Title: Edible Forest Gardens – Volume One: Vision and Theory
Authors: Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier
Publisher: Chelsea Green
I am a pretty voracious and quick reader, but it took me several months to work my way through Volume I. The writing style of the authors is very readable, and the content is fascinating and information rich, but as the title indicates it is a book on food forest THEORY, which means diving deeply into ecological theory and forest structure. While reading Volume I, I found myself often distracted by other, more “hands-on” literature, so I would read a few chapters of Volume I and then dive off for a brief affair with another book, only to return to Forest Gardens a few weeks later to take on another chapter. It took me a while to get through it but I am deeply, deeply grateful to the authors for putting together such an incredible resource. I think they wove a good balance between discussing the broader theory on forest dynamics, while zooming in to particular topics, such as vegetation layers, soil, roots, etc. I would highly recommend this book to those that are really serious about designing their landscapes, farms, or acreage as an ecosystem. It is a wealth of information and the authors have done an excellent job of providing the theoretical framework behind edible food forest design. For those of you that have a more casual approach to gardening and landscaping, or for those that just want some practical examples up front, Volume I might be more than you want to take on. I am just starting to delve into Volume II, which puts theory into practice and might be more geared towards folks that just want to read some instructions and dive in. I’ll be sure to report back when I have completed Volume II.
What I enjoyed:
Chapter 5 “Structures of the Underground Economy”: This chapter is by far the best thing I have read about soil, roots, nutrient cycles and fertility. It provides a broad scale view of the whole “underground economy”, yet also packs in an incredible amount of specific information on the different “engines” of the economy (microbes, roots, fungi, etc). It condenses much of the information that I have read over several books, articles, etc into one integrated framework without watering down or excluding vital information. It is truly a remarkable source of information on the world beneath our feet.
Analysis of Existing Food Forests: The authors take three existing food forests (one of which is Robert Hart’s forest garden) and they offer respectful critiques on what is working in the system, and where things could be better. It was nice to have the concrete examples to reference and anchor the theoretical and conceptual information that they were laying out.
Rethinking invasive species. There were two large sidebars devoted to the analysis and discussion of “invasion biology” that broadened my perspective on the contentious issues surrounding invasive species. They criticize the tendency to blame the individual “invader” and instead encourage a deeper analysis of what root causes allowed the “invasion” in the first place (human disruption might be a good first start!).
Everything Else! There is so much information in this book, and even though it gets pretty deep into theory and concepts, it is written at a level that is accessible to your average (but determined) reader.