Winter hardy, challenging-soil loving, perennial vegetables that are some of our favorite foods. Perfect for the ground level of your food forest or to mix in easily with a flower garden.
Folks who want food forests in Central Wyoming ask what food perennials can be planted at ground level? These are the two are the best. I have both of these in my Refuge Garden.
The asparagus in my Refuge Garden are the first food to appear, usually in late March, over night. About the same time the ducks start laying… fresh asparagus-duck egg omelette to celebrate spring is amazing. The other amazing thing is that asparagus seems to be perfectly happy in this ancient, clay sea-bottom. That having been said, that clay needs to be kept very wet – by rain, or melting snow or you watering – or the spear tips are damaged and growth is challenged.
Asparagus from seed will take five years to build a root system and then produces tiny little spears for a year or two before you can harvest. Asparagus do not like to be transplanted and will take another few years to recover and produce. Once your roots produce spears at least the size of your little finger you can harvest 50% of the spears. Leave 50% to feed the roots for next season and to produce the beautiful, flowing fern-like leaves and tiny bright orange fruits. The first snow will lay the fronds over and they provide cover for the roots through winter, maintaining some moisture in the soil. Lady bugs love the dropped tiny dry leaf mulch as a nesting and rearing habitat for babies (and their babies are voracious bad-bug eaters!!) My ducks also love to nest under the fronds, blending so well I sometimes don’t even know they are there. But ducks like fresh asparagus too, so they go into the garden only after harvest.
Rhubarb is a vegetable but we tend to treat it like a fruit. I add it to chokecherry juice for jams and jellies. I use it to make a rhubarb liqueur that is stunningly easy to make and so warm and good on a winter night. I harvest about half of the leaves, remove the leaf part (remember that the leaves can be toxic, even leaving rashes on your bare hands), wash the stalk in cold water, slice, bag and freeze for use later. We do have a type of rust that can attack some rhubarb plants turning them bright yellow/red/organge/brown. You would need to remove the whole plant and root and surrounding soil and do not replant rhubarb in that spot. But it would still be a great spot for other plants like raspberry, currant, chokecherry. The rust likes the rhubarb. I have only lost one plant in 20 years to the rust and it came in on the inexpensive rhubarb crown I bought. Lesson Learned: quality = longevity. The crowns I will have this year are disease resistant.
Asparagus Roots 5 to a bundle $12.50 per bundle
Rhubarb Crowns $12.50 per crown
Available in the Caper Wyoming area only. To reserve your roots and crowns contact me for more information by sending a Comment with email or text phone number, or text 307.262.8043 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Special Order Plant for 2022: Elderberry ** How Do We Love Thee! : Wine, Jams, Pies, Pancake Syrup, and Floral Spring Teas: The flavors and healing properties, the form and texture of the leaves and the fragile umbrellas of white to creamy flowers – I have several plants in my gardens: native North American, Samdal and Samyal varieties. Pollination is best with different types in your food forest or garden.
Wondering about the medicinal qualities of elderberry? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a research study on polyphenols in elderberry at this site:
Be aware: Do not eat elderberries raw. They contain a toxic substance that is neutralized with cooking. This is true of many wild fruits. So before going out to harvest on the mountain or a nearby creek, do a little homework.
In good years you will collect pounds. But a day of rain or severe wind timed just as the flowers are ready will dampen production. (This is why permaculture teaches temporal and spatial planning.) The perfect spot would be an area near the house, or shed or barn, or in among established trees and shrubs, usually on the northeast side, that never has wind, has limited sun and always seems a little damp? Perfect for elderberry. In the wild it lives in the protection and partial shadow of taller, stronger shrubs and trees.
Samdal and Samyal
Five gallon $22.50
Two gallon $17.50
To reserve your plants for Spring 2022 you will need to place a deposit of half the cost
Contact me through Comments here, or Messenger, or Text a message to 307.262.8043
Why Natives? The Wyoming Sunflower
Helianthus maximilani or the Perennial Sunflower will soon be gracing every
open space, every road barrow pit, and my garden. Why my garden?
- Nothing is like the warm, golden color of these natives.
- Fast Food for the Road: The flowers feed late pollinators, preparing them
for migration, hibernation or egg-laying. Seeded flower heads feed migrating
song birds as they head south for winter.
- Disguised: The “flower head” is actually hundreds of tiny flowers. Look
- The Good Bugs: Our native sunflower attracts one very special pollinator:
the bee fly (I love this name ~ Bombyliidae). You’ve seen them. Fuzzy little
flies with a long proboscis that looks like a stinger, but is used to take nectar.
These little insects will fill the centers of the sunflowers, their legs and fuzzy
bodies packed with golden pollen. And here is the ecological role of these
peaceful creatures: The Bomby is able to detect small holes in the soil where
grasshoppers have laid their eggs. The Bomby bee fly hovers over the hole
and drops its own eggs into that hole. The Bomby larva hatch first and
consume the grasshopper eggs. I love native team members. The first and
most important practice in permaculture is observation. Observation is done
to understand and apply what nature has developed over tens of thousands
of years. This reduces waste of resources and introduction of toxins or other
human long-term damage. As practitioners we support, even encourage natural processes. And so every year I collect the native sunflower seeds and
strategically plant them in the gardens near the fruit shrubs, and I offer them
water so that they will grow strong.
- Yummy: Collect the little sunflower heads when they have gone to seed.
Remove the sepals, or leaves, from around the flower head. Brush oil – like
olive flavored with garlic or sesame oil. Bake or grill the entire flower head.
The flower head will soften and then it can be eaten whole.
My cows are less appreciative of the gifts of the sunflower. They simply put the entire flowerhead in their mouth and pull the crunchiness in, crushing the sweet oily goodness.
One beautiful fourteen inch tall chickpea plant, bright fingered leaves of a legume…tiny dragon-faced flowers… she was the only survivor of last year’s chickpea experiment. She gave me six little chickpeas.
This year I have more hope and more experience, and a new plan. Soon the shelves in my greenhouse will be full of one gallon pots, planted with dry garbanzo seeds. They will get a full 100 days of growth. I will move the plants to a bed when they reach 5-6 inches tall and space them about six inches apart so they are close enough to support each other as the pods begin the weigh the leaves down. They will get more bare, poor soil; legumes live to give. Like my Mother Grape Vine – all of us, really – require a struggle to fruit.
The chickpea plants will get watered very little after they reach 4 inches tall. They will have a clear plastic tent and I promise to watch the weather for cold temperatures ~ snow in June; of course. The plants are frost tolerant and in fact they like things under 80 degrees. Four to six successful plants should provide me with lots of hummus ~ protein, fiber, vitamin C and all the benefits for my body of olive oil, cumin, lemon and the favorite bits: marinated artichoke, Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, smoked trout, homemade basil pesto. Pita bread with just a few flakes of black pepper.
The Basics Into The Amazing: Basic Hummus
Add just a sprinkle of baking soda to the water
Low, long boil for the chickpeas from dried beans only
Beans are ready when the skins are peeling off in the water and they can be mashed with your fingers
Do not over cook
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15 oz can)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 medium clove of garlic
½ tsp salt
½ cup tahini
If you have any question about your homemade tahini, this is the ingredient you want to spend money on.
Cold water – dribble in to hummus to help make it smooth
And the second most important ingredient in Hummus: tahini. The flavor is so important that I may cheat and buy tahini. I will plant sesame seeds. I will harvest the seeds. Needs shift. Back in Grandma Helen’s day a woman would sit on the porch and remove the hulls of peas, beans and seeds. A cuisine meditation. Then women left the home to work. The cost of living climbed. Money bought the services of foreign women to prepare these kinds of things. Machines took the work.
But in “retirement” – which only means I don’t go into an office to work – I can sit in front of the woodstove next fall and remove the damp hulls from the sesame seeds. I will roast them and store them in jars in the dark cool shelves. If I can grow them….it’s all an experiment.
Nature knows. Sesame seed plants also want poor soil, dry conditions, no help. The two plants will be planted together. I will trim leaves from the chickpeas to release nitrogen into the soil for the sesame. The two will bloom almost together.
Tahini can be made with hulled or unhulled seeds
Soak the seeds, pat dry, remove the hulls by hand. Leaving the hulls on can give the end product a bitter taste.
To make the tahini you can hand grind or use a small food processor to create a cream of the seeds.
Drizzle oil into ground seeds. Olive oil is usually used, but try other oils like avocado.
Add salt to taste.
Pumpkin, pickled and frozen beets, pinto beans, chickpeas, sesame, garlic, grapes, chokecherries, currants, buffaloberries, rose hips, elderberries in “perfect timing” years…. It is always an experiment; the weather is never ever predictable. But there is such a full, sweet feeling working with the plants, preparing the fruits and seeds and the warm fragrance in the cabin when the meals are in the oven. I will always have a grocery list, but something more and something different every year makes the moment so much more full of comfort… compensation for the muck, the sore muscles, the scratches and scrapes, the never-quite-clean fingernails, the snowstorms…I’m planting the chickpeas in the next couple weeks, but I’m saving half of the seeds to make my first homemade hummus. Ill post a photo and how that experiment goes.
For now: the cows are still stuck near the shed in pools of MUCK. So it’s time to take them a little hay, some grains and try to move them away. The ducks go into their shelters when I ask them; they are just starting to lay (duck eggs make pumpkin custard so rich). And the snow drifts are just beginning to evaporate. Next week I will also be collecting more willow cuttings for new trees, planting some in the wet drain ditches and selling some to a long-time customer. And I might even get a chance to work on my paintings. Escape garden rules. Plant something to feed the family; plant something new to feed the mind; plant something that feeds your heart….but do it all inside, for now.
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” One of the most frequently used lines from any movie ever made (The Silence of the Lambs; Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter). Not only in the film arts but in the history of human cuisine, the fava bean has been and still is a staple for so much of the world.
Humans appreciated fava beans so much that they brought them home from the wild. Wild Vicia faba or Faba / Fava Beans were growing in the Lower Galilee of what is now Israel at least 14,000 years ago according to radiocarbon dating of plant material found at archeological sites. The first domestication has been found for Neolithic farmers 10,200 years ago. (Source: Caracuta, Science Reports, 2016)
Fava or Faba beans are a legume; when the beans are harvested the plant releases nitrogen from nodules in the roots and that nitrogen feeds surrounding plants. The bean is used to make falafel, similar to chickpeas, also known as garbanzo. An interesting twist in this relationship is that some humans have a genetic defect which causes red blood cell breakdown by a chemical in fava beans. It’s very rare and seems to be mainly in those of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent – the population that originally tamed the bean. It is believed to have caused 33,000 deaths in 2015.
There are many reasons that humans were moved to bring the plants they gathered in the wild close to their dwellings. Those reasons may include: finding safety from predators – animal or other humans; closer to a water source to have more consistent growth and production; religious or cultural rules, such as women going out alone to gather food; and isolation driven by plagues, such as the Black Plague (Bubonic plague; bacterial; spread by fleas). Closer their shelters, the humans assisted those plants by cultivation. Observation and accident led to crop rotation, dried food, seed collection and intentional planting, and seasonal recognition ~ when to plant, when they flourish, harvest.
I ran a test with Chickpeas last year, hoping to be able to make homemade hummus and falafel over winter. I found that they honestly need 100 days and hot dry weather. So this year I will be starting them inside, then to greenhouse until our temperatures get up into the 70 degrees F.
And a medical note: If you are on MAO inhibitors DO NOT eat liver, fava beans or wine. They cancel out the medications. This was an inside “joke” in The Silence of the Lambs: Dr. Lecter’s psychotic episodes could have been exacerbated by his diet.
“Food forest” is one of those permaculture terms that always feels like the secret language of only special people with special knowledge. Folks, it’s a windbreak, a privacy hedge, a hedgerow in the oldest sense. But it is a well-thought out windbreak or hedge. One that fits with the terrain, and the human, and the resources. It is truly organic, rising from the environment. Why do I keep the lowest branches and suckers trimmed up? To let the sun in on the lower plants and to be able to see the gliding markings of the local snakes including the rattlers. One moved in about two weeks ago. Almost four feet long, I saw him twice before the field of fire near the cabin was clear to safely move him on to his next incarnation. My knees started to shake ten minutes later, while his head was still moving, looking for a target. Building habitat does not mean pretending to talk to the animals. I love my 6 foot bullsnakes; they supervise me daily as I water in the nursery. Permaculture or “back to the land” does not mean drinking some Earth Mother KoolAid.
I’m posting some short videos on the Tara Farm and Nursery YouTube channel on my “food forests” here in the Great High and Dry Wind Corridor of Central Wyoming. This one is Number 2, so when you are there take a look at the first video as well (Food Forest: Tier One). Number III will be on the groundcover that I use and why. The information can be applied to a city lot, a suburban property or on the rural homestead. #thegardenisnotclosed !! Just ask the snakes….
All Together Now: Free Remote Consults Beginning March 30
Text, Email or Messenger & Get Discounts
Every spring I get texts (got one today!!), emails and phone calls with questions on plants, gardens, water, soil and design projects.
Starting March 30, 2020 I will be taking questions and brainstorming by text, email, Facebook Messenger or by message from the The Refuge Permaculture Center website (www.tarafarmandnursery.com).
You can attach photos or videos to texts and emails (bigger files are better on emails.)
[“I had leaves! Where did my leaves go??” “Is the ground wet?” “Yes.” “What do you see in the mud?” “Oh. Deer tracks. Never mind. Thanks.” ]
The NEW part is that everyone I work with remotely will also receive a 15% discount on the following:
Plants and Seeds from the Nursery
On Site Consultations
Concept and Design Work
Classes (except for OLLI classes through Casper College)
Full Design and Installation Planning
So any time after 8:00 a.m. on March 30, 2020 reach out! I will answer your question or get back to you for discussion as soon as possible. I will then add your name and contact information to the discount and email list so that you can receive messages about upcoming events.
Visits to The Refuge: Later this summer (depending on the status of my little friends the grasshoppers) I will be opening up for small tours – either individuals or up to five in a group; (hugging or kissing of plants only!!)
“What About Classes?”: I am also working on adding narration to some of my PowerPoint presentations and packaging them for viewing online. The cost of access will include the above discounts as well as free remote consults.
“Will You Be At Natrona County Master Gardeners Farmers Market This Year?”: If things continue to go well, I am still hoping to set up a plant sale in town late this summer or early fall (which is still a great time to plant perennial shrubs and grasses.) It may not be at the Ag Ext building, but I will post locations. (Possibly Tractor Supply if public gatherings seem safe by then.)
The Earth Abides, and so will we, with planning, creativity and calm.