What is a micro-food forest?

by | Apr 22, 2021

Micro-forests are the latest gardening trend in schools and forward-thinking communities around the world. They’re part of a global grassroots movement aimed at fighting the climate crisis.

Let’s look at what makes up a micro-forest and how you can include delicious native bushfoods in yours.

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.

Murnong Yam Daisy - Microseris lanceolata 3x3
Warrigal Greens - Tetragonia tetragonioides 3x3
Red Back Australian Ginger - Alpinia caerulea ‘Atherton’ #3

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.

Rosella - Hibiscus sabdariffa #1
Atherton Raspberry - Rubus probus 3x3
Warrigal Greens - Tetragonia tetragonioides 3x3
Midyim berries - Austromyrtus dulcis 3x3

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.

Illawarra Plum - Podocarpus elatus 3x3
Murnong Yam Daisy - Microseris lanceolata 3x3
Raspberry Jam Wattle - Acacia acuminata 3x3
Blue Quandong - Elaeocarpus angustifolius 3x3

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.

Our Book: Bushfood for Beginners

Packed with tips and advice from the seasoned green thumbs at Tucker Bush, it aims to help any enthusiastic gardener take the first step in their long and bountiful bushfood journey.

We’ve put together an e-book of our favourite recipes

Featuring contributions from some of Australia’s leading chefs, using native bush tucker ingredients. This book includes all the recipes from our website plus more, covering entrees, mains, desserts and more, along with basic essentials like drying your own herbs and making your own jam.

Introducing Our Range Of Dried Herbs

Tucker Bush Native Herbs are dried and ready to use in your cooking. Enjoy these local flavours with cooked meats, baked treats and steeped in hot water for an aromatic tea.

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