Our forest garden July, 2015 during the worst drought in 15 years.

Our forest garden July, 2015 during the worst drought in 15 years.

We’re struggling through a fairly severe drought this year and yet our forest garden is a lush oasis in a sea of brown, abandoned rice fields. Even the weeds in the rice fields are dying after weeks of no measurable rainfall. Normally it would be raining every 1-3 days right now.
Rice fields across the road are usually lush with rice this time of year.

Rice fields across the road are usually lush with rice this time of year.

So the message is clear – rice needs heavy, sustained rains to produce plentiful yields, while forest gardens can thrive with far less rain. Just like forests in nature, large trees and banana plants shade smaller plants to reduce evaporation. Trees have deep roots that reach down to the water table. Plus, thick mulch conserves moisture. Our forest garden is only a little over two years old so we still have to irrigate. Over the years we’ll irrigate less and less as the forest garden matures and the soil improves.

Watch for our upcoming 2-year garden update video.


Forest Gardens — Hedge Against Drought — 14 Comments

  1. Owen,
    I am selling my home in Indiana and moving to Belize to build a Earthbag home. While looking thru some plans I stumbled across your blog.I found it very interesting and was wondering how your rice fields are doing to date. My move is due to the current state of our planet. I want my grand babies to have somewhere new and untouched. Hope this finds you well. God bless you and yours.

    • We’ve been truly blessed with a very productive garden. If you read our forest garden update, we expanded the garden and added hundreds more bananas and trees, 2 ponds and rice field. Now about two acres in total. The rice is doing fine. Some trees are 8=12′ high. Good mango and mulberry crops this year. Loads of bananas and papaya (=easiest to grow). Doing the homestead was one of the best, smartest, enjoyable projects I’ve ever done. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Just beware it takes a LOT of work. Things should grow even better in Belize. Our soil is dead and we have brutally hot 6-7 month long summers with little or no rain.

  2. In his 1991 book “Introduction to Permaculture”, Bill Mollison described how he would see the second homes of the weekenders. There would be a petrol-driven lawn mower left in the middle of a large area of grass, ready for the next weekend’s resumption of pointless mowing.

    It is sad – so,so sad – to see 25 years later in the Western world, that the same scenario is continuing. Even NASA tell us that humans may become extinct unless we face up to our contribution to climate change. If we are to leave any sort of a future for our grandchildren – and the horrors of travel in outer space to find a new Planet Earth are too grim to be contemplated – then we must embrace sustainable existence. No lawn mowers. No unsustainable agriculture. A speedy updating of machinery ( including automobiles ) driven by oil-powered engines, dating back in concept to the 1880s. Solar power or indeed human-driven power – what is wrong with a scythe ?

    Thank you Owen for updating us with your efforts to live in a sustainable environment; thank you too to Bill and associates for giving the same concept so much promotion over the decades. Please keep encouraging us all to continue to do the same.

    • I used to get discouraged at times hearing about environmental destruction, and sometimes I still do. But mostly now I focus on solutions. There are a LOT of excellent options available as described in this blog post about restoring degraded land: http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/restoring-degraded-land/ Find something you’re passionate about and jump right in. A forest garden is an excellent way to start. It can also be a hedge against the high cost of food, a hedge against unhealthy/polluted food, a hedge against economic hard times as in today’s blog post about Greece. Plus, it’s super fun if you like gardening. Just start small so it’s not overwhelming. Expand later if you want. This approach will keep you energized and positive, and obviously produce lots of healthy food at low cost.

  3. We had the. Same problem here in the Philippines ..few sprinkle rains in 6 months..
    But now the rain is here ..what a relief ..
    Your right in a few years the big trees will protect during the long hot dry months..
    We are harvesting Banana, jack fruit, pineapple, egg plant..so much just since the rain in less then a month..

    • We planted a lot of banana plants from the beginning. These were crucial for shading our small fruit trees and other plants. We’ll have to remove some as the fruit trees get bigger, but they definitely helped the garden get started. Also, I planted another 50-60 papayas to help shade the trees as I’ve learned that most trees here like quite a big of shade. It’s no wonder… step outside the forest garden and it’s like an oven sometimes. The forest garden is a protected sanctuary sort of like a tree nursery or big happy family. Trying to grow a tree out in the open by itself is brutally hard unless you have good soil and plenty of water.

      Amazingly it rained for hours last night. Now I can take a day off.

  4. I’m working on a plan to acquire degraded rice field land to make another forest garden. The next one will be much easier and faster to make, and the plants should grow faster with fewer problems. The plan is to make hugelkulture mounds with good soil that sit directly on the rice field. And instead of buying cheapo trees from the farmers market (quality is a crap shoot), we’d probably seek out high quality tree stock from well known fruit farms. The extra cost seems worth it because you’d get higher production and higher quality produce. It takes just as much effort to grow a mediocre tree as a real good tree.

    The scrub land forest garden mentioned a few weeks ago is still an option, but it may be easier to find degraded rice field land. Plus, the land would be cleared and ready to plant on.

  5. Hello Owen,
    Just started reading your blog and interested to know where about in the world your forest garden and the rice fields are. Sorry to be a nuisance.

  6. How funny. It sprinkled last night and now it’s starting to rain lightly as I publish this. But like I said, it’s not nearly enough for rice but our garden will love it.

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