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How to create an edible landscape in your yard

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Learn how you can eliminate turf grass and the chemical pesticides and fertilizers it requires by replacing turf with attractive edibles.

Natural Living badgeLast week I wrote about reducing or, preferably, eliminating the use of pesticides and fertilizers in lawn care and management. I said that this week, I’d talk about ways to have an edible lawn. I’ll get into that, but first I need you to now that I will barely be able to scrape the tip of the iceberg on this topic.

Entire books can be (and have been) written about food lawns. Groups are dedicated to the cause and people with much more knowledge of the process than myself, have written very succinctly about its applications. So, I’ll try to proffer a few ideas and then I’ll include as many resources as I can to get you started.

The biggest step is making the decision to grow food. It doesn’t have to be a massive, all-in-one overhaul where you rip out all your grass and start from scratch. Of course, you can certainly take that approach if it suits you, but most people like to start small and see how it goes.

Choosing to grow an herb garden is a good place to start. Choose a small area of turf, one that gets ample sun, and remove the grass. You can also take over a flower bed or other cleared area. Decide which herbs you use most. Many people start with basil, cilantro, oregano, thyme, mint, parsley or some combination. The first two are annuals, the next three are perennials and parsley is a biennial. Mint is extremely invasive so it’s best to keep it in a pot. If you’d like to put it in the ground, you can leave it in the pot when planting. Unless, of course, you want the mint to take over.

Most herbs are fairly low maintenance and are easy to harvest. I often run out to my herb bed for something fresh to throw in a salad, soup or sauce. As the season comes to an end, I either freeze the last bounty or dry it, for use throughout the colder months.

Another way to gradually incorporate edible or medicinal plants into your yard is with flowers. Nasturtium is a vining plant that produces beautiful yellow and orange flowers. They look fabulous in a salad and have a slightly sweet, very peppery flavor. Nasturtium tolerate poor soil and are easy to grow from seed.

Calendula is another edible flower that also has great medicinal value. Add the flower as a garnish on a brunch plate or top a fresh garden salad. The dried flowers can be used as a tea or seeped in oil for topical use. Calendula is a wonderful ointment that I’ve been using for years to soothe skin irritations.

Coneflower, or echinacea, is also a medicinal plant. Additionally, it is quite pretty and
fits well in most flower beds. It does get tall though, and is a perennial, so take care when choosing a location for planting. I’ve seen the daisy-like flowers sprout in purple, pink, red, orange and even white. The root is often dried and made into a tea to boost the immune system.

Chives are one of my favorite plants. They are among the first to come up in the spring, with thick, tall, grass-like clumps that make an excellent addition to any dish requiring a little oniony zest. As the season progresses, the plant sprouts purple, spiked, ball-like flowers that share that onion essence. They are another edible flower. Chives require almost no maintenance and get larger each year. They also stay green far into the fall. If the plant gets too big for the space it’s in, you can split it and plant some more in another area of your yard, or share it with a friend.

As I’ve said, whole books have been written about edible landscaping. Apparently, I have even more to say about it than I thought. I’ll continue with the topic next week but I’ll focus on vegetables. Vegetable plants can also be incorporated into a beautiful yard and I’ll offer some suggestions about how to accomplish just that.

If you want to get started right away, check out www.motherearthnews.com and www.organicgardening.com or stop in at the Riverhead Library. They have a fairly large and comprehensive selection of gardening titles. I highly recommend “This Organic Life,” by Joan Gussow or this great article by Michael Pollan: “Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns.”

If you already have chives sprouting and want to incorporate some into your cooking, try mixing the chopped greens in a little sour cream for the top of your taco, or put some in an omelet. Fresh eggs are also in abundance this time of year. Look for them at your local farm stand or coyly mention to a chicken-owning friend how much you love eggs. I can almost guarantee they will happily hand over a half dozen or so.

Cream Cheese Chive Omelet


1 tablespoon non-GMO oil
4 eggs
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
pepper, to taste
2 ounces cream cheese, cubed

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-low heat. Whisk together the eggs, chives, milk, salt and pepper. Add egg mixture to skillet. When the eggs are set, sprinkle cream cheese on one side; fold other side over filling. Slide omelet onto a plate.

What herbs are you growing this year? Do you plan to incorporate any elements of edible landscaping? Let me know at laurie@riverheadlocal.com

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Nigro laurie
Laurie Nigro
, a mother of two, is passionate about natural living. Laurie resides in downtown Riverhead and is co-founder of the River and Roots Community Garden on West Main Street. Contact her by email to laurie@riverheadlocal.com.


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