Between the Rows: Embracing foodscape revolution

  • The strawberry bed at Mary Chicoine’s and Glen Ayers’ Greenfield garden is foodscaped with fruit, vegetables and berries. FOR THE RECORDER/PAT LEUCHTMAN

  • Pat Leuchtman

For The Recorder
Friday, August 18, 2017

Last week, I wrote about several neighborhood gardens that would fall into the category of the “foodscape revolution,” a topic Brie Arthur focuses on in her book, “The Foodscape Revolution: Finding a Better Way to Make Space for Food and Beauty in your Garden.” Arthur would have applauded the Chicoine/Ayers garden, which eliminated grass completely from the tree strip, as well as the front and side yards. Most of the back yard was also given over to edibles, but there was a shady and grassy place for relaxation.

Although we live in an area with many small farms growing vegetables and fruits, the number of edible gardens in town has grown substantially in the past four decades. Greenfield is not unique in this growth; the trend is growing (pun intended) all across the country.

Arthur is an author with lots of experience in growing, who also knows how to inspire and educate. Her book is divided into three sections. She suggests ways of organizing an edible garden around your house, thinking about which plants are most used, like a salad or herb garden; which plants need the most watering; and the edibles that need less daily care, like fruits and berries. All zones include beautiful ornamentals, which will attract pollinators, as well as make the garden a beautiful place.

Of course, you also need to consider the amounts of sun and shade on your lot as you design your plantings.

Arthur recommends getting a soil test to see what deficiencies the soil might have and incorporating compost annually. I do want to make a small caveat here. If you add compost that includes animal manure every year, it is possible that eventually you will end up with soil too rich in phosphorus. Too much phosphorous will keep the soil from taking in manganese and iron, which are essential micro elements, causing yellowing of leaves. It will also kill many of the mycorrhizal fungi, which is so vital to soil and plant health.

I first learned about this problem some years ago from a friend who had magnificent vegetable gardens. She got a lot of her compost from a horse farm nearby. One year, her plants were not doing well and she had her soil tested to find out what had gone wrong. The answer was too much phosphorus. It was a shock to learn that her beautiful, rich soil was too rich to be healthy.

Last year, I attended a talk by EcoLiving Workshops given by Caro Roszell, a NOFA/Mass soil carbon technician, who also mentioned the problem of too much phosphorous in the soil.

To start our garden in Heath, we bought beautiful compost from Martin’s Farm, which included manure to build our slightly raised beds, but we ddi not need to do that every year.

We now use our homemade compost, and recognize that our mulches will also add organic material to the soil over time.

The second section is devoted to foodscaping projects, like the sociable foodie fire pit, a meadow to create a privacy screen, growing edibles in pots for those without a garden, and even a different — and edible — approach to entryways that are used in many housing developments. I was fascinated by the descriptions of alternate growing systems, aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics. Arthur said her mechanical-minded husband and scientific-minded son found these systems fun and educational.

The final section is all about harvesting, preserving and processing, complete with a few recipes.

Arthur is a graduate of Purdue, where she studied landscape design and horticulture. After which, she spent more than a decade as a professional grower and propagator, but has now turned to lecturing and writing. She is a correspondent for the PBS show, “Growing a Greener World,” and was recently given an award by the American Horticultural Society for her achievements and leadership in the horticultural world.

Her recognition and support of the foodscape revolution is a part of a national movement that I’ve heard referred to as “public food,” which involves getting permission and then planting fruit trees or other edibles on land owned by schools, libraries or other public spaces, which can then be harvested in season by those who pass by.

I learned about public food from two of the young men digging up some of the last plants at the Pleasant Street Gardens, before construction began on the John Zon Community Center.

I thought this project was a little like gleaning, an ancient practice that is being used again to allow people to come to a field after it has been harvested to collect the vegetables that have been left behind. Why should food go to waste when there are people who are hungry?

Pat Leuchtman has written and gardened since 1980.
She lives in Greenfield.
Readers can leave
comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.