What are little forests
Little Forests are collaborations between plants, soil, organisms, climate, geology, land and people.
They're an approach to rapidly regenerating Indigenous forests: human communities who help the land remember (decolonize the land) by restoring deforested land to the layered and diverse Indigenous forest communities that once covered this land. Drawing inspiration from nature, our approach to planting forests introduces all the elements present in a healthy forest ecosystem — from the canopy of the tallest trees down to the underground city populating the soil, and all layers in between. We plant forests, not just trees.
Why plant little forests
Plant little forests as songs, poems, love letters to the land. Plant little forests because that's who this land wants to become, this land who was once covered by forest.
Plant little forests to feed and shelter birds. Plant little forests for the butterflies, moths, fireflies and other beings with who we share the city. Plant little forests to cool our streets during extreme heat events, to store carbon, to clean the air, to reduce noise, and to soak up rain. Plant little forests for the way they reduce stress. Plant little forests for future generations.
How do we prepare the forest floor
Before planting, you need to prepare the forest floor. The main issues when planting little forests in urban soils are compaction, low soil organic matter, and bacterial dominant soil. Our method of soil preparation reduces compaction, increases soil organic matter, and increases the fungal ratio in the soil.
Urban soils and soils previously covered by grass are dominated by
bacteria (0:5 to 0:1). Forest soils have a much higher fungi to bacteria
ratio (from 5:1 up to 100:1).
Because fungi love woody, high carbon materials such as leaves, straw and arborist woodchips, we use a three layer no dig method of preparing the forest floor.
Layer 1: 10-15 cm (4-6") leaves or straw
Layer 2: 1.25-2.5 cm (.5-1") compost or old manure for nitrogen
Layer 3: 10-15 cm (4-6") wood chips (preferably ramial chipped wood)
We then leave the layers sit, ideally for a minimum of 6 months, so the soil organisms can do their magic.
Fore more details, watch Astrid's presentation on how to prepare the forest floor.
How do we design and plant a little forest
Our approach is inspired by Dr. Akira Miyawaki. Miyawaki oversaw the planting of more than 30 million trees in over 1,600 locations. If you leave land alone the forest returns, but that can take 150 to 200 years. Miyawaki’s method condenses those 150 years into 15-25 years. Briefly, the process is as follows:
Build a community to circle around the design and planting, identifying one as a site champion)
Find a site (public or private... depaving is great!)
Select a four-layer, 35+ species forest community (we have a spreadsheet to help)
Prepare the site at least 4 months in advance by layering organic material to restore the soil biodiversity
Plant saplings (30-80cm high), 3 per m2
Care for the Little Forest for 2-3 years until self sufficient (weed, water, mulch, and protect from predation)
Observe over 15-25 years as the forest self-organizes through natural
selection—cooperation (phytosociological relations) and competition—into a dense, diverse multi-layered forest
Celebrate success, share stories and learnings, plant another little forest
When should we plant
We like to plant in the fall, when we're blessed with lots of rain.
This gives time for the seedlings to settle in before they're faced with summer heat and drought. The following summer you'll need to water less (or not at all).
If you layer the organic matter on the land in the spring, this also gives soil organisms and fungi lots of time to create a healthy forest floor.
How do we plant the seedlings
Before planting day we divide the planting area into square metre grids. When the trees arrive, we group seedlings according to layer (canopy, tree, understory, shrub) and assign each layer a coloured flag.
We train planting coaches in advance (watch our training video). On planting days, coaches then train students and volunteers.
Each planter takes 3 saplings from 3 different layers and plants the them in a square in the planting grid, at least 30 cm apart. They mark each sapling with a coloured flag.
Where are little forests being planted
The Miyawaki Method is exploding in popularity around the world.
They're ideal for cities as you can plant them in an area as small as a tennis court (100m2 or 6 parking spaces). We planted our first
three in 202, three more in 2022. And we have many more in the works for 2023 and beyond.
In Canada, the first Miyawaki Forest was planted at the TG Minto Corporation in Palmerston Ontario.
While hard numbers are hard to come by, this Guardian article suggests there are at least a thousand in Japan and hundreds throughout the rest of the world.
How much work does it take
Planting a little forests is meaningful, joyful, hopeful work. Work that grows community.
Together, the community finds land, prepares the forest floor, raises money, purchases seedlings (or starts them from seed), sources soil amendments, and shows the forest with love. Everyone can contribute.
Each little forest projects needs a site champion, someone from the community whose passion ensures the little forest is stewarded once planted.