The Gardens of Snarky Acres

| 2/3/2017 11:03:00 AM


Summertime backyard at Snarky Acres

By this time, you are probably curious what the gardens are like at Snarky Acres. To be blunt, they are not your normal idyllic gardens you see in magazines. Sure, there are plenty of edible plants growing at my urban homestead, but they are wilder than most people are used to seeing. As I mentioned in Chapter 1, weeds are a normal occurrence in my plot, but not in an “outcompete my vegetables” sort of way. I value diversity in my garden and make use of my “marginal” plants. In Chapter 2, I mention Asian dayflowers and Creeping Charlie as members of my example guild. Both of those just showed up, as weeds often do. I could go out of my way (and expend unnecessary resources) removing them. Instead, both are technically edible, with Asian dayflowers being quite tasty as a salad green.

Don’t get me wrong: there are weeds I will remove. These are mostly from the grass family—crabgrass and the like. Again, I don’t go overboard trying to totally eliminate them, but I pull them whenever I see them, especially if they are going to seed. As I mentioned in Chapter 3, protected soil is better than bare, even when covered with less desirable plants. When I put in a bed of beans or potatoes, I will pull out all the weed cover (in the form of Creeping Charlie and quickweed) beforehand. After all, I have to give my domesticated vegetables a fighting chance to get started as they co-evolved with us taking care of them.

Weeds have been the bane of gardeners and farmers for millennia. Maybe it’s time we all embraced the wilder parts of our garden. Some weeds were brought to the New World with a purpose. A common “invasive” weed in the woods next to my house is garlic mustard (discussed in Chapters 5 and 6), brought over to the New World to use as an herb. Every year for Earth Day (April 22), I make a point of cooking up batches of garlic mustard pesto and share it with everyone who cannot get away fast enough. Other weeds, like lamb’s quarters and violets, are native but not appreciated for their resilience and edibility. Incorporating weeds into your garden design is supported by permaculture principles 5 (Use and Value Renewable Resources), 10 (Use and Value Diversity), and 11 (Use Edges and Value the Marginal). What’s more renewable, diverse, or marginal than common garden weeds?

Like many permaculture sites, perennials are featured here at Snarky Acres. In nature, these come back year after year, ensuring survival of the species. Annuals, on the other hand, must produce lots and lots of seed to continue on existing. Since I’m a renter, I don’t go full tilt with trees and bushes, but I utilize perennials where I can. My favorites are sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes), Egyptian walking onions, strawberries, oregano, lemon balm (mostly as an insect repellent), chives, peppermint, sage, thyme, rosemary, wild blackberries, Goji berries, and apples from two past-their-prime trees on the property. It’s extremely satisfying to “obtain a yield” every year without the effort of digging, sowing, planting, and watering as perennials tend to take care of themselves once established.

Snarky Acres’ first permaculture plot was built around the principles of observe and interact (1), obtain a yield (3), small and slow solutions (9) and edge (11). I observed that a small section (3 feet by 10 feet) at the front of my house only received one hour of direct sunlight around noon. Otherwise, it was in complete shade from the house or received dappled and indirect light until sunset. I did some Internet research and discovered a nice list of perennial herbs that could thrive in the shade. From this list, I choose lemon balm, chocolate mint, orange thyme, and both regular and garlic chives.

After the initial year, the mint dominated the site but the others also did fine. In addition, I’ve planted shade-tolerant annuals to supplement the yield including turnips, kale, and Swiss chard. I rip out the mint like I do with Creeping Charlie (which has also infiltrated the bed—it’s everywhere!) and then sow or transplant, like I do in my primary backyard garden. This edge, like my garden fencing, is self-mulching with westerly winds and a big oak tree doing all the work every fall.

As for my annuals at Snarky Acres, my tendency is to cultivate the ones at the top of my FREE downloadable Veggie Growing List (yes, yet another plug). As of this writing, the top ten annuals on my list are green beans, zucchini, garlic, potatoes, radishes, turnips, mustard, yellow squash, tomatoes, and ground cherries. One spring, I designed a new garden plot around the fact that it had been lawn the year before. My landlord tilled up the site for me (one of my few exceptions to my “no-till” rule), but the soil was compacted and full of clay nonetheless. I planted potatoes (known for conditioning clay soil), tomatoes, zucchini, garlic (planted the previous fall), mustard, turnips, ground cherries, and peppers. All did well despite a deluge in June and a moderate drought the rest of the year.

As you can see, I have embraced the 10th principle (“Use and Value Diversity”) by planting a wide variety of vegetables. In any given year, the environment (rain, clouds, sun, temperatures, pests, and storms) will vary from seasons before. My overarching goal for my property is to produce plenty of edible goodness. If it means too many tomatoes and potatoes one year and an abundance of Swiss chard, zucchini, and cucumbers the next, so be it. It’s also why I have a variety of “weeds” in my garden (see Chapter 6). Those will thrive when our more refined domesticated veggies with wither and die. I still remember the dry summer where I primarily had only purslane (a succulent weed) to eat until we started getting rain in July.


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