Do your basil plants wither into oblivion each summer? Do frost sensitive lettuces lose their flavor after a severe cold snap? You can use agroforestry to stabilize temperatures and reduce erosion and wind damage in your garden or foodscape.
What is agroforestry?
Technically, agroforestry refers to the intentional addition of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming for economic, environmental, and social benefits. To qualify as agroforestry, four conditions must be present:
There are five different agroforestry systems: alley cropping, forest farming, riparian forest buffers, silvopasture, and windbreaks. In each case, you can take the basic principle and modify it to benefit your home garden.
The alley cropping method of agroforestry plants fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains and more between rows of immature trees. The trees provide protection while still allowing adequate sunlight to reach the other crops. Growing dwarf fruit and nut trees in your foodscape allows you to do the same thing year after year.
Forest farming, also known as multi-story cropping, uses the shade provided by a forest canopy to grow herbs and other edible plants, as well as ornamentals, that perform better in shady environments. You can apply the same principle by planting shade-loving and sun-sensitive plants under existing trees.
Riparian forest buffers
When something is riparian, you will know that it is alongside a stream or creek. Riparian forest buffers can be natural or artificial plantings of trees, shrubs, and grasses along waterways. In nature, the roots of these buffer zone plantings stabilize the ground and filter runoff. In your yard, you can install an artificial creek that increases biodiversity. You can even add some fish and try growing watercress, if you feel like it!
Silvopasture gets its name from the word ‘sylvan’, which refers to the woods. Silvopasture is the practice of incorporating trees and shrubs into pastureland to improve life for livestock and their forage crop. These plantings can also provide fruit, nuts, and timber, as an added income. While silvopasture is normally applied to cattle, you can do the same thing by building chicken coops around trees, or adding trees and hardy shrubs to your chicken run. In each case, the animals get food, shade, and shelter from these plants.
Rows of trees can be used to create a windbreak. These barriers work the same way as fences, providing protection for plants, animals, buildings, and soil against wind, snow, dust, and even bad smells. These barriers increase biodiversity by providing habitat and food for local wildlife. These windbreaks are also known as hedgerows, shelterbelts, or living snow fences. Hedges and rows of trees on your property can provide the same benefits. You can get a bonus when these plants are also edibles.
Each of these agroforestry methods take advantage of natural processes to create sustainable, environmentally friendly conditions that help plants and soil stay healthier, with less effort on our part. These vegetative barriers also reduce erosion, improve air and water quality, increase biodiversity, and provide more opportunities for growing your own food or selling marketable crops.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!