Now Is The Time To Build An Edible Ecosystem

As we grapple with fears over food insecurity during uncertain times, there's never been a better time to convert green space into an edible ecosystem.

by Zach Loeks
PHOTO: Courtesy of Zach Loeks

I feel the hope, the grace and the goodness of an edible ecosystem around me.

It happens as I venture outside and clear debris from my gardens, making room for asparagus shoots to push up, rhubarb stalks to burst forth and strawberries to ramble. It’s also part of eagerly watching the buds on my cherries, pears and apricots gently expand in this late spring.

I just finished writing a book about edible ecosystems and am in the midst of final layout for publication this year. An edible ecosystem is a biodiverse and yet organized garden, and it has immense benefits for society on every scale.

Now, as the world shifts in many ways, I see so much affirmation in the relevance of this book and in the work so many farmers, gardeners, homesteaders and ecological designers are doing today to grow fresh food in our communities.

Learn some basic rules to follow when properly planting a tree.

Food Security from the Yard

Now, more than ever, the always-relevant topic of food security is so obviously important to everyone as we consider risking trips to the grocery store and finding shelves empty. And we read headlines about migrant workers being quarantined and the food system facing labour shortages.

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In times like this, it is critical we look to our own green spaces around us and use that self-isolation, boredom and anxiety. We need to turn it into hope for a better future and fuel for community change.

Yes, I would like to see our governments putting stimulus into the local food sector and directly supporting the expansion of market gardens. I’d love to see benefits for home growers and opportunities for new start-up local food businesses.

But why wait on that? There has never been a better time to grow and sell fresh food in your community, plant a patch of raspberries or build a new home garden plot.

The demand is high, need is great, and, whether for business or personal, now is the time!

We can take food security in hand. We can build the momentum to come out of this pandemic with a stronger will to build an equitable and ecological society and with more of the infrastructure and garden spaces needed.

tree benefits edible ecosystem covid-19 coronavirus
Zach Loeks

The Healing Garden

Also, edible ecosystems we build in our yards, communities and farms offer much more than just food like pears, tomatoes and berries. An edible ecosystem is also a sanctuary and space of health and wellbeing.

No matter the size of land you tend, spring blossoms can uplift your spirit. New berries forming can enrich your life. Sights, sounds and textures of the garden landscape serve as a healing environment.

Nutritious, optimally fresh, contaminant-free food is great, but so also are the peaceful spaces it’s grown in.

Consider the many ecosystem services of a single tree. Trees provide, among many other benefits:

  • food
  • water purification
  • soil building
  • pollinator habitat
  • cultural services such as sanctuary and outdoor education

A tree can be both a political statement and the home to pollinator species, and it will still give you a fresh bite to eat.

tree benefits edible ecosystem covid-19 coronavirus
courtesy of Zach Loeks

Now Is the Time

So, no matter what state your yard is in, now is the time to plant!

Plant a single tree: plum, pear or persimmons. Or plant an edible ecosystem hedge and maximize the benefits.

Many of us have the space for a garden bed that is 5 feet by 10, 20 or 30. Or, on a farm, you may have 300 feet for a new edible hedge.

How do we do this? Build a raised garden bed with a shovel, rake it smooth, apply generous compost and rake again.

Mark straight rows and plant fruits trees and berry bushes in the middle row with proper spacing. Plant asparagus and strawberries in the outer rows.

You can tuck your tomato transplants and support them against your fruit trees this year in the middle row. Plant rhubarb or squash at each end as a competitive plant against weeds or lawn from encroaching.

A simple soaker hose, drip irrigation, sprinkler or hand spray gun can keep thing growing great. If you want more annuals, tuck head lettuce, herbs and radish along the outer rows in place of berries and asparagus. Or integrate them with proper spacing (1 foot between all plants in row).

The key to this design is building a proper Permabed and planting your trees and annuals in straight rows to facilitate easy weeding and harvest.

Enjoy good work and enjoy the sense of purpose. Enjoy fresh food now and into the future.

What exactly is a Permabed? Read more to find out.

Borne of Necessity

When I was at the peak of my farming career and producing around 300 CSA baskets in a season, there was an epic drought. We had no rain for months and months.

But I dug a massive pond and invested in great irrigation. I used the drought as an impetus to build a more resilient farm. It has been useful ever since.

There is more than one reason to plant this year. And the benefits are numerous.

So, despite the tumultuous times, there is nothing rumbling more than our bellies.

Rumbling with hunger? Well, maybe.

But moreso, we’re fired up with a gut feeling that now is the time to get growing. If you ever had thought to garden, go ahead and plant one. Perhaps you wanted to grow more and never had time. Well, go for it.

If you are a farm and have considered diversifying your production, dig in.

Edible ecosystem design is a practical way of integrating food security and well-being into your community. Now is the time to do it!

Keep growing,

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