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Why You Should Rethink Food Growing

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

 

My entire business is about living farm fresh without the farm. That means

  • Capitalizing on seasonal flavors of locally sourced food
  • Preserving and food crafting that flavor
  • Exploring ways to produce your own food no matter how small your space.

And it is that last item that I want to talk about.

Most people think that food growing means planting a vegetable garden with boring rows of vegetables.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Go From Boring to Breathtaking:

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

I have been small-space homesteading on 1/10th of an acre for over 20 years now and I have NEVER planted my veggies in rows.

It just never felt right to me.

After all, it’s not farmland.  It’s my home garden!

I have always strived to make my landscape pretty AND productive even though my space is small.

And therein lies the issue.

When people don’t have a lot of space, they think they can’t grow food.

They have this image in their head that they need to plant rows of vegetables to be productive.

Although there is nothing wrong with rows of vegetables, I just don’t think it lends itself to the home landscape with our oddly shaped planting areas.

Instead, I challenge you to think of your edible plants in the same way as any other plant in your landscape.

Designing with food has been known as “edible landscaping” for a long time. Now the new buzz word for this type of gardening is “foodscaping”.

No matter what you call it, it is not new. People like Ros Creasy have been doing it for decades and it works beautifully.

Think Differently:

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

The trick is to think of your edible plants in terms of color, texture and form.

By doing so, you open up a whole new world of gardening possibilities.

It can transform your landscape and spark a whole new love for producing food.

It is the way I have always treated my own food growing.

My landscape looks like an English cottage garden because that is the garden style I prefer.

But most people do not realize that 90% of landscape is completely edible.

4 Ways to Transform Food Landscapes

My shift in my own personal garden design began immediately after my first landscape design class in college. The class had nothing to do with edibles, but the overall ideas applied.

We were taught that basic landscape design principles hold true no matter the size of the garden you are designing.

So we would just shrink the scale, but follow the same solid design principles utilized in larger landscapes.

It was as if a light bulb went off in my head and I started looking at my edibles as if they were not edibles as all.

There are many design principles you can utilize, but my favorites are as follows:

Color, Texture & Form:

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

When you consider adding an edible plant to your landscape, think beyond the flavor.

Look at the color, texture and even the form of that plant.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it bright green (like butterhead lettuce) or burgundy (red velvet lettuce)?
  • Are the leaves tall and spiky (chives) or rounded (spinach)?
  • Does it make you want to touch the leaves (sage) or keep back (artichoke)?

Edible Landscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

Use these traits to add some drama to the landscape with:

Echo: Create color echos throughout the garden and it will pull it all together. Just pick a few colors and repeat them. You can use the same plant in several places or different plants with the same color (like purple cabbage and purple flowered basil)

Contrast: Place contrasting textures & shapes next to each other to add interest and keep the plants from blending together. Doing this let’s each plant grouping standout and shine.

Size: Plant edibles as you would other plants with taller plants toward the back of a flowerbed and shorter plants toward the front.

Plant in Drifts:

Foodscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

A drift is the opposite of a row. It is a grouping of plants – usually laid out in an odd or random pattern.

Think of planting in the same way that you would plant bulbs (like tulips).

You place the plants randomly within your imaginary drift area so that they look as if they grew there naturally rather than in straight rows.

Tips:

  • For planting medium-sized plants in a smaller garden, you may have to create a drift of only 3 plants rather than the 7-9 plants you would use in a larger landscape.
  • For medium-sized plants, odd numbers are best.
  • For a large plant (like an artichoke) in a smaller landscape, you may have a drift of one.

Over-Planting & Baby Veggies

Edible Landscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

Spring onions between cabbage

I started “baby” veggie growing when my boys were little.

Due to their excitement and impatience in waiting for the food to get big enough to harvest, I would over plant my garden so that they could harvest some “baby” veggies early without sacrificing my entire crop.

But I soon realized that by consciously over planting and then later thinning for meals, I was doubling my use of that one small space.

Now, this is different from regular “thinning” where you pull the extra plants while they are shoots.

I let the plants grow to “baby produce” size and then thin.

This gives you things like:

  • Tender baby carrots
  • Tender, spring onions
  • Baby spinach
  • broccoli sprouts and more

Include Flowers:

Landscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

I have always felt that my colorful flowers were the secret weapons of my landscape design.

They add a pop of color to an otherwise green landscape and they help draw in pollinators to my vegetables.

It is a win-win.

If you can include some edible flowers like nasturtiums and roses, it is even better.

I use flowers as:

  • Exclamation marks to the garden. (Bright yellows and reds)
  • Complimentary color echos (Purple flowers in beds of purple cabbage)
  • The glue that ties everything together (Letting nasturtiums weave between all flowerbeds)

The Tricky Part: Crop Rotation

Where this method of food growing gets tricky for some people is with crop rotation.

In food gardening, you never want to plant the same vegetable in the same bed year after year. Doing so would eventually deplete the soil because each plant uses up its own unique set of nutrients from the soil.

A better practice is to rotate your crops each year so that your soil has a chance to recover. You can dive deeper into this topic, but that is the basic principle.

In my style of food growing, I just have to pay attention that I don’t just keep repeating a garden layout each year.

Given the fact that my garden is so small, it is fairly easy to remember where I planted things like carrots vs. green beans.

However, where this becomes frustrating is when I have a certain layout in any particular year that is a showstopper.

I SO want to plant it over again to get the same effect. But I am not able to just repeat that exact layout in that same spot the following year.

The Downside:

Edible Landscaping - LivingHomegrown.com

There is one downside to my garden.

Although I do have foundational plantings of perennials such as apple trees and herbs, most of my garden consists of annual plants.

This means that I have to completely rip out and replant most of my yard every year.

Yes, there are times when I long for a more permanent landscape that only needs sprucing up each year.

But when that first Amish paste tomato ripens in the summer heat, that thought is but a fleeting memory.

So tell me…

Are you currently growing food?

Do you plant in rows or drifts?

Let me know in the comments.

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.