The Food Forest Handbook

Rozie Apps | Tuesday, 1st May 2018
A valuable manual for anyone wanting to learn more about creating their own food forest.
Author: Darrell Frey & Michelle Czolba
Publisher: New Society Publishers
Publication year: 2017
RRP: £28.99

This is an important book at a time where individuals and communities need to be growing more of their own food. Food forests are the best way to do this, as they create layers of edible, medicinal and useful plants, in a polyculture that works together but also looks and feels beautiful. This makes them suitable for parks, community and school gardens, and because they can be grown on different scales – even people with small gardens or allotments can implement them. This in-depth manual guides the reader through the many considerations and questions that arise when creating a food forest, providing working case studies to back up the information.

There is a large focus on observation and getting to know the proposed site; the most important aspect of creating any garden. The first few chapters provide tools necessary for understanding your plot and what you can do with it. Every site is different, so it is wise to understand the impacts of contours, wind direction, frost pockets and water storage, as well as the human and ecological benefits that your food forest will create. A great tip I found was to create a list of your goals, which will help keep you focussed when designing and implementing.

Frey and Colba also include ‘the forest ecology’, showing the seven layers, explaining how understanding these polycultures and relationships will help us create our own edible versions at home.

I really enjoyed the history of food forests, and the various examples from around the world, as it accentuates how fundamental these systems have been in the past and how they are still needed now.

Throughout the book are helpful examples of working food forests, and the example plant list from Hazelwood Food Forest in Pittsburgh, US, is great. These are US focussed but a lot of the included plants grow in the UK too. The example fruit tree polyculture shows the different layers and plants you can use, such as apples and pears in the canopy, mulberry in the sub-canopy, roses in the shrub layer, and comfrey asparagus in the herbaceous layer. This offers a selection of planting options, making it adaptable for individual plots. There are also apple and pear tree guilds, which include borage, day lily, yarrow and parsnip. The mix of edible and medicinal shows the value that these designs can have.

The authors include fruits throughout the year, how to process and store them, as well as the odd recipe, and tips on foraging such as mushrooms and wild garlic. I enjoyed the inclusion of lesser-known or less-considered plants such as sumac and ferns.

There are plenty of tips on maintenance and propagation, as well as compost remediation, which all ensures for a healthy food forest whilst preparing for the food forest’s future.

This guide really helps the reader learn to observe rather than follow in the authors’ footsteps. The inclusion of different soil types and climates that plants prefer, helps the reader understand their own surroundings, what grows there and what will be suitable to their own microclimates.

There is also a range of examples from various climates, such as Mexico and the Pacific Southwest, showing the designs and plants lists. This ties in nicely with the introduction, which explains how food forests have been grown across the world for generations, with polyculture rainforests of sweet potatoes, bananas and breadfruit in Polynesia to the Delaware and Iroquois North Americans who used swidden and regeneration techniques to create fertile food plots.

This is a valuable manual for anyone wanting to learn more about creating their own food forest.

Rozie Apps is assistant editor at PM

Useful links

How to make a Forest Garden

Forest Gardening in Practice

Video: Forest gardening - part 1 in the 'Living with the Land' series