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forest magic

Gael Song

July, 2019

The
Druid Garden, Edible Forest Magic

Because
I worry about the overuse of chemicals across the earth, monoculture
on huge farms that leave the soil depleted, the clear cutting of
trees for building, so soil that has taken 500 years to build up is
washed away in the next big storm or two, I am hooked on
edible forest gardens! They are meant to be as simple as can be,
ending up as a hunter-gatherer’s dream come true. And EASY! All
those Monsanto chemicals kill the network of tiny micronutrients in
the soil, too, organisms that break down organic matter into forms
the plants and trees can absorb. Without micronutrients, plants and
trees starve. If you are using herbicides on your grass, stop,
now! Overuse of chemicals has killed off most of the honeybees, too,
so those massive farms are now in a pollinator crisis. But honeybees
think an edible forest garden is heaven on earth and come zooming in
to thrive all summer long. If food grows scarce in the future from
all those Monsanto misuses, the edible forest garden is my personal
hope for a simple and natural solution. Everyone should have one!

This
year, I moved into a new home, (one I own as opposed to rentals for
many years) so, I could FINALLY have an edible garden of my very own!
This has been the most fun part of moving, joy that is only
beginning as the apples and blueberries plump up and ripen. I will
take you through the whole building process, so you can see how any
five year old could do this. Beginning a garden after a move is the
best possible time because my gardens always begin with sheet
mulching, a permaculture technique in which cardboard is laid down
over grass and weighted with a few stones to keep it from blowing
away. I recycled very little cardboard from my move. And in 3-4
months, the grass underneath has died and the cardboard disintegrated
to become organic matter in the soil, enriching it. Be sure to remove
the plastic tape and staples, though (the plastic comes off as easily
as can be after the cardboard has been outside through a few rains).
Sheet mulching eliminates the need for rototilling or digging to turn
grass under, both of which also disturb the micronutrient network
beneath the soil for 2 years or more. Sheet mulching is a peaceful,
simple way to prepare an area for planting, cardboard best laid down
in the fall for spring planting.

Every
edible forest garden has three layers, a tall tree canopy, an
intermediate height shrubby level, and ground covers. Many druids
believe in three realms; above, middle, and below just like this. And
a forest garden especially is druid to the core! And once the
ground covers fill in, there’s no need for mulching with bark or
sawdust on the soil level. I was surprised how many plants will fruit
or bear under a thin tree canopy in dappled shade. And plants in
edible forest gardens are meant to be perennial. Yes, perennial! This
means NO digging once the initial planting is done (with the possible
exception of a bit of weeding before those ground covers fill in Such
edible forest gardens have the most PEACEFUL undisturbed feeling when
they mature, like Eden. And one can walk through and harvest nuts or
fruit or greens for years to come with very little care. I only add
compost around my forest plants in the spring, for compost is loaded
with micronutrients, and all my plants sigh in pleasure when it gets
watered in, I can feel it. Then, aside from harvesting, which is pure
delight, not work, and a bit of pruning or weeding, and organic
spraying on the fruit trees if pests come in (I’ve dusted mine with
spinosad only once this year), that’s the only work an edible
forest garden needs every year.

Some
of the plants can get out of hand, and you’ll have to decide how
much of this you want to tolerate when you choose what to put in.
Most edible forest gardens look like a jungle when they mature. But I
am one of those folks who likes neat drawers, closets, and gardens,
so I put my plants in sections, rounded edges (another permaculture
principle, no straight lines. Research shows there is much more
growth and activity with curved borders between plants.), with a path
up through them that is mulched in brown bark. So, it all looks
exactly like a tree with branches of plant families and companions,
as druid as can be. See the photo above (taken before the chicken
wire went up to keep out the very chubby groundhog family living
nearby who entertain me every evening now that they are no longer
eating my dill and lettuce to the ground!). The mulch in the small
beds is sawdust I got free from a nice man who cuts and sells wood
for heating a few houses away (You do need to add some nitrogen when
using mulches because they deplete it when they break down, a little
manure, for instance.). Next year or maybe by fall, all those saw
dusted areas should be filled in and green. By spring of next
year, I will have zero mulching to do. Only adding some
nutrient rich compost here and there and popping yummy produce into
my mouth!

So,
let’s talk about plants that will thrive in a part shade, forested
space. Of course, this greatly depends on the climate, and you’ll
need to check what temperature number your own location is in when
you choose what to put in. I’m in southern New England, so a lot of
the edible plants in the texts about them won’t work here, heat and
jungle type plants mostly. (In the south, you can have a ball with
this!). Many edible forest plants I read about in texts also are
quite unusual, hard to find, and with acquired tastes and reactions
one has to watch out for if they aren’t cooked properly (like
sunchokes-cook those babies really well or you will be on the pot all
night long!). In my own little garden, I chose trees with leaves and
branching patterns that don’t completely block the sun. I have a
Butternut tree (sometimes called a white walnut), a white Oak for
acorns (just shell them, boil for 10 minutes, changing the water
three to four times to get out the tannins, and grind up immediately
[they get hard very quickly] and store in the freezer for use in
baking, very nutritious, indeed and as druid as trees!
A friend of mine suggested putting them in a pillow case and running
them through the washing machine to get out the tannins but I haven’t
tried that yet, maybe this year. Tannins make the nuts bitter, a
taste that is hard to get rid of in your mouth, too. The Native
Americans put their acorns in nets and left them in streams for a few
days to get the bitterness out. And it’s impossible to get tannins
out of black oak acorns, no matter how much rinsing you do. Use fruit
only from oaks with rounded tips on their leaves, not the pointed
ones, and you’ll be fine. I have Paw-Paw trees in my edible garden,
too, which are native to the US, even in the north, fruit well in
part shade, and grow large delicious fruit that tastes like vanilla
pudding! Yum! And I put in a small fig tree, too, which is hardly
native and not truly hardy here. But a friend of mine has figs he’s
grown for many years in his orchard. He makes a columnar box of 2”
thick, hard insulation, ties the fig branches loosely together in a
tall central stalk, and puts the insulation box over them after one
or two frosts in early November here. The insulation box needs to go
all the way to the ground and be tied or weighted down to survive
winter storms, too Then my friend takes the box off just as the
weather starts to warm in spring, just before the last frost in early
April (protecting the tree if there is a late frost but opening it up
to air out as the warmth comes in. Leaving the insulation on too late
results in mold all over the tree.) And his figs are leafed out and
budded with fruit well ahead of the rest of his orchard and produce
really well with this method. I’ve been aching to try this ever
since he first showed me. And I put in a semi-dwarf cherry tree and
apple here, too, both of which I keep pruned down to a reachable
level. (Most fruit trees now are grafted to roots of smaller growing
types, so they will not get too large and need far less pruning than
the older, full-height varieties.) So, those are my tree canopy
plants for my first-year forest garden. I have a feeling my edible
forest “tree” will be expanding and growing with new plants every
year, but this was enough for me right after a move. I am aching for
several more varieties of apples and cherries, a plum, and a native
persimmon, though. (Edible forest gardening can be a bit addictive,
fair warning!)

My
shrub level then has elderberries, raspberries, and half-high
blueberry bushes, too (North Country, with fruit that tastes like
those wonderful lowbush Maine wild ones). Wild blueberry pie, mmmm!
I’ve planted the raspberries in their own section on the side of
the yard and will mow the narrow strip in between other “branches”
of my forest garden, since raspberries send shoots off into the wild
blue yonder and need to be contained a bit if you don’t want them
all over your yard. All these are easy care plants, too, only the
raspberries needing any canes that have turned brown cut to the
ground after summer fruiting (not the fall fruiting or you’ll have
no berries next summer!) All plants need regular watering, soil full
of humus, and most need good drainage as well.

Of course, the ground cover level is lowbush blueberries! Along with alpine strawberries, both of which fruit well in dappled sun/shade, so are utterly perfect for a forest garden. I have regular strawberries, too, in front, so they get the sun they need, along with herbs like sage and rosemary, etc. I added a very few annual plants in between this year, too, since there’s so much sun under the new little trees and space between baby ground cover plants I could not resist filling in with eggplant, cabbage, lettuces, parsley, nasturtiums for my salads, and dill (These all need full sun). Once my trees grow big enough and the ground covers take over, the veggies will need a sunny spot of their own. And, of course, they have to be planted every year, so are not true edible forest garden plants, taking more work and requiring digging every year. But there are perennial vegetables, too; onions, leeks, broccoli that is mostly like cauliflower, asparagus, spinaches, and many more to choose from that I haven’t listed here. (See the book Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier, the edible garden guru.)

Put
on your druid robe as you plant and carry your wizard wand, for this
is the happiest, most delightful and druid way of gardening there is
in the world. You’ll create your own Avalon. And you’ll have
moons of delicious things to eat with little to no work to
produce them. There you have it, edible forest gardening, as magic as
can be!

***

About
the Author:

Jill Rose Frew, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, energy healer, workshop leader, and author. She will be opening a school teaching light healing and the Celtic path of enlightenment in 2019. For information, please see www.CelticHeaven.com

Guardians of the Celtic Way: The Path to Arthurian Fulfillment on Amazon