food forest stages

Sharing perfect red apples, sweet and crisp. The littlest apple tree repaid us this year for building a food forest around it. The runt of the litter, this little guy secretly had the tastiest fruit of all our trees with mysterious ancestry. It is amazing how quickly everything has shot up this year with drip irrigation on the dry edges and the understorey established. Nurturing these stunted little trees was the original goal of developing the Food Forest, but it’s not time to hang up our gardening gloves, it’s time for the real work to begin! This year we had the most bountiful harvest from the smallest tree in the forest, but how could that be? Simple, the smallest tree was the only one we could net with a donated mesh curtain. Now that the trees are happier than ever and have never had more fruit, we have competition for the spoils! No time for complacency, we’re moving from STAGE 1 SAVE THE TREES to STAGE 2 SAVE THE FRUIT! It’s quite an education. This Food Forest business might be low physical maintenance, but it a constant work out for the brain.

After a brilliant harvest year last year, this year the apricot was heavy with fruit fly infested fruit. It is truly heartbreaking to have to fill two garbage bags full of fruit to be solarised and discarded. The Granny Smith Apples too have befriended a flock of Lorikeets which look darling bobbing on the trees tops , but leave a real mess. So what do we do? It’s time to make a plan. Do you have any tips?

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When I started blogging about my ramble into permaculture it was tempting just to post the Instagramable photos and hide the ‘challenges’, but I have tried to keep everything transparent. I believe sharing mishaps can be as valuable as triumphs, let’s not call them failures, they are sour lessons, but a lessons none the less. We can look to nature, we can look to human agriculture and we’re falling somewhere in between, so looking back at our own experiences is our best guide forwards. If you’re ever feeling discouraged, just read the One Straw Revolution and you’ll see that even the great Masanobu Fukuoka killed two acres of mandarin trees when he started out and a further 400 trees before he discovered the “natural pattern”. Those 400+ trees were his gift to us, because by sharing his mistakes we don’t need to make the same. His “do nothing farming” is not about actually doing no work at all, but not doing “unnecessary work”. The further you diverge from the natural way the more work you have to do. When I discovered these apple and apricot trees they were already over 5 years old although you wouldn’t have known it from their stature and barren branches, they were planted very closely together, were grafted , roughly pruned, swamped by grass and nearly ring barked by whipper snippers. They will always need more maintenance than the new trees I plant with low initial interference resulting in less maintenance in the long run, or as Fukuoka put it “meddling”. If I left them to themselves their branches would tangle and they would be attacked by insects just like Fukuoka’s mandarins. I have even learned that I had to pull the bushy underplanting of the apricot tree right back to almost the drip line as any fallen fruit left to rot would perpetuate the cycle of pest and bushes made this anti-treasure hunt too difficult. The olives have been by far the easiest trees to deal with only requiring harvesting and the occasional heavy prune just to keep its prodigious growth at bay. Nasturtiums and “prostrate” salt bush squirreling around their trunks and blossoming in their canopy have not bothered them one bit. STAGE 3 will be more about exploring the best low maintenance edible trees and companions for the marginal edges of the park with no irrigation and minimal “meddling”. It will be interesting to see how Fukuoka’s principles for natural farming work in a small scale urban setting.


Stage 1

Save the trees


    • Trees being damaged by lawn maintenance
    • Trees stunted by stress – insufficient water + food, injury
    • Trees planted close together
    • Trees roughly pruned


    • Create paths by digging out 20cm of soil, lining edges with cardboard and filling with free woodchip mulch
    • Sheet mulch running grass around trees with free cardboard and hessian sacks
    • Lay drip irrigation around trees connected to water tank
    • Add 10cm mushroom compost over sheet mulch, mound 20cm deep around new seedlings only (cost saving), protect soil with straw or other light weight mulch
    • Plant strong understorey of woody perennials around path edges
    • Plant perennial ground covers and self-seeding annuals
    • Mulch initially, then chop and drop


    • Sheet mulching was surprisingly successful. The only problem areas are near the chainlink fence where grass grows under from the communiuty garden. Need to sheet mulch this edge and add woodchip path as this barrier has been successful on oval edge. Any grass that grows into path is easy to pull out due to the air pockets and the high density woodchips suppresses plant growth.
    • The woodchips and mulch were not clear enough for some people, some plants were trampled, adjusting paths to desire lines rather than being uncompromising
    • Reduced tripping hazards – removed brick edging and ensured garden stakes had tennis balls on end or were lower than tree guards
    • Originally tried just hand watering but in summer many small plants on the edges got burnt and some died so a couple of lines of drip irrigation on an automatic timer saved a lot of time/money for the long term. Wished we installed at the beginning.
    • Many small plants from tubes got trampled or burnt, tree guards are essential around path edges or growing plants to a 20cm-30cm pot size would have saved losses. An adopt a cutting/seedling scheme would be helpful to share the maintenance of looking after the plants too small to planted out can be shared.
    • Fruiting plants are much more high maintenance and nutrient hungry than those grown for their leaves, waiting until the garden is really established and protected until planting these has been vital for their survival – will concentrate more on this for stage 2, keeping these plants in pots at home and planting out when they are more established and ready to fruit.
    • Mulch with fallen street tree leaves and chop and drop to recycle nutrients as plants grows
    • Now ground covers are established a new plants can be planted by clearing a patch of ground cover and planting in the now rich soil, have had some problems with planting fruiting annuals in damper areas due to snails. Seeds sown direct early in drier edges has surprisingly been more successful or plants grown on in milk cartons until stems are thicker then transplanted with a tree guard and a few pet friendly snail pellets.
    • Aphids attached the wattle plants when they were first planted due to stress, but as the plants were nourished and lady birds came to clear the aphids the plants have thrived without intervention
    • Chop and drop and only minimal harvesting have meant that no soil amendments have been thus required, except a handful of compost when a new plant is added, as harvesting increases this may change, looking at growth and leaves for signs of deficiency
    • Sunflowers don’t self seed because birds eat all the seeds, but kids love them so worth planting every year – seeds easy to save it orange net bag put over finished flower head
    • Involving community in harvesting and preserving olives was a lot of fun, hope to have more of these days as the trees mature
    • Shallow rooted bunching bulbs like garlic chives thrive around the bases of fruit trees without disturbing their roots

Thriving starter plants

  • Tough shurbs such rosemary, sage, curry plant, wormwood, lavender, feverfew, lemon verbena, mugwort, wattle have been the most success shrubs and have been easily propagated
  • Ground covers such as yarrow, pigface, mint, warrigal greens, saltbush
  • Self seeding annuals such as nasturtiums, parsley, calendula, wild rocket, chard, radishes
  • Fruiting shurbs – native raspberries, elderbery, pepino, caperbush, alpine strawberries, cape gooseberry,
  • Herbaceous plants – jerusalem artichokes, tansy, pineapple sage, yacon, lemon balm, catmint, sorrel

food forest stages


Stage 2

Save the fruit


    • Fruit being eaten by birds
    • Pepinos eaten by rats or mice?
    • Fruitfly in apricot
    • Curly leaf on nectarines and peach
    • Apricot has a lot of suckers from the plum root stock, either from damage by digging to close to the tree or from stress
    • Plant more fruiting understorey plants


  • Create exclusions bags for bunches of fruit
  • Sew curtains from the op shop into exclusion nets for whole trees, net after petals fall – new nets are $55 so will try and make where possible
  • Cut trees right back in summer to fit into nets
  • Keep picking up all dropped fruit to avoid spreading pests
  • Spray nectarine and peach with lime sulfur at early bud swell, pick off all infected leaves and bury in deep hole far from trees to prevent reinfection. Feed infected trees with nitrogen to encourage new leaves.
  • Remove suckers at their base as soon as they appear, don’t plant near apricot base to reduce stress
  • Last year I rooted some of the plum suckers and this winter I will graft the apricot on to these root stocks as back up plants
  • Now the garden in more established I can plant some more delicate, but more delicious understorey plants – currants, raspberries, strawberries, chilean guava, feijoa, strawberry guava, globe artichoke
  • Take more cutting of the hardy plants to fill in the gaps
  • Add more mulches as harvesting increases – seaweed, leaves, grass clippings
  • Plant more dynamic accumulators, nitrogen fixers and green manures

2 thoughts on “food forest stages”

  1. I’ve definitely found that early season stone fruit are so much more of a safe bet with fruit fly… So you could always host a grafting workshop and graft new scion onto the apricot… we tried beautiful purple peaches that were quite early and best of all no fruit fly!! Yes it’s meddling but in some ways it’s still honouring the rootstock’s journey to date… Also picking the things unripe that you can – like pears and apples. It seems sad as some motivation to grow your own is to have that ‘freshly ripened on the tree’ taste… But what can you do? A farmer and i teamed up to experiment this year with picking early. We found that Williams pears picked even 4 weeks earlier than normal insured we got some before the fruit fly. We left some on and were sorely disappointed by the losses a while later. I think he mentioned the main test to see if they’ll ripen off the tree is to cut open and if there are seeds mostly developed she’ll be right. I think you can do it with stone fruit too but not sure how to tell if they’re ripe enough to ripen off the tree.

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