Mid-Atlantic Native Food Forest Polyculture for Rain Gardens & Wet Sites

On June 6, 2015 at Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery, I taught a workshop on Creating Native Food Forests. We discussed our woodland biome & the cycle of ecological succession, contrasted the outputs of wilderness with conventional agriculture, and detailed some possible direct and indirect uses of edible forest gardens. We then looked at some agroforestry case studies, like Mark Shepard’s 100+ acre New Forest Farm, Fields without Fences in Frenchtown, NJ, Eric Toensmeir & Jonathan Bates’ 1/10 acre Paradise Lot, and Steven Gabriel’s ‘De-slugging the Woods‘ maple-mushroom-duck polyculture.

It seems that everyone has a downspout or some greywater that could be redirected into a rain garden, so I pulled a selection of Edge of the Woods plants favoring moist to wet soil conditions. I wanted to highlight how these native species could produce nuts, fruit, berries, vegetables, tea, and medicine, as well as ecosystem services like nitrogen fixation, pollinator habitat, stormwater management, and watershed quality improvement.

mid atlantic native food forest polyculture rain garden

Species List (roughly from largest to smallest mature size)

1. Pecan / Carya illinoinensis / 70-100′, delicious nuts, high value timber

2. Pawpaw / Asimina triloba / 10-40′, most commonly 20-35′, delicious fruit (improved seedlings and grafted forms available), deer & pest resistant, host to zebra swallowtail butterfly.

3. Downy serviceberry / Amelanchier arborea / 15-25′, species within the Amelanchier genus go by many names and have varying sizes and habits, but all have highly ornamental white spring blossoms, followed by small, flavorful berries, and burgundy fall foliage. Not very picky about soils, serviceberries offer a nice alternative to acid-loving blueberries.

4. Hazel alder / Alnus serrulata / 12-20′, nitrogen-fixing, high wildlife value, glossy, ribbed leaves tinged with red, winter interest.

5. Spicebush / Lindera benzoin / 6-12′, a graceful shrub providing lemon blooms in early spring, glossy red berries, and yellow-gold fall foliage. Aromatic twigs and leaves can be used as tea. Host plant for spicebush swallowtail.

6. American black elderberry / Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis / 6-12′, insectary umbel blooms and dark purple fruits, usually stewed and consumed as cordials or cough medicine. Several ornamental cultivars are now available, featuring varied foliage and flower color, or improved fruit quality. Self-fruitful, although a pollinator will improve fruit set.

7. Ostrich fern / Matteuccia struthiopteris / 3-6′, ornamental fern producing edible fiddlehead vegetable of early spring. Will spread via stolons, and foliage will die down by mid-summer.

8. Swamp verbena / Verbana hastata / 2-5′, ornamental candelabra-like blooms, insectary, ‘cure-all’ medicinal, usually consumed as tea.

9. Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’ / Solidago rugosa / 3-4′, top herbaceous insectary species according to Douglas Tallamy. Ornamental golden sprays in late summer/ early fall. Medicinal/ tea.

10. Hoary mountain mint / Pycanthemum incanum / 2-4′, native, insectary mint. Medicinal, tea, potherb.

11. Nodding onion / Alium cernuum / 1-2′, ornamental flowers, insectary, deer/ pest resistant, all parts edible and used like scallions

12. Labrador violet / Viola labradorica / 4-6″, groundcover, ornamental and edible purple foliage and lavender flowers. Host plant for fritillary butterflies and seeds are favored by cardinals & other songbirds.

 

Related posts:

Lunaria Gardens Nursery

#SavetheBees: ‘Queen of the Sun’ screening and pollinator panel discussion, Doylestown, PA

Photos from Forest Gardening workshop at Fields without Fences

Notes from Edible Forest Gardening Workshop with Eric Toensmeier

 

Contact Kristen Jas Vietty

Photos from Forest Gardening Workshop at Fields without Fences

I was recently lucky enough to attend a forest gardening design & installation workshop led by Sean Walsh, on June 28, 2014. I first met Sean over Memorial Day weekend, 2013, where we both attended a permaculture water systems workshop with Andrew Faust, and then teamed up to create a design proposal for the workshop site, Green Light Plants. I was impressed with his knowledge and experience gained since his time at the Conway School of Landscape Design, and now he’s leading Appleseed Permaculture’s New Jersey franchise.

The workshop was held just outside of Frenchtown, NJ, at Fields Without Fences, operated by Johann Rinkens & Lindsay Napolitano. This 10-acre commercial food forest project is just in their second growing year, and it’s amazing how far the site has come in that time. They have an excellent website that describes the history of the degraded land, and how they are restoring the ecology – do check it out. Fields Without Fences’ products can be purchase through a New Jersey based farm distribution service, Zone 7.

I’ll just tell the story of the workshop in photos below:

Appleseed Permaculture's Sean Walsh, introducing forest gardening concepts and showing us some site assessment examples.
Appleseed Permaculture’s Sean Walsh, introducing forest gardening concepts and showing us some site assessment examples.

 

Johann, Sean, & Lindsay orient us with the Fields Without Fences site.
Johann, Sean, & Lindsay orient us with the Fields Without Fences site.
Lindsay fields without fences forest gardening
Lindsay describes their approach to raspberry management. She describes observing brambles growing in wildflower fields, so they pair raspberries with Echinacea/ coneflowers. The flower’s sturdy stems hold the berry canes upright, negating the need to build trellises.
A shot showing a glimpse of the many polycultures utilized at Fields Without Fences. I spy a young pawpaw, comfrey, bolting lettuce & sorrel, and allium flowerheads.
A shot showing a glimpse of the many polycultures utilized at Fields Without Fences. I spy a young pawpaw, comfrey, bolting lettuce & sorrel, and allium flowerheads.
Lindsay called the elder the iconic plant of Fields Without Fences, and it was, appropriately, in full bloom during the workshop. They sell the aromatic elderflowers as well as the berries.
Lindsay called the elder the iconic plant of Fields Without Fences, and it was, appropriately, in full bloom during the workshop. They sell the aromatic elderflowers as well as the berries.
A closeup of an elderflower, as well as some developing berries.
A closeup of an elderflower, as well as some developing berries.
Fields Without Fences has a small annual vegetable production area, where the polyculture approach is still utilized.
Fields Without Fences has a small annual vegetable production area, where the polyculture approach is still utilized.
The main pond collects runoff from this previously waterlogged site. Since this photo was taken, the pond now is home to a couple of ducks.
The main pond collects runoff from this previously waterlogged site. Since this photo was taken, the pond now is home to a couple of ducks.
Most of the site is cover cropped with a seed mix heavy in red clover. The farmers leave it in place, fixing nitrogen in the soil, until ready to plant. Also shown are some of the many currant bushes featured throughout the polycultures.
Most of the site is cover cropped with a seed mix heavy in red clover. The farmers leave it in place, fixing nitrogen in the soil, until ready to plant. Also shown are some of the many currant bushes featured throughout the polycultures.
Pollinators are a vital part of the farm ecosystem, and there are 2 meadow areas for winged friends. Pictured is a hive housing the European honeybee.
Pollinators are a vital part of the farm ecosystem, and there are 2 meadow areas for winged friends. Pictured is a hive housing the European honeybee.
Closeup of honeybees a the hive entrance.
Closeup of honeybees a the hive entrance.
Here are some yarrow and alfalfa flowers attracting the attentions of the honeybee.
Here are some yarrow and alfalfa flowers attracting the attentions of the honeybee.
A beautiful permaculture design plan for Fields Without Fences was displayed. Click to zoom in and read about all the different zones and systems.
A beautiful permaculture design plan for Fields Without Fences was displayed. Click to zoom in and read about all the different zones and systems.
Over lunch, attendee Roman Osadca shared some delicious garlic scape pesto from his homestead, Valley Fall Farm. As of 2014, Roman grows over 290 varieties of garlic!
Over lunch, attendee Roman Osadca shared some delicious garlic scape pesto from his homestead, Valley Fall Farm. As of 2014, Roman grows over 290 varieties of garlic!
A glimpse of Fields Without Fences' plant nursery & propagation area.
A glimpse of Fields Without Fences’ plant nursery & propagation area.
A small cattail pond with the northwest field beyond, which has been shaped into additional raised bed production area since this photo was taken.
A small cattail pond with the northwest field beyond, which has been shaped into additional raised bed production area since this photo was taken.
Johann and Lindsay describe their goals for an Africa-shaped bed we'll be designing.
Johann and Lindsay describe their goals for an Africa-shaped bed we’ll be designing.
We broke into 3 groups to come up with design possibilities for the Africa-shaped bed. Here I am with my team, presenting our design proposal. [Photo: Sean Walsh]
We broke into 3 groups to come up with design possibilities for the Africa-shaped bed. Here I am with my team, presenting our design proposal. [Photo: Sean Walsh]
Sean and Lindsay amalgamate the groups' designs into a final plan. The polyculture includes (from canopy to groundcover): butternut, river birch, pawpaw, blueberry, spicebush, sunflower, catnip, and green & gold.
Sean and Lindsay amalgamate the groups’ designs into a final plan. The polyculture includes (from canopy to groundcover): butternut, river birch, pawpaw, blueberry, spicebush, sunflower, catnip, and green & gold.
In preparation for planting, we began  sheet mulching by rolling out round bales of straw over the grass.
In preparation for planting, we began sheet mulching by rolling out round bales of straw over the grass.
We continued to spread straw over the bed.
We continued to spread straw over the bed.
A view of the bed completely sheet mulched with the straw layer.
A view of the bed completely sheet mulched with the straw layer.
Then Johann used the tractor to dump loads of leaf mulch to spread over the straw.
Then Johann used the tractor to dump loads of leaf mulch to spread over the straw.
After all the topsoil was spread, we started planting. Here, left to right, are Jose, Johann, & Sean planting a young butternut tree.
After all the topsoil was spread, we started planting. Here, left to right, are Jose, Johann, & Sean planting a young butternut tree.
Finishing up planting.
Finishing up planting.
A group photo after planting, however, some folks had to leave before we got this shot.
A group photo after planting, however, some folks had to leave before we got this shot.
A panorama of the farm, including the newly-planted bed, and a wildflower meadow. [Photo by Sean Walsh]
A panorama of the farm, including the newly-planted bed, and a wildflower meadow. [Photo by Sean Walsh]

 

Most Essential 2 (or 3) Permaculture & Forest Gardening Books

Last night I gave a presentation, An Introduction to Edible Forest Gardening, at the monthly meeting of the Ladies Homestead Gathering of Central Bucks County. I mentioned a couple of my top picks for essential permaculture and edible forest gardening books.

 


Gaia’s Garden, Second Edition

It can sometimes be difficult to give a succinct overview of the such an all-encompassing subject as permaculture, but Toby Hemmenway does a magnificent job is his seminal book, Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. In the second edition of this award-winning title, Hemmenway addresses not just the fundamental theories, but many applications, like wetland gardens, deer barriers, polyculture design, & more. There are lots of tables of useful plants for specific uses, anecdotes, and overall a friendly, non-technical introduction for anyone looking to learn more about permaculture. Order your copy to get started!

 


Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)

Next on my list is not one book, but a 2 volume set: Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke & Eric Toensmeier. I received these as a gift several years ago, and I still reference them all the time. Coupled with one of Eric’s weekend intensives, these books inspired a major shift in my perspectives on land use. The sheer amount of information here is astounding – Vol. I: Vision & Theory contains home forest garden case studies and a must have list of the Top 100 species, while Vol. II: Design & Practice shows us how to make our edible Eden a reality. This set may seem a little daunting for the beginner, but if you’re going to make one purchase that will stand the test of time, this is it.

 

Have you already read these books? What do you think? Any other titles you’d recommend to folks interested in permaculture or edible forest gardening? Leave your thoughts below in the comments!

Workshop: Edible Forest Gardening / Doylestown, PA

EFG_dtown_workshop2

 In a couple of hours, learn how you can be harvesting fruits, nuts, vegetables, mushrooms, & medicine from your land, WITHOUT tilling, seeding, planting, & weeding year after year.

Join the March meeting of the Ladies Homestead Gathering of Central Bucks County, where Kristen Jas Vietty of Lunaria Gardens will be leading a workshop on edible forest gardening!

Learn how to mimic the eastern woodland ecosystem in your garden, to provide not only diverse harvests, but also benefit soil life, watersheds, native pollinators, & wildlife. These natural, regenerative food forests can improve the value of your home while requiring relatively little maintenance over time.

The workshop will be held at Doylestown Fresh (home of Veg-E systems) on Thursday, March 27, 2014, from 6:30 to 9:00pm. The evening is open to all women, and the suggested donation is $10 general, $5 LHG members. Membership signup will be available at the meeting, and no one will be turned away for lack of funds. RSVP on Facebook!

If you want to hear about these kinds of events, subscribe to receive a monthly(ish) email!

Related post: Notes from Forest Gardening Workshop with Eric Toensmeier

Notes from Forest Gardening Workshop with Eric Toensmeier

On May 7th & 8th, I had the opportunity to attend a Forest Gardening workshop with one of my permaculture heroes, Eric Toensmeier, in West Chester, PA. There were so many awesome aspects to the weekend! To minimize driving, I took the train to Paoli, had a beautiful 10 mile bike ride to the workshop location, and met and stayed with some awesome folks through couchsurfing!

The workshop took place at the home of  sustainability educators Alan Wright & Paula Kline, who had hired permaculture designer Aaron Guman to work his permie magic on their property. We spent some time discussing the clients’ needs and Aaron’s design concepts before helping to install some perennial plantings (above).

Mollie Caitlin Brigid communing with cultivated King Stropharia

Special guest lectures included a whip-and-tongue grafting demonstration with Backyard Fruit Growers founder Chris Manning, and mushroom cultivation tutorials with Jared Urchek. Jared came out from Boulder, CO and discussed mushroom life cycles, varieties, and inoculation techniques with woodchips, straw, and logs.

We also broke off into groups to do site assessments throughout the property, later designing polyculture systems for different patches. Here are some general notes taken during the workshop:

Edible Forest Garden (EFG): Edible ecosystem modeled on the forest; perennial & low maintenance, providing ecosystem services & useful products.

By optimizing impact on land, we can work with its desire to become forest. Diverse polycultures minimize pest problems, and can achieve higher yields than annual cultures.

Utilizing Multipurpose Plants

Direct uses:

Edibles:
nuts, seeds, beans, fruits, flowers & flowerbuds, roots, tubers, leaves, shoots, tea & culinary

Other:
firewood, medicine, craft material, income, livestock fodder, honey, cut flowers, charcoal, mushrooms, seed & nursery stock, silkworms

Indirect uses:
Nitrogen fixing plants
insect nectary plants
habitat
mulch
groundcovers
decomposers (i.e. edible mushrooms)

Imitation

Architecture: layers, soil horizon, density, patterns, diversity

Social structure: niches, guilds, communities

Succession: patches, disturbance, non-linear evolution (mimic mid-succession)

Best Forest Gardening Species (N-fix means this species fixes nitrogen):

Tall Trees

walnut/ butternut/ heartnut
pecans/ hickories
oaks
nut pines
black locust (N-fix)
Japanese pagoda tree (N-fix)

Medium Trees

Chinese Chestnut
persimmon
paw-paw
mulberry
mimosa (N-fix)
alder (N-fix)

Small Trees & Shrubs

pears/ Asian pears
sea buckthorn (N-fix)
mayhaw
hazelnuts
native plums
bamboo
Amur Maackia (N-fix)

Shrubs

Amelanchier (serviceberry, juneberry, etc)
fig
Nanking cherry
goumi
bayberry
elderberry (native insectary)
highbush cranberry (viburnum)
Florida star anise
Ribes (currants, gooseberries, jostaberries)
running juneberry
blueberry
raspberry/ blackberry
New Jersey tea (N-fix)
Amorpha (false) Indigo (N-fix)

Vines

grape (fox & muscadine)
kiwi (hardy & arctic)
groundnut (N-fix)
hog peanut (N-fix)
Chinese yam
Hablitzia (climbing spinach)
maypop (native passionflower)

Herbs

jerusalem artichokes
rhubarb
fuki
Turkish rocket
taro
ostrich fern
comfrey
asparagus
giant solomon’s seal
nettle/ wood nettle
baptisia (N-fix)
thermopsis (N-fix)
sea kale
good King Henry
native perennial ground cherry
sweet cicely (insectary)
skirret
mayapple
large-flowered comfrey
ramps
sylvetta arugula
coreopsis (insectary)
Asclepias verticillata (whorled milkweed, insectary)
sorrel
Astragalus glycyphyllos (wild licorice, N-fix)
Chinese artichoke
water celery (insectary)
camas/ quamash (wild hyacinth)

Ground Covers

alpine strawberry
strawberry
foamflower (insectary)
wild ginger
toothwart
violets
prostrate birdsfoot trefoil (N-fix)
green & gold (insectary)
white clover
Waldesteinia (barren strawberry, inedible)
wild geranium (insectary)
fungi

Organic Garden Workshop/ Work Party: 6/12/10

It’s our first workshop in Pennsylvania! And what better way to kick off the curriculum than with an organic garden work party! Come learn how to turn your lawn into an thriving, abundant, edible paradise!

Lee has designed a simple raised bed vegetable garden for a woman who was interested in growing her own food. We will be erecting an 8 foot deer fence, as well as a skirt extension to keep groundhogs out, assembling a raised bed, filling it with soil, and planting lots of veggies!

Come learn about organic gardening, lend a hand, eat some food (lunch will be provided at 1:00), bring an instrument, and have fun!

Please RSVP on the Facebook event or email if you’ll be joining us.

Saturday, June 12, 2010, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM

@ Dorothy’s House, 1751 East Saw Mill Road, Quakertown, PA map

UPDATE 6/23: Photos!

Before the workday, Lee dropped off the soil on site
The wood was cut to size to create a 3' x 15' box, secured with L-brackets.
We lined the bottom with uncoated cardboard to suppress any grass or weeds.
The box was filled with soil.
Our helpers arrived and began working on the fence while we raked the soil level.
To deter groundhogs, we made a skirt around the perimeter out of a 4' roll of 1"x4" welded wire.
Deer netting was installed overhead and around the perimeter.
We planted seeds and transplants and watered them in.
The final garden, ready to thwart critters and feed a family!