Monday, March 8, 2010

Biodiversity and the Edible Landscape

Many home gardeners limit their crops to maybe a few tomato plants and perhaps some strawberries or a small herb garden.  Although this is a great start I would encourage these gardeners to look for more opportunities to replace purely decorative plants with varieties of plants that bring nutrition and sustenance and the benefits of reduced trips to the store to purchase produce.

A very good way to do this is to look at the landscape like a landscaper. Divide the yard into three stories.  The floor is the story of the landscape that includes ground covers, ferns, mosses and low growing plants.  The second story of the home landscape is the overgrowth which includes shrubs, large plants, vines and brambles. The canopy is the final story of the landscape.  This story is basically trees.

When a gardener walks out into their green spaces they should look for opportunities to include plants that fill all three of these levels in order to create a design that looks natural.  This type of planning is effective because it surrounds the observer in vegetation transporting them away from the hard urban forms that compose most of the scenery throughout their day. This aesthetic is also functional as it allows the gardener to create a microclimate with placement opportunities for greater varieties of plants.

This use of space will automatically increase your biodiversity because you are seeking out plants that produce nutrition and that fill a role within your design.  Tucking in an extra few strawberry plants between the rock retaining wall and the pathway below it or placing an espaliered apple tree against a garden shed are examples of such planning.


Be aware of shadows cast by trees. When planting your dwarf orchard be aware of the canopy and it's shade.  Get a twelve foot piece of PVC and hold it vertically where you plan on planting your tree.  Observe where the end of the shadow falls.  Repeat this process throughout a single day morning, noon and night.  Record your results and then do this day pattern over a four month summer period starting in April.  I know that this puts planting that orchard off for a year but careful observation and planting will allow you to take advantage of every square inch of your usable space.

Every safety railing or piece of wrought iron is a trellis.  View every piece of decorative iron and every safety railing as an opportunity to support a grape, kiwi, or pole bean.  Do not underestimate the value of these ready made supports in creating food opportunities.

Find edible flowers. Edible landscapes can include amazing flowers and spring displays.  Day-lilies, Jerusalem Artichoke, Cherry tree blossoms, Sunflowers, Cone Flower, Roses, Arugula, Lavender, Nasturtiums, Marigolds,  Crocus  for harvesting saffron, Clover, Bachelors Buttons, and the controversial dandelion are all edible and add color to the garden.

Consider insect diversity. Bees offer good pollination and honey. Lady bugs and Lady birds control harmful insects as do mantis, mud daubers, wasps, masons bees, lacewings, predatory mites, mealy bug destroyer, and beneficial nematodes.  Some of these can be introduced into your gardens and landscapes and will self sustain offering years of protection.

Be willing to experiment. Cold hardiness zones and soil types are guidelines that should receive some consideration.  However, testing a sample plant now and then might yield unexpected results and opportunities for greater diversity.  Try new and unusual varieties of annual vegetables as well as trees and shrubs.  Be willing to accept some losses and test the boundaries of commonly accepted local gardening advice.

Consider Dioecious Fruit Trees. Instead of using self pollinators consider the two variety option where there is room to do so.  This practice forces the gardener to increase the biodiversity and resilience of their garden. It may be necessary to graft additional varieties onto existing trees where space is limited in order to gain the same benefits.

Look at plant limitations as opportunities. Instead of looking at a label or planting guidelines as a limitation change your thinking into the question: "Where would this work in my garden?" this simple shift in thinking can reveal ways of filling up those nooks and crannies of unused space and increase your yield.

Research, Research, Research. I find new and interesting plants everyday that I am ready to add to my edible landscape and I encourage readers of my blog to share what they know with me or anybody else I enjoy learning everything I can about new edible varieties that will survive in my climate.

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