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Dani Baker on why it’s never too late to start your home-scale forest garden


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Just as promised from last week’s episode exploring the wide and unknown varieties of fruit and nut trees for cold climates, we’re going to go deeper into getting forest gardens established in frigid zones. 

It turns out there are tons of planting options for people who live in hardiness zones 6 and below. There are even some advantages in maintenance and pest pressure since you get a long dormant season and the low temperatures prevent a lot of warmer climate pests from reproducing. 

To learn more about all of the unique benefits and challenges of getting a diverse forest garden established in the cold north, I reached out to Dani Baker, the co-owner of Cross Island Farms on Wellesley Island in the St. Lawrence River between New York and Canada, where they raise certified organic produce and grass-fed beef and goats. Dani and her husband David purchased the 102 acre farmstead only after retiring from their careers. They became intrigued by the idea of making the land productive again, while being good stewards of the land and water resources entrusted to them.  

Dani a self-taught gardener who learned her craft by immersing herself in reading, poring over nursery catalogs, attending workshops on permaculture and gardening, and enthusiastic trial-and-error experimentation. Dani now conducts workshops and tours at her edible forest garden as well as giving presentations at organic farming conferences and other venues. 

In this interview, Dani and I start by talking about what inspired her to start a forest garden after retirement and how she built up her knowledge and experience so quickly. 

We then dive right into the practical aspects of how she worked to get the wide variety of perennial species established on her heavy clay and waterlogged site. She also gives insights into pest and disease management, her long term maintenance strategies for the system, the plant guilds that she’s found success with, and a lot more. 

Be sure to stick around till the end where Dani gives great advice on managing volunteers and how to get started planting your own forest garden at any scale. 

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