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A Global Wiki of Perennial Crops, Polycultures, and Food Forest Sites

Designing perennial polycultures (guilds) can be a big challenge. It can be hard to find information on perennial crops and support species. There is a need for information, sample polycultures, and design templates.

The Apios Institute is a collaborative network of farmers, gardeners, and researchers focused on integrated perennial-crop agroecosystems (variously known as multistrata agroforests, tropical homegardens, food forests, and forest gardens).

Since 2007 we have worked to address these key needs on our site, a crowdsourced tool featuring perennial crops, polycultures, and food forests. Thus far our focus has been on humid temperate systems, but we are raising funds to expand to a global resource. At the same time we’ll be implementing a major overhaul of our site. This will include the open-access addition of the 700 perennial crop species from Eric Toensmeier’s forthcoming book The Carbon Farming Solution.

Please visit our campaign site and consider making a contribution or sharing our video.

Who We Are and Why We’re Doing This?

Our goal is to transform agriculture and mitigate climate change. We believe we can do this while providing food and other products through the creation of agroecosystems that function at the highest level of biodiversity and ecosystem services – the “epitome of sustainability.”

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The Apios Institute, the organization running this campaign, exists to share experience and information about perennial crop polyculture systems in all climates of the world. The Apios Institute works through a collaborative network of farmers, gardeners, and researchers, sharing inspiration and filling critical knowledge gaps regarding the design and management of these systems.

Our current Wiki has worked for thousands of people in cold climates — but it is incomplete. Many people around the world have asked us to expand to include other climates.

Our all-volunteer team has been hard at work since 2007. We are all practitioners and “plant geeks”. None of our board have ever been paid, nor do we have paid staff. Apios revenues come through memberships and sponsorships, and 100% of these funds go to pay for web hosting and design.

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For a taste of the amazing wiki our members have already created, check out these top pages:

Perennial Crops

• Asimina triloba – pawpaw – Banana-custard flavored cold-hardy fruit!

Castanea pumila – Chinquapin chestnut. A sweet and productive bush nut.

Dioscorea polystachya – Chinese yam. A hardy relative of the tropical yams. An excellent perennial vine root crop.

• Chenopodium bonus-henricus – Good King Henry. A perennial lead anf shoot vegetable for partial shade.

Food Forest Sites

Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture. A high-desert, cold-climate perennial polyculture market garden and demonstration center.


Butternut-Concord Grape. A living trellis polyculture producing nuts and fruit.

Turkish rocket broccoli production polyculture. A productive perennial vegetable system!

How Does the Wiki Address Crops and Polycultures?

Polycultures (“guilds” to permaculture practitioners) are cultivated plant systems which include at least two species. They are generally designed for minimum competition and maximum cooperation between the component species. They also need to be optimized for easy harvest and management.

Polycultures are the building block of multistrata agroforestry systems. Large farm- and landscape-scale systems may repeat one polyculture across the landscape, while smaller home-scale systems are a patchwork mosaic of polycultures. However, resources to help design perennial polycultures are few and far between, regardless of climate.

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We founded the Apios Institute to address the challenges we’ve heard over and over from practitioners and aspiring practitioners. These seem to be the case across climates, at least where intact tropical homegardening traditions are not widespread.

•It is hard to find information on perennial crops and support species, the great majority of which are rare in cultivation.

•It is sometimes very challenging to combine species into polycultures.

•Few case studies of gardens, farms, and productive wild “reference ecosystems” are available for use as models or inspiration.

Apios is a place for growers and enthusiasts to share personal experience, observation, and research. How do these crops perform for you? What polycultures have you planted, and how are they working out? What’s the design of your site, and what have you learned from it about establishment and ongoing maintenance? Apios contributors, as “roving reporters”, also share observations of gardens, farms, and wild ecosystems of interest that they visit (even if they themselves have no garden or farm at the moment).

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Why collect sample polycultures? First, it is challenging to design new ones, and borrowing open-source designs from others is a great place to start. Members will be able to search for polycultures suited to their site (climate, soils) and their goals (fruit production, nitrogen-fixation, etc). Searching for fruiting shrub polycultures for cold and dry or humid tropical climates will greatly stimulate adoption of these practices.

Please visit our campaign site and consider making a contribution or sharing our video.

Eric Toensmeier

Eric Toensmeier is the award-winning author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables, and the co-author of Edible Forest Gardens. He is an appointed lecturer at Yale University, a Senior Biosequestration Fellow with Project Drawdown, and an international trainer. Eric presents in English, Spanish, and botanical Latin throughout the Americas and beyond. He has studied useful perennial plants and their roles in agroforestry systems for over two decades. Eric has owned a seed company, managed an urban farm that leased parcels to Hispanic and refugee growers, and provided planning and business trainings to farmers. He is the author of The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agricultural Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security released in February 2016.

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