From Paddock to Forest Garden

Updated: May 14, 2019

Westfield Farm Forest Garden is a sustainable, permaculture forest garden project for anyone with an interest in forest gardens and the growing of local, natural and hedgerow food.

We started in December 2009 with a 0.36 hectare field. It had been used as grazing for sheep for many years and once we had cleared the field of fencing and posts we started designing the layout of pathways and created a five year plan for planting. Because of our exposed situation, the first task was to plant shelter belt around all four sides of the field. We used willow on the west and south sides and edible native hedging on the north and east sides.

The overall aims of our project are:

To produce and distribute fruit, vegetables, nuts, herbs and seeds to friends, family and local markets

To offer educational opportunities locally such as:

  • an introduction to the principles of permaculture

  • sustainable art and craft activities

  • animal/bird husbandry

  • garden wildlife conservation/observation

  • sustainable construction e.g. straw bale building

  • designing and constructing a Forest Garden

  • preparation and preservation of home grown produce

A Forest Garden is a tried and tested, sustainable, way of growing plants for food. Trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables are planted and nurtured in layers , according to their growing requirements, and consideration is also given to mutually beneficial companion planting.

The first harvest in 2014

Our Forest Garden harvest in 2014 was excitingly varied.  We continue to experiment and, as we slowly improve the soil (by hand !) we are producing better and better harvests.

After a glorious summer and extended autumn this year we have produced many vegetables ‘new’ to us and provided much forage for the bees and other pollinators.

Because I had to spend some time in hospital and then re-cuperating, it was a testing time during the hot months of June and July because I was not able to water on a regular basis.  Nevertheless it was interesting to see which plants did well and there is no doubt that in 2015 I shall be planting many more tomatoes and other salad crops.  I was given some copper hand gardening tools recently which I shall be interested to use to see if they really do deter the slugs.

I also succumbed to the advantages of a polytunnel – only a very small one and I am still not convinced but it will help to kick start some of the more delicate veg I want to experiment with.  Irrigation within the tunnel is something that requires some thought but I have some ideas which I will try out in spring / summer 2015.

Specific things learnt include – the need to check the Cherries and Cherry Plum trees carefully,  as their leaves develop in spring, to avoid infestations of blackfly.  Having discovered Diatomaceous Earth I am confident that an early dusting of that will make a difference. 

The Callalou (a sort of Caribbean spinach) was a great success and we even had a Wwoofer in the Autumn who really enjoyed extracting the seeds from  the mature plants! 

The Yacon plants flourished although the harvested tubers were not at big as they would have been if they had been watered regularly.  I have planted some growing tips in pots in the conservatory (they would not survive frosts) and hope to do better next year. 

Thanks to the diligence of some French Wwoofers in the spring, the strawberry beds yielded copious amounts of fruit.  They are time-consuming to pick because they ripen continuously, so next year we need to remember to harvest them on a regular basis to ‘keep them coming’. 

The table below sets out some of the plants which are doing well at each level of our Forest Garden. Having recently spent time exploring permaculture projects beyond the UK, I shall continue my search for useful perennial vegetables so that we can increase productivity and variety. A wonderful website for further information about this is Ken Fern’s Plants for a Future  The Real Seed Company  is also a mine of useful information.

My observations so far are that Forest Gardening is the natural way of food production in many areas of the world including China and India.  We in the western world have much to re-learn !

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