Sunday, February 6, 2011

Perennial Foods

Gerry and I watched another great documentary last night (Thanks, Netflix!) called Dirt, The Movie.  Wonderful handling of a topic most of us never think about.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope you will see it. It entertained, educated, enraged, and most of all, encouraged! by turns.

Now the connection to the blog title offering today.  One thing that really stood out and impressed me was the demonstration of the difference in root systems between the annuals and the perennials. It was mindboggling.  And they demonstrated how much more important perennial root systems are when we have shallow dirt levels to work with.  Here in the hills of KY, we have bedrock very close to the surface, which means that perennials would be best.  But I am an ignorant and conventional woman, whose only food growing experience is with standard annuals, and the standard rototillered seedbed.  I am switching my mindset to include mostly perennials, and find myself at a loss, for the most part, on how to feed my house without contributing to the destruction of what little flat land I have.

Here is what I have come up with so far...

Tree foods.  I need to do more with the native nuts and fruits that already grow here.  I need to rebuild the orchard, plant new trees, and learn to make pine needle tea, and learn to harvest pine nuts, too.

I have gobs of brambles (they absolutely flourish here), but they are in my pastures.  I need to put brambles in a place that is not competition for grass, and that I can easily reach and manage.

Foraging "weeds".  I have long known that many of the weeds I was discarding were more nutritious than the vegetables I was protecting.  But I knew what the vegetables were, and what to do with them.  Ignorance has not been my friend.  I do know how to recognize and cook dandelion and plantain.  I recognize cattail, but know not what to do with it.

I will plant perennials as food whenever I can.  First on the list of on purpose plantings will be daylilies, jerusalem artichokes, and asparagus.

I will choose hardy plants over those I know need babied.  There is no real reason for a fine seedbed for squash, for instance.  Other than custom and convenience to the rototilling.  I can plant squash by using a mattock to chop a hole in the ground, planting the seed, and mulching the hill.  And it won't use any gasoline, either!

I will make a special bed for the rootcrops I deem indispensible that really need a good seedbed, rather than make the entire garden pulverized.  This will include carrots, turnips, potatoes, etc.

Dried Beans.  Hmm, tougher.  They are the mainstay of our diet, and need a good seedbed, and I need more of them than I can fit into a garden bed.  This requires serious consideration.

Meat and Dairy...  Also tough.  Hunting is obviously in the works (Gerry is an excellent hunter, and never takes a shot if there is a possibility of only wounding the animal)  We will be switching to making our own dairy products from goats, our hens are laying eggs, and we have a sow, but no boar yet.  Most of the horses will be leaving for a new home in 2 months.  Our only cattle are, and will only be, the 4 oxen.

Animal Feed.  We recognize that trucking in grain for all of them is economically and ecologically unsound.  We will be switching from a mainstay of hay and grain to browse (of which we have lots) and squash.  We truly have plenty of browse, it just needs managed better.  That is one reason we are heading for goats rather than more cattle.  We will still have 2 horses, which need good pasture and some grain. We will need moveable runs for the poultry as we have many, many predators here.  I love watching the Broadwing Hawks, I just don't want to feed them!  Same with the foxes.  I will put the moveable runs in the horse pasture to try to renovate it.  It has been horribly overgrazed, overrun with weeds, and desperately needs attention.

Still don't have an answer for Yin and Yang.  So will keep buying dogfood for now.

We are commited to doing our own killing, another reason we are heading for goats.  I can handle a goat, a full grown steer is something else.  No more slaughter houses for us.

Needing help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I have heard I can use Stinging Nettle to make cheese.  Also thistle flowers.  Can anyone tell me how?  I need other ideas on perennial foods and foraging.  Very willing to make a difference and change, but need specifics.

Are any of you good at foraging?  Would you be open to me visiting and learning?


  1. So interesting. I want to watch that documentary now. Any chance its available online if I don't have netflix?
    Can you sum it up for me? What's the difference between perennial and annual root systems? That link has some instructions for making rennet out of stinging nettle. I haven't tried yet though.

    If you want instructions about foraging, is very informative about foraging and how to use the plants. Check it out! That's one of her posts about cattails.
    About dog food- have you thought about giving your dogs wild game? Can they go hunting with you?

  2. Penny,
    I watched it instantly on Netflix on my laptop. Since you asked me about other availability I have been looking, but not found the film itself online, only promos. I will keep looking.

    It was fast moving, and covered a lot of "ground" pun intended. They showed an annual farm plant and the root system, and it was surprising to me how long the roots were. Then they showed a perennial plant with the entire root system and I was completely shocked. Easily 2 times as long, going on 3 times as long. They explained about how the roots reached deep to bring up minerals, and also held everything together, and that "thin" soil (where the bedrock is close to the surface, as here in KY) will erode and disappear much faster when the ground is continually churned up for annual plantings, like tobacco, corn, wheat, and soybeans.

    This was only a tiny, tiny part of the documentary, but I think you would get a lot out of it.

    I am a complete documentary junky, and I have to say that the $11.00 a month I pay to be able get this education has been completely wonderful for me. I would miss it so very much if I lived someplace I could not get Netflix.

    Do you think it would be a good idea for me to start reviewing the things I watch that I would deem important for others to know about? Most people I know won't watch documentaries, because they think they are boring. And some are...

    I could do that, I could review. So much information passes unnoticed here in the US.

    Thank you so much for your Links. I will get started right away.

  3. Wow, thats so interesting!
    As far as I know, netflix isn't available in my country...
    I hope you find those links helpful. And yes, reviews of good documentaries are definitely worthwhile!

  4. I will keep looking. Some documentaries are available online. I know that Earthlings is. That one was one of the most influential films I have ever seen. So maybe Dirt, the Movie is as well.

  5. Can you get hulu? I found this...

    I don't have a good enough connection (starting and stopping every second) to be able to watch it on hulu, but it seems to be trying to play the whole thing, not just a trailer.

  6. I am going to plant some fruit trees and grow a vegetable garden this year on my small urban lot. I am so excited! I am not sure about any perennial vegetables other than asparagus... I will look for that documentary, it sounds interesting as I am trying to absorb as much information as I can right now!

  7. Sherry, what growing zone are you in? I am in zone 7. It used to be zone 6, but climate change... If I could, I would grow cranberries, but I think it is just too hot and dry here for them. If I were further south, I could grow sweet potatoes as perennials, but it is just too cold here :) Rhubarb would be good, and I want to line my back yard with fruiting bushes. We have rose of sharon there now, but I want something that will produce food. It needs good permanent roots there because it lines a creek which in the Summer is dry as a bone and in Winter is frozen or rushing, and in the Spring and Fall, is a destructive torrent. We have a lot of erosion problems here in my area. Our electric company does not help when they spray poison to kill vegetation rather than selective cutting to protect the line rights of way. The poison is sprayed along our waterways and the trees keep dying back.