Orchard understory

Is the space around your trees still empty? Try these plants:

10 Companion Plants for Orchards (~4min read)

This article provides a pretty neat survey of plants that, together, make a diverse, healthy, productive orchard. Any of the listed plants of especial interest?

My Years with Cardoons

Experiements in my cold valley so far have not been kind to the plush, famously edible thistles like cardoon and artichoke. Some of my clients are in better positions, and so far have enjoyed lovely silver fountains of leaves and gorgeous purple flowers off this wonderful plant. The question now is how to cook it (?). Wooddogs3 to the rescue with a very detailed description of the process. Let me know how it goes.

My urban homestead


It took me a long time to learn to eat cardoons. My own cardoons, at least. I first found them in the market while honeymooning in Italy, and there they are neatly blanched, trimmed, and ready for the pot. I loved them, and ordered seeds from Italy as soon as I got home. They grow robustly in my desert climate and alkaline soil, and they are very ornamental. I had them for years before I successfully cooked them, and they were wonderful bee fodder all that time, blooming in the blasting-hot late summer when few other flowers are available to our pollinators. I tried to cook them without the tedious step of blanching the plants, and would say that this just doesn’t work.


They die back unattractively after flowering, but then sprout again from the ground up. The foliage is silvery, full, and stunning in November. Unfortunately this is also…

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Eating elm seeds

I remembered, when I saw this fascinating post by Alan, that Wooddogs3 has an article about the near-related Siberian elm: https://albuquerqueurbanhomestead.com/2011/03/21/mild-wild-greensthe-siberian-elm/

I wonder if either fruits well under coppicing every year or two?

Of Plums and Pignuts

Every May there is a brief, overwhelmingly abundant forest harvest: the seeds of the wych elm or Ulmus glabra.

An elm in seed is a wonderful sight. It begins with tiny, nondescript (but quite beautiful if you look closely) flowers. Being wind-pollinated, they dispense with showy petals and rely on sheer numbers of pollen grains blowing in the wind to find a partner. Over spring they develop into the mature seeds. The seeds are green, leafy and coin sized; they develop before the tree has produced leaves but they are so numerous that a seed-bearing elm looks like it has come into leaf already. This prolific production is the elm’s insurance policy. Where some trees pack their seeds with toxins to deter seed-eating animals, the elm’s strategy is to produce as many seeds as possible as quickly as possible so that no predator can have a hope of taking…

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How do soil microbes affect soil health and nutrient availability?

Information backing what I outlined in “Dealing with deficiency.” Nutrients from parent rock material.

Soil is essential to life. That’s why we hear more every day about the microbes that inhabit soil1. What many don’t realize, however, is that those microbes are related to the emerging field of “soil health.” Microbes also affect how soils are tested in laboratories. This topic has captured the attention of farmers, scientists and […]


the garden going it alone …..

See also this post by Alan Carter: https://scottishforestgarden.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/while-the-gardeners-away/

I consider these two to be the most refined forest gardeners, so it’s no wonder their gardens would fare so well in their absence.

I would like to suggest that such longevity of a system’s order runs almost parallel with its day to day efficiency. Careful choice of plants that complement each other and exclude invasive species are a big part of that.

See also this post about Robert Hart’s garden after his absence: https://mortaltree.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/robert-harts-forest-garden/?preview=true&preview_id=1473&preview_nonce=4498168c75

Anni's perennial veggies

It has been a while since I posted regular updates on this blog –  I have been poorly for some months, but am on the mend now.  It has also meant that I have not been able to spend much time in the garden.  What time and energy I did have went largely on growing plants in pots for Shrewsbury Flower Show – for me this was a very much harder proposition than growing them in the ground.

So over the summer the garden has pretty much looked after itself.  I have been able to harvest lots of goodies recently – skirret, root parsley, root chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, kales, leaf beet, chard.  The perennials were already in the garden and the annuals sown early before I was ill.

It has been gratifying to see how the garden has fared well with the very least of attention:

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Radish (on the left), which…

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Perennial Solutions to Annual Problems

This is a post from the Oikos Tree Crops blog. Of the plants mentioned I have earth pea, purple potato, service berry, an autumn olive from them; and I actually started some ‘Precoce’ asparagus myself from seed from another source. So I’ll definitely be trying these companionships. Let me know if any of you do the same.


One of the constant challenges when faced with any horticultural endeavor is finding ways to eliminate or greatly reduce plants that are competing with your crop plant.  Here are a few examples of ways to enhance what nature has already done: companion planting with perennials, tree and shrub crops where mutual coexistence is an advantage.

Crownvetch and PotatoEcos purple potato-crownvetch

This was a planting done in December of 2014 in central Michigan.  I planted Ecos Purple Potato in early December in a large patch of crownvetch.   Crownvetch is a nitrogen fixing plant which forms a nice mat of vegetation which excludes many annuals. It was the preferred plant for highway plantings as it quickly  prevents soil erosion.  The potatoes as of July looked very healthy with good top growth.  The thin shallow rhizomes of crownvetch have a different root profile than that of potatoes.  I am going to do a larger planting…

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Aromatic pest confuser?

One of the more ticklish subjects of permaculture is aromatic pest confusers.  It’s an idea that aromatic essential oils from plants ward off insects and disease, leading to the idea that mints, garlic, and other aromatic essential oil producing plants should be planted near non or low production essential oil plants to mask the tasty plant’s smell and release potent insect and disease inhibitors.

I know a few people who dismiss the idea as rubbish, saying it’s diversity of a system that gives results. I was just reading an article over at Plant Scientist suggesting otherwise.

The article was rather lengthy and not so much about my subject. What I found of interest in the article was this:

Further analysis of the volatile compounds contained within the plant bags found that methyl salicylate was the main driver of aphid behaviour. The addition of methyl salicylate to air samples previously attractive to aphids made the samples repellent to aphids. Methyl salicylate has previously been shown to repel other aphid species and attract parasitoids and it is also thought that it can be transported around the plant in the phloem to induce defence responses.

I half recognized methyl salicylate from my study of essential oils. Reaching for an especially good book on the subject I have on loan from a friend (Thanks Elora!), I looked up mint. It doesn’t contain any. So I looked up the compound and found it is highest in wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) followed by sweet birch (Betula lenta) with 96-99.5 and 90 percent methyl salicylate content, respectively.

Unfortunately neither of these are the easiest to grow (that’s why I hoped mint had it), but not impossible. They at least reach my hardiness zone.

I am still attempting to grow wintergreen in a friend’s garden that is better suited for it than mine (deep pine forest humus –not my food forest!); and lots of diseases affect birch where I live. But certainly give a look at growing them yourself because this information seems strongly suggestive they are legitimate aromatic pest confusers and predatory attractors.

I noticed on the Wikipedia page for methyl salicylate that they listed Spiraea species as a source, content levels unknown, and no source cited (figures).

I couldn’t get my book to cough up any info, but then I found this quote in The Plant Encyclopedia from Gregory L. Tilford’s “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West”

Spiraea (also known as Meadowsweet) is too woody to be used as an edible plant, but has a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans as an herbal tea. The entire plant contains Methyl salicylate and other salicylates, compounds with similar medicinal properties of Aspirin.

Now spiraea I can grow. Unfortunately I can’t pin down average concentration levels.

While searching I came across a Permies page discussing the matter of methyl salicylate as a control for aphids, if you’re interested.

Seeing that Permies has talked about it, perhaps you’ve already heard about it –in which case I hope I didn’t bore you –and in which case you certainly won’t bore me by educating me further via a comment. Any would be welcome.