Episode-1120- Designing Small Scale Forest Gardens


The Jujube or Chinese Date – A Great Small Tree for Forest Gardens

At the presentation I just did at the Self Reliance Expo there were two main things people had major questions about when it comes to food forestry.  The first was “what trees and plants work in Texas” and that really is what will work in most of the US.  The second is how does this all apply to a small back yard or smaller piece of land.

Now the new video Geoff Lawton just released shows what can be done, including with trees in small backyards.  This videos leads off with a back yard that is only 640SF.  Of course the first thing people ask then is, but what about our climate that is in the sub tropics.  Um, did anyone but me notice the main trees in the system where apples?

That said I understand, it does often seem that many of the guilds (plant groupings) in Permaculture are geared to the subtropics and tropics.  Ironically the first work on Permaculture “Permaculture One” is actually geared almost 100% to temperate climates.  Today I am going to try to take this all down in size and simplify the concepts and explain how they really will work anywhere.

Join Me Today As We Discuss…

  • Small Land Holding Advantages
    • Can be irrigated
    • Easy to intensively manage
    • Contain their own micro climates (easy to create more)
    • Most work can be done by hand (build and manage)
    • Are the most productive per square foot on the planet
    • Do not attract attention and easy to secure
    • Nitrogen fixers are not as critical (still a good idea)
  • Things that are different from typical food forestry
    • The layers are scaled down
    • The number of support species are reduced
    • There are few “sacrificial plantings”
    • They don’t require swales or chickens but both are welcome
    • Small ponds and barrels are easily fed with roof catchment
  • Special Considerations that Open Your Options Up
    • Shape isn’t critical, do what works
    • Solar aspect is a major concern, but work with it
    • Put in more irrigation then you think you will ever need
    • Consider ponds, please consider ponds
    • Think about power (solar first but grid is better then nothing)
    • You can plant a LOT closer and a LOT more dense then you think
    • If you have animals design in their nutrient flow
    • In a larger space build “glades” and maximize the edges
    • Build structures for your vines they can otherwise dominate a small system
    • Fertilize (organically) a lot early on
    • Mulch and chop and drop like crazy
  • Trees to consider for North America
    • Apple
    • Plumb
    • Peach
    • Filbert/Hazelnut
    • Chinese Chestnut
    • Almond
    • Jujube
    • Persimmon
    • Edible Dogwoods
    • Pears
    • Cherry
    • Paw Paw
    • Medlars
    • Mulberry
    • Figs
  • Bushes and Shrubs to Consider
    • Blueberry
    • Blackberry
    • Raspberry
    • Wolfberry/Goji Berry
    • Elderberry
    • Gooseberry
    • Currants
    • Goumi
    • Autumn Olive
    • Sea Buckthorn
    • Blue Honeysuckle
    • Aronia
    • High Bush Cranberry
  • Ground Covers
    • Strawberry
    • Sweet Potato
    • Wintergreen
    • Salal
    • Emerald Carpet
    • Thyme (trailing)
    • Cranberry
    • Plant Anything Dense Enough and it is Ground Cover
  • Vines
    • Grapes
    • Kiwi
    • Hops
    • Porcelainberry
    • Magnolia Vine
    • Maypop
  • Other Plants to Consider
    • Large Hip Heirloom Roses
    • Chilean or Pineapple Guava
    • Herbs of all types especially Parsley and Basil
    • Flowers of all types
    • Plant annuals directly into the sunny spots in and around this system
    • Bamboos
    • Honestly anything you want

Resources for Today’s Show…

Remember to comment, chime in and tell us your thoughts, this podcast is one man’s opinion, not a lecture or sermon. Also please enter our listener appreciation contest and help spread the word about our show. Also remember you can call in your questions and comments to 866-65-THINK and you might hear yourself on the air.

42 Responses to Episode-1120- Designing Small Scale Forest Gardens

  1. Very cool, can’t wait to get time to listen. I JUST emailed Jack about this and the next day an entire episode on it.

  2. Matthew N Gooseneck

    Jack could you compile a booklist of “prerequisites” or must reads before we take Geoff’s PDC or the small scale forest gardening class you have talked about.


    • Modern Survival

      It would be an advanced class so I would try to make sure that was part of the class development. I am going to say right off the bat, a PDC would likely cover it all as far as prerequisites.

      I am thinking of it like this, back when I was in the Telecom Industry I was what is known as an RCDD (registered communications distribution designer) it was a very tough certification, makes a PDC look like a walk in the park. After doing that I wanted more so I then become a RCDD, LAN with Local Area Network Specialization. After that I became a RCDD, LAN, OSP with OSP being “Outside Plant”.

      I then realized it was all bullshit as many of those with the same letters couldn’t install a cable jack, that it only meant something if you had experience and common sense to go along with the codes and specs required to earn the creds.

      I would see it this way, Micro Design or whatever we call it would be an extension of the PDC and with Geoff making the PDC available online that only gets stronger. Hell in the future we might have a Earthworks Specialization and a Commercial Farm Specialization.

      I only start with Micro because it is the fastest growth opportunity with the most cash flow to be tapped into and it would grow the other markets. For every one farmer willing to give Permaculture a go there are 500 or more yuppies that want to out yuppie their fellow local foodie yuppies if that makes sense.

  3. Lance Matheson

    Here is a mid-Atlantic source of plants similar to Raintree’s west coast operations. We have enjoyed a variety of berries, fruits and nuts from them.


  4. I actually derived more from today’s podcast than I did from the Australian video (which was, nevertheless, a great overview). So, I’m convinced not to try Jeavon’s double-dig method in my urban backyard this year, but rather to just use no-till permaculture. I’ll use guinea pigs and goldfish as the fertility source. If I can save half my food bill this year as a result of this micro technique, I plan to start a business with it. There is an official Transition Town nearby me with potential customers. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. That backyard looked a lot bigger than 640 sf. Maybe that was only the area of the planted beds?

    • Modern Survival

      Yep if you look there is a lot of permanent hard scape back there, I am thinking that is available soil surface.

    • The entire lot is 225 square meters (2422 sq ft), or 1/20th of an acre.

      The backyard is 150 square meters (1615 sq ft).

      The garden, including paths is 85 square meters (915 sq ft) roughly 30 x 30 feet.

      It certainly puts to rest the idea of ‘I don’t have enough space’!

      • Modern Survival

        I am about to begin construction on a exhibition forest garden, the area will be 2700 square feet and nestled between my garage and out building. The soil sucks, there is shade to deal with, the land is very flat, 3 corners are less then one inch divergent in slope and the fourth about 4 inches caddy corner from the high point.

        The climate is about as hard as it gets, Ft. Worth is actually at the same latitude as Oman Jordan without the moderation of near by ocean or sea. We do average 30 inches of rain but in lean years get more like 20-22. I have rock only a foot down in the ground and the existing area is heavily compacted. The soil is alkaline and half the native oaks on the property are dying.

        Worse this climate gets murdered with 80-100 days a year in the tipple digits and not for a few hours a day from say 1PM up till 8 or later in the summer’s height. The worst heat is July and August where often we get no rain. Basically we are very similar to the tropics for about 8 months a year including a “dry season” during that time and never get the rain of the tropics ever.

        Our winter is a wet period and we have mild winters but there is enough hard freezes to kill dead unprotected annuals and most plants that you can grow in the tropics and sub tropics.

        In 2-3 years time when this garden is a complete beautiful showcase, people will still say “but my area is different”, “you can’t grow X here”, “but you have three acres” or “yea but you have a longer growing season”.

        The problem is the solution folks. LOL

    • There is a counter intuitive Japanese landscaping concept that the more you divide up a space, the larger it looks.

      I think it has something to do with increasing the number of focal points so your eye/brain has to slow down and register the detail as it moves across the landscape.

      In other words, 900 square feet of manicured grass.. is small. 900 square feet of intensive permaculture is huge.


  6. Great show!

  7. Jack, Just got around to listening to the feedback show. Yes i feel the same way about the bayonet course. Army 93-99.basic Fort Sill Ok. mid November,black leather shells and so pumped up that did not notice the massive blister forming on the web on my right hand from all the thrusting,twisting etc. besides pugel styx , the hardest but yet rewarding day in all the training.Hooah !

  8. Awesome show… I think my wife is getting tired of me talking about these permaculture ideas (that are new to me). I’m really wanting to sink my teeth into this more and learn a lot more about this. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us on it.

  9. This episode answers all my questions. Thank you so much for recording it.

  10. My wife’s into gardening and she likes to maximize the space on our backyard, I guess this episode suits her best.

  11. “But Jack I can’t grow citrus where I’m at.” So I will grow apples, sell the apples, and buy citrus. Problem solved.

  12. Hey Jack,
    Awesome show! The class you discussed sounds great too! I’d love to get into designing small-scale stuff for others. I think your idea is helping me develop an exit strategy to escape the chains of the corporate world! I’d certainly be interested in a future class, but I’m not currently prepared from an educational standpoint. I’m hoping I’ll be able to utilize Geoff’s online PDC program to get me to that point. Thanks for your great work!

  13. Hi Jack and TSP community,


    That tiny 640 sq ft food forest has an awesome website that details production records, the actual design schematic, and lots of advice and other records.
    Please pass the link around, it is a living example of this micro permaculture strategy and expands a lot from what was shown in the video.

    Great episode, hoping to apply this to my 7500 sq ft lot this summer.

  14. I was thinking it would be cool if there was a web site where people could compile a database of plants and climates so you could look up plants in zone8 ,southern exposure, dry, etc etc and find that somebody had an apple tree do well in that posistion or mabey that tree died, just a way to organize a lot of information into a digestible format to make it easier to start. 2600 varieties of apple trees, bleep me i don’t have a clue which ones will work well in my area.

  15. Ronnie in Iowa ~Veronica Deevers

    Oh thank you thank you thank you!!!! I have so little space here. But I feel empowered now!!!

  16. Moonvalleyprepper

    Absolutely fantastic show man!

    Putting in my 0.15 acre forest garden right now, just finished swale 1 of 4 while listening to this episode.

    Thanks for the new ideas!

  17. Jack, another great show! I am not sure if it was this one or not but did you mention you where coming to California? if so when and where, I got to be there!

  18. @jack
    You’re going to get me divorced… or at least sleeping in the doghouse. 🙂

    My survey/contours went to the landscape architect today. My wife deals with him primarily since she works with him, but I’ve already “polluted” his clean slate with all of my ideas about contour beds, rain catchment, up-grade water features, and polyculture food mini-forestry that we can hide in plain site of the HOA – as well as a solid fedge along one side of my property for food/security.

    This show was MASSIVELY timely. I emailed him this afternoon and told him I wouldn’t even look at a plan until he could walk me through how it incorporated some of the ideas in your fedge episode (Ep 1069) and this one.

    Thanks again and keep ’em coming.

  19. All this info is great and I will consider ponds to catch some of the water. It will be a hard sell to the wife but worth it. My biggest problem is money I am pretty poor so building anything is slow. I was wondering if there were any resources that offer free plants. I know that is a lot to ask but it is my biggest problem. I am growing trees from seeds where I can but if this is to get done in less than a decade some will need to be purchased or sourced from somewhere.

    • Guerilla gardening.

      Basically, any time you see a plant growing that you’d like to have in your yard, walk up to the door and ask for a cutting. Or seeds. Express interest in their plants, especially when you’re asking someone who’s obviously a gardener, and you’ll probably end up with more free plants than you’ll know what to do with. Also, haunt Craigslist. I have found free plants, pots, manure, bricks, paving stones, and “come take my stuff” sales on Craigslist.

      Are there nurseries at your local farmer’s market? If you go towards closing time you can get some good deals from growers who just don’t want to haul the darn things home again. Offer a fair price and they’ll often go for it… especially if you offer to help them load up the rest of their plants on their truck.

      Look for abandoned lots and areas of wilderness that are being surveyed for new development. You can often go and dig plants up or collect seeds and cuttings in these areas for free and no one will care.

      If you have time but little money, join your local gardening group and offer labor for seedlings or cuttings. I promise this will increase your plant wealth almost immediately.

      Good luck!

  20. MichiganNimrod

    Jack…. you are the man. I’ve been listening for a few years and love what you do. The whole permaculture thing has escaped the grasp of my dense head… until now. I just finished watching the presentation from video of the presentation from the Arlington Self Reliance Expo. Amazing stuff! Broke it down enough the idiot that is me could consume it and realize what I was missing. Thanks for all you do!

  21. Where is the link to Jack’s Permaculture presentation from the Expo. For some reason I cannot find it.

    Thanks for the help.

  22. Thank you

  23. Roscoe Ghering

    How do we find out what “Zone” we are in and what plants like that zone?

  24. Hi, can anyone give a link to Lawton’s micro-design video? Every lawton link I click takes me to the online PDC sales page. Thanks.

  25. Angus it appears that Lawtons videos have all been pulled and replaced by the pdc sales page. I hope that they eventually put the videos back up as they contained lots of info for those of us that can’t afford the pdc.

  26. For everyone who ‘can’t afford the PDC’..

    There are *many* MSB members taking the PDC who are very active, and helpful in the forums.. not to mention the fact that Jack is taking it.

    Our *collective* intelligence will be going up..

    From that its very possible that what we’ll get exactly what Geoff want’s.. students who are better designers, and better teachers than he is. Who can communicate, and expand upon the principles he’s laying down in his class.

    If your someone who can’t do the online PDC, but has a ‘project’, why not start gathering information on it and posting it in the forums?

    There are about to be a big group of people with a new skill set they’re eager to try out on real world projects. Why not get half a dozen budding designers looking at your property?

    • Modern Survival

      Exactly. I keep saying it but a PDC isn’t for everyone anyway. If all you want to do is design your own property, specifically if it is a suburban property there are tons of resources on that.

      Also if you want one property designed, a good qualified designer can design (not implement but design) even a large property for likely about the same as this PDC.

      That makes two BIG value statements. One the actual value of a PDC and two the relative value assessment that should be made by a property owner.

      I find it funny that some will balk at paying a good designer say 500-2000 dollars in design fees to design an end to end system that will produce permanent abundance. Then drive around in a car with a 500 dollar payment that will only be worth 20% of its original value once payment 60 is made.

  27. Jack, what do you think about yaupon holly in these systems. From what I read its the only plant native to north America that contains caffeine. I’m a big tea drinker and was looking for something I could grow similar to green tea. Apperently the native Americans and early settlers drank this every day until coffee was introduced. It’s not high in caffeine but it’s caffeine, and lots of antioxidants.

    • Modern Survival

      Almost every answer to every can I question in Permaculture is yes.

      Jack Spirko