The New Home Economics

Book review: Edible Forest Gardens

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Edible Forest Gardens
By Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier

In keeping with this evening’s theme of total honesty, I will confess that I only read volume II of this two volume set.  This was partially because of a mix-up at the library: I requested both volumes but I got two copies of volume II instead of one of each.  I’m not terribly disappointed, because volume II was exhausting just by itself.

This huge two-volume behemoth is really an advanced study of permaculture gardening.  If you are new to the concept of permaculture, you’d be better served by Toby Hemenway’s more accessible (and shorter) Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.

However, if you are ready to go further with it, Edible Forest Gardens might be worth checking out.  Unfortunately, when you live in USDA hardiness zone 4, as I do, 2/3 of the information in books like this is useless because it only applies to warmer climates.  This frustrating aspect is present in nearly every gardening book I pick up, though, so I was hardly surprised.

This is an example of a book that would work so, so much better as a website.  There are pages and pages of really great data here, just begging to be put into a searchable database.  For example, they have all kinds of tables organizing different species of plants by their function.  So, one of the tables lists nitrogen fixers. But I’d love to be able to only see the nitrogen fixers that are hardy to Minnesota, and I’d love to be able to easily separate that list into sun-loving plants, and shade-loving plants.

Instead, I’m stuck going through with a notebook, trying to take notes of what might work for me in various areas of my evolving yard and garden.  There is a 32-page plant species matrix that tries to list every single aspect of every single plant, but I found it very confusing.  For one thing, it’s organized in alphabetical order by name of plant.  I would have loved to be able to organize it by other characteristics, such as “shade-loving” or “edible leaves.”

Yet, this book was also really inspiring.  The many illustrations of different forest garden systems people have set up really got me thinking about things I could try.  If I ever move somewhere and have a larger piece of land to work with, I will for sure buy this book to help me make plans.  Take a look at this sample illustration (click to enlarge):

I would love to try my hand at creating a real forest garden like this on a decent-sized open spot with plenty of sunshine.  Wouldn’t everyone, though?

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2 thoughts on “Book review: Edible Forest Gardens

  1. if your readers are looking for more information on USDA plant hardiness zones, there is a detailed, interactive USDA plant hardiness zone map at http://www.plantmaps.com/usda_hardiness_zone_map.php

  2. I found loads of information suitable for the climate in Scandinavia in this book. In a colder climate, with a shorter season you would probably need to “lighten up” your forest garden by planting with further distance between plants. Especially to avoid fungus disease which is common up here where I garden.
    What are you aiming on?

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