Hello food foresters,

Apart from ‘chop and drop’, mowing or scything pathways, and removing branches/trees to let more light in, I haven’t heard many details about what you need to do to keep a food forest productive. Would folks with their own food forests be willing to share some maintenance experiences here?

Do you prune in a food forest? How about thinning the fruit?

Does not thinning apples result in biennial bearing, or smaller fruit?


Is there a minimum size or age a food forest needs to be before the ecosystem provides 'pest' control?


Do you use organic sprays?


Do you fertilise (compost/seaweed/manure etc.) or rely solely on nitrogen fixing species and dynamic accumulators (or livestock)?


Is there a fruit/nut trees to nitrogen fixing tree ratio you use like Stefan Sobkowiak’s trio*?


Do you have any tips (or species you plant) for preventing rhizomatous grass growth around trees?


Are there any edible varieties you’d recommend as being disease resistant and/or low maintenance?


Is there anything you wish you knew when you first started out that could help others?


Any info would be much appreciated :-)


*two fruit trees to one nitrogen fixing tree

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Replies to This Discussion

I only know Kay Baxters ratio (and don't know what its based on) which is 50% of your canopy area being heavy feeding fruit/nut trees and 80% of your remaining 50% of canopy area being nitrogen fixing trees

Hi Mariana

Maybe there's not much on maintenance because not many people in NZ have a mature FF. ANd some of the q's you pose relate as much to general orchard management so are covered in other discussions eg tree crops assoc.

Our FF is about 7 years old but still has no canopy. Grass managament is our main issue, plus watering in summer. I do thin the fruit too to try and avoid biennial bearing and to stop branches breaking if we get heavy crops (doesn't happen often yet), and do the odd minimal bit of pruning. Our FF was planted into grass with each tree mulched separately. We are now going back through and 'joining the dots' ie mulching between trees so whole areas are sheet mulched and then planting understorey species. We are severely drought prone (in HB, only 420 mm of rain meansured this year) so they have to be things which survive. We run a nursery specialising in FF species, so we grow our own plants there - www.kahikateafarm.co.nz.

Re: pest control, i think diversity is key, rather than size, although i guess you need a certain area to incorporate a certain amount of diversity. I would ditch any plants which do not appear disease resistant. Seedling peaches do very well for us compared with grafted bought in varieties. I don;t spray anything as i don't want the trees to come to rely on it. It all needs to sort itself out! I fertilise individual trees with animal manure (incl humanure) but not every tree gets it every year. Also the mulch breaks down and helps build soil.


Re: N fixers, Marting Crawford suggests a 1:1 ratio and I think Kay Baxter's comments are based on his. I am also aiming for this but not all N fixers are canopy trees, some are also herbacious or ground cover layer.


I haven't got time for more discussion, much as i'd love to, but our website may be helpful.

Best regards


At this time of year (early summer) some of the activities I am doing in my forest garden include:

  • Pruning and thinning on some fruit trees such as apple and plums
  • Collecting seed from mature plants (daikon radish, lupin, tagasaste, broad beans, crimson clover, parsnip...)
  • Starting new plants to add to understory
  • Cutting grass and mulching

In the young (5 years) area we run pigs (kuni kuni for grass control), chickens and ducks along with nitrogen fixing trees.

In the older existing orchard that we are transitioning we bring in some pig manure and seaweed as well as addition of nitrogen fixing trees.

In dry / drought prone areas design and invest in land shaping for water retention before planting anything.

Get wind shelter in early and focus on easy to grow, tough species until the local microclimate changes to favour other more fringe species.

Learn to propagate and graft to save big $ on buying everything you need.

Remember you are part of an ecosystem and must share some of the produce with birds, insects etc. this is part of living in harmony with nature.

More info and details from the food forest project at http://www.blockhill.co.nz/food_forest


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