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4.7 out of 5 stars
Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
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105 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2007
As a graduate of a Permaculture Design Course, organic farm worker and someone generally interested in virtually all aspect of sustainable ag, I found this book incredible. Now, I've only read the first one (about to start on volume number 2), but the quality of information in the first volume in outstanding. Volume 1 is concerned with the theory behind forest gardening, but with a keen eye towards using that information in the second volume (which includes detailed information on actually creating a forest garden). David Jacke does a great job of covering everything from invasive plants to forest succession to what a guild is and how to build one to underground microbes and why we should care about them. Full of informative figures, graphs and sidebars, this book does an excellent job of filling a niche that has been otherwise missed by many permaculture and sustainable ag books - what to do in the more temperate, rainy parts of the world. I'd recommend this book over Patrick Whitfield's great book if you live in the U.S. because it suggests a variety of plants native to the U.S. and has a larger number of useful species for people who live in the U.S. and are dealing with colder temperatures than those seen in Britain. Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone with the slightest interest in creating an edible landscape on a piece of property.
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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2008
I bought the books to understand the practical aspects of building a forest garden on my 2 acre land. I started reading the vol 2 because that seemed to contain the practical advice. However, soon after, I became convinced that vol 1 can not be ignored. Now I have read vol 1 and am truly in awe of the authors' clarity of thinking and organizing the vast amounts of material and data. The theory is clear and up-to-date with vast recent scientific knowledge- a rare combination indeed.
My only advice to a beginning reader would be to read the last part (conclusion) of vol 1 before and in between the various chapters in order to maintain motivation and interest in the overly theoretical- but necessarily so- parts of vol 1. That chapter really ties the theory together with your reasons of going into such details as are presented.I found in that chapter my "aha" moment.
Thanks to the authors for these wonderful and helpful books. Are worth their weight in gold- or rich moist forest humus!
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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2011
I'll start by saying that even though this is a great 2-volume set, it scared me away from actually creating a forest garden for years. The first volume gives an extremely detailed and comprehensive overview of the theory behind forest gardening. If you start reading this book and think that you actually need to understand all this stuff in order go and plant a forest garden, you'll probably throw in the towel and never do it. There are a million details covered, and understanding it all to me seems like a daunting task.

I also found it for the most part very boring and even redundant. Based on some of the other reviews, other people seem to disagree with this. But to me in terms of excitement this book is just a shade above a technical manual (except the first section on "Vision," which I found very interesting)

And the thing is, you don't need to know everything in this book to start a forest garden. If you actually want to know what you need to know about making a forest garden, I highly recommend Martin Crawford's Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops. When I read that book, I realized that I already basically knew what I needed to know in order to actually get started and put plants in the ground. Before I read Crawford's book I felt almost hopelessly lost. I had only been reading Edible Forest Gardens, which makes creating a forest garden seem like a superhuman task. Martin Crawford's book puts it on a more human level. In the end, there really aren't that many really key points to consider in making a forest garden. And the rest is mostly practical common sense. (I'm oversimplifying here. . . there's a thousand different nuances to the theory, but in the end most of these nuances don't directly affect what you're going to put in the ground. They are intellectual candy).

OK. I've blasted the book enough. On to the praise.

I'm very glad to have this 2-volume set. The appendices of volume 1 and 2 are extremely valuable to anyone wanting to create a forest garden, and I personally think that it's worth the purchase price of these books just to get the appendices. The appendices to volume 2 contain all sorts of data about plant species you may want to put in your forest garden (though I've learned that if you really want to make certain about any particular stat, verify it with other sources if you can. . . it's not uncommon to get different data if you look at another source). That being said, it is by far the best compilation of data of its kind. It's an absolutely wonderful resource, and I'm sure it took a tremendous amount of tedious labor to create (I believe Eric Toensmeier is the one to thank there). I have yet to find a species I've been interested in planting in my forest garden that has not been in the appendices.

Also I absolutely love the appendix to volume 1, which is what the authors call the "Top 100" species for forest gardening. If you are new to forest gardening, you will love this. It goes into detail about all of these cool species you can plant, and it's useful later on as well since you can look to this list to find species which for the most part "play well" in the forest garden.

I do also enjoy browsing through the body of Volume 2 (the "practice" volume, as opposed the the "theory" of volume 1) to find material on specific topics of interest, but I would not recommend to anyone that they read it straight through. There's lots of interesting things to consider. It's more of a browsing book than a sit-down-and-read book (at least for me. . . I'm sure there are some out there who would disagree). It's almost like a reference manual, but not exactly.

There's a quote of Peter Bane that's on the back of the book which I find particularly apt in describing it. "This book will define the intellectual territory of it subject for at least a generation." If I knew how to italicize the word "intellectual" I would. I agree with this quote. It's a very important book on this subject, but it's very heady and is not really practical as a "how-to" kind of book, at least not for mere mortals like me. It's a great reference, and belongs on the shelf of any really serious forest gardener, but if you are looking for something that will tell you the basics of forest gardening and get you up and running and putting plants in the ground, this is not the book for you.
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2006
If you are a home gardener who has ever stopped to wonder whether permaculture was useful to you, you need to read these books. If you are an intermediate to advanced permaculturist, you will revel in these books. If you want to understand how a single individual with a garden can make the world a better place, you need to read these books.

Jacke and Toensmeier lay out an incredible vision in Volume I for the potential that permaculture holds for gardeners in the northern US. And they lead the reader through an eye-opening education in the scientific theory which supports that vision. In Volume II, they walk the reader through the process of creating their own unique vision for the reader's own permaculture design. Then they lay out, step by step, how to progress from vision to reality.

Along the way, they range from the theoretical to the highly practical, from how many miles of fungal strands are in a teaspoon of soil from the forest floor, to exactly how to plant a tree so that it not only survives but thrives. And they do it in a voice which is both learned and whimsical, enthusiastic and serious -- and downright fun.

I'm buying a second set of these books. I need to keep one set with me as I build my garden; I learn new things every time I turn the page, knowledge I need on a "how to" level. But I need a second set, so that I can lend it to my friends who would get tremendous insight from reading these books...my order for my second set is going in today!

Full disclosure: I am a very pleased client of Dave Jacke's design practice.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2005
This book adds depth to the existing research in agro-ecology. It provides new information and examples specific to temperate, especially warmer-temperate climates. It also highlights applications of this information in the first section: "Vision." The authors have put together a massive work that will certainly serve my reference for years to come. This work is primarily an information-packed textbook that includes much in the way of strategies and principles which apply to all biological development of landscapes. In this regard the book can serve as a text in any regenerative landscape studies.

For me, the most valuable aspects of this book are:

-the articulation of integrated design principles (so many good one's under one cover)

-the masterful graphics (who did them all?)

-the development and refining of new language for thinking about agro-ecosystems. E.g. they've taken out the word "invasive" and use the word "opportunist" instead; advancing our approach in this perennial challenge and contextualizing it in a more proper problem-solving/use-based approach, as opposed to the useless conservationist/alarmist approach that can't find the leverage.

-the case studies, although I wish there were more.

-The "top 100" plant list for temperate climates = awesome resource.

-the depth of research (which is fairly mind-blowing) including aspects such as cross sectional mapping of root systems, nutrient flows in agro-ecosystems, and much much more.

It is obvious why this book has taken many years to produce.

I am left with several confusions/questions. One is the name: "Forest" gardening. The authors show the differences between forest and woodland systems (as in % canopy cover) and are clearly explaining strategies for WOODLAND gardening with some light coming in through a partially open canopy. "Edible Woodland Gardening" would make more sense and the term Forest is a bit misleading. (This is not a book about mushroom cultivation, or understory crops alone). Maybe it's simply that woodland is a fairly unused term in the States.

Another frustration is in the case studies/examples. The case studies are few and examples of strategy applications are brief. They are also only from fairly warm-temperate sites: southern England, North Carolina, etc. I did not see any from New England, for instance, where both authors reside. Of course there are not an abundance of sites to use as examples, but there are many more than are shown. I wonder why the Bullock Bros. woodland garden in a temperate region of the US was not highlighted or referenced, for instance. I am hoping that Volume II has more of these case studies.

Overall an incredible work of research with an applied focus and a super useful source of ecological design principles that are crucial for any student in any field connected with biological landscape development.

Ben Falk

Whole Systems Design, LLC

Moretown, Vermont, USA
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2010
These books are college grade and leave nothing to guess. A complete education and reference set in one package. If you want to get into permaculture this 2 book set is your education shopping list.

The first volume assumes you are a traditional gardener/farmer, or completely new to seeing plants for what they are, and gives every bit of information to bring you up to speed. Another book I had bought only gave some projects to do and I no longer think that author knew enough to write a book. The knowledge from volume 1 is critical to making the right choices and understanding why.

The second volume is twice as thick as the first and is dedicated to applying your new knowledge to actual projects. It gives so much well organized information that your brain will be in extacy.

Together, these books store a small library of information. Several sections and indexes hold entire books worth of data on their own. Just one of the plant matrices holds important facts on over 600 species so you can find the specific member of a plant family that suits your needs.

I am just awestruck at the amount of information I have received in this 2 volume set. I need no other books relating to horticulture.

Must have!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 9, 2012
This set is everything others have said and more! First, I'd like to thank those that left such superb reviews because they were instrumental in my decision to plunk down the somewhat high cost of this duo...but I'm so glad I did! Everything the other reviewers said was true - these are absolutely essential and have totally transformed my ideas on gardening.

Living in Florida one would think we could grow anything - while that may be true in some parts of the state, other areas of Florida are just plain difficult. Poor soil quality (think beach sand), unrelenting heat, excessively high humidity (think ROT, mold, mildew) and then...to top it all off...one or two days here or there with numbing cold (okay, numbing for Florida...it does drop to the 20's!). We've tried to garden time and time again only to encounter dismal, pathetic "crops". So much work, energy and effort for so very little.

It seemed we were constantly battling everything. The only items that did well were a couple of fruit trees (but one can only eat so many Kumquats). Still, it gave us hope because the kumquat tree regularly produces HUGE crops 2x's per year - massive amounts. If we could only get a few other things to do 1/10 that of the kumquat tree we'd be on to something.

Finally, one of us got the bright idea that there had to be a way to work with nature rather than against it...we were clearly NOT winning...we had no idea what that would be called but after hunting and pecking around came up with the term "permaculture". Ahhhhh....we already knew trees seemed to give a better "bang for the buck" but now we have totally transformed EVERYTHING we ever thought we knew about gardening.

Seriously - did I mention what a waste of time the Master Gardening class was? How about the several months of hydroponic training (now that was a costly and very tasteless mistake), the greenhouse (at least we will get a little enjoyment and can put it to good use). What I really like about this book is that it provides the information you need for YOUR specific situation...it's not a one size fits all approach but rather really informs and teaches you what to do, why to do it and then provides the basics for you to understand how.

It has radically altered everything we have ever learned about gardening. Absolutely a wonderful set and worth every penny! My only regret was not having bought it earlier.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2012
Regarding another reviewer's criticism of these books: if you live in Australia, yes indeed you should be looking at Bill Mollison's writings, because he wrote for climates like Australia's.

Edible Forest Gardens is specifically written - as stated on the book covers and elsewhere - for temperate climates. Anyone dissing these books because they didn't notice or understand that information is being absurd at best.

Good warning, though, for anyone else from climates very explicitly NOT covered by these books: if you do not live in a temperate climate, these volumes will not provide you with some types of "real hands on information" for where you live - though I'd have thought that the detailed information in these books on subjects such as how natural systems work, how to be your own property surveyor, how to think through your gardening needs and expectations before you plant, how to prepare and manage every type of soil imaginable, and many other practicalities, would apply everywhere.

Anyway, for those of us who do live in temperate climates, these volumes are a godsend - because almost all previous works on permaculture were written for people living in climates like Australia's. The principles were elegant, but the details did not translate - to a really miserable degree. Everything from plant species to building construction to animal housing was relentlessly geared to the tropics and subtropics.

The writing style in these books is dense, but exquisitely clear and well-crafted. The authors write with a rare combination of passion and intelligence. If that isn't your thing, fine, be bored with it for "a year or so." Many people would move on after a week, but no further comment, other than this: anyone living on any continent who can't find "some information" (principles, stories, examples, techniques, helpful diagrams) in these two gloriously detailed volumes isn't likely to find it anywhere.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
This book is incredible and could very well change your life!

Unlike other works on permaculture and ecological agriculture, which discuss simple principles derived from ecology, Jakce dives into the real workings of forest ecology and humanity's role (and potential role) in this ecology.

While technically impressive, the real merit of this book is the quality of writing. It reads like a novel while conveying complex ecological ideas and their practical application.

It truly offers hope for a beautiful and delicious post-petroleum food production system.

Check it out now!
And then get gardening like the forest!!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2009
Amazon is offering a pretty great package deal with these books, and I would gladly get another to share with friends. If you have these two books, some land, and a little money for plants, you are ALL SET. This is the book to end all further shopping of permaculture books. Its very deep and textbook like at times, but the vast amount of insight and resources are alone worth the money. Just the resources are worth it. Ive found so many good companies through this book, its just crazy.

Highly endorsed...this book will give you the tools you need to rebuild the Garden of Eden in your own backyard.
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