"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Friday, May 8, 2009

Our Forest Garden

As anxious as an expectant father I watch for my new fruit and nut tree seedlings to emerge in the spring as the soil warms. Years ago I started experimenting with the growing of fruit and most recently nut trees from seed. We are slowly working towards creating a small food forest of our own and have been diligent in saving seeds from the fruit and nuts of old orchards and forests that we come across as we search our favorite haunts for wild edibles.

Chestnut just emerging

One year old chestnut

Many of the apples trees we have started are ones able to grow high into the forest canopy. We have gathered seeds from wild black cherry trees that tower 50 to 60 feet above the woodland floor. Shade loving plants such as currants and gooseberries seem to do well once established. Certain raspberries, strawberries, service, and elderberries have also been encouraged to grow amongst many other adaptive plants. Our acreage consists of many tall trees and the aforementioned attributes are important in such a forest garden. This is a goal that is still very much in its infancy and will be many, many years in the making but one of which the basis has already been established and is slowly becoming more than an idea but an actual reality.

Black raspberry


Black elderberry

Native elderberry

This last fall I seeded directly into the ground various apple, pear, cherry, apricot, plum, chestnut, and walnut seeds and some of them are just beginning to develop into little seedlings. We do this in the fall because the seeds need to go through a 3-4 month stratification period at 35-40°. This can also be done in the fridge as I did with some of my sea kale and soapwort seeds. My wife would be most annoyed if I filled up the fridge with tree seeds as well though, it's bad enough that the living room is full of vegetable seedlings...and then there's last year's squash but I won't talk about that right now.

Sea kale and soapwort in the fridge

Sea kale 7 weeks later

Baby apricot

Parent apricot started to bloom yesterday

The apples, and pears, are always a mystery because they will be a cross of what ever trees were growing in the area, that's OK. I am not going so much for flavor in this project as adaptability...I need tall trees that can be grown out in the woods and can compete with the coniferous trees for light. It also helps that they are trees from the immediate area and should do well in our climate. The rest of these seedlings, with any luck, should come true to to form as I believe they are all standard trees that self pollinate.

Our tall coniferous trees

We also have a wide variety, around 32 I think, of nursery bought dwarf and semi dwarf fruit trees anywhere from 3-10 years of age, most in the 4-5 year range and just beginning to bear fruit for us in our mini orchard. The most important thing to know about planting fruit trees is that they take time, time slips by quickly though. I am so glad that we stopped putting off the little orchard idea and finally got busy and started planting trees a few years back. We added around 12 just last year and have two more pears sitting in pots in the greenhouse waiting to be planted this spring. We found a couple sad little Asian pears at a $ store and decided to take a chance on them.

The area we planted a few of our younger semi dwarf trees in deer cages

Sad little Asian pears

We traded eggs and a bit of cash for many pounds of English walnuts this past fall and I planted around fifty of them, I had to take a peek and see what was happening....the expectant father thing. We started a couple black walnut trees a few years back and they will be used to pollinate the English ones in good time.

English walnut starting to root

Boy and three year old black walnut

Future home of walnut trees

The apples come from the seed of over 20 standard trees found all over our area and were the first to germinate this spring.

Apple emerging

Three days later

Three year old apple from seed

A couple of our black cherry trees, direct from seed 4 years ago, are close to 11' tall already, and even provided us with a handful of cherries last year.

Black cherry

Some of our unknown but very hardy pear trees, perhaps some type of Bosc, are very close to bearing fruit and I have high hopes they will this summer. One of our Italian plums, an old grafted one, has been through the worst of it with us. It was actually ripped out of the ground when a tree fell on it a few years ago, we hoisted it back up, replanted it and although it lost many of its limbs it has continued to produce. Not only that but it has given us numerous baby plum trees, not true to form, but ones that none-the-less put out a most delicious little green plum. They also grow very tall and seem to thrive wherever we plant them...even in the shade.

Green plum preparing to flower

It takes 2-4 years for a nursery bought fruit tree to produce and will take perhaps 6 or more for one propagated from seed...even longer for some nut trees. So there is no better time then the present to get started on the planting of fruit trees and berry bushes.

Don't be afraid to try something new! We have mulberry trees and honeyberry bushes growing and are now looking for a hardy peach and perhaps a quince to grow. Can I keep my two sad dwarf Asian pears alive in this climate?...I don't have a clue, but am darn sure going to try.

Honeyberry bush

I love this quote I first read on Chiot’s Run .

"A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit". - Rudyard Kipling


Chiot's Run said...

We need to wrap our trees & blueberry bushes like you do. The deer ate them up over the winter. They also ate up my hydrangeas. I'm beginning to wonder if I should fence in the whole yard instead of making hundreds of individuals fences for my trees & shrubs.

Silke Powers said...

The whole time I was reading your post, I was thinking of the quote you mentioned in the end. There's something so forward-thinking about planting trees. Daniel and I have moved a lot, but everywhere we've lived, we've planted at least one tree, knowing that we'd probably not see it mature - but also knowing that someone else will appreciate it. Here, so far, we have planted a fig tree (which is growing leaps and bounds), a kumquat (which keeps us in kumquats all winter long), a pomegranate bush (which has not yet produced fruit), and a dogwood tree. And, just like you, we look at them every day to see what is happening... :) Silke

Mr. H. said...


The deer are really bad in the winter here as well...the moose are even worse. Making such a large fence is a tough decision. If you do decide on a fence make it at least 7' tall.


Mr. H. said...


It's so great that you have planted all those trees. In a sense it is almost like leaving a part of yourself behind wherever you go. Oh what I would give for fresh figs, kumquates, and a pomegranate...lucky you.


SuburbanGardener said...

Mike, I also like the Chinese proverb- The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.

That thought helped me prioritize planting our citris and avocado grove. Now it is starting to pay off; this year the citris has tons of blossoms.

Looks like you have an awful lot of space up there. It will be so awesome when all these trees are mature and producing. Wow!!!

Mr. H. said...


You guys are killing me. My favorite food that I will never grow...an avocado.

We put off planting trees for way too long, I so wish I had started 20 years ago. It is really neat to hear from others that are doing the same thing.

Good luck with those trees, and know that I am a bit jealous.:)


Anonymous said...

how do you get an apricot seed to grow?

Mr. H. said...

Anonymous - An apricot needs a couple months of cold stratification. Either bury them outside and allow them to go through the winter in the soil or put them in a bag with a most paper towel in the fridge for at least two months and plant in the spring. This should be done soon as you do not want the seed to dry out. It is best to plant more then one as the chances of having some of the seeds germinate are far better that way. I seem to get about 80% germination when they are planted outside and left through the winter. I have never stored the seeds in the fridge before. Good luck.:)

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

I enjoyed looking at the new sprouts because you only see the tree but not new sprouts. Is Asian pear 'Nashi'? They taste very good although expensive. I hope it is growing fast in your forest garden now.

Mr. H. said...

Malay Kadazan girl - Yes, I believe Asian pear and Nashi are the same. I am excited to report that both of our little Asian pear trees are growing really well and with any luck will provide us with fresh pears in 2 or 3 years...maybe more, but I can be patient.:)

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