Garden & Agriculture Archive


Permaculture 101: Ask the Experts

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

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

What is permaculture? 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 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.

The participating authors are: Ben Falk, author of the award-winning The Resilient Farm and Homestead, Toby Hemenway, author of a perennial Chelsea Green bestseller Gaia’s Garden, Eric Toensmeier, author of the award-winning Perennial Vegetables and the latest Paradise Lot. Joining this trio will be Wayne Weiseman, Daniel Halsey, and Bryce Ruddock, authors of the forthcoming book Integrated Forest Gardening, the first book to delve deep into plant guilds and polycultures, as well as Michael Judd, whose book Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist, we are distributing in our catalog.

Ben Falk Toby Hemenway Eric Toensmeier
Wayne Weiseman Dan Bryce Ruddock Judd

Do you need to learn more about a specific design you have in mind? 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 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 and either 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. And, all our permaculture titles will be on sale for the entire month of May.

Get digging!

Fill out my online form.

Hemp is on the Horizon! Get Ready for America’s Next Agricultural Revolution

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

You can eat it, drink it, read it, tie it, wear it, drive it, live in it, and make money growing it, all while saving the soil and protecting the climate.

What is it? Hemp. That’s right, hemp.

Hemp is on the Horizon! Just this year hemp was approved to be cultivated for university research – a huge first step in hemp’s domestic comeback as the crop of the future.

Author Doug Fine is ready for that future. In his latest book, Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution, Doug explains why one of humanity’s longest-utilized plants is poised to rejuvenate the U.S. economy and help save the planet.

Hemp Bound is on sale for 35% off. But hurry – it only lasts until 4/21!

Whether you are a farmer, entrepreneur, investor, or just a curious reader, this book could turn you into the next voracious hemp consumer and leave you wondering why we ever stopped cultivating this miracle crop in the first place.

Happy reading from the employee owners of Chelsea Green Publishing

P.S. Wondering how a single plant can possibly live up to all this hype? Click here to test your hemp knowledge with our Hemp Pop Quiz and to dig even deeper into the History of Hemp.


*Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or more is applied after the discount is applied


Hemp Bound

Praise for Hemp Bound

“The issue is simple: farmers need hemp, the soil needs hemp, forests need hemp, and humanity needs the plant that the good Lord gave us for our own survival—hemp. . . Hemp Bound tells us with detail and humor how to get to the environmental Promised Land. Doug has created a blueprint for the America of the future.” —Willie Nelson, songwriter, president of Farm Aid -

“Fine’s style and storytelling ability make this one of the most fun books you’ll ever read about the future of farming.” —Joel Salatin, author of Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal 

“A short, sweet, logical and funny argument for the potential of one of the world’s most dynamic cash crops.” — Kirkus Reviews 

Growing Your Own Herbs in 6 Easy Steps

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Author Didi Emmons understands it’s intimidating to work with unfamiliar herbs. In her book, Wild Flavors: One Chef’s Transformative Year Cooking From Eva’s Farm, she takes the simple approach that herbs, like any other plant, need good soil, water, sun, and air to thrive. Just vary the amounts of these four life-giving resources for each plant variety and you’ll be able to tend to the freshest of herbs anywhere, anytime.

In the following excerpt from Wild Flavors, Emmons turns to her expert gardening friend, Kelly Lake, for six easy steps to growing your own herbs. From choosing the right location to harvesting and maintenance, this overview will help you plan your herb garden.

If you really want to make herbs your next backyard project, check out this tutorial about how to build an herb spiral. This beautiful, year-round focal point is sure to be the envy of all your neighbors.

How to Start a Traditional Compost Pile in Your Yard

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

As a society, we make a lot of waste, especially in this culture of on-the-go single-serve disposables. As we work toward the Zero Waste Solution with Extended Producer Responsibility and other government mandated universal recycling of solid waste in the works, there is plenty you can do to reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfill.

Use less, recycle and reuse packaging materials, and compost your organic waste. And if you’re a gardener, there’s no reason to throw away this beneficial (and cheap!) source of nourishment for your soil. Compost is the key to a flourishing garden. Easily turn your kitchen scraps and yard waste into food your garden will love.

******

The following is an excerpt from Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting by R. J. Ruppenthal. It has been adapted for the Web.

If you have enough space to start a compost pile in your yard, make sure your local city and county ordinances permit it. Some of them have restrictions because open piles can attract rodents and create odors. Assuming that your area allows open-air composting, consider whether you can fit three piles in your yard: one for new compost, one for aging compost, and one for the finished stuff that goes back on your plants. If you just have room for one, that is fine, but in order for your pile to fully break down, you will need to stop adding new material at some point and let it decompose.

Some compost piles are hot, while others never get very warm, and this is a function of the biological activity in the pile while the organisms do their thing. Getting your pile to heat up naturally depends on a long list of factors, including pile size, materials, layering, moisture, external heat, and other variables. But even if it does not heat up much, sooner or later the stuff will break down and you’ll have some good dirt to use on your plants.

Cold compost is perfectly acceptable stuff; it just takes a bit longer to make. Some gardening purists hold that the nutritional content of hot-cooked compost is far superior, but if you are using it as more of a soil amendment than a fertilizer, then this should not matter much. If you want to follow the pure wisdom, then the minimum size for a hot pile is about 4′ x 4′, which will allow enough internal space to create the proper conditions for this biological activity to take place.93 In lieu of this, any untidy heap will break down at its own pace.

Compost Bin

What should you put in your compost pile? Will it stink? Do you have to turn it regularly? The answers are: anything organic, a bit, and not really.

Dead leaves, lawn clippings, food scraps (except meat or fat), newspaper, cardboard, and manure are all organic matter and will break down in your compost pile. Ideally, you want to add a diversity of ingredients.

The pile will break down faster if you add both “browns” (dry ingredients such as dead leaves, newspaper, and cardboard) and “greens” (wet stuff such as food scraps, lawn clippings, and fresh manure).

“Greens” contain plenty of nitrogen while “browns” have more carbon, and your pile needs both. Conventional wisdom holds that the proper ratio is 2 parts “browns” to 1 part “greens,” but you can vary this ratio somewhat. Just remember that a pile of 100 percent leaves takes a lot longer to break down, and 100 percent food scraps may turn into a very wet and slimy mess long before it breaks down. Also, the more diverse sources of waste you add, the better its nutritional output will be for your soil.

Your new pile will stink a bit at first, but if you have never composted before, then you will be pleasantly surprised. It’s not as smelly as you would think. In its early stages, you can cover the compost pile with burlap, a tarp, or a layer of “brown” ingredients such as leaves or cardboard, which will help seal in the moisture and limit any odors. As the compost ages, it begins to smell more earthy, a fragrance that some actually enjoy.

Your compost is finished when you can no longer recognize the individual materials that went into it.

Aerating the pile is optional, but it may speed up the process by delivering oxygen where it’s needed. Use a pitchfork to turn the pile and make sure that both air and moisture are reaching each part. You can do this weekly or less often. And, if you do not want to turn the pile, then it will aerate naturally with time as the layers break down and settle.

So You Want to be a Small-Scale Dairy Farmer

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

So, you want to start a small-scale dairy. Before you begin scanning real estate ads, buying a set of Carhartts, and pricing out feed, take heed from the advice of acclaimed author and farmer Gianaclis Caldwell.

Caldwell grew up on a small family farm in Oregon, where she milked cows, ran a dairy cow 4-H club, and learned to raise organic produce and meat. In 2005, Caldwell returned to the property with her husband and their two daughters where they now operate Pholia Farm, an off-grid, raw milk cheese dairy. So, she knows of what she speaks (and writes).

TEH SMALL SCALE DIARYIn her new book, The Small-Scale Dairy: The Complete Guide to Milk Production for the Home and Market, Caldwell asks wannabe farmers to sit down, take a deep breath, and (honestly) answer a few key questions before diving into the romantic life of a dairy farmer.

  • Does your idea of a vacation involve getting up several hours earlier than normal to finish the chores in time to attend a raw-milk educational conference, then arrive home late, do chores again, and still get up on time the next morning
  • Do you see yourself paying more for animal feed than your own dinner out
  • Do you find inserting your arm into a laboring doe’s uterus to untangle triplet goat kids an interesting challenge
  • Does your idea of a balanced workout include doing squats while working in the milking parlor
  • Does producing wholesome food and feeding your community make you happy

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you might be a dairy farmer.

In The Small-Scale Dairy, Caldwell (The Small-Scale Cheese Business, Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking) provides the know-how to safely produce nourishing, farm-fresh milk. She also provides readers a balanced perspective on the current regulatory environment in which raw-milk lovers find themselves.

“For both producers and consumers, The Small-Scale Dairy is a must read and a valuable contribution to a growing movement,” writes Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

In The Small-Scale Cheese Business Caldwell tackled the nuts and bolts of running a successful creamery, while in the beautifully designed and written Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking, she provided insight into the intricacies of cheesemaking science – as well as tried and true recipes for beginner to expert cheesemakers.

With the addition of her latest book, Caldwell has created a farm-to-plate trilogy for the aspiring dairy farmer and cheesemaker. Pick up any one of her books and learn whether you just might be a dairy farmer, have what it takes to run the business side of your cheese business, or if you’re talents lie in crafting the perfect artisanal cheese wheel. Or, grab the complete set and start scanning the real estate ads and looking for a few pairs of Carhartts.

The Small-Scale Dairy: The Complete Guide to Milk Production for the Home and Market is available now and on sale for 35% off until April 11. Read an excerpt below.

Chapter 2: Is the Small Dairy Right for You? by Chelsea Green Publishing

Turn Barren Soil into Black Gold: 9 Simple Steps to Sheet Mulching

Monday, March 31st, 2014

If you want to turn a barren lot into a permaculture paradise, you’ve got to start from the ground up.

Sheet mulching is an easy way to start. You start with a biodegradable weed barrier like cardboard, and from there build a thick, layered substrate for your garden with compost and mulch. As the materials break down, worms move in, softening the soil below, and creating a healthy, aerated planting bed where once there was compacted, dead clay.

Eric Toensmeier transformed his rocky, desolate tenth of an acre into a modern-day Garden of Eden with this and other permaculture methods. He shares the skills and tips you need to do it yourself in his best-selling book Perennial Vegetables. For the visual learners out there, Toensmeier also has a DVD, which is available alone or as a set with the book.

For even more about the stunning transformation from bare ground to lush garden, Toensmeier’s memoir Paradise Lot tells the whole story of how he not only made a little patch of earth a little greener, he found love, too.

So, without further ado, here’s Eric Toensmeier’s simple 9-step method for sheet mulching!

The following is an excerpt from Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier.

Sheet mulching combines soil improvement, weed removal, and long-term mulching in one fell swoop.

This technique, also known as lasagna gardening, can build remarkable soils in just a few years. There are several key components.

  • First, a weed barrier like cardboard is laid down to smother weeds. In theory (and quite often in practice) the cardboard decomposes after the weeds have all died and turned into compost.
  • The second ingredient is to add compost, or build a layered compost pile that will enrich your new garden bed.
  • The third step is to add a thick layer of mulch on top, to keep new weeds from getting established.

I have had great results with sheet mulching, although sometimes the first year is a bit rough on delicate species, until the raw materials break down. You can use sheet mulching to turn lawns or weedy waste areas into gardens in just a few hours, or even to build soil from scratch inside built frames for raised beds. Sheet mulch can range from just a few inches thick to 2 feet or more, depending on how bad your soil is and how much raw material you have available (it will cook down and settle quite a bit). For more information see Patricia Lanza’s Lasagna Gardening, or Edible Forest Gardens.

Nine Simple Steps to Sheet Mulching

  1. Mow or cut your lawn, weeds, or other vegetation right down to the ground.
  2. Plant any crops that will require a large planting hole (including woody plants, perennials in large pots, and large transplants).
  3. Add soil amendments (as determined by your soil test).
  4. Water the whole area thoroughly. You are going to be putting a layer of cardboard or newspaper over it, and rain and irrigation won’t soak through very well until that weed barrier breaks down. Water also helps the decomposition process get going.
  5. If you have compost materials that may contain weed seeds (like fresh manure, leaves, or hay), spread them in layers on the ground. Put a dry, carbonaceous layer of hay or shredded leaves below any manure layer. Avoid thick layers, and make sure to get a good carbon-to-nitrogen ratio just as if you were building a compost pile. Water this layer well.
  6. Lay down a weed barrier. I prefer to use large sheets of cardboard from appliance stores, because these last longer and are quicker to lie down. You can use layers of wet newspaper too. Make sure to have a 4- to 6-inch overlap where sheets meet so buried weeds can’t find a route to the surface. If you have already planted crops, or have other preexisting plants, don’t mulch over them. Cut holes in the cardboard to make some breathing space for each plant (or leave some room around each plant when laying newspaper).
  7. Now you can add your weed-free organic materials. I like to keep it simple, and just add a nice layer of compost. You can also do some sheet composting here, alternating layers of nitrogen-rich materials like fresh grass clippings with carbonaceous materials like weed-free straw.
  8. Now you add your final top mulch layer, at least 3 inches thick. Water the whole bed thoroughly once again. Your sheet mulch bed is complete.
  9. You can plant right into your bed if you like. To plant tubers or potted plants, just pull back the top layers until you get to the weed barrier. Cut an X in the cardboard or newspaper. If you are transplanting a large plant, peel back the corners of the X. Throw a double handful of compost in the planting hole and then put in the plant. Pull the layers and top mulch back around the plant, water well, and you’re all set. Planting seeds is easy too. Just pull back the top mulch to the compost layer and plant your seeds. You may want to cut through the weed barrier below first, depending on weed pressure below the barrier. If you are planting seeds, be sure to water regularly, as compost on top of cardboard can dry out quickly.

1.jpg
The author’s Massachusetts front yard before sheet mulching. The soils are very poor fill from new construction.

2.jpg
Addition of rotted leaves below thick paper bags as a weed barrier with a layer of compost and mulch on top—just a few hours of work.

3.jpg
By mid-summer the garden is thriving with sweet potato, taro, edible hibiscus, and hardy bananas (yes, they over-winter in Massachusetts, but they don’t fruit here).

4.jpg
Jonathan Bates enjoys the results of our first year of sheet mulching. This garden has just gotten better each year. Note the fantastic growth of hyacinth beans!

Perennial Gardening: Grow More Food with Less Work!

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Perennial vegetables are a food gardener’s dream. Plant them once, treat them well, and they’ll keep feeding you year after year.

If you’re looking for some new crops to liven up your garden and your palate, give perennials a chance. You’ll have plants you never dreamed could be dinner. We’ve included below some perennial inspired projects to get you started! 

25% Off Entire Selection of Gardening Books until March 31st.

In cased you missed our previous “Garden Series” projects you can take a look here and here. Everything from building fertile soil, planning the best garden, starting seedlings and crop selection – we have you covered.

Looking for more backyard projects? Learn the basics of seed saving here and beekeeping for beginners here.

 

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books already on sale for example.
Free shipping for orders $100 or more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). 


Perennials Perfect for Shady Spots
VIDEO: Four Perennials Perfect for Shady Spots

Eric Toensmeier is the reigning expert on these easy-to-grow crops, and his new DVD takes you on a plant-by-plant tour.

In this video, Eric introduces four perennial crops that do well in shady spots. Watch and learn more about these versatile veggies.  Plant it »»


Backyard Permaculture Paradise
Building Your Backyard Permaculture Paradise

As you look out on your snow-covered (or just barren) backyard, here is how Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates approached those initial phases of transformation–along with their site designs.

We hope this provides you with plenty of spring planting ideas and inspiration for the coming gardening season. Plan it »»


Perennials are the Best Bang for Your Buck
6 Reasons Why Perennials Are the Best Bang for Your Buck


If you’ve ever debated whether perennial plants are right for your landscape, author Ben Falk is here to help.
 Plant it »»


The Grafter's Handbook
How to Graft the Perfect Tree


Trees are the ultimate perennial and with care will continue to produce for years and even decades.

Learning the art and science of grafting fruit trees can give an old tree a new life, or perhaps give some continuing life to a variety you love. Learn it »»

 


~ ~ Garden Savings: 25% Off  ~ ~
Perennial Vegetables SetRetail $59.95
Sale: $44.96
Paradise Lot
Retail $19.95
Sale: $14.96
The Resilient Farm and Homestead
Retail $40.00
Sale: $30.00
Gaia's Garden, 2nd Edition
Retail $29.95
Sale $22.46
The Grafter's HandbookRetail $40.00
Sale $30.00
Natural Beekeeping, Revised and ExpandedRetail $34.95
Sale: $26.21
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture
Retail $29.95
Sale: $22.46
Food Not Lawns
Retail $25.00
Sale: $18.75
Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
Retail $150.00
Sale $112.50
The Permaculture KitchenRetail $22.95
Sale $17.21

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only)
 
per inceptos himenaeos.

6 Reasons Why You Need to Plant Perennials…Like Now

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

If you’ve ever debated about whether perennial plants are right for your landscape, author Ben Falk is here to help. And, as a recent winner of an American Horticultural Society 2014 Book Award, you can be sure to trust his expert advice.

Falk’s award winning book, The Resilient Farm and Homestead, offers readers the lessons he’s learned about perennials on his Whole Systems Research Farm and explains the six reasons why gardeners and farmers should not overlook these permanent producers. One advantage, according to Falk, is their resilience to climate change. Perennial plants are able to both avoid and bounce back from climate stress like drought and flood. Want to know more? Read Falk’s entire list of perennial plant benefits in the excerpt below.

For more guidance on growing perennials, take a behind-the-scenes look at how Paradise Lot authors, Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates, transformed a desolate urban backyard into a permaculture paradise and go on a virtual tour of their garden to learn about four perennial vegetables that thrive in the shade.

 

Building Your Backyard Permaculture Paradise

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

The award-winning Paradise Lot takes a behind-the-scenes look at how two plant geeks transformed a desolate urban backyard into a permaculture paradise. At the same time, the pair were hoping to each find their own Eve for this special garden adventure. They succeeded on both fronts–creating an urban, food-producing oasis on a tenth of an acre, and finding life partners.

As you look out on your snow-covered (or just barren) backyard, here is how Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates approached those initial phases of transformation–along with their site designs. We hope this excerpt provides you with plenty of spring planting ideas and inspiration for the coming gardening season.

* * * * *

GUILD-BUILD

One of my favorite phases of any design is assembling a species palette, a master list of all the species you might use to paint a living and productive landscape onto your site. The “guild-build” process that Dave and I developed for Edible Forest Gardens helps gardeners assemble a master list of species for all necessary niches.

The first phase of guild-build is to make a list of all the things you hope to grow. The woody plants Jonathan and I were most excited about were American persimmon, pawpaw, chestnuts, Asian pear, and hardy kiwifruit. We already grew most of the herbaceous species that we were keen on, from good King Henry to strawberries and perennial ground-cherries.

After you have analyzed your site, you look at your list of desired species to see what’s realistic and what’s not. Sadly, some species are usually cut at this point. For us, the list was long and, particularly with the trees, impossible. There simply would not be space for chestnuts: the two full-size trees required for pollination would fill up almost the entire yard. We also regretfully closed the door on nut pines, the macadamia-like nuts of yellowhorn, and figlike che fruits. In fact, given the small size of our lot, we were going to have to work hard to achieve our goal of a double handful of fresh fruit every day from May to October.

To do that, we would have to focus primarily on fruiting shrubs and dwarf trees. Besides space, our other primary limitation was shade. We were going to be able to grow only a few species that required full sun; we had more room to stretch out and explore the range of shade-loving edibles.

Another part of the guild-build process is determining what uses and functions are called for and cross-checking it against the list of everything you hope to grow. We were going to need groundcovers, nitrogen-fixing species, and insect nectary plants. Jonathan and I looked for gaps in our list based on the roles we wanted our plants to serve in the garden. Did we have nitrogen-fixing species for shade? Had we included any evergreen groundcovers? We went back to the tables in Edible Forest Gardens (still unpublished at this point) to select species to fill the niches that we had left open.

Jonathan and I were guided by the principle that everything we planted should have multiple functions and should be edible whenever possible. We also wanted to begin our search with native species and expand outward from there. The challenge was that maximizing diversity was also a priority for us; we wanted to sample the range of possibilities, especially for smaller plants like herbaceous perennials.

Jonathan and I knew there would be core native edibles in our garden that would serve as anchors in our species palette. The native fruits we chose to include were American persimmon, pawpaw, beach plum, clove currant, various blueberry species and hybrids, multiple juneberries, and many more—a total of twenty native fruit species in fifteen genera.

Not bad for a tenth of an acre. We set out for about half of our garden to be natives, which would mean a hundred or more representatives of the eastern flora.

Most nut trees were too large for our garden, but we tracked down two chinquapins (native bush chestnuts) from a small nursery in Georgia. And we included many species of native herbaceous wild edibles, from sunchokes to giant Solomon’s seal. Though none were as far along in domestication and productivity as a perennial like asparagus, we felt it was important to include them. From nearby forests we collected seeds of native nitrogen-fixers, like tick trefoils, hog peanuts, and wild sennas, and nectary plants, like the impressive cow parsnip.

Collecting seed of wild plants is fun and, as long as the plants are not rare and you leave plenty of seed, nothing to feel bad about. In fact, by taking the plants into cultivation, I feel we are reducing pressure on wild stands. I’d been exploring the areas behind bowling alleys and beneath highway overpasses for a decade and knew right where to watch while driving by. When I saw seed drying, we pulled over (perhaps sometimes recklessly) and added to our collection.

Our search for multifunctional species led us down some unexpected paths. For example, we didn’t feel we could sacrifice much space to nitrogen-fixing plants that were not also providing food. This led us to hog peanuts, a shade-loving native with edible underground beans. They are quite lovely and often seen alongside the path on New England hikes, but except at Tripple Brook Farm I had never seen hog peanuts growing in anyone’s garden. It is the perfect example of an underappreciated native species, which gains importance in a garden that prioritizes multifunctional plants to fill specific niches.

Not all of our choices were as easy.

For example, there is no eastern native nitrogen-fixing shrub with decent edible fruit. We asked ourselves what we should pick instead: a native nonedible like sweetfern, a nonnative edible like goumi, or even a nonnative nonedible like Siberian pea shrub? Given our space constraints, we went with goumi, a relative of the maligned autumn olive, because it both fruits and makes fertilizer, which no Massachusetts native species could do. This medium-sized Asian shrub is a great nitrogen-fixer and grows well in the Northeastern United States.

Up until we completed the species palette, Jonathan and I did not need to show much originality in our design. Our goals were our own, but the final analysis and assessment map we created, though it included a few suggestions about what might happen where, was basically a final report to ourselves about our yard.

We decided to use the south alley for our access road: both alleys had equal shade and width, but the southern alley would do a better job draining frost from our garden.

Its bad soil and full shade made it ideal for offloading and storing piles of compost and mulch. The north side of the garden, with summer shade, would become our woodland edge habitat, with shade-loving species like pawpaws, gooseberries, and wild leeks growing under Norway maples. We would build a shed in the area with terrible clay soil and summer shade on the north side of the property.

We already knew where our greenhouse had to go: in the small year-round sunny spot between the summer sun and winter sun areas, and we decided to lay our main path leading from the house to the greenhouse along the line between the summer sun and summer shade areas. The summer sun areas would mimic the old-field mosaic habitat behind Kmart and feature shrub and perennial beds alternating with annual beds.

It was clear that Jonathan and I had found the challenge we’d been looking for. Could we bring about an edible paradise on our blighted lot? Could we regenerate soil, bring back birds, and meet all of our goals on only a tenth of an acre without cramming everything in too tight? And might we ever meet women who could appreciate guys who spent more time on the Plants for a Future online database than singles websites? Time would tell.

Four Perennial Vegetables Perfect for Shady Spots

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Perennial vegetables are a food gardener’s dream. Plant them once, treat them well, and they’ll keep on feeding you year after year.

Eric Toensmeier, author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables, and coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens, is the reigning expert on these easy-to-grow crops, and his new DVD takes you on a plant-by-plant tour through his garden in Massachusetts, as well as edible landscapes in Florida and Mexico. If you’re looking for some new crops to liven up your garden and your palate, Toensmeier will show you plants you never dreamed could be dinner.

In this clip from the DVD, Eric introduces four perennial crops that do well in shady spots:

  • Edible Shoot Bamboo – Harvest the young shoots and eat it like asparagus, it’s also a useful plant for making garden stakes and other projects.
  • Giant Fuki – A Japanese vegetable that loves damp shade. Harvest the stalks, boil them, peel them, then add them to soups or tempura.
  • Edible Hosta – Typically sold as a shade-loving ornamental, Hosta is a popular vegetable in many parts of Asia. Harvest the curled shoots that emerge in early spring.
  • Giant Solomon’s Seal – A beautiful ornamental that’s also a delicious vegetable. Harvest the shoots, cut off the leaves which are bitter, and prepare it like asparagus. Solomon’s Seal also produces edible tubers that you can cook up like potatoes.

Watch the clip to learn more about these versatile veggies:


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