The Food Forest: Plant Once, Eat Every Year

My version of the “Food Forest” might be different than how other people view it, but in the end, we approach similar goals. A food forest is permaculture concept. And for me, the final part is that I will be able to walk away from it – and do minimal upkeep yearly (pruning, weeding, and possibly adding in more compost as the land settles over the years).

A food forest bed is one you don’t need seeds/plants for, after the initial planting. It gets better as it matures. It is a lesson in co-existing plants. If you can do a bed just for this, do it. You won’t regret it!

But oh does it provide as the years go on. We try to only plant perennial plants in this bed, and if they produce 2 crops a year, so much the better (all our raspberry canes are dual crop types). My goal has been to go for plants that can handle the cold but also droughts. And I’ve changed focus over the years I might add – less strawberry plants, more grape vines. They grow up the fences, and onto the raspberry canes.

I have a bed on our homestead that I have been working on for a few years now. When we originally built it, it was for blueberry bushes. Then I extended it, and then extended it yet again, two years in a row. The whole mess is fenced to keep out the deer, but the smaller/younger rabbits do get in. You can’t stop them unless you do 18″ up and 18″ out of chicken wire, buried with rocks, all around, on the ground. I have gotten about 75% of it done, it’s just laziness on my part. The rest of my beds are fully fenced and done for rabbits. Thankfully in a food forest the rabbits are less likely to do damage than in a bed growing lettuce….

The bed is big now. Bigger than many suburban back yards!

The bed was started in the early fall of 2018, the year we bought the property. We had cleared all the evergreen trees in this field.

Marked out for the original bed.

Kirk broke the land open with our BCS walk behind tractor. The land was the crappy, hard pack soil that our island is known for. Very rocky. You have to really work it to get it usable. It’s actually good for the soil to work it once. After you open it up, remove rocks and roots, suddenly it can breathe and drain water, and the worms show up to live there.

Land broken open. Once worked it’s actually gorgeous soil. We also added in compost to it.

T posts went in, for fencing. This part of the bed does have black fabric laid, and holes cut in it, then we covered it with a thick layer of wood chips.

That year I used a roll of 100 foot mesh plastic fencing. Then lined it with cut down logs (of which we had so many) to hold down the fencing (it’s very light and will blow up). This I learned wasn’t optimal that winter…as my kid went crashing through it on a sled when it snowed. Oops.

We planted blueberries in the fall.

As winter showed up, in December of 2018, I decided to expand it, to grow strawberries. Since strawberry plants have shallow roots, we just did thick layers of cardboard to kill grass, and eventually the cardboard composts itself.

Filled in and ready to go. We used straight compost for it.

As the winter progressed, I put in a metal fencing fence. What went into that section was the raspberry canes. How tidy it was then. Raspberry canes are great, but they will grow new ones every year, so you must keep on it, thinning them out.

Then we added another section. Yet more cardboard.

Filled in.

Low fencing done. This was to be a strawberry bed then. The deer don’t pay much attention to them.

I added string above to annoy the deer. Note the old, broken wheelbarrow I found in the woods. I dragged it out and made it into a planter.

The late spring of 2022


A very rare type of raspberry that tastes like wine.

Spring of 2022 as it woke up for the year.

The hot days of summer 2022.

We eventually took out all the logs in the inner sections. I found they let slugs have a hiding place, for their eggs. Lesson learned.

Every year I have planted more and more. Thinned as needed.

This winter our goal is to get this bed ready for irrigation. It’s the only bed that doesn’t have it. It will help the bushes grow bigger. And to put a floating mesh over the top to keep birds out. We lose too many to hungry robins in the summer.