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On to the next book review!

I just finished reading Edible Forest Gardens Vol. 2 by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier.  I powered my way through this book over the last two weeks eager to see what they had to say next.  Definitely an excellent book for those interested in designing food forests.

At first glance, this book looks like a pretty intimidating read, clocking in at over 650 text book size pages.  But once you open it and have a look around, it turns out that 200 pages are dedicated to very detailed plant function tables, recommended readings, bibliography, and indexes, making this book a most excellent reference guide for future consultation.  I have yet to come across a book with more detailed tables and lists to make your forest garden designing easier.

But let’s get to the actual information presented in this book.  The first chapter starts things off with an introduction to issues and strategies in forest garden design and management.  I have not read the first volume in this two part book series (could only afford one; not cheap books), but I believe this first chapter to be some what of a summary of a lot of the things discussed in the first volume.  The authors refer back to the first volume on many occasions in this chapter.  Overall this is a good introduction into what forest gardening is all about.  Very useful breakdown of the ideas for the first time forest gardener.

The authors move on in the next chapter to talk about patterns in the forest garden.  A little explanation into what patterns are and then they move right into a long list of design patterns that can be used to your benefit.  This list is really cool.  Instead of talking about abstract ideas of patterns, they break it down to very real things to think about when designing and how it all works in a forest garden.  Some examples of these patterns are: Habitat Diversity, Outdoor Living Rooms, Zones of Water Use, Temporary Shrublands, Keyhole Beds, and Ground Cover Carpets.  Very nice, useful chapter on patterns in a forest garden setting.

After outlining many forest garden patterns to use in design, the book moves on to the design process and in particular, the overview, goals and assessment part.  The detail from the last chapter continues here.  The authors go through a few ways to articulate your goals for your forest garden design.  These exercises are very nicely presented in order of complexity.  Depending on how you function, you will find a nice way of getting a clear goal to work towards.  During and/or after goal setting you will want to assess and analyze the site for the garden.  This part is again very detailed with the emphasis on choosing the way you like to go about accomplishing the certain tasks.

There is a theme throughout the book of the authors going through each stage of planning in the utmost detail.  They set it up in such a way that you can choose which way you want to go about it.  So if you are into planning each little thing with lots of detail, it’s here for you and if you just want to go through the basic planning and use more intuition, you can do that too.  They emphasize going with what works best for you many times.

Once your goals are mostly clear, the process moves on to the design phase.  Here they talk about the four realms of forest garden design: infrastructure (features, functions, and elements like beneficial animal habitats), vegetation architecture (habitat design), vegetation dynamics (plant succession design), and social structure (in terms of guild and polyculture design).  The authors go into detail on each of the realms and then go on to talk about how to design with those realms in mind.  Here many of the patterns outlined in the second chapter are referred to.  This chapter is also very good with lots of pictures of the plans they used to design one of the authors back yards.  You get a real sense of what is involved and how it starts to all come together through planning.  So much to think about in the design phase and they lay it all out here in a nice, easy to follow way.

After all that planning it is finally time to begin the site preparation.  The authors emphasize how important good site preparation is in relation to how much work you want to do maintaining the system in the future.  Good site prep can greatly reduce the number of and vigour of the weeds present.  They go through a bunch of different techniques to preparing a site, but seem to focus a lot on sheet mulching as their main technique for weed suppression.  I am of the group of permaculture folks who isn’t too keen on using newspaper and cardboard in the garden, so I would do things differently here, but sheet mulching does seem to work.  Lots of info here on amending the soil, dealing with unwanted plants, setting up irrigation (also not a fan of this), setting up pit and mound planting, plus more.

Once the site is prepped, it is time to begin planting.  This section goes into lots of good detail on how to put plants in the ground, where to get them and many other things to think about along the way.  I found there was a lack of talk about starting your own seed here.  They almost exclusively dealt with nursery plants.  But the information presented on planting those plants is excellent.

The book ends with a chapter on managing, maintaining, and coevolving with the garden.  A nice little bit on what can be expect through the years.  From dealing with weeds, to maintaining the polycultures, evolving the system and harvesting.  A nice section on evolving with the garden through plant breeding and selection.  They talk about how forest garden plants haven’t been bread very much and it’s time for us small time, back yard tinkerers to get the ball rolling.

Overall this is an awesome book.  So much information with nice tables and pictures throughout to help you better understand the content.  Again, the indexes are a totally amazing resource.  The book is well written with a nice attention to detail, while still allowing for creativity in design.  I would say anyone interested in this subject would benefit greatly from reading this book, especially newcomers.  This book is especially useful for those with small properties to design.  Much of the detail in this book is simply too much when working on a larger scale, but for a backyard food forest garden, I would say it’s excellent.  Definitely something I will be referring back to in the future.

For some more info and links to buy, go check out the page about this book on permies.com.