Growing A Food Forest Garden For Security And Sufficiency

The Single Best Strategy For Taking Control Of Your Own Future

We’re living in unpredictable times. That’s a given.

What’s the single easiest thing we can do to help ensure security “in case the lights go out”?

In case of economic collapse, government shutdown, labor strikes, peak oil collapse, etc…

My answer is simple, but it seems to amuse, confuse, and even anger some I share it with…

My recommendation for how to survive and thrive in the face of whatever might lie ahead is E. F. Schumacher’s answer for a perfect world:

“Plant a tree.”

I usually get a funny look or a vague smile when I make this recommendation, and then I’m asked again… “But really—what should I do?”

I repeat my answer… because I believe it’s the real answer… the truest answer.

Canned food, battery-operated flashlights, and ammunition are all well and good. The trouble is, once you’ve used these items, they are gone… forever. It is practical to have them on hand in an emergency, but they are not sustainable.

Livestock can be stolen and easily moved. And, even if you have some calves or young animals, it could be years until they start to reproduce and repopulate your farm herd.

Even vegetable gardens (which are a great idea) are vulnerable to theft in dire circumstances. Plus, for a garden to be sustainable, you need extra seeds saved to plant the following year. Gardens also require a significant amount of labor every year to produce what you need for a balanced diet.

On the other hand, mature trees can produce massive amounts of fruit and nuts, can have powerful medicinal properties, require no attention or labor from you after you plant, and, while the future fruit could be stolen (like the vegetables from your garden), there is no real incentive for someone to cut down and steal your tree. A healthy, mature tree will offer an abundance of food every year with no effort from you other than picking the bounty.

Living in Belize—with its embarrassment of natural riches, plentiful sunshine and rain, and up to three growing seasons per year (back home in Ireland we are lucky to get one)—affords an amazing opportunity to plant a self-sustaining “food forest.”

A food forest can provide your family’s full daily food requirements, while the “support trees” in the food forest feed the fruit and nut trees through biological nitrogen fixation. Synergy.


Food forest layers

Food forest layers

“Those Who Do Not Remember The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It”

Generally speaking, societies around the globe that have lost their direct connection to their food supply will be the most chaotic during desperate times.

While the Great Depression in the United States occurred nearly a century ago, it is still a poignant example of this phenomena. Images of soup lines are iconic reminders of how metropolis dwellers were unable to provide for themselves while rural agrarian communities remained sustainable and simply returned to a barter society. In those communities, life continued on in a fairly normal sense, farmers exchanged crops for construction materials, bakers exchanged bread for piano lessons, and brewers exchanged beer for sausages.

So… What Do You Plant?

Here is a list of common tree types in Belize that could be included in a self-sufficient food forest. Once planted, these will require very little tending and, in most cases, will produce for decades.

Avocado: If you select appropriate varieties, you can have a year-round bounty of this heart-healthy and vitamin-rich fruit. With 5% to 40% oil content depending on the variety, it is second only to the olive fruit in its ratio of high-quality oil to weight. Trees start to bear between year three to four and average production at maturity is 120–170lbs per year (it can produce much more than this if properly cared for).

Banana: While it’s not a tree but a perennial rhizome these are simple to grow, they heavily produce, and they self-propagate once established. Hundreds of varieties exist in Belize from sweet apple bananas to large savory plantains.

Bread fruit

Bread fruit

Bread Fruit: These ornamental trees produce a staggering amount of starchy, potato-replacing fruit. Yields often surpass 500lbs per year, per tree. Fried, mashed, boiled, or baked they make for a great, diverse product.

Chaya (Spinach tree): The leaves of this prolific shrub are an excellent source of high-quality protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron (once boiled). Its low water content makes it more palatable than ordinary spinach. Each bush can produce up to 50lbs of fresh green-leaf vegetable per year.

Citrus: Hundreds of varieties of citrus are available worldwide (and dozens available in Belize). A product great for juicing or eating whole. Varieties include orange, blood orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, Jamaican lime, etc.

Coconut: Nearly 100% of the coconut tree can be used on a farm. They produce refreshing and detoxifying coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil (high in omega-3 fatty acids), charcoal, thatch, coir (fiber from the outer husk of the coconut, used for making ropes and matting), construction material, compost material, firewood, and local medicines from the flowers. Local disease-resistant Maypan or Malayan Dwarf varieties produce up to 180 or more coconuts per tree per year. You could become almost entirely self-sufficient on coconut trees alone!

Mango: Mango trees are available in many varieties providing you with the possibility of a near year-round supply. Eaten green as a savory food, in cooking, or ripe when the juices are sweet, mangoes produce heavily (300–600lbs at maturity) and, not to mention, they are attractive looking trees.

Mayan Breadnut
Mayan Breadnut

Mayan Breadnut: This tree bears one of the biggest edible fruit yields in the world. Yields at maturity are reported in staggering numbers from 1,100–2,200lbs per tree. The nuts can be ground into flour and taste slightly like chestnuts (but are more commonly used to fatten livestock).

Miracle Tree—Moringa Oleifera: The “Miracle Tree” is known for its exceptional nutritional value relieving stomach disorders, allergies, and edema. The antioxidant power of moringa aids in liver protection, diabetes, eye protection, cardiovascular health, bone health, urolithiasis, wound healing, healthy hair, and skin. The antibacterial and antifungal properties of moringa help fight various infections including herpes, and the mature pods act as a de-wormer. It is also rich in phytonutrients, effective in preventing cancer, neurogenerative diseases, asthma, sickle cell, and more. Its pods are cooked in many vegetarian dishes, flowers, and leaves are used in omelettes and also in vegetarian dishes.

Mother of cocoa: Useful on farms as fast-growing, living fence posts and fertilizer. Stakes up to two meters long are capable of sprouting when simply “planted” in the ground. These species fix nitrogen from the air into the soil and are very useful for windbreaks. The young leaves and shoots can be boiled for consumption or given fresh as animal fodder. It serves as an excellent nurse tree for inter-planting systems with vanilla, cacao, black pepper, and coffee.

Neem: This fodder tree will protect your food forest, it contains organic pesticides (mainly azadirachtin) that kills most insect pests. You can make your own pesticide oils and sprays and make a tea for your own gastrointestinal health.

Soursop fruit
Soursop fruit

Soursop: The flavor of soursop is described as a combination of strawberry, pineapple, and sour citrus notes with an underlying creamy flavor of coconut and banana. Soursop is widely promoted (sometimes as graviola) as an alternative cancer treatment. There is, however, not much institutional medical evidence that it is effective. (But, it still tastes good.)

Spices: Vanilla, pepper, coffee, and cacao are ideally suited for Belize, as is allspice, clove plant, cinnamon, cardamom, and all chili peppers.

Tamarind: Very popular ingredient in condiments, Indian and Spanish dishes, also used to make tamarind juice drink. The height of an adult tree is about 15 to 20 meters.

Plant In Abundance

The above are just a small selection of the multitude of trees in Belize that could be of great assistance to anyone becoming food self-sufficient. While my fellow red-blooded carnivores might view the above diet components and ask the age old question: “Where’s the meat?”

You can also raise chickens and pigs that are fed excess fruit and nuts, or sheep or cattle that graze your pasture if and when you need them.

Start now to ensure a secure future

Start now to ensure a secure future

However, the object of this article is to show that a fully balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals can be easily grown on a variety of trees with minimal effort… for decades.

Start planting today and know that in less than five years you will have created your own “food security system” waiting for you, whether you need it or not. The sky doesn’t have to fall to make this a great idea.

Far more resilient and self-sufficient than an ark or bunker—plant trees.

Con Murphy
Belize Insider