Friday, February 18, 2011

Community Orchard: Edible Perennials

Our task, to bring to the second meeting of the Community Orchard of West Seattle a couple suggestions for our favorite edible perennials. When I think of planting a garden to grow food, I began thinking immediately about seed catalogs and plant starts. I think about growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and peas. These are all things we are all familiar with. These are annuals. They start entirely from scratch every year with our help and by the end of the growing season they are wilting away from their amazing laboring life leaving us with an abundance of food. But by next spring, after we've eaten our preserved share, again we must think about planting. Edible perennials are different. As a perennial grows, each year its roots grow bigger and more mature. These plants don't have to work as hard, they already have a running start at the beginning of each season. Think of the forest or the woods. These settings are where a majority of our native perennials grow including huckleberries, blueberries, and nettles. Every year their abundance comes back to us with very little effort. This can happen in our gardens as well. If you are interested in an edible landscape, planting perennials are a good way to go. Yes, continue to plant your favorite annuals, but start planting perennials as well!

So what list did the group come up with for favorite edible perennials? These are but a few suggestions- grape kiwi, strawberries, bamboo, lovage, mint, raspberries, fig, asparagus, artichokes, pear, burdock, bamboo, hops, rhubarb, ginger, hazelnuts, walnuts, sorrel, salal, lavender, mushrooms, goumi, rosemary, mulberry, grapes, and horseradish. These were the suggestions of about thirty people that attended the class last weekend. We had a fabulous time selecting perennials for the new Orchard. We followed the morning class with a homemade lunch (coleslaw, squash stew, and cornbread) and then headed outside to continue the sheet mulching from last month (converting grass to garden).

I really enjoy being a part of getting the Community Orchard of West Seattle started. I am learning so much about gardening as well as meeting some wonderful people who are passionate about food, creating strong communities, and building up food security in our city. One thing that really spoke to me in class was this idea of a place based culture. Often we rarely settle in to a place, whether it is a function of where our food is coming (somewhere else), where we work (somewhere else), or where we play (somewhere else). It is hard for us to stay put and depend on our resources at home, in our cities, or know the native species in our own backyards whether they are edible or not. Perennials are a great way to set an anchor, especially in a community orchard. It will be a place where people can continue to connect, eat, and learn for many years to come. It's been a really positive thing to already see happening!

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