design-inspired urban farming
Edible landscapes integrate food production, aesthetic value, and environmental benefits to any yard or planted area. Edible landscapes provide opportunities for more diverse and complex plantings than vegetable, fruit, or ornamental gardens provide alone, which eliminate crop monocultures and can often bring back or promote the rebound of threatened or endangered species of insects and other beneficial organisms.
Plant selection is often more complex in edible landscapes because it involves selecting and scheduling the planting of varieties of crop-producing plants that also offer the dual purpose of ornamental value. This requires detailed attention to selection, calendaring, and scheduling of plantings to assure they deliver crop yields and ornamental qualities.
Pollination requirements are critical for some food crops, such as sweet corn, apples, and certain other tree fruits. Meeting these requirements can be complex. Sweet corn needs to be planted in a block, while multiple varieties of some tree fruit crops, such as apple, need to have multiple varieties to assure pollination.
Sun & Shade Effects
Avoid planting food crops where current or future shade will occur from structure or other landscape plants. Crop plants can also be used to provide attractive shade via fruit trees or a grape-lined patio arbor, for example.
Garden shade is important to consider. Crop plants generally perform and yield best with at least 6 hours of full sun per day, which can be a challenge in many locations in a yard. Another thing to consider is for seasonal changes in sun patterns on your landscape. The angle of the sun and the amount of sun will likely change from season to season and adequate planning is necessary to ensure the greatest success of your crops in an edible landscape.
Planting annual crops among established perennials, especially trees and shrubs, increases diversity but can be difficult due to presence of competing root systems. Frequent cultivation within woody plant root systems can adversely affect these plants.
Maintaining Ornamental Function
The ornamental value of many edibles tends to wane during their life cycles, particularly in annual crops. As plant parts shrivel or turn brown, debris needs to be regularly removed to maintain the aesthetic value of a planting. Fruit needs to be harvested in fruit producing plants to avoid messy or unsightly fruit drop.
An edible landscape offers the opportunity to enjoy home-grown produce while simultaneously having an attractive, functional landscape. The challenge is to apply your crop management knowledge to maximize production in what are often less than ideal crop production conditions. In the end, there will ultimately be a compromise of crop yield and aesthetics in order to maintain the balance between beauty and function of your landscape. But I can’t think of a better way to make your plantings work harder for you!