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26 responses to “Gardening or Gathering?”

  1. kirsten

    very interesting post, leaving me with much to ponder. Thanks for that!

  2. Barbara

    You’ve always been a gatherer, Hank! I enjoyed this post.
    And that photo of the morel is perfect. My favorite mushroom and I spent every spring of my young life foraging for them.

    I wanted you to know I linked to your blog this week….I posted your oregano ice cream recipe.

  3. Russell Kofoed

    Off topic, but thanks for the tip on poaching (as in cooking) wild game birds. I poached a couple of partridge I shot this weekend with broth, white wine, tarragon, and garlic from my garden. Keep it simple. It was fantastic.

  4. Cork@Cork'sOutdoors

    So many gardening dilemmas–mine is a blueberry bush a friend gave me that he hasn’t pruned in two years (lots of blueberries, but not as big as they should be) and my trying to get a number of starts going to have my own little backyard private blueberry farm…had to toss out a whole string of cuts that I planted, but this new rounds seems to be taking and surviving…hopefully rooting!

    Would like more on these tepary beans: how are they best prepared and how do they taste?

  5. Kim Graves

    Hi Hank,

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this too and want to put something out to get your thoughts.

    We moved from NYC to the Hudson Valley because we wanted to grow our own veg and raise our own meat. But because of the horror of building our own house, after two years we still don’t have a garden. So we buy from a very good farmer’s market in Saugerties. BUT, Masha has discovered that maybe we already have a farm because half the hillside is edible!

    So here’s my thought… Ready…? It is said that us Americans don’t have an indigenous cuisine. Well not like France, Italy, Spain, Japan, China…. What we have is an amalgam of everyone else’s. And there is all this mixture of Tex-Mex; Pan-Asian; etc., etc. But why can’t we have a uniquely American cuisine? The hillside of Provence, France are covered with rosemary, thyme, lavender. The hills of Tuscany have oregano, etc. American hillsides have our own herbs. As gathers, why can’t we find the unique American herbs to make our own unique cuisine? You’re on the West coast and I’m on the East so we’ll have different herbs. But so does Languedoc and Normandy.

    I make this claim, that what American cuisine is missing is right under our feet.

    Best, Kim

  6. Bricky

    Interesting post. Admittedly I’m a world away in FLA, but to a large extent I agree with you. I’ve got a long list of things I’ll never try to grow again because the effort-to-return ratio is totally not worth it in this climate. However, fortunately here we can have almost maintenance-free brassicas in winter (collards and mustard greens my favorites). Beans almost grow themselves in the fall. Tomatoes, yeah, a lot of effort here, but I’ll never give them up, a garden isn’t a garden without them. Its all a question of what you want to put your energy into.

  7. Steve Boulden

    I must admit, while this whole post had my attention, I stopped and thought hmmm… when I read that fish are the last wild food we regularly eat. I never thought of it. That’s interesting.

    While it’s not new to me, the fact you point out of plants in the wild being healthy and insect free in their own environment speaks volumes about how to prepare and grow our own domestic gardens. While it may require some miracle work for some special crops we wish to grow, attention to environment and plants can produce close to the same kind of natural relationships in a domestic environment.

    Having stuff in our gardens that eats time, resources, and that just doesn’t work is usually a monster we create ourselves. And while unlike nature, we have to be in control of domestic environments, naturalized and native gardens can be a delight of flavors as well as not so time consuming.

    Great post. A lot to think about.

  8. Sporting Days

    I don’t buy — or perhaps just don’t like — the notion of domesticated plants and animals as slaves, although it may have some validity in an industrial agricultural setting.

    I much prefer Michael Pollan’s view that these plants and animals made an evolutionary choice to link their future with human beings in exchange for easier living and to guarantee the survival of their species.

    Really, who are the slaves here? Think about all the time, money and effort we spend tending to our gardens and pets and livestock. You can also have a relationship with domesticated animals (perhaps a bit of a stretch to include plants in this) that you can’t have with wild animals.

    When you’re hunting, your relationship with a wild duck or pheasant or grouse (as a living creature) may last, what, a few seconds, a few minutes at the most if some ducks are working your decoys? Your relationship with a domesticated dog, a dairy cow that provides milk for your family, your backyard flock of chickens can last years and be mutually satisfying and rewarding, even if the relationship ultimately ends with that livestock providing food for the table.

  9. Restaurant Supply Dude

    That was a very interesting and thought-provoking post, Hank. It was also very timely for me, as this was my first year gardening; and I just finished harvesting the last of my vegetable crops this weekend–parsnips. One of the things that I have learned during this first year of backyard ag, is that the innocent little cabbage white is really an evil monster. I think I am also done with any brassica family veggies, because all but one meager head of broccoli became caterpillar food.

  10. Jessa

    Nearly all of our garden this year is volunteer. I go crazy trying to micromanage everything if left to my own devices – my garden OCD is massive – so letting plants decide where they want to put themselves and generally just letting them do their thing has been a welcome (and effective) change.

    I too have picked up on the foraging quite a bit this last year. Correlation? I think so. Viewing plants in their natural habitats teaches me more about “gardening” than anything else – namely, that the plants will, for the most part, do better if I keep my grubby little hands off them and let them grow on their own schedule.

    Example? Our tomatoes are JUST coming ripe, but the few that are starting to redden are *gorgeous*. The good stuff? ALL on the volunteers.

  11. Jeanne

    On brassicas: No more; they are such a pain.

    I think we’re just going to free-form most of the yard that we can isolate from the dogs and let things grow as they will next year.

  12. amy manning

    But what about kale? Those are pretty easy to grow and are totally worth it, at least that’s what I think. 🙂

  13. Janeen

    I’m a lazy gardener. And I live in the water-rich midwest. I’ve found that if I select the right varieties they require little effort beyond a bit of initial pampering. Pumpkins, zucchini, transplanted tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, scallions and most herbs will grow here with almost no effort. And most of them will self seed.

    Hardy apples, plums and hazels grow wild in the woods. Adding a few more trees doesn’t require a lot of effort.

    Salad greens, peppers, sunflowers, beans, peas, brassicas and melons are too much work. And I can buy lovely ones at the farmer’s market.

    Leaving them out of my garden gives me time to forage for fiddleheads, miner’s lettuce, wild berries, brook trout and other goodies!

  14. Joshua

    I’ve been much harsher on my garden plants as far as care goes, but at the same time I’m loathe to remove anything that even looks like it might produce a tiny bit of food…

    What I’ve found is that my garden will produce a few things really well & with little work (tomatoes, tomatillos, green beans, some greens, allia), and of which I’ll have an abundance. With these (plus my trees’ produce & ducks’ eggs) I’m able to trade for things I can’t seem to grow well (squashes, corn, carrots, radishes).

    Still, I get way more from foraging.

  15. Audrey

    I like your idea of volunteers as almost wild, and as a preferred life form to certain high maintenance vegetable garden types. Same goes for perennial herbs and the self-sowers. Chervil is our newest permanent resident — it’s everywhere in the garden now. I wish fennel survived our winters, because perpetual bulbs would be a treat. Blackberries and salmonberries are zealous spreaders, almost like mint, maybe too much so. Now I’m working on purslane and mache. You’re right, it’s not exactly gardening — more like a selective kind of stewardship.

  16. Carol

    I’m into the second season in my vegetable garden and can really relate to what you’ve written here, Hank. What I’ve found is that, sadly, I do much less foraging than I used to–partly because I have less time now that I garden, but mostly because much of what I forage for is wild salad greens and my garden already produces more delicious “tame” greens than we can eat! I need to find a balance because I miss my foraging outings, and my relationship to those plants I gather, a lot…I have a patch of neglected soil that I’m trying to turn into an edible weed garden, by transplanting wild dandelions and miner’s lettuce, lamb’s quarter and purslane, other found greens of that type…and ignoring them. Too soon yet to tell how it’s going to work out, I’ll know come springtime…I’m also adopting a Darwinian approach to gardening and encouraging volunteers, throwing all notions of orderliness to the wind. I just hate to get rid of plants, which makes me pretty bad at thinning seedlings unless I can eat them…

  17. kate@livingthefrugallife

    Late to this post as I’m playing catch-up with my blogs. I wanted to put in a good word for piracicaba, the “non-heading” broccoli developed in Brazil. I love my brassicas too, but also must content with the caterpillars. Of all the brassicas in my garden (Tuscan kale, three varieties of cabbage, tatsoi, regular broccoli, and the piracicaba) this is the one which the cabbage moths chose to ignore. I trialed it for the first time this year and we had an absolutely scorching summer out here. It did just fine with almost no watering. It’s supposed to be quite cold hardy too. Despite its description, it does form small heads, but the leaves are what it was developed for. Great in stir-fries. I’m definitely growing more of this next year, and commend it to your attention. But I’ll still coddle the kale along with applications of Bt.

  18. 6512 and growing

    I had a similar revelation this summer after babying my heat-shrinking lettuces in hot, arid Southwestern conditions. I started harvesting the lamb’s quarters, purslane and amaranth that grew like, well, weeds. And I fell in love. So much that I froze several quart bags of amaranth for the winter.

    Thanks for this thought provoking post!

  19. Juicers

    Great post. I really stepped up my gardening this year, but I still haven’t pursued gathered foods as much as I would like. It’s a shame, because Pennsylvania is a great state for it. I’m going to really try to get out there soon.


  20. Lela

    The thinking now is that most hunter-gatherer cultures practiced some form of plant propagation. Especially up here in the NW coast region. Ever had wapato? Modern hunter-gatherers focus now on the low effort, high calorie yield crops.

    I find I have a much stronger relationship with the wild plants that I rely on than the ones I planted in the garden. I feel what you say about going out to meet them on their terms, especially mushrooms. Then I root (heh) for the things I really like to gather – japanese knotweed is a noxious weed here, but so delicious, I always think “yay!” when I see a healthy stand of it.

  21. Peter

    I have a friend who calls his spot a “yarden;” it’s a mixture of edibles, ornamentals, and volunteers that he curates up to a point. I like a more orderly garden, but then I grow things to try to get us through the year (or most of it) and so I need a lot. I also find that rotation helps keep the pests down. But I let chervil, nasturtiums, cilantro, dill and other volunteers grow where they will, though I sometimes move them while they’re still small so they don’t get crowded by bigger neighbors.

    I think at the end of the day it’s really about what works for every individual, and what motivates us to be outside and engaged in procuring our food for ourselves.

  22. Butterpoweredbike

    Thank you so much for this post. You’ve managed to articulate my own experience as well.

    I started gardening on March 1st in 2010. My dear friend was dying, and planning a garden was a way to fill up those chemo sessions, and I foolishly thought that somehow planting seeds would keep him alive. I live in Colorado. It is deep winter in March, snow, wind, cold temps. Gardening is absolute fooishness. I can’t tell you how much time I wasted covering plants and hauling 5 gal buckets of hot water into my hoop house.

    I finally let my garden freeze, on purpose, the other day. Sure, I could have kept going, the watering, the covering, then tending, seemingly forever. But after eight solid months of this nonsense, I’m starting to wonder why.

    And here’s the reason… because this year, I discovered that while I’m riding my bike, I can collect food. And not just in a novelty sort of way. I can collect enough food to stock my fridge. It feels so effortless, so much a part of what I’m doing anyhow. And it deepens my connection to place and time.

    It’s nearly November in the high elevations of the desert plains and mountains, and much to my surprise, I’m still foraging. It’s not glamorous high-summer food anymore, I’m gleaning fruit from sidewalks and filling my panniers with dock. But nonetheless, I’m still bringing home food. And it’s really making me reconsider my relationship to my own garden. What plants are worth the effort? How can I supplement my foraging? It’s a rather shocking shift in perspective.

    And to Kim, that’s a beautiful thought, what it means to eat locally, to have truly regional cuisine in America. Is it more “local” to eat food grown on a farm within 100 miles of your home, even if they are growing non-native species, or is it more local to eat what grows all around you, to flavor you meals with what your distinct region provides, often in abundance, as if it’s calling out…

  23. Swamp Thing

    I don’t believe I’m seeing this post for the first time.

    Honestly Hank, I think you are not leaving gardening, you are just leaving FOODIE gardening. Which, if you continue gardening, means you are more “farmer gardening” – something that usually sounds like, “I got sick of the tobacco worms eating the late season tomatoes, and so I stopped growing late season tomatoes.”

    It’s about growing what works. I would nearly DIE to be able to grow watermelon. But at my garden plot, watermelon thieves abound. Turtles. Rabbits. And two legged watermelon thieves. Yes, another garden will steal your ripe watermelon. And so F- it. I’m not growing watermelons. This year is my last try for cucumbers. They got the wilt last year. Other gardeners refuse to grow them because of the wilt.

    I love cucumbers, but why force it?

    And ultimately, if the focus is “food,” (and not the sport of obtaining it) I have a hard time caring about whether something grew wild or tame. Shooting a pen raised pheasant is not “hunting.” But that pheasant will be tasty anyway. Same with your pest-free brassicas. They may not be “wild collected” or whatever the proper foodie term is, but they will be delicious, and you will have grown them. And that still counts for a lot.

  24. theophilus

    Enjoy your site. In Baltimore, Maryland I am enjoying the young shoots of daylily. I cook them like asparagus shoots. Dandelion leaves, with stems removed are added to my main spring greens, that of spinach, kale and chard, add this also to fresh chives and parsley for a nutritious salad. It is amazing what a 2 ft by 8 ft bed of spring greens can produce for just two of us.

  25. Tina

    I love this post, love the independent prospect of gathering or foraging.
    We are trying to switch more of our garden over to perennials and self sowing volunteers. Last fall I let a few lettuce plants go to seed, and had a few radish plants that did the same. I had a spare bed out of rotation so just let the seeds fall where they fell. This spring I started a new bed with planted plantings of the same types of lettuce, but the bed with the winter sown volunteers is much stronger and healthier.
    I think it’s a bit of a survival of the fittest as you said.

    As I work on this quest and read through your post again, it makes me think you are looking more at permaculture than you are gardening. Just a thought.

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