Monday, April 29, 2013

What's in your garden?

 I know I haven't posted in a month but I was very busy planting! I think growing things should be on everyones list to do. Why you ask? Because groceries aren't getting any cheaper, food is getting scarier(do you know what is in your food?) and it is a miracle every time something grows. I like food security so I do what I can here on my little farm.
    Some folks ask how do you decide what to plant?
Well I first look at what my family eats and uses medicianlly. I made a list of all the foods and herbs I can grow here in my climate without a fancy greenhouse. If you don't use herbs yet but would like to try to grow them and learn to use them... here is my list of where I think most families should start.

Family friendly herbs: (Remember to make sure you read the latin names and make sure none of these herbs are hybrids and are being cultivated for just their flowers or size but are the herbs you want to use in your home. To educate yourself about herbs, their uses, recipes and how to grow them try
Lemon Balm
White Sage
Also learn to correctly identify chickweed, plantain, and nettle on your property or at a park. They are great herbs to learn how to use in your home.
    After herbs I make a list of vegetables and fruit we eat. Then decide what I can grow in my area. I also look to see if any of these plants come in a perennial version so I don't have to plant it every year. Some vegetables like spinach, celery, onions, and a few others have a perennial version. When this list is made I then start to find sources for all these goodies(We use Fedco, High Mowing Seeds and Seed Savers for most of our plants and seeds).
   We built raised beds for tender annuals so we won't need a rototiller and they won't get compacted from walking on them. In these boxes we plant peas, onions, carrots, lettuce, radish, beets, bush beans, tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, parsnips, and turnips. Annual herbs like cilantro, basil, calendula, nasturtiums and dill get planted with the vegetables we use them with in recipes. Calendula and nasturtiums benefits all plants so they get put everywhere there is open space. We eat the petals and flowers in salads. Square foot gardening is a great way to get the most out of this type of space.
    We do have a perennial bed that we grow rhubarb, horseradish, garlic, walking onions, Good King Henry, sorrel, lovage, parsley, and asparagus in. Next to that we have raspberries in red and black. There is also an area my husband wants to try his hand at the Three Sisters this year. This is an area that he will till and plant with corn, beans and squash interplanted.
   As we cut down old trees and bushes that are starting to die we replant with edible or medicinal trees. We like willow, apple, peach, nectarine, prune plum, pear, apricot, crab apple, elderberry, nanking cherry, hazel nuts, paw paw, witch hazel, blueberry, honeyberry, currants, gooseberry, korean pine, white pine, chestnut, rugosa rose, Slippery Elm, sugar maple, and grapes. Now you may not have room to grow all that but you can pick a few that your family might use.
    One last advice... if you remember me mentioning permaculture in my last post... this is how I fit some of these items together. It is called a guild of plants that are beneficial to each other. Say you have a small crab apple you can tuck in your backyard. Under that tree you could plant chives, a comfrey plant, alpine strawberries and maybe a couple currant bushes all within the drip line of that tree. It uses your space wisely, helps the tree gain nutrients deeper in the ground, helps fight off certain disease of that tree, provides insectary for beneficial bugs and gives a little shade to the other plants. Oh and it looks pretty! Put a little garden bench near there and you are ready to enjoy the beauty.. oh that is a relaxing benefit to you!
    If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me. I love giving advice in this area and helping others get started with a small or larger garden. I don't pretend to know it all about gardening or permaculture.... just enough to make me dangerous or inspiring depending on how you look at it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring in our permaculture garden

My husband taking a break after building 10 garden boxes. 
Horseradish peaking out
Rhubarb peaking out
     Gardening can be made much easier by first studying your growing area. Now I consider myself more of a accidental gardener or maybe a more intuitive gardener if you will. I am not found of measuring soil moisture, nutrient content or ph level. I just don't think God meant for it to be that difficult to grow food.  I do however look at the area and become aware of what likes to grow in the soil naturally because this can tell you the same things all those tests can tell you without having to decipher the numbers. So how does this all apply to the kind of garden we are putting in.... a food forest hybrid garden? Well as I talked to the lady at our local ag center she was surprised by what we were doing. She asked why we wanted to do a permaculture garden, saying "that is unique." I explained that it just seemed natural to set-up a system of growing that the perennials, fruit bushes and fruit trees help each other to gain the nutrients they need and help to make them better able to fight off disease and insects. She had her doubts that I can produce enough food to do a small CSA.... so I take that as a challenge not just to prove her wrong and grow lots of food but also to educate others on the benefits all around to a food forest garden. More bees, butterflies, birds, no chemicals, flowers, less weeding, etc. 

So what is in the garden and what will go in the garden as the season progresses? 

    We put in 10 raised beds for annuals that don't need permanent planting, can be rotated through the years, need some trellising, and can be successionally planted. I didn't make them deeper because the soil underneath is really good. Using raised beds for annuals keeps the ground looser because your not walking in the bed and you don't need to buy a tiller. I also don't like using heavy equipment when I can use a hand tool or an animal to do the work for me. 
    The fencing is almost done. That is to keep my dogs and the large population of deer out of the main garden. There will be more trees and bushes outside the fence but they will be more deer and dog resistant. Some will be to give the wildlife something to share as well. Some plant/trees for outside the garden are elder berry, paw paw trees, redbud trees, wet area wildflowers for near our creek, nanking cherries, lavender bed, a perennial flower bed, hazelnut bushes(closer to the house), jerusalem artichokes, ground nuts, and in front of the house a small culinary herb garden. 
    Our soil is rich from being in the flood plane of the Schuylkill river. That sounds great but it makes for some challenges with plants that prefer poorer dryer soil like lavender and some Mediterranean herbs. We will be planting the lavender bed on a hill with good drainage, sand added and marble chips to help reflect the suns warm rays. We also picked 2 kinds that do well in our northern climate; Hidcote and Grosso. I will be using them for making herbal salves, lavender water, sachets, and bundles to sell. We won't be growing enough at this time to consider making our own essential oil.
    The plants and trees that were in the garden area have been pruned. The perennial bed that grows asparagus, horseradish, garlic and rhubarb has been cleaned up for spring. To that we will add Good King Henry a perennial spinach, Lovage(celery like), and more walking onions. In between the rows I will plant parsley to help with the health of all the plants. We may need to add more asparagus to the bed too. I will add purple asparagus to the empty spots. Around the perimeter we have 2 nectarines, 2 pears, a willow tree, and 2 hollies. We will add 4 apples trees, 2 crab apple trees, 2 peach, 1 apricot, 1 plum, clove currants, gooseberry, honey berries, raspberries and in one corner a three sister area(corn, squash and dry pole beans). Under fruit trees and berry bushes we will plant perennial herbs and plants. We ordered 75 alpine strawberries, assorted herbs like thyme, chives, borage, lemon balm, meadow mint, and comfrey. 
    There is some shade in the garden which I am hoping will provide us with some gourmet mushrooms too. Only time will tell what we will continue to grow. Also as the fruit trees grow and give more shade we will have to add a different set of plants to the mix. 
    Eventually in the actual forest we will plant ramps, goldenseal, wintergreen, ferns and some hardwood trees. They may not all take but we are going to try. 

So this may seem overwhelming to some but I challenge you to try a few edible perennials around your home. Maybe even a fruit tree and some berry bushes. It is fun to experiment and see what grows. 

Happy spring everyone!