Create a Mini Food Forest

Create a mini food forest
LAFAYETTE, CO – JULY 3: Gardener Megan Keefe tends to her low-maintenance keyhole garden plot in the backyard of her home July 3, 2017 in Lafayette, Colorado. The garden was easy to assemble and can be taken apart if needed when the season is over. (Photo by Kathryn Scott/The Denver Post)

Even small spaces can become productive, and, if you create a mini food forest in your backyard or even on your patio, you can make a big impact on the quality of your food and the health of your local ecosystem.


Permaculture has become a popular buzz word among organic and natural growers.  If you aren’t familiar with permaculture, the term or the concept, you can look at our website for more information.  Basically, permaculture is a set of design principles based on natural ecosystems.  In short, we try to create managed landscapes that mimic what is happening in untouched natural landscapes.

Creating a whole ecosystem sounds like a tall order for a weekend gardener or someone confined to growing in containers on a patio in a third-floor apartment.  If you look at the 12 principles of permaculture design, you will see that it might not be that hard.

12 Principles of Permaculture

Let’s look at the 12 principles and then see how we can adapt each to a small space garden or landscape.

Observe and Interact

Get engaged with nature then look for a design solution that fits your situation or location

Catch and Store Energy

Design your landscape so that it collects resources at the peak abundance and then feeds those resources back into your landscape when they are less available.

Obtain a Yield

Not just fruits and vegetables but even intangibles like enjoyment, peace and satisfaction from what you are doing.

Apply self-regulation and obtain feedback

Is everything you do in the landscape productive?  Is the landscape as close to being self-supportive as possible?

Use and value renewable resources and services

Make the best with what you have and with what nature provides.  Avoid using non-renewable resources in your garden.

Produce no waste.

Value the resources of your landscape.  See that everything that comes out of our landscape goes back in as a productive input.

Design from patterns to details

Look at nature for the patterns and frameworks.  Use these as the backbone of your design and then fill in the details.

Integrate rather than segregate

There are relationships in nature that should be observed and replicated. 

Use small and slow solutions

Small and slow will yield better results than big and fast.  It allows you to manage the landscape better and makes it easier to keep in balance.

Use and value diversity.

Diversity creates strength.  Diverse landscapes are better able to deal with threats.

Use edges and value the marginal.

The space where things meet is often where the most interesting things take place. 

Creatively use and respond to change

Nature is not a static environment.  Change is ongoing and constant.  Intervene only when necessary.

Ideas for the Small Space – creating a mini food forest

If your space is limited or there are issues with access or mobility, build a raised bed.  Perhaps it needs to be waist height to aid in access.  Raised beds give you much more control over soil, weeding, and planting.   They can be easily covered to extend growing seasons. 

The Value of Companions

In a small space, companion planting is critical.  Companion planting is one of the key tenets of permaculture.  Find those symbiotic relationships and foster them in your small space.  Remember, diversity builds strength.

If you want vegetables, don’t forget the flowers and herbs.   Use herbs as part of your companion planting scheme and you not only get to enjoy the variety of different plants, but you have fresh herbs to enjoy with your vegetables.  Permaculture is also about other kinds of yields from your garden.  Finding joy in what you are doing, gaining a measure of peace from your garden is important and satisfaction from your efforts are key elements in permaculture design.

Water is important

permaculture water feature

Add a small water feature to your small space landscape.  Attracting pollinators, beneficial insects and birds is a big part of creating an ecosystem that mimics nature.  A water source for these creatures will add to the attraction, bringing in all sorts of interesting things to watch and observe. 

Collect rainwater for use in your garden.   Even if it is just a small barrel, your plants will appreciate it, and it serves to fulfill the admonition to use what is available and to value the resources that nature provides.

Designing a small space garden can be as satisfying as creating the garden itself.  It doesn’t have to be big.  Adding just one small space in our ecosphere enhances the overall health of our larger ecosystem. 

There are more resources for small space gardeners, container gardening, and raised bed gardening on our website at

If you have questions about gardening or organic systems and lifestyles, ask us on our Facebook page, @westtexasorganicgardening, or contact us through our website.  We will be happy to answer questions.