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.