Temperate Food Forests in Aotearoa

Temperate Food Forests in Aotearoa

I have written lots about designing and planting Subtropical Food Forests in the past. I loved the 30 years I spent creating an amazing subtropical food forest in Kaiwaka – there is a chapter on this included in my book Design Your Own Orchard. This time Dennis McGregor and I are learning about creating temperate food forests whilst putting one in here on our new land.

We have read the best books about designing food forests: Martin Crawford’s Creating a Forest Garden is an excellent, easy to read and use resource book, as well as Edible Forest Garden by David Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. We do have a lot of work to do to translate the knowledge and find systems and trees that will work for this land.

We also have Geoff Lawton’s many years of experience and research to draw on. We are putting together lists of which trees will work here and are available, and playing around with how to use the pattern languages in both Creating a Forest Garden and Edible Forest Garden to create a New Zealand example.

We began this project during our last April 2011 Permaculture Design Course. The following are the functions we would like this forest to serve for us:

–  Regeneration of the land

–  Eggs, meat, fruit, nuts, herbs, mushrooms

–  Nourishing (high brix) food

–  High output/low input

–  Seed production and propagation materials

–  Firewood

–  Habitat and self reliance for our interns and students

–  Inspiration

–  Carbon sink

–  Charcoal

The site is the original orchard paddock for the old homestead that is now the Koanga Institute base. Give us 5 years and I’m sure the forest will be way down that track… Our climate is a mediterranean one, quite cold in Winter (heavy frosts, even snow twice last Winter) and very hot in Summer. The soil is free draining sandy loam with pumice underneath. This area is quite low lying with several areas with high water table in Winter.

1.) Map the territory showing physical and intrinsic site characteristics (soil zones, climate zones, waterways, slope etc.)

2.) Mark in your best living sites and intensive vegetable planting zones, in relation to living spaces and characteristics of the area.

3.) Choose fruit trees that will suit these conditions, mark final spots for main fruiting species, leaving enough space so that in 20 years time each of these trees has enough support trees around it to maintain the diversity, nitrogen fixing, mulch from chopped back support trees, etc.

4.) Choose a wide range of species to become the guild to support your fruit trees and food plants, and design them into your forest with as many  integrations and connections as you can dream up!

5.) Begin with a wide diversity of legumes and mineral accumulators, including ground covers, low bushes, high bushes, low trees and canopy trees, suitable for the specific site, densely planted, keeping in mind final fruit tree spots. Many of these trees will be cut out or chopped and harvested for mulch as time goes on. They are only dominant in the juvenile stage of the forest growth. I’m specifically looking for those that also provide large amounts of high protein/fat for chicken forage, and that survive chopping and dropping over a long period.

Number 5.) is the stage we are at now, we have been scanning world legume and mineral accumulator plant lists and food forest lists and we have a lot of ideas. Most of these species are in New Zealand but the seed is not available now for one reason or another. We are very keen to hear from those of you who are also researching in this field.

We have:

– Eleagnus multiflora

– Acacia pravissima

– Acacia cultriformis

– Tagasate

– Tree medick

– Buttercup tree

– Siberian pea tree

– A yellow flowered legume from Moeraki with incredible scent

– Tree lupins

– Robinia pseudocacia

– Italian alder

– Common alder

– Flowering dogwood

– Crimson clover

– Subterranean clover

– White and red clover

– Sulla

– Comfrey

– Alfalafa

– French sorrell


We have a much longer wish list, which we have been unable to source seed for to date, although I understand most of this (if not all) is in New Zealand. If any of you have any of these species in your backyard or know where these trees are and could collect seed for us, we’d love to hear from you. We are hoping to be able to plant these species in our food forest and make the best legumes available via seed for others.

This list includes:


– Seabuckthorn

– Autumn olive (a bush type of eleagnus)

– Goumi (another bush type of eleagnus)

– Wax myrtle

– California bayberry

– Eleagnus ebbingei

– Lespedeza bi colour

We would be willing to trade seeds of any of these varieties for vegetable seeds.

We’re also keen to hear from any of you who may have seed sources off this list of Geoff Lawton’s favourite legumes for subtropical food forests – they will be useful for those of you in the warmer areas! We’d be very willing to trade seeds of any of these trees for seeds we have as well.


– Leuceana

– Albizia lebeck

– Caliandara cayothyrus

– Typhrosia alba

– Typhrosia cajans

– Sesbania sesbans

– Sebania floribunda

– Sesbania grandiflora

– Crotelaria cunninghamii

– Crotelaria Grahamii

– Casalpenia Ferrae

– Cassia floribunda

– Cassia bicapsularis

– Cassia elate

– Cassia didymobotria

– Tipuana tipu

– Bauhinia gallopini