Creating Edible Forests in the Desert

Ejemplo de bosques comestibles

What are edible forests? The idea is to create a system imitating the nature of the forest but choosing plants that provide us with food.

Our way of implementing it on the bio farm began in February 2020 when well-known permaculture professionals such as Georg Friedrich Horn and his team came to Verdeaurora to teach courses on the farm together with the collaboration of the NGO Avanfuer and the Biosphere Reserve of Fuerteventura.. The truth is that we had been considering the idea of permaculture for a long time, but it was from this moment, with the courses on the farm, when we began to realize its importance. And surely you’re wondering, What is permaculture? We will be exploring this topic in depth in future posts, but just so you have an initial idea:

“Permaculture for us is a way of living, a lifestyle that follows ethical principles that are related to caring for the earth, caring for people and the return of surpluses. It is about meeting our needs without fighting the ecosystem, that is, not exploiting the land but preserving, caring for, reinforcing and feeding our home, our planet.”

After these training sessions on the farm and the unexpected arrival of Covid, our family returned to Tarabilla, the house that we grew up in, located in the Verdeaurora farm to return to work the earth and give it all the care it needed. These were months of very intense days in the field while the rest of the world was in confinement, but very satisfying due to the results we were beginning to see.

First Steps

In order to create an edible forest we have to observe and interact with the environment in which we find ourselves. It is important to know the characteristics of the place before starting to create these systems, as this will help you discover the shortcomings and needs of the future forest. As you may already know, Verdeaurora is located on the Island of Fuerteventura, one of the most arid areas of Spain. Due to the fact that water is a very limited resource, while working with the land it is essential to slow down, extend and infiltrate water into the ecosystem.

Agriculture has been constantly changing through time, resulting in the version in which we know it today. Traditional forms required a lot of physical effort while modern agriculture gave way to machinery that did the work for us. This shift represents an advance in work efficiency, but a setback in caring for the planet since these machines are increasing the carbon footprint of each product we eat. With this new philosophy of agriculture, our intent is to imitate the balance found in forests without any human intervention. Obviously, as the forest is being created, there are tasks that have to be carried out with the aim of creating the right conditions for the trees to grow and develop on their own in the future.

The layers of an edible forest

Edible forests are made up of different plants, each one with their own function. Verdeaurora forest incorporates several layers:

  • Canopy layer: Tallest trees
  • Undergrowth: Lower trees
  • Shrub stratum: Shrubs
  • Herbaceous layer: Non-woody plants
  • Plant cover: Plants growing close to the ground
  • Climbers: Plants that grow between the trunks and branches of trees
  • Rhizosphere: Plants that provide crops through their roots

Support Species

The fact we have an edible forest does not mean that all the species of plants will be used for food. As mentioned, each plant will have its function and in order to create a system that is in balance, we need species that serve as support for those that will give us food. The functions of these support species can be:

  • Pollinating species
  • Tall species to generate shade
  • Rapid-growing species that we can prune and place on the ground to generate biomass.
  • Species to prevent pests or diseases
  • Nitrogen-fixing species

Living Soil

The technique of plowing the soil is used extensively in modern agriculture by loosening and aerating the soil to make it easier to plant crops. Another reason why this technique is used is to eliminate what are known as “weeds,” however, we believe that this has more negative than positive consequences. Each plant has its own function and most weeds are good nitrogen fixers, so using this technique would be taking away that benefit in our ecosystem. Instead of plowing the soil, what our food forest needs is the creation and maintenance of living soil with microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, and organic matter that work together to release nutrients and make them bioavailable to plants.

Microorganisms on the Ground

Another of the secrets of our food forest is the mulch on the ground. This ground covering of coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) includes crushed wood, leaves, roots, etc. The benefits that we obtain by implementing this in our soil are the following: we manage to reduce the evaporation of water by the sun and the wind, microorganisms and earthworms are protected from the sun’s rays, temperature extremes are moderated and a we create a fertile layer of humus with this decomposed organic matter that mimics the effect in nature when leaves or branches of the trees fall.

Is it possible to visit Verdeaurora’s edible garden?

The answer is: Yes! Several weeks ago, we incorporated the new garden zone, where our edible forest is located, into our Bio Farm Experiences tours. Through these experiences, guests can connect with the tradition and culture of Fuerteventura through a tour of the farm as well as savoring a part of the island’s cuisine. The truth is that this space is pure magic and from the moment you enter with someone for the first time, you can see the astonishment on their face as they see what can be achieved in a desert ecosystem like Fuerteventura. For us it is a very special place, which made it a difficult decision to open it to the public, but in the end we believe that it is necessary to be known so that others can contribute to or be inspired by this model of ecosystem that is so beneficial to the environment.

Fuerteventura Bio Fam Experience Tour

We like to hear about techniques from other countries or places, traditions, culture and people’s wisdom. In fact, this has been the way in which this edible forest has been created. We are grateful to all the people who visited and contributed, from the formations that we mentioned at the beginning, the wisdom of Eugenio Reyes, to all the contributions of all the people who have passed through this place. And now, by being open to the public, we will continue to enrich ourselves and continue collaborating towards a healthier and more environmentally responsible planet. If you come to Fuerteventura, don’t forget to visit us, we’re waiting for you!


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