Transition Forest Gardens

Deforestation is actively destroying about 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forest every year. The biggest, most valuable trees are logged for timber. Often the smaller, less valuable trees are left remaining… for a while. Then farmers come along and clear the land for field crops such as soybeans, corn and cassava, because the remaining scrub forest doesn’t have much commercial value. But what if the deforestation process stopped after the large trees were cut? You could use the smaller remaining trees to help regrow a forest more valuable than timber – a food forest that continually produces abundant food indefinitely for generations to come without need for cultivation, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

For lack of a better term I’m calling this a ‘transition forest garden’ or ‘transition food forest’. Instead of starting with bare ground, the basic idea is to halt deforestation, save the remaining trees and use them to shade and protect new food producing trees. Gradually introduce fruit and nuts trees and other beneficial plants such as bamboo and medicinal trees. Land like this is abundant worldwide. In our area it’s cheap enough even poor people can afford it.

To help visualize what I’m talking about, take a look at our current forest garden. I believe a forest garden like this could be grown in 2-3 years with far less effort and less cost than the method we used. If you have suggestions for this project, please email me or leave a comment below.

Ideas under consideration for 1 hectare (108,000 sq. ft. = area 328’x328’): drill a well and build a pump house; plant a living fence around the perimeter to keep out neighbor’s cattle (build at least one gate for access); grind up some of the least desirable trees for wood chip mulch; save nitrogen fixing trees and any other useful trees; run pigs through the area to fertilize the soil; start a giant compost pile using local organic matter; make ‘hugelkulture swales’ to slow runoff; start planting some new fruit trees right before the rainy season and after the pigs are removed; cover the area with nitrogen fixing groundcovers and straw and wood chips to suppress the weeds; run drip irrigation to each new tree after the rainy season; add compost around new trees and make a new compost pile each year; gradually replace lesser value trees with more beneficial trees and plants over the next 2-3 years as time and finances allow.

12 thoughts on “Transition Forest Gardens”

  1. A farmer in India is growing a forest garden. This is the first video that I’ve found that documents the profit per acre from forest gardening. This farmer makes $9,500/year per acre. A hectare has 2.5 acres. That’s almost $24,000/year for one hectare.

    Of course you have to plant everything and wait a few years to start making money. That’s probably why most land is cleared for row crops. Really poor people can’t wait years. But if they could… they’d be rich someday.

    So this is the most convincing info I’ve found so far that documents how you can make a lot of money with forest gardens. (Makes sense. Forest gardens have been around thousands of years because they are the most productive agricultural system.)

    Two more videos of the same farmer in India:
    Zero Budget Farming Part 1
    Zero Budget Farming Part 2
    Some parts are hard to understand. Still, there’s lots of good information. The video description says there are hundreds of thousands of farmers now using this system!!!

    • We don’t need a lot of land to start. We can start on the edges and in backyards and any free space we find right now. Build up on the edges until it is profitable enough to buy bigger areas and spread. That’s what I really love about traditional forest gardening, it’s integrated with the homestead/yard itself. We could have these everywhere!

      • That’s a good way to gain experience — low risk, a little at a time.

        In case anyone missed it, I updated my previous comment after finding two more videos of the same farmer in India. Fascinating stuff. Think about it. How much money can you make with one cow per 50 acres? Almost nothing. You don’t need 50 acres. Buy 5-10 acres and focus on that. You could easily live off a few acres that generate $9,500/acre. Scale it up later after you’ve mastered the techniques.

  2. Great rundown of the potential use of food forests in this particular situation. I can’t wait to read the next post that your mentioned above!

    • It’s just a seed of an idea at this point, so it may be a long while before we do anything. We need to save money and find land that’s not too far away. The real cheap land is way up in the mountains and it wouldn’t be practical to go there frequently. That said, the idea is very intriguing. I love doing this type of work and so for me it would be really fun.

      We’d have to think through everything carefully because this would be a money making opportunity. We’d want to handle it like any business decision. For instance, would we keep things simple and just grow some fruit trees with ground covers? Would we plant a more intensive food forest with lots of produce? Would we add a large vegetable garden for ease of growing vegetables? Maybe add a pond? Leave space for a house someday?

  3. This really is the path forward. It is highly productive and can be profitable, if we get creative. There is a lot of potential here. It is far easier to start a forest from this stage, than to try and regrow from scratch. You will have a lot of the forest ecology still intact, which helps a lot.

    • I’m in the process of learning the best process to follow — step, 1, step 2… Same thing on our current forest garden. We still need to add the final layers and small plants.

      • The best you ca hope for is to get it right for your particular situation, but even if you get it wrong, most of the time, the whole system does well, regardless. That’s one really great feature of diverse food forest, their resilience. Despite our efforts and failed ideas, they still thrive, if we give them the chance.

  4. This is kind of what I’m hoping to do. I bought 38 acres in west Texas. I have a list of drought tolerant trees for that area from the extension agency’s website, and I plan to plant a variety of them. When they get tall enough, I’m going to plant fruit trees in between. Definitely a long term project.

    • Tomorrow’s blog post will list about 50 similar ideas that are being used all over the world to restore marginal land such as deserts and scrubland. Abe of VelaCreations is utilizing these ideas in your area with great success. He’s been leaving comments lately about his method. More details are on his website. His neighbor has typical bare juniper land. His grass is chest high!

    • I’m curious about what fruit trees you plan to use. Shade from the other trees will be great, but, since the area is so dry, will the fruit trees get enough water to produce?

      • Each tree will have drip irrigation. This is essential because summers are about 6 months long with almost no rain.

        We plant what we prefer to eat = bananas, mangoes, papaya, marian plum, sugar apple, jack fruit… But I’d also want to plant other things such as coconuts, neem to repel insects, bamboo for construction and making mulch, plus small edible and beneficial plants.


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