The shortest possible time that it could take is three months.
“Three months?” you ask, eyebrow raised. “But the top three layers of a food forest take years to start producing!”
And that’s absolutely right. So, the way to make it happen in three months is going to involve some shortcuts.
There’s two ways you can go about it. The first one requires no extra cost, and no extra effort.
Let’s take a look.
Solution 1: Focus on the Bottom Four Layers
Yep. That means that you’ll be living off of annuals for the first few years until your fruit trees, dwarf fruit trees and shrubs start to bear fruit.
If you choose the right ones, this can happen in the third year of your food forest, rather than it taking 5-8 years. The classic example is peach trees, which start producing in their third year. They’re pretty much the go-to fast growing fruit tree if you’re starting from seed.
Dwarf fruit trees grown from rootstock start producing within the same time frame too, despite their full-size brethren taking far longer.
As a loose rule of thumb, the higher the layer of your foot forest, the longer it’ll take to reach full development. Root vegetables and tubers grow quickly, while canopy trees take a long time to reach full size. Over time, you’ll notice your upper layers start to develop, growing taller and taller each year until you’re left with a lush, dense food forest that will feed you for life.
So, if you’re starting from scratch, and you’ve chosen your crops well to stretch out your harvest period, it’ll take three months before you have a food forest that’s producing a reliable amount of food. The only downside is that it’ll be a few years until your trees and shrubs start producing.
Of course, if you’re super excited to get all that elusive and tasty tree and shrub fruit on-demand in your forest garden, then you’ll probably want to take some shortcuts to speed things up a bit. That’s what this second method is all about.
Solution 2: Transplant Mature Trees and Shrubs
If you buy fruit trees, dwarf fruit trees and shrubs that are already old enough to start producing for the upcoming growing season, then you’ll be able to get fruit from them in the first year of your food forest.
It’s remarkably simple and so worth it. There’s nothing better than having perennials producing in your first year. Just knowing that you’ll get yet another harvest each year after without even planting anything else is just fantastic.
That’s why it’s always worth it. It’s just a great return on your investment, and there’s nothing special you need to do other than transplant them into your new food forest when the time is right.
Don’t worry, if you transplant them way too late, it’s not a problem. It’ll just mean you’re less likely to get them to produce early in your first growing season because they’ve not had long enough to recover from the transplant shock.
Aim for early spring before the growing season starts, and make sure the base of the plants are covered with at least 5-6 inches of wood chips. You can never have too many.
The blanket of wood chips will protect roots from the cold, but most importantly, they’ll lock moisture in the soil and keep the roots moist. Dry roots are the single biggest cause of transplant shock.
Soon enough, your newly transplanted mature fruit trees and shrubs will recover. That’s why you want to aim for early spring. By the time they’ve recovered, the growing season will have started and your food forest will be well under way.
Finally, if you want your plants to experience the least transplant shock possible, you’re going to need to make sure they’re “hardened off” properly before you transplant them so early in spring. Check out my complete guide to transplanting fruit trees and shrubs for how to do that. I also explain how transplanting in fall is another option if you’re planning ahead for getting your food forest under way next year.