Permaculture Tip of the Day – Urban Food Forestry

Sometimes when we start planning a food forest we can get caught up with getting things very precise. For example when I first was guided into food forestry I was taught that I “needed” to plant one nitrogen fixing tree for every 3 food bearing trees. After having great mentors and a very solid blocks of experience implementing food forests across the major climate regions (temperate, tropical, and dry lands)  I feel confident in saying that there is no “one way” to create a food forest.
In an urban/suburban environment, that is not just a patio (we will save patios for another post), we will have very limited land space for trees. In this scenario dwarf stock, semi dwarf stock, and standard sized trees will all be suitable. However we will need to prune the trees back in the winter for a multitude of reasons such as: pest bird suppression (birds prefer taller trees out of human reach), over shading other growing areas, and ease of mobility into and out of an urban food forest.
Many suburban areas range from 1/8 to 1/2 acre lots. We can easily plant 50-60 trees on a half acre, 30-40 trees on a quarter acre, and 15-20 trees on one eighth acre. We plant trees 5-7 feet apart in an urban setting. This can be achieved with proper space design as well as using swales and berms for tree growing systems. Pruning is needed as well as clearly defined pathways and access.
Due to space in these settings we may only plant one or two nitrogen fixing tees to the whole area. We can get away with this by over stacking the herbaceous layer and shrub layers with nitrogen fixers or dynamic accumulators. We may have an urban sized swale that fits four or five fruit trees on it and place 4 comfrey plants along with blueberries and possibly a Siberian peashrub on the same swale.  Nitrogen fixing perennials like comfrey are key. Almost all the trees placed in an urban setting can be food bearing when stacking the other layers of the food forest with nutrient accumulating plants.
The zone one area is specifically designed for elements that need the most amount of attention. Since our back and front yards are all zone one in an urban setting we can give the extra attention needed to those trees and plants that will stack quality life and production in that area. What we can get in production out of an urban environment is incredible. An abundance.

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