Development of a Food Forest system that provides a wide variety of edible yields, mulch and shade while protecting the soil and decreasing maintenance of the site. Serve as a beautiful demonstration element with paths and open areas that attracts additional guests and where workshops could be provided.
Current site elements
The base map below shows the main pre-existing elements at the site which include the main 35x35 building where four Airbnb apartments are offered for short-term rental. A tiny house, a paved driving path (all along the north side, from the gate to the parking area) and 3 large trees (Flamboyant, Ucar and a Ficus) can also be seen.
Zoning refers to the sectioning of a design that is based on its use and the need for maintenance of the elements within them. It starts with Zone 0, normally the residence, and it ends in Zone 3 for this site. The Food Forest is located within zone 3 because it is the system that needs the least maintenance. Zone 1 is located in front of the tiny-house and holds the veggie garden which needs frequent attention. Zones are a logical way to better make use of our energy.
The Zones diagram was also based on my observation of the frequency of visits to different areas of the site by me and my guests. Based on these observations, the Desire Lines Diagram was created. (see the Site Survey)
Zone 3 holds a few different Micro Climates due to the current elements it holds. There are three, 50’ to 60’ high trees of significant width that shade portions of Zone 3 at different times of the day. These trees can be seen in the base map above which have their names and an approximate width shown at scale. The Flamboyant tree has a low density crown, so it allows partial sun to pass. The Ficus is quite dense but due to its position, it mainly blocks the western sun. Under its crown, only shade loving trees can be planted.
The rest of Zone 3 is a lawn with a few shrubs which are either decorative trees or old unhealthy fruit trees which are no longer fruiting.
Zone 3 is bordered to the south, east and north by a concrete fence. A driving paved path was built to the North and it stretches all the way from east to west reaching the main building’s parking area. This car path can be seen on the base map. For additional details see the Site Survey.
Plants systems and soil
Please see the Site Survey. for a “DAFOR” list of the main native plants growing on site.
Soil: Sandy clay loam, please see the Site Survey.
Soil is extremely compacted since it has seen car and machinery traffic for decades
Profile: Zone 3 is fully flat.
Needs and wants related to this design
From the Client Interview, we can discern that the main goal of this design is to generate savings in food, and to increase our access to healthy food, specifically fruits. Most of the fruits you can get in PR comes from other countries. PR is a colony of the US and they require for all ships to travel to the US first, unload their cargo and reload it into another ship before they travel to PR. By the time we get our food it has travelled the world. This causes our food prices to go up and its quality down. Regular supermarkets rarely offer organic or vegan options unless they are products sold by big corporations. Local food is only available in small twice-a-month farmers-markets whose options are normally quite limited.
Another “want” is to shade most of Zone 3 to cool and clean the prevailing winds reaching the main building and the tiny-house. We can also see that there is a need for example elements that can serve as demonstration and as examples on PDCs and workshops.
Wheel barrel sized paths should be allowed to significant sections of the Food Forest, to allow for maintenance, to bring resources and for access for our guests. It would also allow access for a wheel chair in the case we end up in one someday (Creatively Use and Respond to Change).
Lifelong building skills in iron and galvalume structures and average experience in concrete and wood working.
The use of on-site resources- This design would integrate with my other 9 designs, generating and using resources for and from them. (Integrate Rather Than Segregate)
The size of Zone 3 space would allow for workshops to be offered.
Permaculture ethics- Guidelines within which this design should be completed
Earth Care- Increase fertility and diversity, by planting in an eco-regenerative way. Keep the soil healthy by planting trees that generate leafy and woody mulch while shading it. Lower our contribution to pollution by limiting our trips to the grocery store and lowering how much our food travels.
People Care- Provide healthy food my family, my guests and me. Serve as a key attraction for our lodging business helping us generate an extra income and promoting the idea of regenerative living.
Fair Share- A design that guests and visitors can learn and consume from and one example they could emulate at their homes. Create paths with signs that describe the different elements helping our guests understand which element they are looking at and the reason for choosing it as part of the system. Allow for fruits to remain in the tree to provide food for the local fauna.
Out of the Survey process, we can discern some Key Functions related to this design from which our Goal was set:
This design should provide our home with healthy fruits and vegetables which we consume frequently.
It should generate savings on food by lowering our trips to the market.
Should have cooling effects on the two buildings.
Secondary functions (functions that are not directly associated with a particular need, but can support the system) are:
Serve as an example element on PDCs and workshops.
A space for play and to use as an open classroom on workshops and PDCs.
It should serve as one of my ten designs for the Permaculture diploma.
Element or System and its Function
Soil- Sandy clay loam- Soil amendments are to be generated on-site and horse manure is also readily available from a farm nearby.
Gray Water harvest system- Automation of de-chlorination and irrigation on a fixed point on the western side of the tiny house. It will provide de-chlorinated water for the brewing of compost teas.
People- Owners, students and guests should have easy access to the food forest for demonstration purposes and for workshops and PDCs.
Vermicompost Farm and the Compost pile- Integration of these designs as a source of nutrient rich compost and soil amendments, as natural fertilizers and as a potting mix for our nursery trees. Generates savings in fertilizer by generating it on-site. (Use Onsite Resources- Mollison)
Nursery- A source of new trees which are planted from seeds or cuttings. Generate savings and an income from the sale of any extra trees.
Cover crops (Sun Hemp, Buckwheat, Peanut)- Protect the soil from the sun and wind.
Deep mulch- Protect the soil from the sun and wind by adding deep layers of cardboard, paper, woodchips and straw.
Pollinators- Essential for fruiting of most plants.
Trees- A variety of species were chosen based on our diet. At a later time, depending on the experience, we will plant additional species.
Connections to other designs on site
The shape and features of the Food Forest will be affected by other designs that integrate with it.
The Eco Lodge Design is one example due to the need for the Food Forest to be beautiful and easy to access.
Other Designs like the Compost System, Gray Water Harvester and the Vermi-compost System provide the necessary soil amendments to the trees in the Food Forest. The food forest also supplies these designs with the necessary raw materials to generate the soil amendments and natural fertilizers. (Functional Relationship between components: Everything is connected to everything else- Mollison)
The Food Forest will use up, the entirety of Zone 3 which takes up more than half of the site to the east, as it can be seen at the Zone Diagram on the Overall Site Survey page. Its approximate size is 14000sq feet. This area is less frequented than zones 1 and 2 and is only visited when working on its maintenance. This area has to allow the planting of a significant amount of trees while leaving some space for the requested play/workshop/classroom areas.
Regarding the need for this design to be as beautiful as possible, I created the view sector diagram below. The main windows on 2 of my 3 rental apartments and the tiny house, point to this area and is in our interest to make of it, as beautiful as possible. The large windows in all apartments could serve as a frame for a beautiful food forest, an image that we can use to attract new clients and to make our guests’ stay, more pleasant. (Obtain a Yield)
The positioning of the Food Forest would also block the view from the front street providing privacy for us and our guests. Due to this, I need to take into consideration the prevailing winds to avoid blocking air flow to the buildings. A large tree canopy would cool and purify the wind reaching both buildings.
By designing from Patters to Details and using the Sector analysis, the main factor to take into consideration is the needs of each specific tree. The micro-climate areas created by our 3 main trees would be used as a factor for plant placement. A big area below the Ficus tree is too shaded for most plants. This area could be saved for the “play and workshop” areas that we wanted to save.
The northernmost area of zone 3, to the north of the car path, will also be planted but it will be planted less densely to avoid blocking the prevailing winds.
Main Permaculture Principles to be applied
Make the least change for the greatest possible effect- This zone has three pre-existing large trees which create different micro-climates. Our initial interest was on citric trees which normally need full sun exposure. Instead of removing any trees, I decided to pick the specific species that would adapt to the specific micro climates. The areas that are completely shaded could be reserved for workshops and leisure.
Observe and Interact- Years of observation of this area has helped me understand the different micro climates, from the driest and sunniest to the shaded and cooler spots influencing the specific spots for some trees to be planted.
Obtain a yield – Make of this forest, one of our main sources of food, mulch and to serve as an interesting element that could attract additional clients to our lodge.
Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback- Years before starting to learn about gardening, a few fruit trees were planted in random areas of the site. Most of these were failed attempts due to extreme exposure to the sun, no mulching and lack of soil amendments. I will make use of this experience to put emphasis on soil protection and regeneration.
Produce No Waste- Three trees, currently present in Zone 3, generate a significant amount of leafy and woody mulch which will be the main mulch source for the entire food forest. Also, all food leftovers generated on the house must end up in the Compost/Vermicompost bin and recycled into the forest as fertilizer and soil amendment.
Design From Patterns to Details- Make use of the Sector Analysis and the collected plant information to choose the optimal location of each tree in regards to sun, shade, wind, etc.
Integrate Rather Than Segregate- take into consideration if any of the trees can be integrated with others to exploit a synergistic relationship, per example, using the partially shaded areas under the Ficus to plant Coffee and Cacao. Plant Pigeon Pea and other companion crops next to all trees. Integrate this design with the Eco-Lodge as a key attraction, with the Zone 1 Garden as a source of leafy mulch, with the Compost/ Vermicompost system as a recipient of our home made fertilizer and with our Gray Water Harvester as a recipient of enriched irrigation water if needed.
Use and Value Diversity- Plant a diverse array of trees to obtain diverse yields and to increase resilience. Plant layers of small legume trees, herbs and bee attractors, root crops and miners like Comfrey around each tree.
The following illustrations show the outcome of the survey and analysis process and helps in structuring its implementation.
The design above show a fully developed Food Forest and each tree illustration has the desired max width written inside. Most trees would reach significant size if allowed but will be controlled. The main goal in regards to size would be to create a wide canopy that starts branching above 6’ high, and it’s top branches are maintained at around 25’ high max. This would allow for significant shade and prevent these trees from blocking the wind. It would also allow for significant space for play and workshops.
Smaller trees, mainly citrics, are located to the south to increase their exposure to the sun. Enough space would be allowed in between trees for easier harvest. I will also implement a banana/plantain circle and a row of papayas as seen in the diagram.
The diagram below show some of the walking paths that can be used with the proposed design.
Growth of each tree is to also be controlled to accommodate for access and diversity in this limited space. Each tree should be sorrounded by companion plants.
Cacao and Coffee are to be planted on the margins below the Ficus tree to allow for shade.
2012 -2014: Several trees were planted loosely based on permaculture videos and local organic agriculture books. Hugelkultur trials started in the areas where papaya row would be planted. (See Phase 2 diagram below)
2015: Nov 25- Planted legumes (Pigeon Peas) around all areas to be planted with fruit trees later for soil conditioning. This design had not been completed at the moment so I had not made a final decision on the final placement of all trees. A significant amount of pigeon pea trees were planted. (Succession: Recognize that certain elements prepare the way for systems to support other elements in the future, i.e.: succession planting.-Mollison)
2015: Dec 23- Interview with the client to focus its final design on their wants and needs.
2016: Feb- Completed a preliminary version of Ficus Temple Demonstration site diagram. (Diagram included the food forest)
2016: June 14- Trimming the tallest trees to allow sun light to pass through.
2016: June 23- 26 – Papaya path prepared, deep mulched and planted on top of an old Hugelkultur bed which had almost disintegrated. Leafy mulch from the site was used.
2016: July 14- Measurements of the whole site were taken again to update the final site plan based on the final tree placement.
2016: Sept 17- Research on the best cover-crops to be use on the food forest was completed and the tree table was created.
2017: Noticed that weeds were not affected by the densely planted green cover crops so I decided to instead only use deep layer mulching with paper, cardboard, straw and woodchips.
2017: Hurricane Maria destroyed most of the Ficus Tree leaving the shaded areas almost fully open. By this time, the shade loving trees had already been planted. None of my other trees were affected.
2018: July – Took new measurements to decide on the proper placement of the new trees. Planted a Loquat, 2 Garcinias and a Rose Apple in the new open area to create shade in the future. (Succession: Recognize that certain elements prepare the way for systems to support other elements in the future.- Mollison)
2018: August 3- Redesigned the banana circle to increase access to it and to be able to decrease the proliferation of weeds. Planted Sunhemp, Yautia and Hibiscus in all available space between the banana trees
2019: March- Due to the increase of deployments I had a hard time maintaining the Zone 1 garden beds while the Food Forest showed no need for maintenance after deep mulching. I decided to alter the Zones Diagram to increase the size of the food forest decreasing the Zone 1 Garden size. I also decided to leave this design as a simple Food Forest and cancel any plans to add any animals, mushroom farming or bee keeping until I’m able to stay on the site for longer periods of time or able to train someone on its maintenance. (Creatively Use and Respond to Change)
Planted Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) and a Mamey Zapote (Pouteria sapota) in the expanded area to the east of the tiny house to cool the wind before it hits it.
Planted a Lemon Drop Mangosteen (Garcinia intermedia) along the car path to the east of the main house.
Each planted area should be deep mulched and the health of these paper or cardboard covers should be monitored. When there are openings that expose the soil it should be covered with additional paper and hay or a similar material.
Trees should be trimmed to allow wind passing through them and to avoid fungal infections and allow access to polinators.
Based on the results of the Soil Analysis the site’s soil needs to be improved by applying soil amendments. An initial test will be as follows and a further soil test will be again performed in the future.
Twice a year, the paper cover will be lifted and a mix of Compost, Worm Castings (1-0-0) and Alfalfa Meal (2.5-0.5-2.5) will be spread at a 2 feet diameter beyond the crown of the tree. Each tree will be planted surrounded with different types of legumes plants like Pigeon Peas, Comfrey and a diverse array of plants to amend the soil and attract pollinators.
Once a month, a mixture of Compost, Worm Castings, Kelp, Alfalfa Meal and Molasses will be added as a tea. A quarter cup of grinded oats will be added to each 5 gallon bucket to increase the amount of soil fungi.
What went well:
A few of the trees started providing a significant amount of fruit, especially Mangoes and Starfruit. This provided immediate savings in food and allowed us to share with our guests quite early in the project. It also provided with material for the compost and the vermicompost bins
We received early positive feedback from guests, even during initial implementation when most trees where still fairly small and planting had not been completed.
Gained significant knowledge on tropical trees and cover crops which will be of great help on future projects.
All my attempts to use cover crops failed because everything was taken over by weeds and climbers. Due to this, I started working with deep mulch using layers of woodchips, newspaper or cardboard, and hay which was a success in keeping the soil moist and eliminating any weeding around each tree. There was also a significant improvement in the health of all trees.
Trees that are recommended for full sun but where planted in shaded areas, ended up providing high yields.
What I would have done differently:
I would have placed significant emphasis on soil health from the start instead of planting trees first. Some of the early trees died or had a hard time due to the exposure of the soil to the elements. This increased labor because we had to weed around each tree and water them by hand by carrying 5 gallon buckets of water where there is no access to potable water. There was a marked difference in the health of each tree once deep mulching and soil amendments where added.
Several changes were made to the site diagram after considering better placement during tree planting. Also, I considered integrating other elements to the original design to diversify the educational experience for guests.
Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico in 2017 and even though it did not cause significant damages to our property or trees, it destroyed part of our Ficus tree. By this time, all shade loving plants where already growing under its canopy. This newly open areas where used for additional trees as is can be seen on Phase 4 of its implementation. This area became of interest because, these trees would provide additional shade for the Coffee and Cacao trees and because the roots of the Ficus started to rot and would provide additional nutrition to the new trees. (Creatively Use and Respond to Change)
After deciding to put emphasis on covering the soil, I tried to use cover crops in some areas but weeds always took over, no matter how dense it was planted or well prepared. Due to this design’s requirement of low maintenance, I quickly switched to deep mulching in all areas.
Trees- Approx. $450
Cover Crop Seeds- $30
Liquid Kelp- 2 Gallons $60
Molasses Gallon $30
Alfalfa Meal- 5 pounds $15
Cured Horse Manure (Mainly purchased for the worm-bin but used on each tree)- $70
Woodchips Straw-$80 approx
Learning Pathway Reflections:
How this design helps me apply permaculture in my life:
How this design helps me apply permaculture in my works and projects:
Principle 9: Use small and slow solutions
Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.From: " https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/_9/ "