Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
On the show I talked about Project Drawdown, a recent collaboration that was edited by Paul Hawken. The book includes looking at comprehensive climate solutions including carbon farming, renewable energy, girls education and more!
What farming practices can help stabilize the climate by sequestering carbon? Almost anything that builds soil organic matter can do the trick, but some sequester much more carbon than others. Even low rates of carbon sequestration can make a huge difference if practiced on enough farms. Here’s a typology and comparison of these systems. Note that a hectare is roughly 2.5 acres. To learn more check out my upcoming workshop at the carbon farming course! Early registration ends December 15th.
Improved Annual Cropping Systems
These practices make our production of annual crops more carbon-friendly. These systems sequester low amounts of carbon, typically 1-2 tons per hectare per year. Their big advantage is they allow us to grow the crops we know and love, and we already have equipment and infrastructure for production, processing, and consumption. Some are already widely practiced, like no-till (111 million hectares), organic annual crops (6.3 million) and system of rice intensification (4-5 million farmers globally). Other practices include crop rotation, green manures, cover crops, use of compost, and mulching.
These systems integrate perennial elements like trees with the annual crops we already know and grow. They include many agroforestry practices. Carbon sequestration is low at 1-5 tons per hectare. The perennial elements may play support roles like slope stabilization or nitrogen fixation, or may be crops themselves. Some are widely practiced like shea nut parkland in Africa (23 million hectares), farmer-managed natural regeneration in Niger (4.8 million hectares), alley cropping with Paulownia trees in China (3 million hectares), and streuobst mixed fruit trees with annuals in Germany (1 million hectares). Other practices include contour hedgerows, windbreaks, living fences, pasture cropping, and evergreen agriculture.
In these systems livestock are integrated with perennials like trees or pasture. Carbon sequestration is mostly low to medium with managed grazing around 2-4 tons per hectare per year, and silvopasture at 1-10. A few case studies have seen sequestration of 36 and even 40 tons per hectare. Generally the more trees, the more carbon. People already consume livestock products like meat, milk, and eggs, so we don’t need to change our diets – instead we let the animals eat the perennials. Ruminants do produce methane which can reduce the impact of carbon sequestration of these systems, though not reverse it. Again some of these are widely practiced, like holistic grazing (12-20 million hectares worldwide), dehesa silvopasture in Spain and Portugal (5.5 million hectares), and Central American silvopasture (9 million hectares). Practices include managed grazing, silvopasture (trees with pastrure), fodder trees and fodder banks, aquaforestry (aquaculture plus trees), and crop-livestock integration.
Fully Perennial Systems
These systems sequester the most carbon (medium to very high) but may require the biggest changes to our food system. Coppice and biomass systems can sequester 1-6 tons/hectare/year, with tree crops and bamboo much higher at 2-28 and 6-33 tons/hectare/year respectively. Multistrata agroforestry systems sequester a remarkable 4-40 tons/hectare/year making them the world’s best carbon-sequestering food production model (development of commercial multistrata models for cold climates largely awaits innovative producers and researchers). Perennial crops are grown on 153 million hectares globally, along with bamboo (22 million hectares), cacao agroforestry systems (7 million hectares), and more. These systems include orchards and plantations, bamboo systems, traditional and short rotation coppice and biomass grasses, multistrata systems like tropical homegardens (food forests) and larger scale multi-layered perennial production systems, and newer systems like woody agriculture and perennial grain production. Perennial staple crops have have a major role to play in a carbon-friendly future but may require big changes in the way we farm and eat.
These are mostly non-biological systems that involve design, equipment, or other non-living elements. Carbon sequestration is variable and in some cases (like keyline) unknown. Drip irrigation (which prevents soil salinization and carbon loss in dryland climates) is practiced on 10 million hectares globally, and Amazonian terra preta (biochar plus) includes perhaps a million hectares or more. This set of practices includes rainwater harvesting, keyline, productive restoration, and more.
These systems need to be combined with perennial crops, new technologies, new markets, citizen movements and policy changes to fully realize the potential of agriculture to sequester up 10-85% of the 200 gigatons needed to get us back down to the magic number of 350ppm.
Perennial staple crops provide protein, carbohydrates, and fats on long lived trees, shrubs, vines, succulents, and perennial herbs. You can ready my 2011 article Perennial Staple Crops of the World here.
For more up-to-date but not quit comprehensive lists of tropical perennial staples in English and Spanish see the new handouts below:
I’m coming into the last few months of completing the manuscript for Carbon Farming: Stabilizing the Climate with Perennial Crops and Regenerative Farming Practices. Part of that is pulling together photographs – my publisher Chelsea Green would like lots of good images to show what these crops and farming systems look like. I have a bunch of good ones already (about 65), and others from Wikimedia (about 45), as well as about 15-20 illustrations in mind.
That leaves some 70 or so photos that I still need to track down. These are mostly photos of systems (agroforestry and other regenerative practices) and perennial crops. I’m particularly looking for photos of close-ups of the useful parts of the plants, images of large-scale plantings, or images of integrated systems like polycultures. The images need to be of fairly high digital quality (12 megapixels or more), and preferably in color.
If I use your image I’ll provide photo credits of course, and $25 credit towards a book or one of my workshops. Please contact me at [email protected]. Thank you.
Here are the images I still need, chapter by chapter.
Chapter 1: Climate Realities
Chapter 2: Agriculture and Carbon
Chapter 3: Agroforestry systems
Chapter 4: Perennial Crops
Chapter 5: Crunching the Numbers
Chapter 6: A Multifunctional Solution
Chapter 7: Perennial-Annual Systems
African parkland systems
Farmer-managed natural regeneration
Faidherbia evergreen agriculture
Alley cropping with coppiced legumes and annuals
Alley cropping (strip intercropping) with tree crops and annuals
Sloping Land Agricultural Technology
Vetiver on contour
Chapter 8: Perennial-Livestock Systems
Dehesa, preferably with livestock below
Managed, holistic, or rotational grazing
Living barns or green corrals
Chapter 9: Fully Perennial Systems
Chinampas or Chinese dyke-pond systems
Short rotation coppice
Chapter 10: Other systems
Rainwater-harvesting earthworks on farm (swales etc.)
Indigenous land management practices
Chapter 11: Introduction to Species
Chapter 12: Perennial Staple Crops Overview
Chapter 13: Basic Starch Crops
Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)
Enset (Ensete ventricosum)
Sago (Metroxylon sagu)
Chapter 14: Balanced Carbohydrates
Tahitian chestnut (Inocarpus fagifer)
Yeheb (Cordeauxia edulis)
Nypa (Distichlis palmeri)
Peach palm (Bactris gasipaes)
Mesquite (Prosopis spp.)
Chapter 15: Protein
Chachafruto (Erythrina edulis)
Wattleseed acacias (Acacia colei, A. victoriae, A. murrayana etc.)
Cow trees (Brosimum utile etc.), preferably showing tapping for milk
Chapter 16: Protein-Oil
Walnut (Juglans regia)
African breadnut (Treculia africana)
Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) or sapucaia (Lecythis spp.)
As I research my book on carbon-sequestering agriculture I am occasionally struck by particularly promising techniques that mitigate climate change, build soils, and actually increase production of human food or other yields. One such system that has me excited this week is intensive silvopasture.
Intensive silvopasture combines improved pasture with extremely high densities of woody nitrogen-fixing legumes, typically Leucaena leucocephala. These trees are planted at a remarkable 8-10,000 per hectare (up to one per square meter). Grazing is under a planned rotation regime with electric fencing. Livestock graze the trees along with the pasture, with Leucaena resprouting rapidly in the resting period when livestock are rotated out of the paddock. In some cases useful woody overstory species are also incorporated.[i]
Intensive silvopasture was developed in Australia in the 1970s, where it is currently practiced on 200,000 hectares. There are over 5,000 ha in Colombia and 3,000 in Mexico, with ambitious plans for large-scale expansion in both Latin American nations. Colombian and Mexican producers have adapted the system by adding more timber, palm, and fruit trees.[ii] Research is needed to determine the suitability of intensive silvopasture outside of humid tropical regions, where plentiful water and sunlight doubtless contribute to its productivity. Species with potential in colder and drier regions include Albizia julibrussin, Chamaecytisis palmensis, Lespedeza bicolor, Amorpha fruticosa, Eleagnus angustifolia and Atriplex canescens. [iii]
Intensive silvopasture sequesters carbon at the high end of silvopasture potential, with a study in Colombia reporting 8.8 tons per hectare per year. When timber trees are incorporated, this soars to 26.6 tons per hectare per year, an extremely impressive number. [iv] In addition, the abundance of Leucaena leaves in the ruminant diet in these systems results in a lower methane emission per cow. [v]
Yield impacts are astounding. Intensive silvopasture permits the stocking of 2-4 times more livestock per hectare and 2-10 times more meat per hectare. [vi] Intensive silvopasture can also help reduce the effects of parasites and diseases on livestock by providing habitat for beneficial organisms. It also improves water quality and biodiversity. [vii]
[i] Cesar Cuartas Cardona et. al., “Contribution of Intensive Silvopastoral Systems to Animal Performance and to Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change”, 7.
[ii] Cesar Cuartas Cardona et. al., “Contribution of Intensive Silvopastoral Systems to Animal Performance and to Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change”, 7.
[iii] Uma Karki, ed., Sustainable Year-Round Forage Production and Grazing/Browsing Management for Goats in the Southern Region, 128.
[iv] Cesar Cuartas Cardona et. al., “Contribution of Intensive Silvopastoral Systems to Animal Performance and to Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change”, 12.
[v] Cesar Cuartas Cardona et. al., “Contribution of Intensive Silvopastoral Systems to Animal Performance and to Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change”, 12.
[vi] Cesar Cuartas Cardona et. al., “Contribution of Intensive Silvopastoral Systems to Animal Performance and to Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change”, 9.
[vii] Cesar Cuartas Cardona et. al., “Contribution of Intensive Silvopastoral Systems to Animal Performance and to Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change”,7-9.
Many of us in the permaculture and organic movements have read Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution, which lays out his ingenious (though hard to replicate) no-till organic rice production system. I was surprised and pleased when, in my job as librarian for the New England Small Farm Institute in the late 1990s, I stumbled on his Natural Way of Farming, a translation of his 1976 book Shizen Noho. At that time he had already been running his orchard as an organic polyculture food forest for over three decades – since the 1940s! Natural Way of Farming offers much detail about Fukuoka’s methods of grain, vegetable, and fruit production. It was a major inspiration to me as I worked on writing Edible Forest Gardens.
Fukuoka’s food forest (he refers to it his orchard) is a fantastic example of a warm temperate/subtropical food forest featuring multiple layers, abundant nitrogen-fixers, a diversity of fruits, nuts, and perennial vegetables, with sophisticated use of self-sown and broadcast annual crops. There is much for us to learn from his lifetime of experimentation in his humid, warm-temperate to subtropical climate. This is a good-sized operation, covering ten or more acres. In the 1980s Fukuoka was shipping 200,000 pounds (about 90 metric tons) of citrus annually from 800 citrus trees.[i]
The book is full of fantastic color photos of his no-till grain, vegetable, and food forest systems. I don’t have rights to them, so get a copy of the book and check them out! Used copies of several editions are available online.
Food Forest Design
Fukuoka recommends diverse polycultures, starting with mixing deciduous and evergreen fruits. “Never forget to plant green manure trees[ii]”. Fukuoka’s nitrogen fixing trees include acacias, alders, autumn olive, wax myrtle (Myrica) and podocarpus. He advocated maintaining a productive and diverse understory. “Using the open space in an orchard to raise an undergrowth of special-purpose crops and vegetables is the very picture of nature.[iii]” “A natural orchard in which full, three-dimensional use of space is made in this way is entirely different from conventional orchards that employ high-production techniques. For the individual wishing to live in communion with nature, this is truly a paradise on earth.[iv]”
Food Forest Establishment
“When starting an orchard, the main goals initially should be prevention of weed emergence and maturation of the soil[v].”(144) Fukuoka also advocates for terracing and the use of contour berm-and-basin systems (known as contour swales to many of us in permaculture).
Fukuoka set out his orchard in forest land he had recently cleared. Trunks and branches from land clearing were laid out in windrows on contour – like the hugelculture technique popular in permaculture today. “To establish a natural orchard, one should dig large holes here and there among the stumps of felled trees and plant unpruned saplings and fruit seed over the site, leaving these unattended just as one would leave alone a reforested stand of trees[vi].” Resprouting stumps and weeds were cut or coppiced with a sickle.
He offers some sophisticated ecosystem mimicry advice, listing weed crops by family and replacement crops in the same family. For instance, wild morning glories might indicate planting of sweet potato. Fukuoka advocates a minimal pruning strategy (see below). At establishment, he aims to set up the tree for a lifetime of minimal pruning by establishing a form like its wild character. After 5-6 years, Fukuoka came in and built terraces uphill from each tree row. Then he transitioned the understory to ladino (white) clover (Trifolium repens).
Food Forest Understory
“What helps to rehabilitate depleted soil? I planted the seeds of thirty legumes, crucifers, and grasses throughout my orchard and from observations of these came to the general conclusion that I should grow a weed cover using ladino clover as the primary crop and such herbs as alfalfa, lupine, and bur clover as the secondary crops. To condition the deeper strata in the hard, depleted soil, I companion-planted fertilizer trees such as black wattle, myrtle, and podocarpus.[vii](188)” Fukuoka found that ladino clover would fully suppress weeds within 2-3 years, and would not need to be reseeded for 6-8 years. Drawbacks included less shade tolerance than he wanted, and the requirement for regular mowing. In winter he sowed brassica vegetables, and in summer legume vegetables and millets. Perennial vegetables were introduced and annual crops seed broadcast, with some annuals allowed to reseed themselves, producing strong-flavored feral offspring.
Table: Fukuoka’s Companion Crops
Adapted from table on page 144, Natural Way of Farming.
Devil’s tongue (probably an aroid), lilies, ginger, buckwheat
Grape, kiwi, akebia
Nitrogen fixing trees
Acacia, wax myrtle, alder
Green manures*, vegetables
Table: Fukuoka’s Green Manure Crops
Annual crops (mostly) broadcast seasonally. Adapted from page 144, Natural Way of Farming.
Ladino clover, alfalfa
Mustard family vegetables
Soybeans, peanuts, adzuki beans, mung beans, cowpeas
Black wattle trees (Acacia mearnsii) were his favorite nitrogen fixer as they were evergreen and grew to the size of a telephone pole in 7-8 years. At this point he cut down the wattles and buried them in trenches (more hugelculture). The wattle trees, fast-growing and evergreen, always served as a home for aphids and scales, and as a home to their predators like ladybugs, which provided pest control through the food forest. He ran poultry and other livestock in the orchard understory once it was established.
Fukuoka has a lot to say about pruning in Natural Way of Farming. He sought minimal pruning styles to allow his fruit and nut trees to grow as close as possible to their natural shape. To this end he grew many seedlings of citrus and other species to observe their natural form. Almost half of the trees he inherited from his father died in his quest for a low-maintenance, natural pruning regime, about 400 trees!
Fukuoka’s Food Forest Today
Masanobu Fukuoka died in 2008 at the age of 95. Today his children and grandchildren maintain the farm, including the food forest area. Citrus and ginkgo are thriving, and mango, avocado, and feijoa have been added. Shiitakes are cultivated in the understory on logs. Wild vegetables still grow beneath the orchard in some areas[viii].
Species in Fukuoka’s Food Forest
I’ve done my best to extrapolate from the translated common names in Natural Way of Farming. Some were nailed down with assistance from my Yama-Kei Pocket Guide to wild edibles of Japan. Surely there were many, many more which did not make it into the books, but this is a pretty good start.
Japanese angelica tree
Shoots and young leaves
Citrus x. sinensis
SHRUBS AND SMALL TREES
Oleaster, autumn olive
Wax myrtle, yumberry
Tubers, aerial tubers
Tubers, aerial tubers
Nitrogen fixation, weed suppression
Squash, shoots, tubers
Nitrogen fixation, weed suppression
Ladino clover, white clover
Nitrogen fixation, weed suppression
ANNUALS: SELF-SOWN AND BROADCAST
Nitrogen fixation, weed suppression
Japanese barnyard millet
Nitrogen fixation, weed suppression
Nitrogen fixation, weed suppression
Nitrogen fixation, weed suppression
Nitrogen fixation, weed suppression
Nitrogen fixation, weed suppression
Aster Family crops
Burdock, lettuce, edible chrysanthemum
Brassica Family crops
Chinese cabbage, cabbage, leaf mustard, potherb mustard, black mustard
Excerpted from Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City
As perennial vegetable season dries up, berries are coming into full swing. Foraging for fresh fruit in the backyard was a key goal in our garden and this is reflected in the diversity and abundance of berries we enjoy. Within two to three years, all of our berries were yielding well and many were filling in to form nice patches. There’s nothing better than walking out the back door and feasting on five or six different kinds of berries as you make your way through the garden. Jonathan and Meg next door love them on their cereal every morning. We’ve cooked all kinds of dishes with them, but in general, that’s too much work for me: nothing is a satisfying as filling up a handful of berries and shoving them into my mouth, eating them right out in the sunshine.
Our first berries of spring are honeyberries or haskap (Lonicera caerulea), which are ripen in May. You need at least two varieties for pollination, and though our first one died, its replacement caught up. We enjoy these small sweet and sour blue delights, a harbinger of harvests to come.
Soon after honeyberry harvest is over, strawberries (Fragaria x anasana) come along. I never liked strawberries growing up; now I know it’s because the quality of strawberries sold in the store is nothing like a fresh fragrant strawberry from the garden. We rotate our strawberry beds slowly through the garden, giving each planting three years in each location, and starting a new one every spring. We started with everbearing varieties, but then turned our focus to heavy June-bearing types since we have plenty of other fruit during other times of the year.
Alpine strawberries (F. vesca alpina) which pack all the flavor of a quart of strawberries into each tiny fruit, start fruiting around the time, continue through early July and come on again to some degree in the fall. They’re so small and make just a few fruits each day so we plant them along the borders of our pathways to remind us to take advantage of them.
Some years our strawberry harvest is poor. Perhaps it is a cold, wet year and disease is affecting our yields, or perhaps we didn’t do a good job of weeding or planting out our new bed the year before and yields suffer as a result. In those years we rely heavily on our goumi (Elaeagnus multiflora) whose small red cherries are tart and astringent until dead ripe, at which point they’re quite nice. Our goumi bears heavily, so we learned to process them with our steam juicer to take full advantage of the harvest. Of course, goumi is also welcome in our garden because it is a nitrogen fixer and grows (and bears) extremely vigorously in some of our worst compacted clay soils and in partial shade.
Later in June we get a second flush of berry species. I have come to appreciate our “Gerardi dwarf” mulberry (Morus macroura). Most wild mulberries are watery and insipid, but good cultivated mulberry varieties have firmness and tartness in with the sweet. Our dwarf mulberry bush bears for about six weeks; the fruit are large and make for nice eating. It’s not quite as dwarf as we had thought and we spend a lot of time pruning it back in winter and keeping it under control in summer by lopping off branches to feed to our silk worms. Left to its own devices it might spread to ten feet high and wide—not quite the “dwarf” we had in mind.
It wouldn’t be June without juneberries (multiple species of the genus Amelanchier, also known as serviceberry, sarvisberry, saskatoon, shadblow, and other names). We planted our two “Regent” saskatoons, a cross between the treelike Amelanchier alnifolia and dwarf A. stolonifera, in a prime location between the greenhouse and the beach plums, a spot with ideal sun and our least terrible soil. “Regent” bears heavily and, like all juneberries, has knockout flowers in spring. Little did we know that the fruits of this variety are somewhat dry and mealy (like all the alnifolias I’ve ever eaten), though the bushes are an ideal five-foot size. Jonathan and I ate them out of a sense of duty but Meg and Marikler never felt constrained by that, and the fruits were just not getting eaten. Even the birds were not enthusiastic. We moved the “Regents” to the front yard a few years ago so that at least their pretty flowers would be visible to passersby and because, as far as we’re concerned, the neighborhood children can eat all the berries they want. Much more to our liking is a wild clone of running juneberry, which we dug up from a nearby natural area a few years ago and transplanted in with our blueberries. The berries are a little smaller, but sweet and juicy. This wild juneberry doesn’t grow more than two feet tall but it spreads by runners and is filling in the gaps between our half high blueberries. [Note – the flavor of “Regent” has since grown on me. And some “Regent” fruits I had in Colorado were outstanding, perhaps they want a less humid climate to reach perfection.]
Towards the end of June, our red and white currants (Ribes rubrum) come on. We found some clones (“Red Lake,” “Blanca,” and “Pink Champange”) that are nice for eating raw. At first, I was the only one in the house who liked them, but I passed on my secret of lightly chewing the fruit but leaving the seeds intact and the others started to enjoy them as well. The seeds are a bit too large and textured for such a juicy fruit as farm as I’m concerned, but this little trick gets totally around the issue. Once Megan cooked down the red currents to make a sauce; she, Jonathan, and Marikler had it over ice cream and were truly hooked. Since then we have planted more varieties. Red and white currents bear well even in full shade, which means they’re taking on an increasingly prominent role beneath our mimosa and fruit trees as they mature.
July brings ridiculous riches of berries, many belonging, like currants, to the genus Ribes. Gooseberries (R. uva-crispa) are a house favorite. Most of the varieties we grow have spines, making the harvest quite painful, but their flavor is like a grape from another dimension. We grow about six varieties and enjoy all of them for fresh eating when ripe and in baked desserts when still green, tart, and firm.
Black currants (R. nigrum) ripen in July as well. These were an acquired taste for me, though I enjoyed beverages and desserts made with them many times. In 1997, I traveled to England with Dave to research Edible Forest Gardens. We stayed with Robert Hart who literally wrote the book on temperate climate forest gardening. At the time we were visiting, a local bakery would trade Robert his fruit for their desserts. I ate black currant crumble for several meals. When fully ripened their musk and spiciness is emboldened by a sweet and juicy essence. I nibble on them as I walk by them in my own garden, though I don’t eat a double handful the way I do with red and white currents and season.
Black currants and gooseberries were crossed to create the jostaberry (R. x culverwellii). Jostas are happy in our garden—even in pretty serious shade under Norway maples—and produce well for us. Plus they are thornless! Though tart until fully ripe, I can’t get enough of these spicy sour delights.
Our final member of the genus Ribes is clove currant (R. odoratum). Clove currants have clove-scented yellow flowers that bloom around the same time as forsythia; unlike forsythia, however, the flowers are followed by edible fruit. Our “Crandall” clove currant has fruits that are much larger than wild clove currants, though I think their skin is tougher and I prefer the smaller wild forms. Jonathan says ”Crandall” is his favorite fruit and the neighbors also love them.
Our clove currants grow on a narrow strip of terrible soil between our driveway and our neighbors’ driveway. This area is hot and dry in the summer, and in the winter it is buried under several feet of snow. This is where we moved the “Regent” juneberries that we weren’t totally in love with. Our goal is to create an edible hedge; we also fruited a sand cherry (Prunus besseyi) there. The species is native from Cape Cod west through the Rocky Mountains and we grow two prostrate forms (“Pawnee Butte” and “Select Spreader”) that serve as groundcovers. The black fruits ripen in July and have a rich, subtle flavor. I look forward to them fruiting more heavily in the future.
Blueberries are next in July’s carnival of abundance. We grow a couple of hybrid “half-high” varieties (Vaccinium hybrids)and some lowbush blueberries (V. angustifolium) as well. So far, we have not had to net them the way our rural friends have to. Birds in the country will eat every berry before they ripen, but in the city, it seems like our birds mostly don’t know what to do with them. Our blueberries have grown slowly and we have messed around with the pH several times trying to give them a jump start. They eventually began to bear pretty well, though Megan and Marikler still go to a pick your own operation to get enough berries to freeze for winter. Generally, I’m pleased with our strategy of planting small numbers of a great diversity of fruits to have the longest possible season, but when it comes to blueberries I wish we had a second tenth of an acre to dedicate to them.
When we moved in we noticed right away that there was a patch of feral raspberries (Rubus idaeus) behind our neighbor’s shed. The branches that hung over the fence were the first fruits we ate in our garden. The fruits were small and sweet with a delicate flavor. When we purchased and planted a fancy-named variety we were disappointed to find that the fruits, though large, were tough and bland. We ripped them out and transplanted in some of our neighbors feral plants. But our favorite raspberry is the golden “Anne”, which I’d ordered from a nursery after tasting it in several gardens and falling in love. Jonathan calls them “mango berries.” I agree that they taste fantastic, but I also love the insight they offer into an elegant pest-control strategy. Birds can be pests in raspberry patches, but they wait for the fruit to turn red to know that it is ripe. Yellow fruit doesn’t register on their radar. This also applies to yellow cherries and perhaps other fruits and represents an interesting alternative to netting your fruit.
The berry season peters out for a while after raspberry season, so we plan to add black raspberries (R. occidentalis), thimbleberries (R. parviflorus) , and thornless blackberries (R. fruticosus)to help fill in the sad two whole weeks of the summer when, in a bad grape year, we sometimes have almost no fresh fruit. [Note – the black rapberries and thornless blackberries have been a huge success since this was written in 2011, but thimbleberry has yet to produce a single fruit].
Raspberries return again for a halfhearted season in September and October. Late September is also the ripening time for one of my favorite little–known fruits. Ground cherries (Physalis spp.) are sweet relatives of tomatillos and tomatoes. A papery husk encloses a golden orb and the flavor is often compared to a combination of pineapple and cherry tomato. We grew annual ground cherries (P. pruinosa) for several years, but over time switched to the native perennials. Native perennial species like clammy and longleaf groundcherry (P. heterophylla and P. longifolia respectively) have smaller, firmer fruit with the more complex flavor. They come into season somewhat late, but I have picked ripe fruit off the plants as late as December 21st.
I’m not sure if wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) berries are our first or last fruit of the year. They ripen in late fall and remain viable under the snow all winter. You can dig down to them under the snow, or wait until the ground thaws in March. Wild forms have tiny fruits, but I noticed a number of years ago that cultivated ornamental forms like “Very Berry” and “Christmas” that have been selected for larger flowers also have much larger fruit, more of it, and share the same wintergreen flavor as the wild forms. Marikler thinks the berries taste like Pepto Bismal, but I like them. Our late berry season also include a bit of lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) fruit, a tiny six inch shrub related to cranberries. The fruits are like tiny cranberries though we have not yet had enough to do much with them.
One of the more challenging environments for food production is cold and arid. I’ve been investigating useful perennial plants for that climate for many years. A few years ago I purchased Robert Nold’s High and Dry: Gardening with Cold-Hardy Dryland Plants. Robert isn’t interested in growing these plants for food, but he has an incredible wealth of knowledge and years of experience in growing plants in his Littleton, Colorado garden with 10″/250mm of precipitation a year and -10F/-23C winter temperatures.
I was fortunate to be able to visit Robert and his garden with a class last year. It was fascinating to see his collection, and I was struck by the beauty of these tough high desert survivors.
Robert’s book is quite remarkable and offers great information on growing and propagating these species. He doesn’t say which are edible or otherwise useful though. This article is intended as a “key” to help permaculturists and edible landscapers utilize his book to select species for a cold, arid perennial food production system. I’ve already cross-indexed them with other resources for you. High and Dry also has much to say on the subject of gardening in cold, dry climates in general – for example, he reports that most of these plants grow in soils with little or no organic matter in their native habitats, and are more vulnerable to disease in compost-enriched soils.
This article features many of the useful species from High and Dry. Get a copy and read it to learn all about his experiences growing them. All of these species have survived Bob’s test conditions of 10″/250mm of rainfall a year and -10F/-23C. All are native to the western United States, and some to adjacent Canada and Mexico as well. Of course there are many other useful species, native and not, that are suited to this area. Growers in other cold, dry regions (particularly in Central Asia) may also want to grow some of these species.
My sense is that these might represent the things you grow farther from home, while close by you’d have water-loving crops like peaches and apples watered by greywater and roofwater (or plain old drip irrigation).
Few trees grow in the high and dry country, and fewer still are much use to us in the food forest. Here are some good ones recommended by Nold. Pinyons are slow to grow and don’t bear annually but can grow where nothing else will. Mesquites are delicious and nitrogen fixing. We could use people identifying and propagating good forms of oak, mesquite, and pinyon.
Pinus edulis, P. monophylla
staple pods, honey plant, coppiced firewood
nitrogen-fixer, fodder pods
Quercus emoryi, Q. hybrids, Q. undulata
“sweet” acorn oaks
New Mexico locust
edible flowers, firewood
Cercocarpus ledifolius is a very tough nitrogen-fixer, handling arid conditions and -50F/-45C! Robert’s garden.
This region excels in useful shrubs, including many edible berries and a large number of legume and non-legume nitrogen-fixers.
Amelanchier alnifolia, A. utahensis
Amorpha fruticosa, A. nana
nitrogen-fixer, contour hedgerow
Ceanothus fendleri, C. velutinus
fruit (native goji)
Ribes aureum, R. cereum, R. odoratum
Shepherdia argentea, S. canadensis
fruit (not fantastic), soap
This group includes cacti and “woody lilies” like agaves and yuccas. There are many useful species in this group. I’m not aware of any prickly pears with inedible fruit or pads, for example – though many are so small or spiny as to be not worth the trouble. A form of O. phaeacantha called “Mesa Sky” is noted for having particularly good fruit, while O. basilaris var. aurea is relatively spineless for nopale (edible cactus pad) production. I’m unaware of improved agaves or banana yuccas but would love to see people out there testing, selecting, and propagating them!
swollen base cooked just before flowering
Cylindropuntia imbricata, C. whippleyi
Echinocereus engelmannii, E. stramineus
Mammillaria heyderi, M. wrightii
Opuntia basilaris, O. englemannii, O. fragilis, O. macrocentra, O. phaeacantha, O. polyacantha
prickly pear cacti
fruit, nopale vegetable pads
living fence (some)
cooked fruit, fiber
The region excels in edible roots. Though I’ve not included them here, Nold lists a hundred or so plants in the aster family, which attract beneficial insects.
Edible Forest Gardens and Commercial Food Forestry
Saturday, June 28, 2014 to Thursday, July 3, 2014
Huntington, VT USA
Want to learn about edible forest gardens, agroforestry, and commercial food forest business development for cold, humid climates? This is the workshop for you! Choose from an introductory weekend and an advanced six-day intensive. For more information or to register click here.
Part 1 – Home Scale Introduction to Forest Gardens June 28th – June 29th
Edible forest gardens are edible ecosystems that mimic the structure and function of natural forests, while producing food and other useful products. Trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and fungi work together in polycultures to create low-maintenance gardens or larger productive landscapes. Learn simple guidelines, based on real experience, for designing “polycultures” of several species. Small group design exercises will give participants the information necessary to create beneficial ecosystems and fruitful harvests in their own forest gardens. We’ll profile regionally adapted species, give general tips for growing perennial vegetables, and discuss the larger context of perennial agriculture’s contribution to sustainability.
Part 2 Commercial Food Forestry – (Includes Introduction to Forest Gardens) June 28th – July 3rd
This portion of the workshop discusses enterprise options (products and services), marketing strategies, equipment and infrastructure requirements for regenerative perennial farming systems. Additionally, Eric will present case studies of food forest businesses. Get to know hardy perennial crops ready for commercial production. We’ll focus on lesser-known species including perennial vegetables with commercial potential for marketing to restaurants, farmers’ markets, and particularly for CSA’s – including perennial salad crops, braising greens, broccolis, edible shoots and cut flowers, with coverage of a few nuts and fruits. As a bonus Eric will discuss his forthcoming book Carbon Farming: A Global Toolkit for Stalization with Tree Crops.
Eric Toensmeier has studied and practiced permaculture since 1990. He is the author of two award-winning books: Perennial Vegetables (2007) and Edible Forest Gardens (2005, with Dave Jacke). His latest book is Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City (2013, with Jonathan Bates). Eric is an expert on the world’s useful perennial crops. He has run an urban farm project and a seed company, and taught and consulted throughout the Americas in English and Spanish. His current project is a book: Carbon Farming: A Global Toolkit for Stabilizing the Climate with Tree Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices.
Vermont Edible Landscapes
Vermont Edible Landscape, LLC is a land planning business focused on the development of agro-ecosystems. We work with our clients to design, install and establish ecologically regenerative landscapes. We approach land management through an agrarian lens utilizing a variety of diverse biological disciplines. Our services include: Site Evaluation, Planning and Development.