Forests are one of the most stable ecosystems on earth. Thus, when we create edible forest gardens that mimic these systems, we get the ecological benefits of a forest with food as a bonus. Forest garden is a multi-layered integrated agricultural system that combines diverse plants and animals into one area to sustainably produce a variety of products and environmental services. A simple forest garden contains three layers; trees, shrubs and ground plants and anyone can have a small forest garden at their backyard because forest gardens are more about the principles than the size.
One may ask; why should I create a forest garden? Forest gardens are some of the most self-sustaining abundant ecosystems one can create. They have a host of benefits for both the environment and human beings. Forest gardens are an important source of diverse and nutritious food, especially for poor rural families and thus, are important contributors to food security and livelihoods of farming communities. It provides a safety net for households when food is served. The plant diversity in forest gardens, helps to enrich the local biological diversity.
In designing a forest garden, you have to choose the general layout, plan on the infrastructure like water accessibilities and structures. Water planning comes first, because without water, the forest garden will not thrive. Suitable places for water tank, irrigation lines or other natural water capturing elements. The Ecological Balance food bank in Mutengene has a nearby river which helps for irrigation especially during the dry season.
After designing the water system, roads or paths are taken into consideration. This is to direct movement in and around the forest garden now and in the future. For structures, fencing is required to protect certain zones of the forest garden from animals. For example, nitrogen fixing trees or the so-called fertilizer trees have been used as life fences for the Mutengene 1 Eco Balance food bank. Other structures like creating seating areas for relaxation or structures for storing tools are necessary.
Third step is to make a master list of plants. Once the infrastructure are in place on the site map, it is time to choose plants for the forest garden; plants that provide edible harvest like nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes, climbers, plants with deep roots, ground covers, supporter plants etc. Plants like plantains, cassava, cocoyam’s, Njangsa, bush mango, monodora, Okongobong were chosen for the food bank.
The fourth step is to create patch designs. Patch designs defines the planting areas and planting spacing in the forest garden. At our forest gardens for instance, trees (njangsa (Ricinodendron heudelotii), bush mango (Irvingia spp), Monodora myristica ) were planted at a distance of 10 meters apart from each other; plantains planted at a distance of 2.5meters by 2.5meters, and the other crops like cocoyam’s, cassava and okongobong (climber) were planted into the spaces between the trees and the plantains.
Once the canopy trees, shrubs are in place, it is time to design the lower forest garden layers which function as to create a living mulch of ground covering plants; these discourage invasive species, maintain soil moisture and prevent compaction. Plants to consider for this layer are edible plants, nitrogen fixers and animals with anti-fungal essential oils.
Executive Director of Ecological Balance, Ms. Limbi Blessing Tata, “So far, we have established 3forest gardens. One in Bokwangwo and 2 in Mutengene; one on the Southward side towards Limbe and the other on the East wing towards Tiko. The plan is to establish a series of standard forest gardens with both timber and non-timber forest trees in combination that maximize beneficial interactions to serve as demonstration farms for training many farmers on forest gardening and plant propagation technics”
Forest gardens are designed following the natural patterns of plants and site throughout the year, taking into account important factors such as; soil and climatic conditions, production timing of selected plants and including the movement of wind, water and sun light across the site.