Hi, I'm looking for inspiration and tips on how to start a permaculture food forest on my relatively bare 2200m2 town section.  Has anyone got any plant lists, designs or photos of their own plot they could share to give me an idea of where to start?  What kind of spacing do you give the plants?  How many layers have you got in your forest?  What kind of canopy/fruit trees, shrubs, N-fixers, etc. are you growing?  I'm based in Masterton, NZ.  

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Hi Jacob

Here is a link to a really good website you will find lots of resources in and this is an article about  our food forest in Riverton including our species list. 


Inspirational!  Thanks for pointing out the species list - that's one of the things I've been particularly searching for.

Hi Robyn, I just read the article you link to. It was great to get a feel for your journey in the second video. I have downloaded your plant list and will look through for more ideas for our place over the coming week. Thanks for providing it.

Smiles, Laine

Here's a link I've since found giving another species list of plants available in NZ for anyone interested - http://www.sustainable-practice.org/node/114

Happy to see you found Andy Cambeis' documentation. There is also a thorough how-to manual online at http://goo.gl/OkrQH - well worth a look.




Hi Jacob,

I am based in Tinui - not too far from Masterton. I have an "emergent" food forest..happy to share plant sources, ideas, etc ..check out my blog if you get the chance- debsbutterfield.com

Cool!  Thanks, Debs.

Maybe it's time we started a NZ-centric step-by-step guide to the initial part of the process. What do you think Robyn and Debs?  I can start it off and invite you to co-create it (along with anyone else who might be willing). Let me know you'd be willing to contribute a little?

Happy to share..message for Jacob- you are welcome to visit and see the work in progress too if you get the chance - 06 3726870

Hi Jacob, Robert Guyton here. First things to do for you might be to spend some time with what you have already got. Roll around on the grass a bit, Get down as low as you can go then up as high as you dare. Stand out there on a windy day then walk around on a frosty one. Try tasting a few plants. Make a soil collection from 20 points on your property. Go out there at night. Walk away from the property and look back at it from as many angles as you can. Squint your eyes as you do. Don't mow it, don't spray it, don't dig it. Relax and let it relax. Later on, some ideas will come to you.

Btw - you've already started your permaculture food forest orchard garden. Most of the work is done inside of your head.

I hope this helps. If you need to something more 'practical', find a source of inexpensive bulk seeds and look for a second-hand tunnelhouse. These things will help you succeed.  

James: that's the kind of thing I've been looking for.  There's a fair bit of info. from other countries but I'm trying to find which local plants can be used in each niche e.g. kowhai, kakabeak or Poroporo as N-fixers apparently.  I'd prefer to use non-invasive/native species where possible.  A 'beginner's guide' would be great!

Robyn: thanks for the advice.  We've been living here a few years now and I've played around with the garden a bit so have got some ideas.  I've also been eating the 'weeds' in green smoothies :-)  Some of the thing I'm trying to figure out now is how to plan the garden/plant layout, where to get the plants from when on a budget and which plants to use where.  Thanks for your advice!

Debs: thanks!

Hi Jacob,

I have just been through a similar process and have some leads that might help. A good place to start in trying to assess what trees to put in are:

I’m not sure what local nurseries you have and if they have locally acclimatised plants, but these guys will not be too different climate to you and courier trees to you - http://www.ediblegarden.co.nz. I also found http://www.edible.co.nz/and http://www.wairere.co.nz/ who look good for some info. Wairere courier to you and have a huge range, though I did not get any of them in the end as I could get most things locally and off  http://www.ediblegarden.co.nz who are a family connection. Also I am getting comfrey root off http://www.kaiwakaorganics.co.nz/ which is were Koanga used to be.

My advice would be to map you site first. It sounds like you know the wind, wet etc. Once you have these 2 in hand you can look at what you might want to grow and what will fit on site, mapping on paper and on site. You can put larger trees to the south and smaller to the north/east/south so you maxamise light to all. My site is on the edge of bush, so slopes from the bush forward, down to small trees at the front. I am planting many of the larger fruit and nut trees will just touch when full size. In shady areas you might want to add 25% mores space around the canopy to let in more light.  But, make sure you put in good paths on your plan so you can access everything once it is full size and don’t have to bush bash, so to speak, to harvest. 

Look at what is OK in the wet spots you might have - blueberries etc., (keep deciduous out of these areas if possible), what needs the sun trap spots - persimmons etc. and wind protected areas - tamarillo etc. What is frost tender e.g. avocardos, and what needs chilling days to fruit property e.g. apricots. What copes with wind if it has too e.g. fiejoas and peaches. Apples, persimmons and pears don’t like to share root space with others of their kind, so need something in between, while only being 15-30m apart for pollination. Once you start along these lines your plan will emerge pretty well on its own from the observations of your landscape.  You just need to get to know the trees by doing some research. Are there spots with a view you would like to be able to site on a seat in? Is the compost/materials area easily accessible to the site? Do you need vehicle access to the site if you plan to bring in materials to get started?

For N fixers, I am limited in space so am going to perennial herbs and the like (clovers as N fixing and self maintaining paths, alfalfa as a perennial chop and drop/mulch plant etc.) rather than trees. Because of this I have not learnt too much about tree options in NZ other than NZ broom, alders, tree lucerne. I am sure there are lots of options if you have space.

Think a lot about the stages you will need to do too. Early on this will be site prep -  grass/weed exclusion, access to water, swales or other earthworks. How will you exceed weeds and grass? Chooks? Heavy mulch? Then, will you put all your trees in at once and maintain under then until the lower levels are planted, or will you do a section at a time and plant out the shrub, herb and ground cover layers too? What will you grow yourself e.g. herbs and ground cover, and what will you buy? What are your cost constraints? Do you need a greenhouse to grow seedlings?

Enjoy the project! And I agree with Robyn, think a lot. It’s worth the time to mull over things. But if you already know the site well, then draw up a plan of it, start a plant list and go for it. You can play around on paper as much or as little as you like until you are ready to start staking out on the ground and getting plants in.


Smiles, Laine




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