Growing My Self-Sufficient Diet with Perennials

Reader Contribution by Jo Devries
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Wild garlic (background) with trout leaf (foreground) Photo by Jo deVries

I am so happy that we’ve already enjoyed over a month of spring weather here in Ontario, Canada. The chickens are doing well, and I’ve just been blessed with my third hatch of chicks (and one awesome miracle! See next month’s blog post). My two weaner pigs have only had to endure a bit of snow and enjoy snuggling in their bed of straw when not digging up the earth. They are tearing up everything except the elderberry bushes (which is toxic to them so they avoid it; another miracle), and turning over my first serious garden.

My son, Jordan, who bought a chainsaw last fall, has already felled and blocked a dozen trees, and two other friends have helped by dropping two very large trees that were dying and leaning toward an area I want to fence for the elderberry grove.  o, here we are in full swing, and there is much to be happy about.

When spring hit, and the first sprouts started emerging from the soil, I was excited to discover a fantastic variety of wild vegetables ready for harvest; free from Mother Earth. The first edibles to emerge were the daylilies and the dandelions, quickly followed by the wild garlic, trout leaf, and fiddle-heads.

Daylily

I planted many patches of orange daylilies on my property soon after purchasing it 25 years ago. I dug them up from the side of the road, inspired by their ability to grow absolutely anywhere. Those patches have turned into large beds of bright green shoots that return first thing every spring, and multiply each year.

Every part of the wild, orange daylily (which isn’t a true lily) is edible except the stamens. Do not confuse the common, edible daylily with the toxic tiger lily, which has black spots on its flowers and black bead-like bulbils growing along a single upright stem.


All parts are edible: root, stem, leaves, buds and blossoms. Photo by Jo deVries

Dandelion

Dandelion is another trustworthy, perennial crop. Dandelion leaves can be served raw in salads or cooked like spinach, and their flowers can be enjoyed in simple children’s party bouquets, medicinal teas, wine, and a wide variety of other recipes.

Wild Garlic

Each year, I am blessed with an increased crop of wild garlic, which my late friend David Saunders gave me over 20 years ago. I have never harvested the roots — only the green leaves — to ensure the crop would continue multiplying. I have also collected their ripe black seed pods and distributed them in new areas to broaden my crop. I may have started with eight or 10 roots; I now have hundreds.

Each root of wild garlic usually sprouts two leaves. Cutting only one leaf allows the remaining leaf to bring nutrients to the root. The fresh garlic leaves are great in soups, salads and on sandwiches. Feeding wild garlic leaves to the chickens helps deter mites, and the chickens love them.

Trout Lily

The trout lily, also called a yellow dogtooth violet, is a widespread edible wild plant, especially common to eastern North America. It is considered both edible and medicinal but acts as an emetic (makes you throw up) if eaten in large quantities. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and the corms can be roasted. Trout lily is a great trail snack when hiking.

My fiddle-head patch is small, but growing. They are my favorite of the wild greens.


Daylily, wild garlic leaves and trout lily. Photo by Jo deVries

Resolving to Create a Diet of Homegrown and Foraged Food

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to make wild edibles a bigger part of my diet. In order for that to happen, I have to make foraging a bigger part of my life. We are creatures of habit, and habits are hard to break. So, my foraging hasn’t been as extensive as it could have been. Many of us have been raised going to the grocery stores for our food. My parents went to the stores for everything except rhubarb and crab apples, but my grandparents were gardeners and farmers; they had to be or they would have starved.

The practise of buying the majority of one’s food, to be dependant on others for one’s sustenance, is not one to be proud of. We are subject to whatever the stores stock on their shelves, and most of the food is processed, filled, or sprayed with things that aren’t healthy while being over-packaged in plastic that contributes to filling the earth with garbage. We are a sorry lot. We have forgotten how wonderful simple, whole, natural foods are, and how much less packaging is involved.

This year I’m swapping store-bought greens for foraged ones, juice for fruit, meat for eggs and fish, margarine for butter, coffee for herbal tea, junk food and desserts for nuts, avocados, berries and good-quality dark chocolate — healthier choices for me and the planet.

Building Self-Sufficiency in the Garden

In an effort to be more sustainable, I am researching the type of diet I might be able to provide for myself. I’ve discovered that foraging can supply all of my greens for a minimum of six months of the year now that the crops have been established. I’m anxious to get a vegetable garden started, as I have a fantastic root cellar awaiting produce.

Chickens. My chicken coop presently houses 10 to 12 chickens, which provide: eggs for four people, live chicks to sell to cover all of the poultry costs, and a separate cage to raise a spring and summer batch of meat chicks.

Berries and more. I’m growing several types of herbal tea, horseradish, asparagus, and green onions, all of which are perennial. The elderberry bushes will make a comeback and eventually provide all the juice and berries I’ll ever need. I’ve got a small patch of wild blueberry, strawberry, blackberry and raspberry, as well as a few cultivated blueberry and raspberry bushes.

Fruit trees. The three apple trees I planted last year — which I got for a measly $12 dollars each, because they were full of bugs — have started to bud, despite the fact that I got overzealous and pruned them back to sticks. I just bought a Juliet Dwarf Cherry tree (half price) that hopefully isn’t as dead as it looks.

I’m far from being self-sufficient, but each day brings me one step closer, and I’m enjoying the experience immensely. In the meantime, I’m merging sustainability with the conveniences I am privileged to enjoy. I cook daylily stalks and leaves as I would broccoli, served with butter, cheddar, and parmesan cheese. I always add a fair number of wild greens, vegetables and garlic to either cream of mushroom or tomato canned soup by cooking the vegetables first, then adding the soup. I’ll use different herbs and spices each time — always a different pot of soup.


Broccoli or daylily, with butter and two types of cheese. Photo by Jo deVries

Living off the land is an opportunity to live a lifestyle that promotes good mental, physical and spiritual health, and results in a treasure that can’t be measured in dollars: peace of mind. Let’s do our part to keep the planet and ourselves healthy. It’s never too late to start living right. Let’s count our many blessings, and start serving them for dinner.

Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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