Our food forest: zone 9b, Florida

The Food Forest

Since 2014, we have been turning our 2.6 acre property in zone 9b, into a food forest- filling our landscape with edible and beneficial plants that are easy to maintain and easy to grow.

I am a patient gardener and started most of my plants as cuttings, seeds, or clearance rack plants. I started small and slow, but every year has been more productive than the last.

I have added hundreds of new plants to our food forest and I continue to learn so much about gardening.

Year one in the food forest

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!

to grow good plants, you must grow good soil

When I walk around the yard, I toss leaves, twigs, and pulled weeds into my planters.

These piles block the sunlight so weeds won’t grow, and serve as food and shelter for all the microorganisms in the soil.

It is these microorganisms who will break down all the nutritious components of the biomass into smaller, bite-sized pieces that can be absorbed into the plant’s roots.

Growing soil takes time. As does growing plants from seed and starting huge trees from little stick cuttings. But it is extremely rewarding.

Eventually, after the plants fill in, your job role will change. You will go from digging and planting into pruning and mulching. I intentionally grow fast growing plants so I can use their gracious amount of leaves and growth to cut back and toss to the ground as biomass.

Being patient was important because there was so much to learn, such as which areas flood, and the sun’s path throughout the season. I lost several plants along the way, but each year is always more productive than the last.

Working in the yard has given boys and I an important understanding of nature. We are excited about bugs and fascinated by so many things we find.

the plants

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!

Gardening with kids

When working in the yard, you will come across some amazing and interesting things, things so awesome they will even hold your children’s attention!

If you stick with it and include your kids, you will be rewarded with an educational and fun way to create lifelong memories for you and your children – as well as a bunch of fresh food. ​

I have had truckloads of mulch brought in, which is great, and sometimes you can find it for free or cheap.

We grow biomass using a technique commonly called chop and drop.

I have never spent much time or money in the yard. I took my time, waited for my compost to build, started large plants from seed, spread cuttings and received plants from friends and neighbors yards.

I’m patient, and every year is more productive than the last.

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