How to Create An Edible Landscape

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Creating an edible landscape is an important part of building a sustainable homestead. Here’s how to do it, and why you should…

Nowhere is it more evident that everything is connected than on a homestead! You become very aware of how interrelated all of your activities are, and how much everything depends on each other for maintaining a sustainable and thriving system.

One aspect of homesteading you may not have considered is creating an edible landscape. Edible landscaping doesn’t just mean growing food for yourself, however. In a truly sustainable system, you will also be creating food for all of the other species that inhabit your homestead with you.

Not only does this involve growing plants that feed your livestock, insects, and other critters, but it also means feeding the soil to help support the complex, living organisms that help your plants grow strong and healthy.

The tips below will help you start creating your own edible landscape to support and nurture a sustainable food web!

Starting an Edible Landscape

When we think of planning an edible landscape, the first thing that comes to mind is choosing food for us…. But that’s like trying to grow a steak without thinking about the cow, the grass it eats, or the seeds and soil that grow the grass. (Okay, let’s face it, that’s how industrial steak is raised…)

If your goal is to develop a sustainable homestead food supply with minimal need for external purchases, then you need to start further down the food chain by making your landscape edible for soil inhabitants, beneficial insects, and homestead livestock.

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Creating a Pollinator Plot

Now, if you plan to leave this area as a pollinator plot – a thing which every good homestead should have several of – go ahead and add herb and wildflower seeds to your cover crop mix before you scatter your seeds. I recommend borage, sunflowers, yarrow, vetch, echinacea, anise hyssop, and whatever other self-seeding or perennial flowers and herbs you prefer….

You can dead head the flowers to encourage new blooms, cut them for bouquets, or collect the seed heads to use in other pollinator plots. You can also pick some of the edibles to enjoy. But you want to let most of the leaves, a.k.a. biomass, to die back cover the ground in the winter to act as a protective mulch and add back nutrients for the next growing season.

In future years, you may need to divide perennial plants if the plot gets to crowded, but for the most part, this will be self-sustaining going forward.

Creating an Annual Vegetable Plot

Now, if you prefer to go straight to human edibles and turn this plot an annual vegetable garden,…mow down all your cover crops at once. Chop them off as close to ground level as possible. Leave all the roots and radish in the ground as food for soil inhabitants….

Cover the entire area with cardboard and soak with water to keep it from lifting off the ground in a good wind. Then cover the cardboard with several inches of seedless grass clippings, straw, mulch, manure, hay, spent beer grains, wine grape skins, mulched leaves — basically whatever safe, biodegradable, organic material you can get your hands on.

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But make sure you know where the stuff comes from and that you are ok with the source, because this will end up reclaimed by your soil factory and repurposed into your food.

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After this, you are ready to plant. Just use your hand shovel to punch through the cardboard, loosen up any roots still in the soil, and plant your seeds or starts. Water and watch them grow.

Every year, you want to add a new layer of whatever biodegradable, organic material you can get your hands on to cover your soil through winter….

Creating a Food Forest

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If you plan to make a food forest, you can follow the same instructions as for growing an annual vegetable plot, just change what you plant. Pick disease-resistant fruit and nut trees or bushes that grow well in your area. Keep in mind root structures, tree growth habit, and mature plant size when selecting your plants.

Choose a few complimentary companions to grow near your trees and/or berry bushes. Plan for nitrogen fixers such as ground covers like clover and hairy vetch, a black locust tree, or a Siberian pea shrub. Include some “biomass creators” which are plants with deep roots that reach down into the earth to pull up minerals and also have big leaves that die to the ground in winter and release those minerals back into the topsoil by composting in place….

Pick some beneficial insect attractors like mint, yarrow, or your favorite flowering herbs to help with pollination and beneficial insect attraction. You may also want to consider edible diversions as a form of pest control. For example, plant a sacrificial mulberry to keep birds away from your cherry trees. For this purpose, you want to pick bird preferred substitutes that produce fruit at the same time as your human favorites. You can also use these sacrificial plants to feed your ducks and other homestead livestock.

Think vertically when planning your food forest to make the best use of your space. For example, if you live in the U.S., plan your mature plant heights to look like a set of stairs with your bottom stair facing south and your tallest stair positioned north in your plot. Using this configuration, your shorter sun-loving plants and bushes will not be fully shaded out by your taller trees. You can also use your taller, sturdier plants as trellises for vining plants like kiwi, grapes, passion flower, or beans.

Finally, consider adding edible mushrooms to your food forest by using the shade you’ve created to protect plug-spawn-filled shiitake logs or direct spreading king straphoria spawn (winecaps) in your mulch layer.

Learn More About Edible Landscaping at MotherEarthNews.com

 

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