I was looking at a abandoned industrial lot with some tree’s growing overhead and greenery carpeting wherever soil is open and small patches of greenery growing through wherever there are cracks in the pavement and it hit me why the ideal food forest for fruit production is open with heaps of light and heaps of greenery all over the ground. I feel a bit silly for not recognising it earlier but of course its because we are trying to keep a state of interrupted succession at around the 3 – 7year mark from an abandoned field. This is the stage where trees are about 2 – 3meters high bushes and shrubs are growing well whilst there is still quite a bit of herbaceous vegetation growing across the ground. If we were to allow succession to continue we would include timber and other species and create a dark forest type environment not conducive to the fast growing fruiting species we rely upon for food.
Food forests still rely on interrupting and keeping succession at an artificially early stage. This is illustrated if you look at a mature New Zealand mixed podocarp forest which is a dark thick environment completely unsuited to growing fruit trees in. While not as destructive as agriculture which takes succession back to the beginning at least once a year and normally a whole lot of times a year we still inhibit the development of mature forests. This seems to fit some memory’s I have of how the early stages of succession are the most productive.
In some food forest systems such as those practices pre European in some areas of the Amazon forests were allowed to develop over 150 years before the cycle of succession began again through slash and burn techniques.
Anyway it was a good reminder that I should go out and test my ideas by looking at natural ecosystems rather than just looking at books and websites writer by permaculturalists. As most permacultural texts come from Britain which has cold winters or the subtropical environment present in Australia we must be careful to design according to our own landscapes. I also stumbled upon this a very thought provoking article by David Holmgren about the role of “weed” species in Permaculture and land restoration econsynthesis in weed landscapes originally printed in the Permaculture International Journal.
Where we try and keep succession (with more trees)