GROWING A FOOD FOREST
ABOUT THE SITE
Green peppers, red peppers, bell peppers
Sweet peppers are a wonderful plant in the garden, they are manageable and very ornamental when they start fruiting, showing colours starting with green and ranging to yellows, orange, red, purple and brown. They do best in full sun and are very low maintenance in a tightly packed bed.
well drained, fertile soil
5.5 - 7
full sun, 8+ hours a day, stops producing 35C+
seed, direct or in seed trays
sowing depth: 10 - 15mm
plant spacing: 30cm
moderate use, keep well watered during flowering
tomatoes, basil, carrot, onion, lettuce, chives, leeks, oregano
plant after green manure, beetroot, carrots, radishes, turnips
medium feeder on soil, dress with comfrey tea after fruit has set, water regularly, some plants require staking
August to October
perennial, 5 years, suitable for pots
elongated dark green leaves, frost tender
herbaceous, dark green to semi-hard
small, white, bell-shaped flowers
pods (berries), depending on variety, fruit sets when night time temperatures are warm (10 - 15 degrees Celsius)
30 - 60 cm high
thrives in warm weather with light afternoon shade
California wonder - green to red, prolific fruiting, harvest all summer
Melrose - red, early producing, small fruit 10cm
Quadrato D"Asti Rosso - red, large fruit
Banana - yellow
Golden Marconi - yellow, sweet, elongated, late harvest,
Corbaci - long 25cm, thin and elongated, very slender
Red Marconi - red, sweet, elongated fruit, 18cm long
Corno di Torro Rosso - red, long 20cm, sweet and spicy, large yield
Used fresh in salads and stir-fries, curries, stews and soups. Can be preserved into sauces, chutneys, jellies and jams. Dry whole pods to use as spices
Dried varieties are sold as spices, jams and chutneys and sauces are sold in South Africa.
Ornamental plant when fruiting, with brightly coloured pods ranging from blacks and deep purples to reds, oranges, yellows and greens - depending on variety.
Fruit can be used to make insect repellent spray
Nutrients: rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene
Freelance designer and curator of URBAN FOOD FOREST, formally trained as a landscape architect and urban designer.
Passionate about creating, design thinking, self sustainability and green infrastructure.
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
I have recently discovered that there are male and female fruit on plants. If you look at the bottom end there are either 3 or 4 bumps. The ones with 3 bumps are male, their seeds are scattered through the inside of the plant and are better suited for cooking. The ones with 4 bumps are female, have more seeds concentrated towards the stem of the plant and are sweeter and better suited to eating fresh.
I have had great success growing green peppers with basil, tomatoes, chives and a leopard lily bulb, which provides excellent ground cover. My peppers have never grown perennially.
Most of the peppers are grown from seed, but I buy a pack of seedlings early on in spring to get a better chance at an early yield. I can't wait for all the colours!
GROWING A FOOD FOREST - STEP ONE
I have a general life theory that 'when you cover your ends the middle just seems to come together'. This seems to work generally and also encompasses the 'don't fret about the small stuff' philosophy. In this case the ends would refer to trees and soil.
Permaculture is about working smart rather than hard, and producing the highest yield for the least amount of effort. Gardening's answer to the minimum effective dose. This means I have spent a few days thinking about this and not doing anything about it. The situation here at the Urban Food Forest is as follows:
It attempts establishing a food forest in a suburban area in Pretoria, South Africa. the land lies on the southern slopes (the cold side) of a small hill, with a gradient to steep to build. realistically. There is no vehicle access to the site, so everything that is established needs to be by hand and carried up to the site. The dwelling and kitchen gardens are situated on the lower end of the property, on more reasonable slopes.
The area is in a temperate climate region, with summer rainfall averaging 732 mm annually, and an average temperature of 17.3 degrees Celsius. During the summer months the temperature averages at 27 degrees celcius for about 5 months. "Pretoria has a mid-latitude steppe/ semi-arid cool climate (Köppen-Geiger classification: BSk). According to the Holdridge life zones system of bioclimatic classification Pretoria is situated in or near the subtropical dry forest biome." http://www.pretoria.climatemps.com/
The site has been left to its own devices for the last 15 years, and has established a self regulating environment. There are many large locally used trees providing a canopy, some of which are indigenous. There is also a large amount of invasive species, including lantana and seringa.
urban food forest context
just planting seeds
Coming back to covering the ends, the top is more or less established. There is an over-story canopy of White Stinkwood and Jacaranda, and a fair amount of under-story which will be altered once the bottom is sorted. So the strategy is to start with the bottom, and that means establishing a ground cover.
As a ground cover I am starting with winter squash - butternut, spaghetti squash and gem squash - to get a quick and sprawling green to cover the ground and retain moisture in the soil. This will be inter-planted with nasturtiums, some sprouting peas and pigeon peas as nitrogen fixers. I'm also throwing in some zucchini squash and whatever surplus I have collected from the plants that have already gone to seed. Mostly lettuce, rocket, marigold and Asian greens. I am starting with seed trays as I would like to do quite a thick mulch around the plants once they go in to the forest.
I am also growing trees from seed and cuttings. The lemon and naartjie trees have taken successfully, as well as the fig cuttings- although I am not sure of the quality of the figs. I will attempt to propagate other trees from cuttings when they are pruned.
As for step one of the urban food forest, I guess it comes down to collecting seed from the kitchen garden, planting trays, clearing out invasive species and waiting for things to grow, and contemplating how water is going to make it up the hill.
Further information to follow in time. For now, just keep planting seeds.
NITROGEN FIXERS - FREE FOOD FOR YOUR PLANTS
How does nitrogen fixation work?
Some legumes have the ability to fix nitrogen. This means that their roots have the ability to absorb atmospheric nitrogen and send it to the rest of the plant as food.
In permaculture practices, nitrogen fixing plants are used as support species for human resource producing plants. The nitrogen fixing plants are grown in proximity to food producing plants, and are cut down and used as mulch to build the forest floor and to decompose. The nitrogen in the plant returns to the soil through decomposition and becomes food for the other plants.
As the roots of the plant reflect the visible size of the plant, when the tops are cut, the root ball will also shrink and release nitrogen back into the soil for use by other plants. This process provides a loose and aerated soil with lots of organic matter.
Permaculture makes use of 'time stacking' or succession planting and food forest design will provision short-, medium-, and long term nitrogen fixing plants. Short term plants would refer to annual and short-lived perennial peas and beans, medium term plants would be perennials with a 5-10 year lifespan, and long term plants would include trees such as acacias and moringa. These plants are 'chopped and dropped' seasonally or annually, depending on their growth rate. Acacias are especially effective as they drop their own leaves in autumn and therefore require even less maintenance.
There is something called rhizobia bacteria which infects the roots of nitrogen fixers. Infected plants have round nodule shaped growths on the roots. By inoculating plants with the rhizobia bacteria, the nitrogen fixing capacity of the plant increases. As the plant is chopped, the rhizobia bacteria is released into the soil and can potentially attach to other legume plants. The rhizobia cannot fix nitrogen by itself and requires a plant host for this symbiotic relationship. Different strains are required for different legumes.
Rhizobia are commonly used in agricultural product and are sold as a mix to use with seed, or already treated seed can be bought. All legumes have inherent rhizobium in their roots to fix nitrogen. With rhizobium inoculation, nitrogen production in the plant is increased to up to 50 grams per square meter for lucerne and 25 grams per square meter for cowpea.
If you are not yet converted to growing jungle style permaculture gardens, you could grow nitrogen fixers as hedgerows. It's that much fertilizer you potentially don't have to pay for. Happy planting.
NASTURTIUM - MULTIPLE USES, FREE PLANTS
Flower / herb
Kappertjie, Indian cress
Nasturtiums are a wonderful addition to the garden because they make your other plants grow more prolifically. They are very easy to grow and a very rewarding plant with many uses. Nasturtium improves the soil and acts as a ground cover.
well drained loam - can handle poor soils
6.5 - 7
semi shade to full sun
sowing depth: 10 - 15mm
plant spacing: 40 - 60cm
water during dry weather
tomato, radish, cabbage, cucumber, squash, broccoli, - beneficial to all plants. Plant with fennel to attract ladybugs to control aphids.
improves soil, any plant will grow better after
low, pretty much grows itself
September to June
annual, self seeds, suitable for pots
circular leaves with distinct veins, frost tender, drought tolerant
sunset colours mostly ranging from yellow to red
20 - 40 cm high.
enjoys warm weather, leaves can burn when the sun gets too hot, prefers some shade
creeping/ trailing and bushy. up to 60 different varieties
Pick leaves, stems, flowers and seeds throughout the growing season. Can be eaten raw. all parts have a peppery flavour. Seeds can be pickled to make something similar to a pickled caper. Flowers can be stuffed and leaves used as wraps.
Nasturtium is a disinfectant and wound healing herb. the plant is an anti-biotic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-microbial. A tea is made from the leaves said to improve hair growth.
Decorative flowering plant throughout the growing season.
Easy plant to use in areas where the soil needs to recover, or for a quick pick-up. Can be trellised on walls or structures; or cascaded on terraces and baskets.
Thrive in poor soil. Plant them in a spot where nothing else wants to grow.
Disguises the shape of plants.
Attracts beneficial insects.
Make other plants grow more vigorously and prolifically.
Good trap crop for aphids, snails and slugs.
Good cover crop and green manure.
Repels tomato, cucumber and squash beetle and tomato horn worm. A tea made from the plant is effective against aphids.
As a ground cover it suppresses weeds and is easy to pull out to make space for something else.
Can be added to the compost heap, remove seeds as far as possible before composting.
Nutrients: rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and iron
Stems can be toxic in large quantities.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
I love nasturtiums. They seem to grow everywhere I drop them, and come up within a few days of planting. I usually pick the seeds and dry them in a paper bag in my car, it takes 3 days to a week. Some also come up even when they have not been dried. At this point I do some pruning on them and add the cuttings to the compost. I am also planting them everywhere in the garden that I haven't gotten around to, to prepare the soil.
COMFREY - THE PERMACULTURE POSTER CHILD
Knitbone, commom comfrey
Comfrey should be a staple in the food forest garden for its use as a dynamic accumulator, compost activator and fertiliser. Its high potassium content makes it an ideal fertiliser for fruiting and flowering plants. Plant next to nitrogen fixers to increase nitrogen content in plant. Can become invasive if roots are disturbed.
well drained, fertile, moist loam
full sun to partial shade
root cuttings (in winter and spring) and seed
plant in well composted hole after last frost, trim back leaves to allow roots to settle
peas, beans and other nitrogen fixers
low - cut leaves as they fall or harvest entire plant every 5 to 6 weeks depending on use
perennial, fast growing, herbaceous shrub
elongated hairy leaves, frost tender
tender and hairy
white, pink or purple, flowers in late spring and summer, attracts bees and beneficial insects
tap root 1,5 - 3m deep, slippery texture
30cm high. clump forming, 1m plant spacing
found under large trees
russian comfrey - Symphytum x uplandicum
prickly comfrey - Symphytum asperum
dwarf comfrey - Symphytum ibericum
large flowered comfrey - Symphytum grandiflorum
white comfrey - Symphytum orientale
It is debatable whether comfrey is edible in large doses.
Flowers and young leaves can be eaten raw and have a slight cucumber taste. Mature leaves can be cooked in a similar manner to spinach.
Accelerates healing of bruises, wounds and broken bones when applied topically. salves and ointments are made from oil infusions or dried leaves. Do not apply directly to open wounds.
Salves, oils and teas made from comfrey are sold in South Africa.
The deep tap root system makes it ideal for slope stabilisation.
Fertilise in place - planted under fruit trees, they are fertilised by the fallen leaves.
Soil conditioning - roots can break up clay soil for aeration and improved absorption
Comfrey tea - place leaves in a closed tray with a drain a the bottom, leave to rot for 3 - 6 weeks. Drain and use fertiliser once fruit has set.
Boost seedlings - comfrey is a slow release fertiliser for young. plants, leaves are used to line the bottom of potted plants.
Green manure - add chopped leaves to garden beds in autumn, mix into top layer of soil with a garden fork.
Acts as a compost activator - add fallen leaves to compost heap.
Compost kick start - shred and crush leaves and mix with water, pour over compost, increases nutrient content in compost.
Dried comfrey - air dry comfrey leaves and roots, crush into powder, sprinkle on compost and kitchen scraps when leaves are not abundant.
Nutrients: potassium, phosphorous, nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
I was lucky to find quite a few strong plants this season. I have planted some comfrey plants in full sun for the purpose of slope stabilisation and will have to see how they adapt - they were wilted for the first 2 days. The rest have been planted in the shade of fruit trees; guava, peach, apricot, lemon, pomegranate and apple. There are already peas, lucerne, clover and chickpeas in the vicinity, but I surrounded every comfrey plant with a few additional ones. Now its a wait to see how they grow.
The plants came from the nursery with a lot of half wilted leaves. I have cut them up and thrown them into a bokashi bin with some kitchen scraps.