A free email agroforestry journal for practitioners, extension agents, researchers, professionals, students, and enthusiasts. One edition is sent each month focusing on a concept related to designing, developing, and learning more about trees and agroforestry systems. Focuses on trees and their roles in agriculture, natural ecosystems, human culture and economy.

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Overstory #27 - Foster Ecosystems

One of the biggest challenges for tropical agroforesters is the restoration and revegetation of lands that have been degraded or cleared. Past issues of The Overstory have addressed pioneering degraded lands (#22), succession plantings to make use of the stages of forest plantings (#10), and ways to improve habitat and attract wildlife to agroforestry plantings (#21). In this issue, guest author Imants Pone of the University of Minnesota introduces the concept of "foster ecosystems"--using tree plantations to facilitate the natural regeneration of native species in their understories. Through findings from Puerto Rico, Amazonia, and the Philippines, Imants shows how plantations can be used to foster the reintroduction of native species.

Creating Foster Ecosystems to Accelerate Tropical Forest Regeneration

Moist tropical forests are some of the most productive areas on Earth, but since most nutrients and biomass are stored above ground, cleared land quickly loses its productivity. What is left are open fields dominated by shrubs and grasses in which the forest is slow to regenerate. The methods described in this paper are designed to accelerate natural regeneration in cleared tropical forests through the use of plantations as "foster ecosystems."

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Overstory #26 - Fast Food (Part 2 of 2)

This issue of The Overstory is the second in a special two-part series on creating food abundance quickly using perennial plants. Unlike an annual garden, perennials can be integrated in agroforestry systems to provide a relatively stable supply of nutritious food--usually with less work than establishing and maintaining a large garden of annuals.

"Fast Food" perennials can have a place in any agroforestry planting, but are especially valuable in the following situations:

  • after a disaster (mud slide, hurricane, etc.) when conventional food supplies are diminished for months or years
  • for people who have recently moved or relocated
  • for people who do not have time or resources to maintain annual gardens, but want to grow a dependable supply of fresh, nutritious vegetables and fruits.

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Overstory #25 - Fast Food (Part 1)

Aloha and Happy New Year!

If your New Year's Resolution was to create more food abundance for your family, your enthusiasm may already be flagging when you look at the work involved in creating a garden of annual plants. Well, take heart! This issue of The Overstory is the first in a two-part series on creating food abundance quickly with perennial plants in the tropics. Unlike annuals, you can plant perennial plants just once, and they will continue producing for you year after year, some for 10-20 years! By using perennials to provide a large portion of your food supply, you can save yourself the work of having to seed and establish large garden beds every few months. Once you have your perennials in place and producing, then you will have the time for annual crops to supplement your food.

Past editions of The Overstory showed how pioneering species (#22) can be used to quickly revegetate and how perennial leaf vegetables (#12) can be the foundation for food abundance in a low-input, high production system. Here we look at those concepts and additional species for abundant and enduring food production. In this issue, vining species which make use of horizontal space (ground covers) and vertical space (trellises) around dwellings or in orchards are the focus. The next issue will cover abundant food-producing shrubs, bushes, and trees for hedges and living fences.

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Overstory #24 - Sustaining Your Physical Health

"Our bodies are our gardens...our wills our gardeners." W. Shakespeare

Just as we tend the land for the long-term, we must learn to sustain our own physical health for the long-term. Ultimately, it is not sustainable to create abundance on the land by depleting our own health. While the Overstory normally focuses on concepts and strategies for creating and improving agroforestry systems, for this special holiday issue, we wanted to share with you some suggestions for maintaining or improving your health as you do your work. We hope this information will encourage you to learn more about ways to use your body in the most healthful manner, giving yourself and your community the gift of your sustained energy and vitality.

Far from being a luxury to be indulged in by the affluent, physical health and fitness is the right of every person--especially those who do physical work. Most farmers have a lot of physical activity integrated into their day. However, healthful exercise and hard work are not always accomplishing the same thing. By gaining an understanding of your body and integrating some simple principles into your day, it is possible to make farming activities something your body will be able to sustain for your entire lifetime, with minimal injury, stress, and exhaustion.

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Overstory #23 - Pest Prevention through Ecological Design

Editor's Note

Overstory #21 covered the advantages of biologically diverse farming systems, including a more balanced insect flora. This issue expands on this concept for establishing systems that are inherently less susceptible to insect pest problems.

Pest Prevention through Ecological Design

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." --old adage

Native forest ecosystems in the tropics teem with insects that co-exist with thriving and productive plants. However, modern forestry and farming arranges plants in patterns of human design, usually large monocultures, which creates ecological imbalance. These plantings often give rise to high populations of "pest" insect species, who feed on concentrations of their food source and interfere with production. For over 60 years, a sophisticated arsenal of insecticides has been routinely employed in the attempt to control pest insect populations. However, insects evolve quickly, and become resistant to the poisons--and new insect pests appear regularly as agricultural trade globalizes. As a result, insecticide-based management tends to become increasingly expensive over time, as more and newer chemicals are developed. Many insecticides are not selective in their targets, and also eliminate predators of pests, which ultimately worsens the pest problem. After decades of all out warfare against insect pests, it is now apparent that fighting pests is a losing battle. It is time for a different approach entirely.

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Overstory #22 - Pioneering Difficult Sites

In past editions of The Overstory we covered observing patterns of nature to help design agroforestry systems (Overstory #9), and using plant succession to make more efficient use of space over time (Overstory #10). This issue uses both concepts of observation of nature and natural succession to pioneer disturbed or severely degraded lands.

"Pioneering" is a natural process that takes place in the first stage of succession after land is disturbed. Natural pioneering begins on land that is newly formed or newly exposed, such as lava flows or land exposed after a glacier retreats, when there is no organic matter, seeds, or vegetation on the site. On these sites, nature has to start from scratch. Pioneering can also be observed following severe man-made or natural disturbances, such as deforestation, fire, landslides, etc.. On these of sites, there are still some (usually minimal) resources such as certain seeds, some organic matter and soil microbes.

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