By Heather Jo Flores
No garden is complete without a yummy patch of edible, perennial shrubbery! Even a small garden can squeeze in a few brambles, berries or 'chokes. To create a low-maintenance food forest with a year-round harvest and multiple layers of plants, a mid-sized perennial understory is an essential piece of the design.
Shrubs connect the canopy to the ground and create habitats for birds and insects. The shrub layer also shelters smaller plants and creates boundaries and microclimates.
I picked a baker's dozen of my favorites that are easy to grow and disease-resistant while providing a reliable, perennial harvest. Plant them all and you'll be well on your way to the food forest of your dreams!
I have a particular fetish for artichokes grown either in a wide hedge or placed at random across a mowed grassy lawn. The spiny leaves look like something out of Jurassic Park and the flowers are a giant, delicious thistle. Artichokes are water-thirsty and gophers love to eat their roots, so plant them in a bent chicken wire "gopher basket" and irrigate during the dry season.
This seems like a no-brainer — who doesn't love blueberries? But they aren't for every site, nor for every gardener. Blueberries need sun, regular pruning and fertilizing, protection from birds, acidic mulch and other forms of special attention. So do your homework and consider whether blueberries are really your best choice.
Pretty much everything in the genera Rubus (blackberries, raspberries, etc.) is edible and easy to grow. I enjoy using cane fruit hedges to create "rooms" in a large garden area, sectioning off zones for napping or secret fountains. Prune canes annually, in the fall when fruit is done. Cut branches that fruited this year to ankle-height while retaining the young shoots, which will be the ones that set fruit in the spring. Like any plant, cane fruits love a top dressing of rich compost. Harvest ever-bearing varieties daily to provoke a sustained harvest of up to six months.
Not all types are edible but canna lilies are such a beautiful, stunning addition to any garden. Canna edulis is an edible species that can be used much like tapioca. Break apart the corms and plant a patch near the house so you can watch the show of insects and birds attracted to almost year-round blooms.
There are about 150 species of edible currants, but my favorite is the classic flavor of the red currant (Ribes rubrum). I design site-specific gardens to meet the needs of the client/homeowner/gardener, but pretty much always include currants. Regardless of which species you choose, currants grow well as an understory shrub in marginal areas with part shade and acid soil. The plants can be susceptible to rust and mildew, so weed and rake around them once in a while and give them some nice composted manure every year.
Most fig varieties are tree-sized. Except 'Petite negra', which only grows 4 or 5 feet tall and does quite well in a temperate climate.
Because of their bittersweet flavor and super thorny stems, these aren't my favorite choice for small gardens. But as a hedge to deter animals or create privacy and security, gooseberries are an awesome edible alternative to barbed wire. You can "coppice" them by establishing the plant then cutting it all the way to the ground and training the forthcoming tall, straight shoots into a fence.
Pineapple guava seems to do best in a temperate climate, but if you have a greenhouse or a hot, south slope, try strawberry guava too. The flowers and foliage of both species are visually stunning, making them an excellent choice for a low hedge across a front yard or in an intimate courtyard garden.
Filberts can be grown in a wide range of shapes and situations. Plant as part of a mixed-plant guild or in rows along a large boundary and coppice into tall, permeable hedges. Filbert makes the best bent-wood outdoor furniture — it lasts longer than wicker or even plastic!
Attractive to hummingbirds, bumblebees and a zillion other pollinators, rosemary is known in folklore to repel bad energies from the home and garden. There are two basic types: shrubby, upright rosemary, and prostrate types that will spill down slopes and terraces. I love the way rosemary looks in a front yard garden with other Mediterranean plants like figs, brussel sprouts and oregano. Once established, all types of rosemary are resistant to deer, drought, and disease. Too easy!
With shimmering, silvery foliage and tiny, abundant, bright-orange fruit that tastes like sour-patch candy, seaberries (Hippophae rhamnoides) add a yummy, nitrogen-fixing conversation piece to the garden. Fruit has seven times as much vitamin C as lemons, ripens in September and can go until mid-winter.
Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichoke)
These will grow in otherwise undesirable garden areas, such as the alley behind your house or that strip of land between the garage and the neighbor's fence. The more you dig them, the more they grow, so place them with intent and plan to leave them in that area forever. The starchy, edible tubers can cause gas but if you soak them in water overnight and rinse them before cooking, that really seems to help.
These lanky perennial brassicas will provide year-round nutritious greens, even in a foot or two of snow! Did you know that Brassica oleracea is one of the oldest cultivated species of plants? I love to imagine the rich, rocky banks of the Fertile Crescent, terraced and stacked with blooming collards!
Most of the plants in this list will do fine when grown together, as long as everyone has enough elbow room to mature. Use them as companions for larger trees, planted close together in a guild to support each other's needs. Or plant them in a line or long curve to create boundaries and microclimates. A well-placed hedge can also serve as a windbreak, privacy barrier, or conceal an ugly area. Make a raspberry spiral with a small lawn of clover in the center and it becomes a secret fort for naps and playtime. Do your own experiments and let me know how it works out!
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
with Crystal Stevens
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
When you begin to look at your own site with a permaculture lens, you begin to see your home as a system in which the zones and sectors can provide a foundation for your design. Zones are a tool for organizing and laying out a site so that energy, time and resources like water are used efficiently.
In classic zone mapping, the house is referred to as the centralized hub of human activity. The home is more efficient and functions better when everything has its place, when items are organized, and when clutter is minimal. Our homes are the places we retreat to. The home system is where we can reduce our carbon footprint while building a legacy of green handprints.
It is important to start at home when designing the home system since the home is the central hub for our activities. If our home functions well as a permaculture system, then our other permaculture endeavors will be more successful and we will have overall better organizational and design skills. In this mini class you will learn to view your home and its immediate surroundings through a permaculture lens.
Zone One: Home sweet home, the domestic zoneZone one includes the home, the central hub of our activity. A place where we rest and recuperate, eat, sleep, gather, dream and create.
Everyone’s home is different. Some people prefer quiet, minimalist spaces while others thrive in busy chaos. Within the shared and different preferences of the household, there is space for creating systems that reduce the amount of work needed to keep the home as you all prefer it. So often, time and energy (and tempers!) are lost looking for things. Mapping the zones and sectors inside the house can serve as a useful observation tool and help reveal fresh insights into how the house and its occupants function.
An example from my own home system:
For the last several years, I have been eliminating things that no longer serve me in my home. Each month, I dedicate a day to go through old bins of paperwork, fill a few bags of donation items, re-organize spaces that are not functioning efficiently, etc. Through this process, I have been able to organize zones of my home by categories. Because my husband and I are multifaceted and have way too many hobbies, we have several functioning zones throughout our home.
We have an area that functions as an art studio with shelves for clearly labeled art supplies.
We have an area designated to our gardening resources, which houses our seed library, gardening books, and small gardening supplies, such as small tools and gloves.
We also have a home apothecary, stocked with homegrown dried herbs, tinctures and oil infusions in process, herbal medicine making supplies, and a resource library for herbs and herbalism. We have a huge farm table in our dining room that serves multiple purposes; as a place to have family meals, an arts and crafts area, and a seed starting workspace. This table is located in a room where we host workshops.
Growing and storing food in Zone 1.There are a surprising number of things you can grow indoors, especially if you have a sunny windowsill or two. Sprouting seeds and growing microgreens can be done all year round, and are a great source of vitamins in the winter months. However, sprouting seeds works best in drier climates. In humid areas mould can be a problem so you may find you need to sterilise glass jars in the oven between crops.
Houseplants don’t have to only look nice! Spider plants are renowned for cleaning toxins the air, but they are not the only ones that do this as this poster shows. Some of these plants, such as ferns, prefer not to be in direct sunlight, leaving that sunny windowsill free for other things.
Aloe vera is a useful plant to have in the kitchen as a living part of the first aid kit. Dab some of the goo from a leaf on a burn for instant relief. (Hold the injured part under cold water first.)
There are several edible plants you can grow indoors which means that even in an apartment you can grow some of your own food. Herbs are a great addition to a kitchen windowsill, especially as you only need a small amount to transform a dish. Don’t forget to water them! Keep an eye out for aphids. These can be squished or else brushed off with the help of soapy water. Or simply swap the pot with one outside, and let the ladybirds enjoy the aphids!
A sunny windowsill is also a good place to get seedlings off to an early start in Spring. Don’t forget to protect them from frost on cold nights, especially if they are behind thick curtains, and keep the soil moist with a fine spray mist.
A pantry or a cupboard where you can store preserved food is a way of extending the season and enjoying the harvest long after the fruits have gone. Bottling or canning is a useful skill to learn, as is making jam, pickles and chutneys and also fermentation.
Zone 1 can also include the area immediately outside your house. Consider how to make best use of this space. Take advantage of the fact that it is so close and you pass it regularly. It’s worth taking time to sit or stand at the door as you make your plans.
Zone 2: The home orchard zone.This zone is fairly near the house, so is easy to keep an eye on things. You might not go here every day, but perhaps most days of the week. Think through what you want to grow that will need regular attention, such as vegetables, soft fruit and herbs.
Other components that need to be relatively close to the house include the worm bin or composting area, chickens and other small animals, the woodshed, tool shed and workshop. A greenhouse or polytunnel, and cold frames also need to be in this zone. You will learn more about these n the Aquaculture and Season Extension module.
This zone could have animal housing, rotational grazing, small pastures, cover crops, permanent raised beds, permaculture guilds, nitrogen fixers, pollinator attractors, grazing between rows, interplanting of vegetables, and ponds.
Use a big piece of paper to roughly map out zones 1 and 2 of your home system as it is today (a base map). Create a sector analysis map to understand the external influences on your home, make sure to include arrows showing the direction the physical sectors enter the space. Draw a zone map which describes how spaces are currently used either inside or outside the immediate living space.
Your current zone map could act as a real time inventory of your property, your activities and the things in it. Be transparent when creating the current zone map. Include the clutter, the chaos, and the things that are not working, and work toward eliminating those things in real life and in your dream scenario. Be sure to label the current zones.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Home Systems module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Crystal Stevens.
Crystal Stevens is an Author, an Artist/Art Teacher, a Folk Herbalist, a Regenerative Farmer, and a Permaculturist. Crystal is the author of Grow Create Inspire and Worms at Work, published by New Society Publishers. Crystal speaks at conferences and Mother Earth News Fairs across the U.S.. She has been teaching a Resilient Living workshop series for over a decade. She is the Garden Manager at EarthDance Organic Farm School in Ferguson, MO, where her husband, Eric Stevens, is the Farm Manager. They have two children and live along the rolling hills of the Mississippi River near St. Louis. Visit them at www.growcreateinspire.com, on social media @growcreateinspire and @earthdancefarms
Further reading on this topic:
Here is an article that describes how Maddy Harland, editor of Permaculture Magazine, transformed her site from grass to garden! Harland, Maddy. “How we made a garden of edible delights: monoculture to permaculture.” 9 July 2014. The Guardian
I highly recommend watching the Inhabit Film to greater understand the need for permaculture in our home systems. http://inhabitfilm.com/
#freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns #thehomesystem #growcreateinspire
By Heather Jo Flores
I can't stop eating them. There's a fig tree at the place where I am staying and I can't seem to keep them out of my mouth! It's a huge tree, maybe 50 years old, sprawling across the low wood fence and dropping down into the neighbours' yard. They don't mind. Every October, both houses get more figs than they know what to do with, just from the one tree. It's a Black Spanish, and it's famous among fig aficionados as being one of most prolific, cold-hardy and easy to grow varieties.
If you don't have figs in your garden, you should plant one immediately! Plant 10! Figs are not only beautiful, delicious, nutritious and easy to grow, they also provide shade and privacy, create habitat for birds and insects, and are star players in food forests from Vermont to Arcata to Spain and back again.
The sprawling nature of a fig leaves space between for annuals and perennials. Try currants, comfrey, seaberry, canna and blueberries, for starters.
Fig trees can definitely take up a good amount of space, so give it to them. If you live in town or space is limited, plant the figs on an edge, against a back fence or on the parking strip. In the country, plant a patch to create a circular grove or establish a border. I have never had problems with deer eating figs, though your results may vary.
But not all figs are created equal. Many types of figs will literally drown in a wet winter and/or die back all the way to the ground every time it freezes. Here are my four favorites. Each of these bears fruit at different times, so plant one of each and you'll have an extended bounty. These are available online and at most of the local nurseries.
Black Spanish, as mentioned above, is always a winner. It loves hot summers and wet winters, and can be quite prolific, even in a marginal site. The fruits are medium-sized, dark, firm and juicy, and delicious fresh or dried. Naturally smaller than other varieties, in the right spot it can produce two crops a year.
Desert king is one of the best varieties for maritime gardens because it resists late spring frosts and ripens in mid-summer, even in cooler microclimates. Trees can get quite large.
Lattarulla, aka Italian honey fig, is more of a golden color, excellent for drying and can bear two crops in one season, one ripening in late July and the second in mid-September.
Vern's brown turkey fig, not to be confused with plain brown turkey, was developed by Oregon gardener Vern Nelson and is widely known as reliable, productive and prolific in temperate gardens from British Columbia to the Bay Area. It bears large, sweet brown figs and will often produce two crops a year.
Neverella, also called Osborne prolific, makes stunning, opalescent fruits. Naturally a smaller tree that is more shade-tolerant than other varieties, this is an excellent choice for urban gardens.
Petite negra grows only 3 to 4 feet tall — perfect for your container garden! Medium-sized fruits are reddish black and come twice a year.
You could also just take some cuttings from an existing tree in your neighborhood. Figs are super easy to propagate. If you know of one that does well where you live, just wait until it's done fruiting and then ask to take a few cuttings, either from the tips of the young branches or from the suckers around the base of the tree. If you get lucky, some of those suckers will already have roots growing! Get the cuttings established in pots and plant out in early spring while they are still dormant, or if you can keep the soil evenly moist for a month or two, then you can just stick the cuttings directly in the ground.
Once established, figs can be extremely drought tolerant, but, as with most trees, they need to be watered regularly for the first three years. Use this young-tree time to establish companion perennials before the shade canopy of the fig begins to spread. They respond well to an annual top-dressing of rich compost, but aren't especially needy when it comes to maintenance, fertilizers or pruning. In my experience, figs don't take kindly to being pruned, and whole sections can rot if a cut is made improperly. Prune if you must, but be sure to do it only when the tree is completely dormant: after Thanksgiving and before Groundhog Day.
Fun fact: Figs are an inside-out flower, and some varieties are pollinated by the aptly named fig wasp. Other types of wasps don't pollinate but simply use the figs as a nursery for their larvae. These wasps are also known to hunt insects that are harmful to plants, so having figs benefits your whole garden. "I wish I wouldn't have planted that fig tree" said no one, ever.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
This resource is brought to you by
Food Not Lawns,
Permaculture Women's Guild, and Heather Jo Flores.
Subscribe to the #freepermaculture blog via email and get fresh articles every week! This does not add you to other lists, but you can opt into those below.
You're good to go!
Writers! Let's Crosspollinate!
We'd love to feature your article here and/or swap guest posts with you.
Join the #freepermaculture public discussion group
FREE Permaculture Coloring Book!
Watch this video to learn about our online Permaculture Design Course with advanced certificate in Social Systems Design.
FREE Introduction to Permaculture class
Enjoy the first module of our double-certificate design course, absolutely free.
Pay-what-you-want online course: