About how I created a new organic forest garden at Permaculture Project Panya in Thailand.

Table of contents



The Forest Garden Project had become my biggest and main project at the Panya Project Northern Thailand where I have lived and worked  between March and July 2012. I got the idea for the Forest garden coincidently while we were cutting weeds to build a new compost pile. The idea of planning, designing and planting a forest garden really fascinates me as I considered my self a bit of a forest man.
I love the idea of the food forest, as it truly can provide for all our true needs!
The project includes so many steps, so much knowledge about ecology and strategies on how to work with the land in the most effective way, too much to explain in detail. I hope with my explanations the video, the PDF,  and links you will get an idea and hopefully you will get excited about Food forestry too and try it yourself ! It can be done by anyone and anywhere!







Idea – motivation

The creation of a forest garden that after a period of planning and designing, will grow into a new place for quiet observation, contemplation, inspiration and transformation of an abandoned place that was taken over by weeds for many years. Everyone at Panya is invited to continue what we’ve started as a playground and experimental field and thereby create more beauty and diversity, experiencing the forest garden as a place to implement your knowledge which you gain during your stay at Panya. Thus every helping and love giving hand is welcomed.

Clearing the space by cutting weeds.

Food forest

A food forest or forest garden is a self sustaining, man created imitation of a natural forest system, that rather than an annual garden has a long or indefinite life span and that after an intensive designing period, doesn’t need much intervention any more. A well working system will be high in diversity and productivity.
Every forest consists of seven layers which can be integrated in the design and planting of a food forest.

Patterns of a forest220px-Forgard2-003

1. Canopy layer’ consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
Low-tree layer’ of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
Shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries.
Herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs.
Ground cover layer’ of edible plants that spread horizontally.
Rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
7. Vertical layer’ of vines and climbers.

Ground cover layer plants in the volunteers garden are Pinto peanut, Sweet potato and Pumpkin, herbaceous layer plants like Basil and Spinach, shrub layer plants like Pigeon pea, Thai basil and Mulberry, low tree layer plants like Jamaican cherry and Legume trees and canopy layer Avocado, Star apple and Jack fruit. Since the hill is basically clay many of the species are there to improve the soil and to produce mulch. More plants can be brought into the system for more diversity and health of the garden most importantly ground cover and nitrogen fixing plants! A ring of Lemon-grass was planted to shield of weeds and Taro in the trench.

Mulching the ground. Turning over the heavily compacted clay spoil and sheet mulch.

Planting and heavily mulching the newly developing forest system.

What can you do to maintain it? How do I get involved?

Weeding (Ask the long-term volunteers what is weed and what is not)
Chop and drop (especially in rainy season cut back legumes and leave for mulch)
Mulching (cover soil to stop weed growth, stop evaporation, improves soil etc.
preferable leaves as they support fungi development)
Watering ( in dry season water when needed early mornings or late afternoons – never in heat of the day)
Adding compost ( add any organic matter that is free of unwanted seeds as it helps building up topsoil)
Planting (especially in rain season plant ground cover, nitrogen fixing plants, flowers etc.
Earth worms (start a worm farm – or when ever you find some bring them here ! They will be happy!)
Path maintenance (pull weeds and add on more rice husks)
Observation (observe the edges of the garden, if there are enough plants to hold the soil erosion control is crucial as the garden is surrounded by slopes. Edges need and want a lot of vegetation edges are most fertile!


Weeds grow to repair the soil.
The best way to keep them out is by doing their job. So what we need to do is to bring in nutrients by planting nitrogen fixers, by bringing in compost, manure, mulch and ash, by loosing up the soil by bringing in a ton of worms and EM’s (Effective Micro-organism) and establishing ground cover and all the layers of a forest system. By that we replace all the weeds jobs successfully after a short while.

rain season

Plant! Perennial vegetables, nitrogen fixers (beans and peas), trees
Plant! all kinds of flowers they create beauty and attract birds
butterflies bees etc. for pollination
chop and drop legumes and mulch

dry season

water garden lightly in late afternoons early evening
mulch and cover all soil and around plants with straw and leaves

IMG_3446IMG_3444IMG_3449  IMG_3055IMG_3175IMG_3490
Working in the garden and progression of our work.

What can you do to improve it?

– walls to garden beds along the edge of the path can be build so soil doesn’t wash away and can gradually build up by adding mulch, compost and through chop and drop
-more flowers, more diversity will attract more birds and other animals and make it nicer for people to enjoy
-labelling trees and plants etc. make signs of plants/ shrubs/ trees → notebooks about the plants
-observe , if all plants and shrubs get enough light, shade and water etc. depending on their needs
-chop and drop leguminous trees – they can be chopped and dropped in rain season that helps building up soil

Ideas that we didn’t put into action
-plant more diversity more flowers, ground cover, shrubs and trees
-build a Thai shelter – a terrace or platform with roof overlooking the future pond!
-build a bamboo bridge from the volunteers garden to the rocket toilet
-plant all the places not planted yet
-build a nice fire place
-start a worm farm

Do s and Don’t s:
It is a living space for experimentation and learning. So try new thing, improve what ever you think could or should be improved. Respect the work formerly done by others. Almost everything in the volunteer garden is man made …apart from weeds grow. Be sure though what is weed and what is not! Ask an experienced long termer. The shape of the mount, the trench, the trees, path.. everything has been achieved trough labour intensive work.

Don’t compact the soil meaning don’t step on areas that are already planted!!!
Add compost etc. by throwing in on the bed and use seed balls or similar methods to plant more. It is important to plant perennial and self seeding plants. For harvest maybe put a stone next to a plant or fruit tree that can be harvested so only one spot will be compacted !

What does the space need the most.

A lot of good energy and appreciation/ Least soil disturbance/ Compost / decomposable material/ Manure/ Mulch/ Water/ Earth worms → thousands/ Flowers/ Ground cover/ Nitrogen fixing plants / LOVE…

Enjoy the volunteers garden and the wonderful Panya project!

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List of plants in the volunteer garden (not complete)

pumpkin, mulberry, pigeon pea, Thai basil, lemon grass, Malabar spinach, brazil spinach, papaya, sweet leave, hibiscus,
marigold, lemon grass, cassava, pinto peanut, star apple, turmeric, Malabar spinach, lucina, corn, sun flower, avocado,
mung bean, sun hemp, chicken spinach, pineapple, tomato, chilly, jack bean taro …

Plants by Layers:

1. Canopy layer consisting of the original mature fruit trees
Jack fruit trees, Mango trees, Fig tree, Star fruit tree, Avocado
2. Low-tree layer’ of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks
  Jamaican Cherry tree, Papaya, Cassava
3. Shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries
Mulberry, pigeon pea, hibiscus, sweet leave
4. Herbaceous layer of perennial vegetables and herbs
  marigold, Thai basil, brazil spinach,
5. Ground cover layer’ of edible plants that spread horizontally
pumpkin, sweet potato, spinaches
6. Rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers
   Yams, sweet potato, Cassava
7. Vertical layer’ of vines and climbers
   Malabar spinach, Pumpkin


A food forest is a perennial polyculture of multi-purpose plants.
It provides us with all essential human needs such as  food, fuel, fibre, medicine, building materials and many things more.
The forest creates habitat for all life. The forest makes it rain and it is indeed the highest expression of nature.
Trees are the biggest (Sequoia Tree 115m in California) and oldest (Great Basin Bristlecone pine 4844 years) living beings on the planet!
Every natural system moves towards the creation of a forest. The succession of a forest is the process by which an ecological community undergoes more or less orderly and predictable changes towards a climax forest system.
By recognizing the patterns of nature and forest systems (the 7 layers mentioned earlier ), in permaculture and specifically in forest gardening, we are trying to speed up the succession by working with the law of nature rather than against it and do not force any unnatural systems on it in, opposite to monoculture for instance!

Watch this very short video by famous permaculture expert Geoff Lawton

Try to get Geoff Lawtons Establishing A Food Forest (2008) Documentary!!!
It is essential knowledge for everyone interested into to Food Forestry and  Forest Gardening!


– more about Panya project and Permaculture , Links, Books, Websites,
Projects etc. you can find if you hover over the
– Documentaries about Permaculture, Ecology, Environment, Nature etc.
you can find if you hover over the

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