Friday, April 22, 2023 (Earth Day) – I am in the process of digging up two large beds of garlic, so that I can rebuild the beds and plant them with vegetables. But, what will I do with all this garlic?
I’ll relocate some to serve as companion plants for select fruits and vegetables. Garlic has a strong odor that deters garden pests. It can repel cabbage worms, Japanese beetles, moths and aphids away from cabbage and kale. It can even help deter rabbits and deer.
In addition, garlic bulbs release sulfur into the soil, which helps to reduce fungal infections in nearby plants and fruit trees. For example, garlic is known to reduce potato blight and apple scab.
Garlic is an essential perennial plant for both permaculture and medicinal gardening.
Among its many health benefits for people, garlic is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer. Garlic also a natural blood thinner, however, people should avoid it before surgery, and people on blood thinner medication also need to be cautious.
Garlic provides the culinary benefits of distinct flavor and versatility, and it stores well.
I use a lot of garlic in my cooking. For example, I harvest Rosemary buds and Garlic scapes in July to infuse with olive oil. After pouring the olive oil into a double boiler, I add the flowers, rolling the rosemary between my palms to release the oils and crumbling the garlic scape flowers with my fingers.
Then I heat the oil and flower/bud mixture in the double boiler for ten minutes, turn off the heat, and let the mixture sit for an hour, before straining out the herbs and decanting the oil into a clean bottle.
Still, I have far more garlic than needed, and I am ready to share the abundance with interested neighbors.
My fascination with fiddleheads and ferns began around the time I was creating my Fiddlesticks story CD, which is about slowing down and taking time to see and appreciate God’s creative work through nature. Learn more about the CD here. Now, as I consider options for shade-tolerant plants to include in the ground cover layer of our food forest garden, I have been taking time to research ferns more extensively. Here is what I now know:
A few fern species are edible during their fiddlehead stage, however, most species are toxic. Fiddleheads are the tightly coiled tender green tips that unfurl in the spring to become fern fronds. Fiddleheads are so named because they resemble the scrolled end of fiddle or violin. The time for foraging them is brief. Wait too long, and the fiddleheads will have already opened into the feathery fronds of mature ferns, and they will be inedible. As ferns mature, they become more toxic.
The fiddleheads of the Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, are edible. Their bright green coils are covered with thin, brown, papery scales, which will fall away as the frond unfurls. Ostrich Ferns are also distinguished by a deep U-shaped groove in the inside stem. Ostrich Fern fiddleheads should be well-rinsed with cold water and fully cooked before adding them to salads and other dishes. In fact, it is best to blanch fiddleheads in boiled water even before sautéing or cooking in other preparations.
Ostrich Fern fiddleheads are prized for their crunchy texture and delicate flavor, which is somewhere in the range of asparagus, broccoli and spinach. Nutritionally, fiddleheads contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, iron, manganese and copper.
I started a small fern nursery, with specimens I should be able to propagate and transplant to other areas of our property. Propagation is the process of using one or more plants make more plants of its kind. To establish the nursery, I sheet mulched a shady area outside our kitchen window, and I splurged on the purchase of two mature Ostrich Ferns at a local garden center.
The ferns beautify the area, however, there was still a lot of empty space around them, and my husband suggested buying and planting five more. I would love to, however, it would be more costly. Instead, I have chosen to be patient; I will wait and order some ferns online in the early spring. bThose plants will be smaller and less developed, but far less costly.
Alternatively, I could be even more patient and wait for my two ferns to self-propagate naturally. Ferns self-propagate in two ways. They can propagate sexually by reproducing and scattering spores. Not seeds, but spores. For a gardener to create the right conditions for fern spores to germinate and develop into a new fern takes a lot of patience and care. This is, however, the best way to propagate large numbers of new ferns.
Ferns can also propagate asexually, also known as vegetative propagation. Most ferns, after they grow from spores, will begin to spread by means of their creeping rhizomes, the root system that spreads underground. Over time one plant can grow into a colony. For gardeners, vegetative propagation is as easy as physically dividing a fern pant in half, carefully separating clumps of roots and replanting them. This method is easier than growing ferns from spores. Unlike with spore propagation, each new plant will be a clone, genetically identical to the original plant.
Through the vegetative method, gardeners can speed along the propagation of many perennial species. Berry plants can be propagated by cutting shoots and treating them to grow roots. By learning vegetative propagation skills, gardeners can dramatically increase their food forest abundance.
I have plenty of time to experiment with fern propagation, since fruit trees will require some years to grow. The trees will need to grow big enough to be able to produce sufficient shade and moisture to support a flourishing ground cover of ferns.
Two weeks ago, I walked the property of a local fruit grower, Narrow Lane Orchard, which is a family-owned farm. I have been buying Narrow Lane Orchard fruit at my local farmer’s market for a few years now, and finally took the time to go visit the orchard, which is only five miles away from our house. It has taken me far too long to get around to doing this.
About this orchard… back in 2004 Stephen and Sharon Grenier purchased Narrow Lane Orchard to save the 30 acre farm from being developed into residential homes. Expanding the farm’s diversity of trees, shrubs and vines, the Greniers have grown more than 20 varieties of apples, peaches, nectarines, blackberries, blueberries and kiwi berries.
The orchard itself is surrounded by 8-foot tall deer fencing to protect the trees. Visitors enter the orchard through a gate situated next to the orchard’s farm stand. My favorite feature of the farm is the one-mile Nature Trail that winds around through the woods surrounding the orchard and outside the fencing. Here I saw lush green ferns growing everywhere. I have never seen so many ferns in all my life. I felt as if I was walking through a prehistoric forest. This landscape was a clear testament to the fern’s ability to self-propagate, and it was an indication that I could indeed grow ferns beneath the tree canopy on our property.
While researching ferns, I discovered they are one of the oldest groups of plants on Earth, with a fossil record dating back almost 400 million years. Back in the time of the dinosaurs, ferns were actually the main food source for the herbivorous sauropods, the largest animals ever to walk the earth. Ferns also played a vital role in plant evolution, specifically in the development of vascular tissue. Without the development of plant vascular tissue, we would not have berry bushes and fruit trees.
The fern category of plants, due to its long-lived presence on earth, is highly diverse, having evolved into the 10,500 living species that inhabit the earth today. Ferns tend to grow in moist, shady areas among the trees of the forest, which provide the ferns with protection from wind, over exposure to sunlight, and excess heat from the sun. Some species, however, can grow in desert climates.
Within a forest community, ferns have their own important ecological roles. They provide shelter, shade and food to small animals. Bracken ferns are eaten in the fiddlehead stage in the springtime by white-tailed deer and eastern cottontail rabbits with little consequence. As these fern grows into adults, however, their fronds begin to produce toxins, and they become unpalatable. At the same time, insects like grasshoppers and snails can eat adult ferns on a regular basis, despite the increased toxicity. Generally, plants produce toxins as a defensive measure, so they can grow and propagate.
One final fern fact, that bares further research, is their ability to uptake heavy metals from the soil. They can be planted to heal contaminated environments. I think that’s very cool!
I begin each day meditating on the Daily Word and its associated affirmations. Today’s word, Generous, came with a message that relates directly to Abundance: “As I give, I share God’s abundance… I always have all that I need to live abundantly, and I share my abundance with others joyfully and freely. I give generously of my resources, talents, and skills,.. I am generous with praise, gratitude, and encouragement. Whenever I give without thought of reciprocation, I center myself in the divine flow.”
I’m thinking about how generosity can flow from my association with Food Forest Abundance. I dream of growing a forest garden full of fruit to share with everyone around me. Considering the example I can set through this endeavor, I begin writing about my own garden adventures to inspire others and show them simple actions they can take to begin growing their own joyful abundance.
Over the past few years, I have struggled to grow a conventional vegetable garden in our front yard. Chipmunks and rabbits wriggled through the fence to nibble away at the bush bean sprouts. Deer reached over the fence to chomp on the kale and cucumbers. Bugs chewed holes in the cabbage and lettuce leaves. At the end of each season, my meager harvest was hardly worth all the time I put into planting, watering and weeding. And so, last year I let the garden “go to weed,” and began reading books about food forest gardening.
This summer the mint runners have run rampant and displaced many of the weeds. In fact, I have an overabundance of mint. What can I do with it? I steep bunches of mint in hot water and then chill it down, and the result is “the most refreshing summer iced tea ever.” Mint freshens the breath and releases compounds that have antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, making this an ideal herb aiding both digestive and immune systems.
I can also welcome neighbors to come grab some mint and pull it up by the roots. Take it home and transplant it into pots to keep it under control. But come quick! I will be taking down the fence and covering the ground with sheet mulching to get rid of the weeds and the mint that has grown beyond my control.
I will layer damp corrugated cardboard, compost, dead leaves and wood chips over the area. I will smother away the weeds and improve the quality of the soil, as well as the soil’s ability to retain water. Then I will plant, grow and propagate a variety of perennial herbs and berries in this very same space. When they grow out of control, my plan is to share generously with friends and neighbors.
We decided it would be a good idea to thin out the trees in our wooded lot, to allow more sunlight in to support the growth of understory fruit trees and berry bushes. Arborist Matthew “Twig” Largess came to look over the situation and make some recommendations. Matt pointed out a number of Norway Maple trees. He explained that they were invasive and removing them should be a priority.
Non-native Norway Maples can be easily mistaken for native Sugar Maples. Imported from England in the early 1700’s to use as a shade tree, Norway maple is a popular urban tree. Unfortunately, Norway trees are harmful to the environment. They grow faster than native maples and displace them. Norway Maple canopies are more dense. They leaf out earlier in the spring and drop foliage later in the fall. Native species are unable to survive under the Norway maple’s dense shade.
In addition, Norway Maple leaves contain a toxic latex that harms insects and pollinators. They also have dense, shallow root systems, which release poisonous chemicals into the soil. This makes it difficult for native seedlings to take root and thrive.
So how does one tell the difference between the two types of maple tree?
Norway maple leaves have more lobes, typically 5-7, compared with the sugar maple’s 3-5.
The front 3 lobes of the Norway Maple leaves are often wider at the base, and the front three lobes of the Sugar Maple often widen toward the tip.
Norway Maple leaves are a darker green.
The leaf differences are subtle, so the best way to identify the tree is to remove a leaf, stalk and all, from its stem. Norway Maple leaf stalks exude a milky white sap if cut or plucked.
Norway Maple flowers appear in rounded upright clusters. Sugar Maple flowers droop down.
Norway Maple’s winged pair of seeds, samaras, spread more horizontally when hanging, and the seed flat. The Sugar Maple’s samaras are downward-oriented when hanging, and the seed is round rather than flat.
Sugar Maples are more colorful in the autumn than Norway Maples.
I took a walk around to neighborhood in search of a Sugar Maple and saw not a one. I did, however, see dozens of Norway Maple trees. I finally found a Sugar Maple at nearby Goddard State Park.
Sugar Maple is tapped for maple syrup, making it a likely candidate for a food forest. Furthermore, the plump seeds of the Sugar Maple samaras are edible. Seeds harvested during spring will be sweeter than those harvested later. If the seeds are bitter in their raw form, they can be roasted with a coating of oil or boiled in water (~15 min) to dissipate the bitterness.
Once the Norway Maples are removed, I’m thinking it would be nice to plant some Sugar Maples at the roadside edge of the wooded lot. I checked the Arbor Day website, and, as a member, I can order 3-4′ saplings for $15.99 each. Sounds like a plan.
Thursday, July 7, 2022 – I’ve been waiting patiently, and, lo’ and behold, the first wild raspberry of the season popped out today, with a promise of culinary abundance to come.
What’s more, my Rosemary is in flower. Raspberry and Rosemary, sweet and savory, pair well together. I found recipes online for Raspberry-Rosemary Lemonade, Raspberry-Rosemary Scones and Raspberry-Rosemary Jam Bars. While awaiting the fruition of this years raspberry harvest, I decided to infuse some olive oil with rosemary flowers and buds. And, since my garlic scapes are also in flower, I added some of those.
After pouring olive oil in a double boiler, I added the flowers, rolling the rosemary between my palms to release the oils and crumbling the garlic scape flowers apart with my fingers. I heated the oil and flower/bud mixture for ten minutes, and then turned off the heat and to let it all sit for an hour. Then I strained out the herbs and decanted the infusion into a clean bottle. Once I can gather a cup of raspberries, I will use them to make raspberry vinegar from scratch. The ultimate goal here is Raspberry-Rosemary Salad Dressing.
Besides being a versatile culinary ingredient, rosemary is a natural insect repellent, making it valuable for food forest and organic gardening. Aromatic plants are a safer alternative than chemical pesticides. They are better for health and better for the environment.
Raspberry and Rosemary are only the beginning of my Food Forest Adventure. I am an Abundance Ambassador for Food Forest Abundance. This week we received our blueprint to replace our front lawn with forest full of natural culinary abundance, and THAT is just the beginning. I invite you tofollow my journey around and into the forest, here and through my Story Walking Radio Hour.