Edible Forest Gardens: Following Masanobu Fukuoka's Lead

Categories: Green

Food forest understory

What helps to rehabilitate depleted soil? I planted the seeds of thirty legumes, crucifers, and grasses throughout my orchard and from observations of these came to the general conclusion that I should grow a weed cover using ladino clover as the primary crop and such herbs as alfalfa, lupine, and bur clover as the secondary crops. To condition the deeper strata in the hard, depleted soil, I companion-planted fertilizer trees such as black wattle, myrtle, and podocarpus. (p.188) (7)

Fukuoka found that ladino clover would fully suppress weeds within 2-3 years, and would not need to be reseeded for 6-8 years. Drawbacks included less shade tolerance than he wanted, and the requirement for regular mowing. In winter he sowed brassica vegetables, and in summer legume vegetables and millets. Perennial vegetables were introduced and annual crops seed broadcast, with some annuals allowed to reseed themselves, producing strong-flavored feral offspring.

White or ladino clover, Fukuoka’s preferred nitrogen-fixing groundcover
in the food forest understory.

Table: Fukuoka’s companion crops

Adapted from table on page 144, Natural Way of Farming.

Crop Type Sample Crops Understory
Evergreen Fruit Trees Citrus, loquat Fuki (Petasites), buckwheat
Deciduous Fruit Trees Walnut, persimmon, peach, plum, cherry,  apricot, apple, pear Devil’s tongue (probably an aroid), lilies, ginger, buckwheat
Fruit vines Grape, kiwi, akebia Millets
Nitrogen fixing trees Acacia, wax myrtle, alder Green manures*, vegetables

Table: Fukuoka’s green manure crops

Annual crops (mostly) broadcast seasonally. Adapted from page 144, Natural Way of Farming.

Ladino clover, alfalfa
Bur clover
Mustard family vegetables    
Lupines, vetches    
Soybeans, peanuts, adzuki beans, mung beans, cowpeas  


Black wattle trees (Acacia mearnsii) were his favorite nitrogen fixer as they were evergreen and grew to the size of a telephone pole in 7-8 years. At this point he cut down the wattles and buried them in trenches (more hugelculture). The wattle trees, fast-growing and evergreen, always served as a home for aphids and scales, and as a home to their predators like ladybugs, which provided pest control through the food forest. He ran poultry and other livestock in the orchard understory once it was established.

Black wattle acacia, Fukuoka’s primary nitrogen-fixing tree speces


Fukuoka has a lot to say about pruning in Natural Way of Farming. He sought minimal pruning styles to allow his fruit and nut trees to grow as close as possible to their natural shape. To this end he grew many seedlings of citrus and other species to observe their natural form. Almost half of the trees he inherited from his father died in his quest for a low-maintenance, natural pruning regime, about 400 trees!

Fukuoka’s food forest today

Masanobu Fukuoka died in 2008 at the age of 95. Today his children and grandchildren maintain the farm, including the food forest area. Citrus and ginkgo are thriving, and mango, avocado, and feijoa have been added. Shiitakes are cultivated in the understory on logs. Wild vegetables still grow beneath the orchard in some areas. (8)

Masanobu Fukuoka in 2002 

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