Foraging and Permaculture, Week Ending 9/15/2019

Sorry about today’s post, folks. I have too many thoughts bouncing around in my head, and until I can straighten them out, I am speaking/writing mostly gibberish. I’m keeping this post short because that is no fun for anyone to read.

Jerusalem artichokes, aka sunchokes, in bloom
Jerusalem artichokes, aka sunchokes, in bloom

I took a foraging class yesterday hosted by SilvoCulture. I could recount a blow by blow of the plants we identified and the new details I learned about each. Instead, I thought I’d share my two biggest takeaways from the day.

Number one: I need to learn more about the medicinal properties of foraged plants. I have been almost exclusively focused on the edible aspects. Eating wild foods is a way to appreciate the gifts of nature, and at the same time reduce the level of industrial, cheap-oil-fueled food on our plates. Well, these reasons apply for medicines and pharmaceuticals as well. I’m not sure why that hadn’t occurred to me before … but this is why it is helpful to take classes guided by a teacher, rather than just blundering around learning everything on your own.

Number two: the teacher who led the walk, Eric Joseph Lewis, described the relationship between foraging and permaculture in a way that really struck me.

A really short and wholly inadequate definition of permaculture is creating permanent cultures – things that have been designed or engineered in such a way as to continue on their own with a minimum of human interference. A simple example is planting perennial plants rather than annuals, because the perennials return year after year. A lot of permaculture design is based on systems that already exist in nature, because nature has already been doing this for, well, millennia.

Wild Jerusalem artichokes
Wild Jerusalem artichokes

So a good permaculture design will actually create an environment in which humans can forage, just like how nature works.

Mind. Blown.

This also means I have been doing more “permaculture” development than I realized! By planting native perennials that provide food for humans, I am transforming my yard into a more sustainable, less-energy-needed, more-sustenance-provided plot of land than your typical suburban lawn. My Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are my current favorite example of this, because they are finally blooming.

Jerusalem artichokes - beautiful edible landscaping
Jerusalem artichokes – beautiful edible landscaping

They have beautifully filled in a bare spot in our hardscaping. The tubers are helping break up the packed soil in that area. And after it turns cold and the tops of the plants die, they will be composted for fertilizer and the tubers dug up to eat. I will probably leave a lot in the ground to harvest throughout the winter.

And the best part – the “permanent culture” part – is that it is impossible to harvest every single piece of Jerusalem artichoke tuber. Which means next year, they will be back, with no additional effort on my part at all. (Besides harvesting the tubers to eat all winter, I mean… but that’s not really “work”.)

As a random note: I read in a book that you should pinch off the tops of the Jerusalem artichoke plants when they get to about two feet tall, to make the plants bush out rather than continuing to grow up tall. I tried that and it TOTALLY did not work. They tower over my head, as you can see in the photo at the beginning of this post. That’s probably why my plants were so late to bloom as well.

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