But what exactly is a micro-food forest?
A micro-forest is a complete but tiny ecosystem that works much like a forest does. It’s a dense pocket of diverse vegetation that captures carbon, breaks down decomposing organic material to return nutrients into the soil, and creates habitat for wildlife — just on a smaller scale.
In urban areas, they’ve been found to cool the landscape in the surrounding areas as well as improve property values through the introduction of attractive natural elements.
Layers of a micro-food forest
The beauty of this type of forest is that you can design it as big or as small as your space will allow. The trick is to choose a combination of plants that mimic the key features of a full-sized forest that maintain the micro-climate and help sustain the ecosystem.
1. The Forest Floor
Forest floors are usually covered with fallen leaves and fruit, twigs, manure and other decaying matter. This is where decomposition occurs, allowing the soil to reclaim nutrients from organic material. Good elements to include in your micro-forest floor are compost, mulch, fungi, lichen, moss, centipedes, snails, slugs and other bugs.
2. The Herb Layer
Herbaceous plants like flowers, herbs, ferns, grasses and groundcovers make up this layer, providing shelter and food for critters on your forest floor. As these plants decompose easily when they die, they provide easily-accessed fuel for biological activity in the layer below. Soft-stemmed bushfoods like Native Wintercress, Warrigal Greens, Murnong Yam Daisy, Native Leek and Red Back Ginger would make fine additions to an edible micro-forest understory.
3. The Shrub Layer
Woody vegetation makes up the shrub layer, providing shelter and food (depending on plant choice) to creatures higher up in the food chain. This is where native edibles can really shine, as many of them can be grown modestly as shrubs. Try the fruit-bearing Rosella, Maroon Bush, Bolwarra, Atherton Raspberry and Midyim Berry, just to name a few.
4. The Tree Layer
Also referred to as the canopy layer, your trees provide shelter and help maintain the climate in your ecosystem. Larger bushfood species, such as Illawarra Plum, Raspberry Jam Wattle, Sandpaper Fig and Blue Quandong would work well here, but remember that you don’t need to plant actual trees to create a micro-forest canopy. Size is relative.
Micro-forests in micro spaces
You can still keep a micro-forest in a tiny garden. In such cases, you may only be able to fit one small tree in your canopy, or a limited selection of bonsai shrubs to serve as your “tree” layer above your soft-stemmed vegetation. You may want to consider planting a greater variety of edible mushrooms, and fostering conditions that favour lichen and moss.
There are hundreds of ways you can maximise biodiversity in a small space, creating an environment that allows your forest floor to thrive. With a little creativity and research, you can still enjoy the benefits of a micro-forest, even if all you have is a large flowerpot in the corner of your balcony.
Visit the Tucker Bush micro-forest at the 2021 Perth Garden Festival
Come say hello! You’ll get to see our small-space bushfood micro-forest in action, and learn how to create one in your own backyard. We’ll be at the 2021 Perth Garden Festival from 29 April to 2 May in Langley Park just outside the Perth CBD.
Find out more of what we’ll have on show here.