[permaculture] food forest productivity

lbsaltzman at aol.com lbsaltzman at aol.com
Fri Mar 13 13:14:21 EDT 2009

You said that you are in a mediterranean climate area. What rainfall are you 
experiencing at your place?

Our average rainfall is 18 inches (457?millimeters), but there is a lot of variability, and currently California is in a drought pattern.?This year we have only had 10 inches (254 millimeters) so far.? 

what spacing have you adopted. Why did you choose just a few trees on dwarfing 
rootstock and headed for the semi-dwarfing instead?

We pack the trees in pretty close, and in a few places they almost form hedge rows.? In other places they have only a little space from the end of one tree to another.? Just enough room to get in and harvest.? The only time we used dwarfing stock is when that is all we had room for or when we didn't want to block our spectacular mountain and ocean views along one border. The disadvantage of dwarfing stock is shallower roots that need more watering. So they are also near the house where gray water is more accessible.? Semi-dwarf rootstock still allows you to end up with trees that are 2/3 standard size. They have decent root systems.? We are finding that we can completely dry farm our decidous?semi-dwarf trees in the long dry season. They receive no irrigation whatsoever, that was true even a couple of years ago when we got about 8 inches (203 millimeters)?of rain.

Interestingly, when people see the property they tend to find it less crowded than they imagine it would be.? We are also finding that with our intense sun, we get good crops from trees that have somewhat more shade than you would expect.? I believe estimates of how much sun fruit trees need are often based on the experiences of growers living at higher latitutudes than the sun drenched climate we live in

What kind of soil do you have? 

Pottery grade clay soil is what we have.? We are on land that has very deep soil, but our land had heavy top soil erosion?due to bad orchard managements up through the 1940's, when the orchards were torn out and replaced by homes. Our experience is perennials are doing much better in that soil than many annual vegetables would do.?We raise our vegetables either in wine barrels or select the limited number that self-seed and tolerate heavy clay.? We are also?going for as many perennial vegetables as possible.

Did you have to do any soil conditioning before hand? what kind?
We do heavy mulching.? Periodically I nab a load of chips from a local tree trimmer who doesn't want to take the mulch to the landfill. I have good sources of Horse manure and occassional rabbit manure.? We have also applied rock dust and tried gypsum.? We have planted many deep rooted plants including carrots and fennel to open up the soil. Basically after 16 years the soil, except in a few really bad areas, has improved a lot and we are getting good productivity from the land, but it is still heavy clay, and it is easier to build up humus on top of the soil than to atttempt to dig it in.? Early on I got frustrated and double dug a section and added heavy organic amendments. We got great results for one season, but I would have been forced to keep double digging that section every year so I abandoned that folly.

We have certainly used mycorrhizae and bacterial innoculants to perk up the soil.? We pit compost our kitchen waste around the garden and that has made the earthworms happy, and in turn they are hard at work turning the soil.

How have you interpersed the N-fixers among the other trees (what pattern have 
you used I mean)?

Remember we are only talking about a 1/3 acre site (1336 meters).? I would describe the pattern as random. We have nitrogen fixing trees and bushes scattered around the property which we can easily prune and scatter anywhere we need to for chop and drop mulching. But there is no great design involved in where the trees went. We supplement those trees with copious plantings of nitrogen fixing annuals, some grown for food and some for green manure.? Beans in particularly are one of the few annuals that handle our heavy clay.

What trees are doing best and which not so much?

My wife and I run the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club and are active in the local Permaculture Guild.? In a few weeks we will have a very full list of what is grown in our area posted on our website www.sborganicgardenclub.org. If you don't want to wait?e-mail me amd?I can send you detailed lists of appropriate plants for our area.

The better question for Santa Barbara is what doesn't do well? The majority of our trees are low-chill decidious trees.? Pears, apples, quinces do extemely well. Stone fruit is also a winner, and?we have peaches, nectarines, plums, sweet cherries, apricots,?plumcots, pluots, and apriums.? Figs, persimmons, and pomegranates are productive and yield fine crops.? Need I add this is great avocado country. There are a variety of nuts that do well here including almonds, low-chill walnuts, macadamias, and others.?

Which gets us to semi-tropicals and tropicals.? Citrus does all right, but sulks a little in the heavy clay, and because we are coastal some varieties don't thrive in our cooler coastal climate.?? Feijoas, or pineapple guavas,?do extremely well on our property.? We have a young strawberry guava that is settling in and beginning to fruit. We have some young bananas that look like they will do just fine.? Other people grow cheramoyas, and sapotes?successfully.?People are growing a large variety of?tropical trees including papayas, and mangos.? The list is endless. I have two observations about tropicals.?First, occassionally we get a cold winter with late night freezing and young tropicals can easily die or get set back when that happens; mature tropical trees handle those freezes better. Secondly, water has to be an issue.? To grow tropicals without rainwater harvesting and gray water systems in place is not a good idea as they are major water hogs for the most part. 

There is an incredible organization in California called the California Rare Fruit Growers (http://www.crfg.org/). They have accumulated an
enormous amount of information about what can be grown in this state, which of course includes both southern and northern Mediterranean growing areas. 
I write a column on organic orchard practices for their magazine. Over the decades the members of this group has pushed the envelope on what 
can be grown here and they are an invaluable resource for information on useful cultivars.  We have members growing cinnamon, allspice, coffee and tea, and 
an incredible variety of tropical and temperate zone fruits and nuts. 

We just put in our first tea plant (camellia sinensis).  My wife and I are now designing a five acre site with other local permies and hopefully  we will all get '
a lot more direct experience with many other varieties of fruit and nut trees. 


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