How to Grow a “100-Year-Old” Forest in 10 Years

Engineer develops method for growing a food forest ten times faster than normal  

Most of the world we live in today was once forest, our natural habitat for millions of years.

Cities, suburbs and mega farms are not our “natural” habitat, argues a forest-building engineer named Shubhendu Sharma.

But we can recreate little chunks of that habitat in just ten years our own backyards, workplaces and public spaces, and create a free food source for ourselves while we are at it, he explains in the Ted Talk below:

Sharma was an industrial engineer for Toyota hired to offset carbon emissions from the company’s factories.

His solution was to plant mini forests right next door. Since then his company Afforest has helped “build” 75 such forests around the world.

Sharma’s forests grow 10 times faster, are 100 times more biodiverse and 30 times more lush than typical reforestation projects.

His methods enable him to grow a 300-tree forest in the space of 6 parked cars.

Amazingly, the cost of growing a forest is roughly the same as an iPhone.

“We discovered every single element needed to make a forest is right around us,” Sharma said. “All we have to do is bring these elements together and let nature take over.”

“We start with soil. We touch, feel and even taste it to identify what properties it lacks.”

Next, his company mixes in local biomass — compost, manure, etc. — to help compacted soil become more porous and allow water to seep in.

“If the soil is lacking nutrients, we don’t just add nutrients directly to the soil — that’s the industrial way,” he says.

Instead, he adds microorganisms that convert the biomass into more bioavailable nutrients.

“As the number of microorganisms grows, the soil starts breathing again,” he says. “It becomes alive.”

When planning a mini forest, Sharma’s company starts by determining which tree species were native to the area before human intervention.

Then they decide whether they want a fruit forest, a flower forest, a forest that attracts a lot of birds or bees, or an evergreen forest, and chose different species for each layer — canopy, tree layer, sub tree layer and shrubs.

Then, they collect the seeds, germinate the saplings, and plant them in a tight-knit pattern that intersperses the various species.

Next, they spread a thick layer of mulch to hold in moisture during the summer and protect the soil from frost during the winter.

This makes for extremely soft soil, allowing roots to penetrate and grow quickly.

Within 3 months the roots reach one meter deep and form a mesh holding the soil together. Microbes and fungi make nutrients available to the roots.

The forest is watered and weeded for two to three years, but as the forest grows it blocks the sunlight and weeds stop growing.

Shortly after this, the canopy becomes so dense, the forest retains every drop of water, eliminating the need for watering.

The forest floor remains moist and dark, enabling leaves to decay quickly and become food for the soil. As more and more leaves fall, creating more and more food for the soil, the forest starts growing exponentially, Sharma says.

“If the tree species were planted independently, they wouldn’t grow so fast,” he says. “This is how we create a hundred year old forest in just ten years.”

For more details on forest-scaping your yard, check out Sharma’s website





21 responses to “How to Grow a “100-Year-Old” Forest in 10 Years”

  1. tim frodsham Avatar

    while well intentioned, this is extremely simplistic and misleading. getting an engineer to design forests is like getting a cook with no cooking experience to design a kitchen! there’s no accounting for variables such as soil toxicity and pollution loads in urban areas, rainfall variability in an ever more changing climate, pest threats, competing land uses, or empirical evidence of how these wonder plants are expected to maintain such uniformly stunning growth rates over such a short time over a variety of conditions. like most stuff on the web, it looks good on the surface, but its just window dressing.

    1. dave Avatar

      every journey starts with a single step what have you done along these lines?

    2. suzy cyr Avatar
      suzy cyr

      must you be so degrading while educating

    3. Shanta Kamath Avatar
      Shanta Kamath

      tim frodsham, it’s a short article. It could not possibly have mentioned everything involved in this project. I’ll bet you didn’t research this man, this company and their successes or failures further before making your remark. Did you? That said, the article really ought to have clarified that Sharma uses the Miyawaki method, which was developed by Akira Miyawaki, “a Japanese botanist and expert in plant ecology, specializing in seeds and the study of natural forests. He is active worldwide as a specialist in the restoration of natural vegetation on degraded land. Since 1993, he has been Professor Emeritus at Yokohama National University and Director of the Japanese Center for International Studies in Ecology. He received the Blue Planet Prize in 2006.” Just because someone is an engineer doesn’t mean that is the only thing they can possibly do in their life. Other people are not as stupid as we might suppose before actually checking the information.

      1. Shanta Kamath Avatar
        Shanta Kamath

        My above quote was from Wikipedia, one of several links I searched out and looked at before answering.

      2. Bill Jones Avatar
        Bill Jones

        Thanks, I can’t wait to go research the Miyawaki method. It’s nice to see people at least thinking in terms of plant engineering. My only beef with permaculture is that we eventually want to have rice or potatoes, which don’t grow on trees. My solution has been to grow these in containers among the trees and shrubs, adding yet another layer.

    4. Rodrigo Avatar

      No it’s not, Tim. It’s has been done, many and many times. Research the name “Ernst Gotsch”. He has a +40 year old forest of his own, in Brasil, made on a 400 acres of what everyone said it was steril land, dead land… 40 years later, that same patch of land already has 9 water springs that came back to life, and produces one of the best cocoa in the world, among many other stuff… Just by looking at it, it’s impressive!

    5. Ali Khan Avatar
      Ali Khan

      Sir , i think you should start by appreciating this gentle soul.dozens of show cases are spread across the globe where people are wondering on the quick growth and working to cover the surface with forests.
      In my country pakistan,he planted 4 forests and they are lovely.he teaches you and tells you to spread the word.
      Engineer planting forests?So what?this is so streo typed!

    6. Bruce Avatar

      Not window dressing! There is the Element of natural selection. This is an excellent beginning. You seem to have missed the sentence where he states the best management is no management. Once Established, it grows on its own the effects of pollution, drought, disease, are all natural occurrences.

      1. Rebecca Avatar

        I think you might know, could this be done in the Desert where I live. If so would be wonderful.. Thank You

    7. Daan Bleichrodt Avatar

      I have been working with Shubhendu for years now and he is very knowledgable about afforestation and has helped met to realize 30 of these forests in the Netherelands. A study by Wageningen University shows it works and the forest are biodiverse, the soil is as healthy as a nature reserve. Shubhendu has been educated by Dr. Akira Miyawaki, who has planted over 1.700 of these forests. So your conclusions indicate you did not look into the concept at all.

  2. Kristina Avatar

    What a wonderful Idea ! Thank’s from Sweden❤️

  3. Lily Ann Butad Avatar
    Lily Ann Butad

    So enlightening indeed!!!! Thank you for sharing your wonderful expertise in creating a forest.

  4. suzy cyr Avatar
    suzy cyr

    this is a wonderful idea and so inspiring
    i want to start planting ring away!
    and yes
    we do have to keep toxic things out if we are going to eat from this
    because nutritious plants like kale will bring lots of good minerals from the soil it will also bring toxic minerals

  5. suzy cyr Avatar
    suzy cyr

    use virgin soil if possible and use plants like sunflowers to clean the soil

  6. MM Kisabuli Avatar

    I am located in Kenya. I have land and would love to get this started locally. It can benefit a lot of people.

    1. jared nz Avatar
      jared nz

      Google swales. They are very good for trapping water if you have dry weather, plant your food forest on top. I wish you the best of luck

  7. Nyamosega Thomas Avatar
    Nyamosega Thomas

    From Tanzania

    Good idea and inspiring indeed, surely if we can love environment ..environment also can do the same, So let us conserving environment in order to achiev a positive ones

  8. David Avatar

    I love a forest in my back yard but my solar Panels would complain

    1. Hank Binnema Avatar
      Hank Binnema

      Be creative. Work around the solar panels. Grow shorter trees/ bushes, with edibles; it’s still better than nothing.

  9. permie Avatar

    It’s called permaculture.