Permaculture III: The Edible Forest

Lucho Iglesias continues his exploration of Permaculture looking at one of its fundamental principles, the creation of edible forests and how trees should be safeguarded as temples essential to our survival. In the early 90s I discovered in the Alpujarras a fascination with edible forests. Terraces extended into the hillsides of the Sierra Nevada full of fruit trees – olive and orange trees, nut and persimon trees, loquat and pear, quince and strawberry bushes, mystles and palmetoes, carob with almond trees, holm oaks and "almeces", vines close to fig trees…
Permaculture, from a holistic point of view, prioritises edible forests as they are the most balanced of all agronomic systems, obtaining the maximum output from minimal input. The aim of permaculture is to improve the output of natural systems by carefully selecting the kinds of trees that create symbiotic connections between all living beings. If there are trees we avoid soil erosion, water issues and avoid the consequences of floods and extreme droughts. Why do we disdain forest ecosystems that can produce our basic food needs with a minimum effort? Why are we still cutting down forests and jungles to plant soy, wheat, corn, rice,etc?
The problem is that we consider it normal to live in impoverished and deforested countrysides. We do not realize that we are perpetuating a "destruction-culture". However we can all be a part of the solution. It is still possible to create a garden of Eden, and there is no doubt it is a rewarding experience. Talk to the old local farm workers of the area to get to know the varieties of trees that are suited to the area, graftings techniques and so on. Investigate the climate, water cycles and its provision. Put together a list of trees, bushes and plants that associate well, and talk to as many experts as possible.
Small spaces are not a limitation. Take 78 year-old Joan Carulla in Barcelona, who has created a garden on his roof terrace of 240m² with 60 different types of trees in pots and a huge diversity of plants.
One area, of extraordinary richness, can be found near the Sierra de las Nieves in Málaga province. There, people like Cristobal Hevilla are making magnificient use of the soil. A venerable organic farmer, who in his 80s still takes care of a beautiful land with a huge variety of fruit trees and horticultural plants. He and his sons provide fresh vegetables to La Breva, an organic consumers’ association in the capital of Málaga.
In this area I also found an immense abundance of edible forests, far superior to the big monoculture that kills so much diversity. Juan Ramos, another organic producer in the area, showed me orange trees that his grandfather had planted about 100 years ago and that produce up to 250kgs of fruit per tree. Or the majestic pecan tree that he planted with a seed 20 years ago (70 kgs of pecan nuts per year) or the generosity of dry land olive trees (4 people in 4 days harvested 1 tonne of olives). Even in the centre of the town of Coin I discovered at the fire station two huge avocado trees with hundreds of kilos of fruit that would make an excellent vegetable butter.
The wonder of these special beings could be discussed at much greater length but suffice to say that it is no surprise that Buddha became enlightened under a fig tree, inspired by its unconditional love.

Lucho Iglesias & Matricia Lana, permaculturist and co-creator of Permacultura Caña Dulce
For more in this series of articules, please click here


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