I think I’ve always had a tendency to dream big. Let’s face it, if the dream is big enough and only half of it comes true, it was still well worth dreaming it. And as for miracles, well I suspect every gardener believes in miracles. The act of putting a few tiny specks of seeds into the ground and watching them grow into food enough to feed the family and half the neighbourhood, that is truly miraculous in my book.
Although I’ve been growing food for years now, the process still amazes me and hope it always does. Looking out at the frozen wasteland that is my garden I wonder how it will ever transform into an edible jungle, but I’m dreaming big and trusting in miracles. It’s always worked in the past.
Okay, so perhaps I’ve oversimplified things a bit. There are a few necessary steps involved to help things on their way.
One is planning and this is the best time to begin. Some seeds need to be started very early, ground cherries being one example. I mentioned the bumper harvest we got from just a few plants, in the last post. They’ve stored remarkably well and recently I discovered that they bake into a wonderful pie. I added raisins (about half and half) but almost no sugar and it was delicious. Just another reason to grow ground cherries and this is where the planning comes in. They need to be started very early in order to produce a harvest, in northern climates at least, and if seed needs to be purchased, now is the time to source it. For some reason it’s not that easy to find, and seldom seen in a typical garden center.
This year we are trying a couple of new things. Plants we’ve never even seen, never mind grown and a couple of these also require an early start. They also require a certain justification in a permaculture plan because the introduction of non-native species is not normally advised. It’s a question of balance, of how to set up a viable food forest in a climate where most nut bearing and many soft-fruit bearing trees won’t survive. We have chosen Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium), Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), Camas (Camassia quamash) and Groundnut (Apios americana), to experiment with. I’m not much for using botanical names but in this case it’s important to be sure you’re getting the right plant. Sea Buckthorn might easily be mistaken for Buckthorn, a highly invasive non-desirable, for instance.
Of course it’s too early to know how well they will perform but I wanted to mention them now in order to give a heads up for others who might be planning to add to or establish their own food forest. Now’s the time to source and acquire seeding stock.
They all sound very exciting! Yellowhorn, a small tree or large shrub originates from Northern China, so I’m thinking it should survive our winters okay. It bears beautiful white flowers in Spring and lime-sized fruit in Summer. The seeds look like chestnuts and taste like Macadamia nuts. I’m sold!
Sea Buckthorn also comes originally from China and Russia. As well as producing remarkably nutritious orange berries it is useful for erosion control in sandy soil. Camas is apparently common on the North West coast and has long been valued by native peoples for its sweet root. It also has an attractive blue flower in Spring.
Groundnut is apparently quite common in Eastern North America, and is in fact a native here, (Nova Scotia) and a traditional carbohydrate source for First Nations Peoples. I, on the other hand had never heard of it until recently, and assuming there might be a few others out there who are similarly unenlightened: it’s vine-like, with underground stems that swell into chains of tubers. These tubers have three times the protein of regular potatoes, and they also serve as a nitrogen fixer. Wow! I love it already.
And from Dreaming back to Reality, as we seem trapped in an endless cycle of blizzards and Nor’easters it’s very satisfying to go into the basement and discover some hastily stored leeks have remained green, along with the parsnips that look as if they were newly dug. Leek and potato soup, fried parsnips and homemade bread. Old Man Winter hasn’t got the upper hand yet!
And this time the ducks get the last word. We gathered the first duck egg of the year this week. A sure sign that Spring is just around the corner. Granted it was frozen solid but even so, definitely a forerunner of what we’re all longing for just about now.