5 Ways to Grow Food Without a Garden

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Gardening is one of my favorite pastimes, and as a budding herbalist, it’s one of the most important skills you can learn! Today I have a fantastic treat for you! One of my favorite blogging friends,Susannah Shmurak is an avid food gardener, sharing her wisdom on her awesome blog,HealthyGreenSavvy, and she is here to share her wisdom with us today, on 5 Ways to Grow Food Without a Garden! After you read her post, don’t forget to check out her blog! -With love, Christina

Not a food-grower yet? Maybe you think you don’t have a spot for food in your pretty flower-filled yard or believe that food growing only happens in big row gardens full of tomatoes and beans. Even if you live somewhere where growing food is frowned upon (by homeowners’ association rules, for example), there are plenty of ways to sneak lots of delicious edibles into your yard and no one has to be the wiser.

No-Garden Food Growing

The trick to growing food in your yard without a veggie patch is perennial food plants that look like ornamental landscaping. Think fruit trees and pretty shrubs that happen to also produce delicious berries. I have no back or side yard, so I’ve planted the front of our tiny corner lot in edibles, including dwarf apple, plum, and Juneberry trees. (Juneberries, or serviceberries, are delicious blueberry-like fruits that come early in the season. If like me you don’t have the right conditions for blueberries, Juneberries are a wonderful alternative, but they’re so delicious and prolific you may want some even if you do have blueberries! They also come in shrub form.) They look just as nice as everyone else’s non-fruiting landscaping and have beautiful blooms like other ornamentals, but they also give me free food.

I also have shrubs that produce honeyberries, raspberries, and gooseberries, as well as grapes, strawberries, rhubarb, lemon balm, and numerous other herbs and edible flowers (including some considered weeds that are quite tasty and nutritious). I stick in annual groundcherries anywhere there’s space. There’s always something to eat out there, and yard work usually involves snacking.

5 Ways To Grow Food Without a Garden - thehippyhomemaker.com
Thyme looks a lot like a number of less useful landscape plants and gets lovely purple flowers.

Don't waste your yard on grass!

I generally see a patch of carefully tended lawn and think, what a waste — that could be a small fruit farm! I would so much rather be out picking plums and strawberries than mowing grass — which is why we have a yard with zero grass and dozens of perennial food plants. You can grow organic fruits and herbs with minimal effort or cost, and you’ll save yourself big bucks at the grocery store.

(Note: Most of the fruits mentioned below will require buying a tree or plant, but many perennial herbs can be grown from free divisions from other gardeners. And if you don’t have a yard, container gardening on a patio or balcony is also an option. See my last Hippy Homemaker post here if you want to know more.)

5 Ways To Grow Food Without a Garden - thehippyhomemaker.com
These beautiful flowers are chives (Credit: Adrian Byrne)

5 Ways to Grow Food Without a Garden

  1. Start with a fruit tree (or three or four). There are self-fertile dwarf trees out there that can yield you pounds of fabulous organic fruit year after year with very little work on your part. If you only have room for one or two, talk to your local nursery about your options. Apples and pears, for example, need a second apple or pear tree to pollinate, while others, like some varieties of plum, don’t. Though I don’t have much space in my front yard, I’ve squeezed in 2 plums, 2 apples, 2 Juneberries and a cherry. I don’t do anything special to care for them, though learning a bit about pruning early on would have made them happier. There is a wealth of information online about pruning, as well as tricks for dealing with bugs and diseases without spraying chemicals. My take: I don’t have time to fuss over my trees, so mostly I get what I get and I’m happy. They do well enough to keep us awash in delicious fruit with very little attention, though I suppose if you’re an area plagued by bugs you’d have to do more work or sacrifice more fruit.
  2. Rethink your shrubs. Many fruiting shrubs, like Juneberries and honeyberries, are just as attractive as their less useful cousins. So why not get fruit? If you’re trying to keep things pretty, skip the brambles (like raspberries and gooseberries), that are rangy and try to take over. But if you have an out-of-the-way place for them, these are easy-peasy to grow and sooooo yum. Other small fruits to consider: blueberries, currants, and elderberries, which you can use to make the Hippy Homemaker's elderberry syrup!
  3. Consider edible groundcovers. Strawberries make great groundcovers! There are also groundcover raspberries and cranberries if you live in the right climate. Creeping thyme is another terrific groundcover that smells delicious when you walk on it and tastes wonderful in all kinds of dishes. Mints, oregano, and lemon balm grow a little taller, but also make nice additions to secretly-edible landscaping. I’m also a huge fan of rhubarb (a vegetable you can make a dessert out of!) as an eye-catching landscape plant that puts up with a lot of neglect.
  4. Plant fruiting shrubs and edible groundcover around the base of your trees, and you’ve made the most of a small space while making the job of caring for them easier. The smaller plants serve as mulch for the bigger ones, and some groupings can be mutually beneficial by attracting pollinators or discouraging pests. These are called “guilds” in permaculture speak. You don’t have to study up on guilds if you don’t want to, though. Just put in lower-growing plants like oregano, mint, or chives around the base of your tree and enjoy less weeding, watering and pest trouble.
  5. Let your food climb. Scarlet runner beans and grape vines are beautiful and can dress up a fence or arbor, even shade a porch. Kiwi vines are another delicious option. Beans and grapes can even climb your trees if you’re trying to make the most of a small space. Why settle for flowers when you can have food, too?

Get Growing with my free e-book

I love helping newer gardeners on the road to growing their own food. Please feel free to ask gardening questions in the comments on my website and I will do whatever I can to help. Or check out my FREE e-book, Get Growing! for details on planting herbs and greens, as well as some sneaky ways to save yourself time and money in the garden. Head on over to my website and check it out. While you’re there, you could also grab my guide Affordable Healthy Food for additional strategies to help you eat healthy on a budget.

If you want to learn more about adding food to your landscape, check out Angela England’s inspiring new book, “Gardening Like a Ninja,” which has tons more sneaky ways to incorporate fruit, herbs, and veggies into your yard design.

Susannah Shmurak is an avid food gardener whose blog, HealthyGreenSavvy, offers practical, money-saving tips on gardening, food, and low-impact living. Growing some of your own food is just one of the strategies for eating well on a budget shared in her free guide to making healthy food affordable.

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