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A friend of mine recently introduced me to the idea of food forests. For those of you who don't know what it is, here's a very interesting article about it http://permaculturenews.org/2011/10/21/why-food-forests/

So, here is lower Isaan we would like to give this a try.

Has anyone had any success with this in Thailand? I would be very grateful for some tips, especially with any upkeep/labor necessary in the early stages for its success. Of course, in the end it is supposed to take care of itself.

Also, what are good planting companions?

Advice on nitrogen-fixing trees and plants that grow well here would also be much appreciated. I was told the Thai national tree is a good one. The seed pods it drops will fix the nitrogen. I also think Spiny Sesbania may work as it also drops similar seed pods and the flowers are nice to eat, we have a few already.

So here are the layers a forest would have


So for the layers, i was thinking:

1.) Canopy







2.) Low Tree Layer




Dwarf Coconut


3.) Shrub Layer


Chili pepper


Sweet corn

4.) Herbaceous Layer




5.) Root Crops

Sweet potato



Spring onion

Ginger / Galangal

6.) Ground Cover Crops






7.) Vertical Layer

Passion fruit

Blue pea flower

Dragon Fruit


Long bean

So any dos and don'ts from people who have tried this here would be much appreciated. We plan to start in the rainy season, of course.

Thanks for reading. I hope this can be an interesting thread and i will post pictures of my successes and failures, lol.


Edited by ChrisB87
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A lot will depend on how much land you have and what your end goal is. If you can be flexible it could be an interesting project. The main difficulty is that you have a monsoonal climate where you have extreme wet and dry so you will have undergrowth going wild in the rainy season and then it will completely die off in the dry season. If you have enough land you can have a pond or a number of small ones. You might want to research micro climates and integrated farming. I would say that you have some interesting plant choices, but I would go with an alternative to ginger the Thais call Kah (I think it may be galangal) as ginger needs cooler weather. Garlic is a cool season only crop in your area and if papaya get much shade they tend to grow very tall before they have fruit. A good nitrogen fixing tree is the manila tamarind. They do great on the edges of ponds and the fruit is great food for fish, chickens, and ducks and my wife is getting 50 baht a kg for them in the market. There are a couple of edible vines you should have. In general, I would not start with any trees that is not being grown in your area (I'm thinking cashew may grow better closer to the ocean. I don't know how far you are from Petchabun, but if you want to come visit, I could show you some of what I am talking about.

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" A good nitrogen fixing tree is the manila tamarind. They do great on the edges of ponds and the fruit is great food for fish, chickens, and ducks"

I don't know if manila is a particular type of tamarind, but I thought that Tamarind was poisonous to fish.

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" A good nitrogen fixing tree is the manila tamarind. They do great on the edges of ponds and the fruit is great food for fish, chickens, and ducks"

I don't know if manila is a particular type of tamarind, but I thought that Tamarind was poisonous to fish.

Manila Tamarind have a similar shape with a bit more curl and the green and red pod pops open to show a white flesh. I dump a bunch in the ponds on top of the ones that fall. They have quite a bit of energy so are goo to fatten the fish.

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ChrisB; It's a centuries old concept and practice in different forms, now usually categorized under the term "agroforestry". Google that term and you will find some useful resources. There was a good discussion on this sub-forum several years ago along these lines, but I can't find it now. Jeff of Fair Earth Farm in Chiang Mai has been planting and experimenting with Thai trees and food crop trees and what can be used in an integral, permaculture concept, agro-forestry planting.

The permaculture article that you gave a link to is great, but a somewhat romanticized version of reality in my opinion. And maybe not fully in touch with the obstacles that you will face, some of which Jotham79 has pointed out.

Why Forests?

It’s either this… The desert,

Or the forest... The difference is usually - -- WATER, rain or irrigation. How will you irrigate your intensive multi-level plantings through the several years of start up phase until the canopies are established. One rainy season won't do it you know, it will take several years to establish. And, I think very important to think about, is that most of the trees that you have listed are food crop trees and other plants that are not native to Thailand, and the need of one species may not be the same as the others; are they compatible, especially with water requirements? And most are sun loving and will not do well or especially not flower and fruit well, under the dense canopy of an established forest over-story. I'd be interested to know what you expect of the yields from your sweet corn, grown underneath your canopy trees.

It's not impossible, but you need experience and intelligent planning to even get close to creating a workable forest environment with your own choice of plantings. The design aspect is all-important, choosing compatible plantings, with adequate spacing and orientation to the path of the sun, etc, so that sunlight can penetrate. And accepting lower levels of productivity that will be the natural consequence of planting in shade and with a high level of competition for light, water and nutrients. Conditions that have created forest eco-systems which have evolved naturally over time, cannot be duplicated in a year or two, or even a few years of our lifetime. It takes a lot of trial and error to do what you want to do.

Not that its the only way, but there is good reason in the history of agriculture that most exotic (non-native) field crops and orchards have been cultivated in rows and mono-cultures, because of the economics and ease of management and harvesting, and the desire to get as much productivity from a given piece of land, for an economic benefit. This you will have to decide for your land. Do you need enough productivity to support your operation and the costs, or are you at liberty to create an ongoing experimental food forest for your own hobby and family foraging.

The concept of plant pest and disease control becoming self sustaining in a forest environment is idealistic in my opinion. There are many examples of how an invasive pest or disease can wreak havoc in a forest environment; it takes intense, intelligent management.

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Some great feedback here, thanks!

We don't really need that much productivity. It would more be about a fun experiment that anything else. What we already grow, we mostly don't eat anyway; we just take a little now and again.

We already grow or have grown all what's on my list except: peppercorn, peanut, ginger, and garlic. Pomegranate grows here, but the fruit is kinda small. Our cashews are doing well. Plenty of apples on them at the moment. I have never eaten the nuts though, so i don't know about the quality!

Good idea to swap ginger with galangal Jotham79.smile.png

We already have the regular Tamarind growing, would that be a good nitrogen fixer, or just the manila kind (i don't know the difference)

It does seem tricky to figure out which will do well in the shaded areas and guessing which areas will become shaded in the future with the canopy. I expect we could keep some areas in sunlight for the corn and tomatoes etc etc

Yeah, and water is another issue.

A lot to think about!

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Chris; you mentioned you are growing cashews, but hadn't tried the nuts yet. I hope you know about how to process the seeds/nuts. I learned the hard way, growing cashews in India, the first time I tried to get the nut out of the thick, pulpy, acidic outer shell. Best to have someone on hand who knows what they are doing.

From Wikipedia:

"The seed is surrounded by a double shell containing an allergenic phenolic resin, anacardic acid, a potent skin irritant chemically related to the better-known allergenic oil urushiol which is also a toxin found in the related poison ivy. Properly roasting cashews destroys the toxin, but it must be done outdoors as the smoke (not unlike that from burning poison ivy) contains urushiol droplets which can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening, reactions by irritating the lungs. People who are allergic to cashew (or poison ivy) urushiols may cross-react to mango or pistachio which are also in the Anacardiaceae family. Some people are allergic to cashew nuts, but cashews are a less frequent allergen than other nuts or peanuts."

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