Notes from Windward: #67


Growing an Edible Forest

January 17:
Lindsay describes part of our long-term sustainability plan

     Windward's overall research mission is to find methods and human-scale technology that can sustainably feed, fuel, clothe and house 20 people on 100 acres of marginal land. As many have mentioned throughout these Notes, forests and perennial plants play a key role in each of these goals (fruit and nuts for the kitchen, forage for the animals, biomass for fuel, timber for building), and many Windward projects focus on utilizing the existing forest resources and establishing more perennials for the future.

     In addition to the direct provisioning of goods (e.g. food and timber), tree crops provide many services that are particularly important in regions with our climate and topography (hot, dry summers; moderate-steeply sloped land), most notably that:
  1. extensive root networks hold the soil in place, decreasing soil erosion on slopes,
  2. deep roots increase soil water retention and enable the plant to maximize use of available water, and
  3. perennials can grow on slopes that would otherwise be ill-suited for tillage and cultivating annual crops.

     Further ecosystem benefits derived from perennial, no-till, agriculture include maximizing the ecosystem's capacity to store carbon in both the soil and woody vegetation, and promoting biodiversity (plant, insect, microbial etc).

     In temperate regions, managing a forest for timber is a well established idea that is commonly practiced; however managing a forest for food is a concept and practice not as well known. While not widely practiced currently in the United States, people throughout the world, in both temperate and tropical climates (including the eastern and western coastal forests of North America) have been managing forests for food for thousands of years. In more recent iterations, this practice is enveloped in the terms edible forest gardening, permaculture and agroforestry; there are a growing number of organizations that provide practical and theoretical information for the curious and devoted such as World Agroforestry Centre, Association for Temperate Agroforestry, Permaculture Institute, Edible Forest Gardens, and Non-timber Forest Products.

     Over the past few years, Windward has been slowly and steadily transforming the land with the goal of establishing a diverse and substantial forest resource that can help to feed, fuel, clothe and house the stewards, and as with all other Windward projects to learn which methods work well and to share both the process and the results. So, with this section of the Notes, I hope to be sharing our 2009 progress in developing a forest ecosystem that promotes biodiversity, and carbon sequestration, that will help to feed, fuel, clothe and house the Windward stewards.


CHESTNUTS (Castanea spp)

     This is our second year stratifying chestnuts we have gathered. In order to germinate, chestnuts need to be kept cool and moist for several months. Last year we tried two methods described in Getting Chestnuts Started both of which worked successfully. This year, we are stratifying Spanish Chestnuts (Castanea sativa) and Colossal Chestnuts (Castanea spp) from Allen Creek Farm in peatmoss, storing them in the fridge and making sure they stay moist.


WALNUTS (Juglans spp)

     In addition to the English Walnuts planted this past summer, we now have Black Walnuts stratifying as well, and will be transplanting them in the spring.


PAWPAWS (Asinima triloba)      I am excited to share that we may be able to add a new type of tree-the Pawpaw--to our collection this spring, pending successful germination. The Pawpaw is a native North American fruit that belongs to a plant family that consists primarily of species that grow only in the tropics. Not commonly found in commercial cultivation, the pawpaw is a large, oblong fruit with a smooth, custardy flesh, and a flavor and texture often described as a combination of mango and banana. Similar to Chestnuts and Walnuts, Pawpaw seeds need to stratify in order to germinate, so they are currently tucked in with moist moss gathered from our oak trees, resting until the spring.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 68