Pear Varieties for the Deep South

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Pears are thought of as a cold-climate fruit, yet they are more adaptable than you might think. One of the benefits of being a garden writer is the many comments and ideas I get from readers. Today we’ll focus on pear varieties, thanks to some insight from gardeners in the south.

These originally appeared on a survival plant post on pears I created here.

Erik writes:

“Supposedly the ‘Chinese white pear’ (Bai li) cultivars Tsu Li (which is really ancient and supposedly good but quite slow to bear) and Ya Li (which need to be planted together, as they bloom earlier than even the pyrifolia Asians [‘apple pears’]) will both fruit with only 450 chill hours and are fireblight resistant.

I have had grocery Ya Li and am not impressed–crisp, watery, no flavor (that is also my opinion of most of the larger, pyrifolia types which someone must like because they are more expensive than aromatic, buttery European pears that taste like pears).

However, I found a delicious way to treat firm Boscs that also works with low flavor sand/oriental pears and Ya Li: Poach them in flavored syrup. The bland ones actually keep their shape better than good European types (turn a Seckel glut into pear butter instead). The flavor comes from the syrup rather than the pear, but hey, it works. (The French mostly use sweetened wine, but even stale coffee. In [Polish] Chicago, I can get blackcurrant juice or syrup and mostly use that. Vanilla and ginger blend nicely with most pears, even the aromatic ones that are mostly high chill and killed by fireblight.)

‘Warren’ is often recommended as a moderately low chill (NW FL and north), fireblight-resistant European sort similar to Bartlett, but I don’t have personal experience with it. Poached pears with vanilla ice cream may not be an option if the something hits the fan, but is nice in nicer times.”

And Carl responds:

“I have a lot of pear trees in Northwest Florida that are mostly grafted over pears I purchased in box stores or in flea markets. I pick varieties that were either developed in the deep south by normal people or were found after many years to do quite well.

Best fresh-eating pears and fire-blight-resistant so far for me are: Southern Bartlett (from Abbreville, LA), Golden Boy from Just Fruits and Exotics, and the Asian pear Olton Broussard from an old shipment to a nursery labeled ‘Oriental Pear.’ Kieffers and Orient pears for cooking/salads and for pollinating the Olton Broussards.

There are many new pears that I am trying out at the moment that are said to be very good. But the three I mentioned are about as sure of a thing as there can be in the South. The Olton Broussard may not fruit in zone 9 or during extremely warm winters in zone 8b.

The Hood is another good but early pear that is disease resistant and very low chill. It was university-developed unlike the other eating pears that I mentioned. See http://tandeecal.com/page10.htm —  My Southern Pear interest group.”

Pear Varieties for the South

There are some nice field reports on pear varieties for the South at the link Carl provided. I recommend checking them out.

For North Florida (which also coincides with Southern Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, portions of Texas, and other subtropical areas), the University of Florida recommends:

  • Ayer
  • Baldwin
  • Kieffer
  • Flordahome
  • Orient
  • Hood
  • Pineapple
  • Tenn

The range of those pears probably goes a good bit farther north. For south of Gainesville, the only three pears recommended are:

  • Flordahome
  • Orient
  • Pineapple

Le Conte grows in the deep south and is apparently an excellent pear; however, it’s not as disease resistant as some varieties.

When I visited the Orange County extension office in Orlando to film my video on fruit trees for Florida, I noticed that the “Pineapple” pear was the only tree that was thriving. However, the trees were planted in a hot field.

I believe they would have done much better in a mulch-rich environment with a variety of other species, food-forest style.

Here’s that video:

In my North Florida food forest, I grew Flordahome, Pineapple, Hood, Kieffer, Baldwin, and other recommended pear varieties for the South, plus grafted branches onto some of them from an old productive pear tree of unknown variety growing in Gainesville.

People often don’t realize how far south you can grow pears.

It is good to see people having success. Don’t overlook pear trees — try some on your homestead!

Imagine homemade pear pie, pear sauce, canned pears, pear salsa … eating them fresh and sun-warmed from the tree. I never knew how good pears really were until I grew my own trees. Store-bought pears are a pale imitation of ripe fruit from the tree.

 

*Pear image courtesy Dave Minogue. CC license.

 

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Reusing Food Waste: The Perks, Tips, and Tricks

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You’ve been eating healthfully and sustainably as an apartment homesteader, and it’s been kind to your budget. But when most of the waste you produce is in the form of food scraps, you need to be reusing food waste rather than disposing of those food bits.

The first way that comes to mind for most people is to turn food waste into compost for your garden. Small-space composting can be an easy and cost-effective way to use your food waste.

But beyond composting, did you know you can both regrow plants from your scraps (buy once, grow forever) and eat those scraps in crafty recipes?

Check out my favorite tips and recipes below—along with a list of even more clever ways to put your food waste to good use.

Composting in Your Apartment

Everyone can compost, even in the small space of the apartment homestead.

You can use a five-gallon bucket with a lid—easily attained at any hardware store—or a regular plastic garbage bin with a lid.

Don’t let the “lack of space” excuse keep you from composting your food waste to help feed your future garden. There are cheap and easy compost containers that will fit under your kitchen sink or in a closet, or that you can make decorative to help inspire other apartment homesteaders to start their own sustainability journey.

If you’re worried about the usual culprits (bugs, using it quickly enough, and the obvious lack of space) that make composting in your apartment homestead difficult, check out this blog on The Grow Network: 5 Cheap and Easy Solutions For Small-Space Composting.

Regrow From Scraps

If composting isn’t your thing just yet, why not start a whole garden of vegetables and fruit from your organic produce scraps?

From herbs and onions to leafy greens and lemon trees, you can regrow the produce you eat regularly with results that are both amazing for your homesteading prowess and kind to your homestead budget.

Basil

One of my favorite herbs to regrow is basil. I love fresh basil. I add it to Italian dishes or infuse water with it and fresh lemon slices.

You can regrow basil by simply stripping the leaves, leaving only a small stem. Place the basil in a jar of water with the stem submerged, and set it in a sunny but cool area in your apartment homestead. Change the water every other day and plant in a four-inch pot when the stems grow to approximately two inches in length.

Peppers

Another easy plant to regrow is peppers. Simply save the seeds from a pepper you love and replant in a pot. Place the pot in a sunny area, and you’ll enjoy peppers (and hopefully fresh salsa!) again and again.

Tomatoes

You can also save your tomato seeds. Rinse them and allow to dry, then plant them in a soil-filled pot. If you have a garden box, transfer your tomato plants there once the sprouts are a few inches tall. Otherwise, keep them potted and enjoy fresh tomatoes from your patio garden.

Here are some other things you can regrow from food scraps in your apartment homestead:

  • Avocado
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot Greens
  • Celery
  • Cilantro
  • Garlic Sprouts
  • Ginger
  • Green Onions
  • Leeks
  • Scallions
  • Lemongrass
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Fennel

Reusing Food Waste in the Kitchen: Recipes Using ‘Throwaway’ Scraps

There are so many ways to eat the kitchen scraps you would normally throw away! Just rethink “scraps” into more food! Check out these recipes for a few ideas.

Broth

Use your celery tops, onion skins, carrot peels, and other veggies to make vegetable broth. Add all vegetables to a large pot, add enough water to completely cover everything, bring to a boil, and let simmer for six to eight hours. Strain and store broth in the fridge.

Almond Flour

Do you make your own almond milk? Grind up the leftover almonds and toast/dry in your oven to make almond flour. Use almond flour to make grain-free muffins, breads, or other baked goods.

One of my favorite recipes using almond flour is Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls—they’re also gluten free (which means you can kick the nasty pesticide-heavy wheat out of your diet and still enjoy your sweets):

Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls

2 cups almond flour
4 Tbsp. ground flax seed
1/2 Tbsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. sea salt
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1 Tbsp. honey (in dough); 1/4 cup honey (in filling)
1 tsp. cinnamon (in dough); 2 Tbsp. cinnamon (in filling)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix together almond flour, ground flax seed, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt. Mix in eggs and coconut milk. Then, mix in applesauce, 1 Tbsp. honey, and 1 tsp. cinnamon.

Form dough into a ball, cover, and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Lay a piece of wax paper down on the counter and grease with olive oil. Place the dough onto the wax paper, and roll out the dough into a thin circle.

Drizzle honey over the dough and shake the rest of the cinnamon over the top.

Cut dough into 2-inch strips. Using your knife (the dough will be sticky), roll each strip up and place in a baking pan.

Bake for around 25 minutes or until rolls are golden brown.

Potato Skins

You can turn potato skins you’d normally throw away into a salty snack you’ll crave.

Potato Skin Chips

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Toss leftover potato peels with olive oil and the seasonings you like.

Place on a baking sheet and roast for 15–20 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Sprinkle with cheese and scallions or green onions.

Apple Peels

If you make your own apple sauce, you probably have apple peels for days. The following recipe offers a perfect way to use them up:

Apple Honey Tea

The peels from 6 apples
3–4 cups water
1/2 tsp. cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Place apple peels in a sauce pan, cover with water, and add lemon juice and cinnamon. Boil for 10–15 minutes. When the liquid has become apple-colored, strain out the apple peels, add honey, and serve.

Kale Stems

Kale stems can be too tough to eat raw.

Dry the stems and grind them into Super Green Kale Powder to add to shakes or salads.

Get Clever With Your Food Scraps

Not into the food scrap recipes? Here are a bunch of other ways to use your food scraps. Get creative!

  • Infuse liquor with citrus peels for a yummy adult beverage.
  • Sharpen the blades of your garbage disposal by running eggshells through it.
  • Add crushed eggshells to your garden soil to give it a calcium boost.
  • Run citrus peels through the garbage disposal to get rid of nasty odors.
  • Use carrot peels to make carrot oil—an awesome addition to your natural, chemical-free beauty routine.
  • Add citrus peels to white vinegar to use in cleaning. Infuse the vinegar with the citrus peels by letting them sit together for two weeks before straining the peels and transferring the citrusy vinegar to a spray bottle.
  • Make citrus air fresheners.
  • Use banana peels to shine your shoes.
  • Use spent coffee grounds in your garden as pest repellent, fertilizer, or an ingredient in compost.
  • You can also use your coffee grounds to help absorb food odors in the fridge. Put old grounds in a container and place it in the fridge to get rid of musty food smells.
  • Coffee grounds can even be used to exfoliate and rejuvenate your skin!

Whichever ways you choose to use rather than toss your food “waste,” remember that the choice to go that extra step is a leaping bound on your journey toward personal sustainability in your apartment homestead.

(And when you’re ready to take another step and really say “goodbye” to unsustainable living, you’ll want to check out the next post in the Apartment Homesteader series, on growing your own medicine—or being your own Apartment Apothecary! Stay tuned!)

 

References

http://thegrownetwork.com/small-space-composting/
https://foodrevolution.org/blog/reduce-food-waste-regrow-from-scraps/
https://www.davidwolfe.com/stop-trashing-your-scraps-16-produce-items-to-re-grow-at-home/
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/potato/container-potatoes.htm
http://undressedskeleton.tumblr.com/post/57820632507
http://www.care2.com/greenliving/ways-to-reuse-food-scraps.html
https://www.thekitchn.com/heres-why-you-should-never-throw-out-potato-peelings-tips-from-the-kitchn-212565
http://www.thekitchn.com/22-budget-friendly-recipes-that-will-use-up-your-kitchen-scraps-230090
http://joyinmykitchen.blogspot.com/2009/10/apple-honey-tea.html#.Wez9KpOnEfF
http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/green-living/7-healthy-ways-to-use-food-scraps/
http://www.naturallivingideas.com/14-genius-ways-recycle-used-coffee-grounds/
http://www.naturallivingideas.com/35-genius-ways-to-use-up-food-scraps/
http://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2015/07/13-ways-use-food-scraps/

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Are You Prepared for Peak Chicken?

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three-step-chickensWe have all heard about peak oil. But have you heard about “peak chicken?” Or peak almost everything else that composes the modern human diet—dairy, meat, corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, vegetables, and sugar?

According to a study in Ecology and Society,1https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss4/art50/ we’ve already been there and done that. We peaked on just about every food-related product considered critical to human survival, except farm-raised fish, in or before 2010.

Thank goodness for carp, catfish, and tilapia! If you don’t like those, you might want to start working on some new recipes and get used to them….

Once you get your head around the idea of peak food—meaning that food production is stagnant or declining—then do an Internet search for “world population clock.”

Sit back and watch as the world’s population increases before your eyes.

It is interesting to watch, until you do the math and realize that declining food production + increasing population = a big problem. Suddenly that population calculator looks a lot like a ticking time bomb, and the $60,000,000,000,000 (global public debt)2http://www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock/ question is: “When does it explode?”

The truth is that we don’t know if, how, or when the bubble will burst.

Reason to Worry

But according to the authors of the Ecology and Society study, we should be worried. Their findings show that 20 of the 27 key resources for human survival peaked within the 50-year period ending in 2010.

The fact that so much of our food supply peaked within the same time frame makes sense at an intuitive level. Growing food with current industrial processes requires adequate water and fertile land suited to maneuvering large equipment. When we run out of fertile land, we develop undesirable land by leveling or clearing the earth, adding synthetic fertilizer, and pumping in water for irrigation. That works until we exhaust our water stores and deplete easily accessible nitrogen sources.

As land, water, and fertilizer become less available, the natural result is that food production declines, prices go up, and distribution gets contentious.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in wealthy countries like the United States have been insulated from most of the deprivations of peak food.

  • But if you live in rural Mexico, you probably already know what a 733% increase in the cost of a staple like tortillas feels like.
  • Or if you’ve lived in parts of Venezuela in the last few years, you know what it’s like to go to the grocery store and find the shelves inexplicably empty.
  • In India, farming-related debt is so high and weather events are destroying crops so frequently that suicide among farmers has reached epidemic levels.

These are just a few examples of peak-food-related issues already occurring around the world.

According to the USDA’s Agricultural Projections through 2022,3https://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/projections/USDAAgriculturalProjections2022.pdf “Although agricultural prices decline in the near term, continued growth in global demand for agricultural products holds prices at historically high levels.” This means that for those of us who live in the United States, Japan, or the EU, our days of food cost stability are numbered as developing countries are expected to outpace us on demand, economic growth, and strength of currency in international markets.

Additionally, the USDA’s Food Price Outlook, 2017-20184https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/ for the U.S. indicates that the most notable inflation increases in food have occurred, and will continue to occur, around the perimeter of the grocery store.

The Rise and Fall of Peak Nutrition

Poultry, dairy, eggs, seafood, and fresh fruits—the most nutritious foods available—are becoming less affordable, and this is expected to get much worse.

In response to price increases, such as the market price of beef going up 10 percent in two years in the U.S., consumers have already diverted their budgets from nutrient-dense natural foods to prepackaged, high-calorie foods, which tend to be less nutritious.

Just as it makes intuitive sense that peak food would follow quickly on the heels of peak land, we can also assume that trading fresh, healthy foods for processed foods to make ends meet will lead to peak nutrition—after which our collective public health will begin to accelerate in its decline.

So, is there anything we can do to change our food future?

In light of their disturbing findings regarding synchronous peak production, the authors of the Ecology and Society study suggest that we need a “paradigm shift” in our use of resources if we are going to be able to adapt to our post-peak realities.

That seems like a polite way of saying, “we need to radically alter our methods for growing and distributing food, or we’re in big trouble.”

Finding Answers

The good news is that you, I, and other members of The Grow Network community are already starting to work on this. The peak calculations were based on data from the 2013 FAO Statistical Yearbook5http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3107e/i3107e00.htm. That report includes figures reported by international governments like Gross Domestic Product, and is dependent on financial information provided in tax returns and financial statements.

All the home-scale food growing taking place around the world is not included in determining these peak food calculations.

The study also does not take into consideration the black markets and barter markets that are already prevalent throughout much of the world, and may be used by two-thirds of the world’s population by 2020.

Unfortunately, for the same reasons that these data are not included in peak calculations, it is impossible to determine how much of an impact home food growers, barter economies, and black markets are making in relation to peak food.

Anecdotally, though, we know that there has been increased interest in home-based food production:

  • Just look at the number of self-sufficiency publications showing up on supermarket and bookstore shelves over the last ten years.
  • The number of farmers’ markets have increased by nearly 500% over the last 23 years, according to the USDA.6https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NationalCountofFMDirectory17.JPG
  • There’s been an explosion in intensive growing practices—raised beds, vertical gardening, companion planting, permaculture, aquaponics—methods that use significantly less inputs than industrial agriculture while producing a superior product with excellent yields.
  • The Obamas put a garden on the White House lawn, and Oprah started a farm in Maui.

These are all positive signs that a transition to more sustainable food-growing processes is already under way.

A 3-Step Solution

Taking a closer look at the details reveals that our current “peak food” problem is really more of a “peak industrial farming” problem.

What the Ecology and Society study makes absolutely clear is that we cannot feed the world using only industrial farming methods because they depend on resources that have peaked, or will peak, in the near future—such as constant nitrogen inputs, spray irrigation, and mono-cropping on cleared land.

However, we can continue to improve our outlook with regard to peak food by choosing to support a few clear, actionable solutions:

1) Diversifying What We Grow
2) Reintegrating Local Farming Into Our Communities
3) Supporting Community Food Security

Let’s take a closer look at these solutions…

#1. Diversifying What We Grow

sweet-potato-vinesThe fact that our key resources list can be narrowed down to just 27 items that include corn and sugarcane is both an indictment of our modern diet, and a mandate for change.

The Case for Corn

Corn, for example, could be an excellent “calorie crop,” meaning that it has the potential to provide a high calorie-per-acre yield. It has culinary versatility: corn bread, polenta, grits, tortillas, eaten on the cob and off the cob, popcorn, and as a supplemental feed for poultry and pigs.

But less than 1 percent of peak corn grown today actually makes it to your table directly. The rest is inedible for humans as it is grown specifically to go into our cars as ethanol or to be used as feed for livestock like cows, which would never touch it if they tripped over it in the pasture. A good portion of the corn used in our human food supply is corn syrup that is arguably a leading contributor to epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Fields of monoculture corn swaying in the wind might even seem pretty—but don’t walk barefoot in those fields because they are loaded with toxic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that require protective gear to apply.

For the home grower, corn can be a fun food to grow as part of a balanced diet, if you have the space. You need to grow enough corn stalks for good cross-pollination or you need to hand-pollinate, and you have to take some extra precautions to prevent contamination from cross-pollination if you want to save your seeds.

But an even better option is to focus on more nutritious foods that don’t make the peak list.

Think about cabbage, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash. These are also versatile in soups, sauces, and pies, and they can be mashed, added to breads and pasta, roasted, and fried. Pumpkin and squash take space to grow, but there is no reason that they can’t be grown in vertical space. There are compact varieties of sweet potatoes like Bunch Porto Rico that can be grown in containers. These alternative calorie crops also store well without additional processing and they are relatively high in nutritional density, according to the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index.7https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/95/andi-food-scores-rating-the-nutrient-density-of-foods

Mix these alternative calorie crops up with a long list of other highly nutritious foods that you can easily grow at home or pick up at your local farmers market, such as tomatoes, chard, beets, turnips, arugula, watercress, lettuce, and you will be on your way to post-peak food health and happiness.

A Not-So-Sweet Staple

Now for a not-so-sweet subject: sugar. Sugar is a staple of our diets … really?!

Why is something that significantly increases our chances of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease (according to the American Heart Association) a resource considered necessary to our survival? Sure, it’s got calories, but they are non-nutritive.

If you consume your calories as sugar, you must either overconsume other foods to make up the nutritive difference, or run a nutritive deficit. Both roads lead to poor health.

Currently, roughly 898,000 acres of sugarcane and sugar beets are grown commercially in the U.S. alone. That amount of land, replanted using intensive farming methods, could grow enough healthy vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products to feed 400,000 people a healthy, balanced diet.

If you’ve got an incurable sweet tooth, how about satisfying it with a source that takes almost no land to produce, is good for you, and the production of which actually increases crop productivity in the immediate area? This is not some manufactured miracle sweetener that we will later discover causes cancer. It’s the oldest known sweetener on the planet, so revered at one time that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were buried with it in their tombs, while indigenous communities risked life and limb to extract it.

Of course, you guessed it: The miracle sugar alternative is raw honey.

Raw honey is loaded with good nutrition. It may also help reduce the intensity of seasonal allergies, which are expected to increase in length and severity as a result of climate change, resulting in greater losses in productivity. Keeping bees near your garden increases pollination rates and raises yields. Since every third bite of food we eat requires insect pollination, and most of this is done by honey bees, adding honey to our key resource list makes much more sense than sugar.

If you want to keep your own bees, try a top-bar hive. You can make it out of scrap materials and it does not require expensive extraction equipment. If you can’t keep bees, buy raw honey from your local beekeepers to encourage more beekeeping activity that benefits our entire food supply.

stevia-growing-in-herb-gardenOr how about growing stevia? Stevia is an acquired taste, but once you adjust your palate, it becomes a viable alternative to sugar in beverages.

The leaves have negligible calories and can be boiled with teas and iced to make a sweet-tasting soda alternative. You can grow stevia from seeds obtained from a reputable supplier or you can grow it from cuttings. The plants do well in containers and can overwinter indoors in zones 7 and below with adequate light. When you harvest leaves by trimming the plants between leaf segments, similarly to how you harvest basil, the plants will become bushier and even more productive.

Corn and sugar are easy targets because there are delicious, available alternatives. But there are endless ways to diversify your diet:

  • Swap rice for bulgur, quinoa, lentils, or split peas.
  • Try goat or duck as a beef substitute.
  • Use buckwheat and amaranth flour instead of wheat.
  • Substitute sunflower seed meat for almonds.

Study your shopping list, identify the things you buy regularly, and then seek substitutes that can be grown in your community. You may be surprised at how much variety is available when you make the effort to look for it.

#2. Reintegrating Local Farming into our Communities

peak-chicken-peak-eggs-fullThe expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has never had more relevance than it does right now.

Checking Into Chicken

Chickens are fairly easy to raise at the home scale and they add fun and beauty to a landscape, so if you are seriously thinking about raising a backyard flock, now might be a good time to start. Make sure you know your LORE (laws, ordinances, rights, and entitlements) before taking the plunge. Also, talk to chicken owners you trust or do research to determine best practices in buying and keeping chickens in your area.

If it’s against the “LORE” for you to keep backyard chickens or you don’t have the space, how about rallying your community to turn underutilized common areas onto vegetable gardens and raise egg chickens or egg ducks there? Not only does this concept make common space meaningful again by doing something productive with it, but it can create opportunities for new farmers to enter the profession, and opportunities for residential “lawnscapers” to become organic “foodscapers.”

baby-ducks-and-chickensLaying Off Lawns

And this leads us to another method for countering peak food—let’s overcome our lawn addiction. North Americans devote 40,000 square miles of prime growing land to lawns.8https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/edible-ground-covers That is more land than we use to grow wheat or corn, it requires half the American residential water supply to grow, and it uses heavy doses of post-peak nitrogen and chemical products that end up soiling our waterways.

In the era of peak food, we really need to kick our lawn habit to the curb.

If you are a DIY type and you already take care of your lawn and landscaping, swap your holly hedge for blueberry bushes, replace flowers with flowering herbs, grow veggies anywhere you currently grow annuals, or build raised beds right over your lawn. Fruit trees like paw paw, jujube, Asian pear, mulberry, and elderberry are less needy than many ornamental trees like dogwood or flowering cherry, so use those as your starting points for planting a “foodscape.”

Surround the trees with a living mulch of Russian comfrey and borage. As the trees grow, prune them for good airflow and a less dense shade profile so you can grow shade-tolerant spinach, lettuce, and peas under the trees. If you have good southern exposure in front of your trees, plant fruit bushes there, plus herbs like chives, lemon balm, and mint to attract beneficial insects. You can also vine grapes up the trunks, making use of that vertical space.

herb-spiral-for-microclimatesIf you are not the DIY type and you spend on lawnscaping, reallocate your budget toward foodscaping to support a new generation of growers.

Many professional farmers and landscapers are excellent machine operators, soil scientists, irrigation experts, and pesticide applicators. But they may not have the expertise to grow a variety of foods without the aid of heavy equipment or purchased fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

To beat peak food and take advantage of prime growing land located within our populated communities, we need more small-scale farmers and growers skilled in controlling pests without chemicals, adding fertility with organic inputs produced onsite, minimizing water usage through smart planting, and applying intensive planting methods to increase food production.

There are plenty of people who want to do this, but we need to create the economic opportunities for them to be able to make a living at it.

To get started, talk to your current landscaper about having them do the work for you. If they don’t have the skills and they aren’t willing to gain them, talk to your local agricultural or gardening extension office, farming schools, vendors at farmers markets, or nearby permaculture schools to find people who are able to help you.

To keep costs low, you can make agreements to let student farmers sell surplus crops and keep the profit in exchange for doing the work. There are also a lot of budding permaculturists who offer their consulting services at discounted rates to develop their resumes and client bases.

Finding ways to grow food in our homes and neighborhoods should be a priority for anyone concerned about peak food.

#3. Supporting Community Food Security

Planting food instead of lawns not only increases food production, but also raises awareness of the importance of doing so. A surprising number of people are not even aware of the issues surrounding peak food. An even more surprising number of people are aware of some of these issues but feel powerless to do anything about them.

By bringing food growing to the forefront of our daily lives, we create opportunities to share our knowledge and help others collaborate with us. Our window of opportunity to beat peak food gets smaller the longer we wait and as weather becomes more erratic and resources less available, so the sooner we spread the news and help others get involved, the more impact we can have.

If you have any doubts about the urgency of building food communities, look to China for guidance. The Chinese government has encouraged its food corporations, through loans and preferential economic policy, to purchase and accumulate companies from around the world that grow and process food products (e.g., Smithfield Foods). This is part of a concerted effort to ensure food security for China’s growing population. And, it might be a wise policy given the reality of peak industrial food.

Yet not all governments are this proactive, and even when food is stockpiled or production is secured, distribution systems may not be fully developed. Also, goods may be distributed with preference for specific populations, like wealthy cities and wealthy citizens.

Realistically, unlike the Chinese government, most of us here don’t have $5 billion to buy up 25% of the pork production in the U.S. “just in case.” But most of us do have some kind of grocery budget and/or a food-growing system in place. Instead of spending our money and resources to support a post-peak industrial food system, we need to redirect our efforts toward local and sustainable food-growing activities.

Home growers can set up food-swapping networks with other growers to exchange products and increase diversity. Non-growers can take their food budgets to the farmers’ market and buy direct from local producers, or pick up weekly baskets from a local CSA. Greater demand for local food means more local growers. More local growers means more food security when declining industrial farms can no longer meet the food needs of a growing population.

We can adapt our eating and growing habits, and make the paradigm shift required to overcome peak food, if we acknowledge the problem and meet the challenges individually, and in our home communities, through thoughtful effort.

We can reach critical mass and cause real change in our society.

But the clock is ticking….

 

 

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

(This is an updated version of a post originally published August 14, 2015.)

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss4/art50/
2. http://www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock/
3. https://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/projections/USDAAgriculturalProjections2022.pdf
4. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/
5. http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3107e/i3107e00.htm
6. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NationalCountofFMDirectory17.JPG
7. https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/95/andi-food-scores-rating-the-nutrient-density-of-foods
8. https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/edible-ground-covers

The post Are You Prepared for Peak Chicken? appeared first on The Grow Network.

Grow Tulsi: The Super-power Salad Herb

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Growing tulsi (holy basil) is super-easy!

About two years ago, I joined a community garden and planted a 4-foot by 8-foot plot. A friend has a local nursery, so I picked up some plants to get started and used seeds for the rest. One of the plants I purchased was a goji berry bush. To be honest, I am not the best community gardener. I have problems incorporating regular visits to the garden into my weekly schedule.

Getting Everything Planted

A few weeks after I got everything planted, I noticed another plant growing like crazy next to my goji berry bush. I tried to cut it back, so the goji would have room to grow.

The leaves tasted like a spicy mint that was very pleasant.

The Takeover

As the weeks went by, this crazy plant literally took over and smothered the goji berry bush.

Every time I would go to my plot, I would cut it back. It didn’t work. Then, it started to flower. It had tiny whitish purple flowers on a long stalk. I brought a few of the flowers home so I could research and identify the plant.

Have you seen this article on how to identify plants.

It turned out to be holy basil or tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum).

When I harvested my garden plot, I decided to bring the tulsi home to see if it would grow. It lasted a while with a lot of flowers. Then it died completely, or so it seemed. The tub was on my front porch and left there throughout the winter.

Annual Revisits

When the weather started to warm again, I saw the green leaves of the tulsi start to sprout out of the soil in the tub.

The Harvest

We have been harvesting tulsi for the last eight months. It is delicious in our salads. It adds a spicy, mint flavor similar to regular basil.

The Many Benefits of Tulsi

In India, people have been growing Tulsi for its medicinal properties for more than 3,000 years. Holy basil is considered a sacred plant in Hinduism.

In traditional medicine, Tulsi is used for:

  • Stress
  • Digestive problems
  • Treating colds and fevers
  • Treating allergies & infections
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Treating hair and skin disorders
  • Dental health
  • Repelling insects and treating insect bites

Tulsi is very important in Ayurveda and naturopathy, because the plant is loaded with antioxidants, phytonutrients, essential oils, and vitamins A and C, which have been known to help manage diabetes and high blood pressure. If you use a few tulsi leaves regularly, it will help the body function properly.

It is known to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It is considered an adaptogen, (a substance that helps the body adapt and function optimally).

Besides adding it to salads, the leaves are easy-to-make into a tea.

Add it to your garden

There are more than 100 varieties of Tulsi. If you have a warm, sunny place in your garden or on your porch or windowsill, consider adding a tulsi plant. It is perfect in a container garden with other sun-loving herbs. It is easy-to-grow and requires very little care.

In the late spring or early summer, when the temperatures in your area are around 70°F, sow seeds outdoors. If you want an early start, sow the seeds indoors in a sunny window.

Put the tulsi seeds on top of the soil and lightly press down for soil contact. Spray the seeds with water or compost tea. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate in about 1 to 2 weeks.

Pinch the top of the tulsi plant when there are four to six pairs of leaves for a bushier plant.

Harvest Tulsi

Harvest the tulsi leaves throughout the growing season. As the plant gets bigger, use a pair of scissors to cut the larger leaves or cut an entire branch.

Use the fresh leaves the same day, or they will fade. Or dry the leaves by collecting the branches. Place them in a dry place away from direct sunlight. Move the stems around about three times each day until the leaves are crisp and easily crushed.

 

Do you have tulsi in your garden? How do you use it? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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The post Grow Tulsi: The Super-power Salad Herb appeared first on The Grow Network.

How To Identify Plants Quickly

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Would you like to be able to quickly and easily identify plants?

Even be able to recognize species while driving 60 m.p..h. down the highway?

Marjory Wildcraft discusses Tom Elpels classic book Botany In A Day. Botany is the most crucial skill for sustainable living—everything we need ultimately comes from the plant kingdom: Our food, medicine, shelter, clothing, heating, and so much more.

In this video, you’ll learn:

  • How related plants have similar characteristics
  • Identifying plants in the Mustard Family … and they are all edible!
  • How family patterns can teach you a lot about plants
  • Get a grasp on the seven plant families

Get Tom’s book, Botany In A Day by clicking here.

identify-plants

When you want to identify a plant, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this a hazardous plant?
  • General question: Is this a flower, tree, succulent, shrub, or grass?
  • Is it a monocot or dicot?
  • How are the leaves arranged?
  • Are the leaves simple or compound?
  • What is the shape of the leaf?
  • What other leaf characteristics do you see?
  • What do the flowers look like? (shape, color, florets, petals, sepals, pedicel, stamen, etc)
  • What does the stem look like?
  • What type of root system does the plant have?

If you would like more information about plant identification, check out this publication.

 

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The post How To Identify Plants Quickly appeared first on The Grow Network.

10 Most Cost-effective Garden Vegetables You Can Grow

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There are a lot of benefits to garden vegetables that you grow yourself, but saving money is not necessarily one of them.

Some vegetables are simply cheaper to buy at the grocery store. I know. I hate saying that, too!

Over the years, saving money is not always the main reason we grow garden vegetables. Am I right?

Sometimes the work needed to keep the soil happy, the beds weed free, with healthy plants discourages us from planting crops that are “dirt cheap” in season at the grocery store.

If you’re growing vegetables to save money, or want to make the most of your garden, here are ten garden vegetables that can put money back in your wallet.

Did you miss this article about the cost of grocery shopping versus home grown food?

The Big 10 Garden Vegetables!

These veggies are easy-to-grow in your vegetable garden big or small. Depending on your growing season, you may even be able to plant two or three times. (See succession planting below)

1. Lettuce

I don’t know about you, but I go through a bunch of lettuce each year. At almost $2 per head, that gets expensive. Here’s the great part: They are pretty easy to grow in any part of your garden. They even do well in flower boxes. A seed packet costs about $2.50 for the heirloom variety (which I highly recommend). If you harvest the outer leaves of the plant, it will easily last for several months. Lettuce is also a great vegetable to succession plant.

2. Bell peppers

Bell peppers are fairly expensive, especially for organic. I’ve seen them as high as $2 each! If you start your little seedlings ($2.50 per packet) in small pots, you’ll be able to transplant them to your garden in a few weeks. Pick the peppers as soon as they get to full size.

3. Garlic

This popular plant has a lot of health benefits. Garlic is used in all kinds of recipes. This is a vegetable that I have on hand at all times. Plant the garlic clove in the soil before winter; six to eight weeks before your first frost date. You’ll have a bumper crop in late spring to early summer.

Find your first, and last frost dates here.

4. Winter Squash … including PUMPKIN!

Winter Squash is getting more and more expensive. Butternut squash (one of my favorites for winter soup!) is $1.69 per pound with the average being at least 2 pounds. Keep in mind that winter squash takes between 75 and 120 days to reach maturity, and sprawl 10 to 20 feet. Think vertically or try the bush or semi-bush cultivars in a small garden. And winter squash will store well in a root cellar.

5. Tomatoes (especially Heirloom)

These babies have multi-colored, scarred skin, and a high price tag. They are about $4.50 per pound or more, depending on where you live. Now, while the price may break the bank, the taste is amazing! Growing heirloom tomatoes can be a bit fussy. I lost all of my seedlings this year, but happily planted a friend’s transplants. One of the biggest problems you’ll face is disease. Now, if you don’t want to face the heirloom issues, try a cherry tomato that grows well in your area. You’ll have a plethora of tomatoes to can or dehydrate.

6. Carrots

While I didn’t have much luck with tomatoes this year, I did have success with carrots! These are a cool-season crop that takes 70 to 80 days to mature. Check your last and first frost dates, plant three weeks before the last expected frost date and two to three months before the first fall frost date. They are a delicious root vegetable that stores well in a root cellar and is usually resistant to diseases and pests. At $2.50 per seed packet, you’ll have more than enough of this vegetable to last you through the winter.

7. Potatoes

Welcome to the most popular vegetable in America! Growing potatoes is fairly easy, and the flavors of a freshly dug potato cannot be rivaled by the $5.00 a bag, grocery-store varieties. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained, loose soil, so the roots and tubers have room to grow. They do need a steady water supply to keep the plants happy. When the tops of the plants die off, the entire crop is ready to harvest. And some potato varieties store well in a root cellar.

8. Sweet potatoes

In my area, organic sweet potatoes run about $4 for a 3-pound bag. It costs about $21 for 1 pack of sweet potato slips (though I have found them cheaper locally, so check your local garden center). Plant them in the spring, and they’ll produce about 3 to 6 sweet potatoes per slip. They prefer a slightly acidic, well-drained, loose soil. If there is a possibility of frost, cover them. Harvest in 100 days. Sweet Potatoes store well in a root cellar.

Did you see David the Good’s article on Growing Sweet Potatoes? Check it out here.

9. Zucchini, and other summer squash

My grandmother would be proud that zucchini made the list. It was one of her favorite veggies to cook. However, she wouldn’t be excited about the $1.90 per pound sticker price. If your garden area is small, go vertical! At $2.25 to $2.50 per packet, the zucchini plant will yield between three and nine pounds of yummy summer delights. Harvest when they are about 4-inches long.

10. Green beans

At the grocery store, organic green beans cost about $2.50 per pound. A packet of seeds costs $2.50 per packet. You’ll get between three to five pounds of beans PER plant. That’s a lot of beans to freeze, can, and boy are they yummy, dehydrated!

BONUS: Herbs … Basil, Rosemary, Parsley, Mint, Lavender

I didn’t want to leave out some herbs. All of these herbs are easy-to-grow. Each of them costs about $2.50 per plastic tub at the grocery store. Parsley is less at $1.00 per bundle. If you are considering your footprint on the Earth, the plastic containers and twist ties need to be taken into consideration. A seed packet of each will cost about $2.50 per packet. It’s well-worth having your own herb garden. I’d even suggest starting your gardening adventures here!

garden-vegetables

How to boost the abundance of your garden vegetables

Here are a few tricks to help you make the most of your vegetable garden, even if it’s small. It will save you money on food all-year-long.

Only Plant What You’ll Eat

This sounds may sound silly, but there is no point in planting green beans if you don’t like green beans. You’ll have pounds of garden vegetables that will just go to waste.

Also, take into consideration who in your family will eat the different veggies. If you’re the only one who will eat squash, don’t plant ten of them.

If you rarely eat something, it’s better to buy from your local farmer’s market.

Still confused? Here’s a downloadable interactive guide to help you decide what to plant. Print it out and keep it in your garden journal.

Succession Planting

Succession planting is after one crop is harvested, another is planted in the same space. The length of your growing season, climate, and crop selection will determine how you will replant your favorite garden vegetables. In warm climates, you’ll be able to do several plantings of favorite garden vegetables, like tomatoes. In cooler climates, you’ll be able to get a second planting of peas.

If you have a small vegetable garden space, extend your harvest by planting different varieties of the same vegetable. You’ll have a crop early in the Spring, mid-summer, and fall. For instance, salad greens do well if you plant seeds each week, rather than all-at-once. This gives you the ability to harvest the outside leaves, while the other plants keep growing. You’ll have a supply of lettuce all season long!

Use the downloadable sheet (above) to determine how much to plant, for one person, for the most commonly grown vegetables. Don’t forget to include your succession plantings.

Coming Soon! Look for more articles on succession planting right here on this blog!

Which is your favorite garden vegetable? Is it cost-effective to grow it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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The post 10 Most Cost-effective Garden Vegetables You Can Grow appeared first on The Grow Network.

Food War: Grocery Shopping Versus Fresh Food

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Feeding a family isn’t cheap these days, and it only gets more expensive with each additional mouth. I’ve always wondered about the cost between Grocery Shopping and Fresh Food, but never really sat down to crunch the numbers … until now!

Eating healthy is also more expensive than eating processed foods loaded with artificial ingredients and sodium. In fact, following the government’s recommended dietary advice can add 10 percent to your monthly bill. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always more expensive than processed, canned, or frozen foods. If you want to go completely organic, count on spending sometimes double that.

The Criteria for the”Food War:”

We have to compare apples-to-apples and … well you get the idea. So, we’ll look at:

  • Expense
  • Health – Mental and Physical
  • Waste
  • Time

In the expenses, we’ll compare certain food:

  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Apples
  • Eggs

We’re also going to use $15 per hour for any labor costs or time spent.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And in this corner … Grocery Store!

According to the USDA 2017 Cost of Food Report, the average American spends between $100 to $300 per person per month on groceries. It may be higher or lower based on where you live. (1)

Grocery Store Expense (This is from your average local store, prices may vary in your area)

Lettuce

Organic Price: $1.69/head
Non-organic Price: $0.99/head

Carrots (3 lbs.)

Organic Price: $3.49
Non-organic Price: $2.99

Tomatoes (Heirloom)

Organic Price: No organics available when I went shopping
Non-organic Price: $2.99/lbs.

Basil

Organic Price: $2.99/pkg.
Non-organic Price: $1.99/pkg.

Apples

Organic Price: $1.99/lbs.
Non-organic Price: $0.99/lbs.

Eggs (1 dozen)

Organic Price: $5.69
Non-organic Price: $1.99

Most of the non-organic produce was from Mexico or Peru, and a lot of the organic produce was also.

On average, I spent about $125 per week for my family of three. I bought organic produce, grass-fed, free-range, no hormone meats and eggs (sometimes from the store, but usually from a local farmer).

Health – Mental and Physical

In 2016, the average American spent $10,345 annually on health care (insurance premiums, deductibles, co-payments, prescriptions, and medicines). (2)

According to a The Atlantic 2014 article, healthcare was the number one cause of personal bankruptcy and was responsible for more collections than credit cards. Forty percent of Americans owe money for times they were sick. (3)

More than 71 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and 16 percent of children and adolescents are struggling with obesity (4)

There are four contributing factors: (5)

  1. Processed foods
  2. Portion size
  3. Fast food
  4. Being less active

Let’s not forget to add in the hassle and headache it can take to go to the grocery store. You might not be able to be quantify it, but just bear it in mind.

Can you be healthy eating from the grocery store? Check out this chapter of the Grow Book!

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Waste

The average American throws away 4.4 pounds of trash each day. The annual weight of trash from the entire country equals 254 million tons, that is the same as 1.2 million blue whales, and would reach to the moon and back 25 times, a journey of 11,534,090 miles. (6)

The sad thing is that you probably live closer to one of the 2,000 active landfills than you might think. Some inactive landfills have become public parks. (6)

Landfills also produce millions of cubic feet of methane gas each day. What impact does this have on our health?

Think of the waste from your groceries: food packaging, plastic produce bags, plastic bottles, twist ties, Styrofoam, and grocery bags that come along with buying groceries. This waste has to go somewhere. I kept track for several months of my grocery shopping days. Over half of my grocery list had some sort of packaging, which added up to about 10 lbs. a week.

Some cities are beginning to charge for every bag of garbage your put in the bin. The average cost is $2 per bag.

The good news is that 34.3 percent of garbage is being recycled or composted each year. That prevents 87.2 million tons of material from going into the landfill. (6)

Think about how much food you throw away because it spoiled in the refrigerator. Waste adds up!

Time

It takes me an hour to shop, but I also spend about 30 minutes to 45 minutes preparing to go grocery shopping, making my list, and seeing what needs to be bought. It takes about 15 minutes each way to get to and from the store. The parking lot is always a madhouse. Add the stress of that up in the Health section above.

Pros of going grocery shopping:

  • You can have your favorite food any time.
  • It’s convenient to run to the store if you need something.
  • Loyalty cards/Cash-back programs
  • Prepackaged, quick food

 

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And in this corner … Fresh Food!

(And the crowd goes wild!)

Even a small garden plot, can yield an estimated 7 lbs. of fresh produce per square foot. (It depends on where you live and what you plant.)

Expense

You will have an initial investment, which includes soil conditioning, garden beds, and seeds or plants. Based on my own start-up costs, I’m saying $250 for the veggies and $300 for the chickens. You can certainly do it cheaper. We’ll have more on that in future posts. I’ll average this out over the year.

Lettuce

Seeds: $2.50/pkt
Watering: 1 hour/every 3 days.
Labor: Minimal. I was surprised how easy this was to grow.
Final Yield: I had continuous salad mix by harvesting the outside leaves every couple of days. Estimated 5 lbs. throughout the season. I had a cup of salad greens every day for four months. I can definitely extend the season and produce more.

Carrots

Heirloom Seeds: $3.00/pkt
Watering on system: 1 hour/every 3 days
Labor: Minimal. Didn’t do much at all. They grew really well without much help.
Final yield: About 6 lbs. Plenty to eat raw and dehydrate, can, and freeze.

Tomatoes

Heirloom Seeds: $2.50 – $3.00/pkt  Heirloom Plants: $6.00 ea.
Watering on system: 1 hour/every 3 days
Labor: Average. About 15 minutes every other day, nipping suckers, watching for signs of disease or pests. My first seedlings didn’t make it, so I replanted heirloom plants.
Final Yield: A little less than 80 lbs. of tomatoes from 4 plants, enough to eat fresh and preserve for later in the year.

Basil (It’s difficult to grow basil from seeds)

1 Plant: $3.00 – $5.95
Watering on system: 1 hour/ every 3 days
Labor: minimal. Harvest leaves every few days. Grew like a weed.
Yield: Off of 2 plants, I got enough for 12 pint jars of pesto and a 16 oz. container of dried.

Apples

Bare tree: $20-$25
Watering: 1 hour/ every 3 days
Fertilizer: $10
Kaolin clay: $12
Labor: Intensive. planting, pruning, training, thinning, treating, picking up fallen fruit. About 20 minutes every other day.

Eggs (only have 6 laying hens and no rooster)

Feed: $100/mo. (This can be reduced with a little planning and a more mature garden.)
Water: 1 gallon per day
Room: about 100 square feet, including the coop and run. They free-range, too!
Labor: I do the deep-litter method, so there isn’t a lot of maintenance. I spend on average 30 minutes every day, checking, gathering eggs, feeding, cleaning the roost, and giving love.
Yield: average 2 dozen eggs/week. We keep one and sell one.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Health – Mental and Physical

New studies are showing that the microbes in the soil actually work a lot like Prozac. (7)  They give you good feelings, well-being, and happiness.

The food is healthy, too. You know exactly what was used to grow your groceries.

And let’s not forget the exercise factor. You can burn anywhere from 200 to 600 calories per hour gardening.

Waste

Growing your own groceries has minimal trash.

My family is still buying some food from the grocery store. Maybe one day, I’ll grow my own quinoa.

Now that I’m conscious of food packaging. I look for packaged food that can be recycled or composted. If not, I try not to buy it. My garbage went from one full bag of garbage every three days to a handful of recyclables, large bucketfuls of compostables, and less than 2 lbs. of actual garbage each month.

I’m still trying to minimize my footprint. The goal is zero-waste, or at least as close to it as possible!

Time

In my small garden (about 100 square feet, if you put it together), I spend an average of 20 hours each month in the garden on various chores during the growing season between February and November. I spend about five or so in the winter months on greens, looking through heirloom seed catalogs, and planning next year’s garden.

All of my beds are on a timed and water-regulated irrigation system. In other words, if it rains, the system doesn’t come on. This saves water and time.

The chickens take an average of 30 minutes-a-day winter and summer. They are quite the characters, so they provide entertainment as well.

I didn’t keep track of my preserving time (canning, drying, and freezing), so an estimate is about 10 to 20 hours total for the entire season.

Of course, I see this as time well spent. Twenty hours in the garden or 30 minutes for the chickens could easily be more, because I love it so much.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And the winner is…!

As far as cost goes, fresh food from the garden wins by a slim margin. However, it is difficult to quantify your health and happiness into this equation.

I know for me. I’m happier when I’m gardening. I know I’m healthier because of the exercise and eating good, clean food. The dollar amount is interesting, but almost inconsequential.

 grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Resources:

  1. [https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood]
  2. Department of Health and Human Services;[ https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/individual-market-premium-changes-2013-2017]
  3. The Atlantic [https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/why-americans-are-drowning-in-medical-debt/381163/]
  4. [https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm]
  5. American Cancer Society: [ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/body-weight-and-cancer-risk/health-issues.html]
  6. Save on Energy [ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/body-weight-and-cancer-risk/health-issues.html ]
  7. [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-larry-dossey/is-dirt-the-new-prozac_b_256625.html]

Do you grow your own food and medicine? What savings have you seen? Tell us in the comments below.

 

Access our growing selection of Downloadable eBooks…

…. On topics that include growing your own food, herbal medicine, homesteading, raising livestock, and more!

Save

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Save

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The post Food War: Grocery Shopping Versus Fresh Food appeared first on The Grow Network.

Food War: Grocery Shopping Versus Home Grown Food

Click here to view the original post.

Feeding a family isn’t cheap these days, and it only gets more expensive with each additional mouth. I’ve always wondered about the cost between Grocery Shopping and Fresh Food, but never really sat down to crunch the numbers … until now!

Eating healthy is also more expensive than eating processed foods loaded with artificial ingredients and sodium. In fact, following the government’s recommended dietary advice can add 10 percent to your monthly bill. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always more expensive than processed, canned, or frozen foods. If you want to go completely organic, count on spending sometimes double that.

The Criteria for the”Food War:”

We have to compare apples-to-apples and … well you get the idea. So, we’ll look at:

  • Expense
  • Health – Mental and Physical
  • Waste
  • Time

In the expenses, we’ll compare certain food:

  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Apples
  • Eggs

We’re also going to use $15 per hour for any labor costs or time spent.

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And in this corner … Grocery Store!

According to the USDA 2017 Cost of Food Report, the average American spends between $100 to $300 per person per month on groceries. It may be higher or lower based on where you live. (1)

Grocery Store Expense (This is from your average local store, prices may vary in your area)

Lettuce

Organic Price: $1.69/head
Non-organic Price: $0.99/head

Carrots (3 lbs.)

Organic Price: $3.49
Non-organic Price: $2.99

Tomatoes (Heirloom)

Organic Price: No organics available when I went shopping
Non-organic Price: $2.99/lbs.

Basil

Organic Price: $2.99/pkg.
Non-organic Price: $1.99/pkg.

Apples

Organic Price: $1.99/lbs.
Non-organic Price: $0.99/lbs.

Eggs (1 dozen)

Organic Price: $5.69
Non-organic Price: $1.99

Most of the non-organic produce was from Mexico or Peru, and a lot of the organic produce was also.

On average, I spent about $125 per week for my family of three. I bought organic produce, grass-fed, free-range, no hormone meats and eggs (sometimes from the store, but usually from a local farmer).

Health – Mental and Physical

In 2016, the average American spent $10,345 annually on health care (insurance premiums, deductibles, co-payments, prescriptions, and medicines). (2)

According to a The Atlantic 2014 article, healthcare was the number one cause of personal bankruptcy and was responsible for more collections than credit cards. Forty percent of Americans owe money for times they were sick. (3)

More than 71 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and 16 percent of children and adolescents are struggling with obesity (4)

There are four contributing factors: (5)

  1. Processed foods
  2. Portion size
  3. Fast food
  4. Being less active

Let’s not forget to add in the hassle and headache it can take to go to the grocery store. You might not be able to be quantify it, but just bear it in mind.

Can you be healthy eating from the grocery store? Check out this chapter of the Grow Book!

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

Waste

The average American throws away 4.4 pounds of trash each day. The annual weight of trash from the entire country equals 254 million tons, that is the same as 1.2 million blue whales, and would reach to the moon and back 25 times, a journey of 11,534,090 miles. (6)

The sad thing is that you probably live closer to one of the 2,000 active landfills than you might think. Some inactive landfills have become public parks. (6)

Landfills also produce millions of cubic feet of methane gas each day. What impact does this have on our health?

Think of the waste from your groceries: food packaging, plastic produce bags, plastic bottles, twist ties, Styrofoam, and grocery bags that come along with buying groceries. This waste has to go somewhere. I kept track for several months of my grocery shopping days. Over half of my grocery list had some sort of packaging, which added up to about 10 lbs. a week.

Some cities are beginning to charge for every bag of garbage your put in the bin. The average cost is $2 per bag.

The good news is that 34.3 percent of garbage is being recycled or composted each year. That prevents 87.2 million tons of material from going into the landfill. (6)

Think about how much food you throw away because it spoiled in the refrigerator. Waste adds up!

Time

It takes me an hour to shop, but I also spend about 30 minutes to 45 minutes preparing to go grocery shopping, making my list, and seeing what needs to be bought. It takes about 15 minutes each way to get to and from the store. The parking lot is always a madhouse. Add the stress of that up in the Health section above.

Pros of going grocery shopping:

  • You can have your favorite food any time.
  • It’s convenient to run to the store if you need something.
  • Loyalty cards/Cash-back programs
  • Prepackaged, quick food

 

grocery-shopping-fresh-food

And in this corner … Home Grown Food!

(And the crowd goes wild!)

Even a small garden plot, can yield an estimated 7 lbs. of fresh produce per square foot. (It depends on where you live and what you plant.)

Expense

You will have an initial investment, which includes soil conditioning, garden beds, and seeds or plants. Based on my own start-up costs, I’m saying $250 for the veggies and $300 for the chickens. You can certainly do it cheaper. We’ll have more on that in future posts. I’ll average this out over the year.

Lettuce

Seeds: $2.50/pkt
Watering: 1 hour/every 3 days.
Labor: Minimal. I was surprised how easy this was to grow.
Final Yield: I had continuous salad mix by harvesting the outside leaves every couple of days. Estimated 5 lbs. throughout the season. I had a cup of salad greens every day for four months. I can definitely extend the season and produce more.

Carrots

Heirloom Seeds: $3.00/pkt
Watering on system: 1 hour/every 3 days
Labor: Minimal. Didn’t do much at all. They grew really well without much help.
Final yield: About 6 lbs. Plenty to eat raw and dehydrate, can, and freeze.

Tomatoes

Heirloom Seeds: $2.50 – $3.00/pkt  Heirloom Plants: $6.00 ea.
Watering on system: 1 hour/every 3 days
Labor: Average. About 15 minutes every other day, nipping suckers, watching for signs of disease or pests. My first seedlings didn’t make it, so I replanted heirloom plants.
Final Yield: A little less than 80 lbs. of tomatoes from 4 plants, enough to eat fresh and preserve for later in the year.

Basil (It’s difficult to grow basil from seeds)

1 Plant: $3.00 – $5.95
Watering on system: 1 hour/ every 3 days
Labor: minimal. Harvest leaves every few days. Grew like a weed.
Yield: Off of 2 plants, I got enough for 12 pint jars of pesto and a 16 oz. container of dried.

Apples

Bare tree: $20-$25
Watering: 1 hour/ every 3 days
Fertilizer: $10
Kaolin clay: $12
Labor: Intensive. planting, pruning, training, thinning, treating, picking up fallen fruit. About 20 minutes every other day.

Eggs (only have 6 laying hens and no rooster)

Feed: $100/mo. (This can be reduced with a little planning and a more mature garden.)
Water: 1 gallon per day
Room: about 100 square feet, including the coop and run. They free-range, too!
Labor: I do the deep-litter method, so there isn’t a lot of maintenance. I spend on average 30 minutes every day, checking, gathering eggs, feeding, cleaning the roost, and giving love.
Yield: average 2 dozen eggs/week. We keep one and sell one.

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Health – Mental and Physical

New studies are showing that the microbes in the soil actually work a lot like Prozac. (7)  They give you good feelings, well-being, and happiness.

The food is healthy, too. You know exactly what was used to grow your groceries.

And let’s not forget the exercise factor. You can burn anywhere from 200 to 600 calories per hour gardening.

Waste

Growing your own groceries has minimal trash.

My family is still buying some food from the grocery store. Maybe one day, I’ll grow my own quinoa.

Now that I’m conscious of food packaging. I look for packaged food that can be recycled or composted. If not, I try not to buy it. My garbage went from one full bag of garbage every three days to a handful of recyclables, large bucketfuls of compostables, and less than 2 lbs. of actual garbage each month.

I’m still trying to minimize my footprint. The goal is zero-waste, or at least as close to it as possible!

Time

In my small garden (about 100 square feet, if you put it together), I spend an average of 20 hours each month in the garden on various chores during the growing season between February and November. I spend about five or so in the winter months on greens, looking through heirloom seed catalogs, and planning next year’s garden.

All of my beds are on a timed and water-regulated irrigation system. In other words, if it rains, the system doesn’t come on. This saves water and time.

The chickens take an average of 30 minutes-a-day winter and summer. They are quite the characters, so they provide entertainment as well.

I didn’t keep track of my preserving time (canning, drying, and freezing), so an estimate is about 10 to 20 hours total for the entire season.

Of course, I see this as time well spent. Twenty hours in the garden or 30 minutes for the chickens could easily be more, because I love it so much.

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And the winner is…!

As far as cost goes, fresh food from the garden wins by a slim margin. However, it is difficult to quantify your health and happiness into this equation.

I know for me. I’m happier when I’m gardening. I know I’m healthier because of the exercise and eating good, clean food. The dollar amount is interesting, but almost inconsequential.

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Resources:

  1. [https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodPlansCostofFood]
  2. Department of Health and Human Services;[ https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/individual-market-premium-changes-2013-2017]
  3. The Atlantic [https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/why-americans-are-drowning-in-medical-debt/381163/]
  4. [https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm]
  5. American Cancer Society: [ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/body-weight-and-cancer-risk/health-issues.html]
  6. Save on Energy [ https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/body-weight-and-cancer-risk/health-issues.html ]
  7. [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-larry-dossey/is-dirt-the-new-prozac_b_256625.html]

Do you grow your own food and medicine? What savings have you seen? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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The post Food War: Grocery Shopping Versus Home Grown Food appeared first on The Grow Network.

How To Express Garden Gratitude

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(length: 3:30 minutes)

One of my favorite wild plants is the Farkleberry, or Sparkleberry. They are a native blueberry. If you cut out sugar from your diet…like I have…the berries can be really sweet! I always offer this plant what I call “Garden Gratitude” or “Plant Gratitude,” if you prefer.

I know this might sound kind of woo-woo. When I leave offerings and give garden gratitude to the Farkleberry that I’m harvesting, I see more and more of them. It’s almost like they call to me.

We know that plants give us air, food, clothing, shelter, and medicine—but did you know that these living beings are able to communicate, too?

Think of a beautiful flower. The beauty is what calls to us. This is that plant’s particular way of communicating with us. If you want to take it one step further, ask it why it called you over.

The Basics of Garden Gratitude

We tend to walk through the world without acknowledging that plants, animals, the wind, etc, are living things. If you walk through your life with awareness, you’ll be surprised how often plants communicate with you, and how they respond to you. We can choose to deliberately engage.

What It Is: Giving gratitude to plants, the elements, and animals is based on the premise that everything is alive, and that we are all interconnected. It is a two-way street in which the plant and the person achieve mutual understanding, each communicating in their own language.

Who Can Do It: Garden gratitude is natural and simple. Everyone can do it. It comes quickly and naturally once a person understands and practices it.

How to Get Started: There are two tricks to having garden gratitude for plants. The first is to believe it enough—even skeptically—to try it. The second is to actually speak to the plant. Third is to leave it an offering.

Ways to Give Gratitude to Plants

Offerings have been around for thousands of years. It is a practice that is found all over the world. However, modern-day society has forgotten the old ways.

Anytime I’m harvesting something I’ve planted, or even a wild one, I want to express my gratitude. My gratitude is for the plant producing the fruit and letting me pick and eat it, so I leave an offering. Plants also  exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, helping us breathe, too! Some plants give us medicine, shade us, and clothe us.

There are many reasons to give garden gratitude!

garden gratitude

What Do You Have to Offer?

Anything can be used as an offering. I’m sure you’ll come up with a ton of them. Just make sure it comes from the heart.

Here are some offering ideas to get you started:

  • Hair (great source of protein, which turns into nitrogen)
  • Saliva (offers trace minerals and water)
  • Song (research has shown that plants grow larger with certain types of music)
  • Urinate beside them (it provides nitrogen for the soil)
  • Water (plants need water, too)
  • Tobacco (make sure it is additive and chemical-free, but is a source of decaying organic matter)
  • Cornmeal (stimulates and feeds beneficial micro-organisms)
  • Breathe on it (plants love carbon dioxide)

As you can see, there are some scientific reasons these offerings help the plant, too! Just making an offering of some sort is beneficial to your relationship with all wild plants.

Offerings do several things…

  1. It is an exchange of energy and a place of humility for you. We are all one and equal—You and the Plant.
  2. Offerings show you that we are all in the same world. All of us only get to be here for a short time, so be present and intentional with your time here.

It’s Not Magic!

Every couple of years, I grow tobacco. Tobacco is a plant that has been used for centuries by the Native People of the Americas.

It is believed that Tobacco offers its own gift of interpretation, which helps us with disputes.

Just a pinch, spread on the winds…with words of thanks and garden gratitude. Your words to the plant can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like.

Want to know more about working with nature spirits to grow more food? Check out this article.

Learning From Your Plants

What to Expect: Sometimes, in the same way that ingesting a plant affects our body, communicating with a plant will affect our minds. You can also communicate and have garden gratitude for plants when you’re dealing with strong emotions or difficulties. Different plants offer help in different ways. Which plant in your garden calls to you? Why has it called to you right now? What are you dealing with in your life that perhaps the plant is trying to remedy?

Why Some Plants Seem to Harm: Plants carry a level of energy that is very normal and safe for you to interact with. Even plants that can hurt you, don’t do it maliciously. In fact, once you accept that, you can work on understanding what else the plants are trying to communicate to you. For example, when people get a rash from poison ivy, often it is because there is an irritant or issue in that person’s life that they have chosen to ignore—something the plant is trying to get them to deal with. Once a person understands that, he or she can get a lot of help from that particular plant and others like it.

You can even give gratitude to animals domestic and wild. Here is a great article to get you started.

 

Be willing to communicate with your plants, animals, and the elements, means you say something and hear something in return.

Once you get over the doubt and skepticism, give it a try, and practice, it will become second nature.

Being in relationship means being nurtured by the plant and you nurturing the plant. Who doesn’t want that!

So tell us! Do you talk to your plants? Do you leave offerings? Inquiring minds want to know, so leave a comment below!

 

 

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How to Germinate Peach Pits (and Why You Should)

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Save money by growing your own peach trees from seeds. It’s amazingly easy! My video on how to germinate peach pits has almost 40,000 views since I posted it back in July of last year. Watch it below.

Since posting that instructional video, I have received a lot of comments and emails from people thanking me for showing them how to grow their own peaches from seeds.

Recently, my friend Amanda sent these two pictures of her peach-sprouting success.

germinate peach pitgerminate peach pit

How Do You Germinate Peach Pits?

Some years ago, I discovered in some dusty corner of the internet that peach pits require cold stratification to germinate. Cold stratification is a technique used to simulate real-world conditions that a seed would get outdoors after a frozen winter, which then gives way to a warm, wet spring. There are six methods of cold stratification to choose from: cold water soaking, refrigeration, fall planting, winter/solstice sowing, outdoor treatment, and snow planting.

I put this knowledge to the test with great success, starting about 50 peach pits I found beneath an abandoned and squirrel-ravaged Tropic Beauty peach growing a few miles from my old place in North Florida.

germinate peach pit

I did this experiment despite the fact that there are hordes of small-minded gardeners, who take great pleasure in lecturing everyone about the utter worthlessness of starting fruit trees from seed.

These people are wrong.

Here’s a video I did showing some of my seed-grown peach trees in fruit:

And here are two pictures of some of the delicious fruit I got as a result of germinating peach pits in my very own refrigerator:

germinate peach pitgerminate peach pit

In their SECOND year, my two seedling peach trees produced about five gallons of fruit. They continued to massively outproduce the grafted peach trees I planted before them, plus they grew with more vigor.

Growing fruit trees from seed isn’t a dumb thing to do. It’s a great thing to do, and a YUGE, high energy, too. Check out this video on how I germinated other fruit trees from seed!

Sometimes the “experts” aren’t necessarily correct. They’re just people who say things adamantly because they’ve heard other people say them.

Heck with that.

Germinate peach pits and you get free fruit trees. Easy! The same method works for plums and cherries, too. And if that’s not enough, you can read about sprouting avocados here.

Finally, here’s how you germinate peach pits, cartoon-style:

germinate peach pit

 

Thanks for the pictures, Amanda, and may your peaches grow and produce abundantly. And let us know how your germination experiments go! We’d love to hear from you. Put your comments below.

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How to Grow Grocery Store Ginger

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Beautiful, Edible, Medicinal Ginger

I’ve already shown you how to grow grocery store potatoes… today I’ll show you how to grow grocery store ginger!

A perfect example of how to grow grocery store gingerA perfect piece of ginger for planting.

When I was a kid, we were friends with a Chinese-Malaysian architect. He was the first person I’d ever seen growing ginger.

Before I saw him pulling roots from a large flowerpot, I had no idea that ginger even was a root. I only knew it as a the zippy part of ginger ale and gingerbread men.

Now that I’m older, I’ve really come to appreciate ginger both as an ornamental and a culinary plant. Over the years, I’ve planted ginger root from the store many times; however, good roots are getting harder to find. A lot of what I’ve seen lately is limp stuff from China without any good “eyes” on it. You have to look hard to get good pieces but good grocery store ginger pieces for planting can be found.

Grocery store sweet potatoes: How to Plant Sweet Potatoes

Be Choosy When You Grow Grocery Store Ginger

You want pieces that have eyes like this:

Nice grocery store ginger for planting

Nice, healthy yellow-green bumps. Those are where your new ginger plants will grow from. Watch out for pieces like this:

Bad ginger for planting That’s what a lot of the ginger in the store looks like these days. The growing eyes have been chopped or abraded off. Skip them and keep looking.

When you have your nice, healthy pieces of ginger, break them up into a few pieces if they’re huge chunks, and ensure each piece has at least one or two growing buds.

Grow Ginger as An Ornamental

I planted a long row in a planter bed as part of The Great South Florida Food Forest Project – check it out:

New ginger bed

After spacing the roots on the surface like that, I buried them all a few inches deep. In a few months, ginger plants will pop up in a lovely row and it’s off to the races.

Forget plugging in non-edible ornamental plants… why do that when you can grow something delicious and beautiful? Growing ginger is easy. They have few or no pests, grow in so-so soil, like the shade and they’re good for you.

We use it for seasoning (the leaves can be added to soups like bay leaves) and to treat upset stomachs (ginger is a champion at calming queasiness… I pop chunks of it into tea all through campaign season).

See my food forest: Convert Your Lawn into a High-Yield Food Forest

Don’t Plant Ginger Outdoors in Cold Climates

Now here’s the downside: if you live in a colder climate, you won’t be able to grow ginger in the ground. If the soil freezes, it will die. In that case, grow your ginger in pots and then keep the pots indoors or in a warm outbuilding during the winter. Ginger tend to go dormant in the winter anyhow, so the lack of sunshine won’t be a problem. Just don’t let them dry all the way out and definitely don’t let them stay wet. Waterlogged roots during dormancy will quickly lead to dead ginger. In the spring when the weather warms up and it’s time to plant corn and bush beans, put your ginger back outside.

I’ve been growing ginger for years and won’t be without it again, no matter what the climate.

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How Much Food Can You Grow on 1/4 Acre?

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An Organic Mini-Farm on a Small Suburban Lot

How much food can you grow on a 1/4 acre lot? Not much, right… Maybe a small garden in the back yard… Think again!

A group of roommates in Austin decided to stretch their small suburban lot as far as they could. And you won’t believe how much food they’re producing…

In addition to replacing the lawn with garden beds, they worked in a couple of greenhouses with aquaponic systems, and a huge composting operation. They didn’t neglect the visual appeal of the yard, either. They worked in some evergreens and perennial landscaping to keep the yard looking nice for the neighbors. As you’ll see, they actually won their neighborhood association’s Yard of the Month award in 2014.

My favorite part of the video is when Michael says, “Our way of dealing with the squash vine borer… is to just replant.” That’s great! We hear so much about this particular pest and I’ve seen some pretty intricate attempts to control it. Some people insist on bringing in fresh soil. Others build physical barriers to keep the moths out. Still others inject Bt insecticide into their squash stems using hypodermic needles. Or, you could “just replant.” I love it when there’s a simple, natural solution for a complicated problem.

Micro-Farming as a Side Income

It looks like these folks are eating very well, and they’re generating a big surplus. They’re selling some of the produce they grow in a mini-CSA arrangement. And they sell their aquaponic herbs and greens directly to local restaurants.

This group had to be pretty resourceful to come up with the funds to bring this whole plan together. Between crowd-funding, grants, and partnerships with other local organizations, they were able to find all of the money they needed.

No doubt, some neighborhoods would not be as supportive as this one has been. In some places, you might attract some unwanted attention by building a farm in your front yard. But even if you have to keep your garden in the back yard, these guys might lend you a little inspiration about just how much food you can grow on a small plot of land.

You can learn more about Ten Acre Organics and co-founders Lloyd Minick and Michael Hanan here: Ten Acre Organics.

 

Sustainable Apple Trees – Self-watering and Self-fertilizing

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The Tarahumara Apple Tree Growing System

Do you hate dragging hoses around the yard? Are you tired of lugging compost around in bags, buckets, and wheelbarrows? Check out this super simple system that is used by the Tarahumara Indians to grow wonderful and delicious apples with almost no work!

The Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon are known around the world for their exceptional health and their outstanding running abilities. The region where the Tarahumara live has been labeled as a “cold spot” because of the very low occurrence of modern chronic diseases, including diabetes. In talking with the Tarahumara, Marjory found that they largely attribute their health and athleticism to the fact that they grow almost all of their own food.

Marjory kept a journal of her entire trip to Mexico and she’s sharing the story here. You can see lots of beautiful photographs, and read all about the Tarahumara way of life, including how they grow their own food and medicine, in her story Extreme Agri-Tourism: Off the Grid with the Tarahumara Indians.

 

A Perennial Food Guild for the Arid American Southwest

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Edible Permaculture Plants You Can Grow in Arid Regions

If you live in an arid region, at some point you have probably felt envy when looking at pictures of food forests from other climates. You see countless varieties of plump fruits as far as the eye can see, with beautiful flowers, herbs, and annual vegetables growing from every nook and cranny.

It doesn’t seem fair. The idea that you could just go out and plant apples, blueberries, and strawberries in the middle of your yard is laughable. You might pull it off, but it will be a full-time job and your water bill will go through the roof. Many of us just shrug and say, “Well, you can’t do that here.” And that’s partially true – you can’t easily grow blueberries in your yard in Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona. But if you are willing to open your mind to wolfberries and other lesser-known plants, you can grow an edible guild just as useful, and beautiful, as those you see in wetter climates. There are some great perennial edibles that are well suited to the high temperatures and dry conditions of the southwest. They may not be as glamorous or as well-known as the fruits that you see in pictures from Florida or Oregon, but there are some good candidates that deserve a place in a perennial desert food guild.

In the list that follows, I have omitted many more desirable edibles – like citrus, stone fruits, and blackberries – that might fare well on your property, depending on the amount of water and shade that you have available. For the moment, we’re going to focus on native and well-adapted edibles that can survive harsh summer conditions with little supplemental water, and that also enable function stacking in tough spots.

The Maligned Mesquite Tree

Frequently regarded as a “trash tree,” the mesquite is perhaps the most important plant in this list. Infamously long thorns make it unwelcome in many yards and gardens, but it provides several valuable services to the soil and its neighbors, and it has many practical uses for the permaculturist.

spring-mesquite-blooms

Spring mesquite blooms

Mesquite is renowned for its status as a pioneer plant. In dry, poor soil, mesquite is often the first sizable plant to repopulate clear cut or overgrazed dry land. And its presence is sorely needed. As a legume, mesquite is a nitrogen fixer. There is an old saying in Texas, known to be true by ranchers and cattle alike, that during times of prolonged drought, the last green grass will be found underneath the mesquite trees. The free nitrogen around mesquites is only part of the reason why this grass is still green. Thousands of tiny deciduous leaves make the shade cast by mesquite trees much like that of a commercial shade cloth. It casts a light, evenly distributed shade that protects the ground underneath from intense sunlight, while allowing enough light through to sustain most sun-loving plants. Each autumn, the tree sheds its tiny leaves, allowing winter sun through and blanketing the surrounding ground with a speedy layer of natural compost. These factors make mesquite an ideal nursery tree for establishing edible perennials in arid environments.

With a little work to collect and process its beans, mesquite can also be a valuable source of food. By some accounts, mesquite beans were the single most important food for the Native Americans of the Sonora Desert; more important than any grain, including corn. These beans are a great source of plant-based protein. Gruel made from ground mesquite beans sustained desert tribes through the winter, in between harvests of cultivated crops. In addition to gruel, mesquite flour was used in broth, gravy, pudding, bread, and even a slightly alcoholic punch (1). Today, adventurous home brewers and distillers are rediscovering the potential of the sugar-laden mesquite bean for fermentation in wine, beer, and liquor.

Mesquite can also provide a nice supplemental income stream for those with enough land to grow it as a production crop. Mesquite wood fetches a high price for its use in cooking meats. It can also be sold as a raw material for furniture, flooring, and various crafted and carved wood products. Any wood that cannot be sold is useful at home as firewood, fence posts, tool handles, and mulch. Beans that are not used make great fodder for cattle and other livestock.

If the pesky thorns are a deal breaker for you, one good alternative to mesquite is the leucaena (lew-SEE-nuh; Leucaena leucocephala). This tropical import fixes more nitrogen than mesquite, but its seeds must be cooked before being eaten, and are poisonous to some animals. There is a wealth of information available on mesquite, leucaena and other desert legumes from The University of Arizona’s Desert Legume Program (2).

Using Wolfberry in the Perennial Food Garden

Wolfberry is a native shrub that grows naturally throughout the United States. There are many edible varieties of wolfberry, a few of which do well in the arid southwest. Our native wolfberries are close relatives of the Asian goji berry, which is famed as a “superfood” for its nutritional density and high concentration of antioxidants.

wolfberries-closeup

Wolfberries closeup (By Paul144. Own work. Public Domain, via Wikipedia Commons)

Torrey’s wolfberry (Lycium torreyi) is a native species that grows naturally among mesquite trees in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. It grows in dense thickets, regularly reaching 6 feet in height, occasionally growing up to 12 feet. It grows well in poor, dry soils, and benefits from the presence of the mesquite. In addition to providing a nutritional boost in your diet, the berries are favored by birds and the bush provides habitat for birds and small creatures.

Agarita for the Arid Food Guild

Filling in underneath the mesquite in our desert food guild is the agarita (Mahonia trifoliata). This wonderful shrub is native to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. It regularly grows to 6 feet, and can reach 8 feet in good conditions. Agarita is evergreen, and its holly-like leaves are tipped with sharp spines. Agarita is a true survivor, able to withstand punishing summer heat with minimal water. It grows wild in full sun to partial shade, and it thrives along edges, often flourishing naturally under the canopy of mesquite trees.

agarita-leaves-closeup

Agarita leaves closeup (By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia Commons)

The sweet and tart berries of the agarita are edible for humans and wildlife. These berries earned it another common name, the wild currant. The berries can be eaten raw, but they are most commonly used to make jelly and pies (3). In a crunch, the berry’s seeds can be roasted and ground to be used as a coffee substitute.

Agarita is especially effective for drawing wildlife in to the guild. Birds and mammals relish the sweet berries. Bees are drawn to its fragrant yellow flowers, and many beekeepers use agarita as an early season honey plant.

Rounding out its usefulness in this guild, the roots of harvested agarita can be used to make a yellow dye which was popular with Native Americans and early settlers. Agarita also has many medicinal qualities. The berries are useful for making a tea to treat mouth sores and sore throats. The flowers can be used to prevent infection in fresh wounds. The root is used as a laxative, a fever reducer, and an eye wash (4).

Prickly Pears as a Perennial Food Source

Prickly pears are cacti in the genus Opuntia, easily identifiable by their flat, oval-shaped pads (cladodes). The USDA classifies at least 71 species in the US, and many more exist in Central and South America. Prickly pears are known to hybridize in nature, making identification notoriously difficult. The pads and fruit of all opuntia are edible. The most common culinary variety is the Opuntia ficus-indica – the Indian fig. Like most prickly pears, the growing requirements for the Indian fig are simple. It makes due with very little water, in any well-drained soil. This plant spreads so readily in dry conditions that it is has naturalized around the world and is considered invasive in parts of the Mediterranean, Africa, and Australia. It needs plenty of sunlight, but fares just fine in along the outer edges of a mesquite canopy.

The pads and the fruit are edible, though care must be taken to ensure that none of the spines are eaten. Spineless varieties are available to make preparation easier. These varieties are “spineless” in the same sense that seedless watermelons are “seedless.” The spines are fewer and smaller, but the plant must be prepared carefully to ensure that no spines are ingested. In Mexican cuisine, the pads – or nopales – are often diced or cut into long slices, and prepared fresh as a salad called nopalitos. The dietary fiber of opuntia pads is reputed to be especially beneficial, and is widely marketed as a health supplement. After the cactus flowers, sweet fruits are left behind, called tunas. The tunas turn red as they ripen, and when ripe are a sweet treat that can be eaten fresh, used as a garnish, or used in any number of deserts, candies, and drinks. There are countless recipes and variations for the pads and the fruits – too many to list here.

ripe-prickly-pear-fruits

Ripe prickly pear fruits

Prickly pears are increasingly grown as a fodder crop for cattle and other livestock. They require much less water per kilogram of dry fodder than most other fodder plants. Luther Burbank selected nutritious, spineless opuntias for this purpose – and descendants of his selections are used widely today as drought-resistant fodder sources in South Africa and Namibia (5).

Ripe opuntia tunas can be juiced to make a red dye or fermented to make a tan color. Opuntia also boast many medicinal uses. The flowers of Indian fig are used as an astringent, a diuretic, and to treat irritable bowel syndrome. The pads are used as an anti-inflammatory and as an anti-infective agent (6).

The Edible Common Mallow

Everything you need to know about the growing conditions for this perennial food source is revealed by its botanical name, Malva neglecta. Common mallow grows naturally throughout the US without supplemental water or care, including in the arid southwest.

Common mallow doesn’t taste like much, but its leaves are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. The young leaves, flowers, green fruits (called peas), and ripened seeds are edible. Tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, and mallow is often dried and added to smoothies for its nutritional value.

malva-neglecta-edible-weed

“Malva-neglecta-20070428” by Luis Fernández García – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 es via Wikimedia Commons

The mucilage from its peas is used as a thickening agent for soups, stews, gumbo, and confections including whipped cream, meringue, and marshmallows (7). Mallow is also good fodder for your livestock. As a medicinal, mallow is useful as an antibacterial, an anti-inflammatory, an astringent, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a laxative (8).

Purslane as an Edible Groundcover in the Desert Food Forest

As a groundcover, no edible is better suited to the intense heat of southwestern summers than purslane (Portulaca oleracea). This small succulent grows throughout the US as an annual, but some species can overwinter in warmer climates.

purslane-an-edible-ground-cover

Purslane, an edible ground cover

Purslane packs high levels of vitamin C, enzymes, and omega-3 fatty acids, and it can be stored for months after harvesting by fermentation. One cup of purslane can contain 400 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, more than fish and far safer to eat. A study at the University of Texas at San Antonio found purslane to contain 10 to 20 times more of the antioxidant melatonin than any other fruit or vegetable their lab tested (8). Add to this the fact that purslane will grow on its own in dry climates in full sun to part shade, with no special care, and you have the perfect edible groundcover. In addition to providing a zesty addition in your fresh salads, purslane makes great fodder for chickens and larger livestock.

Choose Your Own Adventure

These plants are a framework for a perennial food guild in the arid southwest. Be creative, and look around your area for other useful and edible plants that can thrive in hot, dry conditions. You might consider using mullein, yuccas, and grapevines to diversify the guild and to add beauty to its appearance.

Even these tough native and well-adapted plants require a little care to get through the punishing summer season, especially during extended periods of drought. You can keep additional watering to a minimum by harvesting as much rainwater as possible, using effective earthworks like berms and swales, mulching well, and making use of household greywater. Methods like hugelkultur and sunken beds can also help you to stretch your water budget.

Just keep an eye on your plants, especially when they’re young, and give them a little extra water if they’re suffering. Depending on your conditions, you might be able to work in some thirstier plants that require more water than those listed above. And, as you build your soil, more and more plants will be likely to thrive underneath the mesquite tree that you used to anchor this desert guild. With some time, you just might build a desert food forest to rival any that you’ve seen in Florida or Oregon.


Reprinted with permission from Permaculture Design Magazine, Volume #99, Spring 2016


Resources

1. Niethammer, Carolyn. American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest. Lincoln: Bison Books, 1999. Print.
2. http://cals.arizona.edu/desertlegumeprogram/index.html
3. Harelik, Tiffany. The Big Bend Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of West Texas. Charleston: American Palate, 2014. Print.
4. Heatherley, Ana Nez. Healing Plants: A Medicinal Guide to Native North American Plants and Herbs. Guilford: The Lyons Press, 1998. Print.
5. Mondragón-Jacobo, Candelario and Pérez-González, Salvador. Cactus (Opuntia spp.) as Forage. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001. Print.
6. Khare, C.P. Indian Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated Dictionary. New York: Springer Science + Business Media, LLC, 2007. Print.
7. Kallas, John. Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 2010. Print.
8. Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2014. Print.

 

Create an Inexpensive Orchard with Bare Root Fruit Trees

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Bare root trees are young trees that are removed from the soil during their winter dormancy, so that the trees’ roots are exposed. This is done to make packaging and shipping easier and cheaper, and it’s a popular way to market fruit trees like apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, figs, pomegranates, and various nuts and berries.

peach-blossoms

When you buy bare root trees, you can often get fruit trees for about 50% of the cost of the same size trees if they were shipped in a pot. Half-off fruit trees, anyone? Now’s the time!

Bare root fruit trees are typically only available for a few months in the middle of winter. The trees need to have their roots placed back in the soil before they come out of dormancy and begin to bud out for the spring.

You can often fit a dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit tree into a pretty small space, and you can keep the tree even smaller with careful pruning. So, take a stroll around your property and see if there’s room to squeeze in a new fruit tree. You might be able to add a significant food source to your yard for less than $50…

If you’re lucky, you might find bare root fruit trees at a local nursery, garden center, or farm supply store. They should only have trees available that are appropriate for your area, so the hardest part of shopping is already done for you. If you can’t find them locally, you can always buy online – although the shipping costs can take a bite out of the overall savings.

Things to Consider

Chill Hours
Chill hours are the number of hours that elapse while the temperature is between 32 F and 45 F. Some trees won’t flower until an approximate number of chill hours have elapsed. The best trees for your area are the trees whose chill hour requirements match the average chill hours for your area.

• If you have a tree that requires 400 chill hours in a winter that only provides 200 chill hours, the tree probably won’t flower that year.
• If you have a tree that requires 400 chill hours in a winter that provides 800 chill hours, the tree will likely flower prematurely, and the blooms will freeze and fall off.

chill-hours-map

Pollination Requirements
Make sure that your fruit tree’s pollination requirements are met. Many fruit trees won’t bear good fruit without another tree nearby as a pollen source. Some trees will produce bigger and better fruit when pollinated by another specific variety of tree. If you only have room for one tree, make sure the tree you select is self-fertile. Also find out if your tree requires a 3rd party pollinator, like bees, or if it’s just pollinated by the wind.

Start Small and Scale
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Fruit trees require a little more maintenance than your average landscape tree. At a minimum you’ll probably need to spray once a year, prune once a year, and fertilize twice a year. Depending on the pests and diseases that are prevalent in your area, more spraying might be necessary. Start with a tree or two and get a feel for it before you commit to more maintenance work than you really want.

[Prune Your Fruit Trees Now for a Great Harvest Later]

If you’re not sure how to plant a bare root tree – don’t worry about it – it’s super simple. Here’s a video where you can see a bare root tree planted by Theresa Knutson, a horticulturalist at Raintree Nursery in Morton, WA:


Thanks to Raintree Nursery for the nifty video.

 

Wild Edibles from the Utah Desert

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I’ve been studying and eating wild edible plants for several years now. I started this research in my local area of Utah, primarily the desert, by accident almost. I was asked to assist in a youth activity for my church to teach what foods might have been readily available to pioneers coming into the area over a hundred years ago. I didn’t know a whole lot at that time but through research I soon found that there were a lot of edible plants even in the Utah desert.

As I struggled to find the names of the plants I was finding and then to determine if they were edible I began putting together all kinds of notes to compile a good list of wild edibles in the west because I was not able to find such a list readily available. What I did find as I worked to understand wild edibles is that there is quite a bit available for food that we can harvest from around our homes and in the wilderness. There is a huge number of plants available and proper research can help identify them.

I found some favorites that grow well in my area. Here are a few of them…

blue-mustard

“Chorispora tenella” by Lee Ferguson. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Blue Mustard
Blue mustard is a delicious spring vegetable. This is a great tasting plant in early spring when it is young and I even like it’s spicy flavor later in spring before it gets too old in the heat. Blue mustard is easy to identify when it blossoms because you will see fields of light purple flowers. It is a mustard, so simply look for the four petals and it’s two short and four tall stamens. The flavor when young is like a sweet radish and the plant gets more spicy as it grows but is never really bitter or too much to take. This is a beautiful wild edible that I look forward to every spring.

lambs-quarters-wild-spinach

“20140812 Chenopodium album” by AnRo0002. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lambs Quarters (Wild Spinach)
I like to follow John Kallas on this one and call it what it is, wild spinach. Wild spinach is another great edible with good flavor and this one can handle the heat so it will be available well into the summer months. I have cultivated it in my garden through the entire summer and into the fall. What a great edible. Once again it is easy to identify though it does have some variations to it depending on location and nutrients provided. The white waxy film is a dead giveaway and if it is watered well the leaves have a thick feel to them. This is another of my favorites that nature now provides.

purslane

“Portulaca Oleracea…” by Isidre Blanc. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Purslane
I love to eat fresh picked purslane right in the heat of the middle of summer. This is a prolific plant that will always be around in my yard from now on. This plant is a succulent, and it is said to contain more omega-3 fatty acids than many fish and meats. This is not something you hear often when talking about a plant. Purslane has a pleasant flavor and it makes a great potherb. I enjoy snacking on it while I’m working in the yard or garden, and personally I think it looks very good when used as an ornamental ground cover.

yellow-dock-curly-dock

“Rumex crispus 15052006 rosette” by Henry Brisse. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Yellow Dock (Curly Dock)
I love the dock plants. I have grown yellow dock in my garden for a few years now and I enjoy its young leaves that have almost a lemon flavor to them. I eat it in salad and on sandwiches and I really love this little plant. I have had the seeds in the past after a long winter when they did not taste too bad but most of the time they are too difficult to extract from the shell and are loaded with tannins. The leaves of this plant are delicious, however, and they are a treat that adds flavor to any salad.

All of my research and findings on desert edibles are compiled together on my website at www.WildUtahEdibles.com.


Thanks to Mike Wood for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Convert Your Lawn into a High-Yield Food Forest

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Over the last decade, I’ve helped convert multiple liabilities into assets that grant returns on a level stock brokers would envy.

The liability: a typical lawn.

The asset: a high-yielding food forest.

Why is a lawn a “liability?”

It’s something you pour labor, water, fertilizer, and gas into (hopefully not literally, though burning fire ant hills with gasoline is entertaining… must… resist…) in order to keep neat… and in return, it gives you nothing but inedible grass. And sometimes chinch bugs.

An asset pays you for your investment.

For example, what’s the return on a mature pear tree? Perhaps 100—200lbs of fruit per year?

What is a pear worth — maybe a dollar or so?

$100 – $200 worth of fruit… every year… is a great yield for a tree that originally cost about $25 at a nursery!

If that tree takes up about 400 square feet of your property, that’s a nice yield on the space.

What would 400 square feet of grass pay you over the course of a year?

Nothing. In fact, at $10 per mow, you’re probably paying a kid over $250 just to maintain it.

When you go further than just planting one tree, and instead plant a big edible forest ecosystem filled with fruits, nuts, roots, and greens – you can turn a non-productive space into a veritable food factory.

I did that with my front lawn. Here’s a “before” picture:

front-yard-food-forest-after

And here’s an “after” photo of the same space:

front-yard-food-forest-after

In that piece of abundant jungle there are mulberries, plums, chestnuts, oranges, persimmons, arrowroot, cassava, black cherry, loquats, figs, pecans, nectarines, peaches, perennial basil, Mexican tree spinach, wildflowers, sweet potatoes, jujubes, African yams, and more butterflies and bees than you can count… plus many more plant and insect species that would take too long to catalog.

It took me five years to build that food forest — and that’s only 1/3 of the complete system (and I have a lot of annual gardens out back).

Unlike a traditional orchard, a food forest is easier to tend and has excellent yields due to its diversity of species. The bad bugs get eaten by the good ones and diseases won’t spread like they do in traditional systems. And you can basically prune with a string trimmer and a machete.

I don’t miss my mower, I can tell you that.

And I love picking fresh figs, tangerines, herbs and lots more from the front yard. There’s always something new in every season.

That said — my home and food forest are up for sale right now (click here to see lots of pictures and my listing page) because I’ve got another opportunity to do it again in another climate and I can’t turn it down. You can also see what I’ve built here in Central Florida in this recent tour video:

Creating a food forest seems like a huge task the first time you do it, but over time it gets easier and easier. You start to see the patterns behind the trees and their interactions. You know when they’re going to be happy and when they won’t be. And you learn what works and what doesn’t. As the trees grow and sink their roots into the soil, they become less and less demanding on your time as well… and they feed you like a king!

My challenge to you is this: pick one little piece of your lawn and transform it into a long-term investment. Plant 1-3 fruit trees and surround them with some edible shrubs, some flowers, and a few perennial vegetables. Mulch the area and keep it watered as needed for the first few years.

The productivity and beauty of that little island should cure you of your grass addiction. I fell in love a decade ago and will never go back.

The cost of food isn’t likely to go down as The Great Depression 2.0 rolls on… and gas isn’t getting cheaper… and the stock market is primed for a crash… and you can probably name a half-dozen more reasons why growing your own food makes sense.

Turn your liabilities into assets by turning your lawn into a food forest — and reap the sweet rewards!

 

Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2

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prickly-pear-cactus-opuntiaDrought. A chilling term for a period of less than average rainfall, usually accompanied by times of hot, dry, and often windy conditions. It is enough to drive any gardener stark raving mad. That is, of course, unless you have knowledge of some simple drought gardening techniques.

In the first installment of this series, I covered what steps you can take in your current garden to help make your normal plants more able to tolerate a drought. We also looked at a few simple tips and suggestions for your garden, and a selection of good varieties of common garden favorites for the drought-tolerant garden. In this installment, we will look at some rather unusual edibles for your drought-resistant garden.

Edible Cacti

The first group of genuinely drought-tolerant plants we will focus on are very good desert plants that grow and thrive in the 115 degree temperatures of the great American southwest. Many plant species, such as those in the family Cactaceae (better known as the cactus or cacti family), have developed adaptations like reduced leaf area and waxy cuticles to enhance their ability to tolerate drought. An interesting note about cacti is that the needles of the cactus are actually specialized leaves, and the green is the stem. In cacti the green stem, and not the leaves, is where photosynthesis takes place.

Almost all cacti are edible or have edible bits and pieces, though some taste good while others are downright nasty! I spent my teenage years in Phoenix, Arizona, and my early twenties in the far southern parts of Arizona near the town of Nogales, on the Mexican border. I learned to really love the beauty, hardiness, and ease of the cacti I found growing all around me. One thing I learned was that cactus, like many other plants, go by a ton of different names depending on where you are in the world. This is often confusing when trying to find the exact species you wish to plant. One cactus of which I am very fond is called the ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ but is also known by at least 14 other names such as Deer-Horn Cactus, Night-Blooming Cereus, Sweet Potato Cactus, and so forth. This is the case with many plants, but when you are looking at cacti with the thought of eating it, you better use the scientific name or you might get one that looks like the right thing but has a taste that makes you ill! ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ if you have the correct variety, has the tastiest fruit around, almost strawberry-like in its flavor and texture. But if you end up with the wrong variety of ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ the fruit you get will taste like…

… Well the only way I can describe the horrid taste of other varieties is to say that it would taste much like what you would think a child’s dirty diaper would taste. That is a vast difference in taste! So, in what follows I will use the scientific names so that when you go to find these you will get the exact cactus you have read about! Fair Warning: Lots of Latin scientific names below!

prickly-pear-fruit-at-marketThe most well know edible cactus is the Opuntia, or the prickly pear. Many Opuntia species of varying sizes produce edible fruits, many more than just the popular Opuntia stenocereus. In fact, the truth is that all cactus fruit is edible, but not all are as palatable as the stenocereus. Some are truly delicious, while others are tasteless, dry, or otherwise not very pleasing to eat. Even the tasty ones require some careful work before you can eat them – they have to be de-spined!

One of the more commonly planted large cacti in Florida and California is Cereus repandus, which produces large red edible fruit. Several species of Hylocereus are also very popular – these likely originated in southeast Asia and China, where they have become extremely popular with the indigenous populations. These cacti, though, are very cold-sensitive and can only be grown well in USDA zone 10, in USDA zone 9 with some extra effort, and in USDA zone 8 if you really, really work at it or during severe drought with hotter- and dryer-than-normal conditions. Some very large cacti that produce edible fruit include the Saguaro, or Carnegia gigantea, as well as the Cardon, or Pachycereus pringlei. Two other species of Pachycereus also produce tasty edible fruit – P. schottii (commonly known as Senita), and P. weberi (commonly known as Candelabro).

Getting a headache from all of this Latin yet? Me too, but let’s go on!

I know from personal experience that the fruits of Pachycereus schottii are very tasty; this species is very large. Most literature does not say how large the Pachycereus species must be before flowering, but the Saguaros usually have to be quite large and rather old as well, about 10-12 feet tall and some 30 years old before they will flower, and remember until they flower they will not fruit!

The Arizona queen of the night, Peniocereus greggii (mentioned above), and some other species of such as Peniocereus johnstonii and Pachycereus serpentinus, are also producers of truly tasty edible fruit. Smaller related cacti of the genus Echinocereus are famous for their fruit too, a number of species being known as “strawberry cactus” because of their strawberry (and sometimes almost raspberry) flavored red or green fruit. The most notable of these are Echinocereus engelmannii, E. bonkerae, E. boyce-thompsonii, E. enneacanthus, E. cincerascens, E. stramineus, E. dasyacanthus, E. fendleri, and E. fasciculatus; as well as some lesser-known species like Echinocereus brandegeei, E. ledingii, and E. nicholii. Echinocereus engelmannii’s flavor has been described as “strawberry and vanilla.”

Wow! That’s a load of Latin! Ready for just a little bit more? Here we go…

Among the smaller cacti, a number of species of Mammillaria produce edible fruits known as “chilitos” (they look like tiny red chili peppers) and the species include Mammillaria applanata, M. meiacantha, M. macdougalii, M. lasiacantha, M. grahamii, M. oliviae, M. mainiae, M. microcarpa, M. thornberi, and many others. Also recommended is a related genus, Epithelantha, of which the fruit of all species are said to be edible, tasty, and quite like those of the Mammillaria. Two more cacti with similar fruit are the Coryphantha robbinsorum and Coryphantha recurvata.

A commonly found cactus in many garden centers is Myrtillocactus geometrizans, which grows quite large; it produces edible berries known as “garambulos” which are said to be quite tasty, rather like less-acidic cranberries. Another genus of large cacti is Stenocereus, almost all species of which produce fruits good enough to eat. They include Stenocereus fricii (“Pitayo de aguas”), S. griseus (“Pitayo de Mayo”), S. gummosus (“Pitahaya agria”, said to be quite sweet but prone to fermentation, hence the “agria,” or “sour”), S. pruinosus (“Pitayo de Octubre”), S. montanus (“Pitaya colorada”), S. queretaroensis (“Pitaya de Queretaro”), S. standleyi (“Pita Marismena”), S. stellatus (“Xoconostle”), S. thurberi “Organ Pipe Cactus” or “Pitayo Dulce”), and S. treleasi (“Tunillo”). The genus Harrisia of Florida and the Caribbean also produces edible fruits known as “Prickly Apples”, the endangered endemic Florida species Harrisia aboriginum, H. simpsonii, H. adscendens, H. fragrans, and H. eriophora standing out, although the fruits of all the Harrisia species are edible, including the Argentinian Harrisia balsanae.

What happened there? Now I’m overloaded with both Latin and Spanish!

Some of the barrel cacti such as Ferocactus hamatacanthus, Ferocactus histrix (“borrachitos”), and Ferocactus latispinus (“pochas”) also produce edible fruits and edible flower buds. Many species of South American Corryocactus (also known as Erdisia) produce tasty berry-like fruits, including Corryocactus brevistylis, Corryocactus pulquiensis, and Corryocactus erectus. The large South American complex of Echiopsis/Trichocereus includes a few species with edible fruit also, such as Echinocereus atacamensis (or Trichocereus atacamensis), Echinocereus/Trichocereus coquimbana and Echinocereus/Trichocereus schickendanzii. Epiphyllum, known as the “orchid cactus,” has one such species, Echinocereus anguliger (also called Phyllocactus darrahii), the fruits said to be much like gooseberries. Also like gooseberries are the fruits of the fairly well-known Pereskia aculeata – hence its common name “Barbados gooseberry.” Another Pereskia (which are primitive cacti, and in fact are leaf-bearing trees or shrubs), Pereskia guamacho, also produces edible fruits.

There are no doubt many, many others as well, and if I have missed one of your favorite cacti be sure to mention it in the comments below. For now though, that is about all of the Latin I can stand!

For more information on your favorite cactus, two of the best books on the subject include Cacti of the Southwest by W. Hubert Earle, and perhaps the finest available book on cacti, The Cactus Family by Edward F. Anderson.

Now then, if your brain is not totally fried by now, how about we take a look at a few other drought-tolerant plants you might want to consider for your garden.

Drought-Resistant Herbs

First let’s look at herbs. Since most of us know these herbs and their uses, I will not go into great detail on each specific herb on this list. There are many culinary herbs, but not all of them tolerate drought or low water conditions very well. However, many of the most popular herbs used in food preparation are true drought survivors. All of the herbs on the list that follows grow well from east to west and north to south so if you don’t have an herb garden yet, now is the time to plant one! If you want to learn more about herbs, you will find more information here: Herbs.

Garlic Chives – Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are an excellent choice for the low water garden. They have a slight garlicky flavor and are delicious in just about everything. They also have lovely pompom lilac-colored blooms. If you allow them to bloom, however, keep in mind that they self-sow like nobody’s business, which can be both a good and a bad thing!

Onion Chives – Onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are also a great choice for a culinary herb that resists drought. These chives are more onion-like in flavor and are much more common in the United States. The blossoms from this chive (and the garlic chive) can be eaten or used for garnish.

Lavender – Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is another excellent choice, with a number of varieties to choose from and lovely purple to light purple blossoms great for sachets or potpourris.

LovageLevisticum officinale, or lovage, has a strong sweet to salty celery-like flavor. Use this herbaceous perennial in soups and stews or add the young stems to salads. While not popularly used here in the United States and Canada, lovage is very frequently found in European gardens.

Borage – With its beautiful (and edible) flowers, borage is a great pick for a dry location – it will grow well and is stunningly beautiful when in bloom. When the leaves are small, they can also be eaten and some say the taste is like that of cucumbers. Borage does very well with little water. In extremely dry locations, you may find it is also easier to keep control of this hardy herb. Borage loves to re-seed and become a part of your landscape.

Echinacea – Grow it as a backdrop to the rest of your herb garden – don’t worry, it will require very little water. Don’t just settle for pink! Echinacea comes in a rainbow of colors, with orange, white, gold, pink, and reds to choose from. Echinacea should be divided every three years, but if you have a smaller area to garden, feel free to wait longer than that and keep the spread in check.

Fennel – Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which grow closely arranged stalks. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves and flowers that produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. It has a mild licorice taste.

Oregano – Greek oregano, as its name suggests, is native to the Greek Isles and a perfect match for the low water herb garden. Its name means “joy of the mountain” from the Greek oros (mountain) and ganos (joy). It is wonderful when used fresh and can be dried as well. Oregano has medicinal qualities and can be used as an antiseptic, an anti-bacterial, and an anti-fungal too.

Parsley – Parsley is another option for a low water garden. Technically it’s a biennial, but is commonly used as an annual. If you let the plant bolt and set seed in the second year, the leaves turn bitter but you get lots of new little babies.

Rosemary – Rosemary is nearly indestructible and is perfect in a drought-tolerant garden. Over time, rosemary can grow quite large if not restrained by pruning. It can also make an aromatic hedge and does very well in rocky soils.

Sage – Sage is another contender. Salvia officinalis is a hardy perennial sub-shrub. There are several varieties, all of which can be used fresh or dried. Many of the sage varieties have lovely blossoms as well.

Thyme – Thyme is another good choice with some varieties making excellent ground covers. Dry soil actually concentrates the aromatic oils in thyme, making it taste much more intense – and it thrives in rocky conditions.

Drought-Tolerant Wild Edibles

There are several good wild edibles to add to your drought-tolerant garden. What are wild edibles? Just what they sound like – plants that normally grow wild that we can eat and enjoy. We will look at three of my favorites: dandelion, purslane, and Jerusalem artichoke.

Dandelion – While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it is chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as many phytonutrients, and minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines. The dandelion is a perennial, herbaceous plant with long, lance-shaped leaves. They’re so deeply toothed, they gave the plant its name: Dent-de-lion means lion’s tooth in Old French. The leaves are 3″ to 12″ long, and 1/2″ to 2-1/2″ wide, always growing in a basal rosette.

dandelion-leaves

Have no worries when eating dandelions, there are no poisonous look-alikes. Other very similar Taraxacum species, as well as chicory and wild lettuce, only resemble dandelions in the early spring, and those are also edible. All these edibles exude a white milky sap when injured, but chicory and wild lettuce leaves have some hair, at least on the underside of the midrib, while dandelion leaves are bald.

Dandelions are especially well-adapted to a modern world of “disturbed habitats,” such as lawns and sunny, open places. They were even introduced into the Midwest from Europe to provide food for the imported honeybees in early spring. They now grow virtually worldwide. Dandelions spread further, are more difficult to exterminate, and grow better under adverse circumstances than almost anything else on Earth.

Many gardeners detest them, but the more you try to weed them up, the faster they grow. The taproot is deep, twisted, and brittle. Unless you remove it completely, it will likely regenerate. If you break off more pieces than you unearth, the dandelion wins.

“What’s a dandelion digger for?” a dandelion asked.
“It is a human invention, to help us reproduce,” another dandelion replied.

Collect dandelion leaves in early spring, when they’re the tastiest, before the flowers appear. Harvest again in late fall. After a frost, their protective bitterness disappears. Dandelions growing in rich, moist soil, with the broadest leaves and largest roots, are the best. But they are still strong growers and good to eat during a drought.

Purslane – Purslane peeks its way out from sidewalk and black top cracks. It invades gardens and it even gained a bit of bad press from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has classified it as a “most noxious weed.”

purslane

A weed it may be, but “most noxious?” Please! Give this poor superfood a break! Yes, I said superfood. It truly happens to be a “super food,” for not only is it high in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, but it also has high marks in beta carotene content.

This is one of the few plant kingdom sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and really is as healthy as eating fish! And you don’t have to check the latest health and environmental bulletins before you eat it!

Known formally as Portulaca oleracea, but also called pursley and little hogweed, purslane is a succulent that looks, as one chef put it, like a “miniature jade plant.” A more colorful description can be found in seed catalogs, which note that in Malawi, the name for the fleshy, round-leafed plant translates to “the buttocks of the wife of a chief.” The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp, and have a tart, almost lemony pepper tang. It grows well anywhere in the world and is a wonderful grower during a drought! Though not as popular now-a-days as it once was, it is gaining in popularity. Martha Washington had a recipe for pickled “pursland” in the Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, the collection of hand-written family recipes she received as a wedding gift, according to sources at www.mountvernon.org.

jerusalem-artichoke-in-bloom

Jerusalem Artichoke – Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is familiar to many as a weed, but has some real potential as a crop plant. Native to the central regions of North America, the plant can be grown successfully throughout the U.S. under a variety of temperature and rainfall conditions. Several Native American tribes used Jerusalem artichoke as food prior to the arrival of European settlers. The Jerusalem artichoke became a staple food for North American pilgrims and was thought of as a new food in a “new Jerusalem.” In recent years, the fresh tubers have been widely marketed in the U.S., but in quite limited quantities. The plant can be grown for human consumption, alcohol production, fructose production, and livestock feed.

jerusalem-artichoke-tubers

Similar to water chestnuts in taste, the traditional use of the tuber is as a gourmet vegetable. Jerusalem artichoke tubers resemble potatoes except the carbohydrates composing 75% to 80% of the tubers are in the form of inulin rather than starch. Once the tubers are stored in the ground or refrigerated, the inulin is converted to fructose and the tubers develop a much sweeter taste. Dehydrated and ground tubers can be stored for long periods without protein and sugar deterioration. Tubers can be prepared in ways similar to potatoes. In addition, they can be eaten raw, made into flour, or pickled. They are available commercially under several names, including sunchokes and lambchokes. But as with most things you just cannot beat the home grown taste of this drought-tolerant vegetable.

Growing edibles for your family is always important but during drought conditions it is even more so. Following the tips, strategies and techniques laid out in the first article in this series, as well as planting some of the varieties mentioned here, will help to ensure your family is well fed no matter the rainfall.


This article is part of a 2 part series by Joe Urbach. You can see the entire series here:

Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 1
Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2

 

Get Paid to Help Grow Fresh Local Produce

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agriscaping-logoHow would you like to help lead the way to a greener, more sustainable future? Do you like growing food, gardening, designing, landscaping, and teaching? If this sounds like you, we have a career opportunity that we wanted to pass along…

You might remember a Kickstarter campaign that we supported back in June for Justin Rohner and his company, Agriscaping. Well, that Kickstarter campaign was a success, to say the least. And Justin just got back in touch with us to ask us for help with a problem his company is having. Their problem? They’re getting too much business!

Agriscaping is getting a huge volume of new customers from all over the country, and their team isn’t big enough to handle all of the new customers. So, they are opening up their training programs to give a select number of people the chance to get involved and become Agriscaping Certified consultants. They’re looking for qualified people to become certified for each of the following positions:

Educators – For those with a passion for teaching and solid gardening knowledge. Apply Below.
Maintenance – For those who love caring for plants and have solid gardening knowledge. Apply Below.
Harvesters – For those with a passion for fresh, local food and solid gardening knowledge. Apply Below.
Designers – Best fit for those with landscape design experience. Apply Below.
Contractors – Available for bonded and insured landscaping contractors. Apply Below.

Each of these positions can be a full time job, or a part time job for supplemental income. You make your own schedule and work at your own pace. You spend your entire day walking around gardens and meeting like minded people who are excited to have your help. Sound good?

When you’re certified, Agriscaping will send you clients in your area who are looking for help with the gardens at their homes, schools, and churches. And you’re free to build your own client list as well – you can use your Agriscaping skills on any project you find on your own.

The process to become certified is simple and straight forward. You start by sending in an application to Agriscaping. After your application is accepted, you will complete an online course – with homework. The courses are taught each week and they last between 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the position. The certification fees are $800 for Educators, Maintenance, and Harvesters; $1,250 for Designers; and $3500 for Contractors. As an affiliate of Agriscaping, the [Grow] Network will receive a small percentage of any revenue generated by this promotion.

This is a great opportunity for landscapers who want to expand their businesses, gardeners who want to become more involved in their local food communities, and anyone with gardening experience who wants to move into a gardening-related career. If you know a landscaper who may be interested in helping to grow food, please pass this along to them.

Applications

The links below go to the application forms for each position. Your application will be reviewed by Agriscaping, and they will contact you directly. There is no charge for applying.

EducatorsClick here to apply for Agriscaping Educator Certification

MaintenanceClick here to apply for Agriscaping Maintenance Certification

HarvestersClick here to apply for Agriscaping Harvester Certification

DesignersClick here to apply for Agriscaping Designer Certification

ContractorsClick here to apply for Agriscaping Contractor Certification

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