Sunday, May 17, 2009

Our edible landscape

Well, now that the whole "teaching thing" is done and over, I can get back to my life as a blogger--er, I mean, gardener and urban adaptionist (I just coined that term--it works, doesn't it?). I've noticed of late that my outdoor life is sliding steadily toward the "edible landscape" end of the spectrum. My basic criteria for planting something has always been that it must either (1) be edible; (2) be advantageous to those things which are edible; or (3) be in a place essentially impossible to plant anything edible in (e.g., the 3" deep built-in flower boxes on the north side of our house). But now this has taken something of a turn; I've begun to actively remove things that are already in place which do not meet these requirements, replacing them with things that do.

For example, let's look at the new blueberry bushes I just got (along with some landscape fabric, custom organic fertilizer and detailed planting instructions, all for $10 each bush--did I mention that I was completely taken for a ride on my first $30 blueberry bush purchase?!). These will be replacing the five boxwood shrubs currently sitting happily in front of our house. The boxwoods look nice, they are nearly no maintenance, and they fill the space and block the view of our concrete foundation. And I'm replacing them with a plant that is about as finicky as they come, with stringent pH requirements and watering & drainage needs, pruning requirements, and which will probably never block the view of the foundation. And I'm paying for it. And yet, this all seems perfectly logical, because at the end of the day, I will have blueberries. Well, at least, I will probably have blueberries, if I can keep up with the pH, water, drainage, and pruning requirements. Hmmm.

Blueberry bushes are nice looking, don't get me wrong. Or at least, they probably will be in a couple of years. Probably. The only reason I'm reasonably sure my neighbors won't hate me for destroying their property values are (1) at least half of them are currently racing me for getting chickens first; and (2) forces other than me have already done far more damage to property values than my wee little bushes could ever dream of doing.

I've also now planted three grape vines, and am struggling to learn The Art of the Grape Pruning. Why does every plant on the planet that needs to be pruned need to be pruned in an entirely different manner, with different tools, aiming at different goals? Is this some kind of subtle perverse joke on the part of the divine that we just haven't seen yet? Cut back only new growth; cut back only old growth; only allow two canes at a time; never cut back to fewer than five canes; cut mid-branch for shape; cut at the node for healing; prune in fall before dormancy; prune in spring before leafing out; prune in spring but not before leafing out. WTF, people? And don't even get me started on the apricot tree on our property. Whoever owned the house before us had the poor thing topped. It's now a hopeless mass of scraggly branches that cannot possibly support the amount of fruit it sets. Pruning of the most aggressive order might be able to bring it back into useful production, but I'm still over here struggling with my one-year-old grapes & blueberries, okay?

We are also approaching the Season of the Assessments. (And, judging by this post, we've also entered the Season of the Over-Used Capitalized Made-Up Proper Names.) Pretty soon things like berries and early greens will become available in mass quantities, which means canning, freezing and dehydrating, oh my! And that means figuring out how much to can, freeze and/or dehydrate. And that means figuring out how much I canned or froze last year (I hardly dehydrated anything), and if it was enough, not enough, or too much. Why buy a bushel of peaches when I still have half a bushel of peaches from last year's bushel purchase in the freezer? That's a clue that a bushel is too much, ya know.

I will also take this opportunity to look at our eating habits, and how they can be adjusted to eat more completely out of our stores, rather than out of the store. I might have some fairly impressive food storage going on here, but I still go to the store weekly. Why is that? What can I adjust to pare that down? So in my food storage assessment will be thinking about why I didn't use a full bushel of peaches. Could I have? Should I have? Did I make various desserts or jams out of things I bought from the store, when there were perfectly usable peaches right downstairs?

And, of course, I will be assessing the quality of my food storage. For example, the potatoes went beautifully. They're only now starting to give up the ghost. The apples, OTOH, were an unmitigated disaster. What happened? I need to figure that out. And where were my other root crops? Or winter squash? Gotta look into these things. Where were my gaps? What could I have done better? What methods of storage worked particularly well--or particularly poorly--with which veg or fruit? Yes, all this in more will be in store in upcoming posts.

I am becoming increasingly paranoid about the state of our economy. The behavior of the stock market seems to have taken leave of any reference to on-the-street economic conditions, or indeed with reality itself. As discussed in The Automatic Earth, there was an interview with a major stock analyst who said that he sees a recovery for our economy in late 2009-early 2010. Then, in the same paragraph, he said that he didn't have any particular ideas for what the engine of recovery would be. So what, exactly, is this belief in recovery based on? Pure faith? Tarot cards? What? I love me some tarot cards, but I try not to gauge the movement of world economies with them, ya know. And the useful economic data (i.e., not the stock market) is bleaker than hell. We're now well embedded in the deflationary cycle, which is the sort of thing that wakes up most economists in the middle of the night in cold sweats. So while I would love to have more time to prepare my family and my methods, I'm genuinely concerned that we're about out, and this is our last go. So let's hop to it, shall we?


  1. We added blueberries this year too, at the cost of chopping down a white pine tree, which unfortunately had lowered the pH of the soil much less than I had hoped. Peat moss, baby, all the way. And we added grapes last year. They're my dh's project, so he gets to deal with pruning those, fortunately. Though I did plant some hyssop with them, as they are supposed to be good companion plants.

    I'm right there with you on edible landscaping in general. We put in two cherry trees and two pear trees this year, and we're grateful for the old apple tree that came with the property. Elderberries and raspberries went in this year as well. We're on only 2/3 of an acre, so I'm sort of stunned that we have the room for this much stuff and more.

    I've begun to dip my toe into medicinal herbs as well, though I don't know very much about them. We have large shade trees that cool the house in the summer, so we're not willing to cut them down. Finding edibles that work under that much shade is harder than finding some medicinals that will tolerate it. But when my ramps have divided again I'm going to transplant some of those under the canopy. Ostrich ferns for next year too.

  2. My little suburban yard is starting to look like a farmette as well. Last year we planted to first fruit trees and some blueberries, the blueberries died but the trees are great. So more blueberries this year and more veggie garden expansion. It goes on and on. I'm also looking into how to make a root cellar in my suburban basement...

  3. When we first bought our property, my husband told me I couldn't plant anything that wasn't edible or medicinal. Luckily, it was basically an empty slate, and I've had a blast filling it with all sorts of plants.

    I've dubbed my suburban homestead a "nanofarm", and we have chickens, rabbits, and ducks, plus all of the edible plants. We're also just learning about foraging wild foods ..., becuase, like you, I think we're just about out of time.

    Last evening, I was watching viewing a slide show of "Recession" photos. I read the Automatic Earth, too, and the "recession" photos look eerily like the "depression" photos they're always publishing. It was very sad.

    As for blueberries, I gave up trying to grow them on my property. I would have kept trying, but there are so many places near me where I can glean wild blueberries (low bush) that it seemed a little silly to try to grow them in my limited space when I could grow something else there and pick the wild ones :).

  4. Hi all!

    I've managed to convince my husband that marigolds and nasturtiums are essential to our garden's health, as well as phlox & others... =) And hey, some of those are edible!

    Does anyone know of any good companion plants for blueberries? I'd love to put in a few to fill in the space between the small bushes. And I didn't know that about hyssop--I've got lots of that in our herb bed, I'll have to root some and bring it over to the grapes. Thanks!

  5. Oh, the mom--

    Check out the book "Putting Foods By". It's got great info on starting a root cellar in a finished or semi-finished space. The book is usually available at libraries--so much the better!

  6. If you like blueberries, you should look at serviceberries, too. They are very similar to blueberries, only more maroon in color, and not at all picky about soil, drainage, etc. They are native to the Midwest, and you can get cultivars in several heights (4-5', 6-8', and the natural 18-20'). They are also very pretty - our campus uses them as a key landscaping shrub.

  7. Emily--

    That's a great tip, I've never even heard of serviceberries before. Especially if I have too many problems w/ the new blueberries (read: they die) I will definitely look into those. Aw heck, I'll check into them regardless! More berries! I need some bilberries, too, if they'll grow here.