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Welcome to the Agroforestry Word of the Week!

Agroforestry Word of the Week

Welcome to the Agroforestry Word of the Week blog!

We’re making it easy for you to get into the world of agroforestry by sharing common agroforestry terms and examples with you every Wednesday. Subscribe here to receive your weekly word and start building your agroforestry vocabulary and knowledge.


Direct Seeding – /dīˈrekt, sēd’ing/ – method

September 16, 2020

Definition: A planting method where seeds are sown directly into the soil rather than in a nursery.

A Closer Look: Although raising seedlings in a nursery tends to generate the best results, direct seeding can be used as a less labor-intensive and cheaper alternative.

Six Tips for Direct Seeding Success:

 – Be sure to choose species that are known to do well with direct seeding.
– Prepare the ground to provide a suitable seedbed.
– Use good quality, viable seeds.
– Sow seeds when soil moisture is favorable for seedling germination and establishment – be sure to sow after the rainy season begins to ensure seeds receive plenty of water to establish their root systems.
– Weed to ensure the seedlings do not have to compete for water, sunlight, and nutrients.
– Implement appropriate thinning to ensure good spacing for maturing trees.



Pruning – /pro͞on’ng/ – technique

September 9, 2020

Definition: The technique of thinning out (trimming or cutting away) branches and foliage on trees or shrubs in order to support growth and maintenance.

A Closer Look: Pruning promotes healthy and vigorous growth. By thinning out excess branches on a fruit tree, farmers are able to increase the quality and quantity of their harvest. Rather than spending precious energy on excess branch growth, a pruned fruit tree will be able to focus its energy on building a strong root system and growing healthy fruits.

Disease Prevention: Pruning helps Forest Garden farmers prevent and control the spread of disease. By frequently checking on trees and pruning regularly, farmers are able to identify diseases early enough to remove the damaged and diseased branches. Early detection and pruning will stop diseases from spreading across the tree. When tree health is maintained, trees become more resilient and less susceptible to diseases. Learn more about the importance of pruning in Chapter 11 of the Technical Manual.

Pruning Tips:

– Always prune branches with a freshly sharpened, clean tool to ensure clean cuts and reduce damage and exposure to disease.
– Use pruning shears, a knife, or a machete for smaller branches. For larger branches, it is best to use a saw to ensure a clean cut.
– Never pull, twist, or rip branches off, even if you have already cut through the majority of the branch. This can tear the bark on the remaining branch or stem, leaving a large wound.


Multipurpose Tree – /məltēˈpərpəs, trē/ – classification

September 2, 2020

Definition: A tree or shrub intentionally cultivated and managed to provide more than one product and/or function.
Synonym: agroforestry tree

A Closer Look: Most plants provide multiple benefits and, as such, farmers aim to take advantage of as many of those benefits as possible to maximize the productivity and sustainability of their Forest Gardens. TREES staff advise farmers to consider the multiple uses of each plant, whether it is providing useful food or forest products and other environmental services.

Just how “multipurpose” can be a multipurpose tree be?

A fast-growing leguminous tree can serve many purposes. It will fix nitrogen in the soil. If planted in a windbreak, it reduces wind and soil dryness. Depending on the slope on which it is planted, it may also serve to control erosion. During low-wind seasons, that same tree can be coppiced for fuelwood and fodder, or the leaves and stems can be used as a mulch or mixed into the soil to increase fertility and moisture retention.

8 Multipurpose Trees Grown in Forest Gardens 

  • Grevillea robusta
  • Leucaena spp.
  • Calliandra calothyrsus
  • Faidherbia albida
  • Albizia lebbeck
  • Moringa oleifera
  • Gliricidia sepium
  • Ziziphus mauritiana
Read more about some of the most useful multipurpose trees used in the Forest Garden in Chapter 9 of the Technical Manual.

Triangular Spacing – /trīˈaNGɡyələr, spāsiNG/ – technique

August 27, 2020

Definition: A bio-intensive planting technique where seeds or transplants are planted at an angle from one another, in a triangular pattern. This technique is implemented to optimize the use of horizontal space available in a field.

A Closer Look: Triangular spacing increases the number of crops farmers can plant in comparison to traditional row spacing. Triangular spacing is also beneficial for water retention.

Triangular spacing increases the plant density in a field and enables a farmer to cover more soil with vegetation. This, in turn, greatly reduces the sun’s ability to leach the soil of its moisture and allows for healthier, more vigorous crop growth. In addition to increasing moisture retention in a farmer’s field, the increased density of triangular spacing limits the weed growth around the crops. Reduced weed growth increases the likelihood that crops will flourish into healthy and productive plants and it also reduces the workload of farmers and their families.


Sloping Agriculture Land Technology

/ S.A.L.T. / – system

August 19, 2020

Definition: A system in which dense hedgerows of nitrogen-fixing tree and/or shrub species are planted along contour lines, creating a living barrier that can trap sediment and gradually transform the sloped land into terraced land.

A Closer Look: S.A.L.T. systems reduce soil erosion and help farmers maintain soil fertility by fixing nitrogen at the roots.

S.A.L.T. in the Forest Garden

While the Forest Garden Approach does not incorporate S.A.L.T as the main technique, farmers still apply contour planting systems that build off of the same concept. When practicing contour planting, farmers use vegetative barriers to prevent erosion and promote soil fertility and stability on sloped land. Read more about how Forest Garden farmers use contour planting in this month’s newsletter.



Leaching -/lēCH’ng/ – process

August 12, 2020

Definition: The downward movement of dissolved nutrients across the soil.

A Closer Look: Leaching occurs when the soil’s water-carrying capacity is surpassed, resulting in the excess water percolating down through the topsoil and under the subsoil and the rooting zone. In consequence, any nutrients carried by the water will be lost.

What type of soil is prone to leaching?

All soil is prone to leaching. However, different types of soil are more prone to nutrient leaching than others.

Sandy soil: Sandy soil is the largest in particle size. As a result water drains through it rapidly, carrying nutrients with it. It is the most prone to nutrient leaching as few plants are able to grow in sandy soils since their roots do not have the chance to absorb the water and nutrients that flow quickly through them.

Silty soil: Silty soil is made of particles much smaller than sand, and is able to retain water for longer. While silty soil is less prone to leaching than sandy soil, it may still not be the most effective way of mitigating nutrient loss from leaching.

Clayey soil: Clayey soils have the smallest particles of the three types. Water is much slower to drain in clay, and it holds nutrients much better. While this may be critical in preventing leaching, clayey soil can become very hard and dense, especially when dry, making it difficult for plants to get the air they need to grow.

How do you mitigate nutrient leaching in soils?

To mitigate nutrient leaching in soils, it’s critical to find a balance between silty and clayey soils. The proper balance ensures that the particles are not all too small to inhibit flow of water and nutrients through the soil but also not so large that they allow the water to flow through the soil too quickly, preventing plants and roots from taking in the nutrients dissolved in the water. Want to easily identify what kind of soil you are working with? Learn how to carry out a simple soil test in Chapter 5 of the Technical Manual.


Erosion -/əˈrōZHən/ – process

August 5, 2020

Definition: A naturally occurring process that removes and displaces organic material like rock or soil from a landscape. In agriculture, soil erosion refers to the wearing away of a field’s topsoil by the natural physical forces of water and wind or through forces associated with farming activities such as tillage.

Mitigating Erosion in the Forest Garden: Unsustainable farming practices can contribute to soil erosion, while sustainable practices like agroforestry can help restore soil and limit erosion. The topsoil in a Forest Garden is a critical component in maximizing and optimizing the productivity of a parcel of land. The more stable and fertile the topsoil, the healthier and more vigorous the growth of the Forest Garden. As a result, Forest Garden farmers adopt the following techniques to prevent that topsoil from being eroded away by either wind or rain.

Combating Wind Damage: To mitigate the damage from strong winds, farmers plant what is known as a windbreak along the side of the field that faces the strongest winds. A windbreak can consist simply of one row of trees, but the most effective windbreaks have multiple, staggered rows with shorter shrubs and trees comprising the outer row and taller trees making up the second row. This will guide the wind up and over the field rather than through it. A windbreak can protect land up to 10 times the height of its tallest trees.

Combating Water Damage: To mitigate damage from water, farmers practice contour planting as well as alley cropping. Using contour planting, farmers are able to create vegetative barriers along sloped land that prevent rain from running off the hillside while carrying away topsoil and its nutrients. By planting alleys of nitrogen fixing species across a parcel of land, farmers are able to replenish and stabilize the soil in preparation for rains to come. Learn more about erosion in Chapter 8 of the Technical Manual.


A-Frame – /ā frām/ – tool

July 29, 2020

Definition: A tool made from locally sourced materials (often wood) that is used to mark out the contours, or level lines on sloped land. After an A-Frame is used to identify the contours, ditches and trees are often planted to prevent water, soil, and nutrients from running off the land.

Ikinu A-Frame training

Why is it called an A-Frame?

The term A-Frame comes from the tool’s resemblance to the English letter “A”.

Calibration is Key

In order for farmers to benefit from using an A-frame when contour planting, it is essential that the A-frame is calibrated to correctly identify the contours of the sloped land. If a farmer incorrectly marks the contours lines in his/her field, runoff can build up and flow along the vegetation, potentially causing more erosion and damage than would normally happen, even without the use of contour planting.

Learn how to construct and calibrate an A-frame in Chapter 8 of the Technical Manual. We’ll also be covering this in depth in next month’s FGTC newsletter. Not a subscriber? Sign up today

Want to build an A-Frame?

Here is what you’ll need:
– Two 1.5 to 2 meter sticks or poles about 3 to 5 cm in diameter (wood, bamboo, plastic, or any other light-weight, sturdy material)
– One 1 to 1.5 meter stick of the same material
– Three nails, or 2 meters of twine/string for binding the sticks together
– One 1.5 meter piece of twine/string for the level
– One round rock, about 5 cm in diameter

Sequential Cropping – /səˈkwen(t)SHəl, kräp’ing/ – methodology

July 22, 2020

Definition: The practice of growing crops in sequence to maximize space and time. This practice is also known as succession planting.

Sequential Cropping vs Monocropping

In sequential cropping, crops are grown within the same crop year, one being sown after the harvest of the other. Monocropping is the practice of planting the same crop year after year. While both methods are repetitive, sequential cropping is not necessarily the same as monocropping. On the contrary, sequential cropping is a form of crop rotation since different crops are grown during different seasons.

Sequential Cropping in Forest Gardens 

Sequential cropping is a method that optimizes space and time. To successfully sow crops in sequence, farmers must consider when they are harvesting short-season crops and how long it takes for the next crop to reach maturity.

When done with proper planning, sequential cropping allows farmers to fill their plant beds year-round. When one crop is harvested, another crop can be sown in its place. This not only optimizes space and time, but it also generates guaranteed income throughout the year.

Sequential Cropping and Soil Amendments

While sequential cropping is an excellent way for farmers to optimize space and time in their Forest Gardens, this practice can be damaging to the soil. After each harvest, nutrients are taken out of the soil along with the crops. To mitigate this damage farmers can add soil amendments before planting the next crop in the sequence. Compost, manure, bone meal, and other soil amendments will help retain the vitality of the soil so farmers can keep sequential cropping year after year.


Mulch – /muhlch/ – noun

July 15, 2020

Definition: An organic material that covers the soil to improve moisture retention, reduce erosion, minimize weeds, and improve soil structure.

What is mulch made of?

Mulch can be made from a variety of plant materials including straw, crop residue, leaves, grass, rice hulls, small shredded banana leaves, beanstalks, compost, or other easily decomposable organic material.

Farmers Use Mulch to Prevent Water Loss

When soil is exposed to the hot sun, microorganisms deteriorate, water quickly evaporates and soil temperatures rise. To mitigate these issues, Forest Garden farmers use mulch to maintain soil quality, conserve water, and keep soil temperatures down.

Farmers Use Mulch to Control Pesky Weeds

In addition to being used to decrease water evaporation, mulch can be used to control weeds. Forest Garden farmers will often place a layer of mulch around trees and crops after planting them. A thick layer of mulch keeps weeds from getting sunlight and will reduce the number of weeds in the Forest Garden.


Cacao – /kəˈkou/ – species

July 8, 2020

Definition: A small evergreen tree in the Malvaceae family whose trunk sprouts elongated pods. The pods of a cacao tree contain beans and turn yellowish-green to brown once they’ve reached maturation. Cacao is most commonly used to make cocoa.

Cacao vs. Cocoa

While the words cacao and cocoa are often used interchangeably, the term cocoa technically refers to cacao that has been processed and refined to a powder. Cacao, however, is the pure form of chocolate; raw and unprocessed.

Where does cacao grow?

Cacao can offer Forest Garden farmers another way to optimize their land. In Forest Gardens, cacao is grown in the understory and is often combined with the production of fruits and vegetables for multiple harvests. Learn more about the understory and how you can optimize it in Chapter 15 of the Technical Manual.

Did you know?

Cacao trees can live to be over 200 years old. However, cacao trees only produce beans for a fraction of their lifespan.
A Cacao tree starts producing pods at around five-years-old and will continue producing pods for about 25 years. Inside these pods live several cacao beans; a key ingredient needed to produce chocolate.


Mangifera indica -/mangifera in’dica/- species

July 1, 2020

Definition: A large evergreen tree that produces sweet, oval-shaped fruit with greenish-yellow skin (tinged with red), attached at the broadest end on a pendulous stalk. The species is commonly known as mango.

Why do Forest Garden farmers grow mango trees?

Mangifera indica trees are drought resistant and produce delicious commodity farmers can take to market.

Starting Mango Seedlings

Through their training with TREES, Forest Garden farmers are taught the best methods to germinate tree seedlings. The best method to start mango seedlings is in a bare root bed. Prior to sowing the seeds, a farmer will double-dig and add soil amendments to the nursery bed. After preparing the bed, the seeds are sown with 5 cm spacing between seeds and 10-15 cm between rows. Then the seeds are covered with a thin layer of soil.

From Farm to Market

Mangoes are enjoyed by people from all over the world. However, the cultivation of Mangifera indica trees takes time and skill. Farmers must be prepared to provide regular care for the tree when it is young. Learn more about mango and other fruit trees in Chapter 6 of the Forest Garden Training Center’s Technical Manual.


Pollarding –/pälərd’ing/ – technique

June 24, 2020

Definition: A method of pruning that involves cutting the branches at the top of a tree.

Why do Forest Garden farmers practice pollarding?

Pollarding can be used to shape a tree, restrict its height, or create a more dense and even canopy.  Many Forest Garden farmers also perform pollarding on timber trees to maintain a good central trunk and use the branches as fodder for their livestock. Additionally, a farmer can use pollarding if there is too much shade in their garden preventing crops from getting adequate sunlight.

Pollarding-Friendly Trees

For timber trees, it is best to begin pollarding when the tree is around 6 years old to avoid damaging the integrity of the tree. However, fast-growing trees can be pollarded when they are much younger; around 2-3 years old. Here’s a shortlist of pollarding-friendly trees:

– Cordia africana
– Calliandra calothyrsus
– Leucaena trichandra
– Faidherbia albida

– Acrocarpus fraxinifolius

– Grevillea robusta

Pollarding vs. Coppicing

The terms pollarding and coppicing are two common pruning techniques used to promote growth but there is one main distinction. When coppicing a tree, a farmer will cut the tree near the ground; around 6 inches above ground level. When pollarding a tree, a farmer will only prune the top of the tree once it has grown several feet tall. Additionally, when pollarding, a farmer may choose to cut an entire branch or just a portion of it. They may cut all of the branches or just a few.  In our program, farmers are using coppicing (pictured above) much more frequently than pollarding.


Grevillea robusta –/ɡriˈvilēə, rōˈbəsta/ – species

June 17, 2020

Definition: A medium to large deciduous tree, climbing 12-40 meters tall, with a dense, conical crown.

Grevillea robusta, commonly referred to as the silky oak, is a fast-growing timber tree. While Grevillea robusta is native to Eastern Australia, it is becoming increasingly popular in East Africa, often replacing eucalyptus in timber production. 

Agroforestry Uses of Grevillea Robusta

Apiculture: The nectar-rich flowers of Grevillea robusta are attractive to bees and make for great honey production.

Windbreak: Grevillea robusta is a good tree for windbreaks when combined with shorter species.

Intercropping: Grevillea robusta is a good shade-species for tea and coffee.

The Characteristics of Grevillea Robusta

Grevillea robusta has a complex, shallow root system that allows for efficient nutrient uptake. This makes it a useful tree even on the most degraded soils. However, pruning is essential so the roots of the Grevillea robusta do not compete with crops growing around it.


Silvopasture – /silˌvō pasCHər/ – methodology

June 10, 2020

Definition: The strategic integration of trees, crops, and livestock that benefits all three.

Forest Garden farmers who practice silvopasture can foster a symbiotic relationship between their land and their animals. Farmers use fodder from the trees in their Forest Garden to nourish their livestock then return the livestock’s manure to the farmland to enrich the soil.

Pros & Cons of Growing Fodder in Forest Gardens:

1. Homegrown fodder is healthy.
2. Farmers manage diseases better.
3. Meat and dairy products are of higher quality.
1. Hard labor is required.
2. Animals need time to adjust.
3. Mineral supplements may need to be added to fodder.


Acacia Albida Makes Excellent Fodder: An important component of agroforestry is cultivating multipurpose trees that meet all of your needs. When you practice silvopasture, it is important to know which trees will meet your livestock’s needs as well. Acacia albida, also referred to as Faidherbia albida, is indigeneous to many African countries and it can be used to make fodder. The leaves and pods are palatable and can provide a source of protein for animals in the dry season.


Multiple Variable Calendar – /məltəpəl, verēəb(ə)l, kaləndər/ – noun

June 3, 2020

Definition: A seasonal analysis that compares the inputs and outputs farmers get from their Forest Gardens, along with the nutrition and food needs of their families. Multiple Variable Calendars are simple calendars drawn up by farmers and TREES staff to track and analyze food availability, harvests, and effort.

Multiple variable calendars help Forest Garden farmers identify:

  • Months when food is scarce
  • Months when fields are producing a harvest
  • Seasonal changes in the price of their crops

Why use a multiple variable calendar? Multiple variable calendars can help farmers think strategically when planning their Forest Gardens. Armed with this analysis, farmers can move from monocropping methods that require intensive effort and pose a great risk of crop failure to more sustainable cropping methods that ensure consistent food access throughout the year.

Seasonal Planning Helps Farmers Secure Food: As the world continues to battle a global pandemic, food insecurity persists in communities around the world. However, Forest Garden farmers with mature fields are remaining food secure. This resilience is due to the fact that these farmers have strategically planted trees and crops that produce a harvest every month of the year. Learn more.


Double Digging -/dəb(ə)l, digging/ – verb

May 27, 2020

Definition: The process of separately digging up the topsoil and subsoil layers of a cultivated space to improve soil fertility and aeration. This involves adding and mixing soil amendments at what will ultimately be the root level.

Why should you double dig?
Double digging allows farmers to increase the productivity of their permagardens. By double digging, adding soil amendments to vegetable beds, and using triangular spacing, farmers can also increase the number of plants per square meter.

Tools Needed for Double Digging:

1. A spade or other digging tool

2. Four shovels full of compost or manure per square meter

3. One shovel full of charcoal powder per square meter
4. One shovel full of plastic-free wood ash per square meter

The Forest Garden Training Center’s Technical Manual digs into the process of double digging.Read through chapter 13 to learn more about each step.

Soil Amendments for Double Digging

  • Wood ash is a soil pH stabilizer that is rich in potassium and phosphorus. Wood ash should be sourced from a pure wood fire, free of plastic, to avoid harmful toxins.
  • Eggshells are high in calcium and very beneficial to crops in the cabbage family. Eggshells can be pounded into a fine powder before being added directly to the soil or in a compost pile.
  • Coffee grounds are an excellent source of organic nitrogen and can be added to compost or mixed directly into the soil during the double-digging process. 


Scion  – /saɪən/ – noun

May 20, 2020

Definition: In grafting, the stem of a tree chosen for its desirable characteristics, like the quality and size of the fruit. The scion is grafted to the rootstock of a compatible species by aligning the cambium layers so that nutrients can flow between the two. When grafted together, the scion and rootstock grow to become one tree that shares characteristics of both species.

Scion vs. Budwood: Scions and budwoods are both part of asexual propagation, but the techniques for which they are used differ. A scion is used for grafting a 10-12 cm stem of one species to the rootstock of another. A budwood is joined to the rootstock of another species through a technique called budding. A single bud or eye (budwood) is attached to the rootstock seedling instead of using the whole stem (scion).

Basic Steps to Grafting:

1. Source the scion and the rootstock you want to graft.

2. Prepare the scion and rootstock for grafting.

3. Graft scion and the rootstock using grafting tools.
4. Wait for the graft to take and for the scion to sprout new growth.
5. Remove the wrapping and maintain the grafted tree.
The Forest Garden Training Center’s Technical Manual digs deep into the process of grafting fruit trees. Read through chapter 6 to learn more about each step.


3 Benefits of Grafting: Increased Tolerance to Climatic Extremes: The rootstock of some plants may be better suited for local soil conditions while the growth from a grafted scion is better suited for improved productivity. Grafting provides a means to meet the conditions of both.

Control of Fruit Quality and Quantity: Grafted fruit trees bear the same quality and quantity of fruit as that of the tree from which the scion was taken

Faster Fruit Production: A grafted fruit tree can usually produce fruit 2-4 years after grafting is completed. Fruit trees that are not grafted typically bear fruit much later, sometimes 7-10 years after they are established.


Recalcitrant Seeds  – /rəˈkalsətrənt sēds/ – noun

May 13, 2020

Definition: Seeds that do not survive freezing and drying during off-site conservation but instead need to be stored at high moisture

levels. Recalcitrant seeds are often referred to as unorthodox seeds and can be characterized by their sensitivity to desiccation, the process of extreme drying.

Forest Garden Fact: Recalcitrant seeds are produced by a few trees that are commonly found in Forest Gardens throughout sub-Saharan Africa, including, jackfruit, lychee, mango, avocado, cacao, and coconut. Other common recalcitrant seeds are rambutan and durian.

Storing Recalcitrant Seeds: Recalcitrant seeds require moisture to remain viable for germination. Unfortunately, maintaining high moisture content also makes them more prone either to germination during storage, or to pest and disease attacks, making storage challenging, but not impossible.

Place seeds within a grain sack or other porous container that allows airflow. According to volume, add 1 part of moist sawdust, charcoal, or peat moss for every 3 parts seed. The storage sack can be left covered or uncovered but should always be kept in dark room, off of the floor. Be sure to check on moisture content and seed conditions twice a week to make sure the seeds retain their moisture and are free of pests and mold. Unlike orthodox seedsrecalcitrant seeds can only be stored for a few weeks to a few months depending on the species.

Storing Orthodox Seeds: Orthodox seeds require different storage conditions than recalcitrant seeds. Before preparing your seeds for storage, it is important to know which seeds have more orthodox or recalcitrant properties so you can store things properly.

Unlike recalcitrant seeds, orthodox seeds can withstand low moisture. In fact, you should dry orthodox seeds well before placing them in containers. Storage containers for orthodox seeds can be made of a variety of materials including plastic, glass, metal, or clay. No matter which container you choose, if you intend to store your seeds for a long time, be sure to use a waterproof, air-tight container that is opaque.

Orthodox seeds should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark place. With the right storage in place, you’ll be able to store viable orthodox seeds for several years or even decades!


Boomerang Berm – /booməraNG, bərm/ – noun

May 6, 2020

Definition: A semi-circle or half-moon shaped berm that is placed around an established tree to capture water specifically within the tree’s root zone. A series of boomerang berms allow overflow from one berm to descend into the catchment area of the next downhill berm.

Forest Garden Tip: Earthworks, including boomerang berms, are water conservation techniques Forest Garden farmers can implement on their land to control and slow the movement of water.

Two major benefits of constructing earthworks are:

Farmers can maximize water absorption on a landscape – Earthworks can help farmers to stop, slow, sink, and spread flowing water so that it can be of use to surrounding vegetation.

Farmers can control and direct the flow of water –  Earthworks can be used to direct the flow of water to places that need it more without running the risk of creating erosion channels that will damage the land.

Berms and Swales: Standard berms and swales are perfect for slowing down the movement of runoff leading into your permagarden and allow water to enter and remain in the landscape more evenly. A swale is a long trench dug out across the ground, along the contour, to catch runoff water, soil, and organic matter. The soil you dig out to form your swale is generally used to create a berm of earth on the upslope or downslope side of your swale. It is best to plant perennial vegetation (trees, shrubs, grasses, herbs, etc) along your berms to stabilize them.

Cuvettes for Fruit Trees: A cuvette is a shallow depression in a level landscape completely surrounded by a berm. Cuvettes are designed to hold human-delivered irrigation and to prevent excess rainwater from drowning flood sensitive plants. A single cuvette is made around newly planted seedling trees while double cuvettes are made around adult trees.

Three benefits of making and maintaining cuvettes are to conserve water at the root level, stabilize adult trees by promoting lateral root growth and manage pests.


Dispersed Planting -/dəˈspərs’d, planting/ – verb

April 29, 2020

Definition: The strategic distribution of multipurpose agroforestry trees over a large area of land that lacks trees. Open or empty spaces can benefit from the increased nitrogen and green fertilizer that these agroforestry trees provide.

Forest Garden Fact: While the Forest Garden Approach emphasizes the importance of increasing tree cover and soil fertility through the establishment of living fences, windbreaks, and alley cropping systems, there are many regions of the world where there are likely to be large areas of land without trees. In these open spaces, we encourage farmers to disperse trees throughout the space to provide nutrients and fertilizer to the land. By establishing trees in these sparse areas, farmers give themselves an opportunity to plant more trees in that space in the future.

How to Disperse Trees: Spacing between dispersed trees varies considerably, depending on the amount of ‘open’ space after alleys and living fences have been planted. A good rule of thumb is to have a dispersed tree for every 50 to 100 square meters, so spaced in a grid-like pattern about every seven to ten meters. Management practices of dispersed trees are similar to those of the trees in alley cropping systems – the thicker branches can be coppiced at the beginning of the cropping season and used for fuelwood and poles, while the leaves, stems, and branchlets can by ‘chopped and dropped’ as green fertilizer throughout the cropping season.

Train with Experts: Join Trees for the Future’s Forest Garden Certification Challenge.
Over the course of 6 weeks, we will dig into our Forest Garden Approach and how you can use agroforestry to change the world. The challenge is open to anyone working in agriculture, natural resources, or development: farmers, students, volunteers, government, and NGO workers.Are you ready to train with our team of agroforestry experts and get certified? Learn with us today and every Wednesday from 12:00-1:00 PM EST during our Forest Garden Certification Challenge.
Click here for link to the  FGTC webinar


Soil Horizon – /soil, həˈrīzən/ – noun

April 22, 2020


Definition: A layer of soil.  Each soil horizon has biological and physical characteristics that differ from the layer(s) above and beneath it.

Forest Garden Tip: Being knowledgeable about soil and its horizons can help you make decisions that impact the health of your land and your crop yields.

Fruit Tree Portfolio – /fro͞ot, trē, pôrtˈfōlēˌō/ – compound noun

April 15, 2020

Definition: The number and species of fruit trees on a given piece of property. In regenerative agriculture and Forest Gardening, a fruit tree portfolio should be diverse.

Forest Garden Tip: A diverse mix of fruit trees can provide nutritious and marketable food throughout the year. If planned well, fruit trees can produce fruit in lean times and supplement the household diet as needed.

Caring for Citrus Trees

Citrus trees are typically very spindly and tend to branch from the base of the tree. In order to raise productive trees, pruning is a must. A well-pruned citrus tree could be kept the size of a bush or even raised in a pot without hampering its ability to produce.

Pruning Tip: Citrus fruit only forms on new stem growth so branch ends should be pruned to urge new growth. Since it is very important for branches with fruit to have adequate sunlight, each year branches should be thinned and those “inside” the crown removed altogether to increase sunlight penetration.

Did you know?

Bananas are not really trees but are a large grass species. They are monocots. Bananas are also sterile; although producing both male and female flowers the banana fruit does not contain seeds. Bananas will flower after they produce 30 leaves, usually in eight to 13 months. Male flowers are purple and located at the end of the stem; female flowers are enclosed in bracts containing six to seven “hands,” each with eight to 16 bananas, also known as “fingers.” Once the plant flowers, the fruit will ripen within 5 months.


Green Fertilizer  –  /ɡrēn,ˈfərdlīzər/ – noun

April 8, 2020

Definition: A natural substance, including manure and/or leguminous crops, that can be plowed back into the soil to increase soil fertility.

The Difference Between Compost and Green Fertilizer:

Green fertilizer (or green manure) is any cover crop or organic matter that is plowed back into the earth before it has decomposed. Compost, on the other hand, requires decomposition. The various elements of compost must be allowed to break down in a pile, pit, or bin before being used. Green fertilizer is still fresh, alive, or “green.”

While both are soil amendments, the benefits of compost go beyond soil fertility. Although it takes more time to create, compost feeds an immense number of beneficial insects and microbes that in turn enhance the soil structure.

Choosing the Right Crop
The leaves of the Calliandra calothyrsus tree are high in nitrogen which makes it an excellent producer of green fertilizer. Other nitrogen-fixing trees and crops can be used to create green fertilizer as well.

Soil Amendment  – /soil əˈmen(d)mənt/ – noun

April 1, 2020

Definition: Any substance added to the soil to improve plant growth. Soil amendments can be used to add nutrients, enhance soil structure, improve water retention, protect plants’ roots against pests and disease, or change the soil pH level.

Three Soil Amendments Used in a Forest Garden:

Bone meal: Made from crushed bones, this slow-release soil amendment contains large amounts of phosphorus and calcium. Adding bone meal to the soil is a good long-term soil correction strategy for pH problems.

Biochar/charcoal powder: This purified form of organic carbon is most useful for water retention, as it can hold up to six times its weight in water. Additionally, charcoal is covered in micropores, which provide living space for beneficial bacteria in the soil.

Leaves (green and brown): Decomposing quickly due to their size, leaves are useful for quick nitrogen and carbon inputs. As we’ve discussed in the Forest Garden Technical Manual, leaves can be a very useful green fertilizer or mulch.

NTFP  (Non-Timber Forest Product)  – ABBREVIATION

March 25, 2020
Definition: Non-Timber Forest Product. This term includes all products, other than timber, that are found in forests and used for human consumption. Forest Garden farmers have consistent access to NTFPs in the form of fruits, nuts, oils, and fodder.
Sweet & Spicy NTFPS: Papaya, mangoes, oranges, limes, lemons, peaches, and apples come from trees. Beyond these nutritious and delicious fruits, some of our favorite spices also come from various parts of trees including cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.
Cashew Apples: Did you know that cashews come from apples? Cashews grow on trees and ripen on top of a fruit, often referred to as a cashew “apple”. The amazing cashew nut, and the tree it grows on, are key players in our Forest Garden Approach because of the countless ways they are benefiting the environment, Forest Garden farmers and their families.


Superfood /ˈso͞opərˌfo͞od/ – NOUN

March 18, 2020

Definition: Nutrient-rich food considered to be beneficial to one’s health.
Forest Garden Fact: Farmers in TREES’ Forest Garden Training Program are encouraged to plant superfoods such as sweet potato, moringa, legumes, avocado, and nuts. Check out our Companion Planting blog for tips on how to grow your own nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Did you know? 
You can visit the Forest Garden Training Center (FGTC) to access our free agroforestry resources anytime.
If you have questions or word suggestions, please send an email to

Carbon Sequestration /ˈkärbən, sikwəˈstrāSH(ə)n/ – noun

March 11, 2020


Definition: The removal and storage of carbon from the atmosphere.

Plants effectively capture and transform carbon during photosynthesis. On any given landscape, carbon is stored in biomass pools above-ground, below-ground, in litter, dead matter, and in soil.

A Look at Carbon: A “Co-Benefit” of Agroforestry

In a guest blog post for TREES, Forest Carbon Specialist Lauren Cooper of Michigan State University explains the relationship between trees and carbon.

“All living things are made of carbon but trees offer an opportunity to store this carbon for long periods considering their long life-span. Further, trees create carbon-rich ecosystems which store carbon in leaves and fine roots that later fall off and become Carbon-rich organic matter in litter and soil.” Continue reading.

Carbon & Climate: Mass deforestation contributes to climate change through the sudden release of high levels of carbon; ultimately contributing to global warming. Forest Garden farmers in our training program mitigate the impacts of climate change by planting upwards of 4,000 trees on their plots of land over four years. From 2018 to 2019, TREES Forest Garden projects sequestered 653,900 metric tons of carbon!

Agroforestry 101: Successful carbon capture is just one benefit of TREES’ Forest Garden Approach. Did you know you can access our agroforestry and Forest Garden resources for free? The Forest Garden Training Center (FGTC)​ is an online training certification and resource center designed to give practitioners across the globe an easily deployable and replicable solution to end hunger, poverty, and deforestation.

Nitrogen Fixation  /ˈnītrəjən, fikˈsāSH(ə)n/ noun

March 4, 2020

Definition: The biological process of converting atmospheric nitrogen into compounds that stimulate plant growth.

The decomposition of nitrogen-rich leaf litter and fruit litter plays an integral role in fixing nitrogen to soils.

Forest Garden Fact: Rooted in agroforestry, the Forest Garden Approach integrates a variety of nitrogen-fixing trees into agriculture and landscapes; a model with proven success among smallholder farmers in low-resource countries.

Many legumes have a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria of the genus Rhizobium. These bacteria penetrate a plant’s roots; forming nodular swellings on the surface of the root. The biological action takes place in the nodules as the rhizobia absorb the unusable nitrogen gas from the air and in the soil and transform it into useful compounds.

Did you know? Calliandra calothyrsus is a species used in TREES’ programs throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Calliandra is a small, versatile tree that can easily integrate into tropical, humid environments.
Like many other legumes, Calliandra can help improve soil quality through the process of nitrogen fixation.

Read about nitrogen fixation and soil on the Forest Garden Training Center’s blog.

Multidimensional Agriculture 

 /məltēdə’men(t)SH(ə)n(ə)l, aɡrəˌkəlCHər/ noun

February 26, 2020

Definition: An agroforestry practice designed to optimize time and space.

The three dimensions of a Forest Garden are horizontal spacevertical space, and time. Through their training with TREES, farmers learn how to optimize every corner of their land.

Forest Garden Fact: Forest Gardens incorporate a variety of tree species and other crops, in a horizontal and vertical design that provides sustainable sources of food, firewood, fodder, and marketable products.

Did you know? Farmers think through their horizontal spacing by designing their field from above. Top View Mapping informs decisions about which trees, plants, and crops will best diversify their Forest Garden.

Food Security – /fo͞od, səˈkyo͝orədē/ – noun

February 19, 2020

Definition: The state of having consistent access to nutritious food that meets an individual’s dietary needs.

“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” 1996 World Food Summit

Agroforestry and food security go hand-in-hand. Hunger, poverty and deforestation are inextricably connected, but agroforestry is a solution to all of these challenges.

Did you know that agroforestry is helping TREES contribute to 9 of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals?

Can we end hunger with agroforestry? When farmers implement the Forest Garden Approach, their families have a diverse array of foods growing year-round. The improved quantity and quality of foods available lead to ending hunger and improving the nutritional status of families in a sustainable way.

Agroforestry improves farmers’ quality of life. In addition to increasing food security and nutrition, agroforestry promotes access to clean water, healthy livestock, and organic food intake for the entire family. The increased economic status of Forest Garden farmers also improves a family’s access to health care.


Companion Planting –/kəmˈpanyən, plant-ing/ noun

February 12, 2020

Definition: The practice of planting two or more crops in close proximity for mutual benefit.

A farmer may implement companion planting to maximize space, protect crops, create a habitat for beneficial insects or manage pests.

12 Companion Planting Duos:

Lettuce planted with hot pepper.
▪️Eggplant and Hot Pepper
▪️Asparagus and Parsley
▪️Peas and Carrots
▪️Corn and Cucumber
▪️Cabbage and Peppermint
▪️Tomatoes and Carrots
▪️Onion and Lettuce
▪️Watermelon and Potato
▪️Kale and Sage
▪️Spinach and Strawberries
▪️Cauliflower and Celery
▪️Okra and Onion

Fun Fact About Okra: Okra really does love Onion! Okra is a flowering plant in the Malvaceae family.
Unfortunately, plants in the Malvaceae family are susceptible to pests such as caterpillars, whiteflies, and mites. By companion planting okra in beds of onions, the okra remains protected from pests.

Agribusiness – /aɡrəˌbiznəs/ – noun

February 5, 2020

Definition: Agriculture conducted for commercial purposes.

While the term agribusiness typically refers to large scale monoculture farm production, TREES encourages Forest Garden farmers to engage in entrepreneurship.

Ugandan farmer and entrepreneur Ajok Lilly

Forest Garden Fact: At Trees for the Future, we work with smallholder farmers to adopt low-cost, sustainable alternative technologies that not only improve their land but also provide business opportunities. Ugandan Forest Garden farmer Ajok Lilly has had great success with creating her own natural pesticide, a skill that she learned from her training with TREES.

Ajok’s pesticide recipe: 

Out of gratitude to the donors that have made her participation with Trees for the Future possible, Ajok shares her recipe with you:

  • 1 kg of Young Mango leaves
  • 1 mug of Black Jack leaves
  • 1 mug of Red Pepper
  • 1 matchbox size of Soap

Combine in 10 liters of water and store in an airtight container.

Read more about Ajok’s agribusiness on our blog. 

Cultivate /ˈkəltəˌvāt/ – verb

January 29, 2020

Definition:  1. To prepare and use land to grow crops or garden
2. To foster the growth and development of (a plant, relationship, skillset, etc)

TREES’ approach to regenerative agriculture teaches the benefits of cultivating a variety of crops. 

Forest Garden Fact: In total, farmers plant 37 vegetable species, 13 shrub and vine species, 14 fruit and nut tree species and 21 agroforestry species across all of TREES’ projects each year.

The variety of trees and plants grown depend on the region, agro-climatic zones, soils and the farmer’s field plan. At TREES, we work closely with farmers to optimize the growing potential of their land. With optimized fields, farmers can plant more of what they need.

Did you know? The farmer in this image is pruning a Calliandra Calothyrsus tree that was cultivated in his Forest Garden. The leaves of this tree are high in nitrogen which makes it an excellent producer of green fertilizer. Highly valued by apiculturists, Calliandra Calothyrsus grows well in tropical areas. In the sub-Saharan Africa, Calliandra is a great pioneer species used to reclaim degraded lands.

Polyculture  /ˈpälēkəlCHər/ – noun

January 22, 2020

Definition: Agricultural practice in which a variety of crops and/or animals are cultivated. 

You may have heard Forest Gardens called by other names, such as polyculture, permaculture or agroforestry – and these are all related descriptions of what we aim for – a multi-layered, multipurpose distribution of vegetables, bushes and lots of trees – designed to optimize the productivity of a piece of land.

The Forest Garden Approach is a polyculture farming system that thinks vertically, not just horizontally.

Forest Garden Fact: Forest Gardens stand in stark contrast to modern industrial agriculture which encourages farmers to practice monoculture.

Over time, monoculture farming degrades land and depletes soil of nutrients while polyculture regenerates soil.

Did you know? Nutrition is a major concern across developing countries. One of the keys to ending hunger and nutritional deficiencies for farming families lies in the diversification of land and crops. The Forest Garden Approach is helping achieve this in just 2 years.

Read more about nutrition in TREES’ 2019 Impact Report

Forest Garden /fôrəst ɡärd(ə)n/ noun

January 15, 2020

Definition: A sustainable, multi-layered agroforestry system that incorporates a variety of crops and trees to optimize agricultural production on any piece of land.

Malik holding cassava in his Forest Garden

Key Impacts:

Forest Gardens permanently increase the income of impoverished families by maximizing and diversifying on-farm income sources and products that can be sold throughout the year, while at the same time reducing the risks associated with dependence on one or two crops.

Forest Gardens empower hungry families to feed themselves by providing a more balanced and nutritious diet through a diverse food production system that produces fruit and vegetables throughout the year.

Forest Gardens revitalize degraded lands and increase the productivity of rural landscapes by increasing the soil quality through beneficial tree planting, increasing biodiversity potential and reducing the need for external inputs such as chemicals and animal feed.

Forest Garden fact: At TREES, we prioritize doing projects along environmentally-degraded trade routes in order to work directly with large clusters of poor communities with access to local markets.

At the onset of each project, our highly-trained staff work with large farmer groups to design Forest Gardens that meet the distinct needs of the families and the market opportunities available. Through a series of workshops, farmers learn to select, grow and plant diverse trees and crop varieties that maximize yields while also significantly improving the quality of the land being farmed.

Did you know? You can use our proven, regenerative agriculture method,The Forest Garden Approachto optimize your farm, permagarden or start a Forest Garden of your very own!  The Forest Garden Training Center (FGTC) is a resource for beginner and experienced agroforestry practitioners alike.

YOU can learn our proven approach, become a certified trainer and track your impact!

Are you ready to join our community? Start your training today!

Smallholder /ˈsmôlhōldər/ noun

January 8, 2020

Definition: A farmer who owns a small plot of land on which they cultivate subsistence crops.

In sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farms rely almost exclusively on family labor.

At Trees for the Future (TREES), our programs address the challenges of smallholder farmers:

  • inefficient monoculture systems
  • land degradation
  • climate change
  • nutrition deficiencies
  • cyclical poverty
  • emigration

Forest Garden fact: The Forest Garden Approach  prevents monocropping; a common method used by smallholders which consists of sowing entire fields with just one crop that is harvested once a year.  In our training workshops, we work with smallholder farmers to diversity crop systems while planting trees that serve as fertilizer, fodder and fuel.

Did you know? Each Forest Garden is optimized with the farmer in mind. TREES conducts thorough market research and trains smallholders to plant a variety of crops that will provide lasting nutritional and economic benefits. We even share our agroforestry training resources online for free! Want to grow your own Forest Garden? Join our community!

Agrarian Society /əˈɡrerēən, səˈsīədē/ adjective

January 2, 2019

Definition: A community whose economy is largely dependent on agricultural labor and production.

In the Forest Garden: Agricultural or agrarian societies can transform their food systems and increase profitability of their land by implementing the Forest Garden Approach.  While many African farmers use monoculture systems, we encourage polyculture which leads to increased crop diversity and innovative entrepreneurial opportunities.

Did you know? According to the World Bank’s 2019 Agricultural Employment data, agriculture makes up a significant percentage of the global workforce.

🌳Senegal, 32% of the society is agrarian.
🌳Guinea, 66% of the society is agrarian.
🌳Cameroon, 46% of the society is agrarian.
🌳Uganda, 70% of the society is agrarian
🌳Kenya, 57% of the society is agrarian
🌳Tanzania, 66% of the society is agrarian.

Ecological Footprint
/ēkəˈläjiklˈfo͝otprint/ noun

December 27, 2019

Definition: 1.The impact a person, community or economy has on the environment. 2. A measure of sustainability and human demand on nature; expressed as the amount of biologically productive land and sea required to sustain all human activities.

Not to be confused with carbon footprint, which specifically measures gas emissions and its effect on climate change; ecological footprint measures how much land and sea area is needed to support everything humans do – how we travel, shop, eat and even how we grow our food!

In the Forest Garden: All Forest Garden projects are developed with an emphasis on sustainability at both the farm and landscape levels. At the farm level, the Forest Garden is environmentally sustainable because it contains many trees solely dedicated toward serving ecosystem purposes.

The Forest Garden design also considers integrated pest management, using trees and vegetation to serve as barriers for pests and sources for natural pesticides. At the landscape level, Forest Gardens are essential tools for reducing pressure on forests and reducing the use of harmful chemicals used in monoculture farming systems.

How do we grow Forest Gardens in sub-Saharan Africa?

The first step is to stabilize and protect the field with fast growing trees. Thorny trees, such as the Acacia nilotica, to form a protective wall. Then rows of fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing trees are planted across the field to stop soil erosion and revitalize tired soils.

Then farmers learn to produce and market a wide variety of fruit trees, vegetables and hardwoods — such as oranges, cashews, avocados, mangoes, guavas, moringa, pepper, lettuce, mahogany, baobab and Gmelina — for consumption and sale

Grow your own sustainable Forest Garden:

  1. Visit the Forest Garden Training Center – free distance learning platform
  2. Get certified in the Forest Garden Approach
  3. Get planting! Use the knowledge you gained to pick the appropriate crop species to meet your nutritional and land needs.
  4. Document your progress on our Forest Garden Training Center app
  5. Spread awareness about sustainable farming practices with your family and friends by sharing your success

Sprout /sprout/ – noun or verb

December 18, 2019

Definition: 1 (noun): A shoot of a plant 2 (verb): start to grow; develop 

In the Forest Garden: After they have identified the trees they want to plant in their Forest Garden and developed their Forest Garden design, farmers are taught how to establish a nursery.

Seeding a nursery seems pretty straight forward but sometimes the seeds never sprout. If that happens, farmers can refer to Module 13 of the Forest Garden Training Center’s Technical Manual to troubleshoot.

3 reasons seeds may not be sprouting:

  1. Seeds are planted too deeply – If this is the case they may sprout in the soil, but the first leaves are unable to reach the surface. A good general rule is that seeds should be planted at a depth that is equal to twice their thickness.

  2. Planting in water-logged soil – Seeds and young sprouts can rot if there is too much water and not enough oxygen. If a nursery is double dug properly, this should not be a problem.

  3. Using soil that has been exposed to herbicides – Herbicides can linger in soils, slowing plant growth.

Did You Know? Germination, the process in which an organism grows from a seed, is often referred to as sprouting. But seeds aren’t just sprouting in Forest Gardens, children are too! Thanks to your continued support, we are able to teach more farmers how to plant themselves out of poverty and hunger.

With increased income and food security, farmers are able to feed their little sprouts (kids) nutrient-rich fruits, nuts and vegetables; ensuring a brighter future for the next generation.

Agronomy  /əˈɡrɑnəmi/ noun

December 11, 2019

Definition 1: The holistic study of agriculture, crops and soil; 2: The science of using agricultural crops for food, fuel, fiber and land restoration; 3: The application of science and technology from biology, ecology, soil science, water science and pest management to improve and manage food crops. 

In the Forest Garden: Through training in the Forest Garden Approach, farmers learn the importance of soil and how to regenerate and maintain their land. The Forest Garden Approach is agronomic; incorporating a variety of concepts from agroforestry, permaculture, conservation agriculture and climate-smart agriculture into one holistic system.

Did You Know? Much like Agronomists, Forest Garden farmers and trainers are concerned with many aspects of the agricultural process including soil health, what nutrients crops need and give, finding natural fertilizers, how climate affects crops, how to best control pests and how to grow crops efficiently without harming the planet.

With your help, we can continue to transform food systems holistically!

Agricultural Economics
/aɡrəˈkəlCH(ə)rəl, ēkəˈnämiks/ – noun

December 4, 2019

Definition: The study of the distribution and utilization of resources and crops produced by farming as it relates to economics. Agricultural economists influence food, agricultural and environmental policies. 

In the Forest Garden: The extensive lessons provided in the Forest Garden Training Center’s technical manual teach farmers how to transform ravaged, desert-like fields into self-sustaining, productive farms – permanently. As a farmer’s Forest Gardens flourishes, economic opportunities become increasingly available. Farmers are also taught business management and how to manage their income, sales, marketing, saving, and how they contribute to the local economy.

Did You Know? The Forest Garden Approach is proven to increase household income an average of 400%. This promotes entrepreneurialism and makes it possible for many farmers to start other businesses. In addition to learning agroforestry techniques, farmers are trained to find entrepreneurial success through their Forest Gardens by selling fodder or honey harvested from their bee hives. Some, like Ajok Lilly, even sell their own natural pesticides.

Monoculture /mänəˌkəlCHər/– noun

November 27, 2019

Definition: The agricultural practice of growing a single crop or plant species in a farming system. Also referred to as monocropping.

After several harvests, monoculture farming degrades the quality of the land and depletes soil of nutrients. As the quality of the land erodes, monoculture systems rely on harsh chemical herbicides and pesticides to enhance crop yields. However, when misused, the application of these chemicals can pollute groundwater and surface water as well as negatively impact soil microorganisms. 

In the Forest Garden: TREES trains farmers to stop practicing monoculture and transform their single-crop fields into Forest Gardens.  As an alternative to monoculture, TREES farmers are encouraged to practice polyculture; growing a variety of trees and crops in the same area at the same time.

In year two of the four year program, farmers are taught the benefit of diversifying their fields with a vegetable and fruit tree portfolio that meets their family’s nutritional needs and increases market opportunities.

Did You Know? In monoculture systems, farmers depend on a single crop to provide them with enough food and income to survive until the next harvest. This dependency drives farmers to practice slashing and burning; clearing all vegetation on their fields every year and releasing carbon into the atmosphere in the process. Furthermore, when their crop fails — due to pest infestation, crop disease, bad quality seeds, drought or natural disaster  —  farmers are left devastated, without means to support their families.

Read our blog to learn more about why monocultures are the problem and how Forest Gardens are the solution!

Symbiotic /simbīˈädik/– adjective

November 20, 2019

Definition: A relationship or arrangement between two organisms where each has a process or byproduct that benefits the other

In the Forest Garden: The symbiotic relationship between farmers and their land is one of mutualism. Farmers benefit tremendously from their Forest Gardens; using it as a sustainable source of food for their families, fodder for their animals and income in the form of marketable products.

Did You Know?  There are two types of symbiotic relationships found in the Forest Garden.

  • Mutualism: both organisms benefit from the relationship
  • Parasitism: one organism (the parasite) gains, while the other (the host) suffers

While most symbiotic relationships found in the Forest Garden are mutual, farmers are equipped to eliminate parasitic relationships in natural, environmentally-friendly ways.

Afforestation /əfôrəˈstāSH(ə)n/ – noun

November 13, 2019

Definition: The planting of a forest or Forest Garden in an area where there was no previous tree cover.

In the Forest Garden: Trees for the Future farmers engage in afforestation projects across Sub-Saharan Africa; creating lush Forest Gardens that anthropogenically improve biodiversity.

Did You Know? Once matured, Forest Gardens are able to provide some of the ecosystem services of a naturally occurring forest. With its diverse horizontal and vertical arrangement of plants and animals, Forest Gardens provide habitat diversity, watershed and soil protection and carbon sequestration. This is especially important in degraded landscapes, where these ecosystem services are in dire need.

The Forest Garden also improves food security and economic stability for farmers; ensuring access to food as well as marketable crops farmers can sell or trade throughout the year.

Root System /ro͞otˈsistəm/ – noun

November 6, 2019

Definition: The interconnected network of a vascular plant’s roots. There are two types of root systems: Taproot and Fibrous. In both systems, the roots anchor and support the plant in the soil; allowing it to absorb water, oxygen and nutrients.

In the Forest Garden: Farmers plant a variety of crops with taproot systems such as carrots and parsnips. Forest Garden farmers also plant crops and trees with fibrous root systems such as onions and banana trees. Planting a variety of these crops is essential for soil health and high crop yield.

Did You Know? The taproot system is common among Dicotyledon plants. In this system, a thick primary root or taproot develops from the radicle of a seed (the embryo) and grows deep in the soil while smaller, lateral roots sprout from it. The fibrous root system is common among monocotyledon plants. In this system, a large number of thin roots develop from the stem and grow downwards and outwards. Unlike the taproot system, roots in a fibrous root system can be underground or aerial.

Humus /ˈ(h)yo͞oməs/ – noun

October 30, 2019

Definition: The organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms.

In the Forest Garden: The organisms present in soil—earthworms, nematodes, protozoa, fungi, bacteria, and more—are vital to crop production as they eat and excrete organic matter in the soil, decomposing it into rich humus full of nutrients and minerals that can be absorbed by plants’ roots.

Did you know? Everything is better with humus because healthy soils yield healthy crops! Fertile soils teem with life, with more than a billion microorganisms in every handful.

Read our blog to learn more about the importance of healthy soil!

Micronutrient /mīkrōˈn(y)o͞otrēənt/ – noun

October 23, 2019

Definition:  A chemical element or substance required in trace amounts for the physiological health of living organisms such as calcium and potassium.

In the Forest Garden: Nutrition plays an integral role in designing a Forest Garden. By growing a variety of micronutrient-rich crops; farmers are able to diversify their diets and have increased access to vital nutrients such as iron, vitamin A & C.

On average, Forest Garden farmers cultivate 37 vegetable species, 14 fruit and nut tree species, and 21 agroforestry species across all of our projects each year! Together, these plants create a thriving ecosystem capable of providing families with sustainable food sources, livestock fodder and products to sell in their local markets.

Take a look at some of the nutrients farmers are getting on their land:

Did you know? Trees for the Future uses a robust monitoring and evaluation systems to ensure sustainable growth. Trees for the Future uses the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) survey to determine our participant farmers’ ability to access food. Below you will see the changes that occur over the course of our four-year program.

Read our Special Edition 30th Anniversary Impact Report to learn how trees are feeding families!

Impact /imˈpakt/ – verb

October 16, 2019

Definition: Trees for the Future defines impact as making sustainable change for our planet and its people.

Our latest Impact Report shows the incredible change our supporters are making for our environment and farming families.

Take a look for yourself to see how we are training farmers to use sustainable practices in agroforestry to transform the land, food systems, and truly end the cycle of poverty.

Did you know? The Forest Garden impacts the following:

Deforestation: The Forest Garden Approach reduces negative impacts on the planet by eliminating farmers’ dependence on forests for food, fuel and timber. Forest Gardens also decrease the use of destructive farming practices such as burning, clearing and plowing.

Desertification: Forest Gardens transform arid, desert-like fields into lush, sustainable, productive farms.

Carbon Sequestration: Forest Garden trees impact the planet by removing and storing carbon from the atmosphere. From 2018 – 2019, Trees for the Future Forest Gardens sequestered 653,936.4 metric tons of carbon!

Food Security: By educating smallholder farmers on agroforestry and permaculture, Forest Gardens provide a variety of nutritious foods for farmers to eat and sell.

Poverty: Forest Gardens are increasing incomes, economic opportunity, and are truly allowing families to escape poverty by providing knowledge to cope with the future.

Read our Special Edition 30th Anniversary Impact Report to learn about even MORE ways the Forest Garden Approach is making an impact.

Indigenous  /inˈdijənəs/ – adjective

October 9, 2019

Definition: A plant or animal species that originates or grows naturally in a particular country or region; native

In the Forest Garden: Trees for the Future works with local forestry specialists and Forest Garden farmers to identify the appropriate tree species for each Forest Garden. While Trees for the Future farmers plant a wide variety of plants and trees, most of the trees planted are either indigenous or naturalized to the given environment, meaning they already exist and grow in that country.

For Forest Garden farmers, the primary concern is not indigenous vs. non-native, but rather, of invasiveness. Whether a species is invasive or not is a complex issue; the same species may or may not be considered invasive, depending on local environmental conditions. Because of this complexity, Trees for the Future works with the communities themselves to identify the best tree species for each place we operate.

Did you know? Faidherbia albida also called Acacia albida is indigenous to many African countries and is commonly considered one of the best agroforestry trees for intercropping in fields and coppicing. 

Faidherbia albida Products:

  • Fodder: The leaves and pods are palatable and can provide an important source of protein for livestock in the dry season.
  • Wood: F. albida is commonly used for fuelwood. It does not make a great timber due to staining and twisting, but it is easy to work by hand.

Faidherbia albida Agroforestry Uses:

  • Shade and Shelter: F. albida is often used on farms to shade coffee as well as livestock in the dry season.
  • Reclamation: Its spreading root system offers excellent protection to the banks of rivers and streams.
  • Alley Cropping: Shedding its leaves in the rainy season, it provides nutrient-rich green fertilizer when crops need it most. Being leafless during the rainy season also reduces competition for sunlight with the crops. Repeated pruning during periods of average biomass production stimulates leaf production.
  • Dead and Living Fences: The thorny branches can be chopped off to form a dead fence, which is extremely important to place around a newly-planted living fence where there is risk of attack from roaming livestock. It also makes a great barrier for the outer row of a living fence.
  • Apiculture: It has the advantage of producing flowers at the end of the rains while most sahelian species flower before them, so can be used as a main source of bee forage at this time.

Learn more about agroforestry trees in Module 9: Popular Agroforestry Tree Species For more information on how we select tree species to plant visit,

Biodiversity /bīōˌ dīˈvərsədē/ – noun

October 2, 2019

Definition: An ecosystem or habitat populated by different species of plants, animals, insects and microorganisms.

In the Forest Garden: Trees for the Future farmers incorporate a wide variety of trees and plants in their Forest Gardens which serve to enrich the local biological diversity. Forest Gardens provide critical habitat functions for insects and animals especially in areas where there are few alternatives. The innate plant biodiversity of Forest Gardens also protects crops from devastating pests and disease outbreaks.

Did you know? A Forest Garden is a multi-layered agricultural system that is designed to resemble a forest ecosystem. One of the benefits of a Forest Garden is its ability to maintain insect and animal biodiversity, particularly in degraded landscapes. Healthy biodiversity in Forest Gardens provide many ecosystem services such as soil protection, nutrient recycling, pollution absorption and recovery from natural disasters. Thriving, biodiverse Forest Gardens also contribute to climate stability.

Forest Gardens can be divided into seven distinct layers:

  1. Canopy plants – which can be fruit or nut trees, timber species, or pioneer species that grow quickly and produce shade;
  2. Subcanopy plants – lower plants utilizing shade of the canopy plants, including coffee plants or small fruiting plants such as papaya and banana;
  3. Shrub plants – large bushes or tall annual crops
  4. Herbaceous plants – often edible and medicinal plants;
  5. Vining or climbing plants – plants that climb their way up subcanopy and canopy plants;
  6. Groundcover plants – shade and fertilize the soil, conserving moisture, adding nitrogen and organic matter, and preventing soil erosion;
  7. Underground or rooted plants – become nutrient pumps for the surrounding soil enhancing its fertility, and also often include root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, tubers, onions, etc.

Zero-grazing /ˈzirō,ˈɡrāziNG/ – noun

September 25, 2019 

Definition:  A method of raising animals that involves bringing fodder to them to eat rather than letting the animals graze freely.

In the Forest Garden: By implementing the regenerative agriculture practice called the Forest Garden Approach, farmers are able to provide a sustainable and nutritious food source for their families and their livestock. Farmers use fodder from trees in their Forest Gardens to feed their livestock, then return the livestock’s manure to the farmland to enrich the soil.

Did you know? Open grazing by domestic livestock causes soil erosion, damage to plant regeneration, and desertification. Desertification is occurring on a third of our planet and impact over a billion people.

Propagate /ˈpräpəˌɡāt/ – verb

September 18, 2019 

Definition: To produce or breed a new plant from the existing parent plant. Species can be propagated through direct seeding, cutting, layering, or grafting

In the Forest Garden: Trees for the Future farmers use propagation methods to accelerate and diversify fruit production in their forest gardens. Propagating trees, such as citrus trees, allows farmers to control fruit quality, quantity and increase a tree’s tolerance to climatic extremes. 

Did you know? Ungrafted or un-budded citrus trees will flower and fruit within five years after planting, if in adequate conditions, whereas grafted and budded trees can begin fruiting after one year.  

Living Fence – /ˈliviNG fens/ – noun

September 11th, 2019

Definition: A commonly-used agroforestry technology, generally composed of one to two rows of trees and shrubs densely planted around the perimeter of a field. The natural barrier of trees and shrubs protects the field from grazing animals and wind erosion. The species that make up a living fence can also produce tangible benefits such as food, fuelwood, fodder, and other raw materials. 

In the Forest Garden: Trees for the Future has developed a modification of living fences that is proving extremely effective and productive, called a green wall, which consists of three rows of trees and shrubs. 

Benefits of a living fence or green wall:

  • Mark boundary lines between farms and to separate or segment fields used for distinct purposes.
  • Protect and keep animals from intruding or straying.
  • Protect Forest Gardens from animal damage or theft.
  • Reduce erosion and wind damage.
  • Eliminate the cost of building and maintaining dead fences.
  • Produce useful products within border space that would otherwise be
  • Mitigate damage from termites, carpenter ants and dry rot, which are a continuous headache in maintaining dead wooden fences and posts.

Guild – /ɡild/ – noun

September 4, 2019

Definition: A guild is a grouping of plants, trees, animals, and insects that work together to help ensure their collective health and productivity. All of the components of a guild serve one or more functions that contribute to a healthy, natural environment. One component on its own may be weak, but the combination of all of them together adds to the overall strength and longevity of the web.

The 7 main components of a Forest Garden Guild:

  • Providers – plants that provide food and money, e.g. fruits, vegetables, grains, and timber.
  • Fertilizers – legumes that fix nitrogen into the soil.
  • Miners – deep rooted plants or tubers that open the soil and bring up nutrients from deep in the subsoil, releasing them as organic matter in the leaf litter.
  • Climbers – to take advantage of vertical space.
  • Supporters – plants that provide support for the climbers.
  • Cover crops – shallow-rooted, surface-level plants that cover the ground and shade and protect the soil, hold moisture, and control weeds.
  • Protectors – plants that protect your site and the crops within, e.g. insectary plants, aromatic pest confusers, and green walls.

Learn more about building guilds in Module 15: Optimizing the Understory of the Technical Manual.

Slash-and-Burn Agriculture
/slaSH/ – /and/ – /bərn/ /ˈaɡrəˌkəlCHər/  – noun

August 28th, 2019

Definition: A commonly used agricultural practice in which wild or forested land is clear cut and any remaining vegetation is burned to make room for farmer-planted crops.

Did you know? The resulting ash from the fires provides a somewhat nutrient-rich layer of matter that can benefit the crops planted within the next two or three years.

The problem: This layer of nutrients only lasts for a few seasons. After those nutrients are used up the farmer is left with nutrient-scarce, degraded land that is no longer usable. Farmers then abandon the land and move on to another forested area and continue the slash-and-burn process. This creates a cycle of deforestation and degrading soils for short-lived benefits. Additionally, fires can easily burn out of control, destroying much more vegetation than originally intended.

In the Forest Garden: Trees for the Future does not endorse slash-and-burn agriculture. Permaculture and agroforestry have proven to provide far more nutrients than the short-lived burst of nutrients created by burning. By working with the land instead of against it, Forest Garden farmers are able to benefit from trees and native biomass.

In the World: Slash-and-burn tactics are the reason for so many fires burning in the Amazon today. Keep an eye out on TREES’ social media channels for an in-depth look at these practices and alternative solutions.

Nematode – /ˈnēməˌtōd/ – noun

August 21st, 2019

Definition: An elongated and parasitic cylindrical worm found in animals, plants or free-living in soil or water. Nematodes are a pest commonly found in agriculture, and can be prevented using Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Ways to Prevent Nematodes:

  • Intercropping with Marigolds – Marigold roots repel nematodes and can be easily planted at the beginning of rain periods, with very little effort. Plant them on the bunds surrounding your permagardens and disperse them in beds or other parts of your Forest Garden with plants susceptible to nematode attacks. Most marigolds are prolific seeders, so the seeds collected from dead flowers can easily be replanted.
  • Crop Rotating – One of the best ways to avoid continuous nematode infection is to rotate crops susceptible to nematodes, never planting them in the same place continuously. Bananas and papayas, which are especially sensitive to nematodes, should never be planted in the same location as other susceptible crops or after removal.
  • Enriching Your Soil – Natural enemies of nematodes are generally present in healthy soils enriched with organic matter. Adding mulch and manure to cuvettes and keeping the soil around trees healthy and full is a strong preventative measure, and also helps the trees stay healthy so that their own defenses can protect them against nematode attacks. 

Find out more pest prevention methods in Module 16 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Diversification – /dəˌvərsəfəˈkāSH(ə)n/ – noun

August 14th, 2019

Definition: The practice of planting a variety of species on a plot of land to ensure maximum resiliency and return.

In the Forest Garden: Diversification is the second phase of the Forest Garden Approach where farmers will begin to plant higher-value vegetables, fruit, nut, and timber trees. They will also learn increasingly advanced skills and techniques that will help them manage their Forest Gardens more effectively and sustainably. Early on in the diversification segment, farmers learn to plant permagardens and fill them with diverse, nutritious vegetables. They will then learn to plant various fruit, nut, and timber trees as they proceed through the project in years two and three. 

Through training events and follow-up support, farmers’ Forest Garden knowledge and experience will increase gradually as they learn, practice, then adopt new and more advanced techniques and concepts. Generally, farmers will have participated in all of the relevant diversification phase training events and adopted the practices they learned to date. The approach then transitions to Phase III: Optimization.

Learn more about the diversification phase in Module 2 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Greenbreak – /ɡrēnˌbrāk/ – noun

August 7th, 2019

Definition: A wide strip of densely-planted trees that are specifically chosen for their high moisture content and lack of flammable biomass. When mature, the dense canopy of a greenbreak will help to minimize fire-prone undergrowth while the trees’ fire-resistant leaves and trunks will deter spreading flames. Succulent, shade-tolerant crops like banana, papaya, and root crops can also be planted under greenbreaks to create a barrier that will further suppress impending fires.

In the Forest Garden: The width of fuelbreaks varies broadly depending on the fire risk conditions, slope, and amount of flammable vegetation. Generally, the width of fuelbreaks should be between 12 and 35 meters; the greater the fire risk conditions, the greater the width. Three to four rows of densely planted fire-retardant trees and crops is generally a good amount. An easy to establish canopy that retains succulent, green foliage throughout the year without dropping flammable leaves is key.

Recommended Greenbreak Species:

  • Anacardium occidentale
  • Ficus elastica
  • Mangifera indica 

Learn more about greenbreaks in Module 8 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Apiculture – /ˈāpəˌkəlCHər/ – noun

July 31st, 2019

Definition: The technical term for beekeeping, or the occupation of owning and breeding bees for their honey. In addition to producing honey, bees serve an important purpose in a Forest Garden, where they pollinate trees and plants and keep them healthy until the harvest. Many crops are dependent on bee pollination for survival and growth.

The Economic Benefit: Beekeeping is a common pastime among the farmers we work with. Simon Peter and his son Odongo, farmers from Uganda, have taken a deep interest in beekeeping and now house six different hives on their land. They have melded traditional local practices with new research in order to build hives, welcome bees, and help them prosper. Read more about Simon and Odongo here.

In the Forest Garden:  The Albizia Lebbeck is a medium-sized deciduous tree which can grow to 15-20 meters tall. It has large flowers which attract bees, helping it flourish. This tree produces high-quality wood as well as fodder for animals, and is great for soil improvement. Without pollination and bees, it wouldn’t be able to provide all of its resources to farmers.

Learn more about what trees are great for bees in Module 9 of the Technical Manual.

Prune – /pro͞on/ – verb

July 24th, 2019

Definition: To trim or cut away parts of trees or shrubs in order to support tree growth and maintenance. Pruning can be quite technical and labor-intensive, requiring different practices and considerations depending on the species, variety, and climate. It must also be done regularly to increase production and reduce risk of disease.

Benefits of Pruning

  • Promotes healthy, vigorous growth by strengthening the root system and the branches you want to grow.
  • Encourages production by encouraging bud growth, which increases the quantity and quality of fruit and nut production.
  • Prevents and controls disease by identifying and pruning diseased branches early to maintain tree health.

In the Forest Garden: Make sure you always prune branches with a freshly sharpened, clean tool to ensure clean cuts and reduce damage and exposure to disease. You can use pruning shears, a knife, or a machete for smaller branches. For larger branches, it is best to use a saw to ensure a clean cut. You should never pull, twist, or rip branches off, even if you have already cut through the majority of the branch. This can tear the bark on the branch or stem that you are removing it from, leaving a large wound. When removing branches always cut them flush with the branch or stem from which they originate by keeping the flat side of the pruning tool flush against it as you make the cut.

Learn more about pruning techniques in Module 11 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Swale – /swāl/ – noun

July 17th, 2019

Definition: A long trench dug in the ground meant to catch runoff water, soil, and organic matter. Swales are often made in conjunction with berms, the soil removed to create the swale can generally be used to create a berm of earth on one or both sides of the swale. Berms and swales combined allow water to enter and remain in the landscape more evenly.

In the Forest Garden: A standard berm and swale is a long, low combination of the two that snakes across the contour of the Forest Garden site or surrounds a permagarden. This protects the uphill portion of land from fast-moving runoff and catches excess runoff on the downhill portion. Standard berms and swales allow for the most uniform collection of organic material across a Forest Garden site, and are commonly used in fields combined with alley cropping. They also create a guiding contour line that can be followed when ploughing in the early years of a Forest Garden.

Learn more about creating berms and swales in Module 15 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Understory – /ˈəndərˌstôrē/ – noun

July 10th, 2019

Definition: The layer of plants that make up the space beneath the canopy trees in a Forest Garden. The understory includes short trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines, and ground cover under the canopy. It provides a wide variety of products while also maintaining soil fertility, reducing moisture loss, and protecting against pests. By integrating understory plants into your Forest Garden, the farmer can diversify the timing of harvests to provide more frequent produce while further increasing the total productivity and sustainability of their site.

Benefits of a healthy  understory:

  • Reduces evaporation of water through the leaves and branches of plants, which conserves moisture in the plants and reduces water use

  • Protects from temperature extremes and fluctuations

  • Shields crops from winds

  • Suppresses invasive weeds, which tend to prefer open conditions and full sun

  • Supports a range of beneficial soil microbes that do not thrive in the open

Learn more about how to optimize the understory in Module 15 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Loam – /lōm/ – noun

July 3rd, 2019

Definition: Soil containing a balance of sand, silt and clay, plus humus and nutrient-rich materials. Loam is considered ideal for raising seedlings. It’s dark in color, and soft and crumbly in your hands. Loam holds water and nutrients well, but also allows for drainage and movement of air between soil particles and through the root zone.

In the Forest Garden: A perfect loam is not always easy to create, but Trees for the Future farmers   can get close by mixing the soils they have access to, along with some humus, compost, or dried manure, to provide nutrients for their seedlings.

Make Your Own: Try mixing 3 parts topsoil to 1 part humus-rich soil to 1 part sand.

Learn more about soil types and finding the right one for your seedlings in Module 5 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Anthracnose – /anˈTHrakˌnōs/ – noun

Photo courtesy of Rutgers University.

June 26th, 2019

Definition: Anthracnose is one of the most common fungus diseases that can affect the Forest Gardens we grow. The symptoms are similar across all infected tree species; it attacks branches, leaves, fruit, and sometimes young roots, eventually leading to the death of the tree. Anthracnose-infected leaves and fruit have small, round spots that are dark brown to black in color, holes can sometimes appear instead of spots.

In the Forest Garden: Anthracnose plagues mango trees the most, although it may also attack citrus, avocado and other species. When it attacks mangos, the extremities turn brown and the roots may dry up. The disease can also manifest itself as cankers on leaves, roots, and fruit.

Protecting Against Anthracnose:

  • Maintain well-drained soil, and do not allow ripening fruit to touch the soil.

  • Field sanitation is key; make sure your garden is well-cared for and that you catch anything before the fungus spreads too seriously.

  • Prune and burn all infected branches, leaves, and fruit. Don’t forget to prune with clean tools!

Learn more about common fungi and ways to protect against them in Module 16 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Cuvette – /kyü-ˈvet/ – noun

June 19th, 2019

Definition: A “cuvette” is a flat, circular area around a tree which is bordered by a small wall or ridge of soil, forming a basin. A single “cuvette” is made around newly planted seedling trees, while double “cuvettes” are made around adult trees.

Benefits of making and maintaining cuvettes:

  • Conserves and concentrates water at the root level. The walls of the cuvettes hold the water around the roots to avoid runoff.
  • Helps stabilize adult trees by promoting lateral root growth.
  • Aids in the prevention of disease, especially fungus disease, by not concentrating water at the base of the trunk.
  • Pest control, especially termites, by keeping mulch and fertilizer away from the trunk.

Learn more about this common agroforestry technique inModule 10 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Firebreak –  /ˈfī(-ə)r- brāk/ – noun

June 12th, 2019

Definition: A strip of land around a planting site that has been cleared of vegetation in order to reduce the risk of fire spreading to the protected area. By removing any vegetation and making the ground bare, fires are more likely to subside for lack of fuel once they reach the firebreak.

In the Forest Garden: A firebreak can be made by clearing a four-meter strip of vegetation around the planting site, leaving a space of vegetation about 12 meters wide, then clearing another four meter strip on the other side. The 12-meter strip in between the four-meter clearings should then be carefully control-burned. While firebreaks are very beneficial for fire suppression, they can also be problematic as they require existing vegetation to be removed, taking valuable land out of productivity and exposing soils to further degradation. We recommend the use of multipurpose fuelbreaks or greenbreaks that provide fire protection as well as useful products like food, fodder, timber and fuelwood.

Learn more about this common agroforestry technique in Module 8 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Cover Crop  /ˈkəvər kräp/

June 5th, 2019

Definition: A method used to reduce soil erosion and improve soil fertility.

In the Forest Garden: Forest Garden farmers use cover crops between widely spaced perennial crops such as fruit trees and coffee plants. By planting short-term, nitrogen-fixing legumes, farmers can ensure more nutrient rich soil. Cowpeas are often used as a cover crop because they are drought-resistant, provide biomass that can be used as green manure, and fix nitrogen – plus the peas can be harvested without affecting the soil.

Additional Benefits of Cover Crops:

  • Improved soil structure and soil fertility.
  • Reduced soil erosion and runoff.
  • Suppression of weeds.
  • Production of food and animal forage.
  • Improved soil moisture and reduced surface crusting.
  • Reduced fluctuations in soil temperatures.
  • Some cover crops can provide good cash income.
  • Cover crops can be a good alternative source of mulch, especially useful in semi-arid lands where crop residues are important animal feed.

Alley Cropping /ˈali krɒpiNG/

May 29th, 2019

Definition: Planting rows of widely spaced trees, allowing for enough space between each row (alleys) to plant additional crops. A method used to enhance soil fertility and reduce soil erosion caused by wind and water.

In the Forest Garden: Although timber and fruit trees are often used in alley cropping systems, Trees for the Future encourages Forest Garden farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to use fast-growing, multi-purpose agroforestry trees. These trees allow for greater soil stability, water availability, and soil fertility for the diverse trees and crops that are grown within the alleys. The trees must be pruned periodically during the growing season to prevent too much shade on the growing crops. The pruning also provides valuable biomass that can be used to provide nutrients to the Forest Garden.

Rose, a Kenyan Forest Garden Farmer, planted Pigeon Peas and used the alleyways to plant maize and beans. The Pigeon Peas fix nitrogen in the soil, plus Rose can harvest and sell the peas for profit.

Learn more about this common agroforestry technique in Module 8 of the Forest Garden Training Manual.

Cut-and-Carry Feeding – /kət-and-‘kerē/ – noun  

May 22nd, 2019

Definition: An alternative to “open grazing” when raising livestock. Farmers grow or forage livestock feed (cut) and bring the food to the animals (carry) rather than having them roam for food.

Cut-and-carry represents a smart, blended livestock management approach that is healthier for the animals, more profitable for the farmer, and better for the planet. The farmer can provide more high quality fodder for the animals like mulberry and caliandra (pictured).

In the developing tropics, families typically use walls, thorny branches, poles or multi-purpose living fences to keep cows, sheep, and goats enclosed. This keeps them from wandering and protects them from people, pests, diseases, and the hot sun.

Benefits of Cut-and-Carry Feeding:

  • More efficient use of available land
  • Improved gains and productivity
  • Reduced risk of damaging the ecosystem
  • Increased feed efficiency
  • Reduced input cost and replacement of costly animal feed
  • Healthier for animals with higher quality fodder readily available
  • Better disease management and protection
  • Efficient manure management
  • Increase quality of certain products such as meat and milk
  • Able to be implemented with 100% appropriate (i.e. locally available) technology

Side View Mapping – /sīd vyo͞o ˈmapiNG/ – noun  

May 15th, 2019

If you missed last week’s phrase, take a second to learn about Top View Mapping, because these two practices are best used in conjunction with each other.

Definition: A visual aid used to improve space utilization when planting. A side view map is a hand drawn picture of the different layers and heights of plants that grow on a farm. A side view map is helpful in identifying gaps to be filled with new and complementary plant species.

Synonym: Vertical Map

In the Forest Garden: Forest Gardens are strategically designed to fill space both horizontally and vertically. Creating tightly knit plants and tree groups that optimize the use of the vertical space available can substantially improve yields, even on small plots of land.

  1. Inform decisions about which trees, plants, and crops will best diversify the Forest Garden.
  2. Periodically evaluate and assess opportunities to better utilize and optimize the Forest Garden.

Learn more about side view mapping and how it’s implemented in Forest Gardens in Module 3 of the Forest Garden Technical Manual.

Top View Mapping – /täp vyo͞o ˈmapiNG/ – noun 

May 8th, 2019

Definition: Top view mapping is used to help create a diagrammatic representation of a farmer’s field and serves as a planning tool for farmers to identify how they can optimize the use of horizontal space in their field. The map is drawn to approximate scale and can be used to estimate the actual land area and border lengths.

Synonym: Horizontal Mapping

In the Forest Garden: To equip farmers with the perspective and information they need to fully utilize the horizontal land area available to them, a top view map should include:

  1. Farm boundaries
  2. Key physical features within the farm
  3. Neighboring features relevant to the farming of the land
  4. An arrow to indicate North that helps orient the map

Transplanting – /tran(t)sˈplant-iNG/ – noun  

May 1st, 2019

Definition: The technique of moving a plant from one location to another. Most often, transplanting consists of moving a plant started from seed in optimal conditions and replanting it in another growing location.

General transplanting tips:

Never handle plants by their stems – Stems are vital to a plant’s health. The stems on transplants tend to be soft and easily damaged. When transplanting try always to hold plants either by gently cupping the root ball from the bottom, or by holding them by the leaves which are no great loss to the plant if they get damaged.

Water directly before and after transplanting – Plants need water as soon as they are transplanted. Do not leave fresh transplants in the ground for longer than 15 minutes before watering. If you see that transplants begin to wilt, water them immediately.

Transplant in the early morning or late afternoon – The sun is hot, especially in the middle of the day. For increased transplant success, only transplant early in the morning, or late in the afternoon to give them time to establish before facing the heat.

Transplant on time – Transplanting too early means young plants are not hardy enough to handle the stress of transplanting. Transplanting too late means young plants have started to outgrow the nursery and run the risk of having their roots damaged as they are removed from one another.

Soil Amendment – /soil əˈmen(d)mənt/ – noun

April 24th, 2019

Definition: Any substance added to the soil to improve plant growth. Soil amendments can be used to add nutrients, enhance soil structure, improve water retention, protect plants’ roots against pests and disease, or change the soil pH level.

Amendments Used in the Forest Garden:

When working with highly degraded soils, amendments are needed to improve both the nutrient content and structure of soils.

Bone meal: Made from crushed bones, this slow-release soil amendment contains large amounts of phosphorus and calcium. Adding bone meal to the soil is a good long-term soil correction strategy for pH problems.

Biochar/charcoal powder: This purified form of organic carbon is most useful for water retention, as it can hold up to six times its weight in water. Additionally, charcoal is covered in micropores, which provide living space for beneficial bacteria in the soil.

Leaves (green and brown): Decomposing quickly due to their size, leaves are useful for quick nitrogen and carbon inputs. As we’ve discussed in the Forest Garden Technical Manual, leaves can be a very useful green fertilizer or mulch.

Manure: One of the most readily available soil amendments in rural farming communities, manure is heavily loaded with nitrogen and decomposers. Manure will slowly break down, releasing nutrients and slightly improving soil structure.

You can read more about soil amendments at

Hardening off – /ˈhärdn-iNG ôf/ – noun 

April 10, 2019

Definition: The process of gradually introducing seedlings and plants to new and unprotected environments. Seedlings grow accustomed to the conditions of the environment in which they are grown. Hardening off seedlings is essentially easing seedlings into an environment with harsher conditions than those they’ve known since sprouting.

It Depends on the Climate: In warmer climates, gradually removing shade and reducing watering prepares the seedlings for heat and dry conditions. In cooler climates, plants are often started indoors or in a greenhouse. Gradually bringing them outdoors in Spring will prepare them for the fluctuating temperatures and wind gusts they will inevitably face.

In the Forest Garden: Approximately one month from the start of the rainy season,Trees for the Future farmers gradually begin removing the shading materials from over their nursery beds. Initially removing shade for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, after three or four days, they reduce shade by another couple of hours. After two to three weeks, the seedlings will tolerate full sunlight with minimum shock. Farmers also gradually extend the time between watering periods until seedlings are capable of surviving a week or more without water.

Composting – /ˈkämˌpōst-iNG/ – noun

April 10, 2019

Definition: The process by which organic materials considered to be waste products are recycled and decomposed. Together, the organic materials create nutrient-rich, organic matter (compost) that helps fertilize soils.

5 key elements needed for composting:

  1. Carbon
  2. Nitrogen
  3. Air
  4. Water
  5. Bacteria

Did you know? Composting benefits go far beyond soil fertilization. Compost feeds an immense number of beneficial insects and microbes that in turn enhance the soil structure. These organisms burrow into the ground, creating networks of tunnels around the root systems of the plants, improving aeration and water infiltration. This allows for better root growth, enhances water drainage in clay soils, and improves water and nutrient retention in sandy soils.

In the Forest Garden
Once seeds are planted and the seed coats break down, compost in the soil will act like a sponge, absorbing the water and keeping it moist around the seed for a much longer time. This increases the speed of germination and the likelihood of the young seedling growing through periods of dry weather that would otherwise destroy the tender stems, roots and leaves.

Grafting – /ɡraft-iNG/ – noun

April 3, 2019

Definition: A common propagation technique used to increase productivity of a plant and the quality of its produce. An asexual propagation technique, grafting is done by joining the rootstock (lower portion) of one plant variety with the scion(upper portion) of another variety from a compatible species. The plant tissue of the rootstock and scion are joined together to establish a connection. It is important to correctly align the cambium layers (the growing tissue of plants) as this allows for the plants to become one, while still keeping the desirable characteristics of both.

Did you know? Typically, farmers will graft one variety with another but this does not always need to be the case. Once farmers have mastered the various grafting techniques, some will often graft multiple scions from 2 different compatible varieties to the same rootstock. The video below shows a grafted tree with limes, mandarins, and grapefruits all grown on the same rootstock.

Grafting techniques used in the Forest Garden Approach:
  • “T” Budding
  • Chip Budding
  • Side Graft
  • Topworking
  • Whip and Tongue Graft

You can see what these techniques look like and learn about each one at the Forest Garden Training Center.


Taproot – /ˈtapˌro͞ot/ – noun

March 27th, 2019

Definition: The largest, most central and dominant root of a primary root system. Developing from the radicle of a seed (the embryo), taproots are quick to grow directly down into the soil.  Typically very thick, taproots are the central root from which the remaining roots of the root system will sprout.

In the Forest Garden: While certain taproots make for some delicious vegetables, like carrots and turnips, some can be a serious challenge to transplant. Since taproots naturally grow directly downward, they often end up deeper in the soil than other plants’ root systems, so it is more difficult to uproot a taproot system. Root damage is likely to stunt or kill the plant, so it is vital for farmers to avoid damaging the root.

A-frame – /ā,ə frām/ – noun

March 20, 2019

Definition: A wooden structure resembling the letter “A” that is used to identify the contour lines on sloped land. By attaching a rock that hangs from a string at the top of the “A”, the frame serves as a “level” and can accurately mark off the contours on sloped land to ensure that the rows of vegetation are planted at a uniform elevation.

In the Forest Garden: In order for farmers to benefit from contour planting, it is essential that they are able to accurately identify contour lines. If a farmer incorrectly marks the contours lines in his/her field, runoff can build up and flow along the vegetation, potentially causing more erosion than would normally happen, even without contour planting. To ensure farmers are contour planting correctly, they learn how to construct and calibrate the A-frame before going out into their field to mark contour lines.

Want to build your own? 
Here is what you’ll need:

  1. Two 1.5 to 2 meter sticks or poles about 3 to 5 cm in diameter (wood, bamboo, plastic, or any other light-weight, sturdy material)
  2. One 1 to 1.5 meter stick of the same material
  3. Three nails, or 2 meters of twine/string for binding the wood together
  4. One 1.5 meter piece of twine/string for the level
  5. One round rock, about 5 cm in diameter

Learn how to build and use an A-frame here.

Contour Planting – /ˈkänˌto͝or plant-iNG/ – noun

March 13th, 2019

Definition: A method or technique of planting vegetation (annual or perennial crops) on sloped land to reduce erosion and increase water retention and groundwater supply. To conserve water and reduce soil erosion, rows of vegetation must be planted from side to side, perpendicular to the slope and at an even elevation.

In the Forest Garden: It is extremely important for farmers to use contour planting whenever they are working on sloped lands. If a farmer plants their rows in the direction of the slope (top to bottom), as opposed to perpendicularly, heavy rains will flow unimpeded down the slope, displacing essential topsoil, water, and seeds.

Farmers also see the benefits of contour planting when it comes to labor. By planting the rows from side to side on the slope, rather than top to bottom, farmers are able to work more efficiently, significantly reducing the amount of effort/work needed for watering, planting, weeding and more.

Naturalized Plant /ˈnaCH(ə)rəˌlīzd plant/ – noun

March 6, 2019

Definition: A plant that is not originally native to an area, but has been introduced and planted to such an extent that it no longer needs human help to reproduce or maintain itself overtime.

In the Forest Garden: Farmers must be careful when deciding which naturalized plants grow in their field. While it may be less labor intensive to have plants and trees grow in your field with little to no care necessary, certain naturalized species known as invasive species become harmful and disrupt healthy ecosystems like Forest Gardens. A common example of this is Imperata cylindrica, also called ‘kunai grass’, native to east and southeast Asia, it is often used to cover the roofs of traditional homes and planted near beaches to stabilize soil and reduce erosion. Once introduced across Europe and Africa, its small, easily dispersed seeds quickly began to spread, eventually outcompeting native plants and animals for natural resources.

Today, regions and countries have protections in place to keep species from being introduced in places where they will quickly become invasive. Forest Garden practitioners only introduce naturalized plants that provide a variety of beneficial products and agroforestry uses without outcompeting native plants for resources and upsetting the ecosystem.

Beneficial Naturalized Trees in the Forest Garden

Moringa oleifera

Origin: Northwestern India


  • Food: Leaves are most often cooked in sauces or prepared similarly to cabbage or spinach, and are very high in Vitamin A & C, calcium, protein, iron, potassium, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals
  • Wood: Soft, spongy wood is very coppiceable but really only used for light construction work or for fuelwood when little else is available.

Agroforestry Uses:

  • Soil Improvement: The green leaves make a useful mulch, and the press cake left after oil extraction from the seeds can be used as a soil conditioner or fertilizer.
  • Living Fence: Straight trunks make good living fence posts. Seeds germinate and cuttings take root easily, and are used particularly around houses and gardens to provide both protection as well as an easily-accessible food source.

Read about the other beneficial fruit and agroforestry trees used in the Forest Garden Approach in Module 6: Fruit Trees and Module 9: Popular Agroforestry Trees.

Perennial /pəˈrenēəl/ – noun

February 27, 2019

Definition: A plant with a life cycle lasting more than two years. A perennial plant can bloom, flower, and/or fruit, but perennials do not die at the end of a growing, instead, the plants go dormant until the proper conditions to re-sprout are met and the next growth cycle can begin.

It is important to note that perennials will achieve dormancy at different stages, for example, deciduous perennials will shed all of their leaves but keep their branching structure while herbaceous perennials (like the tomato plant pictured) will die to the ground, leaving nothing but the roots to re-sprout. There are four main types of perennials: Evergreens, deciduous perennials, semi-deciduous perennials, and herbaceous perennials.

Perennial, Annual, & Biennial Plants: It’s all about the life cycles!
Different plants have different life cycles, some can last for decades while others last only a year. Those plants whose life cycles end after one year, are known as annual plants. Another plant category defined by the length of the life cycle is biennial, biennial plants are limited to a life cycle of two years before dying. As previously defined, plants with a life cycle longer than two years are perennial plants.


Earthwork  /ˈərTHˌwərk/ – noun

February 20, 2019

Definition: A type of soil and water conservation technique made of physical barriers constructed from soil and stone to control, slow, and/or stop the movement of water and soil.

Benefits include:

  • Maximize water absorption on a landscape
  • Control and direct the flow of water
  • Capture topsoil and organic material
  • Stabilize sloped land

In the Forest Garden: A common earthwork technique farmers use is a boomerang berm – A semi-circle or half-moon shaped berm that is placed around an established tree to to capture water specifically within the tree’s root zone. You can establish a series of boomerang berms so that the overflow from one berm descends into the catchment area of a downsloping berm.

Learn more about boomerang berms and other earthwork techniques at the Forest Garden Training Center.

Subscribe to the Agroforestry Word of the Week to get words like this straight to your inbox every Wednesday.

Windbreak /ˈwin(d)brāk/ – noun

February 13, 2019

Definition: A barrier of tall and short trees or shrubs planted to slow the movement of wind at crop level and divert the force of the wind to higher altitudes. Planting multiple rows along a field or garden minimizes the amount of moisture winds evaporate from the soil and blocks winds from disturbing crops and eroding topsoil.

In the Forest Garden: When farmers establish windbreaks to protect their Forest Gardens from strong winds, one of the most important considerations they must account for is spacing. Windbreaks are designed to slow, but not completely stop the wind from penetrating the field, if a farmer spaces his rows of trees and shrubs too densely, the barrier creates strong air currents above the field that will damage crops and erode soils. A proper windbreak should be 50% permeable. At the same time, farmers must also make sure that they leave no major gaps when spacing out their windbreaks as this can create tunnels of high-velocity winds that could devastate a field.

When done correctly, a windbreak can protect for a lateral distance of up to ten times the height of the tallest trees. So five-meter-tall trees provide protection extending 50 meters beyond the tree line, as long as the windbreak is uniform in height and spacing among trees.

Windbreaks vs. Living Fences: A windbreak is not part of a living fence. The living fence is typically smaller and surrounds the entire perimeter of a Forest Garden. A windbreak includes taller trees and is usually built on the side of the field receiving damaging winds.

Learn more about windbreaks, their design, and how to care for them over at the Forest Garden Training Center.

Thinning /THiniNG/ 

February 6, 2019

Definition: The removal of weaker plants or trees to decrease competition for resources (space, sunlight, nutrients, water) and allow for a more healthy and vigorous growth.

In the Forest Garden: Although it may seem counterproductive to remove plants from the soil, it is a necessary practice in agroforestry and Forest Gardens. Initially, trees are planted in close proximity to one another, but as they grow they encroach on one another and ultimately begin competing for important resources like space (both above and below ground), sunlight, water, and nutrients. By removing the weaker, less promising trees when things get too crowded, farmers give the remaining plants a chance to thrive more than either would have if left to compete for resources. We most commonly see farmers use thinning in living fences, like the one seen here. 

Farmers begin thinning as early as the germination phase. If more than one seedling sprouts in the same planting hole, the surplus growth is removed. Farmers planting timber trees often wait up to six years or until the canopy is filled out before thinning out the weaker trees.

Thinning vs. Pruning: Certain agricultural approaches consider thinning to include removing weaker branches or underperforming fruits to encourage more vigorous and healthy growth, but the Forest Garden Approach refers to this practice as pruning. We’ll be sure to feature pruning as a Word of the Week in the future, but you can jump over to the Forest Garden Training Center to learn more today.

Scarification /skar-uh-fi-key-shuh n/ – noun

January 30, 2019

Definition: A method of seed pretreatment that nicks the protective seed coat to promote faster seed germination. It is a frequently used method when dealing with species with hard seed coats. By lightly scraping or scratching the edge of the seed coat, scarification allows for water to penetrate and activate the germination process. It is important to not scarify seeds on the hilum as this is where the roots and cotyledons will first sprout, damage to this area can prevent a seed from germinating.

In the Forest Garden: Farmers in our Forest Garden Programs are always encouraged to pretreat their seeds by one method or another (read about the other methods here) before sowing their seeds in the nursery. Seeds remain in a dormant state until the germination process is triggered, but if left to trigger naturally, seeds may germinate at different times and speeds. By scarifying their seeds, farmers send a trigger for the germination process to begin, this ensures that all of the seeds will germinate and be ready to be outplanted from the nursery at the same time.

Crop Rotation /kräp  rōˈtāSH(ə)n/ – noun

January 23, 2019

Definition: Alternating the types of crops grown on a piece of land over time to ensure a nutrient-rich and healthy soil. 

In the Forest Garden: Did you know Forest Garden farmers have the choice of rotating their crops by type or by family? Check out our Permagardening Year-Round Module to discover all of the different crop types and families.  

Crop Type – When rotating crops by type, the rule of thumb is for the rotation cycle to be based on the part of the plant that is eaten, from leafy greens, fruiting vegetables, roots, and legumes. 

Family – There are many varieties of vegetables that belong to many different families, rotating crops by which family they belong to ensures that a variety of nutrients circulate through the soil to encourage more healthy and vigorous growth.


Companion plants /kəmˈpanyən plant/ – noun

January 16, 2019

Definition: Plants that grow more successfully or with greater yields when cultivated in the same location than when grown separately.

Example: The Three Sisters is a combination of maize, pole beans, and squash within the same growing space. The Three Sisters works because it combines plants that have characteristics that are mutually beneficial to each other, companion plants. The maize provides a structure for the beans on which to climb. The beans provide nitrogen to the soil that the other plants need and the spreading squash plant create a living mulch by blocking sunlight, reducing soil temperatures, and minimizing moisture loss and weed growth.

Agroforestry Tree  /ˌaɡrōˈfôrəstrē trē/ – noun  

January 9, 2019

Definition: A tree that is purposefully grown to provide more than one significant contribution to the environment or people’s livelihoods.

Synonym: Multipurpose tree

Example: A popular agroforestry tree is the Sesbania spp. known for its many benefits. Farmers often use it for:

  • Alley Cropping: Sesbania is easy to establish, it grows rapidly, and coppices readily, providing high-nutrient mulch and making it a promising tree for alley cropping.
  • Soil Reclamation: It is commonly planted on fallow land because of its fast growth and nitrogen-fixing characteristics. Harvested leaves and stems make a rich compost or green fertilizer.
  • Wood: Highly coppicable, it is a popular source for fuelwood and charcoal because it produces a high amount of woody biomass in a short time which, although soft, is relatively smokeless, quick kindling, and hot burning.


Permaculture /ˈpərməˌkəlCHər/ – noun –

January 2, 2019

Definition: A contraction of ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’, permaculture refers to the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable, long-lasting, and self-sufficient. By recreating healthy, natural ecosystems, permaculture harnesses the beneficial relationships between different organisms.

Synonym: Sustainable Polyculture

In the Forest Garden: Each Forest Garden is strategically planted with a variety of species that benefit from one another in many ways. Much like the different layers of a jungle, from root plants to canopy plants, the species within a Forest Garden work together to form a thriving environment on each farmer’s land, making a Forest Garden one of the most productive permaculture systems.

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