Our food forest: zone 9b, Florida

The Food Forest

I started building up our food forest in zone 9b, Florida as soon as we bought our home in 2014. We started with a few planters, bought about 5 fruit trees, and set out on a mission to grow our own food.

It has been a very slow, yet really rewarding process.

I focus on sustainable and eco-friendly gardening. We incorporate Florida native plants into the garden, we compost yard waste and food scraps, we reuse natural resources, and garden with respect for the Indian River Lagoon and our local waterways.

These last few years, we have grown a lot of food, raised a lot of critters, and have learned a lot of really cool things. This website is to inspire others and to motivate them to do the same.

what makes our garden and food forest successful?

Every yard is different, but as long as you understand certain concepts and have a gardening mindset, you will start learning how to utilize nature to work in your favor, rather than working against it.

The following guide can be used as a checklist to assess your landscape and to get an idea of how you can get the most out of your space.

what resources are readily available to you?

There are 2 types of resources I use in my garden. Organic resources (created by nature) and Recycled resources (going to end up in the trash).

Organic resourcesany naturally created resources provided by nature that you can use in the garden. This can be sticks, leaves, logs, weeds, grass clippings, gunk from a pond, acorns,..whatever you can find, and the more the better!! I use organic matter all the time. And because you can never have enough, I grow fast growing plants to accumulate more.

Organic Resources – logs from an oak tree
How I use organic resources in my garden:

My most important organic resources are the 10 HUGE oak trees that surround the property and a pond. The trees provide layers and layers of leaves each fall and the pond has become an important source of water for my plants.

Build garden beds Whenever we have to cut a tree back, I use the logs to create planters, then I toss in any leaves and twigs I can gather. Then I mix in the soil. This keeps soil costs down, and the organic matter will break down over time, adding rich nutrients to the soil.

Improve your soil – normally, it takes a long time for organic matter to break down (rot), but here in Florida, the humidity and heat drastically speed up the process. This decomposition process creates amazing soil that has to be “grown” over time. You can’t just buy this type of soil. It isn’t just dirt – it is an ecosystem of living things in the soil that have been building up their ‘homes’ over time. Once established, you will have a neverending supply of incredible soil. We grow your own organic matter using these zone 9b ‘chop and drop‘ plants.

Recycled resources- any free (cheap) resource that you can use to help you in your garden. I have gathered many items from curbside trash to use in my garden.

Look around your property and sheds and see what you have that you can use in your garden. What resources does your current landscape provide you with? Utilize everything.

improve your soil

Your focus in the garden must always be to improve the soil – to grow good plants, you must grow good soil.

My soil is very compact from being driven over with lawn mowers and vehicles for the last few decades. Rather than digging down and tilling up the soil, I choose to add to it and build it up.

In this picture, I laid out a long rectangle of logs and filled it with several inches of leaves, twigs and soil. Even after the plants are planted, I continue to drop organic matter into the beds to feed the soil life and build up the soil level.

building up the soil with leaves, twigs and dirt

There are more tiny organisms living in a spoonful of healthy soil than there are people in the world, and it is these little guys that are responsible for breaking down the organic matter (leaves, sticks…) into the rich compost that makes healthy plants.

Insects and weedsEvery plant and insect has a purpose in your garden. Make sure you know the benefits each one serves in the garden before you spray a bunch of chemicals to try and kill everything. As Bill Mollison stated best, “You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency.”

know the lay of the land

Sunny and Shady Spots – It took me a while to understand the pattern of the sun, and summer and winter solstice…but now that I know it, I know when to plant certain plants and at what time in the season. I built a huge garden planter in the front yard, not realizing that although it gets full sun in the summer, it is cold and fully shaded in the winter – which led to the loss of the entire planter during a rare frost that winter.

The first year of gardening, I really learned the layout of my property. Spots that were full sun in the summer were completely shaded in the winter- which is how I learned the importance of knowing the sun’s path….all the orange trees I planted in the field were 1 foot underwater in the rainy season…and the kiwiWhen choosing plants for the food forest, I like to make sure they fit in

I love walking through the food forest and discovering new, hidden fruits and vegetables or plants that I thought died, but came back. There is always something interesting to find in a garden.

The day we moved in, I ate a mango and stuck the seed in the front yard. Now it’s a 6-foot tall mango tree.

Early on, I learned the importance of soil and after countless hours of binge-watching youtube videos about biomass, microorganisms, feeding the soil and my favorite, why weeds exist…now I get it. Now I love pulling weeds, raking up the oak leaves and trimming back plants – it is all a gift of biomass!

have a water supply

Water SourcesEasy access to water is extremely important for a successful garden. We have rain barrels on every downspout, and I hooked up a pump to draft water out of our 1/4 acre pond.

select the right plants

Native SpeciesBefore you start tearing plants out, know what they are, and try to keep as many native species on your property as possible.

We started our food forest with easy to grow plants for our area (zone 9b), my favorites being gandules, mulberries, candlestick cassia, and milkweed. Once these “easy to grow” plants were scattered throughout the yard, the harder to grow plants could utilize the existing plants for protection from the wind and sun while benefiting from the microorganisms that are naturally attracted to plant roots (this is a good thing).

As they grew, I would cut them back and use throw the leaves and branches into our chicken coop. It is amazing how fast they turn it to compost. .

Then, I’d randomly toss seeds in the planters and stick cuttings wherever there is space. The goal is to fill it all in. Nature does not like bare soil, soil building microorganisms are attracted to roots and most importantly, all your success will motivate you to keep going!

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