Every month in The Backwoodsman there’s a little text box with requests from readers. A request I’ve seen in the past few issues is for an article on feral gardening. I decided to check it out. My raised bed garden was an epic fail this year, so maybe it’s time to try something new. I tried Googling “feral gardening” and got almost nothing (it’s strange when even Google has nothing). OK, so what is feral gardening? Well, I know what feral means so I’ll go with that. According to my dictionary, feral means “in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication” or “in an un-kept state.” So I guess feral gardening means growing a garden that takes care of itself.
A garden that takes care of itself?
That doesn’t make sense. I can’t get vegetables to grow when I try really hard to take care of them. How are they going to grow with no care? Then I remembered a house we bought a few years ago. It had been foreclosed on, and empty for 2 years. The lawn was dead from not being watered and the yard was overgrown with weeds. When we cleared the weeds though, we found 2 grape vines. They looked healthy, and even had a few grapes on them. I didn’t know it then, but this was an example of feral gardening.
The next summer I was pulling weeds. My wife told me to save some of them. Huh??? I took one of the ones she wanted me to save to work to ask a friend about it. Turned out to be something called red root pigweed. It grows very well with no care and people do eat it. I tried some and it didn’t make me sick. Tastes kind of like chicken (not really). This year we dedicated half of a raised bed to it. Other edible feral plants I’ve found in our yard are purslane and dandelions. The purslane is kind of slimy when cooked but dandelion is actually pretty tasty (a little bitter though).
What about real crops?
OK so weeds grow really good without any work. That’s not exactly a news flash. What about real food crops? Well, I know that grapes will grow well with little or no care. Salsify will too, and will self-seed every year. Blackberries and boysenberries will pretty much grow wild. I don’t know any others off the top of my head, but I’m researching it. I’m guessing that any open pollinated veggie plant that’s drought resistant would be worth trying. I’ll be playing with some varieties next summer.
I think the best thing about feral gardening is you don’t have to limit it to your yard. If you don’t need to water, you don’t need it close to a house. There’s a big field near my house and I plan on doing a lot of my experimenting there.