Urban Food Forest Permablitz


What a day!  Gorgeous sunny winter weather and a wonderful group of willing gardeners to put in a food forest in a large urban site.  Resisting the urge to pre-prep (in order to transform the site on the day), I am so glad we did!  The 230sqm began the morning as a muddle of scraggly ‘bush’ and a huge pile of wood chip, into a rationalized FF with huge potential to produce a large amount of food for a family…



To begin with...


84 people hours later...




We began with a cup of tea to ground our selves with the tasks of the day ahead as well as a brief low down on which plants had been chosen and why (see case study at greenbridge.co.nz).

First task – was to move the mountain of wood chip!  An amazing resource for the FF itself; a mixed pile was left over from GreenBridge contacting an arborist to remove unwanted trees (ash, pseudopanax, mahoe, an accidental mamaku (ow) and more).  Three hours latter…we were left with a surprisingly large site – exciting and daunting stuff perhaps!

With seven people on site there is always a little chaos, consequently many things happened at once (having said that the whole team worked incredibly well together - like a well oiled machine who had done this numerous time before!:) 


  • Cardboard was laid along the cleared southern boundary, to suppress weeds and create a ground cover mulch for the ‘shelterbelt’. 
  • The shelterbelt was planted; a mix of existing kawakawa (medicinal/pioneer shelter), Tagasasti (a chop and drop source of shelter, mulch, nitrogen fix, bee fodder and kindling), Hebes; chosen for the mauve flowers which attract bees/beneficial insects (for fruit pollination) and their 1-2m habit; making it a good urban shelter plant.
  • Weeds galore! …bindweed (convolvulus), climbing asparagus, wandering dew (tradescantia), balsam, caster oil plant, ink weed, climbing fig and oxalis!  While a weed is only a plant where you don’t want it and many ‘weeds’ (such as dandelion, chickweed etc.) are encouraged in a FF for their edible and other uses, some weeds are pernicious and can take over the place.  Fortunately we had Barbara Hammond on the team, a well-known local botanist who helped identify the ones we couldn’t.
  • A great suggestion was made by Daniel to incorporate in the future a narrow 1.5m chicken run into the shelterbelt area, as a number of these weeds are migrating in from the neighbours property and the chooks may go some way in keeping these weeds at bay. 
  • Also happening at the same time was the rough marking out for the main canopy fruit trees and berry bushes, we were into digging the holes – I had the team digging Kay Baxter sized holes of 1m wide and 600 deep (tape measures out) to really give these baby trees a really good start.  A Mix of 50/50 existing soil (a good free draining loam) and compost (courtesy Return2Earth) as well as a bag of rotted horse manure per tree from my place – bring on the worms!  A little potash and lime was top dressed, as the soil indication was acidic, even for fruit trees. 
  • Following a late lunch (delicious quiches, cakes and soups made by Susan), the trees were well planted, watered and the fruit trees were then mulched with on site resources; the green waste cleared earlier that morning (minus the stubborn weeds - ideally this green waste would be chipped smaller so it would decompose quicker) then layered with cardboard and hay…
  • We experimented with the hay, some fruit trees received ‘seed free’ pea straw (expensive) and others semi-rotted hay from our farmlet to see how weeds establish them selves respectively. Note: about 1.5 rectangular bales of hay per 12sqm fruit tree guild would be ideal but as we did not have this much we heaped on the wood chip – in hind sight we probably overdid this simply because it was available and free, but I would have preferred to reserve the woodchip for the paths only and have a hay mulch for the guild areas (guild area being roughly to the drip line of the mature tree).  Such a heavy carbon dressing may draw out the existing nitrogen in the soil in order to break down the carbon – to the detriment of the nitrogen available to the plants.  To compensate this I have suggested planting nitrogen fixing green cover crops in spring (such as clover, vetch, lupin, peas & tagasasti (to be removed year2-3).
  • A good ground cover needs to be planted and established ahead of the weeds (see case study for ongoing maintenance) and as time was racing on, it became clear we wouldn’t get a chance to fully double dig the 12sqm guild areas so we cardboarded and mulched, planting directly into the soil below.  Alternatively raised ‘lasagna beds’ could be created or another quick option is to order in more compost . 
  • Enough perennial plants had been purchased to plant out fully one guild below the apricot tree – and this was most satisfying to see finished!  There are many plants to choose from and the client selected; comfrey (for potassium cycling and mulch), strawberries (edible and good shade tolerant ground cover), oregano (ditto), plus the nitrogen cover crop in spring (as above).
  • Other things we did…left spaces for barrels to be linked up to a future water syphoned system (gravity fed from rain barrels).
  • Clearly marked circular access and pathways (broken into two widths, 600mm for wheelbarrow, 300mm foot traffic and ‘key holes’ into large guilds for ease of picking).
  • Designated some beds purely for establishing perennial crops i.e. asparagus and globe artichokes, oca; harvested and supplied by neighborly Che over the fence!
  • Clustered berry bushes (gooseberry and blueberry) for easy netting from birds.
  • Re-introduced rotting logs for bug habitat.
  • Spots left for seating and enjoyment of the FF.


Fruit tree guild


This food forest is the third to go in of my design (as well as assisting with others and designing many more) and I have a goal to help get in 20+ food forests in urban NP over the next two years, not because I think FF are the be all and end all, but because we have so much to learn from them.  Are they the agriculture of the future? – lets find out!


Note: this story covers a day in the install of a food forest; if you would like to get an understanding of the pre-work (design process, site analysis, plant selection etc, please refer to the Blagdon Food Forest Case Study at greenbridge.co.nz  There will be further case studies coming on line to as they are documented – so keep posted. 


Blog written by: Bena Denton of GreenBridge - sustainable properties



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