Tori’s Family Food Forest

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One of our favorite consulting jobs was Tori’s family food forest. They had just purchased their first home and dreamed of butterflies frolicking through gardens bursting with fresh food. There were a few mismatched shrubs in the backyard, but it was otherwise a blank canvas.

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We started out with a Consultation. The whole family was involved – including their energetic dogs, hungry tortoise, and curious young daughter.

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Outdoor time for their child was really important to them. We planned ahead to provide spaces that would inspire her to learn and play in the gardens.

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During the Consultation, we noticed one side of the yard was really wet and there was a lot of sun – not ideal for a child’s play space in Florida.

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“I felt like most of the information I had easy access to was geared towards someone outside of Florida before I spoke to Living Roots. Sustainable gardening can feel very daunting as well. I love the fact that you not only gave me a pretty darn comprehensive crash course in starting my own sustainable cycle, but that you also provided resources for me to deepen my understanding. You are patient with questions and non judgmental. I think anyone who works with you can see you truly care about imparting knowledge to help families live better.”

They wanted something that would produce a lot of food without too much work, and liked a slightly wild jungle-like appearance rather than a design with clean lines and defined borders, so we recommended a permaculture-inspired food forest with lots of Florida native plants for wildlife support.

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This banana circle was dug 4 feet across by about 3 feet deep and filled with compost. We recommended this immediately because there wasn’t a compost system in place yet, and it provided a way to dispose of some bushes and weeds that needed to be removed.

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When you consider the scope of a whole-yard permaculture project, it can seem daunting. There were safety concerns about “construction zones” with a child and the dogs. Tori was worried she’d get overwhelmed and never finish what she started. There was also the neighborhood association. The backyard could be “planted and permacultured” but the front yard needed to follow HOA guidelines. We helped break it down into small weekend-sized projects with a DIY Plan with clear directions and resource lists, and the reassurance that we were there for all of her questions.

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How did we get from blank slate to bountiful food forest in less than two years? We dove in with both feet.

  • Planned the banana circle first so there was a space compost the existing landscape.
  • Private home composting session to teach them how to achieve thermal (hot) composting conditions and make a lot of compost really quickly. How do you think they grew such amazing tomatoes and peppers?
  • Guided shopping trip to a large tree and plant sale where we selected the best dwarf fruit trees for her space and taste preferences. (We were going anyway, and invited several clients to join in the fun!)

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Bumps in the Road

We had our consultation and prepared the DIY Plan during the dry season. Once the rainy season rolled around, we discovered that the wet area in the yard was pretty swampy after several days of heavy rain. No surprise there – the area was a wetland before it was a neighborhood. Since we were following this project so closely, we were able to have a brief virtual consultation to find a resolution. To soak up the standing water and aid in its percolation into the ground, we planned a small rain garden complete with a cypress tree and some water-loving native flowering plants. The area is still soggy after rain, but there is no longer standing water. The plants in that space are happy, and there’s more of the original habitat to support local wildlife.

Worth the Money?

“Working with Living Roots has certainly saved me money. There are plants I didn’t even know about like katuk that are now part of my daily diet. I understand a lot more about shade to help Florida plants thrive so that keeps more alive as well.”

At several stages along the way, Tori reached out with questions – when can I plant this…. what’s the best variety of… will this flowering plant grow here…. We’re here to help with those questions.


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