Many commenters have appreciated my iterative design approach to food forests, which focuses much more on growing a big ecosystem, then cutting away what you don’t like later.
You can see what I mean in this video:
From the comments:
“I am an over planner by nature and we started our food forest with diagrams and layouts. 😂HAHA we started with CAD software. (I’m a graphic designer and my husband is a draftsman) It was structured and planned out. That quickly went out the window lol. I still try to maintain organized chaos, but we are just planting stuff at this point.” -heartofedenfarmstead
“You encouraged me to get started on my food forest. I went and started on my pineapple Guava in the front yard. I removed all the grass suffocating it. Then chopped and dropped some weeds from an unkept area of my yard. I also started clearing the ground in my backyard to start throwing out a seed mix. I already have figs from cuttings in containers, Cassava from a friend, Avocado from the store, and moringa a grew from seed. I bought a ton of cover crop seeds a while back. It’s like I’ve been waiting for this video to inspire me. From one David to another. Thx.” -TioDave
“This is a liberating point of view. I think that very thing has kept me from growing lots of things for lots of years. Nowadays it’s “Let’s just see what happens” and understanding it isn’t going to look like Charles Dowding and many others I do admire but cannot emulate. More afraid of not trying than failing these days. Youtube is great for inspiration (selected channels, anyway) but at some point you just have to go outside and do it.” -sujo0603
“Love the very basic model that could be applied to any situation. I’m a retired biologist, and I can tell that you are 100% right that nature works in a similar way. Also, I like your analogy of building islands and expanding, connecting to other islands. Hey, they may become continents 😅 You may call that “plate tectonics gardening” Leo Miranda-Castro
“David The Goods primary job on YouTube is to keep us all out of analysis paralysis lol. I want to add that the benefit of having animals makes the haphazard style all the more appealing. Animals will eat so much of what we think are garbage and an escaped goat has a smaller chance of demolishing an orchard if everything is camouflaged like this. I have started planting sunchokes near trees for just this reason.” -jcmustian
“I am my grandmothers granddaughter. She raised me up in the garden. Literally, i was crawling around while she worked then i grew to help her. I loved it. It was like what you are doing at your place. Well i thought i wanted to grow up and have a very planned garden in my front yard and my garden hidden in the back yard. All totally organized and planned, planned, planned. Well it has taken me years to come back full circle to my grandma and her way of doing things. It makes me so proud to know how wise and smart she was. She raised and fed a huge family and had a small market garden doing things her way. Thank you David and family to help me come back around.” -diannevaldez8670
“My first island garden happened because some perpetual spinach seeds somehow self-seeded in a patch of grass, and instead of pulling them out or mowing them down, I mulched around them and leaned into it being a deliberate patch. Basically said “Okay, I don’t want to waste this free food – I guess this is a garden now.” And then I built around it and planted other things. I have lots of little islands now and I’m constantly adding bits and pieces to them, filling in gaps, using edges. I planted pumpkins under my apple trees, partly to suppress the grass and partly because… why not fill unused spots with pumpkins while it’s a work in progress? I planted broad beans and flowers between the shrubs in my (very young) hedge because again, it’s a work in progress – why not use those gaps to grow food and colour in the meantime? The wire fence provides structure for the broad beans, the flowers bring in the pollinators, the flowers and broad beans give wind and sun protection to the young shrubs, along with a constant source of chop and drop mulch. Plus I get cut flowers and a big pile of broad beans instead of no broad beans. Everybody wins. I pruned my passionfruit vine one year and ended up with several wheelbarrow loads of pruned material. I composted it, but it was annoying and cumbersome, so the next year I had a brainwave and just arranged the vines around my trees as mulch. The following pruning session, I used the material to build up a new garden bed, covered it over with mulch, and then when it was time to plant into it, I created pockets of compost. I find this is a great way to build up garden beds without needing (expensive!) bulk soil. I no longer see big pruning jobs as chores but as a harvest in their own right, mulch for my larger trees or material to build my next new island garden. I’ve reframed my disdain for particular vigorous weeds in the same way – they are now “free and abundant biomass”. I almost always let volunteers do their thing, and they teach me about where they want to grow. I want to know which food plants will grow like weeds here, which can handle dry spells, which will/won’t attract pests, etc. I want to fill spaces with food that will be vigorous, resilient, low-maintenance. Bonus points for multi-use plants, natives, self-seeders, perennials. High wind tolerance. Anything that the parrots aren’t terribly interested in vandalising. Slow bolters and cut-and-come-again plants over those that I have to reliably succession plant (because I’m bad at that). I don’t really want to waste time and energy on something that will bolt and be done if there is something similar that will chug along all season. I also try to scatter the same types of plants around in different areas to see what they like best in my microclimate. Often plants will surprise me, thriving in spots that I thought they would struggle in, and vice versa. I’ve learned that where I am, I can/should plant some things earlier than recommended but other things I need to wait much later than recommended. I lean into the successes, adjust for or cull the failures, and fill in the gaps again. Each growing season is another chunk of data on who the stalwarts are going to be and who might end up in the too hard basket. I’m disappointed when things die, but every failure is a lesson and another step towards a more resilient and abundant garden overall, and I always have something waiting in the wings to fill in a gap and try again. Just get it in the ground and see if it works.” -ushiaala
Though you may increase production and get better spacing and interactions and paths, etc., etc., etc., if you plan extensively before planting, often the planning becomes an excuse not to actually get stuff growing.
It’s more important to break the analysis paralysis and just get stuff in the ground. Propagate a ton of plants, put them all over, then hack your way through them later as you need space or paths or whatever. Sure, you can have a basic plan in mind, but I’m really tired of all the endless planning and talk talk talk talk talk that leads to nothing. Stop dreaming and start doing.
Even a tightly planted space like Robert Hart’s original temperate climate food forest – which Dave Jacke says is way too choked up with trees and shrubs – grew plenty of food.
You can plant a food forest, starting right now.
(And if you’re in Florida, this book will help with inspiration.)