I live on 3 acres in zone 9b Florida and I have been turning our yard into an edible landscape and food forest since 2014. My gardening style centers around simplicity, sustainability, and working hand-in-hand with nature.
Food forest gardening
Our garden is a diverse planting of plants, each with its own purpose, and since we have the luxury of it being a food forest, and not a traditional farm or garden, I don’t stress or spend time keeping it perfectly manicured and maintained. I just grow as much as I can, and let the strong survive.
Here are some of the types of plants we focus on:
- Edible Plants: Plants that produce food for us and wildlife.
- Pollinator Attractors: We love planting flowers because not only are they beautiful, but they attract some fascinating insects like bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, which are necessary for our plants to bare fruit and seeds.
- Nitrogen Fixers: These plants help to improve soil fertility by converting atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can use. My favorite is pigeon pea and cowpeas.
- Dynamic Accumulators: These plants draw up nutrients from deep in the soil and bring them to the surface, where other plants can use them.
- Ground Covers: Low-growing plants help to suppress weeds, conserve soil moisture, and prevent erosion. I buy bags of cover crop seed and throw them around on any bare spots. As these little edible plants fill in, it leaves less room for unwanted plants to grow.
- Pest Deterrents: These plants repel certain pests, helping to protect some of the food we grow in our food forest. Anything that smells, like herbs, can prevent insects from finding your produce. Plants like marigolds have been shown to deter nematodes.
Use what you’ve got
I firmly believe in making the most of natural resources and what’s readily available to you to improve your garden. Its fun being creative and resourceful. I’ve come up with some clever, free ways to garden because of this approach.
- Watering: I have rain barrels on every downspout, I use a transfer pump to water from my ponds and we have multiple fish tanks that provide water full of all kinds of nutrients for the plants.
- Mulching: Mulching is a crucial part of gardening. It helps to conserve soil moisture, suppress weeds, and can add nutrients to the soil as it breaks down. I use as many natural resources as I can, including weeds, leaves, and twigs to add a layer of organic matter to the soil.
- Weeding: Regularly removing weeds is not something I incorporate into my gardening routine. Instead, I smoother them with palm fronds, 2’x2′ tiles that I have left over from a flooring project, and piles of sticks and weeds. When I’m ready to plant in that space, I move the covering to reveal healthy, rich bare soil to plant in.
- Pruning: Pruning helps to improve a plant’s shape, encourage flowering, and can prevent disease and pest issues.
- Fertilizing: Plants need nutrients to grow. I never use fertilizer, and honestly, I think it’s a bad idea. The plants will rely on it, and I don’t feel like adding that to my monthly expenses. So I use what I’ve got. I make compost from kitchen scraps, and use the waste from our chicken coop and organic matter like grass clippings and leaves.
- Pest and Disease Control: Regularly inspecting plants for signs of pests or disease is key to the success of your garden. Early detection and simply plucking pests off can save your plants’ life and prevent a mass infestation in the future. I have created an ecosystem that is home to many beneficial insects, birds, and reptiles that feed on the pests.
- Protecting the Harvest: Knowing when to harvest your crops will save them from being eaten by squirrels and other wildlife. I use plastic clamshell containers to keep some of my produce away, but I also enjoy feeding the wildlife, so I grow enough to share.
Natural and Chemical-Free
Chemicals have no place in my food forest garden. I advocate for natural and organic gardening methods, steering clear of harmful pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. By allowing nature to do its work, I encourage a balanced ecosystem where beneficial insects and pollinators thrive.
Common Sense Gardening
My gardening style revolves around common sense practices. I observe and learn from the natural world. By following its cues, you can determine when to sow, harvest, and tend to plants. This will maximize success and minimize the need for intervention.
Growing What Thrives
I believe in growing what grows best in my specific region and climate. By selecting plant varieties that are well-suited to my area, I set myself up for success. This not only leads to a bountiful harvest but also reduces the need for excessive watering, fertilizing, and pest control.
Knowledge is Key
Over the years, I’ve acquired a wealth of knowledge through hands-on experience, working at a garden center, and teaching gardening classes. I understand the challenges that gardeners face and aim to share my expertise to help others succeed. I firmly believe that with the right knowledge and guidance, anyone can become a successful gardener. Here are some tips I follow
- Plant a new plant or tree, regularly. I make it a point to introduce a new plant or tree to my food forest every month. Sometimes it’s just a cutting, other times it’s a large tree. This consistent addition ensures that my harvests will compound over time.
- Always walk the garden. Not only is observing your garden’s growth every day a great way to learn, but it also prevents the spreading of pests and diseases. Carry scissors and a container to remove the dead and damaged plant parts, and to catch pests. I feel our pests to our chickens and fish tanks.
A Greener Lifestyle
Gardening for me extends beyond the boundaries of my own plot of land. It’s about promoting sustainability and caring for the environment. By cultivating my own food, I reduce my reliance on the flawed and wasteful food supply chain. It’s my way of contributing to a greener and more self-sufficient lifestyle.
In a nutshell, my gardening style is all about embracing simplicity, sustainability, and a deep respect for nature. It’s about utilizing available resources, working in harmony with the natural world, and sharing knowledge to empower others. So, grab your gardening gloves, join me on this green journey, and discover the joys of a low-cost, nature-guided approach to gardening!