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Monday 16 June 2014

The Easiest Food to Grow

I am a pretty ambitious gardener and every year by the end of the prep and planting season I tell myself "Next year I'm only going to grow potatoes, garlic, and beans!"

Back to front: garlic, potatoes, onions, kale, and red orach.
Then, after a long winter of eating home canned tomato sauce, pickles, strawberry jam, and drinking rhubarb and apple wine, I'm all enthusiastic again in the Spring to grow lots of food and put in a big garden. This year, though, I did succeed in limiting the variety of my spring planting. Instead of trying to plant many different vegetables I am going for maximum yield, concentrating on crops that make the most food for the amount of work they require to reach harvest. It all depends on what you want out of your garden.

Cabbage Patch

A little patch of parsnips and some dill
I may be sticking to fewer crops this year but enough variety is always important. If one crop fails, another may succeed. Parsnips take a while to germinate but they are hardy, tasty, and will keep for months after harvest.

Grass clippings make amazing mulch. Here, little potatoes are poking up through the mulch while the weeds are smothered and the perimeter is lined with flattened cardboard boxes to define the bed and suppress weeds.
I try hard to be as self-sufficient as possible. I considered, as an experiment, to try for one year to be totally self sustaining - and to keep a detailed journal of course - but the main things I'd have to do without are: grains (it takes about six acres to grow enough grains for one person) OIL (I'd have to cook with local animal fat. ew.) and chocolate, mangoes, bananas, avocados, and all of the other tropical foods that we have the luxury of incorporating into our diet.

In the long term, the real bang for your buck in terms of growing food with minimal effort is fruit trees.

You plant them. They flower. They fruit. You pick the fruit, you eat the fruit. Pruning can help maximize fruit production and occasionally pests can be a problem but generally speaking planting fruit trees and perennial berry bushes are a zero maintenance food source. Also they are beautiful specimen plants and I wholeheartedly believe in edible landscaping for beauty as well as establishing sustainable food sources.

Apple trees are my favorite because apples are one of the best homegrown fruits for their versatility and shelf life. Here, the first apples are ready in September and we eat stored apples into April. Every year I make a big batch of applesauce, can gallons of juice and use damaged windfall fruit for making wine. I'm not sure if Shel Silverstein's famous 'Giving Tree' was an apple, but it certainly could be. Pound for pound, apple trees are maximum yield for minimum effort. 

Black currants thrive in partial shade.
Shrubs like currant bushes, gooseberries, and blueberries also require very little maintenance. Climbing vines like kiwis and grapes can reliably produce fruit year after year. Grape leaves can be used to make homemade dolmas, and a grape leaf in the pickle jar will help pickles stay crunchy. I love the trend of suburban homeowners and urban landscapers doing more food gardening and planting edibles.

Keeping animals is added food security. I live in a remote place and it is a big trip to go grocery shopping. If I can't make it or I don't feel like going, at least I have eggs and milk and meat if I want it. Providing for myself makes me feel alive and happy about life. 

When I first came to the coast I stayed briefly at a small hobby farm with goats, chickens, and pigs. The women there were totally prepared for the collapse of civilization and were very well equipped to survive, and comfortably. At the time I thought it was all a bit much but now I'm right there with them in the crazy goat lady club.

Food is life! And this time of year the food is good.
 I almost forgot to mention the very easiest food to grow of all,

Wild Food.

These thimble berries will be ripe soon. I can't wait to go berry picking with my sweet little boy. Wild blackberries, huckleberries, mushrooms, nettles, even cattails are all delicious eats around here. Last weekend I had a meal of barbequed venison and tried some pickled maple blossoms.

I'm going to end this post with a toast. A glass of fresh milk and a handful of strawberries.

To life.


  1. and to you, and the fruit of all your hard labours!:-)

  2. That all looks gorgeous. And totally with you on the apple trees! We always try to plant quite a few vegetables, but we're not the most reliable gardeners, and our fruit trees are always our best providers! Love the grass cuttings as mulch tip too.

  3. I love this post!!

    This takes me back to just about ten years ago, when we moved north, we decided to sell up the herd and stick to chickens. Now, we are back to just the garden and we've planted two separate gardens this year!

    Well done girl!! You rock!



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