Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Growing a Low-maintenance Edible Garden or Food Forest

Everyone loves the idea of homegrown produce, but in reality, it is a lot of work many of our favorite food crops like carrots, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, beans, melons must be planted every year. 

Most of the work happens in spring and fall when we prepare the soil every year, plant every year, and maybe start seeds indoors before the last spring frost. Then there is cleanup in fall after the plants have died.
The typical vegetable garden is also resource-intensive; plants may need to be mulched, fertilized, and watered regularly throughout the season. And unless seeds are saved, new seeds or seedlings must be bought every year. 

But there is another way to grow food. Which in another countries is quite common a returning garden. I’m slowing making most of my garden a returning gift. 

Many food bearing plants can live through winters, even in colder climates, and bear food every year. Hardy perennial plants include common vegetables like asparagus and rhubarb, herbs like thyme and sage, and fruiting plants from groundcover strawberries to caning blackberries and shrubby currants to tree crops like apples, cherries, pears, and nuts. 

Once they are settled in your garden, these plants grow and bear more crops as the years pass, and most of them demand less work with each passing year. There's no replanting, no tilling the soil, no yanking out and disposing of dead plants. There is only a minimal amount of caring for the live plants, and of course, harvesting the food. 

Returning gardens or Food Forest  are communities of perennial plants—from trees down to groundcovers and including plants of varied sizes and habits, many of which produce food for people, and many others of which work to keep the plant community healthy by doing such jobs as attracting pollinators, suppressing weeds, and converting airborne nitrogen to a form other plants can use. 

The biggest work of a returning garden lies in its design. This entails thinking through, as clearly as possible, how plants will perform in the chosen site, and even more importantly, how they will interact with each. Not all plants are friends it is important to research the art of companion gardening to know what works well together. 

Some Things to Remember in a Returning Garden/Food Forest:

Plants Resources:
Remember that different plants grow at different heights; have differently structured roots; leaf out, flower, and set fruit at different times; and manufacture a wide array of chemicals for protection, advertising, and other functions. If you research you will find that some of the chemicals a plant makes will harm or fight other plants growing in the same area. So make sure to check the companion gardening to make sure that the plants are friendly. 

Stagger Your Harvest:
Design your edible garden with the harvest dates for each species in mind. Choose different varieties of a plants to extend the season during which you'll have it fresh food.

A wonderful example of a food forest that inspired me a couple years ago is a 300 year old food forest or returning garden in Vietnam I have attached the video below. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Garden Lessons in Soil & Patience


I have been pursuing a yearly garden and returning garden for 4 years now. I am happy to report that even though I might not have had the best yields I’m definitely learning a huge amount.

 In my first 2 years of gardening I found that gardening is truly a patience sport.  You cannot rush a plant to grow it will not happen overnight it’s almost like the proverbial pot waiting to boil, watching it doesn’t make it grow faster. For me sadly this was a hard lesson that took me 2 growing seasons to learn and go with. I’ll admit sometimes I still wish I could rush things.

Second important lesson gleaned from the garden is texture and chemistry of soil composition. I have developed soil envy when I go places and look at the years of work that goes into a rich garden bed. This year I have figured out that the weeds I see tell me the soil chemistry. Knowing what is going on without testing your soil but by looking at what is growing naturally tells you so much about the area you are cultivating. By looking closely at the weeds growing in my garden and the surrounding landscape, I can maintain the soil’s quality more effectively. I noticed after research that a lot of the weeds that grow in my garden are acid lovers. So when I looked at the plants I planted those that were acid loving grew better and those who did not care for high acid levels did poorly. The presence of clover in my lawn also indicates a low level of nitrogen in the soil. So now I know for next year what I need to add or balance in my gardens soil. Weeds can be our enemies, overtaking our gardens. They can aggravate to no end, but weeds can also be friends to our gardens they give valuable clues to what is going on in the soil. Good or bad, they are here for a reason; weeds are nature’s band-aid, healing injured landscapes.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My 1st Raised Bed Experience

So for 3 months now I've been planning, dreaming, and scheming how to make raised beds for my garden. When I do new projects I research it to death. I've read my favorite sites like homegrown, and some of my inspiration blogs for ideas. I googled, and priced out online kits. I talked to my boss, my friends, and so on. 

Finally it was time to stop thinking and do it. So my 1st trip to Lowes I slipped in starting in the garden center and slowly walked my way through the store through every section I knew and felt comfortable in. Then I was at the part of the store that was a foreign world to me Lumber! The Lumber section is huge with stacks of wood in neat piles for 4 aisles. Now for those that know me I can't walk away from a good innuendo and me in a wood department is over load. The 1st trip I didn't ask questions, just walked around quietly trying not to look as out of place as I felt. I noticed the wood size I had planned on was nowhere in sight but I found 12 foot by 2 foot untreated boards. I apologizes if I'm not give the proper measurements I know nothing about building stuff in fact I think I have a mental block of fear to the whole subject. Maybe it is flash backs to algebra which I hated and struggled in, maybe it's my dyslexia who knows whatever it is it gets to me. My friend Drew and CSA garden partner says I don’t think in the “4th Dimension” (brownie points for anyone who gets the reference. Admittedly I didn’t get where he got it but after he explained it hit me…Good Luck on your guesses.)  Seeing the lumber kind of helped me visualize what I was trying to do I had my mental picture  it is a 5 foot by 2 foot bed!  So once I knew where the 12 foot pieces were located and the price I B-lined back to the garden center to price out soil, peat moss, and fertilizer.  I also tried to Google how much dirt for a raised bed which nightmare of nightmares is algebra equation! So, one of my most hated things had to be used to figure out how much to buy.  I will admit that I used the equation but grumbled through it.  Mind you this proves how much I over think things I did all of this as a research run and never bought anything on this trip.

Three days later I went back with the cavalry my mom and the farm truck to haul my project pieces home. I was still a bit worried to now have to buy and build, but I wanted my raised beds dang it so vidi veni vici! I came in the lumber door this time walking right in with the 1st cart I could find and the loudest cart there was. It was so loud that when I asked for help walking in they could not hear me over the squeal of the wheels.  I checked in at the lumber section help desk which had 3 people standing there but none of them could help so someone had to be called to come help me select my wood and cut it. So I waited and dreaded trying to explain what my project was if I was going to have someone who minded how lost I was, and so on.

 Eventually a nice 20 something year old man came up to help. He was very quite spoken and flat expressioned but willing to help. Lord he had no idea what he was walking into with me as a customer, I explained to him I had never got Wood before, didn’t know what I was doing, and didn’t know size or girth. Stating that I started to chuckle as I do at my own jokes, and he started turning red.  I went on that I didn’t know how to measure it, or what I should be looking for. This poor guy kept a straight face walked me to the 12 footers helped me pick them out and cut them.  After all that work on his part I wasn’t done I needed to know if it was better to screw my wood or nail it another sentence that as I said it I grinned. That poor guy…

 Once I had my wood, dirt, and supplies I came home then Drew came over to help me line up the boxes. We worked and laughed as I told him the tale of Lowes. Then I realized the nails I bought were way to small the guy at Lowes told me I should be good with 2 ½ inch nails.  Which after hammering a couple out just didn’t hold anything together. Even with the idea of another Lowes trip I felt so much relief getting everything laid out for the 1st time I knew what and where and how this project was working out. That is such a great feeling. I got 3 ½ inch nails the next day then came home after work to finish hammering out the 3 boxes. Stained, and prepped them let them sit for a day then set them in their places and filled and planted them!  

 I have to send a special Thank You’s on this project to Kathryn, Drew, and the quite Lowes guy. Now I want to build 3 more beds! I’m so hooked, moral of my story no matter how head shy of a project you are you can do it!

{Didn't I find nice wood? :0)}

Monday, May 2, 2011

Back to Basics: Canned Whole Tomatoes


Tomatoes as many as will fill the amount of jars you have
1 teaspoon of salt per jar
*Optional 1 teaspoon of lemon juice per jar

  •  Drop tomatoes whole into boiling water
  • Watch for them to have their skins crack or for them to float on top of the water
  •  When cracked or floating pull out of water  place in tub of ice water
  •  Use your hands to gentle pop of skins and leave the tomatoes whole
  •  Pack into hot jars and push down at the top to fill the jar with the tomatoes juice
  • (Note depending on the type of tomatoes, and jar size you may be surprised how many fill a jar. I used medium ones last night in quart jars and had about 15 – 16 tomatoes per jar! )
  •  Wipe jar then adjust two piece caps.
*Water Bath*
  • Pints 35 minutes
  • Quarts 45 minutes
*Pressure Canner*

Dial Gauge Type @ 11 pounds pressure or Weighted Gauge Type @ 10 pounds pressure.
  • Pints 15 minutes
  • Quarts 15 minutes



Sweet & Hot Carrot Pickles


6 cup water
6 cup apple cider vinegar
5 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons of crushed bay leaves
2 tablespoons of peppercorns
2 tablespoons of hot pepper flakes or 3 whole chilies
2 tablespoons of allspice
2 tablespoons of coriander seeds
2 tablespoons of whole cloves
2 tablespoons of garlic
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 cups brown sugar
At least 10 pounds Carrots cleaned sliced to your size and taste
(For smaller batches the vinegar and water ratio is 1 cup water:1 cup vinegar: ½ cup sugar:1 tablespoon salt and spice to taste)

  • Combine everything except carrots in a sauce pan and bring to boil over medium heat.
  • Pack clean hot jars with carrots
  •  Ladle in hot syrup
  •  Immediately fill hot pint jars with mixture leaving 1/2" head space.
  •  Remove trapped air bubbles.
  •  Wipe jar then adjust two piece caps.
  •  Process jars in boiling water canner for 10 minutes for pint and 15 minutes for quarts.