There is nothing like living self-sustainably in a small house on a large piece of land on which we are building a food forest, adjacent to a piece of nature that is allowed to grow naturally wild. It is a dream that stems from a deep desire I share with my husband Peter Jan. We dream of a beautifully designed food forest, so that it will be pleasant to walk through and so you can truly experience the food forest. In this blog post, I will take you through our motivations and the road we have taken together to arrive at our dream and how it is being strengthened more and more each day.
Where it all began
It so hard to explain, where it all started. Like a seed lands on a piece of ground and develops in the dark. It receives the occasional ray of light and grows into the plant it was always going to be. I think it is the same with this deep desire to make the world a little more beautiful and greener. Out of love for ourselves and nature. And especially from curiosity about the experience of that nature-connected world.
When we started living together exactly 6 years ago, we wanted nothing more than a garden. Me still studying and Peter Jan working as a PhD student at the UU. We were going to rent. How big our apartment would be? That made little difference to us. As long as we could create abundant wealth around us. I longed to make the garden a great place for plants, animals and ourselves alike. A (hiding) place for hedgehogs, butterflies, toads, frogs, birds, bees, and other insects. Our apartment really came our way and we accepted it with open arms. We got a newly built first floor apartment of 55m2 in Utrecht with a substantial front and back garden - by Utrecht standards, of course. We were eager, of course. And already in the second week that we lived there, we laid out a well thought-out garden with our own hands. Except for toads and frogs, we see everything passing by in the garden. It has indeed become a great place for plants, people and animals.
Our little edible garden
Over the years, our ornamental garden developed into a "little edible garden," as writer and food forest enthusiast Madelon Oostwoud would call it. We started a small vegetable garden, where we have already grown many delicious vegetables. Actually, I didn't want to own a vegetable garden, because those always look so messy. But when we went into our first summer with that little strip full of edible goodness, I was hooked! With the increase in plastic wrapping the greens in the supermarket, I became more and more motivated. In the sunniest summers, we saved quite a bit on disposable plastics that way. Slowly the realization dawned on us: this is local food, too. These vegetables required no transportation.
Like true "guerilla gardeners," we grew a flower garden for bees and butterflies in the municipal plot outside our door. Food for us, food for the bees and butterflies! In that first year, we also immediately installed a compost bin in the garden. Since we eat virtually vegetarian food and use up everything as best we can, we throw everything digestible on the compost bin. Now we have a super nice living system and very little "waste. No putting a container in the street, what a hassle! We compost our vegetable garden from mostly our own output.
As time went on, we asked ourselves more and more questions. We wanted to see more and more of what you can keep for edibles in your garden, what won't die off and require replanting or re-seeding. We also expanded our edible plantings of fig, blackberry and raspberry to include an almond tree, two blueberries, an apple tree (Intratuin called it a "Giesser Wilderman," lol, no idea yet what kind of apple it is) and two 'Mirabelle de Nancy' plum trees (Intratuin called it "Reine Claude Verte," but they are definitely cherry-sized and yellow with pinkish-red spots). We also keep perennial fennel, the stiff perennial ubiquitous kitchen herbs and, for example, wild garlic, among others.
As we biked along the Utrecht farming landscape, we became increasingly saddened by the barren grassland visible as far as the eye could see. No tree or shrub to be found. That grass cannot hold the water from the sky. We see that for ourselves in our far too dry front yard, where we have now placed many more trees and shrubs. Grassland does not retain enough CO2 or nitrogen. It offers no protection from the sun on the ground and provides no shelter or food for wildlife. Online, I ran across the Tiny Forest . If only we could make that a reality somewhere!
Curiously stepping into the unknown
Soon I was also thinking about the food we all have to provide. So can't plantings just be edible? And maybe we should also start looking at what is actually edible and what it is we call 'edible'. The possibilities may be much greater than we think. That's how I found the food forest movement. I devoured material from pioneers in the Netherlands and England with blogs and youtube videos and I read the book Voedselbos by Madelon Oostwoud. Apparently there were already many food forests in the Netherlands and apparently more people could find funding and location. This was hopeful!
We learn about the plants in and outside our garden, especially the "weeds" and medicinal properties of the "non-edible" plantings. Apparently, the Hosta in our backyard is edible (of course, the snails already know this!) and our lady's mantle is an ancient medicinal herb for painful menstruation or digestive complaints, among other things. We rarely cut our grass so that the wild herbs can show themselves. Many are well edible and delicious in a salad, stir-fry or quiche. Or fine in a tea, face lotion or oil. We are learning how to work with all these beautiful plants. I am currently making shampoo from the climbing ivy in our fence because it contains saponins. I grow cutlings and seedlings like a marveled child who wants to see if a plant grows out of that citrus seed, walnut or fig branch (and yes, it does!). We throw bittercresses, which grows in our lawn, on top of our pizza. The plants have their own unique energy frequency just like us and they have a message for us. In addition to the fact that rosemary tastes great in my dishes, it also shows me where I can strengthen more and be more rigid. We are increasingly recognizing the value that nature offers us and what we can do in return. That as a society we are in fact living in abundance, without realizing it.
I put together a fun mini foraging walk from my top 5 wild edible plants of the moment. You can download it here. That way you can also set out on your own with a mini guide at hand!
A great team
Together, Peter Jan and I complement each other wonderfully. I marvel at every new piece of green, I desire, form a vision and turn it into plans. Peter Jan dreams along wonderfully, and is also very good at the practical side of the plans: the well conceived execution. Together we then shovel and DIY a lot! And where I want to give up, Peter Jan picks up the pieces and we find new solutions. And vice versa.
At least our little edible garden has given us a mission in life: to keep a food forest on a large piece of land, where we can be the voice of nature for anyone who wants to hear it. A combination of rewilding and experimenting with "food from the forest". And because it's not exactly nothing, designing, building, maintaining, cultivating and harvesting such a piece of land, we would prefer to live there ourselves. A little out of self-interest and a little because it is simply practical.
In the following blog post, I want to take you through what the term "food forest" actually means. We have been hearing more and more about it lately. Partly because quite a few pioneers have started planting their own food forest in recent years. It is an exciting concept with a lot of potential.