Food Forest and Climate Garden

Here’s a link to a guide to our Food Forest, and beginnings of our Climate Change Monitoring Garden

Creation of a “Food Forest,” i.e., a perennial edible landscape in connection with the UMBC Garden with the inclusion of plants that can be incorporated into a Climate Change Monitoring Garden, for citizen science and K12 partnering opportunities later.  The UMBC Garden is expanding its work to include an edible, perennial landscape in accordance with permaculture or agro-ecological practices wherein the growing of food-producing plants is incorporated into a heterogeneous community of plants that regenerates without annual replanting or inputs. The space typically includes plants that are food producing and which support overall ecological function (e.g., native pollinators, or nitrogen fixing plants).  This space will include plants that are included in “Climate Change Monitoring Garden” which we hope will be a part of a national network of such gardens (led by the Chicago Botanical Garden). Students engaging with this project will also research how this garden can be connected with other departments and researchers at UMBC and with K12 educational partners. Students working on this project will collaborate with the BOP fruit tree nursery in the UMBC Biology Greenhouse learning about propagation, planting, and maintenance of fruit trees and bushes, and preparing and planting them in the edible landscape garden.


Permaculture-(Permanent culture) or (Permanent Agriculture) “is the conscious design and maintenance of cultivated ecosystems which have the diversity sustainability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape, people, and appropriate technologies, providing food, shelter, energy, and other material needs in a sustainable way.” Bill Mollison

David Holmgren- “Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber, and energy provision of local needs. People their building and the ways in which they organize themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision or permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.”

In creating the Food Forest on the UMBC campus the project seeks to create a long term source of food, medicine, fuel, education, and habitat for a range of different species. The creation of the food forest will provide healthy food for students on campus and for the surrounding non-UMBC community. The food forest will feed students, teachers, faculty, and community members for many years (Some food forests have proven to produce food for hundreds of years). The main issues this project will address are food security, building community resilience, and decreasing the community’s need for outside food and fertilizer. Food forest will provide healthy food access on campus for the UMBC community and non community members while promoting the most ecologically sustainable model for food production.  

Project Goals/Objectives 

  • Design and implementation of a food forest.
  • Hands on experience in building soil, starting seeds, planting, and mushroom inoculation.
  • Create a food forest that will function as an educational resource and sanctuary for all living things.
  • Students will be able to justify ecological, social, and cultural justifications for this type of cultivation.
  • Acquisition of skills in how to create and develop management plan for perennial food garden to various audiences.
  • Students will leave with the confidence and skills to develop and design perennial gardens for your own community or personal projects.

Associated Learning Objectives

  • Students will learn basics in permaculture design and the ethics and principals associated with it.
  • Gain an understanding of Ecology.
  • Soil science
  • Composting
  • Mushrooms
  • Plant propagation

Actual or potential partners/collaborators

  • The Garden
  • True Greens
  • New Roots Garden
  • INDS department
  • Greater UMBC community
  • Village farmers market
  • Alumni
  • Students interested in research
  • K-12 schools in surrounding area

Current and potential stakeholders or interested parties (both on and off campus)

  • UMBC community
  • The Garden

 Skills and knowledge that will be useful to the project

  • Gardening experience
  • Communication skills
  • Biology, ecology, landscape architecture, chemistry, and GIS experience
  • Visual arts (Graphic design)


Resources (books, AV, people) for the project

  • Farming the Woods by Steve Gabriel and Ken Mudge
  • UMBC landscape manager- Donna Anderson


Budget and budgetary considerations

  • The Garden will be providing funding for plant materials.


Probable communication/outreach needs and opportunities

  • Communication and outreach to local community and schools.
  • Opportunities in providing food for local farmers markets and on campus.


Preliminary needs and issues concerning the long-term sustainability of the project

  • Main concerns are in finding students that can be care takers for the food forest for years to come.


Likely or possible challenges this project may encounter

  • Food Forest will not be fully productive for at least 5-10 years.
  • Designing and implementation of a food forest is hard work!!

Here is a guide to what we planted this semester, spring 2015: 

UMBC Food Forest Plant List and Guide

* Planted by INDS 430, Creating Food System Justice, April-May 2015; Guide created by Dominic Costas.

American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

Mature height: 65 feet

Mature width: 25-25 feet

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Rich well drained soil.

The American Persimmon is a mighty tree that is native to the eastern United States and has been in cultivation for its fruit and wood for many years by Native Americans. Persimmons have what is known as dioecious flowers, which means that each tree is either male or female. We have two trees in the food forest, but at this point it is impossible to tell if we have a male and a female. Persimmons don’t produce fruit until they are about 6 years in age. After the 6-7 year if the trees don’t bear fruit, the trees will have to be hand pollinated, or even a better, another Persimmon will be planted within a mile radius. I have seen other persimmon trees on campus, so I am convinced we will get cross pollination.

Persimmon may be propagated by root cuttings and grafting. Root cuttings 6 to 8 in long and about 0.3 in in diameter can be used provided the ends are sealed with wax to prevent rot. Older twigs may be used similarly. They can be buried in sand or wrapped in wet newspaper until ready to plant. Ideally are native persimmons in the food forest can be grafted with better tasting and more plentiful fruit production varieties. For how to graft persimmon trees see here ( This is also a great source to learn how to graft trees in general.

Harvesting Persimmons:

Our Persimmons are of the astringent variety unless grafted. The best time to harvest is when the fruit is loose on the tree and easily falls to the ground or after an early frost. However, since there is much competition from wildlife for the fruit and it easily bruises, the fruit is often harvested before peak ripeness and is allowed to ripen at room temperature.

To harvest fruit, cut from the tree with hand pruners or a knife, leaving a small stem attached to the fruit. Unlike fruits that can be stacked, persimmons cannot handle a lot of weight and will bruise easily. If you put too many on top of each other, they will crush the ones on the bottom. Astringent persimmons will continue to ripen off of the tree when they are kept at room temperature. They will be very soft when they are ripe.

  Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Mature height: 15 feet

Mature width: 10 feet

Light: full sun to partial shade

Soil: Rich well drained.

I can’t even begin to explain the magic that is Elderberry. For a full detailed description of all the amazing benefits and uses of elderberry check this web page out

Elderberries are a bit tart and are mostly used in pies, jellies, and jams. They are occasionally used in winemaking. The flowers of Elderberry flower in late June. Flowers are delicious when dipped in a batter and fried. The flowers also make a nice tea.  Elderberries contain more phosphorus and potassium than any other temperate fruit crop. The fruit is also rich in vitamin C. 
How to Prune: Elderberries send up many new canes each year. Within the first season these canes reach their full height. Flowers and fruit develop on the tips of the current season’s growth, often on the new ones. In the third or fourth year, canes become weak and should be cut back. In late winter to early spring while the plants are dormant, remove all dead, broken or weak canes, plus all canes more than three years old.

How to harvest: Harvest elderberry fruit in late August through early September. When ripe, the entire cluster should be removed and the berries stripped from the cluster for use. Uncooked berries have a dark purple juice and are astringent and inedible. Use the fruit as soon as possible or keep it at a cool temperature for later use. It is difficult to transport elderberries because the fruits fall off the cluster.

 Paw Paw (Asimina triloba)

Mature height: 25-35 feet

Mature width: 5-10 feet

Light: Partial shade to full shade.

Soil: Rich well drained soil.

Pawpaw fruits are rich in fatty acids, the major one being octonate.

The pawpaw commonly grows in floodplains and shady, rich bottomlands, where it often forms dense undergrowth in the forest, often appearing as a patch or thicket of individual small slender trees but really is all one clone. Paw paw flowers are insect-pollinated, but fruit production is sometimes limited as few if any pollinators are attracted to the flowers. The flowers smell similar to rotting meat which attracts flies and beetles for pollination. In the garden in will be necessary for hand pollination. On how to hand pollinate and all other Paw Paw questions see   The fruits of the pawpaw are also eaten by a variety of mammals including raccoon’s foxes, opossums, squirrels, and black bears. Fruits are delicious and take on a mango/banana/custard flavor with an avocado-like texture!!

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

Mature height: 10-25 feet

Mature width: 10-15 feet

Light: Sun to partial shade

Soil: Moist well drained soil.

The fruit of serviceberry are excellent to eat raw, tasting somewhat like a blueberry, with a strong almond taste from their seeds. Propagation is by seed, divisions, and grafting. Serviceberry is easily grafted and other better tasting cultivars can be grafted onto the existing root stock. See

Fruit is harvested locally for pies and jams. The wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. The wood can be used for tool handles and fishing rods. Native Americans used it for arrow shafts.

Ecological benefits provided by the serviceberry are infinite. Its fruits provide wildlife of all kinds with food.


Hazelnut (Genus Corylus) (Barcelona and Filbert)

Mature height: 15 feet

Mature width: 10 feet

Light: full sun to partial shade.

Soil: Rich, slightly acidic soil, well drained.

Unlike other fruiting trees, the hazelnut tree blooms and pollinates in the middle of winter. Wind carries the pollen from catkins (male flowers) to small red female flowers, where pollination occurs. The flowers remain inactive until spring, when fertilization completes and the nuts begin to develop.

All varieties of hazelnuts require cross-pollination in order to produce nuts, so every planting requires two or more varieties.  We have filbert and Barcelona cultivars in the garden.

Hazelnut trees should be in nut production when they are about 6 years old, and well managed trees should remain active for 40 years or more.

The nuts mature during the summer months (turning in color from green to hazel) and are harvested in late summer and early autumn when the nuts fall to the ground within a short period. The nuts are harvested by shaking the tree vigorously and then picking the nuts up from the ground.

For all things Hazelnut care, including pruning, harvesting, pest control, and fertilizing see


Fig  (Genus- Ficus. Species-Unknown)

Mature height: 25-30 feet (If not pruned)

Mature width: 15-20 feet (If not pruned)

Light: Full sun

Soil: Rich well drained soil

Be careful not to have too much nitrogen in the soil. With regard to fig tree maintenance, fig in the garden should be fertilized annually. Since the soil has been amended it is in rich loamy soil, so not much fertilizer will be needed. Fertilizer should be applied when the buds swell.

Good fig tree care requires some pruning. See  However, fig trees don’t require much. The fig should be pruned in late winter just before growth begins so the tree isn’t injured.

Harvesting the figs can be done as soon as the fruit is softening. Figs are not tasty until they are ripe, so they will need to stay on the tree until fully ripe.  Figs will stop ripening once they are removed from the tree. You can store them in the refrigerator for a week or two until you are ready to use them in recipes or eat them.

American cranberry (Viburnum trilobum)

Mature height: 6-12’

Mature Width: 6-12’

Light: Sun to part shade

Soil: prefers loam soils, prefers a ph of 6.6-7.5.

Description: American cranberrybush is a durable and easy-to-grow plant throughout most of Maryland because of its hardiness and its ability to grow across a range of soil pH and moisture conditions. Other uses in the landscape include foundation planting and as a specimen plant in autumn landscapes. The fruit is attractive to birds and other wildlife.

The showy flower heads have a center core of small fertile flowers that are surrounded by an outer ring of showy sterile flowers. Autumn is the main season of interest for this species because of the colorful combination berries and fall foliage in tones of yellow, red, and purple. The fruit turn red or orange and are showy from August through October. The fruit of American cranberrybush are tart but edible and are used for making preserves. Fruits turn black upon drying and have been used for making ink. The bark of this plant has been used for medicinal properties such as a nerve sedative, asthma, cramps, palpitation, heart disease and rheumatism. See


Beardtongue (Genus- Penstemon)


Mature height: 3-5 feet

Mature width: 2-3 feet

Light: full sun

Soil: Rocky well drained soil.

Penstemons come from areas with rough growing conditions. A thin, rocky soil in full sun is best. Of all the species, P. barbatus seems to do the best in the East. Plants can be propagated by making cuttings in the spring separating the plant at the roots and then transplanting or potted to give to other gardeners! Flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators.


Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis)

Mature height: 3-4 feet

Mature width: 3-4 feet

Light: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Grows in almost any soil.

Attracts butterflies and other pollinators. Blue false indigo gets its name from the blue colored sap it secretes from its stem. The blue colored sap can be used as an alternative to the dye taken from blue false indigo’s look a-like Indigofera tinctoria, which has a better dye. Blue false indigo is an herbaceous perennial that reproduces both sexually and asexually by means of its spreading rhizomes. The roots themselves are branched and deep, which helps the plant withstand periods of drought. The plant branches almost all the way up the plant. Broken stems secrete a sap that turns dark blue on contact with the air.

Flowers appear in early summer. They have pea-like flowers that vary in color from light blue to deep violet. The flowers, which bloom from spring to summer, are bisexual and are roughly 21 inch. At maturity fruits on plants will contain many loose seeds within. The leaves emerge about one month before flowering and are shed approximately one month after the pods form. Once the seeds are fully mature, the stems turn a silverish grey and break off from the roots. The pods stay attached and are blown with the stems to another location.

New England Aster (Symphyotricum novae)

Mature height: 3-6 feet

Mature weight: 2-3 feet

Light: Full sun

Soil: Prefers moist rich soils.

Attracts butterflies and other pollinators.

This flower is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun. It is suggested that pinching back stems several times before mid-July will help control the plants height, which will promote vegetation growth to help stabilize plant. The plant can self-seed in the garden. For more see

Comfrey (Symphyotricum novaeangliae)

Mature height: 3-4 feet

Mature width: 3-4 feet

Light: Sun to partial shade

Soil: Will grow anywhere!

Fertilizer uses:  Comfrey is very deep rooted and acts as dynamic accumulator, pulling nutrients from the soil. These are then made available through its fast-growing leaves which, lacking fibers, quickly break down to a thick black liquid. There is also no risk of nitrogen robbery when comfrey is dug into the soil as the C:N ratio of the leaves is lower than that of well-rotted compost. Comfrey is an excellent source of potassium, an essential plant nutrient needed. Its leaves contain 2-3 times more potassium than manure, mined from deep in the subsoil, tapping into reserves that would not normally be available to plants.

There are various ways in which comfrey can be used as a fertilizer. These include:

  • Comfrey compost inoculants – include comfrey in the compost heap to add nitrogen and help to heat the pile. Comfrey should not be added in quantity as it will quickly break down into a dark sludgy liquid that needs to be balanced with more fibrous, carbon material.
  • Comfrey liquid fertilizer – can be produced by either rotting leaves in rainwater for 4–5 weeks to produce a ready-to-use comfrey tea, or by stacking dry leaves under a weight in a container with a hole in the base. When the leaves decompose a thick black comfrey concentrate is collected. This must be diluted at 15:1 before use.
  • Comfrey as amulch or side dressing – a two-inch layer of comfrey leaves placed around a plant will slowly break down and release plant nutrients; it is especially useful for crops that need extra potassium. Comfrey can be slightly wilted before application optionally but either way, avoid using flowering stems as these can root.
  • Comfrey as a companion plantfor trees and other perennials. Soil nutrients increase in the presence of comfrey even when it is not used as mulch, side dressing, or liquid fertilizer, but just allowed to grow. See
  • Comfrey potting mixture – Two-year-old, well decayed leaf mold should be used; this will absorb the nutrient-rich liquid released by the decaying comfrey. In a black plastic bag alternate 3-4 inch layers of leaf mold and chopped comfrey leaves. Add a little limestone to slightly raise Leave for between 2–5 months, checking that it does not dry out or become too wet. The mixture is ready when the comfrey leaves have rotted and are no longer visible. Use as a general potting compost, although it is too strong for seedlings.

How to Maintain: Comfrey should not be harvested in its first season as it needs to become established. Any flowering stems should be removed as these will weaken the plant in its first year. Comfrey is a fast-growing plant, producing huge amounts of leaf during the growing season, which means it needs a lot of nitrogen. Although it will continue to grow no matter what, it will benefit if mulched with other nitrogen rich materials such as lawn clippings. Mature comfrey plants can be harvested up to four or five times a year. They are ready for cutting when about 2 feet high, and, depending on seasonal conditions, this is usually in mid-Spring. Comfrey will rapidly regrow, and will be ready for further cutting about 5 weeks later. It is said that the best time to cut comfrey is shortly before flowering, for this is when it is at its most potent in terms of the nutrients that it offers. Comfrey can continue growing into mid-autumn, but it is not recommended to continue taking cuttings after early autumn in order to allow the plants to build up winter reserves. Comfrey should be harvested by using shears, to cut the plant about 2 inches above the ground, taking care handling it because the leaves and stems are covered in hairs that can irritate the skin.  Comfrey should be split up every few years (and at the same time propagate more plants that can be shared with fellow gardeners!). However it is difficult to remove comfrey because of deep rooting, and any fragments left in the soil will regrow.

Medicinal uses: See here


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