Acreage Advice: Minimize Human Footprint; Maximize Beneficial Density

Question I saw today in one of the food-forest groups: If you were given a plot of flat land (2 acres in zone 9B) to build a food forest, what would you do first?? Step 1, uno, very first plan of action.

My answer: What I would do, and what I have always advised my clients with this much land or more to do: Leave 90% (in this case 1.8 acres of it) wild and tree-covered. “Zone 5” as we say in permaculture design terminology.

Fit the house and mini orchard / food forest on 10 percent of the land — in this case 0.2 acres. Trellises, espaliered fruit trees, and other multi-functional use of vertical space, leaving most of the space for wildlife and native trees/plants.

(If the land was cleared and flattened and mowed by the previous owner already (ugh!), my condolences but all is not lost: Simply allow that 90% to revert to meadow. Assuming the land has not been doused with chemicals for years: Shrubs and trees, mainly native, will grow in succession more rapidly than you might think possible.)

Also: If the site is really dry & barren, or even just super flat and cleared/mowed, my “numero uno” step would be Bill Mollison’s advice on the first three things to do with a degraded piece of land: “Mulch it, Mulch it, Mulch it!”

The mulch can be any combo of wood chips, leaves, twigs. And even logs! All of which will break down and nourish the site and build back the soil biota. (In some permaculture design circles we refer to logs used in this manner as “nurse logs,” also known as the “poor man’s mulch”!)