Written By: - Date published: 7:22 am, November 13th, 2016 - 49 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, food, sustainability - Tags: green activism, ood forest, resiliency, resiliency gardening, Riverton, robert guyton forest gardener
Robert is a sustainability pioneer who along with his family grows the oldest food forest in NZ. A long time organic gardener, permaculturist and heritage orchardist, he’s a columnist, a regional councillor for Environment Southland, and an early climate change adaptor.
There’s a subtle difference between a forest garden and a food forest and that’s a matter of intent; it depends on what it is you are aiming to achieve with your forest. People who love food, and they are legion, will title their fruitful garden a food forest and fill it with plants that produce leaves, stems, fruits, roots and everything else that can be served up on a plate, tastefully arranged, garnished and decorated with edible flowers or grated this or that. The epicure’s version of the sort of garden I’ve grown would be different, not only in purpose but also in looks.
The food forests I’ve visited have all been more intensely managed than my rambunctious forest garden and their plate-ready produce a wonder to behold. I’ve watched the children of one food forester browse their way through their backyard, nibbling constantly on parsley, lettuce, carrots and kale in the same way less fortunate children might like to sample sugary treats at a chocolate factory. They even stripped a Brussels sprout plant of its small green globes and ate those there and then, raw and crunchy. That’s not something you see every day.
My garden is shaped more by my love of plants for their own sake, than for what they can provide to feed me, and in this I differ a little from others in the forest gardening movement. So long as I can find something to eat beneath the canopy that stretches across my garden, I’m satisfied. That said, my garden is very productive and more fruitful than I can manage. In autumn, ripe fruit falls from the pear, apple and plum trees in such volumes that I’m unable to harvest it all and have to abandon a percentage of my crops to the birds and the creatures of the soil that welcome the sugars of those fruits. And that fruitfulness is increasing quickly. As each of the fruit trees matures, its crop grows in volume. That applies to the varieties that are common to our region, along with those that are both slightly unusual and very rare in Southland; Chilean wineberry, Chinese hawthorn, Himalayan Strawberry and so on.
With the increasing heaviness of crop and the need not to be too wasteful, we’ve learned novel ways to preserve what food our forest provides, the most popular of those methods being the brewing of ciders from the apples and pears, from which sparkling perry can be made. Our few demijohns with their airlocks bubbling sit over autumn on the kitchen table, and produce as much cider, or apple cider vinegar, as we can possibly use. More exotic fruits, such as the orange Chinese Dogwood berries and Guelder Rose fruits are combined in jams and jellies to capture their unusual tastes and fragrances.
There are others, such as the huge haws that decorate the Chinese Hawthorn that are best dried and chewed-upon through the winter. Odd-bod fruits such as those that hang from the branches of the medlar, require bletting; rotting for the un-initiated, and eating with a spoon and a hearty dollop of cream. Their over-ripe figgy taste is an acquired one, but familiar to fruit lovers from past centuries. Quinces have to be cooked before they can be processed into butter, crab-apples have to be boiled and drip drained through cloth into a bowl then reboiled until they set to jelly. Many of the fruits we grow are out of the ordinary and have to be eased into our traditional Kiwi diets gently, but that’s part of the allure of finding and growing something different from the usual; a new discovery that pleases our eye might also please our taste buds.
We are not frutarians, of course, and gather and eat the edible parts of almost everything that grows in our forest garden; the pearly-white roots of the daikon radish, knobbly Jerusalem artichoke tubers and the finer Chinese artichoke, juicy stems from the umbelliferous alexander and cardoon, the seeds of sweet cicely, fennel, peas, beans and corn, flowers of evening primrose and daylily. There are even plant-parts that we eat that defy description. The tasty bits of the Japanese raisin tree are not in the slightest like the dried fruits you might imagine, but more a swollen, forked stem. All up, despite my not planting with the kitchen in mind, there’s no question that we eat well from our forest.