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We started a food forest in 2020 and spent a lot of money and time researching, planning, building, and planting.
It cost $5000 CAD (~$3600 USD) to set up a 1/4 acre food forest in three years. We spent a total of $1200 on tools, $950 on fencing, and $2375 on plants.
In year two we invested in 2-3-year-old trees and shrubs from nurseries and seeds to grow our own herbaceous perennials. We had many tools prior but invested in extra helpful tools to maintain our forest garden when necessary (see our tools list further down in this post).
With a budget or savings contribution of $150-$200 per month over 2 years, you can afford to set up and protect a large home garden food forest. Operating costs are minimized with thoughtful planning and will pay off with food, joy, and security. Profits are sustained at maturity with surplus production after 7-9 years.
How to spend less money on your food forest
A low-cost food forest is a careful balance between time and money. A balance between both is often the most affordable (and beneficial). If you really need to lower the cost of your food forest; explore my post about How to Grow a Food Forest for Free and Cheap.
This article will outline what it costs for seeds, plants, fencing, and tools that will be required to assemble the starting capital for your food forest. The most simple way to afford a food forest is to start saving a lump sum for the upfront infrastructure and biological capital, and then create a monthly budget for spending going forward.
As cheap food prices rise we all want a fruiting forest garden as quickly as possible. What we also need is to learn essential skills along the way. You’ll determine the price of your food forest by splitting the amount it costs into two categories.
The funds you can afford from your budget will be the monetary cost of starting your food forest, and the remaining cost is the time required to make it happen. More money spent is quick results and less time cultivating. Less money spent is more time you must tend to a nursery before results.
- Spending money to get pregrown plants is like employing a team to partake in creating your forest garden. “Teamwork makes the dream work” faster, anyway.
- Starting a DIY food forest nursery will earn you the most valuable experience.
Relative to resources at your disposal, you will most likely do a proportionate amount of both!
- Continue reading to find out how much money is required to get a headstart on time when growing a food forest.
- And gather a sense of how much time you may wish to devote by reading how long it takes to grow a food forest.
If you intend to produce a lot of food, doing it yourself yields double the return because of gained skills and high plant quantities at low cost. The only cost is having to wait, almost passively, nearly twice the time for production. If you already grow annual vegetables or can forage for wild goodies, the wait is even more worthwhile.
Buying an ‘instant’ forest garden isn’t always the best choice. But enjoying the best of both worlds is always an option by spending any amount of money you can, to get ahead of time.
How much does it cost to grow a food forest from seed?
Trees are an expensive and intimidating part of a forest garden. The confusion around starting them from seed leaves most of us hesitant. But it’s true, you can reduce your financial costs by growing a food forest from seed and still end up with delicious-tasting fruit.
The base investment is $300 for various seeds and a decent set of fruit tree scions. Tree seeds are free if you purchase an apple, peach, or any other fruit to eat it. Scions are clones from trees that were cultivated for good-tasting fruit.
While they can be rooted and planted, scions are meant for grafting. Cultivation for good fruit can mean a poor root system.
Before you get scions you’ll need to grow (or buy) your own rootstocks first. Either way, this step adds to the waiting game.
If you need a large number of tasty healthy trees quickly. . .
The fastest and cheapest way to grow good-tasting trees can cost a little more money. It includes purchasing a set of desired pre-grown bare-root fruit tree cultivars. Planting bare-root trees at the same time as germinating your own rootstocks . . . will remove the need to buy scions later . . . while scoring you a harvest sooner. Cut your own scions from the purchased fruit trees when your rootstocks are ready for grafting. In 3 years, the purchased fruit trees prepare to produce fruit as your grafts just begin to display vegetative growth.
Cutting your own scions means you’ll end up with trees that are the same as the original. For different fruit varieties; buy scions elsewhere or different bare-rooted tree cultivars.
How much does it cost to buy plants for your food forest?
Buying trees and such will save years of trial and error babying seedlings. We bought thousands of dollars of nursery plants over the last few years. If your budget can buy what you need, you’ll have a flourishing food forest in no time.
On average, it costs $2375 to buy all the trees, shrubs, and climbers, and a base of herbaceous perennials, ground covers, and tubers to fill a 1/4 acre space.
You can fit 25-60 dwarf to semi-dwarf trees or shrubs in a 1/4 acre with plenty of room for hundreds (or thousands) of other climbers, herbaceous perennials, ground covers, and tubers.
Trees, shrubs, and vines average around $35 a piece. To fill the space, you’d spend $875 to purchase all of the upper layers. Herbaceous perennials and ground covers average $15 apiece. You’ll spend $1500 to buy 100 various plants. From here, division and propagation will save you ten times the cost.
How much will it cost to fence a food forest?
Whatever you do, no matter how much it costs, fence your food forest from deer! Imagine spending all that time and money described previously, only for young trees, shrubs, and grapes to be discovered by a hungry herd of deer. You’ll never have fresh food on the table at that rate—we learned the hard way! Fencing is well worth the investment.
On average, it costs $950 to buy posts, steel deer-fencing, and tools to dig your holes for a 1/4 acre perimeter. To hire a hole digger; the average total price increases to $1600 (for the same materials and perimeter). You’ll still need to secure the fence to your posts and put posts into holes.
You need 420 linear feet of fence to enclose a 1/4 acre with a minimum of 24 posts for 15ft maximum spacing.
To hire for hole digging it costs between $300-$1100 for 24 holes.
Ideally, you’ll want a 6″ diameter and 2.5ft depth for post holes.
The average cost of a 4″-5″ x 10ft treated wooden post is $20 a piece. For 24 posts, it’ll be around $480, even double when you’re reading this. If so, you might score some untreated posts for $9 or so on Facebook Marketplace. Below, I found 8-foot deer fencing for $1/foot with $12 posts available on FB marketplace.
Untreated posts will last about ten years, so look for wood types high on the Janka hardness scale—they will stand longer.
If wood isn’t your ideal option, T-posts might be. We had wood available and an auger available. Without those, T-posts would have been the way to go (even though woo looks nicer!) We didn’t choose T-posts because we couldn’t find 8-foot tall ones available at the time.
High-tensile woven galvanized steel deer fencing is $1.30 to $3 per linear foot. Ours cost $450 for a 300ft roll (our space is less than 1/4 acre).
None of this includes shipping or transporting materials. Ideally the closer you can source anything; the better! Except; spending gas to drive out to a box store for that shovel and post-hole digger might cost you more than Amazon’s free prime trial.
What if wood posts aren’t what you want?
Later, we found x50 used 8-foot T-posts for sale and jumped on the deal for $300. $6 per T-post is a steal no matter the height. Now, we are saving them for the day our wood posts rot.
I recommend investing in steel, especially if the beauty of wood isn’t in your priorities or budget. At least, they won’t need replacing for such a long time you just don’t need to worry about it.
You can find brand-new 8-foot t-posts for between $12-20 per post.
How much will tools for a food forest cost?
There is a set of basic tools particularly useful for growing a food forest.
It costs $1200 to buy a single set of all the brand-new tools needed to grow a food forest. The tools include a shovel, rake, stakes, loppers, shears, hand pruners, pruning saws, hammer, post diggers, sickle, scythe, trowel, buckets, wheelbarrow, gloves, pitchfork, watering cans or hoses.
Brand-new high-quality tools can last a lifetime or longer, but they do add up to a hefty price. For a discount on most of these items, you can score perfectly good older tools in thrift stores for $5-$20. Other places worth shopping around are Facebook Market Place and garage sales.
It’s ideal to collect at least two of each tool or more. Especially high-use tools or tools that have compound components.
|shovel||$50||Digging holes, transferring material in and out of a wheelbarrow|
|trenching shovel||$32||For digging trenches and post holes|
|rake||$50||Grading and shaping soil|
|stakes||$100||To support and label plants that need it|
|loppers||$45||To prune wooded plants, or cut back thick woody weeds|
|shears||$40||To chop and drop greens or grasses|
|Hand pruners||$25||To prune small plant pieces|
|pruning saws||$50||To remove large branches or coppice or pollard somewhat aged trees|
|Blade sharpener||$30||Sharpen blades of all kinds|
|hammer/mini sledge||$35||Pounding stakes into the ground, building various structures|
|clamshell post hole digger||$65||Dig your own post holes and cut costs on hiring for installation|
|sickle/L-sickle||$32||Harvesting or chopping and dropping plants|
|scythe||$100||Trimming pathways or meadows|
|trowel||$25||Digging small holes for transplants|
|buckets||$10||To soak bare root trees before planting, transport materials, make compost teas.|
|wheelbarrow||$200||Transport materials; protect bare root trees with soil while planting one at a time|
|gloves||$25||Optional, but keeps hands from drying out and protects from sharp plants or nettles.|
|pitchfork||$50||Transporting plant materials, digging up plants|
|watering cans||$40||Watering young plants|
|hoses||$75||Watering young plants|
For longevity purposes; look for the most basic tools with the least amount of moving parts. More moving parts and complicated designs mean they are harder and more expensive to fix. This especially goes for loppers, shears, and hand pruners.
(Some tools such as Fiskars saws and loppers linked above have lifetime warranties and we have found them well worth it.)
Stock up on a few shovels, rakes, gloves, pruners, scissors, and watering cans.
High-quality cutting equipment and sharpeners to maintain them will help keep your trees safe from disease.
- What it Costs to Grow Mushrooms (Indoor vs Outdoor)
- Save Money & Grow Vegetables That Cost You the Most
- The Best Fence to Keep Deer Out (Cheaper & Easier Too)
This article was originally published on foodforestliving.com. If it is now published on any other site, it was done without permission from the copyright owner.
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