Food Forest part 3: Meet the trees


Greetings everyone,

In the last two posts I outlined the idea for the food forest and how we prepared the field. In this post i’ll go over the trees that we added  to the food forest. This will include the long term species that we hope will live for a long time and the other species that are helping the land but may not last more than a year or two.

We have many species that serve many functions: provide food, fix nitrogen in the soil, drop leaf matter that will decompose, provide a windbreak or aerate soil with deep roots.  I’ll use the common names that I know but will also provide the scientific names that I remember. Apologies for any mistakes I make about the trees, i’m going off memory, let me know if any of the information is incorrect or you have advice regarding any of these trees.

In the spirit of farm humility and honesty i’ll also include what trees got sick, were eaten or died during the first few months in the food forest. We’re definitely still learning what works out here in Gambia so I’ll share what we found. Luckily, with farming, we’ll always be learning.

So, let’s introduce you to what’s happening in here:

First up is the mother of Africa: Baobab. This tree provides fruit to eat, leaves for sauces, bee fodder, rope, a tobacco substitute and red dye. It is also very important culturally. This tree truly symbolizes Africa. It’s also drought tolerant and grows well in any soils.


These our the 51 eucalyptus trees we planted for a winbreak. We planted them on the eastern side of the food forest as that’s where the strong ‘harmattan’ winds will come from in a couple months. According to our manuals and books, livestock do not eat these trees, maybe the minty taste is unpleasant. However, all of these trees leaves were stripped in the first week. I’m guessing it was goats. We’re not sure if they’ll live.


Yellow cassia has yellow flowers that provide bee fodder, leaves are unpalatable to cows and it grows fast. This cassia was big when we transferred it (maybe 4 feet) and we thought it would be fine but it ended up getting sick and dying. So we put a new smaller cassia in there that is doing better.


We tried a few cuttings as well: on the left is a leucaena cutting and on the right is a gliricidia cutting (mother of cacao). The leucaena was a last ditch effort and ended up dying a couple weeks later. The mother of cacao is still alive but I think will definitely die during dry season.


Fast growing, good for timber, great animal fodder and drought tolerant: gmelina/malayna (white teak). This tree started well, then the leaves turned black and dropped, then new growth came and it’s going strong. Maybe the outplant hole was too “fresh” with amendments (compost, manure, biochar, oystershell, wood ash, etc.)


Sesbania grandiflora (agati) grows extremely fast, fixes nitrogen, doesn’t interfere with nearby growing crops and tolerates a large variety of soils. This tree looks bad because a goat jumped into the food forest and ate it. Now, just 2 months later its 8′ tall.


Grafted mango, “Kent” variety. This is our underdog of the farm; it’s growing so well, it got the largest outplant hole (1m wide x 1.1m deep) and will provide the quickest and best food (delicious mangos within 2-4 years). We’re really hoping this survives the 8 month dry season, and even if it looks like its dead, we’re hoping it comes back to life when it rains again. I told my counterpart “do not water this mango! we gotta see if 1 rainy season and the big outplant hole is really enough to keep it alive.” We’ll miss this guy if he goes.


Sweet sop – provides nice fruit in 2-3 years, tolerates wide range of soil. This one actually died about 2 months into the rainy season (termites were eating it) . We replaced it with another sweet sop tree.


Tallow tree. This tree is in the back corner because it’s going to become a huge tree! It’ll provide fruit and tons of shade because of it’s large canopy. We had a tough call to make with this one; as you can see it’s forked, a big Y, so 1 month into the rainy season we pulled it out and replaced it with another tallow that had a single straight trunk. It was a nervous day of tree surgery transplant but it worked out really well – we relocated this tallow and now the new one is growing taller and stronger.


Guava will put fruit out in 2-3 years, is drought tolerant and provides bee fodder.


This is delonix regia if i remember correctly, we call it flambouyant. It grows really fast and is a nice ornamental with red flowers, nice wide canopy and big seed pods used in local art (to make shaker musical instruments).


This tree is a beast: this is our mother of cacao (gliricidia) that we planted from seed. We’d been nursing this one for 3 months before we outplanted it. This tree is growing extremely fast (10-15cm each week). This tree provides bee fodder, fixes nitrogen, and grows a lot of leaf biomass for animals to eat or to ‘chop and drop’ onto your field. They call this tree ‘quick stick’ as well as you can take cutting, put them in the ground, and they’ll grow into fence posts practically. This tree is used to provide nitrogen and shade to cocoa and coffee as well, hence the name mother of cacao.


Moringa. We put moringa in the alleys to fix nitrogen but we also thought we’d give it a big outplant hole to see how it could grow when given lots of space. Eat the leaves, eat the seeds, purify water, feed animals, feed bees, fix nitrogen, tolerate drought, grow fast, lubricate your squeaky door with the seed oil – this tree does it all.


Desert date (“sumpo” in mandinka). This tree is extremely drought tolerant (needs only 200-400mm rain/year). In Gambia we get 800-1000mm a year so we think this one will definitely survive.


I know this tree as “lenko.” This tree was given to me by ‘friends of nature’ here in the gambia; they are an NGO that provides indigenous trees for free to people that will outplant them. Apparently lenko was common in Gambia but not anymore, and these trees had to be brought in from Guinea. It’s growing pretty well and people know that it’s a great tree for construction timber.


This is our “seed leucaena” because we nursed this one from seed and gave it a big outplant hole to grow up in. Our other leucaenas were not nursed as carefully and put directly in the dirt (no prepared outplant hole). This tree is great! It’s drought tolerant, is growing extremely fast (4-6″ per week), fixes nitrogen, provides bee fodder, and provides food for animals or humans. This tree also got eaten by a goat in it’s first week in the food forest. So it had a slow start but is now taller than me.


Ironwood (mandinka “kembo”) tree. We put two of these in our food forest, this one ended up dying but the other one 40 meters away is doing great. Same sun, rain, outplant hole etc. – so, who knows what happened? Gambians use this tree for firewood, to make charcoal or build with as the wood is really strong. Interestingly, the tree provides food (edible flowers) and fixes nitrogen.


This is our only soursop tree in the food forest. It’s growing well and should fruit in 2-3 years if it survives the dry season. The leaves of soursop smell peppery and are shiny (it’s sweetstop relative leaves are dull and don’t smell).


Doesn’t look like much, but this tree has come a long way in the last few weeks. This is our other big boy in the back corner: african mahoghany (mandinka “jallow”). This tree is great for timber, bee fodder, is drought tolerant and grows huge! The canopy can be 30 meters wide.


Indian Jujube provides food, is drought tolerant and grows fast. We have 3 of these in the food forest and they are doing well. The tree also looks nice.


This is the controversial “bush mango.” Some people love it some people hate it. I once gave bush mango fruit to my host father as a gift and he said “our people don’t eat this!” It’s often cooked and eaten like a meat replacement of sorts. We wanted to try one in the food forest here because its native to Africa and gives us more diversity and food.


So that takes care of our big trees. We hope those trees shown above will survive the heat, grow tall, produce food for us and the bees and compete to fill out a nice canopy in the next 10 years. That’s the dream.

Next, i’ll go over some of the other support species in the food forest: nitrogen fixers in the alleys, live fencing trees and soil stabilizers.

We put 100+ acacias around the inside perimeter of the fence. This is one of them: acacia nilotica (gum arabic tree). These trees are growing very fast and will fix nitrogen, provide bee fodder, keep animals out with its thorns, are drought tolerant and you can brush your teeth with the twigs.


We tried a few big leucaena cuttings in the alleys. Here you can see the main cutting on the right and the new sprout and branch on the left. This cutting survived and is growing very fast. One thing we’ll have to see is if the cutting is blown down in the wind; whereas a tree grown from seed develops a dominant taproot to support it, cuttings roots grow more laterally which makes them less stable. Either way, it’s cool to see that you can cut a tree branch off, plant it, and have a 1 meter tall tree growing in a couple weeks.


We also put leucaena seedlings in the alleys to help us fix more nitrogen.


This is apple ring acacia (faidherbia albida). This tree is really important in sub-sahara africa because it’s often the only tree that provides animal fodder. It’s extremely drought tolerant thanks to the long tap root that develops before it grows above ground (tap roots can reach 30m underground). This tree helps our live fence.


This is sesbania bispinosa (prickly sesban). This tree grows to 3 meters tall in 4 months, fixes nitrogen, doesn’t compete with nearby plants, can be used for firewood, suppresses weed growth around it, provides seeds for collection in 6 months. Our prickly sesban is the top performer in the food forest: tallest, fastest, widest and toughest (none have died). This type of sesbania will die within the year though. Still, for quicky annual alley crop nitrogen fixing, this tree is tough to beat.


Grass like vetiver sends roots deep to stabilize and aerate soil, as well as provide a low windbreak. Pigeon pea grows quick, provides food, fixes nitrogen and is also a windbreak. Notice that this row is planted very tightly with vetiver and pigeon pea. We put this row closest to the east side of the food forest as this will serve a dual purpose: fix nitrogen and provide a windbreak for everything behind it.


Ok, that wraps up the introduction. Did you meet everyone? Do you remember everybody’s names and what they do for a living? Ok, thank you for checking in, post comments or questions below. -stephen

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