The Symbiotic work of Plant guilds in a food forest
I was motivated to learn Permaculture after a one week training on Natural medicines which changed my eating habits. When I learned that permaculture has non rigid guidelines that can meet different needs at different times to achieve a green planet. I got the explanation that permaculture uses simple practical solutions which are achievable by ordinary people. Energy efficiency, organic growing, community finances; making do with the resources one has. Thus permaculture reduces the need to earn.
My initial permaculture experiences led to my involvement in a project to develop a food forest at Umoja Orphanage in Diani Kenya after training in April 2014.
Why Food forest?
The 2% of rain forests in the earth support 50% of all life. Forests fed human beings sufficiently for many years. Our forefathers were hunters and gathers. People are losing reference to Mother Nature. A forest has trees, bushes/shrubs, herbs, tubers, thus stacking to utilize all available space. Nature has forest plant guilds which work to benefit each other.
Once the food forest is established, the animals come in. Everything is in a relationship – the needs of one element are easily met by the produce of another element.
Example: The animals provide manure for the garden and the garden provides food for the animals. The chicken feed as they forage and fertilize the soil and keep pests away.
The Umoja Orphanage in Diani Food Forest
Umoja needs a food forest to supply all its needs in diverse food that it desperately needed to attain self sustainability at the end.
A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system, which mimics a woodland ecosystem by substituting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Fruit and nut trees make up the upper level, while berry shrubs, edible perennials and annuals make up the lower levels. The Umoja Food Forest will combine aspects of native habitat rehabilitation with edible forest gardening.
The goal of the Umoja Food Forest will be to bring the richly diverse community together by fostering a Permaculture Tree Guild approach to urban farming and land stewardship. By building a community around sharing food with the public we hope to be inclusive to all in need of food. A total of 164 seedlings that included citrus (oranges, lemons), pawpaw’s, guava and coconut were planted during the training to start off the food forest. There is sufficient space to hold many more different plants including squash, tubers like cassava and sweet potatoes, and groundnuts also since planting materials for these are available locally.
Everything is in a relationship– the needs of one element are easily met by the produce of another element. For example, the animals provide manure for the garden and the garden provides food for the animals. The chicken feed as they forage and fertilize the soil and keep pests away. The food forest aims to work with nature not against it. By observing nature and copying her ways of recycling wastes and creating ‘closed loop systems’ it has helped us create sustainable systems.
We have used plant guilds in the Orphanage food forest to maximize the use of space (niche) besides the plants benefiting each other symbiotically. Three guilds have been used: maize, bean and squash. There is a maximum use of space and nutrients while the nitrogen fixers replenish used nutrients in the soil. Maize is trellis for bean, bean is nitrogen fixer and the nitrogen-fixing bacteria are fed by special sugars from the corn root, squash provides ground cover. In some places we have added insect attracting plants.
This article is part of an initiative by FoodWaterShelter to promote permaculture networks in East Africa, and to support the hosting of PDCs in Tanzania. This and other articles are written by PDC students in exchange for PDC scholarships.