We stopped for a quick springtime tour with Brian Kerkvliet and Alexandra King at Inspiration Farm in Bellingham, Washington. After staying there for a month last fall, I wanted to see the other side of the yearly cycle.
Brian Kerkvliet gave the grand tour to us and gardener Ruth Nail, a recent transplant to the area. A large new pond in the middle, channeling water to a new swales (ditches carved on contour). Just outside the pasture fence were just-planted alder and apple trees which will eventually provide munchables for the two dairy cows inside.
I was most intrigued by his putting multiple levels of plants in one bed. “Stacking function,” said Brian the permaculture educator. Just like in a forest, there’s ground cover, an herbaceous layer, shrub layer, and tree layer. In the berm — a big mound of soil dug out of and piled up beside the swale — Brian had strewn a cover crop mix of broccoli, kale, peas, turnips, sunflowers, parsnips, daikon, buckwheat, oats, fava and other beans, bees’ friend, crimson clover, lettuce, carrots, and collards! Their little leaves were just poking up, colorful and varied like a ground cover of mosses and tiny plants in the forest. What a gorgeously diverse spread for future munching!
Beside the cover crop, a thicket of tall rye grass provided protection for the small apple tree starts planted here and there. The rye grains will be harvested in a few months, their cut stalks falling left in place to become mulch. Amongst the apple trees were also alder trees starts, whose roots will go much deeper than the apple trees, and will bring up deep water and nutrients for plants with shallower roots.
All of these layers were in one swale mound, just like in a forest: Autumn olive, sea buckthorn, buffalo berry, Gumi berry, siberian pea shrub. Brian rattled off which plants were nitrogen fixers as well as food plants, like black locust and alders.
I love this changing food forest landscape — always evolving, becoming more complex and even more like wild nature.