Garden & Agriculture Archive

Permaculture Q&A: Perennial Plants for Temperate Climates

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

All month long, we are giving our readers direct access to our expert authors to answer permaculture-related questions. This week, a number of people inquired about growing food in temperate climates, specifically, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Canada.

Our award winning author Eric Toensmeier (Perennial Vegetables, Paradise Lot), and two authors from our UK publishing partner Permanent Publications, Anni Kelsey (Edible Perennial Gardening) and Stephen Barstow (Around the World in 80 Plants), unanimously agree that perennial plants are perfect for cold weather climates.

Perennials require less maintenance than typical annual crops and are perfectly adapted to short growing seasons. Their growth happens early in spring (when it’s still cool and the soil is damp) and use the available solar energy optimally over the season. But, with so many, potentially unfamiliar, plant varieties to choose from, how do you decide what to grow? Here are some tips to get you started.

Susan from Saskatchewan (Canada) writes:
I live in a zone 2 area and am having problems finding plants/trees/etc. for the severe temperatures we experience. Our long winters limit the frost-free days we have to produce quality food as well. Do you have suggestions on what will survive in our climate?

Stephen Barstow: I live in Norway at 63.5N. Some people think because we are so close to the Arctic circle, we are limited in what vegetables and fruits can be grown. For the past 30 years, I’ve been cultivating a garden with around 2,000 edible plants and now believe that my climate is ideal for growing leafy green vegetables and fruit!

Particularly in northern climates, perennial vegetables have many advantages and yields are, surprisingly, often better than conventional crops. Perennials are perfectly adapted to short season conditions as they come into growth early in spring (when it’s still cool and the soil is damp) and use the available solar energy optimally over the season. Conventional crops take much longer to get going. My book Around the World in 80 Plants profiles many perennial vegetables perfectly adapted to even Northern parts of Saskatchewan. You will recognize some of them as garden ornamentals in your area. I call them Edimentals (edible ornamentals). And, others you might think of as weeds or wild edibles (people have always moved their favourite wild edibles into gardens to be closer to the kitchen). Here are number of edible plants you could try growing:

Edible Perennials

  • Hosta
  • Hemerocallis (Daylilies)
  • Malva moschata (Musk mallow)
  • Matteuccia (Ostrich fern)
  • Rheum (Rhubarb)
  • Allium cernuum, A. fistulosum, A. nutans, A. senescens, A x proliferum and many other hardy onions
  • Hablitzia (Caucasian spinach)
  • Rumex spp. (Sorrels)
  • Urtica (Nettles)
  • Taraxacum (Dandelions)
  • Aralia cordata (Udo)

Unlike herbaceous plants, which die right back every year, so that the roots are protected from extremes of temperature, this isn’t true of trees and bushes and the hardiness zones are much more relevant for fruit and berry bushes. You could try:

Fruit Trees & Bushes

  • Amelanchier (Saskatoon berry) – large fruited varieties are available (Native)
  • Haskap (Lonicera edulis) – very early fruiting (from Siberia)
  • Sea buckthorn (Hippophae) – new thornless varieities are becoming available
  • Others: Buffalo berries, Chokecherries, Gooseberries, Redcurrants and many more should also be possible.

You could also join various Garden Web, Permaculture, and Facebook fora which are dedicated to gardening in northern areas, there are several in Saskatchewan. Hopefully this will give you some inspiration to start growing!

Jeri from Massachusetts writes: 
I have limited space in my backyard to plant a garden and most of the location options are in partial shade. I would like to focus on edible perennial plants. With room for two 4×8 raised beds, what are the easiest plants to grow together that are shade tolerant and produce the most food?

Anni Kelsey: I live in the UK. The Massachusetts climate seems similar to where I garden, but with greater extremes in summer and winter, and possibly also wetter. Therefore, broadly speaking, what works for me should be okay for you. In a small space like yours, I would go for the following:

Green Leafy Vegetables

  • Wild rocket or Turkish rocket are perennial, hardy and easy to grow.
  • Asparagus is, of course, a well known and very tasty perennial.
  • Kales are always a good bet. Sea kale is perennial and you may have access to some other perennial kales. I have grown many “annual” kales leaving them to grow for as long as they will.  They all seem to ‘perennialise’ and continue year after year unless the winter is exceptionally cold.  It does not effect their continued growth to let them flower, but I suspect it is better to encourage them to put energy into edible green growth, so probably best to remove flowers.

Related Video: Four Perennial Vegetables Perfect for Shady Spots


  • Welsh onions are hardy and productive and easily grown from seed.  They provide onion greens from spring to autumn; the stem thickens like a leek in summer and you can harvest some bulbs as well, as long as you ensure some remain to continue the supply.  They may grow larger in sun, but are fine in shade.
  • Ramps (similar to the UK’s wild garlic) are woodland plants suited to shade and are plentiful in spring.
  • Perennial leeks come up in late winter and last for about six months. They do not flower, but propagate by the bulb dividing.


  • Sunchokes are very easy and productive root vegetables.  Leave some in the ground after harvest to re-grow next year.
  • Skirret is a lovely root vegetable grown initially from seed.  It can be a bit temperamental, but is worth the effort.  Once you have some plants established you harvest roots from the clump in autumn and replant.  They also make new baby plants round the main stem in spring.
  • Yacon has very productive roots and are available in the US.  However they are frost tender and are harvested when they die back in autumn.  The growing tips have to be kept frost-free and dry over winter but if you can do this they are worth considering.  They are large plants though so only one in your space I think!

For more information on perennial plants and where to purchase nursery starts, check out Food Forest Farm owned by Paradise Lot co-author Jonathan Bates.

Maria from Illinois writes:
I’m new to permaculture and my husband and I are starting to incorporate these principles into our Chicago back yard. My question is about placement and zones on a small lot (25 x 60). I’m wondering about the placement of the espaliered apple tree, the peach tree, and the berry bushes. Is it necessary to place the apple tree south-facing against a wall? Also, some authors recommend soil amendment when planting fruit trees/ bushes, and some don’t. Should we get our soil tested before eating any of the produce?

Eric Toensmeier: Hi Maria, I definitely recommend getting soil tested for lead before eating anything, and indeed even before doing much design as the test results can really change design ideas (like requiring big raised beds, for example). University of Illinois probably has a soil testing unit. Your soil test will also tell you if you need to amend your soil. In a typical urban or suburban lot you will probably need to improve your organic matter, break up compaction, and usually add some minerals. Fertilizers like minerals are bought in, but organic matter could come from compost, the urban waste stream, a year in cover crop, or other strategies. Cover cropping can help with compaction too, but for serious compaction I like the Meadow Creature Broadfork.

In small lots light is often a limiting factor. Most of the fruits you want to plant probably need full sun, so parceling out the sun space you have for them is a constraint that may guide your design. I like to plant taller things to the north so they don’t cast shade on shorter light-demanders. This is one of the main organizing principles of my home garden design. I don’t think Chicago is so cold that an espalier apple tree demands a south wall but it would probably be pretty happy there!


Photo Credit (Espalier Apple Tree): Celiakozlowski, Wikicommons

Permaculture Advice For Beginners. Hint: Start Small

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Interested in applying a permaculture approach to your land, but not quite sure where to start? In the below Q&A, authors Olivia Rathbone (The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center Cookbook) and Tao Orion (Beyond the War on Invasive Species) share some advice for beginner permaculturalists.

This series is part of our Permaculture Month celebration where a panel of expert authors answer permaculture-related questions submitted by our readers. Submit your question here or check out these links to see what others are asking:
How to Grow Pawpaws by Steve Gabriel
Mulching Options for Your Garden by Josh Trought
A Permaculture Approach to Managing Hedge Bindweed by Tao Orion
And more…

Jen from Vermont writes:
I’ve been reading The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center Cookbook and so thoroughly enjoying it. It’s written in a way that makes such good sense to me. I’m about to move into a new home and I’m thinking about where to begin with cultivating gardens in partnership with my kitchen. The vision of the OAEC gardens is so thorough and complete. What advice would you have for someone who is beginning?

Olivia Rathbone: Hello Jen! Congratulations on your new place and I am glad you are finding some inspiration from The OAEC Cookbook! As a beginner, just getting started with a kitchen garden design, the first and most important permaculture principle that we advocate at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center—a farm, educational center, and eco thinktank in West Sonoma County, CA—is PATO, Protracted and Thoughtful Observation.

At this exciting time, it is tempting to jump right in and make big changes, but really the most valuable thing you can do in this first year is to simply study the natural and man-made elements in each area of the land, notice how they change through the seasons and how you can work with rather than impose upon the land that you are stewarding. Get to know every nook and cranny—the soil, the arc of the sun, the flow of water, and all the plants and critters living there. Some people find it useful to keep a journal or to mark their observations on a calendar or a map. A daily or weekly ritual of sipping a cup of morning tea in a special spot or walking a path around the land with the intention of listening and absorbing nature’s clues is a great way to find inspiration and guidance in your design process.

One of the most elegant and practical design features of the OAEC North Garden is the main pathway, which was once the path that the cows had trodden on their way out to the back 40 acres. The original gardeners here had the wisdom to work with that contour line and design the garden around it. Little by little, your appreciation for what you have and your vision for what you want will start to come together.

Another foundational principle is the idea of designing in “zones” as a way to save time, energy, and resources. For convenience, the crops that are used every day—like culinary herbs—can be planted close to the kitchen so that the cook can easily grab a bit of parsley at the last minute to spruce up dinner. On the other hand, the potato patch, which needs very little tending or watering throughout the season and is harvested all at once, can be planted further away, off the beaten path. Likewise, crops can also be grouped together by their needs for sun or water. At OAEC we have the nopal cactuses, rosemary, and other drought tolerant crops planted in a sunny, south facing dry garden and the tender, thirsty salad greens grouped together in a more temperate, irrigated section.

There are loads of great books out there with more ideas on plant groupings, water conservation methods, etc, but ultimately, not everything written in books or online will work for every situation. OAEC’s kitchen gardens of today came about through 40 years of trial and error research and many of those experiments failed miserably! For example, the ubiquitous use of straw mulch that so many permaculture books advocate, turned out to be the perfect habitat for earwigs here. My advice—start small, don’t be afraid to fail and learn, and remember, your most important resources are your new neighbors! Fellow gardeners are almost always eager to share their lessons learned, and hopefully, future meals together to enjoy your garden’s bounty.

Scott from Oregon writes:
My wife and I own some land and are trying to make the transition to being self employed and living on the land full-time. What are some of the more important first steps that can be achieved on a small budget for maximum benefit in your opinion? Are there opportunities for funding that are available to young permaculturalists that you are aware of?

Tao Orion: Hi Scott! First I would undertake a community-scale needs and resources assessment and line it up with your personal needs and resources assessment. Ask yourself, what are your community’s needs, and what are some resources that could be available to you and your wife that could assist you in crafting your rural livelihood? Considering how to piece together diverse income streams is also a key component of ‘making a living’ off the land, especially in the developmental years if you don’t have a large amount of capital to invest in building farm infrastructure like fencing, outbuildings, etc. Start with small, slow, scalable developments to achieve some modest yields. Take time to plan and implement your final design—get your home garden, greenhouse, and irrigation system in place and productive before planting your 10 acre food forest. Don’t spread yourself too thin as you will have a long list of projects!

One way to save money is to propagate the fruit and nut trees and shrubs you eventually want to plant. This will give you time to also make the best decisions about where they should go. There are some unique funding streams available for beginning farmers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides money for building fencing, hedgerows, and hightunnel greenhouses. Also, check to see whether there is an organization that facilitates Individual Development Accounts (IDA) programs in your area, as this unique program matches your savings by a factor of three (up to $12,000 total) while providing business planning and management classes.

Good luck and have fun!

A Permaculture Approach to Managing Hedge Bindweed

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

As Permaculture Month continues, we are making our expert authors available to answer your burning permaculture questions. If you have a question to submit, fill out this form.

In the below Q&A, Tao Orion, author of the new book Beyond the War on Invasive Species, discusses how she approaches weed management. Orion believes invasive species are good ecological storytellers. If we can figure out what they are saying about the soil, the site history, and other ecosystem dynamics, then we can craft a more meaningful management plan and move towards greater plant diversity and abundance. She puts this philosophy into action with a systematic review of how to handle hedge bindweed, more commonly known as morning glory.

For more advice, browse these previous posts from our Permaculture Q&A series:
How to Start Growing Pawpaws with Steve Gabriel
Mulching Options for Your Garden with Josh Trought

Cory from Seattle, WA writes:
How would you approach removing invasive hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium, aka morning glory) from a half acre property? Tilling brings more bindweed seeds to the surface and spreads root fragments thus making the problem worse. Sheet mulching seems to provide a perfect environment for the roots to spread. Chickens and goats won’t eat it and larger livestock like pigs aren’t allowed within the City of Seattle. Any suggestions besides spending hundreds of hours hand pulling the bindweed?

Tao Orion: Hedge bindweed certainly is a challenging plant to work with. As with all invasive species, I would start by assessing what you know of the site’s history. Was it tilled, logged, or grazed? I’m guessing because your question comes from Seattle that perhaps the site was scraped, graded, and/or filled at some point in its more recent history. Taking a look at what you can find out in this regard is helpful to crafting a meaningful management plan, because it tells something about why a particular plant may be proliferating.

Next I would consider the plant itself and imagine how it fits into the ecosystem of your site. Hedge bindweed is a short-lived perennial with lots of nectar-rich flowers that don’t do well in the shade. So I would call it an early successional species – not quite the first on the scene after a disturbance, but certainly not the last if left to its own devices (even though it may seem that way from our perspective). Some research has shown that introducing plants with a similar successional profile, like red or crimson clover, will help to deinvigorate the growth of hedge bindweed, as it leafs out later than some other fast growing species like clover. If the clover is thick and can get established before the bindweed pokes out, it will slowly but surely start depriving the plant of photosynthetic surface (leaves), which in turn build up its supplies of carbohydrates (rhizomes) that it uses for growth in subsequent years.

Hedge bindweed tends to become invasive in moist or poorly drained soils. In high rainfall environments (like Seattle), positively charged nutrients (like calcium) are easily removed from the soil when the negatively charged rainwater binds with the calcium molecules and washes them away. This is one of the reasons that farmers apply lime in high rainfall environments. In his book Hands-On Agronomy, Neil Kinsey describes how bindweed roots exude a chemical that allows the plants to take up available soil calcium in minute amounts. This is one of the reasons it seems so competitive – it is able to access a valuable soil nutrient which, when limited, makes for a perfect habitat for bindweed and only bindweed (at least until something else comes along that can tolerate those conditions).

So, a combination of enhancing the soil through adding lime (which has all sorts of other benefits) and sowing a thick mat of red clover may be a good approach. You would probably need to do this for at least two growing seasons, and maybe three to deinvigorate the bindweed. Keep in mind that you may not ever be rid of it, but as your soil improves and your site matures into a productive garden or food forest, it will become less prominent. And, when it finally becomes a tolerable feature of your property, you can harvest it…Calystegia sepium is actually listed as a useful plant (edible and medicinal) on the Plants for a Future database. You could even make harvesting the plant’s roots, shoots, and vines for food, medicine, and twine part of the management plan if you have the time, as all of these activities will deinvigorate the plants.

Related Link: 13 Weeds Essential for Human Survival

I find that invasive species are good ecological storytellers, and that if we can figure out what they are saying about the soil, the site history, the successional stage, and other ecosystem dynamics, then we can take an active role in helping craft the next chapter – moving towards greater diversity and abundance.


Photo Credit: Glyn Baker, Wikicommons

Permaculture Q&A: Mulching Options for Your Garden

Monday, May 11th, 2015

As Permaculture Month continues, we are making our expert authors available to answer your burning permaculture questions. If you have a question to submit, fill out this form.

This week, Lottie from Florida asked if there are other garden mulch options that are as effective as hay. Josh Trought, one of our soil building and garden management gurus, tackles this question in the response below. Josh is the founder of D Acres—a community farm and educational center in northern New Hampshire—and author of the recently published The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm. In his garden, he uses cardboard and newspaper extensively to suppress weeds, among other mulching materials including hay, straw, seaweed, grass clippings, and leaves.

To gain even more permaculture know-how, read Farming the Woods author Steve Gabriel’s answer to a question about growing pawpaws and a series of other expert author responses to questions on soil preparation, garden design patterns, swales, and more.

Lottie from Florida writes:
I have always used hay to deep mulch my urban garden. After a bad experience with some killer compost that contained contaminated horse manure and left a portion of my yard barren for over five years, I have been scared to use commercially purchased hay, fearing it could also have been sprayed with herbicides. Do you know of any other item that I could use that would be as effective as mulching hay?

Josh Trought: Thanks for the question. I certainly have some mulching experience I can share. First, some background info on hay. Hay is grown all over the country and may be available from a local farmer or broker. Look to pick up from a farm in the area or coordinate with neighbors for a cooperatively purchased delivery. At D Acres, we use feed hay to mulch in the garden. Feed hay is harvested 2-5 times per year depending on the climate and is cut and field-dried before the seed form to maximize the protein content. Hay is usually cut from fields cultivated and fertilized with grasses such as alfalfa, timothy and vetch and legumes such as clover. The cost of 40-80lb bales range from $7-10 in feed stores to $3-4 in the field or direct from a farmer. Mulch hay is a lower grade baled product typically utilized for erosion control. Some mulch hay had gotten wet during the drying period, rotted and is unsuitable for animal feed while other mulch hay is harvested from marginal fields at the end of the season to maintain the field space. This end of season cut of mature fields is often loaded with potential weed seeds. Typically hay is not contaminated with herbicides or pesticides that would endanger the livestock.

Straw is another garden mulching option favored by permaculturalists. Like hay, it is a baled product that is specifically grown as a mono-crop for mulch or it is the by-product of a mono-cropped harvest of grain. While some farmers might grow rye and harvest before the seed heads form, most straw is the residue left after oats have been chaffed from the stalks. Rye is the preferred straw because of the weed inhibition qualities produced by the plant material as it is rinsed by rain and irrigation. Due to these extra benefits, straw is typically 1.5 to 2 times the cost of hay per weight.

Both hay and straw are excellent for soil conditioning. The weave of fibers crisscross to protect the soil from light, wind, and water erosion, while cooling the soil, retaining moisture, and preventing weeds from germinating. As the fibers breakdown through the seasons, the long tubular structures are incorporated into the soil matrix assisting with horizontal and vertical transfers of air, water, and nutrients while providing pathways for roots and mycelium.

Other options for mulch could include seaweed, grass clippings, cardboard/newspaper, leaves, and biodynamic accumulators (soil-building plants).

We utilize cardboard and newspaper extensively at D Acres to suppress sod and competitive plants (i.e. weeds). We source manila colored material with minimal printing from local retailers who would otherwise pay for disposal. By layering the material on the ground, it prevents plants access to light depriving them of essential energy for survival.  Over the seasons, the plants decompose leaving a rich friable soil.

The leaves of biodynamic accumulators such as comfrey can be used as mulch. The plants can be cut to the ground several times per year and spread to provide nutrients and weed suppression. Grass clippings can also be used in this manner, but be cognizant of the heat generated by decomposition and be careful not to “burn” your plants. If you are able to source it, seaweed might be another viable option.

While leaves can be incorporated as mulch, thick piles can become anaerobic and suffocate the soil. Thinly applied leaves rapidly blow away. Our most successful mulch incorporates a combination of materials cheaply and readily available. By integrating leaves and hay as a package, we can stretch the imported hay and achieve superior results.

Mulch can be any material used to suppress weed and retain moisture. While many commercial growers use black plastic as mulch, us permaculturalists seek local, viable natural resources whenever possible to achieve superior results. In general, we attempt to avoid plastics and synthetics that will degrade into the soil food web. Choosing your mulch is unique for every operation dependent on goals, timing, available resources and labor. Careful evaluation and experimentation yields the best results to grow nutrient-rich soil.

For more detailed information on mulch options read the Garden Development and Soil Strategy chapter from The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm.

Designing Your Own Solar Cooker & Dehydrator

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

In today’s world, nearly everything we use, from phones and computers to cars and kitchen appliances, requires energy derived from fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it be nice to offset some of that energy use by harnessing the renewable power of the sun?

Josh Trought, founder of D Acres—an educational center in New Hampshire that researches, applies, and teaches skills of sustainable living—is experimenting with a number of alternative energy projects that can help reduce our reliance on gas and electricity.

In the following excerpt from his new book, The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm, Trought shows us how to prepare and preserve food using solar dehydrators and solar cookers. Simply constructed and easy to operate, these devices are a great way to incorporate solar power into your daily life.

The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm: Solar Dehydrator and Cooker

Growing and Marketing Organic Medicinal Herbs

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

In the United States, the herbal medicine industry has exploded over the last twenty years, but many of the herbs used are imported rather than grown domestically. In their new book, experienced small-scale herb farmers Jeff and Melanie Carpenter offer tips on how farmers, and other small-scale growers, can get started in the profitable world of growing organic medicinal herbs.

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer is both a business guide and farming manual that teaches readers how to successfully grow and market organic medicinal herbs. The Carpenters cover the basic practical information any grower needs to get an organic herb farm up and running, including size and scale considerations, soil and plant conservation, growing and cultivation methods, harvesting, processing, business planning, and much more. The book also includes fifty detailed plant profiles, going deeper into the herbs that every farmer should consider growing—from the more common peppermint, lavender, and echinacea plants to the less familiar elderberry, arnica, angelica, and calendula.

Rosemary Gladstar, prominent herbalist and author—fondly known as the fairy godmother of western herbalism—believes this book is a vital and important resource for farmers. In her foreword she writes, “It carries a hopeful and pertinent message, provides detailed information and innovative tools and suggestions, and offers a roadway to success for the small family farm.”

The Carpenters demonstrate that incorporating medicinal herbs into existing farm operations can not only increase revenue in the form of value-added products, but also improve the ecological health of farmland by encouraging biodiversity and permaculture as a path toward greater soil health. Check out the videos below to hear more from the authors themselves about their herb farming operation and their mission to be stewards of the land and safeguard the tradition of farming for future generations.



RECIPE: Veggie Mandala with Chervil Aioli Sauce

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

With the birth of spring comes its profusion of gifts—the warm sun, higher temperatures, and (best of all) fertile soil. With each day, more colors seem to burst forth—both in nature and on our plates.

This is certainly true of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center—one of California’s first certified organic farms. Spring not only brings color and life into their gardens, but also an abundance of diverse crops to add to their daily meals. In their new book, The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Cookbook, kitchen manager Olivia Rathbone showcases the biodiversity of all four seasons with over 200 inspired vegetarian recipes.

A favorite spring dish, popular at OAEC parties and celebrations, is the Veggie Mandala with Chervil Aioli Sauce. This brightly colored assortment of vegetables and edible garden leaves is traditionally served directly on the surface of the entire length of the farm table. But, whether you use serving platters or eat right off the table, this light dish will be welcome shift from the heavier foods of winter. Check out the recipe below and see how easy it is to make!

If you’re still hungry, here are a few additional sample recipes from The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center Cookbook.


Veggie Mandala

An OAEC tradition for parties and celebrations is to create a giant colorful mandala out of diverse garden veggies served directly on the surface of the entire length of the table. An assortment of raw, blanched, and roasted elements adds to the diversity of the flavors.

Serves 4-6:

2 ½ pounds assorted brightly colored veggies: brassica florets, roots, and whatever other veggies are happening in the garden or at the farmers’ market

1 bunch large edible garden leaves: Rainbow chard, variegated collards, fig or grape leaves, the large side leaves of cauliflower or broccoli—whatever looks big and healthy

Serves 30-40:

15 pounds assorted brightly colored veggies: brassica florets, roots, and whatever other veggies are happening in the garden or at the farmers’ market

5 bunch large edible garden leaves: Rainbow chard, variegated collards, fig or grape leaves, the large side leaves of cauliflower or broccoli—whatever looks big and healthy


Wash, peel, and chop the vegetables into attractive flippable spears and keep separate. Decide which vegetables make sense to blanch, roast, or leave raw, choosing a few for each category. For example, in the summertime, leave juicy vegetables like cherry tomatoes and cucumbers raw. In the winter, roast the fennel and winter squash. Parboil or roast the remaining roots or florets, depending on your mood.

Spread the vegetables to be roasted in a single layer on separate cookie sheets, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake in a 375° oven for 20 minutes, flipping as needed. Meanwhile, blanch each type of vegetable separately (see below for how to blanch veggies). To serve, clean your serving table well with soap and water. Cover the surface with large edible leaves, then thoroughly arrange the assortment of veggies in a beautiful pattern with a bowl of Chervil Aioli (see recipe further below) or an herb pistou for dipping. Circle around the food and meditate on the abundance!

Blanching Veggies

One of the secrets to getting people to fall in love with vegetables, especially green ones, is blanching. By locking in the vivid color, fresh texture, flavor, and nutrients, veggies are elevated to center stage rather than being relegated to a forgettable side role. When cooking for a crowd, this is also a convenient way to prepare veggies ahead of time to be reheated or incorporated into a dish later.

Get a big pot of water (the higher the water-to-vegetable ratio, the better) to an aggressive boil on the stove. Add lots of salt, about ½ cup per gallon of water—this helps prevent the color from leaching out into the cooking water and perfectly preseasons the vegetables. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and cold water. Slice and stage the raw veggies.

Note: Be sure to blanch each vegetable separately, as cooking times will vary.

Put your first round of raw-cut veggies into the basket and lower gently into the rapidly boiling salt water. For small veggies like peas, 30 seconds should do; with larger cuts or root veggies, like julienned carrots, you may need to cook them for 4 to 6 minutes. Keep a close eye on them because a few seconds can mean the difference between vibrant al dente and mushy gray. When the color brightens up and the texture is cooked but still retains a hint of firmness (stick a fork in or taste one), pull the colander basket out, draining out as much of the hot water as possible, and then submerge the colander in the ice bath to halt the cooking process. When the veggies have completely cooled, remove the colander and drain completely. Let the pot of water come up to boiling again before starting the next round and add more ice to the ice bath as needed.

Blanched vegetables can be frozen like this or stored in the fridge for a day.

To serve immediately as a simple side, return the vegetables to a clean pot on the stovetop and reheat on medium-high either covered with a dash of water or uncovered tossed with oil. Serve with simple olive oil and salt, a dash of tamari, or a tab of herb butter.

Chervil Aioli

Serves 4-6 (makes a little over 1 cup):

1 farm-fresh egg yolk from clean, healthy chickens (don’t use factory-farmed eggs for this—or any—recipe)—room temperature

1 very small clove garlic, less than a teaspoon crushed (optional)

1 cup oil


Squeeze of lemon

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chervil, or substitute a combination of tarragon and parsley

Serves 30-40 (makes 4 cups):

4 farm-fresh egg yolks from clean, healthy chickens (don’t use factory-farmed eggs for this—or any—recipe)—room temperature

2 very small cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon crushed (optional)

4 cups oil


Squeeze of lemon

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh chervil, or substitute a combination of tarragon and parsley


Let your egg sit out on the counter until it comes up to room temperature. Separate the egg and reserve the white for another use. If you’re using garlic, crush it with a garlic press or mortar and pestle into a smooth paste and stir it into the egg yolk. Add about a quarter of the oil and whisk until a very well-incorporated mixture forms. Drizzle in the rest of the oil in a thin stream while whisking it all the while. Add salt and lemon to taste. Stir or blend in the chopped chervil. Use right away.


A Mini-Festo for Earth Day – Rebuild the Foodshed

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

For the past month, author Philip Ackerman-Leist has been on a Twitter MiniFesto campaign – each day sending out a new tweet designed to spark conversation and pass along some lessons he learned whilst working on his last book, Rebuilding the Foodshed.

You might also know Philip as the author of his memoir Up Tunket Road or as Director of the Green Mountain College Farm & Food Project and the Director of the Masters in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College. Or, from his carbon offset approach to commuting to work.

We know that Philip spends some of his time answering tweets and questions from his PastureFone (a mobile phone that doubles as a cattle herding device we think), and we all know that some of our best thinking can come when we’re away from devices, and getting dirty, or frustrated, with our daily chores.

So on this Earth Day we’re offering up the full Minifesto of Ackerman-Leist below, and a link to a downloadable and printable file that you should feel free to print and download, and then put up in the nearest outhouse wall, bathroom stall, or other popular, quiet reading places.

Your Revolutionary Minifesto Friends at Chelsea Green Publishing

Minifesto: Tweets for Rebuilding the Foodshed

I. Start from the grassroots—and move all the way down to the highest levels of government.

II. Sustainable farms are run by the sun: the rest of the food system needs daylight, too.

III. When thinking about farms: management first & scale second. You figure out where location fits. (Hint: about 1.5)

IV. Fully understanding the expanse between farm to plate demands the full distance between one’s ears.

V. Local was never intended to be universal.

VI. Small successes are easier to manage than big failures.

VII. Success leads; policy follows.

VIII.Crow tastes like chicken: Be prepared to eat some.

IX. Main ingredient in a recipe for disaster: sticking to the recipe when you don’t have all of the ingredients.

X. Two ingredients not needed in a recipe for success: us and them.

XI. Leave the selfie at the door. Shift to panorama mode.

XII. All white ain’t alright.

XIII. PC quickly becomes passé: Do what’s right, not necessarily what is correct.

XIV. Get off the can (BPA, dude!) and out of the box!

XV. Change comes more from victual sharing than virtual sharing.

XVI. Food is neither left nor right of center, but in our politics we are left with the right to food question.

XVII. Food system as economic driver: A job doth not a fair wage make.

XVIII. The divide is less urban/rural than it is have/have not.

XIX. Trust the windshield view more than the dashboard indicators.

XX. Don’t just move the needle. Bend it a little bit. When all else fails, consider a new dial.

XXI. Nuance provides precision–and it’s too often the victim of well-intentioned advocacy.

XXII. Numbers & values: sometimes the same thing, sometimes in opposition.

XXIII. Behind every label lies a story…some are fairy tales.

XXIV. Fields of expertise: Farmers & fishers need to be at the table, too—not just profs, chefs, wonks, & good intentions.

XXV. Finitude sucks. Prioritization rules.

XXVI. Don’t forget to dig! (We might even require ag in school if it weren’t so complex.)

XXVII. Old dirt, same story: New horizons in soils help cultivate common ground, common sense, & uncommon potential.

XXVIII. Food system waste is nothing more than a lack of ecological imagination.

XXIX. Tomorrow is only 1/3 of the answer.

XXX. Impatience is your most important ally; patience is your best friend.

To follow Philip on Twitter go to @ackermanleistp

Anno MMXV “Twitterus rebuildum”


Download the Minfesto, print it and spread the revolution!


Minifesto-RebuildingTheFoodshed Day30 by Philip Ackerman-Leist

Books in the News: ‘The Tao of Vegetable Gardening’ & More!

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

What does Taoism have to do with gardening? That question is being answered in The Washington Post this week with a lengthy profile of Chelsea Green author Carol Deppe—gardener, plant breeder, seed expert, and geneticist based in Oregon—and her new book The Tao of Vegetable Gardening.

“Once I read The Tao of Vegetable Gardening, with its mix of sly humor, dirt gardening (how to use a hoe with the least effort), the art of non-doing (very Tao), how to cook greens and even freeze them (heretofore impossible in my kitchen), and passages from Deppe’s own translations of 2,500-year-old Chinese texts — well, I had to meet this woman,” writes reporter Anne Raver in her profile of Deppe, which appeared in the Post’s Home and Garden section.

The story is a mix of her visit to Deppe’s homestead back in February along with what she learned from that meeting and how she’s applying it to her Maryland homestead, and includes a photo slideshow of some of Deppe’s squash and corn, along with pictures of some of her greens that she grows.

Demand for Deppe’s insight and wisdom was not only evident in Raver’s article, but also in a review by Rachel Foster, garden writer for The Eugene Weekly, who wrote, “If you grow vegetables, or hope to, you need this book.” And, Library Journal recently listed The Tao of Vegetable Gardening as one of the bestselling gardening books nationwide. The top 20 list of books most ordered by librarians around the country also includes another Chelsea Green title, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation by Tradd Cotter.

Other authors in the news recently:

Speaking of Tradd Cotter and his bestselling mushroom book, he was recently on WSPA-TV Your Carolina to talk about growing mushrooms, their medicinal uses, and his recent workshops at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. Our favorite question by the host: “What happened to you growing up that made you this way?” 

The Wild Wisdom of Weeds author Katrina Blair was recently on Sierra Club Radio to talk about the 13 weeds found anywhere in the world that are edible, and can also be used for medicine and self-care.

Per Espen Stoknes—author of What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming—had a front-page feature on about the five psychological barriers to taking action on climate change.

Author Gianaclis Caldwell (The Small-Scale Dairy, The Small-Scale Cheese Business, and Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking) was on Cooking Up a Story recently to talk about what it takes to run a small-scale, off-the-grid goat farm and cheesemaking business.

And, finally, it’s the one-year anniversary this week of the death of author Michael Ruppert (Confronting Collapse) and writer Frank Kaminski penned this tribute to Ruppert’s life and enduring legacy.

Permaculture Month: Ask the Experts

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

This May, in honor of Permaculture Month, we are once again putting our pioneering permaculture authors at your disposal for a month-long Q&A session designed to help you become a better permaculturalist.

Over the years, the term permaculture has become increasingly popular among those who grow food on both large and small scales. However, the philosophy behind permaculture can be applied to all aspects of our daily lives and relationships. In essence, permaculture is a system of designing households and communities that are productive, sustaining, and largely self-reliant, and have minimal impact on the environment. Chelsea Green is proud to publish and distribute some of the most recognized, and award-winning names (both present and future) in permaculture, and we’re making several of them available to our readers to answer any and all permaculture-related questions.

Our Permaculture Experts

The participating authors are: Toby Hemenway, author of a perennial Chelsea Green bestseller Gaia’s Garden and a new book out this summer The Permaculture CityEric Toensmeier, author of the award-winning Perennial Vegetables and the latest Paradise Lot, and a host of new Chelsea Green authors including Josh Trought (The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm), founder of D Acres—an ecologically designed educational center in New Hampshire, Olivia Rathbone (The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Cookbook), kitchen manager for one of the most successful and established permaculture sites in the word, Steve Gabriel (Farming the Woods), co-founder of the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute and forest farming extraordinaire, and Tao Orion (Beyond the War on Invasive Species), teacher of permaculture design at Oregon State University and active in ecosystem restoration. Also joining this group will be plant specialists Stephen Barstow (Around the World in 80 Plants) and Anni Kelsey (Edible Perennial Gardening) whose books we are distributing in our catalog.

Toby Hemenway Eric Toensmeier Josh Trought Olivia Rathbone
Steve Gabriel Tao Orion Stephen Barstow Anni Kelsey

Do you want to learn more about a specific design you have in mind or how to incorporate permaculture into your community? Or are you just getting started and want to know how to best evaluate your backyard or homestead? Whether you’re tackling edible garden spaces or acres of farm fields, our expert authors are prepared to answer your questions on permaculture design, edible landscaping, plant guilds, perennial plantings, as well as the economics and social impact of permaculture.

To submit your permaculture question, use the form below. Feel free to put your query to the attention of a specific author (if you have a question about something you’ve read or tried in their book), or ask a general question and we’ll direct it to the right author to respond. Keep checking back throughout the month as we’ll not only be posting answers, but excerpts and other information to celebrate permaculture month.

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