Turn Your Backyard into a Food Oasis

Turn Your Backyard into a Food Oasis

Now is a great time to start an edible landscape. Growing your food without sacrificing beauty is possible by planting a few small fruit trees, berry bearing shrubs, vines, and even food producing ground covers. Beneficial insects are needed to help pollinate your edible garden. These insects are attracted by flowers such as alyssum, thyme, cosmos, marigolds, echinacea, and coreopsis.

If you have a yard that gets 6-8 hours of sun, you can enjoy some fun and food every time you walk around. With over 100 types of garden flowers categorized as edible, you are probably growing some beautiful edibles right now. The practice of growing flowers for beauty, medicine, and food goes back thousands of years when chrysanthemums were used by the Chinese to flavor their meals. Today, many cultures use a variety of flowers in their cooking such as squash flowers and beautiful chive blossoms that can be rolled into pasta dough for pizza and pastries.

Although most people hide their vegetable garden in the backyard, some veggies are so beautiful to look at that people in my neighborhood have their veggie gardens in their front yard. Rainbow chard, black beauty eggplant, mammoth red rock cabbage, purple teepee bush beans, and some of the dark red lettuces are all attention grabbers. Many different varieties of summer squash are delicious as a vegetable… and its large yellow blossoms are also tasty when added to salads. Zucchini produces the largest flowers. Many flowers such as lavender and nasturtium are both attractive and edible.

A simple arbor over a path can be built or bought to support fruiting vines such as seedless red or green grapes. Kiwi, with its striking leaves, thornless blackberries or marionberry, and even some varieties of cucumbers or gourds make attractive vines with hanging fruit or vegetables for your trellis or arbor. If you're thinking of adding a hedge to your yard, blueberry bushes are well suited as screens or accent shrubs for your landscape.

They have a varied appearance throughout the growing season. The new growth of these 3'-4' tall and wide bushes is often bronze soon followed by the pink-white urn shaped flowers and when the berries swell, they are contrasted brilliantly with the deep green leaves. Not only are these beautiful but eating blueberries regularly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease as they have a high level of antioxidants. (See raintreenursery.com) They have a great selection of fruit trees and berry bushes.

If you use a method of pruning called espalier, fruit trees can be added to your landscape wherever you have a fence or south facing wall or building. Espalier is accomplished by pruning the young tree and training (tying) the branches to run horizontally along a fence or trellis wire. The fruit will be easier to pick and the trees easier to maintain. If no other support is there, wooden posts or steel stakes with trellis wire run from one to the other will suffice.

Simply planting smaller fruit trees (dwarf and semi dwarf) that are properly pruned will add beauty with their spring blossoms and late season ripe fruit. Fig trees with their tropical looking leaves, black elderberry with their lacy blackish attractive leaves and delicious fruit, and plum trees with its red, purple, gold, or green fruit are all good choices. For a slightly larger and very showy tree you might also try the crab apple tree. They bear masses of flowers and fruit that are small and sour but make a delicious jelly* that can be enjoyed with pork and other roasted meats.

If you have a sloping yard accented with shade trees, you might want to try making a winding path down the slope and planting beds of lettuce just to the side of the path underneath the trees. The beds can be framed with medium sized rock that will give it a "natural" look. Use some organic compost to improve the fertility of the native soil. If you plant different types of lettuces in each of the separate beds going down the slope that will add an interesting range of color, leaf types, and varying harvest times.

Organic strawberries are my favorite berry. Along the walkway to your front door you might think of adding a nice looking 1 foot wide row that can be easily watered with one run of 1/4" soaker dripline or 1/2" emitter tubing for easy irrigation. Each year you can thin out the older plants and fertilize the one foot wide bed with a layer of compost. It'll be "easy pickins" from then on.

Placing a few large colorful ceramic planters in easily seen places around your yard is another way you can grow edibles. If you live in an area with a mild climate, planting clementine's or dwarf orange or lemon trees in a large ceramic container will make an attractive focal point. Trailing plants such as melons, squash, gourds, and cucumbers (long Japanese varieties) do well in planters that are larger than 5 gallons. Accenting the top of the container with a tall ornamental grass will add to the beauty.

It can be fun to find out how fruits and veggies can make your yard come alive. Adding these edibles into your yard will be a benefit to you and your family and will help to get the kids interested in gardening. I've never seen a child pass by a berry bush without grabbing a few on the go. Turning your yard into a food oasis can be a worthwhile venture that can add some adventure to your home.

Crabapple jelly recipe

This is a fresh tasting, pure jelly with no pectin added. Just the goodness of your backyard.

Ingredients
  • 8 cups of fresh crabapples
  • 3 cups of white sugar
  • Water as needed
  • 1 (3 inch) cinnamon stick
Directions
  1. Remove stems and blossom ends from crabapples, and cut into quarters. Place them into a large stainless steel or other non-reactive pot or saucepan. Add enough water, but not so much that the crabapples are floating. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. The apples should be soft.
  2. Strain the apples and juice through 2 or 3 layers of cheesecloth. You should have at least 4 cups of juice. Discard pulp and pour the juice back into the pan. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 10 more minutes. Skim off any foam that comes to the top.
  3. Stir in the sugar until completely dissolved. Continue cooking at a low boil until the temperature reaches 220 to 222 degrees F (108 to 110C). Remove from heat.
  4. Pour the jelly into small pint size canning jars leaving ¼ inch space at the top. Process in a hot water bath.

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