Holyoke edible forest garden


United States
Date Planted: 
Apr, 2004
Hardiness Zone: 

Started in 2004, this garden was the "playtest" of the design process used in Edible Forest Gardens II and is the case study in chapters 3 and 4 of the book. Designed and maintained by Jonathan Bates and Eric Toensmeier, who have since been joined by Megan Barber and Marikler Toensmeier.

Original mission:"Our urban forest garden is an intensively managed backyard foraging paradise, a megadiverse living ark of useful and multifunctional plants from our own bioregion and around the world. The forest garden is the unifying element of a larger permaclture design for food production, wildlife habitat, and social spaces that encompasses the entire property."

Thanks to all the people who participated in our work parties and made this garden possible, especially to members of Western Massachusetts Permaculture Guild.

Here's how we started in March 2004:

And here is the process of sheet mulching to create a nursery bed. We brought plants with us from our previous garden, so we needed a place to put them while we did our design. And start improving that soil!

Here is spring 2005. Later this year we did a lot of work!

Here's 2006. Tallest plants in garden are annuals! Also our strategic materials depot.

2007:Snow pattern showing winter sun/shade pattern (reverse of summer); Installing trellis and pond; Keith and Lisa dig bamboo rhizome barrier; path and bed layout.

2008 was a big year in our forest garden. We definitely went from sleep and creep to leap and reap. Here are some photos: spring yields, persimmony polyculture; pockets of production; sea kale coming into maturity; Marikler with pawpaw polyculture and chicken run; bamboo barrier polyculture.

In 2008 we came up against some problems and solutions. Main problem was too much darn vegetation - plants, foliage, and dried stalks/prunings. Solved with:

1) Chickens. Cut-and-carry system turned weeding into feeding! They turn our excess foliage into manure and eggs. Make a very high quality compost, much better than we had before.

2) Nursery. Started selling all those excess plants, raised $ for irrigation system.

3) Firepit. Meg got a metal outddor firepit which became a great place to dispose of large stalks and prunings which did not compost well. We get roasted marshmallows, social time outside, and ash for fertilizer.

In 2009 the system started to really take off on its own. Not a good year for grapes due to excess moisture, but great year for berries, Asian pears, much more. Removed min-dwarf apple and peach, also bush cherries. Too many pest problems for all. Replaced with Badgersett hazels and dwarf sea buckthorn, plut in a new sun-loving polyculture in meantime featuring lots of sylvetta, sorrel, prostrate birdsfoot trefoil, alpine strawberries, and green and gold.

Photos include early summer berry harvest, kiwi trellis (still mostly tomatoes), understory richness, Asian pear and bamboo, pockets of production, bamboo corner.

Big insights of 2009 - we want to remodel in 2010. Change in goals from maximum biodiversity. We currently have around 175 species on our 1/8 acre and have tried many more. We now know what GROWS WELL that we LIKE TO EAT. Now we want to focus on those species and how to grow them in FUNCTIONAL POLYCULTURES.

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June 2013 photos

kind of hitting that mid-succession sweet spot

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org


Jonathan and I recently submitted our manuscript for Paradise Lot, the story of this garden.

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org


Great title choice! You guys rock, and I can't wait to read the whole story. 

growing well after disturbance

Greenhouse crushed in freak October snowstorm, gave us chance to get rid of neighbor's Norway maple, open up some light, and build the bioshelter of our dreams. 

Also kiwis FINALLY fruiting after five years. Persimmon and mulberry coming into their own, finding that pruning is necessary to offset our close planting.

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

bioshelter is in blog form

If you want to learn more about how our new bioshelter / greenhouse is doing, come check out this new Backyard Bioshelter Blog that I started. Enjoy the articles!


Awesome Documentation

Thanks for documenting your garden so well, Eric!  It is beautiful, bountiful, and very diverse.  We should all aspire to a similar level of plant kingdom knowledge!

2011: nectary flowering updates

Last year our updates focused on what foods were in season. This year we will post various updates but want to focus on the flowering sequence of nectary plants for beneficial insects.

So let's get the ball rolling: Fuki (Petasites giganteus) started flowering about a week ago. They have already survived light snow and some quite cold nasty weather. They are always our earliest flower, a week or more before the first violets.

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

first fruits of spring: March 9!

Cleared away the snow to get at the sweet, wintergreen fruits of Gaultheria procumbens that ripened last fall. They are in perfect condition for eating at least through spring though ours never last that long. Like to have a lot more of this, glad it is a runner!

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

still eating persimmons Nov 21

Yep, super sweet on the tree and slightly frozen inside, fantastic! Also eating water celery, sorrel, walking and Welsh onions, "western front" kale, perennial ground cherries, and annual root crops.

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

november 2 update

Just hosted a great workshop at the house. We are eating American persimmon, Welsh and walking onion scallions, water celery, earth chestnut leaves, excellent sorrel, alpine strawberry, chinkapin nuts, a few raspberries, self-sowing kale, perennial ground cherry, sea kale and Turkish rocket leaves, all the perennial culinary herbs, lots of annuals. Really almost all the greens that we eat in early spring are back out and kicking.

Plus our friend and neighbor Steve of www.tripplebrookfarm.com has provided us (and workshop participants) with hardy kiwifruit, black walnut, hazelnut, butternut, Chinese chestnut, and Korean pine nuts.

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

sept 17 2010

Here are a few landscape photos looking towards the house.

Things sure have come a long way from this!

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

September 2 update

Everything is early this year. We are eating Asian pears, beach plums, first pawpaws, raspberries, last blueberries, first perennial ground cherries, cucumber berries, garlic chive flowerbuds, chicken eggs, lots of annuals.

Front tropical garden is kicking, mostly annuals or tender perennials but almost all edible and quite lovely in the heat this year.


Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

So rewarding

It's always so rewarding when you see a crop of fruit that you harvested get to the stage where you can eat it. I have a few raspberry plants of my own, and watching them come to season and picking them makes for a joyous occasion for me.

August 4 update

Grapes!!! About 50-60 bunches between our two vines. Also raspberries, last clove currants, last blueberries. Maypops may set viable fruit this year. Mostly annual veggies, but are eating cucumber berry, tried Trichosanthes kirilowii squashes (bad), lots of self-seeding kale doing very well, garlic chive flowerbuds, proper garlic and elephant garlic.

Golden raspberries! Both raspberries fruiting late because we pruned them to the ground this spring, it really rejuvenated the stand nicely.

Two grape varieties fruiting well, both Labrusca types.

Trellis & pond from Jonathan's window:

Garden from Jonathan's window. You can see it has been a dry summer. Drip irrigation system getting installed slowly.

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

July update

July 8 - berry season in full swing. Blueberries, all Ribes (clove, white, red, black, gooseberry, josta), raspberries, last alpine strawberries, last juneberries, last mulberries, sand cherry! Not eating much of any perennial vegetables at this point except sorrel and walking onion topsets. Eating self-seeding black nightshade greens which are excellent this time of year.

 July 22

All Ribes finished except for clove currant. Blueberries and raspberries in full swing. First grapes coming in, the dry year means we are having great yields unlike last two wet summers with very poor yields. Those first grapes taste fantastic! Annuals and tropical perennials making up our vegetable diet, things like moringa, eggplant, and cranberry hibiscus.

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

June 2010 update

This month eating strawberries, alpine strawberries, red and white currants, mulberries, goumis, "regent" and stolonifera juneberries, sorrel, reseeding "western front" kale, Solanum pitycanthum leaves, underripe gooseberries, annual crops, Lactuca canadensis. Generally moving from shoots/broccolis/leaves into small fruits, withmore reliance on annuals for vegetables. 

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

video of our forest garden

Here's an in-depth tour of our persimmon patch.


Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

May 2010 update

Having great perennial vegetable harvests but looking forward to fruit. Here is Jonathan with sea kale broccoli, asparagus, and Turkish rocket broccolis. Yum!

"Next generation polycultures" looking good. Honeyberries started ripening about May 12, first strawberries May 17. Many of best perennial vegetables already past their prime and our frost-tender veggies aren't even planted yet! Excellent loads of fruit ripening on all Ribes, strawberries. Honeyberry and beach plum suffering from poor pollination. Asian pear has a fair amount of curculio damage, we will selectively cull those fruits when we thin (which we are late to do). Bamboo shooting.

May 23. Lovely flowers everywhere. We never intended to have a pretty garden, but it turns out that between insect nectaries and crops that happen to flower, it's pretty lovely out here.

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

April 2010 update

April 20, 2010.

Continuing transplanting and reworking polycultures.

Here's what we are eating out of the garden these days:

Water celery (almost past its prime), sea kale broccolis (getting started), asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, ramps, walking and Welsh onion scallions (almost done), toothwort rhizomes, hablitzia (leaves, as shoots are all done), garlic chives, chives, sylvetta, violets, sorrel, fuki (ready, have not had yet). 


Water celery:

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

March 2010 update

March 10, 2010

Unlike much of eastern North America, we had an unusually mild winter. Our bamboo is so far almosty totally undamaged by cold. We had very little snow, which usually insulates our perennials undera thick blanket.

Fuki buds, usually emerged but still under snow at this point, are up and started to cautiously flower. I saw a honeybee on one yesterday. I think they are tough enough to handle another cold snap just fine. They are probably up under the snow starting in February most winters anyway. Ramps are also up almost 1". Water celery up about 2", I'm enjoying my first harvest of edible greens from outside. In the greenhouse of course our salads have been great for about 4 weeks, including very nice water celery and sorrel which we brought in last fall. We have been wrapping up our pruning, taking our last cuttings,and generally getting ready. Yesterday I bare-root transplanted some of our juneberries. Ground still frozen in some places about 6" down.

Petasites flowers:

March 22

Eating sorrel, water celery, great walking and Welsh onion scallions, first hablitzia shoots, early garlic chives. Also last year's dormant tubers: sunchoke, Chinese artichoke, groundnut, skirret, giant Solomon's seal.

Hablitzia shoots:

Eric Toensmeier - writer, trainer, plant geek - www.perennialsolutions.org

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Species in this forest garden

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