants serve double duty. Is it safe to say nature adds these plants? Bee balm, verbena and hollyhocks will be splashed in each bed. I’m hoping these will reseed for next year.
TAP ROOT PLANTS
I am intentionally planting species with tap roots. This might seem strange and first glance and maybe even stranger that I’m actually planting dandelions. All three tap rooted plants I’ve chosen do TRIPLE duty: they are edible, they provide pollen for the bees and help repair the soil.
This is something you can look in your yard to help understand your own soil conditions: Nature germinates the seeds for tap rooted plants where soils are compacted, and germinates the seeds of ‘stringy’ rooted plants where soils are sandy or not compacted. I’m simply giving nature what it wants.
I’m planting dandelion greens, parsnip, and comfrey. Who needs to till the soil when I can have plants do this?
I’m pretty sure I’ve over talked the importance of mulch, but I guess I’m not done. Buying mulch is more effort that I want to put into it, so I’ll also grow it. I’m using the rest of the wheat seed I purchased last year in addition to using all of the plants as mulch.
Can you believe I was worried I wasn’t going to have enough flowers? Some of these pre-garden plants are actually edibles, so maybe I’m not too far off track. Hopefully, I think I’ve created a good pre-garden recipe that will help turn my clay factory into a better place for edibles.
Are you sick of me talking the talk? Have no fear, I’m getting tired of it, too. March will be the month of visible garden progress, and I can’t wait to report it.
If you’d like more edible forest garden planning, you can view it all here.
credits: Geoff Lawton // Moviedoo YouTube Channel (doesn’t exist) // soil photos were taken by me // all others photos were a goggle search.