Edible Forest Gardens
For 2013 Edible Forest Garden Course information, please click here.
In the last year we started a process of creating edible forest gardens at Woodbine with a strong emphasis on useful native species from the region. Starting with this year's class on Edible Forest Gardens taught by Eric Toensmeier, we are continuing to build upon last year's efforts as well as expand our areas.
2012 Edible Forest Gardens
by Eric Toensmeier
Our plants and seeds are starting to arrive at Woodbine. We have ordered some fantastic species and I’m already excited about planting them out in functional food forests. We are primarily emphasizing the useful native species of the region as part of our theme this year. However we are doing so with rather a broad definition of what is native – essentially from the Rockies through the prairie.
We also planted some productive and reliable non-natives last year like Nanking cherry and Siberian pea shrub, and don’t fear – we’ll cover the best non-natives for the region during the course as well.
We will be planting at least three different food forests during the five days of the course.
The South Slope Edible Xeriscape
A prominent feature at Woodbine is a large, south-facing slope. It is hot, dry, and steep with poor soils. We will be planting in contour swales, a “berm and basin” rainwater catchment and erosion control system. The species we have selected will form a low open forest-shrubland assembly to provide long-term slope stabilization and soil building.
This planting will mimic Colorado dry slope plant communities, but feature a much higher percentage of soil-building nitrogen-fixers to restore the degraded land and provide for long-term productivity. And of course almost everything will be edible. Most of the species were historically utilized and “wild-cultivated” by native people in the region.
Woody plants in the south slope area:
- Saskatoon serviceberry, a native shrub with blueberry-almond flavored berries.
- Burgambel oak, a hybrid of Rocky Mountain Gambel oak and prairie bur oak. This hybrid is an excellent producer of “sweet” acorns, and an interesting metaphor for Woodbine being at the meeting place of prairie and mountains. It represents a step forward in the domestication of edible acorn oaks.
- Netleaf hackberry, a native small tree with berry-sized fruits of high food value.
- Improved varieties of native chokecherry with higher yields and less “choke.”
- Sagebrush, an important native medicinal and ceremonial plant.
- Buffalo berry, a native nitrogen-fixing shrub with edible berries.
- False indigo, a native nitrogen-fixing shrub.
Herbs, subshrubs, and succulents for the south slope:
- Banana yucca, a native yucca with edible fruit.
- Indian ricegrass, historically an important perennial native wild-harvested grain.
- Kinnickinik, a native evergreen groundcover with medicinal and ceremonial uses.
- Several native lupine species for nitrogen fixation.
- We will be scattering a pound of seed of native purple prairie clover, a nitrogen fixer and healer of degraded soils.
We will also be planting seed of some interesting native wild edibles.
- Buffalo gourd is a perennial squash with edible seeds. It is a very aggressive groundcover and erosion control species.
- Wild garlic is an onion with edible bulbs and greens.
- Showy milkweed has edible shoots, young leaves, flowers, and pods.
- Manroot morning glory has enormous edible roots and is related to sweet potato.
- Prairie turnip is a nitrogen-fixing root crop and an important prairie wild food.
Riparian Area Guidance
During the 2010 and 2011 forest gardens course I was astonished by the abundance of edible species in the riparian area at Woodbine. Under the canopy of aspens, there were large stands of wild raspberries and hazelnuts. We are going to implement some indigenous-style management practices, opening up the canopy by thinning some aspens to let in more light.
We’ll also be transplanting in a few other useful natives, including:
- An improved variety of native riverbank grape.
- Native alder for nitrogen fixation.
- Miner’s lettuce from seed, a delicious leaf crop for moist shady woods.
We are hoping to nudge this ecosystem towards a raspberry-hazel thicket, with wild grapes climbing scattered aspens, with edible greens like bluebells (already present), miner’s lettuce, and maybe native nettle below. Perhaps we will even inoculate some of the aspen logs with edible mushrooms…
A Productive Pond and Pond Edge
Last year we planted some Jerusalem artichokes at the edge of the pond. This year we want to add a number of other aquatic or pond edge species including:
- Blue elderberry, a western shrub with many functions. It attracts beneficial insects for pest control, has edible flowers and fruit, and is medicinal.
- Red willow, a medicinal and ceremonial native with flowers that attract beneficial insects.
- Groundnut, a prairie and eastern native that was semi-domesticated by native people and transplanted beyond its native range. The tubers are high in protein. Fixes nitrogen.
- Native lotus, a beautiful native root crop once cultivated on a large scale in the East and found through the prairies.
- Arrowhead, another native aquatic root crop wild-managed by indigenous people.
Playing with Patterns
So: contour agroforestry with improved varieties of native plants; minimalist riparian ecosystem guidance; and native plant aquaculture. These are only a few of many possible land-use patterns for Woodbine and the Front Range.
We will also check in with last year’s plantings, a “Jerome Junior” (modeled on tried and tested polycultures from Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute) and a rainwater and snow-harvesting edible hedgerow of multipurpose native shrubs.
As part of our ongoing work at Woodbine we are compiling a palette of useful species. You can find some of this information in the two files below.
|Woodbine Palette - Species by use and function - April 2011||358.78 KB|
|Woodbine Species Palette 3.0||133.07 KB|
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