Tiny Forests: Small forests for big impact

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on Pexels.com

Every week I read a lot of news stories, predominately on the topics of the Environment, Science and Technology. All this reading interweaves into a tapestry of ideas and inspirations. Last week, I read about how Reddit’s former CEO, Yishan Wong, uprooted his family to follow a dream of environmental restoration in Hawaii, which sparked the research for this week’s focus. I feel like there was another story I read that first mentioned “The Miyawaki Method”, but I’m not sure which one it was now.

The Miyawaki Method creates a dense bio-diverse forest in 20-30 years instead of waiting for the natural cycle to take around 200 years. (It depends on the forest type. This estimation is based off the temperate forests of Japan.)

The first and most important step is the site assessment. Before you send your trees off to college or tell them to reach for the stars, you have to give them a good foundation of the basics, air flow, food and water. Miyawaki’s Method is dependent on the belief of creating “an authentic forest.” The trees, shrubs and other plants should be native to region and native to the microclimate of that region. This requires carefully harvesting seedlings from native flora that may be rare and hard to find.

The seedlings are often grown in various levels of shade to help them establish deep root systems. Once they are ready for planting all the kids are shoved into a small plot, typically no smaller that 30sq meters (about 322.92 sq feet) with one tree per square meter, but at least 60-90 plants in total for the whole space. These plant kids are growing up in a natural world version of an apartment complex.

In the conventional method of planting your trees would all be suburban kids, neatly spaced out with cute little name tags and yet they’d all have a handful of the most common surnames in the country, the Smiths, Johnsons, and Williams of the US. The Rodriguez, Martinez, and Garcías of Colombia. The Sato, Suzuki, and Takahashi of Japan or the Devi, Singh, and Kumar of India. (Search “Most common surname in [Country]” to see what the most common last name is in your country.)

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

The actual planting of all this flora requires randomly distributing it and not doing it in rows or staggered. Have you ever tried to do something randomly? If at this point in your life you have not discovered that humans are naturally inclined to certain patterns, you will suddenly make this realization when you are told to “randomize” something. I find it an interesting side effect of human adaptation. We’ve worked so hard to organize the world in order to make sense of it that when we are asked to randomize we struggle not to make patterns. In the past I’ve made necklaces and done beadwork. I’ll try to make it random only to discover that the longer I work at it, the more likely a pattern will emerge if I am not paying attention.

Akira Miyawaki came up with his method after studying a concept in Germany called “potential natural vegetation” (or Kuchler Potential vegetation) in the 1960s. The idea is to study what the forest would look like without human interference and try to replicate it. The seeds that are harvested from native plants need to have the qualities of being pioneers and secondary indigenous species with mycorrhization. These are the pathfinders of the indigenous forests trying to regrow in areas that might have once been damaged by fire, flood, or disease.

If you’ve read The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben (goodreads.com)or watched the episode of “The Magic School Bus Rides Again Season 2 Episode 10 (Tim and the Talking Trees | The Magic School Bus Wiki | Fandom)  then you’ve come to understand the importance of the mycorrhizal (fungus) and soil bacterium.

Did you know that the microbiome of the human gut has it’s own nervous system? It’s called the enteric system. As we learn the importance of what a healthy gut biome means to human health, one could argue that the trees gut biome is found through the soil. Alternately, You’re feeding a forest in your stomach! A micro biome unique to you. You’re a walking terrarium. When we humble ourselves to the possibilities within the natural world and truly set our egos aside, then we can truly learn new things instead of re-creating the same old premises that hold us back. This is how you learn to think in radically different ways.

Mr. Miyawaki has traveled all over the world to create his process in several countries. As the method become more well-known it inspires others to also work towards this goal of restoring the land one tiny forest at a time. One of these people is Subhendu Sharma of India, who created a company called “Afforestt” and speaks on the subject as a TedTalk Fellow. You can find his videos on YouTube. Some are in English and some are in Hindi. I hope that I too can be a part of the Tiny Forest movement in my own region. I would like to see economically depressed neighborhoods in Seattle, Everett and Tacoma be helped and healed instead of continually ignored.

Right now, I live in a very hot housing market as people in the cities try to outrun urban decay, California and whatever else, small living spaces I suspect, noisy neighbors, etc. I live at edge in what is called the “urban-wildlife interface”, it’s the point at which humans and wildlife collide into side by side living. When the new people move in the freak out after the first windstorm and decide that all the trees need to be cut down, because they’re tall and they *might* fall, even though its already been standing there for 80 years. Then they see their wild neighbors and think they should be the ones to move. Just because a black bear walks across your lawn doesn’t make it a “problem” bear. It’s just existing and each new 5-acre, 9-acre, or 60-acre lot of land that gets developed into matchstick houses pushed the animals further into sight and conflict with humans.

This is a battle I’m willing to fight. I think to save my wild neighbors, we need to revitalize the urban cores once again. We must change our urban planning methods built on old premises and build upon new ones inspired by nature. No more redlining. We need to re-create cities where people can thrive and to do that, we need to bring back some of the forest back into the cities with us.

Don’t we all want to live in beautiful and interesting places? Part of what makes a place interesting to me, is the cultural and indigenous heritage of that place, through its land and its people. An authentic forest. An authentic city. An authentic forest city.

Photo by Rachel Xiao on Pexels.com

What do you think?


Former Reddit CEO’s New Startup Terraformation Raises $30 Million To Restore Forests And Tackle Climate Change (forbes.com)

Akira Miyawaki Official site: Akira Miyawaki | Inventor of Manmade Forest

Shubhendu Sharma, Afforestt Founder and TED Fellow: How to grow your own tiny forest | (ted.com) (video)

UK: Tiny Forest projects launching in Wales: Tiny Forest | Keep Wales Tidy

Potential natural vegetation (PNV) (aka Kuchler potential vegetation): Page translated in English: Potential natural vegetation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (original page in German: Potenzielle natürliche Vegetation – Wikipedia)

A good step-by step outline: How to Build a Forest in your Backyard – The Miyawaki Method – CUTTING EDGE VISIONARIES (cevgroup.org)

25 thoughts on “Tiny Forests: Small forests for big impact

  1. Hi Melanie, thanks for writing this. Once you started talking about the Miyawaki Method I knew I had heard about it. I can’t remember where, but I do remember appreciating shifting the perception of the timeline for change and embracing the fact the the natural world has been able to operate successfully for millions of years without us. This post is also making me think about the question, How do become a good ancestor? What are the things you can do today to create a better world for those 7 generations in the future. If we adopt this mindset and start thinking about us a part of the world instead of separate from it, creating tiny forest just makes sense. Great stuff!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment, Mark! I like the idea of looking at if from that perspective too! I’m so inspired by other people, I like to pass it on. Its interesting to think about what we do now getting passed on to future generations as well.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Ties in nicely with Masanobu Fukuoka’s “One Straw Revolution” which was published about 50 years ago.There are, of course, other books and papers which tell a more natural story, but humans have, over many generations, developed a solidly-cemented mindset.
    Late in the day, but I still believe that we can and should adopt a softer approach to this earth we walk on.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your comment, Dinah! I agree on using a softer approach. I haven’t read that book yet! I’ll have to look that up. It’s funny that I read so much. I think its because I’m really stubborn. I have dyslexia, so it takes me twice as long to read things, but once I do I can recall the information for years.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Melanie – As always wonderful.  I have mentioned sending you “Overstory” – and, after this wonderfully, meaningful and caring blog – I am sending you my copy.  There is something about trees – and, for people who don’t understand this – it makes me sad. Much affection.  Em

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your comment, Mary! And guess what, you already sent me a copy of “Overstory”! I think it was for Christmas. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, probably because I can’t stop reading the news and you know, everything else going on. Ha,ha,ha.


  4. We grew up running around outside and coexisting with the world. My parents valued the old oaks for the cooling shade in summer, even though the sound of acorns on the roof in fall could be annoying. But now everyone, even children, spends their time looking at screens in air conditioning and living carefully curated lives. Still, it’s worth trying to change minds.
    Have you read “Finding the Mother Tree”? That book also talks a lot about the diversity and interconnectedness of every forest. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes, it’s crazy that people move to escape urban areas and then try to change a rural area into urban – totally nuts. That’s humans though – following their own crazy patterns.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, on a Facebook neighbors group I have to patiently explain the same five things over and over to people who start posts with, “I just moved here and….” This suddenly give me an idea! I know several Real Estate Agents. I should draft a pdf with the most commonly asked questions about native wildlife that they can give to their new buyers. Thanks, Scarlet!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The Miyawaki Method sounds fascinating – I should think there’re plenty of small patches of land all over the world that could be tiny-forested and, in time, many of them could be linked up with hedgerows or fallow land to allow movement of wildlfie between them.
    I had a look into Tiny Forests here in the UK (after clicking one of your links), and it seems like it’s taking off here.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wonderful post! Someone has already mentioned it but I’ll mention it again: Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard; it’s about growing up in British Columbia logging and how she went on to experiment and prove in the forest (rather than the lab) how vital what goes on in the soil is to a tree’s development (a brilliant book by an amazing woman).

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Dear Melanie,

    Thank you for your recommendation of the book entitled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben, and for your inclusion of those links at the end of your post.

    I shall resonate with your post as follows:

    Factories don’t make oxygen. Trees do. Respect nature.

    Yours sincerely,

    Liked by 1 person

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