Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Growing A Yard For Harvest

I love to have a manicured yard. I want my yard to look good so that when I come home, I am arriving at a beautiful and uplifting place.

Growing native flowers is one way to achieve this with minimal fuss and no watering or chemicals. It's also important that I find my plants for free, and amassing my collection of native plants is something that I am always working towards. With many of my local parks growing native flowers, and no shortage of interesting flowers growing along the roadside, collecting seeds for my yard is both simple and exciting!

One thing that is just as important to me as having a nice looking yard is to have a yard that is useful. Again, growing native flowers is a useful way to garden because it benefits the local eco system and attracts beneficial insects and feeds the birds, squirrels and wild life. But native flowers are not only nice to look at and good for the environment, they make nice dried arrangements in the fall and can be used in many ways. Some wild flowers are edible like Queen Annes Lace (wild carrot) or have medicinal uses, like Echinacea.

I grow flowers with the ultimate goal of harvest. Even my ornamental rose bushes have a purpose aside from being pretty. I can make potpourri out of the blooms after they just reach their peak, and then I can blend them up to make rose beads for jewelry making.

Growing a yard for harvest naturally means growing a yard that is abundant in food. I would love some day to have a yard in which I can walk out into and pick a wide variety food to eat. I have my vegetable patch, my herb garden and my strawberry bed. I also have a hazelnut tree that I will find a mate for soon so that in a few years I will have loads of hazelnuts to snack on and cook with.

Nature offered me a blackberry bush earlier this year, that just sprouted in my yard and 75% of my vegetable garden volunteered itself, from the compost that I created from my kitchen scraps. I planted the cucumber and the bed of lettuce, but Nature decided to give me 3 squash plants, 2 pumpkin vines, 7 garlic plants and over twenty tomato plants. Yes, Nature is very, very good to me and I know how to use my bit of Earth.

One day I plan to have a small orchard, of four to six fruit trees, and I have a large currently unused area designated to grow others types of berries, apart from the blackberries I already have. But it's important to me to have a yard that is useful in many ways - not just pleasing to look at or delicious to eat, even more than a space for the children to play.

There are plants in my yard which are only grown for some sort of functional purpose.

I have an ash tree that was cut down to the stump a year ago because it was badly placed and would soon grow into the chain link fence. The sugars built up in the roots allowed it to sprout several upright branches, turning the tree into a bush. I noticed this when the shoots were small and could be snipped easily, but I quickly realized the potential in them. I allowed to shoots to grow tall, for they are straight and pliable. We have used them to roast marshmallows and hotdogs over the fire pit, and they are also useful for building natural trellises for vining plants. Cutting them down every fall will allow new shoots each spring to be used for many things throughout the next growing season. Because they are very bendy, they can be easily shaped and I am currently considering what types of things might be created from them.

I have a slope in my back yard that is a great place to allow the grass to grow in the late fall and get nice and tall. We purposely stop mowing it in early September. There are some weeds that grow in it, that once dried make nice floral arrangement along with the native wild flowers, but what I'm really after is the grass. In the late afternoon when there is no moisture on it, I will reap the grass and form it into little bundles. These are for my fire place during the winter. We also trim the trees back when the summer begins to get hot and the rapid growth of spring dies down. The limbs will then be cut into 8 inch long sections and dried out for fall, to become kindling. In the winter when I want to start my fireplace, which I tend to do daily, I grab a nifty little bundle of dried grass from the stack, and handful of the dried twigs. Getting the fireplace going is pretty easy with them, no need for fancy store-bought starter logs or supplies.

All along my chain link fence are many types of vines. But the vines I am especially interested in are the wild grapes. They are either too old to produce, or they are a naturally barren variety.
I don't grow them for the fruit, I don't even like grapes. I want the vines. These are invasive and unruly, however, I cut them down to their trunks in the fall, pull off all of the leaves and use the vines to make natural decorations, like wreathes to be decorated with fall leaves or Christmas baubles.

There is also my water garden, where I grow bulrushes and cattails. The long slender leaves of the cattail plants are great for decorating, lashing and I keep meaning to get around to weaving them into baskets or placemats. It's on my to-do list.

I do not consider myself an urban homesteader, and I have no desire to live on a farm at this point in my life. But utilizing my space in the most useful way possible just makes sense to me. Nature is very giving when you let it do it's thing.

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