Imagine our ancient hominin ancestor, Paranthropus boisei, foraging for food over 1.5 million years ago in East Africa.
With 5-6 hours a day allocated to food acquisition, a sweet and fatty nutrient dense rhizome found at the base of a sedge that provided 80% of the required caloric intake in 2-3 hours would have been a sought after staple.
Fast forward many generations…
Baboons in this same region of Africa are known to seek out this widespread starchy tuber that now grows worldwide.
Chufa prefers a moist habitat but can survive droughty periods as well. Being a pernicious plant (having been burdened with the label of [gasp!] an invasive species), it provides nutritional tubers for humans and wildlife throughout its now greatly expanded range. In fact, it’s currently planted even for wildlife forage.
Due to its opportunistic growth habits, it has become a choice crop for domestic hog, wild turkeys and humans alike.
On an ecological level this means more life giving food with less fuss. This sedge has much to offer those curious or hungry enough to dig up these tubers.
Our hominin ancestors were instinctually drawn to this food for good reason.
Life giving and sustaining sources of dense nutrition were (and are) highly valued.
It’s not only very connected to eat a plant known to have provided sustenance for our ancestors, but like many ancestral foods the tubers at the base of Cyperus esculentus are considered a superfood.
In the nutritional territory what stands out for chufa is the abundance of resistant starch- its mineral content (high in phosphorus, magnesium and potassium) and the presence of oleic acid (the heart healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olives and avocados.)
Resistant starches (aka fiber) are complex carbohydrates that persist throughout the digestive process and add a crucial element to the diet. In other words, it is food for the microbial community that keeps our systems going and supports our immunity.
These are also referred to as prebiotics as they provide the favorable conditions to promote probiotic colonies of bacteria.
These starches also help reduce blood sugar spikes and add to the feeling of fullness, showing promise for those seeking to lose weight.
Given the nutritional profile of these tubers, there is no doubt to their benefit in our diet.
Combined with their ease of growing and sweet taste, it’s a no-brainer in the perennial landscape.
In a water garden, marshy spot or otherwise moist area, chufa is a perfect crop. Through growing this hardy tuber we are not only connecting with our evolutionary past, we are celebrating the rich abundance of goodness found within the base roots of an unassuming sedge.
Welcome to the time of the woodstove. Stacking wood, cold mornings, copious amounts of tea, of winter dreaming. Welcome to book after book, abundant rest after another busy year, seeds, nuts, deer hunting season, eternal pots of stew.
It is that time of year again and it hit me before I was fully ready for it or expected it to come. As it gets colder, everything slows down, including my pace and thoughts. I welcome the season of reflection.
Some of the books I’ve been reading lately include Jean M Auel’s Earth’s Children series. You may be familiar with the first bestseller of that series, Clan of the Cave Bear.
The story tracks Ayla (Cro-Magno), an orphan who lost her family in an earthquake, as she is taken in by Neanderthals and then is cast out of the clan and has to survive on her own while looking for her own people. The book has quite a cult following and though at times the human drama was a bit much (I just skipped a lot of Jondalar’s waffling), it is also filled with interesting tidbits into how our European ancestors were possibly living 29,950 years ago.
This inspiration coupled with watching all 3 seasons of Live Free or Die (thanks to my friend Joan who sent me a thumb drive of the seasons), a show showcasing homesteading, rewilding, primitive skills, hunter gatherer and tracker/trapper lifestyles, invigorated me to dig in deeper into experimenting with primitive skills.
For example in Auel’s final book in the Earth Children’s series, The Land of Painted Caves, we read this excerpt about a stone cooking pit Ayla makes in order to steam meat. It sounded especially tasty and I was also inspired by seeing Matt in Season 3 of Live Free or Die demonstrate this technique after he successfully hunted a turkey.
Zelandoni had watched Ayla dig a hole in the ground with a small shoulder bone that had been shaped and sharpened at one end and used like a trowel. To remove the loose dirt, she transferred it by small shovelfuls onto an old hide; then gathering the ends together, she hauled the hide away. She lined the hole with stones, leaving a space not much bigger than the meat, then built a fire in it until the rocks were hot. From her medicine bag, she took out a pouch and sprinkled some of the contents on the meat; some plants could be both medicinal and flavorful herbs. Then she added some of the tiny rootlets growing out of the wood avens rhizome, which tasted like cloves, along with hyssop and woodruff.
She wrapped the red deer roast in the burdock leaves. Then she covered the hot coals in the bottom of the hole with a layer of dirt so they wouldn’t burn the meat, and dropped the leaf-wrapped roast in the little oven. She piled wet grasses on top and more leaves, and covered it all with more dirt to make it airtight. She topped it with a large, flat stone that she had also heated over a fire, and let the roast cook slowly in the residual heat and its own steam.
“It wasn’t just cooked meat,” Zelandoni insisted. “It was very tender and had a flavor that I wasn’t familiar with, but it tasted very good.”
The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M Auel pgs 212,213
Stone Cooking Pit
While Ini didn’t dig the hole using a shoulder bone, we did try to follow this description pretty closely. Here is our process.
Ini dug a hole and I lined it with a large stone that covered the entire bottom and then placed stones on the sides.
Next I made a fire and stoked it and added wood for 4 hours. I had a really good coal base and the rocks were really hot. One even popped and broke!
We defrosted the deer shoulder and coated it in salt and cracked pepper. I harvested herbs from the garden and put them on the meat. Herbs include yarrow, mugwort, lavender, and green onions. All of these herbs are surviving after many hard frosts!
Then we flipped it and put some pears and horseradish leaves in the mix.
At this point, the coals were ready! We put some dirt on top of them as to not burn the meat and then put the shoulder in.
We also harvested sweet potatoes today and tucked them around the shoulder that was wrapped in horseradish, comfrey and burdock leaves. A sweet little bundle!
Next we covered the bundle with dirt all the way up to the top edge of the rocks.
We then turned the top rocks onto the dirt- they were quite hot!
We put a large flat stone on top.
And then lit a fire on top of the stone to encourage the heat to stay in and to perhaps send some heat into the pit.
This roast has been cooking for 4 hours and we want to cook it for at least 6 hours. The longer the better, really, especially with a tougher meat like a deer shoulder. We have made cooking pits in the past, but never before have we lined them with stones and used dirt or a top stone! We’re really curious to see how this turns out and will be sure to share updates in the comments after we dig in!
That’s not all..
Also featured extensively in the Earth Children series is the hide tanning process. Over the summer, I practiced on a couple of hides and made my first buckskin!
Luckily our friend Drew had gotten a deer this season and let us know to come pick up the hide. Perhaps I’ll make a full post on the process at some point – although Wild Abundance has an awesome tutorial on their website.
First things first, one must flesh the hide once it’s off the deer. This includes scraping off any residual meat and fat.
After the scraping is finished, you’ll have a hide free of flesh. At this point, you can soak the hide in a lye solution or water in a 5 gallon bucket (agitate daily) to cause the hair side of the hide to slip the hair off and free up the membrane (layer beneath the hair.)
Today was a warm (75 degrees!) day and I felt inspired to work outside, but it will be freezing tomorrow with a low of 18! Not sure how quickly the next step of this process will move along, but happy to be engaging with these skills ancient humans were proficient at.
Many of us are seeking to regain these longstanding skills that have largely been forgotten in this day and age and I have to say it can be a lot of hard work, but it’s sufficiently worth it. I’m thankful for Auel’s books and the examples of so many humans who have blazed the trail before me.
Our connection with earth is such a gift and it is so rich. I give thanks and make it my life’s work as a human to set an example of a healthy relationship with the earth.
Mountain Jewel is a permaculture homestead in the heart of the Ozarks. Located 15 minutes outside of Gainesville, Missouri on 18 acres, we focus on perennial agriculture, Herbalism, natural building and bioregional living. As a Center for Earth Connection, we seek to observe and align with natural rhythms, making sustainable use of the resources around us while honoring and getting to know the wilds.
At a 2019 internship at Mountain Jewel, there will be a heavy focus on Natural Building as we are building a Passive Solar Post & Beam Straw Bale Infill house!
We also will be tending and expanding perennial gardens and food forests which includes sharing host of practical skills & information on edible landscaping and useful Permaculture & medicinal plants. We currently have 2.5 acres of Food forests, 2 high tunnels, and .5 acre of intensive perennial and annual garden production. Mountain Jewel is completely off grid (save propane used for cooking) using Solar Power and our water comes from a 250 ft well on the property (soon to include more rainwater harvesting as well.)
What can an intern expect?
As in intern you will have an amazing opportunity to engage in the intimate process of building a natural home & creating and tending food forests.
You will learn mostly by doing, although there will also be some structured “classroom” time. The process is messy at times, involves plenty of consideration and creativity and a lot of physical labor, which can be taxing emotionally as well (especially in the beginning as you familiarize yourself to new surroundings and experiences.)
Through hands-on skill building in a variety of natural building methods and Permaculture principles, you can expect to receive a good introduction to a wide range of practical topics.
Throughout the season we will be going working on different aspects of the build. Starting with site prep and foundation, we will continue with framing, roofing, raising straw bale walls, plastering, laying floors, plumbing, wiring solar systems, plumbing solar hot water, building a rocket mass heater, etc…
In addition to the building, we also tend annual & perennial gardens, high tunnels and food forests, which account for much of our diet. Other opportunities for learning may include rain-water catchment and irrigation systems, grafting, layering and other propagation methods, seeding, general gardening tasks, pruning, fertilizing and more.
On top of this, there is also the reality that you will become an integral part of an organic Permaculture homestead in the country.
With 3 acres of our land open for food forests, high tunnels, outbuildings and gardens, the rest of the land (15 acres) is mature forest which has choice wild edibles and provides respite, recreation and beauty throughout the year (and ticks during the warm months!). Some of our diet is also obtained through foraging and wildcrafting and you are welcome and encouraged to join us in our wild forays where we teach ethical, safe and sustainable harvesting methods.
As we ask for your help 5 out of the 7 days of the week (not necessarily Mon-Fri), this also leaves 2 days a week for rest and exploration of the surrounding areas, much of which is the Mark Twain Natural Forest and includes stellar waterways like Bryant Creek and the Norfork, a world class destination. Our property has a creek of its own and we take dips down there often!
What do we expect?
In opening up our homestead to interns we are seeking to share our experience in hopes of equipping, inspiring and empowering others to participate in meaningful practical ecological ways of living.
Mountain Jewel is foremost a Center for Earth connection and we provide an holistic haven and skill building opportunity for modern humans to reconnect with that which is essential, Nature. Our homestead is dedicated to living in alignment with these natural rhythms and it is these skills we want to pass on.
We foster a culture of respect from ALL participants including ourselves, each other, the wild, the site and the process of learning. This means respecting boundaries, personal space and guidelines we outline as a collective (depending on expressed & present needs.)
We encourage applicants who are engaged, interested, motivated, self directed, passionate and ready to learn. We see this internship as a relationship between you and us, other interns, the process itself, and most importantly, the land. At Mountain Jewel, interns are crucial members of the team and as such we ask that interns take active interest and initiative to facilitate their learning process, express their needs and desires, and support the collective.
This internship will require a lot of physical work and we want you to know that ahead of time. If the workload is ever too much, please express this to you as we seek to create a healthy work culture. During work hours, we invite your full presence and participation.
What time frame?
We would prefer interns to stay from 1-3+ months as we feel this gives a richer depth of experience. It takes time to build relationships to place, process and people, as well as taking into account the skill building process. Seeing the building and gardening process through time is a much more grounded way to build skills and experiences. As we are a family run homestead, we are open to various possibilities and opportunities, and if a situation isn’t working for either party that will be discussed. In these cases, if possible, we practice the Art of Council communication technique to gain clarity and hopefully resolution before going our separate ways. We are all here to learn from and with one another and see these connections as opportunities to do just this. We have a no tolerance policy for any forms of abuse and will not tolerate drug use.
For all potential interns there will be a 2-week trial period to see if the experience is a good fit for all. It will include orientation, training, check-ins and some hands-on tasks. At the end of this, there will be a process where we clarify next steps and make sure all parties are on board. It is our goal to hold space for interns to have a great experience learning more about themselves, the earth and all that we have to share on this homestead.
Lodging and Food
Lodging at Mountain Jewel is simple and rustic. We cannot offer any indoor lodging during the summer months, but offer shaded tent platforms in the woods, running water and a covered outdoor kitchen space for simple food preparation (including a double burner propane range, large sink, shelves, food storage, counter space and table.) While we have a couple extra tents we can loan out, we encourage you to bring a tent that will be your shelter, a sleeping pad or mattress, hammock (with mosquito netting and a tarp) and/or build a shelter (if you know how to adequately do this) once you reach the land.
We live close to nature and ticks, spiders, and other insects inhabit our space with us and the transition to such a lifestyle can take some getting used to. Come mentally prepared and see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and strip off layers of modern conditioning. It gets hot in the summer and at times this can be oppressive, but we balance this with early morning starts, frequent creek dips, and midday siestas. As mentioned, we do have a creek on the property and this aids a lot in our self care.
Many but not all meals will be shared, and we expect interns to be able take part in food preparation on a rotating schedule. We have yet to work out details, but what has worked best in our experiences has been setting up basic meal plans and going through a rotation where each team member takes their turn in preparation of meals based on what’s seasonally available.
We will offer simple whole foods and seek to eat a balanced diet. We strive for sourcing 100% organic food where we can’t meet these needs ourselves. We eat meat occasionally (wild and locally grass fed from a nearby farms), eggs (don’t have chickens anymore but will source locally) and may source local dairy (depending on refrigeration options at the time).
During the summer, we will have abundant greens and other produce as well as fruits grown on our homestead. Sometimes we fish and often we go mushroom hunting. We buy bulk grains, beans, oil and other staples.
*SORRY, but we may not be able to accommodate certain special diets or allergies. Contact us if this is a concern.
As this is a work exchange there will be no stipend offered. In exchange for 6 hours of work a day 5 days a week, you will have access to bulk food staples, fresh garden produce, one healthy shared group meal a day.
A personal vehicle is recommended but not necessary. We are located 1.5 hours from Springfield, MO, 45 minutes from West Plains, MO, Ava, MO and Mountain Home, AR and frequent these cities biweekly for bulk food runs at the health food stores and other sundries (these towns have a lot of options.) We live 15 minutes from the very small town of Gainesville which has basic amenities (post office, small conventional grocery, library, and gas stations, etc.) You are welcome to come along for these journeys.
Answer the following questions and send us at least 500 words to email@example.com on why you want to do this and your current related knowledge and experience (it’s fine if you have no experience). Tell us a bit about yourself. You can share blogs, social media sites, etc.
Name, Age, Current location, time availability and desired length of stay, special needs/allergies/other considerations, do you have your own camping gear, vehicle or pets, one thing that scares you about this and one thing that excites you, what you’re hoping to get out of it and what aspects you’re most looking forward to. We look forward to hearing from you!
You can learn more about us at Mountain Jewel by checking out our blog at https://steempeak.com/@mountainjewel or http://instagram.com/mountainjewel
Oh the slow chilled winter daze! It feels like winter has finally hit! We had our first snow a few days ago and temps have dropped. The Canadian enjoys this weather much more than I do. Feeling like my bundled child self when I do go out, I mainly only go outside to adventure into the woods and to the creek or to make it from point A to point B. Aside from indoor projects (like tiling) and Ini’s work on the Welcome Kiosk, we are turning our sights inward, reading much, and spending time indoors. As previously mentioned, this winter I wanted to teach myself to weave with native materials. I started off looking into the river cane, an incredible native bamboo beloved by the Native Americans who lived here previously. Yet, I feel I need a teacher to move forward in this craft — or perhaps I am trying to peel the cane in the wrong season? Nevertheless, there are some Native teachers I may seek out in Oklahoma- especially if they have a workshop on cane material prep and weaving this year. Instead, I have turned my sights onto other materials and I’ve made two baskets! My first basket – what a thing! Though I did it with a library book tutorial, each step is new and one doesn’t know what one needs to do until ya do it for the first time. It’s cool to already see progress on basket #2 – simply because I knew more about the nuances of the materials and what needed to happen at each stage. Still, the first basket, a true experimental labor of love, is in use and am somewhat charmed by it. However, this second basket.. Ini and I aren’t really taking our eyes off of it! Far from perfect, my second basket is USEFUL. It is this that has me deeply enamored with this process. The indwelling magic of taking nothing but materials from here to make a useful object with them. As I wrote last night in reflection: I finished a basket tonight that’s already holding our cedar kindling and sitting next to the fire. It was definitely a life changing moment seeing it there. Somewhat of an epiphany. So outside of capitalism, untouchable. Made completely from this land I love only using secateurs, following a book from the library, a transmission of a skill long held by humans. Something untouchable by the system, made from here, by my hand & serving a purpose… weaving purpose with the land. Truly I am enamored with this process and its implications. In a throwaway culture to be able to take a wildcrafting jaunt, especially down by wild water hearing the sounds of the fluid creek as I gather willow, sycamore, bramble and other vines, and harvest materials for a much needed basket… this is really something else. Of course something quite old, but marvelous to my modern self. We’ve been needing a kindling basket for quite some time and we love the look of it sitting there holding the freshly split cedar from our land that we use to start our fires. It beautifies and enhances the whole place. And just looking at it.. the hues and textures, knowing it is born of the river, carries the energy of flood and heron, sunshine and the constant gurgle of spring fed creek… but most of all that it didn’t pass through the hands of commerce and I made it! And I can make more! I would like to next perhaps work on a basket with a circular base. It is a bit tricky with the materials I have because they are note uniform “farmed” willow (though I think I will order some of these cuttings to root in the spring so that I can have some cultivated “basketry willow” which is longer, stronger, uniform and comes in neat colors! Yet making these “wild” baskets is a fantastic first step and I read somewhere, and was thinking this too, that if I can weave with the irregular funky pieces, I will cultivate my skill well for when I do have the long ones. And I do love the funk! Happiness is making practical objects which escape the economy, made from the land which we love and tend, adding beauty to our abode. I’ve read a lot of books lately on indigenous stories and I am feeling inspired — and also that sick/raging sadness of the destructive march of civilization/modern culture which erases and kills it at every turn. Yet these are skills that bring life and we are all connected to the land, and can be more aware and more connected if we put more time/attention into it. Blessings, Wren of Mountain Jewel
“When the chesty, fierce-furred bear becomes sick he travels the mountainsides and the fields, searching for certain grasses, flowers, leaves and herbs, that hold within themselves the power of healing. He eats, he grows stronger. Could you, oh clever one, do this? Do you know anything about where you live, what it offers? Have you ever said, “Sir Bear, teach me. I am a customer of death coming, and would give you a pot of honey and my house on the western hills to know what you know?”
Mary Oliver in Upstream
In many North American Native traditions the bear is renown for leading humans to the medicinal roots. In early spring, once leaving his hibernation, he shrugs off the stagnancy of winter in search of that which will cleanse, invigorate and purify. These plants have been held as sacred “bear medicine” to the peoples and we have learned many things from the animals who instinctively use these special plants for themselves.
Osha or bear root is the first such plant that I have used within this context. Hailing from the high altitude Rocky Mountains in Southern Colorado & Northern New Mexico, Ligusticum porterii is a sacred and supremely useful plant. Often overharvested for commercial sale, we must tend the wild populations that we consciously harvest these roots from. The bears are known for digging these roots in spring.
(pic of osha)
Do you know anything about where you live, what it offers?
I know many of you do, dear readers, and still I think this is one of the most important conjuring questions of our time.
In a world replete with the splendors and side effects of globalization we will again be called back into place, to know a place well and develop relationship with it. This doesn’t mean only one place (for many of us are transitory) and it also lends itself to the cross hairs of similarity found all over the world (in this I am speaking of what Susun Weed calls “camp plants” or those plants that follow humans around wherever they go, ie yarrow, wild roses, plantain, chickweed, dandelion, etc).
If you do know about the plants near you, do you know how to use them and in what season and especially do you know which plants not to use?
For myself, I feel no small excitement when forging these relationships and I do believe it springs forth from a deep well the desire to share this information. It’s in our cells, our DNA this urge to share. That’s why people do “wild plant walks” (check for local ones near you) and we really haven’t totally lost this information over time. With that said, it is time to bring it to a larger scale, to reinvigorate this age old connection of which the bear reminds us.
The old people knew and they observed the bear, had relationship with him, and learned from him. He is both teacher and friend. What a joy and gift to resurrect these bonds and glorify the knowledge contained therein.
Though this plant, also known as Jerusalem Artichoke, Sunroot or Sunchoke, is making a revival, I have heard much negative press about this forgotten, yet increasingly popular root vegetable. Largely the negatives reside around the side effect of flatulence due to its inulin content (the same characteristic that has earned it the title of a nutraceutical) and the flavor.
Last night Ini and I made our first harvest of these tubers in the sunflower family. A wild plant to the Americas, they were first tended and selected by Native Americans in the eastern part of the continent, yet now they are popular all over the world after early Europeans brought them home with them.
We have already written about the plant and showed you some very sexy photos of the plant in bloom here so today I want to focus on the roots, their preparation towards the tastiest (and easiest) of dishes and ways we can reduce that fartaffect.
Because last night, let’s just say I was nearly gassed out of my house between Ini and the dog and my own digestive track was doing the rumble and “letting wind” — I have a personal stake in the matter.
And as their perennial nature of self propagation, ease of growing, and health benefits, I am not even close to giving up on this plant.
Digging them was like digging for treasure and as we collected the smaller heads and filled the hole with a big head and spread them around the property, we realized what an easy staple food crop this truly is.
I learned that indigestible polysaccharides such as inulin can be converted to digestible sugars by “acid hydrolysis.” In layman’s terms, that means bathing the inulin in something watery and acidic. Lemon juice, perhaps?
“Boiling Jerusalem artichokes in an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar will hydrolyze the inulin to fructose and small amounts of glucose,” Rastall advises.
Here’s another solution: Traditional fermentation-style pickling also removes sunchokes’ gaseous effects – while retaining their artichoke flavor. Gardening mavens Linda Ziedrich and Rose Marie Nichols McGee developed a game-changing recipe that yields completely gas-free Jerusalem artichoke pickles that keep all their wonderful crunch and taste.
Build Up A Tolerance
His fix for the overdose of inulin in Jerusalem artichokes? Build a tolerance. “Rather than avoiding all inulin, I suggest that people consume small quantities on a regular basis,” he notes. “Their gut microbiota will adapt – the proportion of beneficial bacteria will grow, while the gas-producing bacteria will diminish – and after a while they will be able to eat Jerusalem artichokes without discomfort.”
In On Food and Cooking (2004 edition), page 307, Harold McGee indicates that the… erm… flatulent effects of sun chokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) are due to complex fructose-based carbohydrates that are not digestible by humans.
> Long, slow cooking allows enzymes present in the fresh of the tuber will convert these fructose over time. McGee recommends 12-24 hours at 200 F / 93 C.
“About half of the remaining indigestibles can be removed by boiling in a large volume of water for 15 minutes.”
Harold McGee addresses this subject in his excellent book, The Curious Cook (1990). He explains the Jerusalem artichoke in great detail in the chapter titled, “Taking the Wind out of the Sunroot.” His conclusions are (a) the quantities of the responsible carbohydrate are somewhat dissipated during cold storage of a month or more.
As one of the other answers outlines: the most accepted remedy is cold storage or late harvesting. When left in the groud during the winter, the tubers transform the inulin, thus enabling us to effectively digest the Sunchokes. This means that if you are growing your own, you can just harvest the tubers on the day you eat them, provided you do so late in the season.
First Things First
This is so exciting. Ini and I dug up a bunch of sunroots today and last night and will be selling some on the @homesteaderscoop for SBD! We bought these from a reputable nursery and they are select varieties!
First things first, I have some wonderful fodder here to experiment with. I think, to start, we’ll try the fermented aspect. As you know, we’re going on a 10 day meditation retreat shortly and will start a couple batches of classic lactofermentation using these sunroot and some salt (and other herbs and spices, and perhaps vegetables, as the mood strikes.)
The sky is the limit when it comes to learning how to most effectively partner with perennial vegetables. One thing is for certain, I feel the joy of life moving through me as a I work with this plant and I feel the familiar happiness and wonder at thinking of all of the humans whose hands this vegetable has passed through and how it has traveled all over the world (via humans and yes of course rodents, which are known to move little tidbits around gardens everywhere– and the plant will grow from the smallest tidbit!)
How do you like to eat Sunroot? Start small and let our bodies, which aren’t used to high amounts of inulin, get up to speed with this nutraceutical and it sounds like we’ll be off to a better start.
Let me know your favorite ways to eat it in the comments below!
Food production has long been a passion of ours, the scope and scale of which has evolved over the years. What began as forays into annual market gardening has morphed into more of a focus on perennial food crops. With high labor input and annual tillage (in most cases), the model of annual gardening left us wondering if there was another way to grow food.
There is a huge diversity of underutilized perennial plants that represent a great potential for sustainable food production. Apples, asparagus and rhubarb are perhaps the most well known, but indeed there are a host of perennial plants that yield unique and nutritious food. Many of these have interesting histories and their relationship with humans spans generations, yet they have simply been forgotten in our era when ease of marketability, transportation, appearance and shelf life take precedence.
We believe in a future agriculture where our needs are met harmoniously while the Earth and her creatures are cared for.
As we establish a relationship with the land we steward, we are constantly evolving and discovering what works and what doesn’t. We are discovering for ourselves what foods the land is best suited for, not imposing unreasonable demands. We take note of what species are present, which plants thrive with little attention, and the results of certain practices. We’re putting our money on perennials.
Our vision is to grow as many perennials as possible and share the joys and merits of perennial food production.
By starting small and developing nursery stock of useful and productive perennials, we are allowing time for feedback and evolution. Trees of course factor in heavily, but there’s also a large learning curve for us as we seek appropriate perennial vegetables.
Every year we expand our collection and propagate the established plants. Thinking in terms of years instead of months takes patience and the harvest doesn’t come quickly, but through these thoughtful and consistent actions, we align with and leverage the abundance of nature’s natural propagating tendencies. Perennials are inherently more resilient and stable than annuals. Growing with no soil disturbance and well-developed root systems, perennials are a great choice for lower input food production and long-term sustainability. As we establish perennial polycultures, we are setting up for long term resiliency, which becomes increasingly important in a time of unstable and mercurial weather patterns and seasons.
Allying with larger cycles and taking notes from nature, we see acts such as tilling and annual seeding as unnecessary in many cases. The abundance of nature is available to us if we take note of the dynamics inherent in natural ecosystems and their food-producing members. This is apparent as we divide roots, take cuttings and spread seeds. We’ve already seen with several perennials that plants can survive with less care and attention than many annuals and readily propagate themselves.
There’s a great deal of work needed in developing the systems that will feed us into the future. We are excited to be engaging in this most important of tasks. Below we’ve listed a few plants that we’ve added to our living collection over the past 2 years. We also have created a companion vlog that we’ll be sharing shortly.
These plants thrive in our Zone 6b climate and we highly recommend them. We bought the first 2 earlier this year using Steem and are excited to report back.
Chinese Mountain Yam – Dioscorea batatas
As the name suggests, the edible portion of this plant is a yam, a delicious underground tuber. This genus represents a huge potential of untapped food. Rudolf Steiner said that this would be the staple of the future; owing to its high food value and supposed ability to bring light ether into the body. Relatively unknown in North America as food, the Chinese mountain yam is more commonly cultivated as an ornamental. However, in Japan 100,000 tones are harvested annually for food! It is a long-lived tuber that is often harvested when 2 to 3 years old and which can growth 3-4 feet deep!
While the growth habit may look similar to a sweet potato with its sprawling, vining growth habit, this yam is unrelated and has a slightly more floury texture. Chinese mountain yams also produce tiny aerial tubers that can be eaten or planted, although portions of the underground tubers are a more common method of propagation. Tuber production is increased by trellising. We shall see how it does in our rocky soils, but we are excited to keep expanding our production.
Groundnut – Apios americana
The groundnut is an important yet underrepresented nitrogen fixing food crop that grows wild throughout the USA and Southern Canada. It played a vital role in the diets of many Native Americans and was indispensible for feeding early colonists who were ill equipped to survive winter in a new land. Indigenous populations managed or encouraged stands of groundnuts for increased production.
As the name implies, the edible portion is similar to a walnut growing underground, bearing edible balls on a rope like strand. The tubers boast 16 percent protein (triple that of potatoes) and can yield up to 8 pounds from a single plant! Over the past 20 years or so, selections have been bred by Louisiana State University for increased size and ease of harvest. The resulting tubers are much bigger than tubers found in the wild. Groundnuts may take a few years to get established, but can yield annual harvests for many years.
Skirret – Sium sisarum
Skirret is a once popular root crop that has since fallen out of favor. Yielding a cluster of pencil thick carrot like roots, it suffers from few pests and produces and multiplies with little to no inputs. If given good moist soil it can produce large amounts of sweet root mass.
With a flavor reminiscent of carrot and parsnip (they are all from the same botanical family) and potato, skirret can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Baked, boiled, fried, or mashed it has filled the bellies of many over the years, but has perhaps fallen out of favor due to smaller root size and difficulty cleaning. This perennial gets its name from the Dutch for sugar root and when tasted you’ll see why. It’s a truly delicious, easy to grow and propagate plant.
With these 3 examples, we hope to encourage you to consider adding perennials to your garden plantings.
You’ll find they quickly become friends due to their easy nature & habit of propagating themselves- who said you have to work hard to grow food? Why not let the food grow itself! We believe in a perennial food future with rich soil teeming with microbes (to take a phrase from the popular book of that same title). While gardening is an enjoyable and healthy pastime any way you slice it, the perennial beds are like gifts to your future self. Each time you plant one, you’re feeding yourself and your friends and family for years to come.
Who knows, perhaps in the future we will even sell some of these plants on the @homesteaderscoop for SBD! Let us know if you have interest!