In this series of programs we ask whether it is possible in the northern part of the world to create food-producing ecosystems with a rich biodiversity which are adapted to the climate and give a good harvest. This will involve polyculture and giving perennials more space in both small-scale and large-scale systems. In the future such systems could produce much of our food by using natural succession and take inspiration from natural forests and shrublands. A forest garden is one such system that includes perennials. A forest garden is a food-producing ecosystem, usually dominated by perennials with edible parts. It is a layered system with everything from high and low fruit and nut trees, to shrubs, perennial herbs, ground-covering plants, root vegetables and climbers. The program series will be based here in Åfallet Forest Garden, but we will also visit various forest gardens and their managers and talk about everything from the challenges with the systems, techniques for establishment, to management, harvest, plant breeding, and our favorite plants for cooking. Welcome to the Youtube channel Forest Gardening of the North. In this first part we have the honor of visiting a forest garden which has inspired us and many others, a garden which our children love. In the Holma forest garden we meet and interview Johanna Johansson, an expert and a teacher in forest garden design. It is a beautiful afternoon in late October, when many plants have withered but others are in full autumn glory. We race the setting sun to bring you this interview and some first glimpses of this inspiring forest garden. We apologize for the slight noise from passing cars and trains. Welcome to this first part of the interview! We are outside of Höör in central Skåne in the southernmost part of Sweden, in Holma Forest Garden, which was established in 2004 on land owned by a foundation. Our fences enclose about 5 000 square meters. Some parts are more intensely planned and managed. We have seven groves which are 200 square meters each, with different aims and designs. We also have some areas with nut trees and also a birch forest where we establish edible woody plants along with what’s already growing there. The groves have names. When we planned these groves, we thought 200 square meters would be a good size for a household, combined with some cultivation of annual crops. The forest garden could provide fruit, berries, nuts, spices, plants for herbal teas, and other edible perennials. So the groves are about 200 square meters each and have evolved and changed a bit. The herb layer was the least planned from the start. There’s a theme for each grove. One theme is the herb grove, which is more exposed to the sun and has many different herbs and salad plants. It is more intensively cultivated. Here’s another interesting one: the shady grove, which is more extensively managed. It’s a possible model for an inner yard in a residential area, which doesn’t have much sun. In the herbal layer there, we find ramson, Hosta and ostrich fern. Then we have the grove that we sit in: Barstow’s grove. We asked Stephen Barstow who has thousands of edible perennials. if he could choose his fifty favorite perennials. So we have planted many of them here, but we’re still working on the project. Those are some of our themes. Then we have the hardy grove – personally I think it isn’t that relevant to grow things adapted for other zones. The aim here is to show plants which are more hardy than the ones in this zone. After seeing the design process, I think it’s important to really adapt the garden to the needs and possibilities of where we are. That’s when we actually use the plants and manage the garden. So now we are remaking the design to better fit our needs. We’re in hardiness zone 3. When we first started planning, we assumed that it was zone 2. But it turned out that we have cold winters and late spring frosts. A fair amount of hazelnuts, that’s starting to be a good production. Flowering quince, blue honeysuckle, and various Ribes species, especially red currants
and gooseberrys We have a lot of those and they produce well in shade. In spring we have a multitude of perennials that we use in salad. One could quickly make a salad with at least twenty different plants and tastes. And that’s during a long period, from the end of March until midsummer when a lot of plants start to taste less good. We can also pick vegetables for cooking, like Good-King-Henry, herb Patience, sea beet, and sea kale, also during the later parts of the year. These plants are probably the most important for harvest quantity. We’re also trying out nuts. We have a small harvest of walnuts so far. Hazelnuts are really the only nuts we produce in quantity. We also get a lot of quince. The apple harvest isn’t great because of late spring frost, but we almost always get a lot of quince. It’s more of a fruit for marmalade, or cooked in other ways. But we also get a fair amount of flowering quince. That’s one of the few plants we’re self-sufficient in. We make a lot of juice which is kind of like lemon juice that we use in cooking all year round, for the food at the school. Those are examples of some of the main plants. We also have a fair amount of blackberries and raspberries. It’s a collaboration between many people. But, it was mainly two people. One of them was Esbjörn Wandt, a permaculture teacher. He’s worked a lot with educating the public and spreading permaculture and forest gardening in Sweden. The other one is Arne Jansson. He’s worked with fruit and berries, and trees in parks. So they got together and got funding to start the project in 2004. Esbjörn, one of the founders, grew up in Tanzania, where it’s more common and natural with food-producing systems similar to forest gardens. So he’s used to many of these environments. Also it’s a good place to work with education, for meetings and sharing skills between people, and a way to spread permaculture as a planning tool. I know they were also inspired by Martin Crawford, who developed forest gardens in temperate climates. That’s an important question, and the answer has shifted over time. At first when the forest garden was established, it was a lot about demonstration, to show what a forest garden can be in different contexts. It was a lot about collecting and testing many different plants and plant combinations. The purpose has changed a bit over time. The garden has become a sort of park used by the public in Höör, and by kindergartens. That’s not what it was originally designed for, but it’s been used that way. During one period we worked a lot with pedagogics to see how we can use this kind of system in schoolyards and parks, together with children so they could understand food and ecosystems better. And now, when we have a folk high school here, we work much more with seeing what the forest garden can contribute and provide us with. We have about a hundred participants. Some grow vegetables, some build houses, some work with alternative economics and entrepreneurship, and so on. Then the purpose is to see what the forest garden can produce. Most importantly food, but also wood, and craft and plant materials for the different classes. So now we’re really starting to articulate the purpose of the garden more clearly. It has changed, and now it’s part of a permaculture school. When it comes to that, just like you have a room for resting in a school, which you should have according to the law, we are exploring how you can use this type of environment that many people feel good in, to create rooms for resting here. Outdoor classrooms and so on. Now we adapt the purpose more distinctly in order to fit the role of the school. We did this book a few years ago; Forest Garden – for small forest gardeners and curious adults. It can be purchased at online bookstores and we also have it here. I can tell you a little in general that this book is intended to be read by children or together with children. This is part of a larger project that is about exploring how we can use the forest garden as an educational environment and for co-creating together with children. Especially in school yards and kindergartens, but in general to get an understanding of ecosystems and where food comes from, and to understand this consideration for nature. We have had some researchers who have collaborated with different schools, who have come here to the site and been inspired by it. We have also seen what we can get from this and create in school yards, especially in Malmö, where school yards often are species and nature-poor environments. We have built them in slightly different ways, either in forgotten little overgrown areas, or in existing small flowerbeds, which we have tried to develop into more forest-like miniature cultivations. This was also followed by researchers in pedagogy for sustainability at Jönköping University, who continued with this, after we completed our project. They started projects at 20 preschools in the municipality of Jönköping. They have built small mini-forest gardens together with educators and children and studied these. They have seen the value of these for their relationship to the place, nature, animal care, and what is on the site. But also consideration about the food. It is very interesting to follow, that they see so many benefits Especially for the children’s interest in food and production, and nature, but also in terms of everything from UV radiation to how much the children move around. They have looked at various aspects of building more complex food-producing environments. We still have short educational trainings for educators who come here and provide with both knowledge, inspiration and plant material. So they can build up a little more perennial cultivation in their school yards. Our range of adult education courses. Since we are a new school, which additionally is in a relocation phase, things are changing a bit. A few years ago we only had forest gardening courses here. Now we have vegetable cultivation, permaculture design, crafts, and “transition” which works more with alternative economy and alternative economic structures. Now we have all these courses here, and also general courses. Which is an adult education that corresponds to upper secondary school. Our goal is to integrate these courses in a good way, so that you both can become an expert in your field and also see what role the other parts have in contributing to the common whole. So, we simply work a lot to become more self-sufficient at school. The courses we have are for example: a half-time course in forest gardening design, where you follow the season from February to November. Then you are here to learn about ecosystems and cultivation, plant knowledge. Much is about learning how to harvest and utilize, what plants you can benefit from and integrate in your own garden and so on. The aim of the course is also to communicate the value of the forest gardens. Although not all students are going to build their own forest gardens, they can gain greater understanding of ecosystems and how to interact with nature. This by taking part in this environment. It is an interesting challenge since we are both people who work here, who join courses, and like today, as we hear, the nonprofit organization Friends of the Forest Garden are here to take care of and harvest in the garden. We work with sociocracy as an organizational form, to create clear domains and goals and work from it. It is an exciting challenge for us, especially as it changes, to create the distinctness needed to sustain care, development and harvesting. I’ve always been interested in collecting. The feeling that there is an abundance when you come out into nature. Be able to collect wild plants. It’s probably something I’ve had with me for a long time. I have studied human ecology and been in a context where you hear about all the problems and challenges. It was probably when I first came here and attended a folk high school course years ago that I saw a way to work constructively, in a way I feel good about, at the same time as you do something that makes things go a bit in the right direction. It is probably partly because of this and that I had a background in organic farming and pedagogy. Here I had the opportunity to weave these things together. I think I see that there is so much interest from so many fields, both from agriculture, landscaping, urban planning and from all directions. And there are so many values in it. And I think it is very important, even for us here at Holma, not to fall into the position of either forest gardens or annual crops. We work a lot to look at how we can integrate different systems. Now it is a later succession here in the forest garden, so it might not be very relevant to get annual crops in the forest garden right now. But, at an early stage, it has been great to get a lot of pumpkin, squash and potatoes in the establishment stage. And vice versa: how can we bring out the perennial plant species and these thoughts in annual cultivations. In order to both get more production, longer harvest period, more carbon storage, greater biodiversity. To see the collaboration there and to look at what we need and what conditions we have on site. To get many different elements to work with and adapt to. It is an interesting challenge with eating habits. I find it exciting to look at this. For some, it is enough that it is edible, so by eating, you like the idea of eating perennials or wild plants. But, if you think we should reach out with the concept to very many people, it must be presented in ways similar to what you are used to. I think it is interesting to look more closely at other food cultures. If we look at for example Italy, where you consume a lot of wild and quite bitter flavors. Or if you look at Indian food culture where you use a lot of spinach and other leafy vegetables. How to use spices there and so on. We have had visits here by people from the Middle East who have seen grapevines, and enthusiastically asked: how much do we get to pick? It is a resource in order to make dolmas, stuffed grape leaves. I think it is relevant to look at what kind of different traditions there are to use, for example, leafy vegetables, which it is very much about. An important challenge and an important process that will surely take time, I think. An important aspect is that in the future we can eat more leafy greens, but also see what functions these systems can get out and bring into our food systems, such as biodiversity, nitrogen fixation, co-cultivation of annual and perennial crops. Bringing the thoughts out wider: trees on straight lines in the fields, or allée cultivation together with annual crops. I think there are many benefits. I may not think that all areas of food production will be transformed into sheer forest gardens. It is quite complex systems that require a lot of knowledge, interest, and quite a lot of work with management and harvesting. I strongly believe that we can be inspired by this and create simplified systems as well. We know a lot about the fact that we have trees in a system which absorb a lot of carbon. I think it is an important knowledge to share, to get an understanding of how we build up carbon in the soil and in this way gain both climate benefit and increased fertility. When it comes to resilience and biodiversity, I think we have seen the benefits of this system clearly. We have a fruit orchard here beside and a few years ago they had a lot of infestation of winter moth there. When you passed by in May, when it used to be full bloom, it looked like it was winter. It was just bare, and it is only 100 meters away from here. But then you came here into the forest garden, you could only see a few of these larvae here and there, but none of the big problems that were found in the pure fruit orchard. We have also had a biologist visiting us who does research on pollination. She was here doing inventories of bumblebees, and saw many species, even though it was a rainy and windy day. There are very big benefits with integrating this type of system. It is also important to say, even together with one-year cultivations. There are so many links and benefits of integrating perennials. For those of you who want to be guided around Holma Forest garden’s various groves and get acquainted with all the exciting plant species, polycultures and plant communities, do not worry! We intend to return to Holma in the coming summer and do an episode about this!