Tiny Forests: Small forests for big impact

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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.)

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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.

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What do you think?

Links:

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)