Bringing in perennial food plants

In between annual veggies and fruit trees are the perennial crops, ones that live for many years without replanting. Some of them are quite familiar; asparagus, artichokes, and rhubarb come to mind. They go in the ground one time and then provide you great groceries for many years with little effort other than harvesting.

Perennials help build good soil; use few resources; extend the harvest season beyond what annuals can deliver; and can be part of a perennial polyculture, a diverse ecosystem of productive plants of all types. Perennial food crops don't replace annual crops; they add another dimension to your food system.

Perennials are easy, but they aren't perfect. Some are slow to begin producing, and a few can become weedy. Still, perennial food plants are worth exploring even if you just stick to rhubarb.

Sharing the wealth: The foodshed idea

Once you get hooked on growing your own food, you can take it to the next level by sharing the food surplus with your neighbors. Nearly every food gardener has a surplus now and then, and it often goes to waste because the family just can't eat that much broccoli at one sitting. The answer is to organize a neighborhood foodshed, which is like a watershed except that it's apples and peaches and onions that flow to a central point in the neighborhood where folks gather to trade food, swap growing tips, watch the kids play, and make friends.

Because the food is both grown and transported without the use of fossil fuels, it's the most efficient way imaginable to feed people. You can even go a step further and tune the neighborhood for a balanced diet by adding crops as needed and optimizing the use of the land.

Foodsheds are about much more than just food; they're also about building community and having fun. Visit my Web site www. owendell.com for a complete how-to on starting and managing your own foodshed.

You may be surprised by how many foods come from perennial plants other than the Big Three (asparagus, artichokes, and rhubarb). Depending on your climate, you may want to try some of these crops. Unless otherwise noted, these will grow in most climates and soil types (and all these are attractive plants that you don't need to hide behind the garage):

  • Jerusalem artichokes (not artichokes and not from Jerusalem; how this species got its name is a mystery)
  • Chayotes (mild to moderate climates)
  • Scarlet runner beans
  • Bananas (for the very mildest climates only)
  • Sweet potatoes (not for very cold climates)
  • Ultra-drought-tolerant prickly pear cactus, which makes nutritious fruit; the young leaves, called pads, can be cooked as vegetables (not for extremely cold climates)
  • Daylily flowers, which some folks eat
  • Taro (if you live in a mild climate), from which you can make poi
  • Bamboo shoots from specific varieties of bamboo

For more information, check out these Web sites: Edible Forest Gardens (www.edibleforestgardens.com) and Plants for a Future (www. pfaf.org).

Discovering the secrets of savvy farmers

Farmers work with soil and plants every day. The best of them can teach the home food grower a thing or two about keeping the harvest coming and the land healthy, not to mention how to do it without wrecking yourself in the process. Here's some of the collective wisdom of sustainable agriculture:

  • The farm, large or small, is an ecosystem. The interactions of plants, animals, insects, bacteria, fungi, soils, air, water, and minerals are complex, and it's essential to understand all elements of the system, not just plants. In fact, by mimicking the processes of natural ecosystems, you'll get better results with less work.
  • Keep your eyes open. Watchfulness, keen observation, and thinking for yourself can make all the difference between success and failure. Small things, if unobserved, can cause problems.
  • Feed the soil, and the soil will feed us. Keeping the soil in good health is the heart of good food-growing practices. Because food production involves extracting elements from the system (the food we eat), nutrients have to be brought back in the form of compost, compost tea, humanure (yes, that), or organic fertilizers. Even more important, beneficial soil microorganisms, such as soil bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, and earthworms, need to be kept in good health, because they're the basis for the health of the plants. Organic farmers say, "Healthy soil equals healthy food equals healthy people."
  • Don't cultivate. Turning soil usually does more harm than good. No-till farming practices, combined with regular use of mulches on the surface, protect and improve soil structure and improve yields. When you have decent soil in place for your mini-farm, leave it alone.
  • Encourage diversity. Plant many varieties, and rotate your crops so they don't deplete the soil. Include legumes, such as fava beans, that absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and deliver it to the soil. Also include plants such as yarrow, dill, cilantro, clover, and tansy to attract beneficial insects that will stick around and control pests.

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Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

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