Lifestyle

Steele: Water-wise food crops

Oregon Grape  bloom in sun and shade in the wild this month. My grandmother had a hedge of these. The prickly leaves were a good evergreen barrier. In September she made wonderful jelly from the berries.  - Gwen Steele/Contributor
Oregon Grape bloom in sun and shade in the wild this month. My grandmother had a hedge of these. The prickly leaves were a good evergreen barrier. In September she made wonderful jelly from the berries.
— image credit: Gwen Steele/Contributor

I’ve experienced growing these nine perennial food crops with little or no additional water.

A good loamy soil and mulching annually will produce better yields.

A prairie favourite, rhubarb is ready in April for pies, desserts, jam, muffins, cakes and freezing. The poisonous leaves make good compost.

With its red stems and large leaves, rhubarb is often used as an ornamental.

I’ve grown it without extra water in clay soils but it needs some water in sandy soil to keep it from going dormant in summer.

As a child, I fell in love with asparagus from the thrill of hunting and picking it on wild sunny Okanagan hillsides. As an adult, I was ecstatic when my first home came with a very mature asparagus bed.

Although it will be two to three years before I can begin harvesting, I am preparing to plant it in my current garden.

A good asparagus bed can last a lifetime. Spears may be harvested for four to six weeks in May or June.

The remaining spears will mature into attractive asparagus fern so plants can double as ornamental foliage in a perennial flower garden.

A fall mulch with manure feeds the roots.

Additional mulching, after harvesting is over, prevents weed growth and holds moisture.

Good drainage is important. Roots may rot in heavy clay soil.

Close relatives to the Okanagan native species, cultivated varieties of gooseberry, black currant and red currants bushes grow to about four feet tall and wide.

These attractive shrubs, with small serrated leaves, can be used as a low hedge. (The thorny branches of gooseberries create a good barrier.)

In April, creamy tubular flowers feed bees and hummingbirds. Berries are ready in early summer for jellies, jams, desserts and juice.

In my garden, low branches have grown roots where they touch the soil (layering) which creates new plants.

The Saskatoons that are blooming white all over our hillsides are related to garden varieties that produce delicious plump berries in mid summer.

These are another prairie favourite. Their wild Saskatoons are much juicier than ours. Bylands grows about seven good eating varieties.

With very little supplemental water, I have had good crops from well established apricot and Italian plum trees, especially in water retentive soils.

Both are nice as small shade trees. Their spring bloom is beautiful and leaves turn a lovely gold in fall.

Gwen Steele is executive-director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association. Learn more about gardening with nature and plants for the Okanagan at www.okanaganxeriscape.org.

 

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