When people are new to growing their own, they tend to focus on growing typical annual plants. But by choosing a range of perennial plants, you can make a low-maintenance forest garden which requires far less effort and time long-term. Harvesting in a forest garden can often be more like foraging than harvesting. Yields can be obtained throughout the year. And there are plenty of things to forage for almost in passing.
The ‘headline’ yields in a forest garden are usually the top fruits. In my forest garden those are predominantly apples and plums. But the lower layers of planting also provide plenty of food – from fruit bushes, to perennial herbs and vegetables. Food can even be obtained from those plants often dismissed as weeds – nettles, dandelions and chickweed are just some examples.
Thinking more as a forager and less as a harvester can help us see all that can be derived from a forest garden. Hedgerow and woodland foragers often see the potential in plants that most gardeners overlook. But forest gardeners can also use marginal or lightly managed areas in this way.
Right now, I am in the midst of the main harvest of plums and apples. But I can also forage for secondary yields. For example, the blackberry harvest has also begun. (I chose to plant a thornless variety, which I would highly recommend for easier foraging). There are also barberries, and flowering quince fruits… and of course plenty of greens to forage for salads and other meals. Elderberries are also on their way.
This is also a time for foraging seeds. For example, I recently harvested some common hogweed seed cases (they have a unique spicy, gingery and slightly orange or lemon taste and can be used in curries or baking). And I also harvest the seeds of fat hen (akin to quinoa) for grinding and baking.
Thinking as a forager, I can pick a little of this and a little of that, without being tied down to a massive harvesting job. We always make use of as much as we can. But there is also plenty left for the local wildlife to enjoy.