I have been interested in the history of “agriculture” for some time now (mainly because I LOVE gardening and growing plants), which goes hand in hand with the history of civilization… I think that’s it’s really important to know a little bit about this history to be able to understand where and how it went wrong and how it can be reworked into a sustainable source of food and included, but not depended upon, in rewilding.
The home garden used to be a commonplace, even neccessary aspect of each household. In those times, the plants were the original “heirlooms” of today, or non-hybrid, GMO, etc., and were often adapted to the certain local climate after years and years of growing in the area, people having saved seeds and replanted year after year until a distinct strain was developed naturally. Even native peoples cultivated the land to some extent, although in those cases, it was probably less of an enclosed space, and more likely spread out through the forest, in the plants’ natural setting. Kind of like, if you find a wild patch of edibles in the forest and year after year you go back to the same spot to maintain and care for the plants to ensure a good harvest, even collecting seeds and spreading them around…
I have known about the term “permaculture” for a long time, but until recently, never truly understood the full concept of how I might make it work with my gardening interests. I have also stumbled upon the edible foraging garden idea recently, and think that this fits in nicely with my gardening interests. Mainly I want to include a lot of native edible plants in my garden, ones that are perrenial (come back every year on their own), or at least selfseeding (shedding seeds which then sprout the next season). A lot of these do include what many people think of as weeds! These plants are not only beneficial to us as a food, but also to the soil, other animals, and other plants. But I also want to include other plants that are not perrenial, lilke most vegetables we know today. Even in those cases, though, in some climates, these plants can grow year after year from seeds that sprout up after falling to the ground the previous season. We like to call them “Volunteers” and while they may not have the characteristics of the original plants (they are the first step to rewilding domesticated vegetables!), many having been cross-pollinated with other similar plants, they will often be just as tasty or useful (one example of volunteers that do not taste anything like the original plants are melons- which I heard taste terrible once cross-pollinated). It will be an experiment I want to keep track of nonetheless.
Wild plants have a considerable knack for surving and spreading their seeds. One can learn a lot just by observing this. Wether it’s wind, birds, insects, water, these plants are highly adaptable to many different conditions. When I lived in Portland, I witnessed an empty lot that was covered in “weeds” be sprayed with who knows what poison in order to kill everything (this was also a few doors down from the Boise Elliott Community Garden!!). A few rainfalls later, there was a new sea of green, mainly clover,and I am sure other edibles, that I would not dare to eat now that the soil had been poisoned. But they still came back! This just proves that these plants are very hard to eradicate (and that can be so dangerous with certain invasive, non-natives).
Anyway, back on track. So in my garden I want to focus a lot on native edibles that can be foraged year after year. This will also help me to identify them in the wild as I will be able to study them more closely. I will also include heirloom vegetables that are commonly referred to as annuals (one growing season) but I will note which ones come back as volunteers the next year, the first step in returning to the wild (this too had a lot to do with the certain heirloom variety- if it is an heirloom from your region, all the more chance of it coming back, as it was developed in that climate). I will encourage those individuals to come back year after year by not tilling the ground (which disrupts the soil structure, and many beneficial organisms), and by not mulching too deeply on top of the fallen seeds (mulch not only helps improve the soil but also adds a layer of insulation, like tree leaves and other debris collecting on the ground, and can extend the growing season for some root vegetables).
Is there anyone else that has been planning these types of garden experiments? If so I would love to discuss thoughts here! All I know is that the love of gardening came from somewhere deep inside us and for me, I just can’t stop thinking about it! My plans for the fall/winter are to familiarize myself with local native wild edibles which I can include in my garden as well as find in the wild, and plan my garden around these… it’s a great winter project!