I am learning about edible forest gardens and permaculture, since they are such an important part of SegoDesign. Here is an overview:
Edible forest gardens are generally small-scale and mimic the layered structure of a forest, complete with tree canopy, vines, shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers—each plant having culinary (or medicinal) value for its fruits, roots, shoots, or other parts. By designing a garden with careful attention to the cycling of water and soil nutrients, as well as the interconnectedness among the plants and other organisms, we can create a pretty much self-sustaining agricultural ecosystem.
This lower-impact type of integrated food production is called “permaculture”, as opposed to traditional agriculture. Permaculture gardens require very little maintenance or watering or fertilizing or pruning (not to mention pesticides or other chemicals) to produce a variety of food and other useful products, all in your backyard! Edible forest gardening can be used in place of, or in conjunction with, seasonal beds of annual vegetables and herbs.
One of the really exciting things about forest permaculture is that, if combined with a soil-balancing remineralization program, a relatively small plot of land can be wildly productive! More posts on soil minerals coming up.
Here are some of the fundamental books on Forest Gardening—the primary sources we use:
Edible Forest Gardens (two-volume set), by Dave Jacke, with Eric Toensmeier
“A comprehensive exploration of vision, theory, design and practice.”
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway
Very readable, with helpful charts and diagrams. Second edition came out in 2009.
Edible Landscaping, by Rosalind Creasy
A cornerstone book and a beautiful, informative website.
Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual (1988) and Introduction to Permaculture (1991, revised 1997)
Both by Bill Mollison, one of the early Australian pioneers of permaculture in the 1970s.
Other good sources of info I found on the web:
http://www.permies.com/ (love the heading: “Permies: goofballs that are nuts about permaculture”)
I will close with this quote from Dave Jacke:
“Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodlandlike patterns that forge mutually beneficial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts. You can grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, other useful plants, and animals in a way that mimics natural ecosystems. You can create a beautiful, diverse, high-yield garden. If designed with care and deep understanding of ecosystem function, you can also design a garden that is largely self-maintaining. In many of the world’s temperate-climate regions, your garden would soon start reverting to forest if you were to stop managing it. We humans work hard to hold back succession—mowing, weeding, plowing, and spraying. If the successional process were the wind, we would be constantly motoring against it. Why not put up a sail and glide along with the land’s natural tendency to grow trees?”