The Urban Farming (2015)
Radishes aren’t very valuable on their own, but they add a ton of value to a salad mix and look really great in a market stand.
“Commercial agriculture can survive within pluralistic American society, as we know it—if the farm is rebuilt on some of the values with which it is popularly associated: conservation, independence, self-reliance, family, and community. To sustain itself, commercial agriculture will have to reorganize its social and economic structure as well as its technological base and production methods in a way that reinforces these values.”
—Marty Strange, Family Farming: A New Economic Vision
While berries grow in almost every climate, they are most suited to cool and temperate zones, where they grow everywhere naturally. Cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are all pioneers, but unlike most pioneer species, they also offer a valuable edible product. They improve the soil and shelter seedlings from invading deer. They also grow in soil that isn’t very good and need little care except frequent picking. They should be provided with liquid manure and thick mulch to keep the grass from growing. They need to be protected from birds, which will quickly eat 30 percent of your cash crop. Berries must be picked every day, so if you are within reasonable driving distance of a city, you can offer them as a U-pick product.
Bird protection can be done with a mesh cage, which will also house a polyculture system. The raspberries or boysenberries grow on trellises to save space, and blueberries can be intercropped on raised beds two feet (0.6 m) high and five feet (1.5 m) wide with drainage at the base, preferably with piping. Strawberries are grown as a groundcover. Lizards, frogs, and quail are released into the cage to control insects (and the quail can provide food). This type of system must be somewhat small, but because there is very little crop loss, it may be more profitable.
If you decide you want to grow a bigger cash crop and go the U-pick route, bird-deterrent kites that look like hawks are available and are simply tethered around the field. Their effectiveness is questionable, but if they are removed after the harvest the birds will hopefully not get used to them. The advantage of having a bigger field is that people will do the work for you, but you must build wider, grassy paths between the three-feet-high (1 m) raised beds. You will also need buckets, scales, and bags for packaging.
Both of these systems use drip lines for irrigation. It is quite common in North America for berries to be watered with sprinklers, which are much easier to install and possibly cheaper, but during the summer you will be watering twice a day. Sprinklers must be left on for hours, letting much of the water evaporate in the sun, and some of it won’t even make its way down to the soil. Drip line uses less water and conserves it by depositing it directly near the roots.
Honeyberries grow great in containers with proper drainage and will produce a lot of fruit if you have several varieties.
Blackberries are tasty but also very likely to get out of control. It is probable that there are some blackberries on your property already, which you may want to utilize as a hedge or barrier somewhere, but you will have to form a strategy for keeping them under control. Removing them takes years so it’s a good idea to start right away. In a very small area it is possible to cut them back and cover them with a strong mulch of tough plastic weighed down with rocks or other material. Once they have rotted there for two years, you can dig the roots up. An area of blackberries of a quarter acre or more can be fenced off and used as a pig field at a ratio of twenty pigs per acre (0.4 ha). The next year twelve goats per acre (0.4 ha) are grazed there, followed by pigs again the next. The blackberries won’t return as long as you keep something in there like sheep or goats, or plant trees or a hay cash crop. Another strategy is to plant apples, figs, pear, and plum trees in the middle of the blackberries forty feet (12 m) from the edge. In about five years these trees will have grown enough that you can let cattle in to graze. The cattle will eat the windfall fruit and trample down all the blackberries.
Cultivating Wild Edible Foods
Obviously it would be devastating (and any wild food book will tell you this) if everyone ran into the woods and started grabbing up wild plants, especially since many of these are endangered. But wild plants are full of nutritional value and, once you identify what grows in your climate, can be simple to grow. Starting out cultivating native species can be tricky especially if you have a landscaped yard. You’ll have to rip out any nonnative plants that will compete and carefully choose what are going to put in to make sure it is appropriate for your soil and climate. It’s also going to be a challenge creating a small ecosystem, especially if you want to grow fish and water plants.
Getting the seeds and plants initially can also be a challenge. These need to be locally sourced plants and seeds, but not pulled directly from the wild. Your best bet is to search Google for “native plants” or “wild heritage plants” in your province or state. You could also ask your local nursery or local county extension. Make a list of the plants you want, and then search for those specific species, because most places will carry mainly ornamental plants, with one or two edible varieties. But once you have your first plants, most of these wild varieties simply spread on their own.
Fish and Water Plants
Building a backyard pond is a common practice, and you can raise fish in one. Many people raise channel fish, trout, striped bass, and tilapia. Some people raise a couple of these, although most choose channel fish and tilapia. For a pond that feeds itself, tilapia are the easiest because they eat mostly plant material and plankton. You can introduce small, edible, cleaning plants to your pond, such as duckweed, which will feed the fish and clean the waste at the same time. Some are experimenting with cleaning gray water with duckweed, which could be worked into the design as well. If you were to throw a decent number of breeding tilapia into your pond, they would reproduce and choke the pond as they overpopulated, so regular fishing or trapping to keep a balance is the key. Extras can be dried or smoked.
Some people like to spontaneously try wild mushrooms, but they should only be eaten if picked by an expert. It’s actually quite simple to grow mushrooms, because all mushrooms are wild mushrooms, and as you can see when you walk in the woods, they grow everywhere. The key to growing them outside in your little ecosystem is to replicate what they grow on in the wild, and then buy the fungus plugs from a mushroom supplier so that you know what you are getting. For example, in the Pacific Northwest (and many other places), chicken of the woods is a mushroom that likes to grow mostly on oak, though it also likes yew, cherrywood, sweet chestnut, and willow. Get a log of that wood, preferably an old cheap log that is rotting a bit. Soak it for 48 hours, and drill holes all over, which you then put the plugs into. Then you seal them with melted cheese wax, and bury the log about one-third into the ground. Make sure the log stays moist, and by fall you should have mushrooms. Chicken of the woods is particularly valuable because it can be prepared like chicken and contains very high protein.
This mushroom farm uses stacked bags to hold their growing medium.
Growing mushrooms indoors is a more common practice, especially shiitake, oyster, and white button mushrooms. The spawn or spore is purchased from a good supplier, and the growing medium depends on the variety you choose. Shiitake need hardwood or hardwood sawdust, oysters need straw, and white button usually need manure. The process is the same for all mushrooms: put the flat of growing medium (the material the plant grows in, such as coffee grounds) in a dark, cool place, such as a basement or at least a closet. Raise the temperature to 70°F and plant your spores. In three weeks the spores will have rooted. Then decrease the temperature to 55-60°F, and cover the spores with about an inch of potting soil. Cover that with a damp cloth. You will need to keep the cloth and soil damp, so spray it down when it dries out. You will have baby mushrooms in around three to four weeks, and they will be ready for harvest when the cap is open and has fully separated from the stem.
You can also grow oyster mushrooms in coffee grounds, so they tend to be a good starter project. Normally, you would have to sterilize the straw, but coffee is already sterilized. There are excellent kits available that offer a growing bag, which holds the coffee grounds and is specially designed just for this purpose.
If you see any green during the growing process, you have a bad mold. If it’s just a little spot, put salt on it to see if you can get rid of it, but if it all turns green, throw it all out.
The Rice Paddy
It has been emphasized throughout this book that turning the soil should really be avoided as much as possible. Grain is a staple of most people’s diets, and yet how do we grow it without destroying the soil? Modern grain farming uses monstrous machines to turn and fertilize the earth, and even bigger machines to harvest perfect rows of grain, and then the land is left to sit over the winter. This inefficiency can be easily solved with Masanobu Fukuoka’s no-till method. Many sustainable farms follow a rotational planting schedule that involves planting legumes before and after the grain crop and includes a fallow period, a time where nothing is grown, to let the soil rest. The Fukuoka system, on the other hand, grows grain and legumes together continuously.
Not only is this system very sustainable, it requires very little energy. There is no mechanization and the energy used in human labor is also very low. The farmer can eat an average 2,000 calorie-per-day diet and still produce 1,300 pounds (590 kg) of rice (or 22 bushels) on a quarter acre. Using animals for labor in the traditional manner uses at least five times as many calories with the same results. Using a tractor uses at least ten times as much.
The other benefit of this system is the small space required. Many self-sufficient homesteads and small farms avoid growing grains because they have seen large commercial grain fields and assume that it must take vast expanses of land to get any amount of grain. So they grow potatoes and keep a cow instead. But in reality, to keep one human alive entirely on one food would take the following:
- 1,800 square feet of just grain
- 5,400 square feet on potatoes alone
- 13,500 square feet of just dairy farming
- 36,000 square feet of pigs alone
- 90,000 square feet of just beef
A rice paddy with a low retaining wall that also acts as a pathway.
This is the greatest argument for a plant-based diet. For the amount of calories we need to live, we grow grain to feed beef, which is the least efficient thing we could do.
On the outer perimeter of your grain fields, a band of weed-control plants should be grown, such as comfrey, lemongrass, or citrus. These should be mulched with sawdust for even more protection. The grain strategy outlined here centers around rice and the construction of a paddy. If you can’t have a paddy that fills with water, dry rice species exist that just need to be watered and have the additional benefit of being able to survive on monsoon rains alone.
First, level the ground and build a low mud retaining wall around the plot that can hold two inches (5 cm) of water. You may need to use a chisel plow the first year if the soil is extremely compacted. Spread lime or dolomite and a thin layer of chicken manure or compost over the area and water it. This soil disturbance and fertilizing only needs to be done once. Grain doesn’t like rich soil so don’t be overzealous; if it is too rich, the grain gets too tall and falls over (called lodging or going down). Don’t walk in your field at all after the grass comes up, even to weed. To prevent weeds, plant buckwheat or amaranth (they grow fast), or cultivate a lot before planting, or plant a lot of grain to offset losses. To water, wait till it rains, use flood irrigation, or set up a sprinkler beforehand.
In some areas, it is just too cold to grow rice and you will have to use a system with shorter cycles. Spring wheat can be planted in the spring with oats, barley, or wheat as the winter crop. You can also experiment with squash, melons, tomato, cotton, vetch, or sunflowers as a no-till crop.
No-till grain could also be called the no-work method. The four principles of natural farming are no cultivation, no fertilizer, no weeding, and no pesticides. It is important to understand here that we are not talking about soil that is never touched, but rather soil that is aerated and loosened by natural means only. With this mindset, we have to question weeding as well. What are the weeds doing for the soil? If the plant you want to grow is not being harmed in any way by the weed, then why pull it?
- A variety of plants can be grown together. You may want to have several plots with different combinations, but each plot will always grow rice and white clover. Then you can add rye, barley, millet, winter wheat, or oats.
- Rice seed is sown in early fall. It can be broadcast and covered with straw, or made into seed balls. Seed balls can be made in two ways: mix the seeds with mud and press them through a wire mesh, or you can wet the seeds down and roll them in fine clay dust until they form a ball shape. This clay mixture can be made from a combination of potter’s clay, compost, and sometimes paper mush.
- In mid-fall, harvest last year’s rice and lay it out on rice racks to dry for a couple of weeks. Thresh off the husks and straw and save them.
Seed quantity per ¼ acre
- Within a month of the rice harvest, sow unhusked rice in the field, and spread the husks and straw that you saved over it.
- In the winter, if the rice has grown to six inches (15 cm), you can allow ten ducks per quarter acre to graze in the field. If you notice any spots that are growing in thin, plant more seeds quickly. You don’t want water accumulating during this time of year or it will freeze, so keep the rice drained.
- In spring, check again for thin spots and sow more seeds if you need to.
- In late spring, it is time to harvest the rye, barley, or other grain. You will have to walk on the rice to do this, but don’t worry about it. Stack the grain to dry for about a week, and then thresh it.
- Spread the threshed straw and husks on the field. If you have more than one plot, don’t spread it in the same plot it was grown in. If you grew rye in one plot and oats in another, spread the oat straw in the rye field and vice versa.
- By early summer, only rice is growing, and weeds. Now is the time to flood the paddy for about a week until the clover turns yellow (but isn’t killed).
- Throughout the summer, the field should always be at least half rice. Prepare the seeds of the grains for sowing, and pick a different grain to plant in the fall than you did the year before.
When to Harvest
Note: If fungus has got your grain, don’t eat it and don’t give it to animals. The mold can cause all kinds of problems.
Grain goes through various stages before it is ready to harvest. It starts out as a seed, sprouts, and becomes a seedling with a few short leaves. Then it becomes a tiller by sending out a couple of thicker shoots. The stem grows until it begins booting, or forming a head, at which point it is now heading. Heading continues until the head is completely formed, right up until it starts to flower. Flowering completes the pollination process, and that’s when the grain enters the milk phase. This is when the kernel starts forming and you can squeeze out a milky fluid. Eventually, the kernel will dry out and will become mature during the dough stage. Ideally, grain should be harvested when it is in the late dough stage, when it is far past the milk stage but still able to be dented. When you let it dry, it will become dead ripe.
Bugs in the Grain
Dry ice: You will need one tablespoon of dry ice per five gallons (19 L) of grain. Get an airtight container, put the ice on the bottom, pour the grain on top, wait an hour, then seal the container. The grain produces carbon dioxide and kills the bugs.
Heat: You can’t use this method for seed grain, but it works for edible grain. Spread a quarter inch (0.6 cm) on a pan and heat it in the oven 140°F (60°C) for 30 minutes.
Grain yield in square feet:
Usually grain is measured in bushels, not pounds. One bushel is 64 pints or 35.2 liters. The average yield of an acre is 30 bushels (threshed and winnowed) or 1 ton. The following table gives an estimate of possible grain production for small acreage. But this is just an estimate. The pounds per bushel will vary year to year based on grain quality. Yield per square feet will also vary. These are general guidelines for measuring success and seeding rates. An acre is 43,560 square feet. A family of five eats about one thousand pounds of wheat in a year. That’s sixteen bushels of wheat, which could be produced on 16,000 square feet, or about one-third of an acre.
Pounds per bushel
Sq. ft. to grow 1 bushel
About winter grain:
Winter grain is planted in September or later, so the seeds will “hibernate” during the cold weather and grow as soon as the weather warms up. It’s better to have good snow cover for insulation—really cold weather will kill it. But don’t let it stool (grow a stalk), because that can also kill it. Avoid it by planting later and letting animals graze over it a little. Plant winter wheat, barley, oats, or rye in early fall so it will sprout next spring.
Tillers and suckers:
A grain plant has a main stalk and head, but it also has secondary stalks, called tillers, that also produce grain. Corn also has these but they are called suckers because they don’t produce anything. Sometimes planting less seed will cause more tillers, producing more grain than you would normally get, because there is less competition between plants.
To save grain seed:
You can save seed from your second crop of grain (unless you’re using a hybrid). Your seed should be the best seed heads, unbroken and healthy. Let them dry in the shock for at least a month until they are totally dry. Then thresh them, and store the seed in a cool, dark place.
You have to store grain in a rodent-proof container and keep hungry cats around (don’t put it in a sack that has held seed grain because it can be highly poisonous). Keep the containers in a cool, dry place. It will keep for a year or more, until you grind it. Then use it immediately. Be smart about how you store it: it should be dry, in a bug-free area, without twigs or other debris, and mold-free.
Grain can get ergot fungus sometimes (but rarely). Don’t ever eat moldy grain or feed it to your animals, because you can die and your animals can get sick. It turns the grain hard black and purple on the inside. It is caused when your grain gets damp. If your seed grain gets it, you should throw it out.
Ways to process grains:
Cracking: breaking the kernel in two or more pieces, done especially on corn
Crimping: flattening the kernel slightly, done especially with oats
Flaking: treating with heat and/or moisture, then flattening it
Grinding: forcing through rollers and screens
Rolling: smashing between rollers at different speeds with or without steaming
Saving: saving the wheat to grow as seed next year
Use a mortar and pestle, a hand grinder, or electric mill. For large jobs, you can either buy a big electric mill or a water-powered stone mill like the old 1800s type, which is beyond complicated. The best for a family is the electric mill because you only have to put it through once. With a hand grinder, you must crank the handle of the grinder for a long time, sift the grain, and put it through several times depending on the texture you want.
Note: Just because a plant is listed as edible doesn’t mean every species is safe to eat, or that the whole plant is edible. Some plant groups may only have one edible species and the rest are poison to humans, and some plant groups are only safe for animals. Read the plant notes for each one and make sure you have the right species.
The tables below are lists and uses of many kinds of edible and non-edible plants. They are suggested because of their variety of benefits, and when you take an inventory of your property you may find you already have some of them. Even though you have your hands full just growing food, using some of these plants can save you a lot of work in the long run. The following tables and guides are by no means complete. A variety of different climates and conditions are represented and should give you a starting list of species to experiment with. Contact your local agricultural extension to find out your best native plants, and use these lists as a guide to what to look for.
Midway through the season, two beds have been cleared out and fertilized for the next crop.
Plants by Harvest Time
Plants by Climate Tolerance
ALPHABETICAL PLANT AND HARVEST GUIDE
Note: Harvest descriptions include tool requirements. Washing boxes are trays with holes for dunking edible greens. Bins are solid boxes for carrying veggies.
Usage: Bee forage, edible, leguminous nitrogen fixer
Species: Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Growing: Alfalfa is the forage and hay of choice for livestock, although too much of a good thing can be fatal if an animal is suddenly switched to it exclusively. People eat alfalfa sprouts, too, which are incredibly healthy. It is a perennial legume that grows well in well-drained loam. Wait until the alfalfa just starts to bloom before you allow the animals in to forage or you cut it for hay, and don’t let it get shorter than two inches (5 cm). Let it recover for another six weeks, then do it again. Make sure you cut it a month before the first frost.
Usage: Nut, bee forage, dryland tolerant
Species: Sweet Almond (Prunus dulcis)
Growing: There are many, many varieties of almond, and most of the North American ones are grown in California, where they enjoy the warm, sunny climate. The sweets are the edible kind, and it’s just not worth it to grow the bitter variety, which you can’t eat. Some varieties are not self-pollinated, so you need a few trees. It generally takes five years to see any kind of real production. They only grow around fifteen to thirty feet (5-9 m) tall. They like plenty of water since they are usually grown in dry and hot areas, and may be susceptible to peach leaf curl, a fungus, which turns the leaves brown and curls them. Remove the infected leaves and burn them. The tree will produce small green hulls that will begin to dry and drop off the tree, although you will probably have to pick some of them. Remove the almond from the husk and let them dry. When they are fully dry, which takes a few days, the nut will rattle inside the shell. They can be eaten raw or roasted.
This large greenhouse built of PVC and wood is not very durable, but it’s very inexpensive and can grow tomatoes and other warm-temperature crops.
Usage: Edible leaves and seeds, dryland tolerant
Species: Purple Amaranth (Amaranthus blitum), Red Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus)
Growing: Amaranth is treated like a grain, although it’s not a grass. It has broad leaves, which are some of the healthiest leaves you can eat and full of protein. Amaranth is dryland tolerant and enjoys well-drained soil and full sun. It grows best in the southern US. For a similar plant that can be grown in northern areas, choose quinoa. To harvest the seeds for grain, you must rub the flower heads to see if the seeds fall out easily. Sometimes the plants continue flowering long after the seeds are formed, so flowers aren’t a very good indication of readiness. Harvest the seeds by shaking and rubbing the heads into a bucket. You will need to thresh away the hulls like any other grain. The simplest way to do this is by rubbing the flower heads on a large screen and then using a fan to blow the chaff away. Use the same screen trays to dry the seeds, either in the sun or near the wood stove. Store in a cool, dry place. Amaranth can be cooked just like rice, or ground into flour and added to bread.
Usage: Bee forage, edible fruit, wood and timber
Species: Apple (Malus domestica)
Growing: There are more than seven thousand kinds of apples, and they grow in every climate. Some are for eating, some are for cooking, and some are for drinking. They must be grown in groups because they are not self-pollinating and are often grafted for this reason. They are susceptible to pests and diseases, and if not pruned, will grow to amazing and unpickable sizes. To counteract this, the home grower can choose a dwarf variety, which is much easier to manage.
Usage: Bee forage, edible fruit
Species: Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)
Growing: Apricots are hardier to cold temperatures than peaches, which means they can grow in cold climates, but they are also susceptible to spring frosts, which can kill the early flowers. They are sensitive to soil type and need fertile, well-drained soil. You will need several trees to grow them, as they are cross-pollinated. They won’t bear fruit for two or three years, but you can increase production by pruning after the second year to remove any crossed or rubbing branches. Keep the pruning simple and to a minimum, and do it on a hot day in the summer, to prevent sickness. They are not drought-tolerant and may sometimes need some watering, but their roots should never sit in water for too long.
Usage: Edible leaves
Species: Erica sativa (Brassicaceae or cabbage family)
Growing: Arugula can be planted in an early garden without cover crops and not much plant debris because of the tiny seedlings. Late arugula can follow a spring-planted lettuce crop. It does not need much weeding, as it crowds out weeds, but it is susceptible to flea beetles. Use a floating row cover to avoid flea beetle damage in your earliest plantings. Fall plantings don’t usually need that kind of protection. It is a short season crop that can be followed by lettuce or spinach.
Arugula harvest grid:
Usage: Stream bank erosion control, edible roots/shoots
Species: Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
Growing: A perennial that enjoys full sun, asparagus is delicious but finicky and not able to compete with other plants. It needs to grow alone, with the exception of tomatoes, which repel asparagus beetles. Some people are allergic to the raw shoots, but they are better cooked anyway. Asparagus is a high-nutrition food and worth going to a little trouble for. It is cold hardy and prefers well-drained soil. Traditionally, asparagus is grown in a trench about a foot deep (30 cm), with a bed of three inches (8 cm) of composted manure or mushrooms at the bottom. Adding manure tea after it is planted is also beneficial. It needs regular watering and weeding, but with proper care will keep growing for fifteen years. You can begin harvesting asparagus spears the year after planting. Midspring is the best planting season for this vegetable because the weather is a bit warmer and drier. Pick only spears that are between seven and nine inches (18-23 cm) tall with closed tips. You can only pick them for four weeks, and you must make sure to pick them before the tips fan out, as this makes them susceptible to those pesky beetles. When picked, throw them in ice water to chill them, and then put them in a plastic bag in the fridge, where they will last a couple of weeks. They have deep and quick-growing roots that can be used to stabilize stream bank soil.
Usage: Bare soil erosion control, edible fruit, bee attraction, windbreak, leguminous nitrogen fixer
Species: Autumn Olive (Elaegnus umbellata)
Growing: This is a hardy, small tree that produces a small, nutritious fruit that can be eaten fresh, dried, or turned into jam. The tree also improves the soil by fixing nitrogen. Since it grows in most soil conditions, it can stabilize eroding bare soil and act as a windbreak. Despite its value and versatility, in North America it is often considered an invasive plant or weed because it is difficult to remove. Once established, it will continue to grow back from the roots and cause trouble for other species. Because of this, it should only be grown in places where it already grows, which is mainly in eastern North America.
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Avocado (Persea americana)
Growing: The avocado grows seventy feet tall and needs a frost-free climate. They are not tolerant to wind and need deep, well-drained soil. They are also susceptible to diseases. The fruit must ripen after it has been picked. Typically, they simply begin to fall off the tree and ripen on the ground. Pick and store them at room temperature until they are ripe, which usually only takes a few days. They are eaten raw in a variety of dishes, including desserts. They have high amounts of healthy fat and are very nutritious. Beware: the plant and pit are toxic to animals.
Usage: Bare soil erosion control, stream bank erosion control, edible roots and shoots, wood and timber
Edible Species: Sweetshoot Bamboo (Phyllostachys dulcis), Stone Bamboo (Phyllostachys nuda), Blue-green Claucous Bamboo (Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens), Temple Bamboo (Semiarundinaria fastuosa)
Growing: Bamboo enjoys partial shade to full sun, and can be used for almost anything. They can quickly take over a garden and so they need to be contained. With that said, they are very hardy and don’t need any work. The shoots pop out of the ground on their own, but they need to be cooked. Choose shoots that are heavy and firm with a thick outer skin. Peel that skin off and cut off the root end. Put it in a pot of water and bring it to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer for about an hour or until it is soft through the middle. Turn off the heat and let it just sit there until it is cool. There is probably some extra skin still on it that needs to be peeled off, but it should be ready to eat. Keep the cooking water and use it to store the bamboo in, so it won’t dry out. The shoots can be eaten cold on rice, or used in stir-fry.
Usage: Edible herb
Species: Ocimum basilicum (Lamiaceae or mint family)
Growing: This tropical herb comes in three main varieties: Genovese, Large Leaf & Sweet Thai. It should not be planted after basil or cut flowers. It does well on clean ground and it can be seeded or transplanted. Transplants should not be older than four weeks. Basil needs to be harvested before the first frost. Black spots indicate downey mildew, which can only be prevented by growing the basil in a greenhouse or high tunnel. Early garden basil can be planted with mulch and hoop covers.
Basil harvest grid:
Usage: Edible, leguminous nitrogen fixer, climbing vine
Species: Common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus), Winged Bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)
Growing: There are three kinds of beans: snap, shell, and dry. The snap varieties can be harvested when the pod is developed but the beans are small, and they are eaten whole. The shell varieties must be picked when the beans are more developed but not dried. Dry varieties are picked when the beans rattle in the shell. They can grow in most soil types and need something to climb on. Dry beans need about three to four months to reach an acceptable level of dryness, which usually happens by early September. Even then, let them sit on a drying rack in a warm, dry place for a couple of days before shelling. Remove the shells, blow the shells (chaff) away and remove any other debris or bad beans. Bad beans are moldy or discolored or have holes in them. They should be so dry that you can’t dent them with a fingernail. Other kinds of beans can be harvested continuously throughout the season, and in fact, the more you pick, the more will grow. The Scarlet Runner Bean is unique in that it grows a big tuberous root and tolerates colder temperatures, but the growing is pretty much the same. Keep picking them as they grow. The Winged Bean is a quick-growing vine that needs to be given lots of space to climb and a strong trellis. It prefers hot, humid places but there are varieties that can grow just about anywhere, and the entire plant is edible. The pods are picked continuously, the young leaves can be used like spinach, and the root can be cooked like a potato. The root is full of protein. The beans can also be dried.
Beans harvest (snap) grid:
Usage: Edible fruit, ground cover
Species: Red Bearberry (Arctostaphylos rubra), Alpine Bearberry (Arctostaphlos alpine)
Growing: Bearberry is a small evergreen shrub that is used as a ground cover. It has the additional benefit of producing edible berries. It enjoys full sun, tolerates most soil types, and is drought-resistant. It does prefer a cooler climate and is beautiful for adding greenery in the winter. For the first few years, it will grow very slowly. The berries aren’t particularly nice to eat. Traditionally, they were used for herbal medicine—dried and ground for mixing into other foods, or turned into jam.
Usage: Bee forage, edible
Species: Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa), Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Growing: Bee Balm has many traditional medicinal uses and is easy to grow. It thrives in most areas and simply needs regular watering. Cut them back once a year to keep them between four and eight inches (10-20 cm) tall. They can become aggressive spreaders, so dividing the plant every two to three years will keep them in check and also help keep them healthy.
Usage: Edible roots and leaves
Species: Beetroot (Beta vulgaris), Swiss Chard (Beta cicla)
Growing: Beets are incredibly nutritious and can be eaten raw or cooked. While the colorful root bulb is the more common food, some people use the beet greens in salad from time to time. Don’t eat too much of those, as it can make you lose calcium in your body. They are cold hardy and need fertile soil. Harvest when they reach at least one and a half inches (3.8 cm) in diameter. They can be stored in live storage or pickled. Swiss chard is in the same family but doesn’t form a fleshy root. Instead, the leaves are harvested as they grow, like lettuce. These highly nutritious greens can be eaten raw when young, but it is more common to cook them like spinach. Both of these varieties can be grown in the greenhouse over the winter.
Beet harvest (greens) grid:
Beet harvest (roots) grid:
Usage: Edible fruit, bee forage
Species: Blackberry (Rubus spp.)
Growing: Blackberries grow wild everywhere in North America and the sweet berries make excellent jam, desserts, and snacks. They are very hardy and easy to grow. With a trellis they can also act as a useful hedge. Simply pick the berries when they are ripe.
Usage: Edible fruit, bee forage, ground cover
Species: Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Rabbiteye Blueberry (Vaccinium asbei), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Creeping Blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium)
Growing: Blueberries enjoy full sun and grow to be six to twelve feet high (2-4 m) and six to twelve feet wide. They need highly acidic, well-drained soil. The Highbush varieties are hardier and also more common, but the Rabbiteyes produce more fruit. Lowbushes don’t make the greatest groundcover like the other varieties, but have the best fruit. The fruit can be eaten raw, sun-dried, or as dessert and jam, and is very nutritious. They do better with regular watering. The picking season begins sometime around May or June and lasts until the end of summer.
Usage: Bee forage, edible
Species: Common Borage (Borago officinalis)
Growing: Borage is a valuable medicinal plant and is also a nutritious addition to salads. It also grows well as a companion plant. They are a hardy herb and bloom most of the season and reseed themselves. The leaves can be picked as needed.
Species: Broccoli rabe (Brassica rapa), Broccoli (Brassica oleracea)
Growing : Broccoli, as a brassica, should not follow another brassica crop. It needs a good amount of compost, and it doesn’t like too much heat. Purple leaves indicate a phosphorus deficiency, which can be remedied with a spray. Transplants shouldn’t be more than four weeks old, but they should have four true leaves. Broccoli is susceptible to flea beetles and cabbage worms. A floating row cover can help prevent those kinds of pests.
Broccoli harvest grid:
Broccoli rabe harvest grid:
Usage: Edible leaves and heads
Species: Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea)
Growing: As a brassica, Brussels sprouts should not follow another cabbage family crop. They do well in raised beds with lots of compost and can be transplanted to give them a head start. The transplants should not be more than five weeks old. Keep them well weeded. Pests include flea beatles, cabbage worms, and cabbage loopers, which can be prevented with row covers and organic sprays.
Brussels Sprouts harvest grid:
Usage: Bee forage, edible, cover crop
Species: Common Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
Growing: Although buckwheat is eaten as a grain, it is not a grass or a cereal. It grows very quickly, ripening in about ten to thirteen weeks, and so it makes a great crop for a cooler climate. It does not tolerate frost and should be planted late in the season to ripen in early September. Buckwheat requires regular watering and soil that does not have to be great, but at least loose. Due to its short growing season, it should be double-cropped with another grain, such as winter wheat, oats, or flax. If your earlier grain crops failed, it may also be possible to plant buckwheat and quickly raise an emergency food source. As a cover crop, it effectively chokes out weeds. The seeds have a hard outer hull, which must be removed, and the seed can be used whole or ground as flour. Traditionally, buckwheat has been used for noodles and pancakes. It has no gluten and so can only be used in small amounts when making bread. The hulls are used as a filling for pillows or other items. To harvest, cut the buckwheat down when it is almost all brown, but still has a couple of green leaves or flowers. Cut it as you would a grain, by mowing and swathing. Thresh the grain, remove the chaff, and then allow the seeds to dry. The seeds still have hard hulls on them, but they need to be very dry to be removed (and you don’t want them to get moldy). You can do this by laying them out on your drying trays in the hot sun or using your dehydrator. Then you can use a grain mill to dehull the seeds. You must use the largest setting and run them through a few times to crack open all the hulls. Sift them until you have removed all the hulls, which you can save for pillows or other projects.
Usage: Stream bank erosion control, wetland tolerant, edible fruit, ground cover
Species: Canadian Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Bunchberry (Cornus suecica)
Growing: Bunchberries are perennials that like shady, cool, and moist places. It is found in northern areas and grows around stumps and mossy areas that stay wet most of the time. It needs to be in a spot where the soil never gets warmer than 65°F (18°C) and hardly ever sees the sun. It enjoys soil full of rotting wood, which can be added as mulch. The berries are edible but are a little bland. They taste best used in sauce, jams, and pudding. The berries also help thicken up jam so you don’t need to add pectin. The berry tea is a traditional herbal remedy.
Species: Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa), Green and Red (Brassica oleracea)
Growing: Cabbage, like other brassicas, should not follow another brassica crop. They need a lot of compost and nitrogen-rich fertilizer. They do well in raised beds. They can be transplanted no more than five weeks old, before they start to get “leggy,” meaning long and skinny with few leaves. Cabbage is susceptible to flea beetles, cabbage worms, and cabbage loopers, which can be prevented with row covers and organic sprays.
Usage: Seedpod and sugar source, edible, dryland tolerant, leguminous nitrogen fixer
Species: Carob Tree (Ceratonia siliqua)
Growing: Carob is a large evergreen shrub that grows to fifty feet (15.2 m) and prefers hot climates. In the Mediterranean and Australia, it is grown commercially, but in North America it could be grown in the southern states. It is not frost hardy, although a full-grown tree could withstand 20°F (7°C) if the cold temperature does not occur during blooming, which would prevent any fruit from growing. It won’t tolerate any kind of heavy rain until the end of the growing season. It can grow in any soil and is tolerant to drought. The carob pods are sweet and have many uses. To harvest them, shake the tree with a long pole before the winter rainy season starts. Catch the pods on a sheet or tarp on the ground. Allow the pods to dry in the sun for a couple of days until the seeds rattle in the pod. The pods can be crushed to break up the seeds and fed to animals. But animals should not eat too much of it, as it will stunt their growth. Chickens cannot eat them at all. When consumed by humans, they are most often ground into varying consistencies for use in making syrup, jam, fine flour, and a coffee substitute.
Cabbage harvest grid:
Usage: Edible roots and shoots
Species: Carrot (Daucus carota)
Growing: Carrots are a familiar root vegetable that come in orange, white, purple, red and yellow. The greens are also edible. In planting, they are a useful companion plant, especially for tomatoes. Carrots enjoy partial shade—rather than full sun—in loose soil. They take at least four months to grow.
Carrot harvest grid:
Usage: Edible heads
Species: Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea)
Growing: Like all other brassicas, cauliflower should not follow another brassica. It does well in raised beds with lots of compost, but may need additional nitrogen-rich fertilizer; plant it after beans to help with this. Transplant no later than five weeks. Protect against flea beetles, cabbage worms, and cabbage loopers. One week before harvest, fold the large leaves over the heads and tie them with a rubber band. Some varieties are self-blanching and don’t need this. After harvest you can turn the crop residue into the soil.
Cauliflower harvest grid:
Usage: Water plants, edible
Species: Narrowleaf Cattail (Typha angustifolia), Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis), Broadleaf Cattail (Typha latifolia)
Growing: All parts of the cattail are edible. The young shoots are cut in the spring when they are at least four inches (10 cm) long. The roots can be boiled like potatoes, the flower stalks can be boiled or steamed like corn, and the pollen works as a flour substitute. They grow everywhere in the world, and the cattails can also be woven into useful items like mats and baskets. They are perennial water plants and, unless kept in check, can take over a pond. They are hardy and easy to grow from cuttings or seeds.
Usage: Leguminous nitrogen fixer, ground cover, edible
Species: New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), Snowbrush Ceanothus (Ceanothus velutinus), Maritime Ceanothus (Ceanothus maritimus)
Growing: Ceanothus is an evergreen species. However, in very cold climates a few species are deciduous. The leaves are edible and have traditionally been used in herbal medicine and teas. There are many varieties of Ceanothus, all very hardy, and so it is probably a good idea to just pick your native species.
Usage: Pest control, wood and timber
Species: Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara), Lebanon Cedar (Cedrus libani), Cyprus Cedar (Cedrus brevifolia), Atlast Cedar (Cedrus atlantica)
Growing: Cedars grow in the mountains where the winters aren’t too severe but still get snow or monsoon rains. They grow very big and should not be planted near any overhanging obstruction or over buried pipes or cables. They enjoy partial shade to full sun. The wood is resistant to rot and pests and has a pleasant scent.
Usage: Edible stalk
Species: Celery (Apium graveleolens)
Growing: Celery is a fresh, tasty vegetable that is eaten for its stalk and leaves. It should not follow other umbellifers (the carrot family). It needs lots of compost and can be grown in raised beds. A common problem is lack of nitrogen, calcium, and boron so the more organic, the better.
Celery harvest grid:
Usage: Edible leaves and stalks
Species: Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla)
Growing: Swiss chard is a hardy spinach or kale-type vegetable that can grow to amazing sizes. It should not follow after spinach or beets, and it needs lots of compost. Don’t let them get leggy before transplanting seedlings—probably no older than four weeks. After harvest the roots will regrow and act as a weed—either pull them up or plant a cover crop after.
Usage: Edible fruit, wood and timber, bee forage
Bush Species: Mongolian Bush Cherry (Prunus fruticosa), Japanese Bush Cherry (Prunus japonica), Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa), Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)
Growing: There are hundreds of cherry varieties, but the bush varieties may be the most useful as they don’t take up much space, growing three to eight feet (1-2.5 m) high and up to eight feet wide. There are even dwarf bush varieties that take up even less space, and are even more resistant to pests and diseases. Mongolians are hardy, but sourer. Nankings are sweeter and grow anywhere, including dry places. Cherries enjoy long, warm summers, but need to get cold in the winter, which makes them perfect for a temperate climate. They need fertile, well-drained soil. Sour cherries are often self-pollinating but sweet cherries need to be planted in groups. Pick the cherries as they ripen, and eat raw, dry them, or make them into pies.
Card harvest grid:
Usage: Edible nut, wood and timber
Species: Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima)
Growing: The chestnut grows to be eighty feet tall and is self-pollinating. It enjoys well-drained soil of any type, is tolerant to cold, and prefers partial shade to full sun. The chestnut can be eaten raw, but it is much better cooked and can be used as a staple like potatoes. When the nuts are ready to harvest, the spiny burs will begin falling to the ground, which usually happens in autumn. Most of the burs will split open. Gather those up and remove the nuts, throwing out any that are damaged or have holes in them. Put them in an airtight container or freeze them.
Usage: Edible roots and shoots, bee forage
Species: Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Growing: Chicory tastes a little bitter, but is very nutritious. It goes well with other baby greens in salads. It enjoys partial shade to full sun, and some varieties are perennial. They are often pulled out of yards as a weed because they can take care of themselves very well. Radicchio and Belgian endive are in the same family. They make excellent animal forage as the chicory kills worms and is easy to digest. It also makes a useful herbal remedy and coffee substitute.
Usage: Edible roots and shoots
Species: Cilantro (Eryngium foedum)
Growing: Cilantro can’t be planted after other umbillifers (carrot family), potatoes, or curcubits. It does do well after lettuce and greens. If you use lots of compost, it only takes thirty-forty days to harvest.
Cilantro harvest grid:
Usage: Bee forage, ground cover, edible
Species: White Clover (Trifolium repens), Bush Clover (Lespedeza bicolor), Red Clover (Trifolium pretense)
Growing: Clover enjoys partial shade to full sun and is a helpful nitrogen-fixing ground cover. It is also a valuable animal fodder and very hardy to being stomped on. Clover is easy to grow and spreads to form a mat.
Usage: Bee forage
Species: Large-flowered Comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum), Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum)
Growing: Comfrey is easy to grow in most climates, with the option to cut them back as mulch a few times per year. Once you have decided to grow them, you will never be able to get rid of them, so be sure you want them. It is mentioned several times in this book as a fertilizer because comfrey adds many nutrients to the soil. It prefers lots of nitrogen and so a bed of manure is a great home for it. Comfrey is also useful as a topical medicinal herb, but can cause liver damage when ingested in quantities.
Usage: Water plants, edible fruit, bee forage
Species: Common Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), Small Cranberry (Vaccinum microcarpum), Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), Southern Mountain Cranberry (Oycoccus erythocarupus)
Growing: Cranberries are evergreen dwarf shrubs and vines that grow a sour, red berry. The cranberries can be made into sauce, juice, jams, and dried fruit by adding sweeteners to make them delicious. They are grown similar to rice, in a paddy surrounded by a barrier. While the plants require regular irrigation, the field is not flooded until the end of the year. While big producers float the berries to harvest them, small producers will want to dry pick the berries to avoid damaging the crop and use less equipment. Then the beds are flooded so that they don’t freeze over in the winter. Every four years, a thin layer of sand can be spread on the top to help control pests. The cranberries are stored in well-ventilated crates in a cool, dark place until they are processed.
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)
Growing: Cucumbers are a cool, refreshing fruit that can be turned into pickles. They should not be grown after other curcurbits or tomatoes. Cucumbers need a lot of nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Row covers protect against striped cucumber beetles, but should be removed during flowering for varieties that need pollinators.
Cucumber harvest grid:
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Black Currant (Ribes nigrum), Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum), Red and White Currant (Ribes Silvestre)
Growing: In Europe, these are as common as blueberries, but in many places in North America they are illegal because some species harbor a pest that kills white pines. They are very hardy to cold temperatures and can grow in most climates. Their one weakness is a susceptibility to rust, but many varieties are resistant, especially Red and White Currants. They are generally easy to grow, but check on your state’s restrictions.
Usage: Edible plant, bee forage
Species: Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Growing: Dandelions grow spontaneously on their own in everyone’s yard and don’t need any care at all. They are also extremely nutritious and the entire plant can be eaten. The flowers are made into wine or added to pancakes, the roots are brewed into a tea that tastes like coffee, and the leaves are added to salads. They can be grown in raised beds with lots of compost and can be harvested twice if they are well-weeded.
Usage: Pest control
Species: Pyretheum Daisy (Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium)
Growing: These flowers prefer dry and somewhat sandy soils. They need to be weeded but since they are so hardy against pests, they should not have many other problems. To harvest them for use as a natural pesticide, wait until a warm, sunny day when the flowers have been already open for a few days. Dry them by hanging upside down or removing the heads and drying them in the sun. The flowers must be stored whole in a dark, airtight container. When you are ready to use them, grind them into a fine powder and either dust or spray them (mixed with some water) on the plants that are affected. The insects should die fairly quickly, without harm to humans.
Usage: Bare soil erosion control, edible roots and shoots, bee forage
Species: Tawney Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
Growing: Daylilies enjoy partial shade to full sun. The entire plant can be eaten, including the flowers and roots. They are a little too large and expansive to be grown near other plants, but since they require little care, they can be planted in the outer zones. The Tawney Daylily is wetland tolerant. The edible parts of the daylily are the flower buds and flowers, which are most often used in Asian stir-fry dishes. Cut off the base with the ovary and use like mushrooms. Only the cultivated varieties of daylily are edible; others are toxic, so make sure you have the right one.
Usage: Pest control, edible
Species: Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Growing: A perennial herb that enjoys full sun. It grows in just about any climate but prefers fertile, well-drained soil. The leaves can be used fresh, and the dill seeds can be harvested by cutting off the flower heads when the seeds begin to ripen. Place these flower heads upside down in a paper bag and allow them to dry in a warm, dry place. After one week, remove the seeds and store in an airtight jar to use in flavoring foods.
Dill harvest grid:
Usage: Water plants, edible roots and shoots
Species: Duck Potato (Sagittaria latifolia)
Growing: Also known as Broadleaf Arrowheads or Wapato, this plant produce a root vegetable that is eaten like potatoes. They grow directly in water or in marshy soil, and can be planted from eyes just like potatoes. When harvesting, no more than a quarter of them should be collected per year, and they will spread to replace the loss. Gather these in anytime during the summer and fall until the first frost.
Usage: Water plants, edible
Species: Common Duckweed (Lemna minor), Star Duckweed (Lemna trisulca), Swollen Duckweed (Lemna gibba)
Growing: This versatile plant looks less like a plant than a small green disk that just floats on the surface of water. It is very high in protein, containing even more than soybeans, and although it is commonly used to feed water livestock like fish and ducks, it is edible and eaten by people in some places in Asia. Once introduced to a freshwater environment, they spread quickly and cover the entire surface unless an animal lives there to eat them. On small ponds they help to prevent evaporation, and also provide shade to small fish.
Usage: Pest control, edible
Species: Sweet Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Growing: Fennel is easy to grow, and in fact, because of how quickly it spreads, is now on invasive species lists in North America. The dried seeds are used as a spice, and the root bulb and leaves are used raw or cooked. It has many medicinal uses. Be aware that Poison Hemlock looks very similar to fennel and grows near water or wet soil. Crush the leaves and smell them. Fennel has the distinctive smell of licorice, and Hemlock smells musty.
Fennel harvest grid:
Usage: Edible, nitrogen fixing legume
Species: Fenugreek (Trigonella corniculata)
Growing: Fenugreek is an annual herb that enjoys full sun and well-drained soil. The seeds are the most useful part and can be harvested in early fall when the pods have dried. Store them in an airtight container. These are a useful herbal remedy and also used in Indian food for making pickles, curry, and sauces. The leaves can also be used in salads, although they have a particularly bitter taste.
Usage: Edible fruit, dryland tolerant
Species: Common Fig (Ficus carica)
Growing: Fig trees grow from twenty to thirty feet (6-9 m) tall and can grow in most places that experience a long, hot summer. They enjoy full sun and regular watering. Figs are high in calcium and one of the oldest and more nutritious human food crops. The fruit can be eaten fresh, dried, or as jam. Use caution when handling the tree, as the sap is a skin irritant. The tree produces two crops per year, one in the spring and one in late summer or fall. The first, or breva, crop is usually very small but a few varieties do produce a little more breva fruit.
Usage: Pest control, edible
Species: Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum)
Growing: Garlic is part of the onion family and needs lots of nitrogen. It does well if it follows a crop of beans, and a mulch of hay is used to keep the weeds at bay and conserve moisture. After harvest, it should be cured in a greenhouse and then stored. The largest bulbs are saved for seeding. Scapes can be harvested when they are six inches long and have a small bulb.
Usage: Bee forage, edible fruit
Species: Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa)
Growing: These berries enjoy partial sun to full shade and grow three to five feet (1-1.5 m) tall and wide. In some places, gooseberries are illegal, as they sometimes harbor a pest that kills white pines. They are very hardy and grow in most climates.
Garlic harvest grid:
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Fox Grape (Vitis labrusca), Muscadine Grape (Vitis rotundifolia)
Growing: Unlike the varieties of grapes that are cultivated by humans, such as vitis vinifera and vitis ripari, Foxes and Muscadines are much hardier against pests and diseases. They are best grown on a trellis, which requires more effort in pruning but is worth the trouble. The trellis needs to be extremely strong because in a few years the grape will grow to be very heavy and treelike. Foxes are self-pollinating but Muscadines need several plants to make sure there are both male and female varieties. Foxes grow in any climate and Muscadines need the warm, humid climate found in the south. Grapes can be eaten raw or made into jam, juice, vinegar, wine, raisins, oils, or seed extracts. While grapes grow anywhere, they don’t produce fruit unless they have a long, hot growing season, which is challenging in a northern climate. They enjoy full sun and the heat of the south side of a house, and they need regular watering in well-drained soil. It may not be worth growing them in cold climates, as the entire vine must be laid flat on the ground and mulched, and the buds must be protected from frost every year.
Usage: Edible roots and shoots, nitrogen fixing legume
Species: Groundnut (Apios americana), Fortune’s Groundnut (Apios fortune), Price’s Groundnut (Apios priceana)
Growing: A groundnut is somewhat like a “new” potato, of similar size, with lots of little roots coming off it, but unlike potatoes, groundnuts are full of protein. They climb and send out roots, invading the neighboring areas and so they must be kept in check. The roots can be cooked exactly like any other root vegetable.
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Apple Guava (Psidium guajava)
Growing: While the guava is a subtropical plant, it is surprisingly hardy and can survive temperatures as low as 40°F (4°C) and on very little rain. As long as your climate does not experience frost and you protect young plants, you can grow guava. They can bear fruit even when grown in containers and usually do so within a couple of years. They are eaten raw or cooked, or made into juice. They do better with regular watering that reaches their deep roots, then allowing their roots to dry completely before watering again. They need fertile, well-drained soil and plenty of nitrogen in the form of manure. When the fruit is ripe, it will change in color and smell dramatically. They are best when allowed to ripen on the tree but green fruit can be stored for up to five weeks in cold storage.
Usage: Edible fruit, bee forage, erosion control, windbreak, dryland tolerant
Species: Hawthorn (Crataegus L.)
Growing: There are many, many varieties of Hawthorn, which is a small tree growing around twenty feet high. It enjoys partial shade to full sun, and well-drained soil. The berries are edible and are usually cooked like apples, in jams and pies.
Usage: Edible nut
Species: Common Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Growing: The hazel is a shrub that grows from ten to twenty feet (3-6 m) high. Traditionally, besides producing a protein-filled nut, it also serves the useful purposes of being part of a hedge and a fencing material. The flexible branches can also be made into plant supports and arches for climbing species. They prefer well-drained soil but do better in rainy areas, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Harvest the hazelnuts in midfall when the nuts and leaves begin to drop. Allow the nuts to dry, and then eat raw or roasted, or ground into a paste.
Usage: Wood and timber, edible nuts
Species: Northern Pecan (Carya illinoinensis), Shellbark Hickory (Carya laciniosa), Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovate)
Growing: Hickories enjoy full sun and grow from 70 to 100 feet (21-31 m) tall. The Northern Pecan gets to be 75-120 feet (23-37 m) wide, while the hickories are 30-50 feet (9-15 m) wide. Hickories need other hickories nearby to pollinate, so you will need to plant a few. It is recommended to graft pecans onto other hickories. The nut will be improved and the pecans will bear sooner than the usual ten to fifteen years. The hickories and pecan species listed here combined cover all areas of North America, but you need to pick the right species for your climate. Soil types don’t effect the hickory family much, but temperature does. The hickories are more valuable for their wood, which is used in smoking meat and makes excellent firewood. Hickory also makes very durable furniture. Hickory nuts are just as good as pecans and are all harvested as they start to fall to the ground. Shake off the rest. Hull them, wash the nuts, and spread them out to dry. The drying process in a well-ventilated room or garage with a fan takes about two weeks.
Usage: Edible seedpod, dryland tolerant, nitrogen fixing
Species: Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
Growing: The Honey Locust can reach a height of 60-100 feet (18-31 m) and lives to be about 120 years old. It is sometimes described as a perennial shrub rather than a tree. It prefers well-drained fertile soil. The pulp inside the seedpod is edible (although be careful as the Black Locust is not), and the pods make great forage for grazing animals. The tree is hardy, grows quickly, and provides massive areas of shade for people and animals.
Usage: Wetland tolerant, edible
Species: Blueberried Honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea)
Growing: There are many types of honeysuckles, but only a very few have edible berries. Russia has been raising Blueberried Honeysuckles as a food crop for a long time. It prefers wet and marshy soil, and is usually found in the Northeast. It has never been found wild in the Pacific Northwest. The fruit can be used for jam, juice, wine, ice cream, yogurt, and sauces. It can handle very cold temperatures and needs to have two compatible varieties in order to produce fruit. Harvest the fruit as it ripens.
Species: Common Hop (Humulus lupus)
Growing: Hops are a perennial climbing plant that produces flowers called hops that are used mostly in beer production. The extract from the hops is antimicrobial and is naturally sedative. Hops take up a lot of space and enjoy full sunlight. They need regular watering and well-drained soil that is rich in minerals and nitrogen. It takes about four months for them to produce flowers, but they grow well in most places as long as they are not allowed to freeze. They are susceptible to molds and insects, which must be prevented with a drip irrigation system and organic pesticides. The flowers are ready to harvest at the end of summer when the flower cone has become light and dry and doesn’t stay compressed when squeezed. Dry these cones on a drying rack in the sun or in a dehydrator and stir and rotate them daily until the last cone is springy and the powder falls out easily. Seal them in a freezer bag and put them in a freezer until you are ready to use them.
Species: Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana)
Growing: Horseradish is related to cabbages and broccoli, and as such is a hardy and strong-flavored perennial that grows just about anywhere. It prefers a long growing season and a cold winter. The root is harvested after the first frost. A few pieces are cut off for replanting, while the rest is kept for yourself. If it is left in the ground, it will shoot out sprouts underground and take over the garden. Horseradish is a great flavoring for food but do not eat it raw in any great quantity, as it will cause digestive upsets. It must be grated and added to vinegar where it will keep for several months. When it begins to darken in color, it is time to throw it out. Horseradish sauce is simply the vinegar combination mixed with mayonnaise. It is also a valuable herbal medicine.
Usage: Bee forage, edible
Species: Herb Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Growing: Hyssop is a hardy perennial that stays short and can make a tiny hedge. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Hyssop has a slightly minty flavor and can be added to soups, but it is far more valuable as a medicinal herb with hundreds of uses. Harvest the plants just before the flowers begin to open, and hang upside down to dry. Remove the leaves and flowers and place them in an airtight container.
Usage: Wetland tolerant, edible, climbing vine
Species: Jasmine (Jasminum L.)
Growing: There are more than 200 different types of jasmine, and they grow all over the world. In Asia, they are grown for their flowers, which only open in the evening and are useful not only for their beauty, but as a flavoring for green tea. The flowers can also be used to make extracts of syrup and essential oil. There are two kinds of jasmine, one that stays green all year, and other species that lose their leaves in the winter. They enjoy warm, moist climates and regular watering.
Usage: Edible roots
Species: Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)
Growing: These produce an edible root vegetable that looks a little like a yam. Each plant produces tons of food and is likely to spread unless contained. They enjoy partial shade to full sun and can be grown in most climates. Jerusalem Artichokes are a perennial, not related to artichokes at all, and are actually closer to sunflowers. Because of the quantity of food produced by each plant, and the high sugar carbohydrate content, it is a good source of fructose. It can also be made into ethanol and yeast for fermentation. They are easy to grow, but every year you must dig them up and replant them in order to prevent them from taking over. They can be eaten cooked like potatoes or as a substitute for turnips and parsnips. These artichokes make excellent animal fodder, especially for pigs, which can dig them up themselves. They will cook much faster than potatoes and must be watched so they don’t turn into mush.
Usage: Edible roots and shoots
Species: Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus)
Growing: Also known as Mexican turnips or Yam Beans, the Jicama (with the J pronounced as an H) has a tasty root resembling a potato and is very sweet. It is usually eaten raw and sometimes used in stir-fry. It can be prepared with a variety of spices and is often added to salads or dipped in salsa. However, be cautious: the rest of the plant is highly poisonous. Only the root can be eaten. It is not the most nutritious of foods but is full of fiber and has sugars that are beneficial to the friendly bacteria of the digestive system.
Usage: Edible fruit, wood and timber, dryland tolerant
Species: Common Jujube (Ziziphus zizyphus)
Growing: Jujube grows in many climates and conditions and is very hardy, although it needs to have a long, hot summer and regular water to produce fruit. It can survive cold winters and extremely hot days in the summer. The fruit is edible and used in traditional medicine, as well as eaten raw or made into candied dried fruits and jams.
Usage: Edible leaves
Species: Kale (Brassica oleracea)
Growing: Kale should not follow other brassicas because it is in the same family, and just like all other brassicas, it needs lots of compost and nitrogen and does well after beans. Transplants should not be older than five weeks. They are susceptible to flea beetles, cabbage worms, and cabbage loopers, which can be prevented with a row cover. If they are grown after beans, no additional fertilizer is necessary.
Kale harvest grid:
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Hardy Kiwifruit (Aetinidia arguta), Super-Hardy Kiwifruit (Actinidia kolomikta), Purple Hardy Kiwifruit (Actinidia purpurea)
Growing: These hardy kiwi species enjoy full sun but can be grown almost anywhere. Compared to the grocery store variety, they are much smaller and less fuzzy. They even taste sweeter. You will need to plant male and female trees for pollination and protect them from frost when they are young, but once established, they will grow prolifically and provide hundreds of pounds of fruit every year. They will grow very tall and the fruit may be difficult to reach unless you train it to a trellis, which requires much more effort in pruning but is worth it. The fruit can be stored like apples in cold storage.
Usage: Bee forage, dryland tolerant
Species: English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
Growing: Lavender enjoys full sun and well-drained or even sandy soil. If it is too moist or too well fertilized it can be susceptible to mold. The flowers are used to extract essential oil, which is a popular natural remedy. They are also edible—sometimes candied, added to teas, made into syrup, or dried. For most uses the flowers are harvested when they are open and at their brightest. Cut the stems when they are dry and cool, especially in the morning after the dew has dried. You can either hang the flowers upside down or remove the heads and spread them on a drying rack in the sun or in the dehydrator.
Usage: Edible leaves and stalk
Species: Allium porrum (Alliaceae)
Growing: Leeks need lots of compost and nitrogen-rich fertilizer. If the leaves begin to yellow, a high-quality fish fertilizer works well. Don’t overwater them or they will lose minerals and can get damaged. They can be transplanted when they are as close to the width of a pencil as possible, but don’t wait too long after last frost.
Leeks harvest grid:
Usage: Stream bank erosion control, edible
Species: Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Growing: Lemongrass is a perennial herb that makes a grassy clump about three to five feet tall. It prefers full sun and rich, moist soil. You can fertilize monthly during the summer. Cats are its only real enemy because they eat the leaves. Lemongrass is a common ingredient in Asian cooking and is used in tea, soup, curry, and meats either fresh or powdered. Harvest the leaves any time after the plant is over a foot tall and dry, or use fresh.
Usage: Edible leaves
Species: Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Growing: Lettuce just needs a lot of compost to thrive. Transplants should not be older than three to four weeks. It can be planted in successions for maximum harvest, or harvested continuously as baby lettuce. It is susceptible to aphids and whitefly, which can be prevented with a floating row cover. If harvesting for mixed greens, a careful weeding schedule must be maintained. Harvesting is labor intensive but it can be more efficient if it is cut at the right spot. Cut above the dead and damaged leaves.
Lettuce harvest grid:
Usage: Stream bank erosion control, ground cover, wood and timber, edible, nitrogen-fixing legume
Species: Leadtree (Leucana benth)
Growing: The Leucaena species is rated as the most useful nitrogen-fixing legume. It is native to the American continents and there are twenty-four species of trees and shrubs from all different areas and climates, although it prefers warm climates and regular watering. It does not tolerate frost, although frost won’t completely kill it. The seedlings must be protected from weeds and animals, but once established they are fairly hardy. The leaves are a green manure, the wood is an efficient firewood, it is an excellent animal forage and is a quick-growing erosion control plant.
Usage: Nitrogen-fixing legume, edible
Species: Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), American Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), Chinese Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)
Growing: Licorice is a perennial herb that enjoys full sun and well-drained soil. It takes a couple of years before it can be harvested. To harvest, the root is boiled to extract the licorice flavor and then evaporated to concentrate it. This can be made into a dry powder or syrup that is much sweeter than sucrose. It has many medicinal uses, but excessive use can cause liver and heart problems. Eating it too frequently can cause a rise in blood pressure.
Usage: Bee forage, edible
Species: Loganberry (Rubus loganbaccus)
Growing: Loganberries are hardy to pests, disease, and frost. They grow as a bramble rather than tall canes (like raspberries). Individual canes die after a couple of years and should be cut off. The fruit ripens early and produces for about two months. It should be picked when it has changed from a deep red to a deep purple color. They can be eaten raw or made into jams and dessert. Use them exactly like raspberries and blackberries.
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)
Growing: The loquat tree is usually small, and stays around ten feet high. It prefers warm temperatures, full sun and well-drained soil. They are fairly hardy, doing well in any kind of soil but need regular watering and warmth. The loquat fruit is similar to apples and can be eaten raw or made into jam, jelly, and chutney. The leaves are edible and often used to make a nutritious and medicinal tea.
Usage: Water plant, edible
Species: American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)
Growing: There are many varieties of lotus plants, some more cold hardy than others, so double-check the species you have to determine its lowest temperature. They need full sun all day and are planted in water, which means that your pond cannot be shaded by any trees. They are usually planted as a tuber, or root bulb that is pushed into the soil in the shallow end of the pond and weighted down with a rock. They need lots of fertilizer, so they do well with fish, but large fish will eat them very quickly. These tubers are edible by humans as well and can be cut up and used in stir-fry.
Usage: Edible nut
Species: Macadamia Nut (Macadamia integrifolia), Prickly Macadamia Nut (Macadamia tetraphylla)
Growing: Macadamia trees are medium-sized evergreen trees that produce a delicious edible nut. It won’t produce nuts until it is at least seven years old. It enjoys fertile, well-drained soil, warm temperatures, and regular watering. The roots are very shallow and the tree can be easily knocked down by strong winds. The nuts are harvested when they begin to fall off the tree, and must be gathered every week during the harvest season. Dry the nuts on a drying frame until the nuts rattle inside their shells. Once dry, they must be stored in an airtight container in cold storage or a freezer. They can also be roasted for extra flavor.
Usage: Edible pods, bee forage, wood and timber
Species: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Box Elder (Acer negundo), Black Maple (Acer nigrum), Red Maple (Acer rubrum),
Growing: Maple prefers shade to full sun, and grows 75-100 feet (23-31 m) high with a crown 75-100 feet wide. It takes forty gallons (151 L) of sap to make one gallon (3.8 L) of syrup, so you will need at least a few trees, and while sugar maples produce more sap than other varieties, any species of maple can be tapped. They can be planted closely together and will grow in all but the sandiest soils. The one thing that does effect them is temperature. They prefer a temperate climate with a winter temperature of 0°-50°F. Beware: even though the sap is edible, the leaves are toxic, so it is better to keep animals away.
In March or April, when the temperature still freezes at night but thaws in the daytime, test to see if the sap is flowing by cutting a small gash in the side of the tree that has the most limbs. Some will be running and some won’t. When a tree is running, drive in a maple syrup spout and hang a bucket. The sap will drip into the bucket from the spout. Some trees produce more and tastier sap than others, and some years are just bad years, so the whole process is out of your control. You will need to collect the sap in the morning and afternoon. Dump the sap into a very large pot or cauldron. Each tree will yield six to twelve gallons (23-45 L). Heat the syrup up to a low boil or simmer. You will have to stir it almost constantly to keep it from boiling over, so it is better to have more than one person doing this and take turns. As it boils down, keep adding more. The sap is done when its temperature is 219°F (103°C). Use a candy thermometer to measure this. Don’t let it scorch or it will ruin the syrup. A gallon will weigh about eleven pounds (5 kg). Stop tapping your trees when the snow melts, the ground thaws, and the buds start to swell. The sap just won’t taste good. You can make sugar with the sap by letting it harden and grinding it up into a powder.
Usage: Pest control
Species: Mexican Marigold (Tagetes cempasúhil), African Marigolds (Tagetes erecta), French Marigold (Tagetes patula)
Growing: Marigolds enjoy full sun and most kinds of well-drained soil. Due to their pest control qualities, they are fairly hardy and don’t need to be fertilized. They make excellent companion plants and are often used as a border plant, as they can even deter deer and rabbits.
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
Growing: Also known as American Mandrake, the Mayapple is a hardy perennial that enjoys well-drained soil and partial to full shade. Only the ripe fruit is safe to eat, and it does not ripen in May as its name suggests. Unripe fruit is toxic and causes severe digestive upset, and even ripe fruit can cause problems in large quantities. The seeds and peel are also not edible. However, once peeled and the seeds removed, the ripe fruit can be eaten raw or used in jam and pie.
Usage: Bee forage, dryland tolerant, nitrogen-fixing legume, edible, wood and timber
Species: Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina), Creeping Mesquite (Prosopis strombulifera), Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens),
Growing: Mesquite is found wild throughout the Southwestern US and even up into the Midwest. It is a tree that can reach twenty to thirty feet (6-9 m) high although the trees generally stay small enough to look like a shrub. It grows a very long taproot that has been known to reach down as much as sixty feet (18 m) to draw up groundwater, but also draws up surface water if it needs to. Therefore, it can handle very long droughts and is extremely hardy. It grows and spreads quickly, and for this reason some people consider it a pest. The bean pods can be made into jam or dried and ground into delicious flour for bread. To harvest the pods, wait until they are beginning to fall from the tree. If they take more than a slight pull to come off the branch, they aren’t ready yet. They should be as dry as possible. Rinse them, and then lay them out in the sun on a drying rack until they snap in two when bent. To make flour, the whole pod is ground, but this would gum up a regular grain mill. This can be done with a heavy-duty blender or a hammer mill. The meal or flour can be substituted for no more than half a cup per cup of grain flour. It is very nutritious. The pods also serve as animal forage, and the wood is hard and useful for furniture and other well-used items. The Honey Mesquite in particular is also used for decorative woodworking. Mesquite is commonly used as firewood and especially in barbecuing to add flavor to meat.
Usage: Wetland tolerant, bee forage, ground cover, edible
Species: Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens), Bowles’s Mint (Mentha x villosa), Field Mint (Mentha arvensis), Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii), Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Growing: This nice-smelling perennial herb enjoys partial shade and quickly spreads everywhere. They tend to prefer moist soil, although they will grow anywhere. Due to their spreading capacity, they are often grown in containers to prevent their takeover of the garden. However, Apple and Bowles’s make great ground covers and they do repel pests. The leaves are very healthy, and can be used raw, dried, or in teas. These can be harvested throughout the season.
Species: Moringa (Moringa oleifera)
Growing: Moringa has huge potential to provide highly nutritious food. It prefers warm temperatures and well-drained soil, and it needs full sun. It requires regular watering. The tree grows very quickly, can reach fifteen feet (5 m) in one year, and has the capacity to be cut down every year to three feet (1 m). It will grow back and will produce edible pods that are within easy reach for picking. In several years it will produce thousands of pods. The leaves and pods can be used as animal forage without any processing, and they can also be harvested for human consumption. The leaves are used raw in salads, dried and used as tea, or ground into powder and added to food for its intense nutritional value. The flowers can be harvested and must be cooked and used like mushrooms. The pods can be used fresh raw or cooked in stir-fry and other dishes, or the seeds can be removed and cooked like peas.
Usage: Edible fruit, dryland tolerant
Species: Red Mulberry (Morus rubra), White Mulberry (Morus alba)
Growing: Mulberries grow in most climates and will still produce fruit in partial shade. While many are somewhat tasteless, a variety can be chosen that has a stronger flavor, making them a very low-maintenance food provider. The real value of mulberry, although it is great raw or as pie, are the nutritional and herbal medicinal uses, which are very high. The Mulberry leaves are also the sole source of food for silkworms, if spinning silk is of interest to you. Silk spinning is actually quite easy because the fibers are already long. It is very durable and lightweight.
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis)
Growing: Myrtle is an evergreen shrub that is often used in topiaries. They can’t handle extremely cold temperatures, but if they are planted near shelter, they will be fairly cold hardy. They prefer well-drained soil. The leaves have been used as herbal medicine for thousands of years, and the berries are edible, although they are very bitter.
Usage: Ground cover, edible
Species: Any varieties
Growing: Nasturtiums are easy to grow and enjoy partial shade to full sun. The entire plant is edible, but people love to use the flowers since they are so brightly colored. They repel pests and are generally hardy. The unripe seedpods are often pickled to make a peppery condiment, or the ripe seeds can be dried and used exactly like peppercorns to replace pepper. The flowers and leaves are used raw or cooked to add a peppery flavor to any dish.
Usage: Edible fruit, ground cover
Species: Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa)
Growing: The Natal plum does not produce plums, but is a shrub that produces a berry that is shaped like a plum. Although tart, it is very nutritious. The plant can also be used as a hedge because of its thorny branches without much care or effort, as it doesn’t need much pruning, and dwarf varieties can provide a very effective ground cover. The plant grows in most conditions and doesn’t even really need regular watering. It takes a few years before it will produce fruit. Pick the fruit when ripe and be careful not to bruise it. You can eat the berries raw but they taste better as a substitute for cranberries or in jam.
Usage: Pest control
Species: Narrow-leaved Tea-tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Growing: This plant produces the highly popular Tea Tree Oil that is so heavily marketed today. They are native to the hot weather of Australia but have been grown with varying success in many other places. They enjoy full sun and only occasional watering, and must be protected from frost when young. They aren’t an especially useful plant in the garden, but are included here (like Neem), for the vast range of useful products that can be made from the oil. The leaves are picked and the oil is distilled and bottled. It is antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and antiviral. It is not edible, but it can be used for just about any skin problem. It is an extremely effective pest control.
Usage: Pest control, dryland tolerant
Species: Neem (Azadirachta indica)
Growing: Neem is a subtropical evergreen tree that grows quickly. It is tolerant to drought and prefers well-drained soil. None of it is edible and it has very little use in the garden except as a soil input, but it is included for the vast array of products that can be made from it. The entire tree has antifungal, antibacterial, sedative, and antiviral properties. It is commonly used as a natural pesticide. The extracts have been used to make toothpaste, skin creams, sprays, and a plethora of other items to cure just about every type of skin ailment.
Usage: Edible, groundcover
Species: Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Growing: Nettles grow as either annuals or perennials and have stinging hairs on the leaves and stalks that greatly irritate the skin. Despite this, they are a very old medicinal plant that can be used for teas, shampoos, and skin salves. They are very hardy and grow similarly to blackberries, which happen to be their direct competitor. Nettles are high in vitamins and minerals and it only takes soaking or cooking to remove the stinging. It is often used in polenta, pesto, soup, and cooked greens. It is also a substitute for flax or hemp in making linen and the processing is the same. It deters pests and if kept under control is a great companion plant. Not all stinging varieties of nettles are edible, so make sure you are eating the right one. To harvest the leaves, wear a pair of gloves and use a pair of scissors to cut the leaves off in March or April before they begin to flower. The smaller leaves near the top are the best. Soak them in warm water for ten minutes, and drain off the water without touching it. They are now ready to cook.
New Zealand Spinach
Usage: Dryland tolerant, edible, ground cover
Species: New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetraconioides)
Growing: This leafy vegetable is very similar to spinach and is cooked like spinach. It prefers a hot, moist environment. It spreads rapidly so it is considered invasive in some places, but this quality also makes it an excellent ground cover. It has no enemies and even slugs don’t like it.
Usage: Edible fruit, dryland tolerant
Species: Mission (Olea L.)
Growing: Olive trees enjoy the limestone soils near the ocean and prefer sandy and clay soil. They don’t do well in fertile ground. They need hot weather and can’t tolerate temperatures below 14°F (−10°C), but they are also very hardy to drought. The trees are susceptible to pests and fungus, which can be prevented with predatory wasps, pruning, and by avoiding fertilizers. The olives are harvested in late fall when they begin to fall off the tree. For making oil, the olives do not need to be handled gently, but for other uses they must be picked by hand. Mission olives do not need to be fermented before processing like green olives, but they do need to be cured. Wash the olives, allow them to dry thoroughly and put them into a well-ventilated box lined with burlap or other cloth. Vegetable crates work well for this purpose. Mix in one pound (0.5 kg) of salt per two pounds (1 kg) of olives, and cover it all with another inch (2.54 cm) of salt. This box should be placed where it can drain, either on a waterproof tray or onto the ground. Leave them there for one week. Starting the second week you will have to mix them thoroughly every three days. Pouring them into another container and back again is an easy way to do this and it’s a good opportunity to pick out the soft or broken ones. Continue doing this every three days for three weeks, which may seem tedious, but it’s worth it. By this time, a month has now passed and the olives should be shriveled up. Use a strainer to remove the salt and dip the olives for a few seconds into boiling water. Allow them to dry again completely and mix them with salt, this time one pound of salt for every ten pounds (4.5 kg) of olives. Put them into an airtight container and store in a cool place. In the cold storage, they will last a month, but in the fridge or freezer they will last longer.
Usage: Edible roots and shoots
Species: Multiplier Onions (Allium cepa aggregatum), Egyptian Walking Onion (Allium cepa proliferum), Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum), Welsh Onion (Allium fistulosum), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)
Growing: All the species above are perennials, which means that you don’t need to replant every year. You can eat the entire plant, but to keep them going the next year, simply divide the clump in half and leave the rest in the ground. They grow incredibly easily, are cold and pest hardy, and will grow just about anywhere. The greens (or green onions) can be cut throughout the season, and the bulb is also harvested in the fall.
Onion harvest grid:
Usage: Edible, wood and timber
Species: Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera), Jucara Palm (Euterpe edulis), Açaí Palm (Euterpe oleracea), Peach Palm (Bactris gasipaeas), Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto)
Growing: There are hundreds of types of palms living in almost every climate, and yet many are endangered due to their usefulness as a source of timber, which is made worse by their slow growth. Palms require partial shade to full sun, deep watering just after planting and then no water unless they are extremely dry. The leaves gradually turn brown and fall off, but you can cut those off to keep them pretty. They will grow in even cold climates—as long as they are somewhat insulated in the winter. The Cabbage Palm is cold, fire, wind, and drought resistant. The Peach Palm is more of a warm-climate tree, and it produces an edible fruit that can be eaten raw or cooked. It is often made into jams or flour. The Açaí Palm also produces a fruit that is smaller than a grape that is extremely popular in Brazil and served with everything because of its amazing nutritional value. The leaves can be made into hats, baskets, and roof thatch, and the wood can be made into furniture.
The Jucara is almost exclusively used for heart of palm, but all of these varieties can be harvested for heart of palm. Heart of palm is a delicacy, but for species that grow fruit, it does not make sense to cut down the whole tree to eat its heart. However, should you find yourself with a downed palm, you should harvest the valuable heart. To do this, you must peel off the outer layers to reveal the white central core. This is very labor intensive. It should be canned, fermented, or eaten fresh. The other edible product of palms is, of course, the nut of the Coconut Palm. The brown coconut you see in movies is actually only a small part of the coconut, which has a large husk around it. When they are ripe the husk will be a bright green color and must be cut off with a machete. The coconut can be processed into coconut oil for cooking, the meat can be eaten fresh or dried, the milk can be used raw or condensed, and the flour can be used in baking. Even the husk is useful in making charcoal, and the shell is used for cups and bowls all over the world. Beware: The coconut is a common allergen and can cause food and contact allergies.
Usage: Seedpod, dryland tolerant, nitrogen-fixing legume
Species: Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida), Yellow Palo Verde (Parkinsonia aculeata)
Growing: Palo Verde is a small tree with a green trunk that is difficult to grow but once established, it is very hardy. They grow in dry, hot places but do need regular watering. It provides a shady canopy for other plants. Harvest the pods when they turn green, or let them dry on the tree. They are dry when they turn completely brown. Wash the green pods and blanch in boiling water for a minute and a half. Dunk them immediately in ice water for another minute and a half and store them in the freezer. Dry pods must be laid out to dry a little longer; then walk on them to crush the pods. Winnow away the shells and store the seeds in airtight containers. The flowers can also be eaten raw or candied.
Species: Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
Growing: Parsnip is a cold-climate crop that needs frost to fully develop. They can grow in any type of soil except the rockiest. The root is the edible part, but the leaves irritate the skin. Handling the plant during harvest requires gloves to prevent burning and blistering. The root is even more nutritious than carrots and can be eaten raw or cooked. It is commonly boiled, roasted, or used in soups. They will be ready to harvest in mid-fall and taste much better after the first frost. Dig up the root and store in cold storage.
Parsnip harvest grid:
Usage: Edible fruit, climbing vine
Species: Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis)
Growing: There are two types of passion fruit: the yellow variety and the purple variety. The yellow kind is very big and grows fruit up to the size of a grapefruit, and the purple kind often tastes better but stays smaller than a lemon. They don’t tolerate frost but are very cold hardy and can withstand almost freezing temperatures. Even if it does frost, a mature plant is so bushy that it insulates itself and comes back. It needs a strong trellis to support the fast-growing vine. They enjoy partial shade to full sun and well-drained fertile soil. Snails and a variety of diseases plague them, but with proper prevention a good crop is still possible. The fruit will turn ripe over a period of only a few days and quickly turn purple or yellow and fall off. Gather them from the tree and ground, wash and dry them without injuring them, and store them in cold storage. They will last up to three weeks. Freeze or juice to preserve.
Usage: Wood and timber, edible, bare soil erosion, pest control, bee forage
Species: Paulownia (Paulownia fortunei)
Growing: The paulownia is a very fast-growing hardwood tree that can provide timber in as little as five years. They are touted as a solution to the world’s unsustainable tropical wood industry. The leaves make excellent animal forage with high protein content, and they can be intercropped easily with grains and other plants. They need full sun and deep regular watering when the soil is dry. Additional fertilizer can be added throughout the year. In the first year, the tree should grow to at least ten feet tall. If it does not, cut it down in early spring before the leaves are formed. This will make it grow twice as fast the next year. The tree can be cut back like this almost every year. The trees are only really susceptible to frost when young, but otherwise can be grown in most climates, except for the very coldest places.
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
Growing: Some people inaccurately call this plant a papaya but the Paw Paw is not the same as the tropical fruit and is native to North America. It enjoys partial shade to full sun and is a pest-resistant and generally hardy plant. It requires warm, humid temperatures and provides large, delicious fruit. The ease of growing and prolific supply of fruit makes it highly recommended for the home orchard in the right climate. It grows twenty to thirty-five feet (6-10 m) tall and twenty to thirty-five feet wide and needs fertile, well-drained soil. Be aware that the seeds, leaves, and wood are toxic and sometimes made into pesticides. To harvest, wait until the fruit is just a little bit soft and has changed from green to yellow or brown. It will keep for about three weeks in the fridge. The fruit can be eaten raw or made into pie, bread, pudding, and jam, and can be used in place of bananas.
Usage: Nitrogen-fixing legume, edible, climbing vines
Species: Butterfly Pea (Clitoria mariana), Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicas maritime), Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius), Earthnut Pea (Lathyrus tuberosus), Carolina Bush Pea (Thermopsis villosa)
Growing: Peas are so easy to grow. They enjoy full sun and well-drained fertile soil, and they need trellising to keep them up. The peas will be ready to harvest in late summer and can be picked continuously until frost. The more you pick, the more will grow. The leaves of some of these peas are toxic. Some, like Snow Pea, are eaten fresh with the entire pod. Others are picked, shelled, and the peas dried.
Pea harvest grid:
Usage: Bee forage, edible
Species: Peach (Prunus persica), Nectarine (Prunus persica var. nectarine)
Growing: Peaches and nectarines need cold winters and long, hot summers. At the same time, the spring flowers can’t tolerate frost, which prevents a fruit crop. This makes them an excellent temperate climate crop. They enjoy full sun, good airflow, regular watering, and frequent nitrogen fertilizer. When the fruit grows to almost an inch wide, it is common to thin them out so that the rest of the fruit will be sweeter. Pick them on a hot day when they are just a little soft and have a sweet smell. They must be eaten or preserved immediately as they can’t be refrigerated or stored in live storage.
Usage: Nitrogen-fixing legume, edible
Species: Peanut (Arachis hypogaea)
Growing: The peanut grows best in sandy soil. It needs a long growing season and regular watering. The pods must harvest at just the right time, when they are fully ripe but before they detach into the ground. When this happens the leaves will begin to turn yellow and the peanut skin inside the pod will be like paper and a light pink color. To harvest, dig up the entire plant gently and shake off the dirt. Then flip it upside down in a dry, shady place for a few days until the pods are mostly dry. Thresh and remove the pods from the plant. Peanuts may be eaten raw or roasted, ground into butter, or the oil extracted for use in cooking. Unshelled nuts will last for nine months in the fridge, and in the freezer will last forever if blanched for three minutes and cooled in ice water for three minutes. To make peanut butter, roast the nuts for 20 minutes at 300°F (149°C), stirring now and then, and remove the shells. Process in a blender with half a teaspoon of salt per cup of peanut butter.
Usage: Bee forage, edible fruit
Species: Asian Pear (Pyrus bretschneideris), European Pear (Pyrus communis)
Growing: Pears enjoy full sun. The Asian variety grows quite a bit taller than the European variety, but neither gets wider than twenty-five feet (8 m). They are much hardier and more pest-resistant than apples, with the exception of fire blight, which you can prevent by getting a resistant variety. Pears come in dwarf varieties and there is a plethora of species to choose from. You will need two trees for pollination, but they can be from either species. Pears are somewhat unique in that you harvest them before they are ripe, with the only clue being that the stem will begin to detach. The pear will start to hang at an angle rather than vertically. The one thing apples have on them is that pears aren’t as easy to store and preserve, although they are stored similarly. They need to be chilled, usually in a cold storage, in order to finish ripening, where they will stay good for a few months. They shouldn’t be stored with onions, cabbage, carrots, or potatoes, or they will absorb the smells. They can also be made into jams and sauces.
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Growing: The persimmon is the apple of Asia and is one of the most popular fruits there. In North America it hasn’t caught on, possibly because it tastes awful right until it reaches ripeness, at which point it becomes sweet and delicious. It prefers warmer, humid climates and enjoys full sun. The size of the tree really varies, and you will need one male persimmon for every eight female trees, for pollination. There are hybrid varieties that grow larger fruit and come in dwarf sizes that may lend themselves to urban settings.
Usage: Wood and timber, edible, windbreak, nitrogen-fixing legume, dryland tolerant
Species: Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan)
Growing: Pigeon Peas are a very ancient source of food and grown all over the world. They can grow in most soil types and are resistant to drought, making them extremely hardy and versatile. They can be harvested as a pea and eaten raw, dried, or ground into flour. Their nutritional value is very high, and when mixed with a cereal crop, they make a very balanced source of protein. They are especially healthy when sprouted and cooked. They are also a very useful and easy-to-grow animal forage.
Usage: Bee forage, windbreak, edible fruit
Species: American Plum (Prunus Americana), Canada Plum (Prunus Americana var. nigra), Chickasaw Plum (Prunus angustifolia), Hog Plum (Prunus hortulana), Beach Plum (Prunus maritima), Wild Goose Plum (Prunus munsoniana)
Growing: Plums enjoy full sun, and there is a species for most climates. They are susceptible to pests and diseases, and they need several to pollinate. A small stand of plum trees can be very tasty if the right species and tree is chosen, and hopefully will not need too much care to protect them. To harvest the plums, usually the first sign of ripening is a change in color, although that is still not a hard indication of readiness. They will also feel slightly soft and the skin will acquire a powdery texture. The plums must be eaten immediately or processed into jam right away.
Usage: Dryland tolerant
Species: Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Growing: There are many different varieties of pomegranate, but they are all very similar in the way that they grow. The differences lie mainly in the intended use and the color of the fruit. They are very drought resistant and can tolerate freezing—although they need a long growing season to produce fruit. They enjoy partial shade to full sun. The fruit is ready to be harvested when it makes a metallic sound when tapped. If they aren’t picked they will crack open and be ruined. They can’t be picked, but have to be clipped off close to the fruit without leaving a stem. They can be stored like apples in cold storage for seven months as long as the temperature remains steady and the humidity does not rise too high. They are eaten by cutting them open and removing the juice sacs, or you can simply squeeze and juice them.
Usage: Stream bank erosion control, wetland tolerant, wood and timber
Species: Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoids), Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremonti), Black Poplar (Populus nigra), White Poplar (Populus alba), Narrowleaf Cottonwood (Populus angustifolia)
Growing: Poplars and Cottonwoods grow in most climates and even subarctic conditions, and they grow very quickly. Be careful not to plant them near any underground wires or pipes, as their extensive root system spreads up to 150 feet (46 m) away from the tree. They enjoy fertile soil and regular watering, partial shade to full sun. They are generally very simple to grow.
Usage: Edible roots
Species: Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Growing: Potatoes ripen in cool weather and stop when the temperature gets too hot, so they do better in northern areas. However, while they can withstand a light frost, they must be harvested before a heavy frost. They are planted from the eyes of other potatoes, or the indented brown spots. During growth, the tubers tend to slowly pop out of the ground, but exposure to sunlight creates a green toxic spot that is inedible even with cooking; these potatoes must be covered up with more soil. Once they ripen, the whole plant is dug up carefully and cured. Curing requires keeping them at 65°F (18°C) for ten days in a well-ventilated crate in a place that is very humid. Once cured, potatoes can be put in live storage or dried. Beware: the rest of the plant is highly toxic, including any fruit that it might rarely produce above ground. It is a member of the nightshade family and although it looks like a tomato plant, it is deadly. The potatoes can only be eaten cooked and green parts must not be eaten.
Usage: Edible, dryland tolerant
Species: Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia compressa)
Growing: Prickly Pears grow prolifically in the Sonoran desert and produce a beautiful, edible fruit. Although it is a cactus, it is very cold hardy and can grow in northern areas as well. It enjoys full sun and well-drained sandy soil. If it gets too much water, it will rot and collapse, so drainage is key. The entire plant is actually edible, as long as the cactus spines and seeds are removed. To harvest the nopales, or leaves, remove one of the pads when they are about the size of your hand. This is done in spring and summer and you must wear gloves. Pick off the spines and use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove the skin and eyes. This must be done carefully and thoroughly. They are highly nutritious and can be eaten raw or cooked and used like green beans or a topping on Mexican dishes. To harvest the fruit, pick the smooth, firm, and shiny fruits, which will ripen for about one week in late fall or early winter. Wear gloves to do this. Use pliers to remove the spines, cut off the ends, and use a paring knife to remove all the skin layers from top to bottom. Be very careful to remove every part of the skin, as it has tiny hairs that will hurt your insides. Remove the seeds. These can be eaten raw or cooked, or made into jam or juice.
Usage: Edible seeds, dryland tolerant
Species: Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)
Growing: Quinoa is a hardy, protein-packed food source that can be grown in cooler climates. Not only are the leaves some of the most nutritious greens, the seeds make an excellent grain. Quinoa enjoys well-drained soil, is dryland tolerant, and prefers climates that don’t get warmer than 90°F (32°C). You don’t need to water until they have two or three leaves, and they can grow with very little water. You can harvest some of the leaf greens when they are young and use them for salads. To harvest the seeds, wait until the leaves have fallen or even until right after the first frost. The only requirement is that the seeds must be very dry. If it rains, the seeds could germinate, so the timing must be right. You should barely be able to make a dent with your thumbnail in the seed. To remove any debris, place the quinoa on a screen and rub it, and then the chaff can be blown away with a fan. Quinoa must also be rinsed to remove the saponin, which is a bitter substance. Put it in a blender at the lowest speed, and blend until it gets too frothy and bubbly to continue. Keep changing the water until it no longer gets frothy. Alternatively, you could put it in a pillowcase and run it in the cold water cycle of your washing machine. Cook it the same as you would rice.
Usage: Edible roots and shoots
Species: Radish (Raphanus sativus)
Growing: Radishes enjoy full sun and well-drained soil. There are many varieties and they can be grown in most places. Some ripen in a month and can be replanted for several harvests throughout the season. Their long taproot breaks up hard soil, although it stunts their growth. Some radishes are harvested when small, and some grow to be the size of a potato. The entire plant is edible, and some are harvested for their spicy seeds and the greens used in salads.
Usage: Bee forage, edible fruit
Species: Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus), Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis), Creeping Raspberry (Rubus tricolor)
Growing: Everyone has eaten a raspberry, because there are hundreds of species everywhere. They self-pollinate and make better forest garden companions because they are less likely to take over than a blackberry. Trellising helps to keep them under control, unless you want to use Creeping Raspberry as an effective ground cover. They enjoy full sun and well-drained, fertile soil. They are easy to grow and are considered a little invasive because they spread so quickly. They are a little susceptible to fungus and shouldn’t be planted where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, or bulbs have been grown before. The berries are harvested when they change to their deepest hue and can be easily pulled from the branch. They come in gold, purple, black, or red so be aware of the species you have. These berries are eaten raw, frozen, or made into jam. The leaves are an effective herbal medicine. Raspberries are extremely nutritious and high in fiber.
Radish harvest grid:
Usage: Edible stalks, pest control
Species: Himalayan Rhubarb (Rheum austral), Rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum), Turkey Rhubarb (Rheum palatum)
Growing: Most gardeners grow rhubarb, which often persistently comes up in the compost pile. The leaves and roots are poisonous, but the stalks are delicious in pie (especially with strawberries). It needs full sun and rich soil. The stalks can be harvested throughout the season. Only choose the firm, medium-sized stalks. Old stalks are too firm for cooking. Cut off the leaves and roots and discard in the compost pile.
Usage: Bee forage, dryland tolerant
Species: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Growing: Rosemary is very easy to grow and very pest resistant and drought hardy. It needs full sun and well-drained soil. It has often been used in making topiaries. The leaves can be harvested throughout the season as a culinary herb that is high in iron and calcium. It is also a popular medicinal herb, although it is toxic in high doses.
Usage: Edible fruit, nitrogen fixing legume, windbreak
Species: Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)
Growing: Russian olives aren’t related to olives, although they look similar. It is considered an invasive species in many places because it spreads so quickly and does well even in the some of the worst soils. They produce fruit in as little as three years. The fruit is edible although not particularly remarkable in taste.
Usage: Bee forage
Species: Common Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Growing: Sage is a common, easy-to-grow perennial herb that is used for its leaves in cooking and herbal medicine. The essential oil is commonly extracted for medicinal purposes. They enjoy partial shade to full sun and well-drained soil. It takes a year for sage to get established, but it will continue to provide leaves for at least a few years.
Usage: Edible roots and shoots
Species: Salsify (Tragopogon pornifolius)
Growing: Salsify was once a more popular plant for vegetable gardens in North America and produces an edible root that tastes like oysters. The plant needs regular watering and loose soil. It is dug up in the fall to be eaten, or you can leave it in the ground over the winter to let it sprout again in the spring. The root must be peeled and washed and put in water with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent oxidation. Then it can be boiled and mashed, fried, steamed, or used in soups or stew.
Usage: Bee forage, edible, wood and timber
Species: Sloe (Prunus spinosa)
Growing: Sloe, also known as blackthorn, is a large shrub that grows up to fifteen feet (5 m) tall and produces a purple fruit. These look much like Cherry plums, but the flowers are cream rather than white and bloom later. Sloe has large thorns, which make it a great hedge plant, and the wood is useful for firewood or carpentry projects. The fruit can be used in juice, wine, or jam, and some recommend that these should be harvested after the first frost for better flavor.
Usage: Edible, bee forage, dryland tolerant
Species: Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor)
Growing: Sorghum is very hardy and tolerates drought and high temperatures. It can be used as a grain, processed into molasses, and used as animal fodder. They need a long growing season with warm weather and lots of fertilizer. As a grain it is raised and harvested the same as wheat or corn, although you might need to wait until the first frost to allow it to dry enough. The plants cannot be used as animal fodder until they are at least eighteen inches (0.5 m) tall as the young shoots are poisonous. To make your own molasses, chop them down at the ground and remove the leaves. The stalks, or canes, must be pressed or ground and the juice is caught in a container. This juice is then boiled down like maple syrup, until it is highly concentrated and sweet. This must be stirred continuously to prevent scorching. The syrup can be stored for many months, although it will begin to harden at the bottom. This hard sugar can be used as a sweetener or candy as well.
Usage: Edible leaves
Species: Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
Growing: Spinach needs lots of compost but doesn’t really need a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. The seedbed needs to be weed-free and spinach can be succession planted by following peas, with lettuce after.
Spinach harvest grid:
Uses: Edible fruit
Species: Zucchini, butternut squash, etc. (Cucurbita pepo)
Growing: Squash cannot follow other curcubits or nightshades such as cucumber or tomatoes, but it does well after brassicas or beans. It needs lots of compost and nitrogen-rich fertilizer. It grows very fast so make sure to transplant before it gets leggy or it can suffer in the heat. Usually black plastic mulch is used to warm up the soil temperature with composted chicken manure, and floating row covers prevent cucumber beetles. They are also susceptible to squash bugs and mildews. If they get squash bug larvae all you can do is destroy that crop. You can prevent squash bugs by removing the plastic and planting a cover crop right after harvest.
Usage: Edible nut, dryland tolerant
Species: Stone Pine (Pinus pinea)
Growing: This tree can grow sixty feet (18 m) tall or more and produces one of the most ancient foods: the pine nut. It is a beautiful tree with its characteristic umbrella shape growing high above the tall stalk. They are very hardy, tolerant to drought, and take a long time to grow. They enjoy full sun and well-drained soil. When it does finally produce cones, the seeds are edible and often used in Italian pasta sauces.
Squash harvest grid:
Usage: Edible fruit, ground cover
Species: Garden Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa), Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis), Musk Strawberry (Fragaria moschata), Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca alpine), Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
Growing: Strawberries generally need full sun and well-drained fertile soil in a temperate climate. They produce some of the tastiest fruit in the world. They are susceptible to pests and weather. Alpine does not spread like the other species do. Garden strawberries are the most popular, but they most be rotated every three years to stop diseases and fungus. Beaches and Musks work well as an effective groundcover.
Strawberry harvest grid:
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Staghorn Sumac, (Rhus typhina), Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)
Growing: Sumac enjoys partial shade to full sun with well-drained soil. It grows easily in any kind of soil. The berries are edible and are usually dried and then ground up to form a powder that is used to season rice or meat, and in some places it is used to make a drink like lemonade. The most effective way to contain sumac is with goats, as it tends to spread and will just grow more if mowed. Also, use caution as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are all part of the same family and have some similarities.
Species: Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
Growing: Sunflowers need full sun and fertile, well-drained soil with regular watering. The seeds are harvested at the end of summer from the dried flower heads, and can be eaten raw or roasted, ground into butter, or the oil can be extracted for cooking. The leaves can be fed to cattle. Sunflowers are very easy to grow as long as they get enough sun.
Usage: Ground cover, nitrogen-fixing legume, dryland tolerant
Species: Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina)
Growing: The Sweetfern is not a fern, but rather a shrub. It enjoys well-drained soil and is hardy to cold. It enjoys partial shade to full sun. The leaves are used as an herb in cooking or for medicinal purposes. It also produces an edible fruit that may be eaten raw or cooked.
Usage: Wetland tolerant, edible
Species: Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Growing: Sweet Woodruff is an herb that enjoys rich, moist soil and regular watering. It makes an excellent garden border as deer won’t eat it. It has a strong scent that is used in potpourri and repels moths. It is edible but not in high doses. It is commonly used as an herbal medicine.
Usage: Edible roots and shoots, wetland tolerant
Species: Taro (Colocasia esculenta)
Growing: Taro can be grown in a paddy, like rice, to keep control of the weeds, but the water must be cool and flowing. However, a marshy place also works. It also enjoys a long, hot summer. To harvest, wait until the leaves turn yellow and dig them up. Make sure that you are eating the edible varieties and not the ornamental ones. The plant must be well cooked, as the raw parts can cause a burning sensation in your mouth and throat. To prepare them, soak overnight in cold water and then boil, bake, or roast like potatoes. In the United States, the Taro is also known as Dasheen and is cooked or dried and ground into flour. They can also be stored in live storage like potatoes. The leaves are also edible and often cooked like kale or used in traditional Hawaiian dishes.
Usage: Ground cover, edible, bee forage
Species: Woolly Thyme (Thymus psuedolanuginosus), Citrus Thyme (Thymus citriodorus), Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum), Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Growing: Thyme is a perennial herb that enjoys full sun and well-drained soil. It tolerates drought and cold northern temperatures. It is used in cooking and herbal medicine and may be used raw or cooked. Woolly Thyme makes the densest ground cover. The leaves may be harvested throughout the season, as they will grow back quickly.
Usage: Edible fruit
Species: Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)
Growing: Determinate tomatoes, also called “bush” tomatoes, are varieties that only grow to about four feet high. They stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. They also ripen all at the same time (usually over a two-week period), and then die. They may require a limited amount of caging and/or staking for support. Tomatoes should not be pruned or “suckered,” as it severely reduces the crop. They will perform relatively well in a container (minimum size of five to six gallons).
Tomato harvest grid:
Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are also called “vining” tomatoes. They will keep producing fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to ten feet, although six feet is considered the norm. They will bloom, set new fruit, and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the growing season. They require substantial caging and/or staking for support and pruning and the removal of suckers is practiced by many but is not mandatory. The need for it and advisability of doing it varies from region to region. Experiment and see which works best for you. Indeterminate varieties are not usually recommended as container plants because of their need for substantial support and the size of the plants. Most urban farmers grow these tomatoes in a greenhouse by tying the plants to the ceiling with a string.
Usage: Edible roots and shoots
Species: Turnip (Brassica rapa)
Growing: The entire turnip plant is edible, with the root eaten like potatoes, and the greens cooked like kale. They prefer well-drained soil, but they are extremely versatile and are grown in just about every climate and condition. Turnips also serve as animal fodder. They are harvested at the end of the season or left in the ground over the winter, or put in live storage.
Turnip harvest grid:
Usage: Bare soil erosion control, nitrogen-fixing legume, ground cover
Species: Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa), Bitter Vetch (Lathyrus linifolius montanus), American Vetch (Vicia americana), Wood Vetch (Vicia caroliniana), Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca), Sweet Vetch (Hedysarum boreale), Milk Vetch (Atragalus glycyphyllos)
Growing: As vetch is often grown in conjunction with clover and alfalfa as a ground cover, it sometimes becomes part of a pasture that animals forage in. However, vetch is toxic over periods of time. If your animals eat too much of it for too long, they can end up with a nervous system disorder. Despite this, it is still useful because it is the most cold-hardy cover crop.
Usage: Ground cover, edible leaves
Species: Canada Violet (Viola Canadensis), Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica), Sweet Violet (Viola odorata)
Growing: These cute flowers have edible leaves, but not all are created equal. They grow just about anywhere, but local native species will vary in flavor. They act as a hardy evergreen ground cover. Sweet Violets are the sweetest and do the best where it is not too hot.
Usage: Edible nut, wood and timber
Species: Heartnut or Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordifolia), Butternut or White walnut (Juglans cinerea), Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
Growing: Walnuts enjoy full sun and grow 60-100 feet (18-30 m) tall and 50-100 feet wide. Black walnut improves the soil by building mineral content, unlike the other varieties, but they all taste delicious. The Black walnut grows from the Midwest to the East extending into the southern US, the Butternut grows in the Northeast radiating out from the Great Lakes, and the Heartnut grows in the coldest northern areas. Black walnut is considered the most valuable because it is the scarcest. Walnuts need fertile, moist soil. To harvest, wait until the walnuts begin turning from green to brown and start falling off the tree. The ones that are ready are partly brown and partly green. If they are completely black, they may not be usable. These must then be hulled by crushing them. Some people do this with their cars, by stomping on them, or using converted cement mixers. Once hulled, they must be dried for two months in a place with good air circulation. Place them in burlap or loosely in a similar breathable bag. After they are dry, they can then be cracked like any regular nut.
Usage: Edible, water plant
Species: Water Chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis)
Growing: The Water Chestnut is not a nut, but rather a water plant that grows an edible vegetable that is small and rounded, looking somewhat like a nut. These can be eaten raw, boiled, cooked, or pickled. They enjoy a long growing season and full sun. This plant should be placed around the shallow edges of a pond, with the water level staying at least two inches above the soil. At the end of summer, the leaves will die and then you simply dig up the plant. Rinse them off and use them accordingly.
Usage: Stream bank erosion control, wetland tolerant, water plants
Species: Watercress (Nasturtium nasturtium officinale)
Growing: Although the Latin name is Nasturtium, they aren’t closely related to Nasturtium flowers. This highly nutritious plant can be grown in wetlands or ponds, as long as the soil is fertile and water is abundant. It enjoys partial shade and warm temperatures. Harvest the leaves throughout the season and use fresh.
Usage: Wetland tolerant, edible roots and shoots, ground cover
Species: Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), Shuttleworth’s Wild Ginger (Asarum shuttleworthii)
Growing: A lovely groundcover that grows natively in most areas but still doesn’t quite have the same flavor as cultivated varieties. Only the root is edible; the leaves are toxic. It is actually not related to gingerroot but is called ginger because it tastes and smells like ginger. They prefer moist, fertile soil, and shade. It is hardy in cold climates.
Usage: Water plants
Species: Wild Rice (Zizania aquatica), Northern Wild Rice (Zizania palustris)
Growing: Rice growing has been described elsewhere in this book as a grain crop, but it can also be grown as an incidental water plant. Wild rice is actually not closely related to the common Asian rice (Oryza sativa). It is very nutritious. The seeds are simply thrown into a pond and sink to the bottom to sprout, and they enjoy full sun and cooler climates. They don’t compete well with cattails and should be kept separate. The rice is delectable to birds and other foragers, so it may be prudent to protect it. Commercial growers drain their paddies to harvest the rice, but that’s not an option for the small pond owner. Native people would use a canoe, but if you can’t do that, just make sure the rice is planted within arm’s reach of the shore. Then in the fall when the seed heads have fully developed and fall off easily, use a stick to tap them into a basket. These must then be laid out to dry in the sun for at least a day, and then parched. This is traditionally done in a cast iron pot over a wood fire, and must be stirred continuously until it changes from green to a darker color. This takes a couple of hours. Use just as you would other types of rice, but add three cups of water for every cup of rice.
Usage: Stream bank erosion control, wetland tolerant, water plants, bee forage, wood and timber
Species: Willow (Salix L.)
Growing: Willows are beautiful trees with many uses. The bark contains salicylic acid and is used along with the leaves in herbal medicine. It has tough, flexible wood used in making a variety of items. The plant grows easily from cuttings or broken branches that fall on the ground, and they grow in most climates. They prefer moist soil and are often planted on stream banks to stop erosion with their many tangled roots. In an urban area, these roots can cause trouble by destroying pipes and wires, so use caution. There are hundreds of species, so use the variety that is native to your area.
Usage: Bee forage, ground cover, edible
Species: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Growing: Enjoys partial shade to full sun and provides beautiful ground cover that gives a home to beneficial insects. It has many herbal medicinal uses and benefits the soil. However, too much yarrow intake can cause some severe digestive problems, so take in moderation.