In this article, we will explore the 9 layers of a permaculture food forest, what each layer does, and how they all work together to create an efficient system for growing and harvesting an abundance of food.

Systems thinking is an approach to understanding the world by looking at how everything is connected.

A permaculture food forest is a type of food forest that mimics the structure and function of a natural forest.

It is designed to produce a diversity of edible and medicinal plants from which the human population can harvest their food.


What is Permaculture, Why is It Important?

Permaculture - David HolmgrenPermaculture is a design system that creates sustainable human habitat by using the natural resources of the land.

It is an eco-friendly alternative to big Ag and other methods of farming and gardening.

Permaculture is a way of seeing and understanding the natural world.

This is important because it can provide food, water, shelter, and energy in a self-sufficient manner.

Permaculture is an earth-based design system that provides sustainable human habitats by using the natural resources of the land.

It is a set of methods, principles and strategies for designing with, and caring for, our Earth.

It integrates ecology, ethics, social dynamics and spirituality in food production systems.

The word permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978.

The two were trying to develop a new word that would reflect the design strategies they were using and what they saw as its inherent potential for bringing people closer to nature while providing long-term sustainability.

“Permaculture” is a contraction of “permanent agriculture.”

What are the 9 Layers of a Permaculture Food Forest?

Permaculture is a design method that uses the principles of nature to create sustainable human habitats. It has been used in many different regions and climates in all corners of the world.

Luffa - Creeper layer of a permaculture food forest

There are nine layers in a permaculture food forest:

  1. Canopy Layer

The canopy layer is the top layer of a forest. This layer is important because it defines the look and feel of the forest floor below.

The canopy can be made up of fruit, nut and native trees, depending on the ecosystem.

Canopy layer of a permaculture food forest

  1. Sub-canopy Layer

The sub-canopy layer is often overlooked in gardening, but it can be very beneficial to the health of your food forest garden.

The sub-canopy layer has many benefits including providing shade for plants beneath it, creating better drainage, and preventing soil erosion.

  1. Shrub/Small Tree Layer – Supports

The shrub layer is the foundation for the rest of the plant community. It provides food, shelter, and nesting areas for many animals.

The small trees provide a canopy to filter out some of the sun’s rays and create a more shaded environment beneath them.

Miracle Fruit Shrub - Permaculture Food Forest

  1. Herbaceous Layer

This layer consists of taller plants that are herbaceous, the non-woody species that die back to the ground every year.

  1. Ground Cover/Creeper Layer

The ground cover or creeper layer features plants that grow closer to the ground than those found in the herbaceous layer above it.

These plants tend to be more tolerant of shade and fill in any extra spaces where herbaceous plants haven’t already taken hold.

Ground cover plants can also tolerate getting trodden underfoot.

Pumpkin ground cover in a food forest garden

  1. Underground Layer

These are root crops. There are an amazing variety of edible roots like ginger, turmeric, yams and sweet potatoes.

  1. Vertical/Climber Layer

These vining and climbing plants span multiple layers depending on how they are trained or what they climb up on their own. They are a great way to add more productivity to a small space.

  1. Aquatic/Wetland Layer

These are a whole host of plants that thrive in wetlands or at the water’s edge. There are also many plants that grow only in water.

Aquatic Layer - Permaculture Food Forest

  1. Mycelial/Fungal Layer

Mycelium is a white, spiderweb-like structure, a network of cells that is the vegetative part of the fungus that lives within and throughout almost all landmasses on earth.

The wood wide web is essential to the health of every food forest.

Are you planting a permaculture food forest? Let us know in the comments below.

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The 9 Layers of a Permaculture Food Forest and Their Functions

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