Thursday, March 31, 2011

Growing Food Without a Plow

Ever since I was a wee child, we have had gardens. Not every year, though. We'd have them for a couple of years and then need a couple more years to sufficiently forget about things like weeds with taproots, bugs, blossom-end rot, dragging heavy hoses, gnats, and vine borers. Growing vegetables is a lot of work.

I may have mentioned that in my high school yearbook, the 10-year prediction listed for me was, "still trying to find ways to get out of work." It took me about 5 of those years to figure out that it isn't a bad thing to find easier ways to do things. I choose to believe it was written as a compliment.

This explains my love of wildcrafting or foraging. How much easier is it to take the colander out into the yard and pick nutritious wild greens, than it is to clear space in the garden, plant, weed, protect from roving bunnies and groundhogs, water....? Well, you get my drift. Over the past 20 years I've studied and worked to identify and taste the wild vegetables, fruits and roots that can be eaten in place of the ones most often domesticated and grown commercially or in the backyard. Many of them are either escaped from colonial gardens or are feral cousins of something we eat everyday. Some of them just proved to be too much trouble for the average Joe. For instance, the current grain craze, quinoa is closely related to lambsquarters.

In the meantime, after moving to the farm several years ago, I set about adding edibility to the landscape here. Hardy figs, currants, and elderberries were some of the first plants to go in. Bob caught the bug and added some sweet cherries, pears, and hazelnuts (we have wild cherries and tons of black walnuts in the woods naturally) and sugar maples. I keep adding - Jerusalem artichokes, serviceberry, gooseberries, horseradish, blueberries, and finally this week persimmon and sour cherries, with some goji berries still on the way. This is my goal, you see. Lots of food bearing, perennial plants that require very little work or attention.

At the same time, in addition to all the wild herbal medicines growing here, we've gradually added lots and lots of perennials that have taken and are colonizing. On the acreage here, there are many different miniature environs - a meadow, woods, swamp, and typical "yard". If it can survive our zone, we have a place for it.

The point of this post is really to try to remind people that as they choose plants, whether they be for vast acreage or a potted shrub to guard their urban doorway, try to choose something that earns its way wither by providing food or medicine. Beauty is valuable too, but it feels like at this time we should be more utilitarian until we are feeling more secure. It feels good to me to know that there is food everywhere I look outside, and it requires no work.

Sure, I'll throw in some tomatoes, peppers, beans, and cukes this summer. Mostly I'll purchase my veggies from a farmers market. Still I really encourage everyone to learn ONE wild edible this year. Just one.

Here are some good options to learn: garlic mustard, chickweed, violet leaves, violets, mustards, cresses, dandelion, black raspberries, wineberries, and lambsquarters. There are many many more, but that could give you something to think about if you've never tried anything wild.


steeleweed said...

Can you recommend any books on wild foods? My granny knew and harvested many but I was to young and foolish to pay much attention.

The older I get the more I want 'natural' instead of pre-packaged. While we've had gardens over the years - some pretty extensive - age has slowed us down and we aren't looking at more than container gardening - tomatoes, peppers, herbs & spices. May plant some spuds since I can get a lot in limited space by planting several in a stack of tires (which also simplifies harvesting).

Tina Sams said...

well, I do have a cookbook ( - 4th down), and I really like Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook as well as the Peterson Field Guides. I used to spend my winters poring over the field guides, and then when spring came I was out there "hunting".

Marnie said...

Never heard of wineberries! What are those? Gonna go google...
Thanks Tina! I planted elderberry after reading TEH. I don't pull up chickweed when I see it now, although I am still the only one who eats it.

Marnie said...

Wineberries? What are those? Gonna go google that....

I planted elderberry bushes after reading so much about them in TEH. I'm on the look out for chickweed. I really would like to try dandelion leaves, but I'm afraid I'd get the 'wrong' kind? I see so many variations and some with thistly things...yikes!


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