Forest Gardens, Food Forests or Edible Forests
Forest gardens are an idea that came out of Bill Mollison's Permaculture. The principle is that you follow natural ecosystems' structures, like forests or wetlands, to grow a wide range of edible plants in a complementary, living system. It is probably the ultimate low maintenence way to grow food as it is self sustaining but it does require considerable work to establish and, if starting from scratch, will take some time before you start to get most of the harvests.
The Forest garden has seven layers and each layer jigsaws together with the other layers
1. The Canopy is made up of the tallest trees to provide fruit and nuts (Apples Pears, Walnuts, Hazelnuts etc).
2. Lower growing trees like medlars, damsons and plums or apples on semi-dwarfing rootstock.
3. The shrub layer is made up of bushes and woodland edge plants like currants, gooseberries, raspberries, blueberries.
4. The herbaceous layer would be most of the above ground annual vegetables. Chard, courgettes, brassicas, salads etc.
5. Ground hugging plants like strawberries will spread out across the soil surface. As well as the crop, this will shade out weeds and help the soil retain moisture.
6. The root vegetables like potatos, onions, radishes, carrots etc are interspersed amongst everything else.
7. Finally peas, beans and other climbers make use of the trees to gain hight.
You want the maximum food production so everything is placed to fit in with the overall design to make sure that all the layers and plants have the space and light they need and minimum competition from non food plants.
Wood or bark chips might be used at the beginning to keep down competition and improve the soil as they break down.
Spaces are kept clear with a 'chop and drop' technique where unwanted plants are cut down and left to feed nutrients back into the soil and provide mulch and shade to stop weeds from growing.
Unlike most annual vegetable growing, plants of the same variety might be spaced around and interspersed with other things, rather than all growing together in one area. This will minimise pest damage. Collecting your vegetables for a meal therefore becomes a forraging expedition.
Minimum work once established.
Wide variety of produce in one area.
Can incorporate poultry in the system.
More work and longer time to get established.
Can easily look untidy (if that's important to you)
There are some amazing books, facebook groups, videos etc. out there. Here are just a few that caught my eye.