Category: Grow Your Own Food
March 04, 2016
As soon as the calendar tuns to the new year, gardeners dig into plans for their annual food gardens. They sow seeds indoors under lights well before spring and begin sowing hardier cool season crops outdoors — under protection or not — by early February. And, the sowing and plant coddling continues, daily, for most of the year to come.
For intensive food gardeners, this repetitive practice is a labor of love. But the repetition of sow-reap-winter-repeat year after year can become more burdensome than rewarding. Sure, you get to harvest tasty tomatoes in summer, but if you prefer to spend your summer days hiking and shopping rather than monitoring delicate crops everyday, annual edible gardening may not be right for you.
But, you can still grow food gardens!
What so many new gardeners don’t realize and many veteran gardeners may forget is that perennial food crops are so much easier than annual vegetable gardens and they’re generous year-after-year. Perennial food gardens consist of plants that live for many years and yield something good to eat. Some may be herbaceous, meaning their top growth withers for winter. Some may be woody and deciduous, meaning they have sturdy stems but lose their leaves for winter. And, others may be evergreen, meaning they look great all year long. Plus, because these plants become acclimated to the garden, they tend to need less water than thirsty annuals – just be sure to water them well for at least the first three years like you would other perennial plants.
Edible flowering perennials: Daylilies are tough-as-nails perennials that look gorgeous. Plus, if you can bring yourself to pluck the blooms, they taste great too. (Just be sure the lilies you’re eating are true Hemerocallis. Other lilies may be toxic.) Perennial nasturtium, mashua, has edible flowers, leaves and a peppery tasting tuber too. (Just be sure to leave some tubers in the ground so your plants can regrow.) Perennial sunflower, sunchokes, have tasty tubers, and like with mashua, leave some tubers in the soil so they regrow, but realize they may also fall into the next category…
Perennial food weeds: Rather than bemoan the weeds that you likely battle, take a different perspective on what it means to have nettles, blackberry and dandelion in your garden. Sure, you might not choose to plant them, but if you have’m, eat’m!
Groundcovers for foodies: Thyme is simply a must-have in any garden with decent sunlight; this evergreen spreader is a fantastic flavoring too. Sedum may be an acquired taste in the kitchen, but it’s another drought-tolerant spreader. (Before you take a bite, confirm the sedum you choose is a known edible variety.) Strawberry and lingonberry both hug tightly to the ground, remaining mostly evergreen in winter; come summer, both burst forth with sweet, red morsels.
Snackable shrubs: Blueberries and huckleberries are obvious choices. But, don’t forget that drought-hardy woody herbs like rosemary, sage and lavender are also edible, plus they look and smell great in winter too.
Tasty tree treats: You may not want to plant a fruit-bearing tree right over your patio. Nobody wants to get knocked on the noggin by a heavy, ripe fruit. That being said, there are many mini-dwarf cultivars of apples, pears and other fruit trees that look great in pots on your deck. If you have room for an orchard, add in fig, citrus, bay leaf, sterile mulberry, almond, hazelnut, walnut or other size and climate-appropriate options.
Lovely leaves: Plant come-again asparagus sooner rather than later. Its beautiful, fern-y texture is a gorgeous garden addition. And, thank goodness for that because you really shouldn’t harvest it until it has been growing for at least three years. And, find a spot for rhubarb. Even if you don’t care for the sour taste of “pie plant,” this plant’s large leaves and raspberry-red stems add incredible interest to your garden year after year. Plus, some neighbor will gladly take your harvest off your hands.
Vines taste fine: Grapes readily take over an arbor and drip with sugary goodness year-after-year. Plus, their leaves are edible too! While fuzzy kiwi may quickly eat your world, hardy kiwi plays much more nicely with others and can be self-fertile. In warmer locations, passion vines produce passion fruit – just be sure to plant a fruiting variety. If beer’s your thing and you have lots of room, hops may make you happy. (It’s a sharp one, so plant with care.)
There are many other edible perennial plants for your garden. Need help planning what’s right for you location? Contact us today!
September 11, 2015
Growing a shade vegetable garden really is possible if you choose the right food crops. Trying to cultivate tomatoes or zucchini in deep shade isn’t likely to work, so don’t waste your time failing with those. Instead, try some of these great performers for your dark corners!
Choose leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale or chard for your beds that get the least sun. Then, be sure to time things just right, and you’ll enjoy a long harvest of nutritious green goodness.
Many leafy green food crops will grow quite well in dappled to even deep shade, but it is important that they are exposed to sunlight and warmth during their early stages of growth.
In early spring, this planting bed gets at least three or four hours of sunlight. But once the surrounding trees and shrubs leaf out and the asparagus and other nearby perennials grow tall, this will truly be a shade vegetable garden bed. And, in early autumn nearby trees begin to shed their leaves, again letting in sunlight so cool season greens below can grow.(Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)
Of course, when it is hot and dry, chard and other greens will need supplemental water. Leafy greens will not thrive in dry shade.
You might notice a few other edibles in this shade food garden bed — chives, strawberry, asparagus, rhubarb and blueberries. While chard does quite well in the shade, perennial food crops offer quite a few easy rewards in the darker corners of the garden. (And that asparagus grows tall enough to reach the sun!)
*Disclosure: Garden Mentors has received test growing ‘Peppermint Sticks’ chard & other seed from Renee’s Garden Seed. However, no compensation has been paid for this post or for growing this crop. Garden Mentors is also a Renee’s Garden Seed Affiliate.
July 24, 2015
In the height of the annual vegetable growing season, we see a lot of photo request pleas for what may be blossom end rot. Frustrated veggie gardeners who have worked diligently to get their tomatoes, squash and other edibles to produce flowers and fruits are suddenly dismayed to find these shriveled and blackening flower ends on their crops.
Two very common culprits result in the flower-end of your homegrown edibles turning brown and shriveling: blossom end rot and poor pollination. Each has a different cause. Understanding those causes is the key to remedying the issue before the season passes and your entire crop is lost. And, yes, there are ways to get past both problems during the growing season. And, there are ways to keep them from repeating in the future.
Let’s take a look at samples of both problems:
Read on to see the progression of each issue and get our tips to fix both problems during the growing season and help deter it before it starts in years ahead. (more…)
July 10, 2015
Knowing why and how to thin apple tree fruit (and other tree fruits) is important to producing a better harvest. It may seem counterproductive to take several fruits off of your pollinated tree, but pruning out crowded clusters of young fruit actually does a few good things for your trees and your crop.
Fruiting trees often produce an abundance of flowers to ensure some are successfully pollinated. However, if all of the flowers are pollinated, which leads to fruit production, trees may not be able to access sufficient resources to convert every one of those fruits into big, juicy edibles. And, if branches are over-burdened by an over-abundance of developing fruits, they may become stressed and may break under the weight. So, it’s important to both reduce each crowded cluster from several fruits to just one or two and to be sure individual fruits that remain are well spaced on branches, which helps disperse the weight maturing fruit adds.
By manually removing any of the smallest, most damaged or withered of these young fruits early in the season, you will help your fruit tree divert its limited resources to a small number of remaining fruits. Yes, you will harvest fewer individual fruits, but those you do harvest should make for better eating since they will benefit from growing space and more sweetening feeds from the tree.
Left to their own devices, by early-to-mid-summer, many trees will drop a number of immature fruits on their own. But, the tree may release more of the fruit you would choose to keep, so make your own selections and hope the tree doesn’t over-ride your choices later.(Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)
And, if you haven’t protected your fruits from apple maggot and coddling moth, learn how to do that here.
June 26, 2015
Wondering if those white spots on your squash, zucchini, melon or cucumber is powdery mildew? Before you freak out and decide your crop is a goner, take a look at these two images:(Qualifying purchases made through affiliate &/or sponsored links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors.)
Learn how to identify early infestations of this common squash problem and learn how we manage powdery mildew on all sorts of plants in this related post.