Saturday, April 10, 2010

Asparagus, Sorrel & Forest Gardens

So originally I thought I was just going to post about the earlier spring edibles. Like this lovely harbinger coming up in the Remington community garden:


I don't know whose idea it was to put in the asparagus, but I'm sure glad they did, because I never would have realized what an interesting plant it is. Asparagus is a perennial, which means that once you plant it in the ground, it will keep coming back year after year without you having to plant seeds. All you have to do is limit your harvesting so you don't eat all the asparagus in one go so that it never comes back.

The part of asparagus we eat are just the early shoots. Here is asparagus turning into its plant self:

You can see the huge fronds that the asparagus eventually become in this photo from last November.

Another plant that's kicking the ass of any March-planted lettuce is sorrel.

Sorrel is also a perennial plant that comes back year after year, so it requires essentially no work at all. It's got a wonderful flavor, kind of like lemony spinach. Plus it contains a lot of vital nutrients like any other dark leafy green. Green + sour is a fantastic flavor for early spring. You can make sorrel soup. Serve that with some soft boiled eggs and fresh bread, or maybe some crepes if you're feeling real fancy, and it's a great way to celebrate the season.

So as I said earlier, I thought that I was only going to be posting about the earliest plants of Spring.

But after attending the Dave Jacke talk, "Gardening Like the Forest," I realized that all of the earliest spring plants have one thing in common: they are perennials!

Most of the plants we put in the garden are annuals, which means the plants die each year, and won't return unless we do the work of planting seeds. Gardening like the forest turns that idea on its head, and focuses more on perennial plants like asparagus, sorrel, herbs, trees, flowering shrubs, even mushrooms so that the plants do all the work instead of the gardener.

I won't go into all the details of Dave's talk since I won't be able to do it justice, but I have to say I can't stop dreaming of creating a forest garden.

Right now for my garden I have a plot of land that I re-plant with a series of separate food crops every few months. When you garden like the forest, you set up a structure of regenerating plants that all interact together to form a healthy ecosystem.

Your understory of edible herbs provide a ground cover to hold in moisture and prevent weeds, plus they make excellent healthy teas and attract local pollinators (red clover! mountain mint!). Trees provide fruit, nuts, shade, building materials, maybe even useful bark (as in the case of sassafras or willow). Mushrooms help dying plant matter decompose and are a food source. The many layers of the forest garden protect and feed each other, and help support a rich ecological system among the soil organisms, insects, and other wildlife.

To eat from a forest garden means to broaden your food horizons beyond the produce aisle of the grocery store. Plant ferns for fiddleheads in early spring, toss some violets in your salad, eat jerusalem artichoke as an alternative to potatoes.

Of course, forest gardens require a lot more knowledge of plants and how they interact together. It helps to know more about plants than just eating their fruits or seeds, like knowing a little bit about root systems so plants aren't all sharing water from the same level of soil, or knowing which make healthy teas or attract certain pollinators.

You may have to to experiment in the kitchen, and you may have to be patient for a few years while you wait for your trees to grow or your plants to really spread. But there is less time putting seeds in the ground, making little potted seedlings, watering, and mulching. With perennial forest gardens, your garden will just keep growing on its own, year after year.

Instead of a cycle of planting and harvesting, forest gardens grow richer and deeper with the years. I can't wait to get a few more edible perennials into the Remington garden myself!

If you're interested in learning more about forest gardening, I really recommending checking out Dave Jacke's site.

1 comment:

sarah in the woods said...

I've been researching forest gardening and came across your post. Very helpful. Thanks for the link.

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