Thursday, November 19, 2009


The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness
John Muir

I have been reading and watching anything I can lay my hands on that would help me design my first food forest. Geoff Lawton’s film “Establishing a Food Forest (the Permaculture Way series) was the most helpful.

He explained that we are to learn from nature and think of establishing a forest in terms of time, and a series of plantings that come and go until the final forest bio-system matures.

Leave land alone long enough and in many areas it will revert to forest. Damaged land will always start with pioneer plants that will start repairing the land; often these will fix nitrogen. Annual and perenial weeds would cover the earth. Within the protection of these weeds small plants would start to grow: small bushes and shrubs would begin to cover parts of the land and dominate. Finally pioneer trees such as the Acacia (nitrogen-fixing) would start taking hold. Leaf drop and attraction to foraging wildlife would enrich the soil. And so the beginnings of a forest would be born. This succession can take decades but will eventually result in a mature forest.

A forest is self-sustaining; the perennials and annuals are self-seeding and self-sowing. Forest litter deepens over the years to form a wonderful mulch filled with all the micro and macro-organisms needed to bring about sustainability. The soil is undisturbed and life in the soil increases fertility. The bio-diversity of nitrogen-fixing plants, plants that give mulch, plants that attract wildlife and beneficial insects with food, and plants that create habitats, all help develop the forest into a highly beneficial eco-system that in its complex integration is more than the sum of its parts.

We can mimic what we learn in nature and even speed up the process to some degree with more deliberate guidance than nature gives. Digging a swale on contour, to catch rainfall, and then planting it up on the swale mound with nitrogen-fixing plants is a great beginning to our forest. These are relatively short-lived but help condition the soil for those trees and plants we wish to see established. Interspersing these quick-grow plants with valuable and desired young trees to get started will speed up the forest succession process.

He also described how forests are a series of layers. These multiple layers of vegetation maximise health, sustainability and productivity in a forest. Seven distinct layers have been identified. This diagram by Graham Burnett best explains this:

It is also important to understand the structural functioning of a forest. Patterning of plants is not in a neat orchard style but more a clumping together of plants with each part a little different than the next. This has been found to attract more bird-life and greater levels of predatory insect-life than a regulated mono-patterned orchard that has these same seven levels integrated. With a more natural planting there are many more micro-climates created and bio-diversity is in increased. Different plants will be able to take better care of themselves when grown in the little niches created by this mimicry of nature’s forest systems.

Increasingly we are starting to understand more of the soil dynamics that go into increased fertility of the land. Not only above ground, but also below ground, multiple layers of root depths and soil utilization can effect a happy crowding of plants that benefit each other, instead of competeing by contending for the same soil nutrients and requirements. Combining plants in terms of root patterns that are beneficial creates more intensive use of the soil without bringing harm to the plants. A monoculture needs plant spacing for a plant to survive but this is not natural or optimal in terms of plant health and productivity, and all the benefit of land cover, shading, increased moisture, pest protection, and complex soil chemistry is lost.

I have to quote Bill Mollison here; not only because it tickled me to read it, but because his point of view in terms of productivity is accurate:

“We should not confuse order and tidiness. Tidiness is something that happens when you have frontal brain damage. You get very tidy. Tidiness is symptomatic of brain damage. Creativity, on the other hand, is symptomatic of a fairly whole brain, and is usually a disordered affair. The tolerance for disorder is one of the very few healthy signs in life. If you can tolerate disorder you are probably healthy. Creativity is seldom tidy.

Tidiness is like the painting of that straight up and down American with his fork and his straight rows. The British garden is a sign of extraordinary tidiness and functional disorder. You can measure it easily, but it doesn’t yield much. What we want is creative disorder. I repeat, it is not the number of elements in a system that is important, but the degree of functional organization of those elements – beneficial functions.”

A food forest cannot be some regimented plan that totally disregards the value of all nature has to offer in terms of bio-diversity and multiple integrations in complex and varied structures.

I am not aiming to plant a lot of trees and call it a forest, but multiple sets of random ecologies that integrate into a self-sustaining corporate biosystem; a tumbling cascade of colour, texture, highs and lows, with precious “weeds” and other productive plants between, until every part is bursting with life and productivity.

Until next time,

Geoff Lawton’s film “Establishing a Food Forest (the Permaculture Way series)
Bill Mollison: Transcript for a Permaculture Design Course.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


“When we design for permanence, we go generally toward forests,

permanent pastures, lakes and ponds, and non-tillage agriculture.”

Bill Mollison

I have been giving much thought about how to begin establishing a food forest. I have come to the conclusion that before I can plant a forest I have to consider how I would provide enough moisture to sustain that forest. Here is where design comes in. Ditches along contour curves [swales] are the first pre-requisite, but water storage points, even off contour, are valuable too.

We need to store water where it is most useful. To store it at the bottom of a hill where it needs to be pumped up is least useful. However with a water source like a river or dam at the lowest point there are some interesting options available that are very sustainable. A spiral pump that turns with the flow of the river and lifts water to a top tank in order to create a head to get a ram pump started is something I am looking into. I do not like the water waste of a ram pump, but if this were to be fed into irrigation ditches at the riverfront there would be no waste. I would need to get as much head as possible out of the spiral pump to have the ram deliver further uphill to where I need it.

The spiral pump is a simple but fascinating technology. As can be seen by the historic Wirtz pumps in these 1842 drawings, it is a simple design. It is the only easy way I have discovered so far to lift water from my river using the power of the river. A waterwheel would be quite beautiful, but sudden flooding of the river would probably carry it away and something like that would be expensive to keep replacing. If it could be lifted from the water during the rainy season that would be good; but the project becomes even more difficult with this criterion. A spiral wheel can be made quite simply by coiling water-piping into a wheel shape with the centre fitted to a special joint to join with the outlet pipe; a joint that can allow the wheel to turn while the outlet pipe does not. Paddles on the side of the wheel use the river flow to turn the wheel. As it turns the mouth of the wheel scoops up water and then air, water and then air, round and around as it goes. The air is compressed inside the wheel the nearer it gets to the center and then shoots out of the exit pipe up the hill. Pretty neat. If I can get some bamboo I could even make the wheel structure with it and bring costs right down should it need replacing if carried off by flooded river banks; much lighter to lift the wheel out to prevent this too.

Rain is also a very valuable resource. We need to capture it before it runs to the lowest point, and then filter it through a bio-system in as many useful ways as possible, before it runs off and is lost. We need to get close to the source and re-direct the flow. How much rainfall there is, is not as important and how much we put the water to use when it does fall.

We need biological as well as mechanical storages. With rain water we can store it or let it leave. When it leaves and goes to the rivers it is lost to the sea. Fresh water is a valuable resource; it takes precipitation to get it to us. Many other water sources are contaminated to some degree or other.

I have had the idea of digging beneath my planned pathways in order to pack rocks with spaces for water storage. I need the rocks underneath to brace the path without getting into expensive construction techniques. With these stable rock beds under the main pathways I could just put the hose-pipe into a down-pipe, fill it up and move to the next storage point under pathway. This would ensure direct seepage downhill into the soil, exactly where I need the water – at the roots. Plenty of mulch on top could be wetted down to keep the roots of shallow plantings happy and cool too, but the extensive irrigation often needed to establish fruit trees would be avoided. Rainfall catchment into these underground reservoirs could be directed from up hill too, with some sort of stone and pebble filtration at the entrance to prevent soil and debris accumulation Piping laid from a fish dam at a higher level (already in place) to the entry points of these stone reservoirs, could also be engineered to increase water and nutrient filtration down into the precious soil of the food forest. This whole idea was all largely inspired by an article written by Mr Brad Lancaster when he interviewed a simple man in southern Africa with a powerful story.

Mr Zephania Phiri Maseko of the former Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, is known as the man who farms water. We learn from this very enterprising man that it is not so much the amount of rainfall that matters, but the way it is directed from the source to fulfill as much usefulness as possible, before it runs downhill to the valley. He learned to harvest the rain so effectively that he created a food garden on dry-lands. He wanted to create a Garden of Eden, and he definitely achieved just this.

Mr. Phiri found himself without a job and 2 wives and children to support. He told his story to Brad Lancaster, who traveled a very long way to hear it. Mr Lancaster found Mr Phiri sitting on the porch reading his Bible, and there began a most interesting interview. He took Brad Lancaster to his three hectare family landholding and explained that after he lost his job this was all he had along with his Bible. The year was 1964. He turned to his Bible for direction on what to do with this very dry piece of land. He read in Genesis how Adam and Eve had everything they needed in the Garden of Eden. This Garden lay between two rivers; the Tigris and the Euphrates. He did not have this benefit but decided that he needed to create his own rivers. His land faced north-northeast which is an advantage in the southern hemisphere. Frequent droughts and a lack of equipment and capital made his dream of a Garden of Eden in his own backyard seem nigh impossible. He faced an enormous challenge. But without the promise of any work on the horizon it was this, or starvation for him and his family. So when it did rain he spent time observing what happened to the water; and thus began educating himself in rain-harvesting. He became so successful that he now supplies all his water needs with rainfall alone. It took 30 years but he now has his Garden of Eden and is teaching his neighbours, and many visitors from all around the globe, his methods.

From the top he used rocks to loosely build low walls along contours to interrupt the rapid down flow of the rainfall. From this he directed the water to unlined reservoirs built with hand tools and hard work. Both he and his 2 wives worked at this. The top reservoir he calls his “immigration centre” for this is where the water is welcomed onto his farm and directed to where it will live in his soil. Over time he discovered that if this first reservoir filled three times in a season then enough rain would have been directed into the soil for storage to last him two years. He explains that the soil is like a tin and should hold all water, but where erosion has formed into gullies the soil leaks the water. He proceeded to plug these leaks.

His second reservoir is used to direct water to a ferro-cement tank for household use; and all outgoing greywater is drained to an underground cistern to feed the water into the soil.

He discovered that the government had put huge swales above his property to prevent soil erosion. These swales were placed slightly off contour to direct the rushing water away from the land to a central drainage; however it robbed his land of much needed moisture, thus making it unproductive. Mr Phiri dug large “fruition pits” at intervals down the contour until the contour came to his property line. These would fill with water one after another and slowly filter into the landscape long after the rainstorm. He grew thatch grasses around these pits to prevent them collapsing by erosion. The thatch he used for building and to generate some extra income.

He has many thriving fruit trees growing along swales to provide fruit, windbreaks and shade. They have no special attention beyond the rain and the water that Mr Phiri “plants” in his soil.
The rising ground water held in storage brings this abundance. He said to Brad Lancaster: "I am digging fruition pits and swales to plant the water so that it can germinate elsewhere. I have then taught the trees my system. They understand it and my language. I put them here and tell them, 'Look the water is there - go and get it'''. He uses no ridging or basins around the tree but expects them to reach out and find the water.

He also grows a wide diversity of edible crops to give him food security; if some crops do not provide his needs, others will. Only open-pollinated seed is used and this is collected to be sown the next year. He uses nitrogen fixing plants abundantly. One plant that he favours is the pigeon pea which he uses for fodder and mulch. He said he discovered that fertilized soils do not hold water well to the detriment of the plants, but when manure and nitrogen-fixing plants are used the plants thrive year after year. “Fertilised soil is bitter".

I love how he describes water: "Water is like blood - it is always attracted to the wound. Gullies are wounds. Blood goes to the wound to coagulate and heal it. It does this with gabions and swales where the gully is filled with fertile soil". For this reason he dug his three wells at the bottom of his land so that all water harvested and percolated into the soil would find its way eventually to these “wounds” he has created and fill them. Even when his neighbours wells dry up, his don’t; including wells dug deeper than his. Only one of his wells is lined and equipped with a hand pump to provide water to the house. The other two are open and lined with rocks – no mortar –to allow the water to go where it will. Only in times of extreme drought will he draw from these wells to water annuals in a nearby field. Below these wells a wetland has developed and has made the lush growth of a banana forest possible. He also has three reservoirs here to farm fish. He grows reeds, sugarcane and preferred grasses on and up to the banks ofthese reservoirs; a wonderful resource in terms of fodder for his livestock and also superb filtration of the seeping water, that fills the dams, for the fish.

Mr Phiri believes he has created his own Tigris and Euphrates rivers underground and they surface in his reservoirs. In his own words he describes the last thirty years: "Sure, it's a slow process, but that's LIFE. Slowly, you implement these projects and as you begin to rhyme with nature soon other lives will start to rhyme with yours".

Mr Phiri has created the Zvishavane Water Resources Project to teach his techniques. He has impacted so many that even CARE International in his region use funds to implement his methods to teach how to grow food rather than give away food. At schools he has changed dry dusty water deficient landscapes into lush gardens where he has taught teachers and students to implement his methods. The Zvishavane Water Resources Project is always in need of funds. If you'd like to help write to Mr Zephania Phiri Maseko, ZWRP, PO Box 118, Zvishavane, Zimbabwe.

Until next time,



Monday, October 5, 2009


We need our forests. It was only recently that I learned how much we need them.

Forests are essential to a stable oxygen cycle; far more than previously realized. They outstrip the oceans in this function. In fact, our oceans are fast becoming oxygen consumers with all the mercury being dumped into them. Forest waste also dumped into the sea is creating huge amounts of oxygen consumption in decomposition. Forests lock up carbon dioxide. Decomposing forests release carbon dioxide. The rate at which primeval forests are being destroyed is indicative of how little the value of such an integrated bio-mass is understood.

Forests provide a large amount of our precipitation [The falling to earth of any form of water (rain or snow or hail or sleet or mist)]. Cut away forests from ridges and you can reduce rainfall in the area as much as 30%. But rainfall is not the whole picture; full precipitation losses can be as high as 86%. Thus, semi-desert conditions can very rapidly be produced. Biomass [The total mass of living matter in a given unit area] will rapidly diminish without this life-giving essential moisture.

Forests buffer an environment against extremes. They temper cold and heat, wet and dry, and moderate pollution. They are also a major soil factory of the world. Add to this that if we cut away our trees we lose the soil already made, even as far away as 1000 miles from the destroyed watershed. [A ridge of land that separates two adjacent river systems.] Climate change is occurring – not in that we are gravitating towards a greenhouse effect, or, as was scientifically projected back in the 70’s, toward an ice age – but in that an unpredictable pattern is forming that swings erratically between. The destruction of our forests has a part to play in this. [see ]

The loss of forest species from pathogens and pests has started occurring with alarming frequency. First the Chestnut was hit with blight. Then the elms, and now beeches, eucalypts and oaks. There is great consternation over the insects that are preying on these trees, but Bill Mollison puts forward that these insects are merely feasting on a dying forest system. These predatory insects smell the death and come for their food. This is much in line with the Trophobiosis Theory of the French botanist Francis Chaboussou.

Trophobiosis is based on the premise that pests shun healthy plants. Weakened plants open the door to pests and disease. Francis Chaboussou (1908-1985) was an agronomist for France’s National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA). His thesis “Healthy Crops: An New Agricultural Revolution” was finally made available in English. He speaks against the use of pesticides. They weaken plants, and weakened plants open the door to pest and disease. To use further pesticides to control these pests is to further weaken the plants and aid in their demise. Traditional thinking is that pests develop a resistance to a particular poison and so the onslaught against the pest is increased. Chaboussou declares that the plant is further debilitated and so attracts even more disease and pests. A healthy plant shuns pests. An unhealthy plant sends out signals that attract pests and pathogens.

Trophobiosis is derived from two Greek roots: trophikos (nourishment) and biosis (life). Chaboussou says “the relationships between plant and parasite are primarily nutritional”. This should not be too surprising. Humanly speaking, the difference between health and disease in man is primarily nutritional.

Returning again to Bill Mollison and what he has to say about the death of so many major tree species, we see him confirming what Mr Chaboussou had found to be true. He blames humans and not bugs for the demise of these trees. When speaking of the bugs he says, “What attracts them is the smell from the dying tree. We have noticed that in Australia. Just injure trees to see what happens. The phasmids [Large cylindrical or flattened mostly tropical insects with long strong legs that feed on plants; walking sticks and leaf insects] come. The phasmid detects the smell of this. The tree has become its food tree, and it comes to feed.”

Let’s talk about rising salts in the demise of forest species: When rain falls on forests we have water storage. When forests are removed we have evaporation. When forests absorb this rain it travels downwards and takes with it salts produced from the breakdown of rocks. The trees act as biological pumps that keep these salts at deep levels. Any evaporation from the leaves of the tree is pure water. This is all good for the atmosphere and the soil. When the forests are removed and the salt levels rise to three feet below the surface then trees are suddenly and mysteriously affected by bugs and pathogens. The real cause is the imbalance in the soil caused by rising salts. The onslaught on the tree makes it susceptible to pests and disease. When these trees die and salt levels rise higher, then crops are affected too and become weakened. When salt levels rise to the surface then we have created an inhospitable soil environment that is easily seen.

Forests recycle water. It is vital that this water is recycled into the atmosphere in order to have the necessary precipitation upon the earth. Contamination of existing water supplies is at an all time high. Should we diminish this recycled water still further we could be in very serious trouble.

We need our forests.

Plant a tree; and if you can, plant a forest.

I want to plant a food forest. Join me. I have lots to learn but will share as I do. I would love to hear from others too. Let us leave a heritage that is sustainable and worth giving to our children.

Until next time,


Photos courtesy of me, morguefile, morguefile, and freerangestock (in that order). Thank you.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I do have these trees everywhere. They grow as weeds on my farm. I have a deep respect for many weeds as forage foods and so do not consider it derogatory to name this wonderful tree a weed. Berry time is a time of feasting; usually September/October; coming up very soon. There is such an abundance of fruit that it is the one harvest I am not competing with the monkeys for.

Something super about the mulberry is that the fruit ripens over an extended period of time and not all at once, thus affording a longer harvest season. I have also noticed that some trees will come into bearing even a month after others. This does not seem to be the difference between the Black and the White, but the difference between one tree and another. Perhaps location has something to do with this. I have started watching for this. One year a tree up higher on the mountain came into bearing a good 3 months after the others had all finished.

Another good quality about this tree is that it will bear fruit from quite young and small. The fruit are smaller than a more mature tree but are still available to eat. I have a favourite Black Mulberry that must be well over 15 years now and produces lovely big black fruit every year. That is one tree I want to get to before the monkeys do.

I know of three common types of mulberry: The Black (Morus nigra), the Red (Morus rubra), and the White (Morus alba). I have the Black and the White growing naturally on my farm. The Black are by far the best tasting mulberry. The white can be very sweet if you wait long enough for them to turn a lilac colour. The Chinese use the White Mulberry. I have read that the Black mulberry is the least cold tolerant of the three and the White the most tolerant. It has been said the Red mulberries seldom live longer than 75 years but that Black Mulberries have been known to bear fruit for hundreds of years.

The mulberry is worth considering for any farm or food forest. The fruit is not available in the stores because the shelf-life is too short. They are easy to cultivate. The mulberries can be eaten, cooked, dried and frozen. To cook them just let them gently simmer in their own juice until the mixture becomes a liquid sauce. If you wish to offset the sweetness you can add a little lemon or lime juice, and some lemon or even orange rind. Thicken for a pudding or save to pour over ice-cream or whatever takes your fancy. If the berries are dried in a dehydrator they store well and can be a delicious snack, especially the Black mulberry. I want to experiment this season. The young unopened leaves can be boiled as a tender vegetable. I have read that the mature leaves are toxic and even mildly hallucinogenic. I have not found them so. But take care. I have eaten many mature leaves and have come to no harm, but would advise caution. Use wise foraging principles and you should be safe; just a nibble first. For recipes, pears and apples blend well with mulberries. I bet these together could be delicious as a frozen ice.

They can also be made into wine and liqueur. Just google “Homemade mulberry wine” and you will come up with tons of recipes for wines; but one that really caught my attention for its simplicity and unusual ingredients I found here at :

There are many more uses for the mulberry tree. Not only is the fruit delicious, but the leaves are edible too; in fact a desirable food, not only to the silkworm. Horses, goats, sheep, rabbits and fish will forage on these leaves. And I do too. Yes. As with the Moringa I dry these leaves for winter to use in smoothies. They have excellent health benefits. The leaves are reputed to have high mineral content. I have read of the leaves being juiced. Sifting is required because there is a large amount of fibre which can get stuck in your teeth. It is said to taste like wheatgrass. Never tasted wheat grass so I don’t know. I have only added fresh leaves to an apple fruit porridge I make and so can verify the high fibre content of the leaves. More commonly the leaves are dried and drunk as a tea. Infusion of the leaves of the white mulberry as a tea is said to give many health benefits; mostly in the fight against diabetes and as a source of anti-oxidants. It is said that certain glucose blocking factors prevent the body from absorbing certain sugars when drinking mulberry tea. Some even boast it aids in weight loss because of this. Perhaps there really are some benefits in weight loss, but I think eating less while maximising nutrition is the best way to do this. As an aside I have found Intermittent Fasting is a superb eating life-style, both for weight-loss and health. Anyone interested in this subject should download a free e-book I read by Dr Bert Herring on the subject. It really helped me. It can be found here: . A marvellous health tool.

Back to Mulberry tea. This is a waxy leaf and so a longer brewing time is needed than for the average green tea. Eight minutes with water that is just beginning to boil makes an excellent health drink.

Even the root bark is used medicinally. It is supposed to act as a diuretic and help with coughs and asthma. This is new to me so not much else to say. Some things I just mention to remind me to experiment one day.

The mulberry is best known as feed for the silkworm (Bombyx Mori) It is best to get the white Chinese silkworm if you want to use the silk. The cocoon is white. The zebra silkworm has a yellow cocoon. It took me some time to discover how the thread is wound off the cocoon. Working with fibres fascinates me and I would like to one day add this to the Angora, Mohair, and Cashmere fibres I plan to use. Whole cocoons are placed in boiling water and gently stirred to separate the twisted threads from each other. You can put them in an oven first to kill of the worm quickly. I am not sure of the temperature but it needs to be hot enough to quickly kill without harming the silk. Experiment. Then into the hot water. This is how the end of a single long thread of about 3600 feet is located. Commercially 8 cocoons are unravelled together and spun into a yarn on a spinning machine. You can do it quite simply at home with hot water, a toothpick to find the end of the thread, and a pencil to wind it on. You can take 3 or 4 threads and twist together to make silk thread. I would love to hear from anyone who has successfully tried this.

We can look to the Chinese for other uses for the Mulberry too. Integration of silkworms and mulberries with fish farming is a natural progression. The silkworm faeces and pupae can be fed to the fish and thereby add an excellent protein into this bio-system. Just throw the silkworm residue into the pond. The pond silt makes an excellent fertilizer for the mulberry and other forage crops. These forage crops can bring an increase in livestock that can be added. If this is all done within natural parameters no outside inputs should be needed. It was done before agri-business had us convinced we needed them. It can be done again. Mulberry leaves can be harvested every 90 days. Drying seems to be the best way to conserve the protein content of the leaf. I have done this. It merely requires air-drying in a dust-free environment.

The Mulberry is considered by some as exceptional forage. I know that my tilapia fish will polish off every leaf of a lopped-off branch that I have thrown into the pond. They even eat the bark. This is great; like throwing in a living larder. And I do mean living. The branches sometimes even grow back leaves after being stripped. The pond water is obviously so rich in nitrates that they manage this without roots. I have even seen berries develop on a couple of branches long after I have thrown the lopped branch into the pond!

Protein content of the leaves is said to be between 15 and 28%. It is a highly productive perennial forage. The leaves can be used as supplements replacing concentrates for dairy cattle. I have read that to offer it to cattle it is best offered finely chopped. I plan to try this out with 2 Jersey cows one day. At the moment I am establishing forage for the livestock I will one day acquire. The Mulberry leaves can also be used as the main feed for goats, sheep and rabbits. The mulberry leaves are so palatable that small ruminants will avidly consume fresh leaves and young stems when offered to them even if they have never tasted them before. It does seem to be a preferred forage. Mix it with a selection and the mulberry will be searched out. A note of caution: Be careful with rabbits. They do not have digestive juices as we do, but digest their food by way of bacteria in their gut – so any new foods need be added in very small quantities at first, to build up the necessary bacteria. Should this care not be taken, the rabbit will fill up on the new food and the food will sit in the gut until it ferments and the creature could die of bloat. No bacteria, no digestion. To give it to chickens it is shade dried and given in the mash of laying hens. I have read that this gives better yolk colour and increased egg size. Time will tell. I will write more as I experiment.

Something a little more unusual is raising snails on mulberry leaves. I mention this because I might one day try this. Escargot are highly prized by some. Not me. But some. : )

Guinea pigs and iguanas have also been fed mulberry leaves.

Mulberry wood has many uses to. It is highly water resistant and very good for building ships. Because it grows faster than other woody plants it is very good for biomass production as a raw material for paper production. The mulberry wood has also been found to be a good source of media for mushroom production.

I think I have us convinced that the mulberry is a wonderful addition to any food forest or garden!

Until next time,

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Starting small. The best place to start.

Give me a piece of land, a wide blue sky and the sun on my back. Add the birds, some trees and plants and I am smiling. God is smiling too.

I have a piece of land to work, and nurture a dream of true sustainability. My beginnings are small but I do not despise that day of small beginnings. It comes with hard work, sore muscles and many learning curves. I thought I would journal my path in hopes of meeting those of like mind who want to find solutions to price hikes, poor nutrition and the sophisticated stress levels of our modern world; together tell a simple tale of finding a better way.

My current enthusiam is the Moringa tree. I finally managed to track some seeds on the internet and they arrived in the post. Ten precious seeds. Six of them germinated. And of those six only two survived. One went to a neighbour, who is as enthusiastic as I, and the other has been planted out.

One was not enough and so I bought more seeds and have now planted out about 30 trees. They are a joy. I expect them to feed my family, myself and my livestock one day. With the coming spring I will enlarge the beginnings of my food forest with more trees.

Why Moringa?

It is a nutritional miracle and has been used in places to reverse malnutrition in children. It has been discovered that those taking Moringa show improvement within a few days rather than the usual few months when on conventional treatment. Frank Martin in "Survival and Subsistence in the Tropics" states that "among the leafy vegetables, one stands out as particularly good, the horseradish tree. The leaves are outstanding as a source of vitamin A and, when raw, vitamin C. They are a good source of B vitamins and among the best plant sources of minerals. The calcium content is very high for a plant. Phosphorous is low, as it should be. The content of iron is very good (it is reportedly prescribed for anemia in the Philippines). They are an excellent source of protein and a very low source of fat and carbohydrates. Thus the leaves are one of the best plant foods that can be found."

Moringa is also known as the Horseradish tree because of the sauce that can be made from the roots. This is done when the seedlings are about 60cm tall. The bark is completely removed as it contains harmful substances. This done, the root is ground and mixed with salt and vinegar and stored in the refrigerator. It is not advised that it be eaten in excess.

Not only the roots but the leaves, flowers, bark, gum and wood are all useful.

Both fresh and dried leaves are used. I have dried the leaves for winter to add to smoothies. They can also be ground to powder and added to different dishes to increase nutritional content. The fresh leaves can be added to salads or cooked like spinach with a little onion, butter and salt.

The flowers are great for attracting bees. They can be eaten too or steeped in hot water to make a tea but I prefer to leave them on the tree because of the valuable pods they produce. These pods are food too and can be eaten when they first appear; still young and tender. Cook them much like green beans. When the pods harden into seeds these "peas" as they are called can be harvested as food too. They will take a little more effort to cook than regular peas though. There is a stickly bitter film around them that must be washed and even cooked off. The first cook water then is thrown out. This only takes a few minutes. Then they are cooked as regular peas.

The best part of the pods though is the rich Ben Oil that can be pressed from them. This has more value to me than eating them as a vegetable. The seed is said to contain 35-40% oil. It is a very useful oil that is claimed not to go rancid and burns without smoke. I have yet to prove that for myself. More later. If you do not have an oil press you can always roast the seeds, grind them up and put this in boiling water so that the oil will float to the surface. The spent pods after removing the oil are amazing at clarifying the most muddy water.

The gum found in the bark is used as seasoning over food. It has also been used in calico printing and medicines. The bark and gum can be used in tanning hides. The bark can also be beaten into a fibre to make ropes or mats.The wood produces a blue dye which is used in Jamaica and Senegal. I plan to try this with Angora wool. Paper can also be made from the wood pulp. It is no good as firewood because it is too soft and spongy.

I have heard it called the miracle tree. No surprise.

Until next time,