Developing Vertically Integrated Edible Bio-systems in a USDA Hardiness Zone 5 Environment
2014 Progress Report
Under Supervision of Dave Bishop
2047 2100 St
Atlanta, IL 61723
This project seeks to enhance the food producing capacity of marginal or underutilized land, and to increase the utility of land currently in production or in use as a conservation practice by:
1. Use of vertical as well as horizontal space
2. Developing plant guilds that provide natural fertility and pest protection
3. Reduction or elimination of synthetic inputs
4. Producing a wide variety of food products marketable in a local foods environment
Intern labor — $1090.00
Seed and nursery stock — $320.00
All land costs, machine costs for soil prep, and Dave Bishop’s labor are in-kind contributions.
See attached log of work activities for 2014.
RESULTS: What worked, what didn’t.
Planting seeds vs. starts – Plant growth from seed was most successful when using larger seeds. Large seeds, such as sunflowers, (Fig. 1) were planted individually so it was easier to recall their exact location. The food forest is designed to have full groundcover that was only thinned to allow seedlings to emerge. Larger seedlings were easier to identify therefore they were less likely to be pulled with the weeds and more likely to receive a weed free area. Small seeds and small seedlings were more difficult to identify when weeding. As a result, these seedlings were more likely to be pulled out with weeds.
Future plantings of small seeds may be more successful if seedlings are transplanted into the food forest. This will allow areas of planting to be weeded prior to planting larger, easily identified seedlings. Additionally, cool season vegetables, like spinach, may be planted earlier in the spring. This will allow the seedlings to reach a larger size before weeds or groundcover (clover) emerge.
Annual Plantings – Annual plantings were too intensively planted throughout the Food Forest. The annual plantings are designed to fill in temporarily open spaces that mature perennial crops will cover. Future plantings should have greater inclusion of perennial fruits and vegetables.
Groundcover – Groundcover is an excellent addition to any food forest to ensure full ground cover while providing habitat for wildlife and nutrient returns to the soil. Purple clover covered the Food Forest at PrairiErth, but future clover crop should be converted to white clover. Purple clover grows too tall for many low growing fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens became leggy when grown among purple clover but the clover did offer refuge from pest infestation. Leafy greens grown with a cover of clover were observed less chewed by pests (Fig. 2 and Fig. 3). Purple clover also proved too tall for strawberries, which grew long, leggy stems in order to reach the sun. Pest infestation was less severe in strawberries maturing among clover. Clover is the only habitat for ladybug larvae and it seemed to effectively house a population of insects that managed pests of strawberries and leafy greens.
All ground in the Food Forest was covered by some form of plant material. Although the increased precipitation this year improved general growing conditions, the increased plant material covering the ground has improved moisture retention and temperature control. The ground is soft and spongy. In this condition, it will be better able to withstand drought conditions in the future.
Wildlife Sightings – Planting to attract insects lured in both predator and prey but both are needed for the system to function. (See Fig. 4-7) The Food Forest also offered habitat to two families of Robins (Fig. 8) and a few snakes. Both species are beneficial to the system because they offer pest control. Once predator insect populations were established, pests were not a problem. Flea beetles presented a problem for cool season vegetables (Fig. 9). Clover and alfalfa both house big-eye bugs, a predator of flea beetles.
Harvest – For a two-year-old food forest, the harvest was successful. Black raspberries are extremely prolific and offer a very high market value. Red raspberries were not high yielding in the second year and future plantings should be avoided due to the recent infestation by spotted wing drosophila. Strawberries seem to be maturing as a valuable crop although there is a greater time investment in this crop: Flower buds must be plucked from first year plantings to allow greater root development and harvesting is a more lengthy process because the fruit is not as concentrated to a location. An example food forest harvest can be seen in Fig 10.
- ½ pint strawberries
- 1# scapes
- 7 oz Bok choy
- 20 oz lettuce
- 7 qts black raspberries
- 3 qts peas
- 160 bulbs of garlic
- 14 Sunflowers
- 13 Apples
- 1 qt nasturtium flowers (leaves could be harvested)
Recommendations – When developing a food forest, plant trees first then perennials and annuals. Fill all open space with annuals to ensure yields early in the life of the food forest. As the food forest matures, perennial yields will overtake annual yields and fill spaces previously occupied by annuals. There will also be a welcome decline in labor as perennials mature.