For many of us lucky folks, we still remember the days when we would lazily meander through our grandparents’ gardens snacking on fresh treats on a warm summer’s day. There is nothing quite like a carrot pulled straight from the garden with a little dirt still on it to awaken the taste buds. With increasing food prices and decreasing food quality (not to mention the long distances that our food must travel to reach us), more people are becoming interested in growing their own food.
What comes to mind when we think of growing our own food is a traditional garden plot that is labour intensive and, let’s face it, a little daunting for people just starting out. However, gardening has become easier with the emergence of raised beds and a focus on incorporating edible perennials into your existing landscape. A perennial is a plant that comes back every year. Most edible perennials do not require watering once they are established and have a much longer growing season than annuals. Many yards I come across are already chock-full of nutritious, delicious plants that the homeowners didn’t even know they could eat.
Where do you start? Begin by identifying the edible plants that you may already have at your fingertips. Some of these include: Daylilies (leaves, flowers, tubers), dandelions (leaves, flowers, and the root makes a delicious, liver-cleansing tea), plantain, stonecrop, purslane, pineapple weed, lamb’s quarters, marigolds (flowers), nasturtiums, fiddlehead ferns (young, curled-up leaves), chickweed, and bee balm. The book Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos is a comprehensive resource that will help you identify these plants and teach you how to prepare them.
If you’re ready to the take the next step towards growing your own food, begin by adding some edible perennials into your existing landscape. Look for trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants/flowers, groundcovers, root crops, and vines that are all edible for a complete “forest” look to your yard.
Below are examples from each category that do very well on the Canadian prairies (USDA hardiness zone 3). Please note that this is merely a small sample of what can be grown.
Trees: Apples, pears, apricots, sour cherries, plums (some of these trees require two different varieties to bear fruit, so make sure to double check with your plant nursery upon purchase).
Shrubs: Chokecherries, saskatoons, haskaps, gooseberries, black currants, hazelnuts, goji berries.
Herbaceous plants/flowers: Chives, bee balm, oregano, mint, French sorrel, Good King Henry, sage, hyssop, borage, daylilies.
Groundcovers: Creeping thyme, strawberries
Root crops: Horseradish, daylily tubers, Jerusalem artichoke
Vines: Grapes, hops, hardy kiwi
If you would like to construct garden boxes, think outside the box (pun intended) and include a mix of annual plants with perennials. This will lessen the workload of having to plant everything from scratch each year, and some perennials will start producing as early as April and keep producing as late as October. Just remember to build the boxes out of wood that will not leach chemicals into your food—opt for cedar or fir instead of pressure treated, when possible.
For more information about edible landscaping, to book a consultation (online or in person), or attend a class, please visit my website at elpermaculture.com.
What are some unique and decorative edible plants that you have had success growing?
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