You need at least 1/10th of an acre to grow a food forest to feed your family. You can also grow a food forest on a 100-acre farm or more.
There is no upper limit on how much land you need for a food forest, which makes it possible to feed a large population from its yield. The 1/10th acre figure is based on calculations of 2000lbs of fresh produce per person each year. For one person, you need 1/30th of an acre to become entirely self-sufficient in terms of food. That could be the size of your suburban backyard.
You can live off a food forest in a 1/30th acre (1450 sq. ft.) of land within a few years, provided you have enough sunshine and a long growing season. If you live in an area with limited sunlight, you can grow 1/20th of an acre, equivalent to 2209 sq. ft.
If you intend to feed yourself and sell some surplus from your food forest, you need a bigger piece of land, approximately 1 acre or more. A self-sustaining food forest on such a piece of land will provide enough produce to feed a large family and also make a small income. However, it is time-intensive to grow a food forest on such a farm, as it takes a few years to establish a flourishing ecosystem.
Setting up a food forest on a 1-acre farm requires good planning. You have to map out your planting zones to identify where each plant will be grown in order to produce the best yield. It is possible to set up an orchard of fruit trees and low-growing plants in one sector of your land. This will be a foraging zone, where humans and wildlife can frequent to enjoy fruits and nuts from the trees.
How much time does it take for a food forest to become self-sustaining?
On a 1/10th acre piece of land, you will need to wait five years for it to fully mature. However, you could begin harvesting fast-maturing perennials like rhubarb in the first year. If you plant on a larger farm, you have to wait longer for symbiosis to fully integrate, but it will be worth it for the annual bountiful harvest.
It can take lesser time for the food forest to become self-sustaining if you transplant mature trees and shrubs rather than planting seedlings.
You can use the space in your backyard creatively to ensure you get a full 7 layers of the food forest. Nothing is wasted on a food forest. The fallen fruits reseed your garden and the decomposing plant matter puts nutrients back into the soil.
When your land becomes self-sustaining, you will enjoy its nutritional benefits for a long time. You will not need to replant or weed regularly. You may find it time and labor and capital intensive at first, but once it starts producing you can live off it for many years.
How much food can a food forest produce?
On a 1/10th acre of land, you can grow between 6000-7000lbs of food annually. The average American eats around 2,000lbs of food in a year. Therefore, in your small backyard, you can plant a food forest to yield enough food to feed yourself and a family of two in a year.
The yield in a food forest will vary each year, especially during its early stages of establishment. Annuals that thrive in sunlight produce most of the yield in the early stages. As the forest matures, perennials will yield heavily.
The yield depends on the soil condition, sunlight and wind conditions, human pressure, wildlife pressure, and climate. The food forest mimics real forests, so it is hard to pinpoint the yield of such a system.
Under the right management, a food forest can produce a significantly high yield. According to this study, a 222-acre food forest could produce enough fruit to meet 108% of the daily recommended minimum fruit intake for a population of 42,600 in Burlington Vermont. This indicates that food forests have a high untapped potential to improve food security.
On a ¼ acre
A 1/4 acre piece of land can produce up to 15,000lbs of food each year. This is based on the calculations of 1/10th of an acre producing 6000lbs annually.
On a ½ acre
A half-acre piece of land can produce 30,000lbs annually, enough to feed 15 people for a whole year.
On an acre
The yield from a one-acre food forest is 60,000lbs in a year. This yield is not constant every year, due to various climatic factors and changing soil quality.
On 10 acres
A ten-acre farm can produce up to 600,000lbs of food in a year. This land is capable of feeding the local community for years to come. The yield from such a huge tract of land is unpredictable, but its resilience makes it better than conventional farming methods which might have higher short-term yields, but diminishing returns due to soil degradation and lack of diversity.
What is the best tree spacing in a food forest?
Standard fruit trees in your food forest need a spacing of 18-25ft at the minimum. Peaches and nectarines need 12-15ft spacing. The requirements for semi-dwarf fruit tree varieties are 12-15ft. This is not applicable for sweet cherries, which can grow up to 15ft wide. The minimum space for dwarf fruit trees is about 8-10ft.
The spacing for your canopy trees is dependent on their full size at maturity and the shade they cast on the plants below them. If you place them too far apart, they may cast a shade directly below them, but will not form a closed canopy ideal for a food forest. You should however ensure that fruit trees are not touching each other as this may limit their spread.
You should also account for water when deciding on the spacing of trees in your food forest. Consider how much you have to change your land to be more receptive to water. This is because a forest is capable of infiltrating water at a higher rate than conventional gardens.
Access to paths and roads are also defining factors in your tree spacing. You should leave adequate space to allow the movement of people and materials through the forest. When setting up your food forest, it is essential to have a layout of how footpaths will evolve naturally on the site.
You should mix trees of various ages in your food forest. Ideally, plant younger trees next to the oldest trees. This means that when the young tree reaches full maturity, the older tree dies or is removed to make space for the other tree to flourish.
Further, tree varieties in your forest will determine the spacing requirements. You should mix fruit trees and other tree species in the same area of your food forest. If you plant trees that mature at different heights, plant the shorter trees on the sunny side of the taller trees. This maximizes the use of space and productivity.
It is also important to consider windbreaks when spacing your trees. Some trees are vulnerable to winds during their early stages of germination. You should plant them next to older and taller trees to protect them from adverse weather elements and allow them to reach full maturity. You can transplant them when they reach a safe age to prevent overcrowding in certain areas of your garden.
You can grow a food forest on any size of land. You are only limited by your imagination. The yield from your food forest depends on how well you manage it, and the consistency of weather patterns. A small backyard food forest can produce enough food to feed your family. However, on a larger farm, you can feed your family and yourself, and leave a surplus that you can sell to earn a small income.
Your food forest can accommodate a variety of fruit trees which you can forage at different times of the year. Trees are vital for the canopy layer and for preserving the value of the soil. Tree spacing determines how well they grow and protect the understory. Carefully planning your food forest ensures you enjoy years of fresh produce with little effort.