[permaculture] food forest productivity

lbsaltzman at aol.com lbsaltzman at aol.com
Wed Mar 11 14:12:13 EDT 2009

On approximately a 1/3 acre plot we currently have 102 food bearing trees, the majority fruit, but two avocados, 1 almond, 1 macadamia,?and finanally?a leucania producing high protein seeds.? We also have scarlet runner beans, chayote, berries, artichokes, edible cannas, and on and on..? We are beginning to have significant surpluses that are being traded with other members of the community we live for food we don't grow ourselves.? Community trading networks plus backyard food forests or home-scale agriculture can provide huge quantities of food and help make a town or small city food independent.

Larry Saltzman

-----Original Message-----
From: Rain Tenaqiya <raincascadia at yahoo.com>
To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
Sent: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 10:48 am
Subject: [permaculture] food forest productivity

The following applies to a complete diet in a Mediterranean climate.? If you are 
only wanting what is usually (in the US) referred to as "produce," then the area 
would be much smaller.? Chestnuts are often treated as a vegetable, but most 
nuts and legumes are treated as grains, which are the staple of most people's 
diets.? Since grain is so important as food and grain cultivation takes up so 
much space and is so unsustainable, we should be trying to grow these, or 
substitutes for these, as well as fruits and vegetables.? On the other hand, 
fruits and vegetables require more fossil fuel for shipping, due to their 
weight, lose more vitamins in transport, and cost more, so it is probably a good 
idea to start with these.
My friend was growing enough food for himself and his small son on 4000 square 
feet, following the recommendations of John Jeavons, in northern California. He 
spent a lot of time weeding, due to the sunlight that was being wasted by the 
short annual plants he was growing. We speculated that yields would be higher if 
food trees and other perennials were integrated into the garden, requiring less 
space to feed the same number of people.

The amount of food a given area is able to produce is dependent on many factors: 
the fertility of the soil, the amount of irrigation water available, the climate 
(particularly the length of the growing season for the intended crops), the 
species mix, the amount of work put into it, and the willingness or ability of 
the people eating from the garden to eat what is produced. You also need to 
determine whether you are measuring yield in pounds of food, calories, or 
dollars. If you take average production numbers for orchard monocultures of the 
species you are interested in as your baseline, this will give you a yield below 
that of any food forest you could design. Many nut trees can produce at levels 
similar to grain crops. I haven't done much research on it, but I feel confident 
that most fruit trees outcompete most annual vegetabl
es. Root crops are pretty 
much the only ones that trees have a hard time comparing to, with potatoes being 
the miracle crop
 (and these can even produce in the shade of a food forest). Root crops 
substantially reduce the area required to grow food for a specified number of 
people.?These can be grown in the margins and open spots within food forests, if 

So, if you included a diverse number of species that could produce a rounded 
diet, I would guess that 4000 square feet per person is probably a good place to 
start as an estimate. However, on a small scale, it might be difficult to grow 
enough species to produce a rounded diet, just because of the size of most 
trees. I would love to hear of any results that you come up with.


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