Prairie Birthday Farm’s Top 10 Sustainable Garden Varieties
Our recommendations for these varieties of food plants are based on what's proven resilient to the Kansas City area. Check with local growers to find out what might be best in your area; there are numerous wonderful possibilities. The following species are aesthetically interesting, versatile, adaptable and flavorful. They will produce food across your growing season. Most are somewhat drought tolerant. The perennials will eventually require less work, and flowers increase the likelihood that beneficial insects will pollinate and even help you control pests. If you can’t use the plants, something other species will. When choosing varieties, avoid hybrids and anything genetically modified.
Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)1, also known as sunchoke, is a native perennial potato substitute. It tastes somewhat like a water chestnut and is used in salads. Tubers can also be cooked like potatoes.
Hazelnut (Corylus Americana)2 also called American filbert is a native shrub or can be grown as a tree to 12 feet tall in sun or shade. It will bear in 3-4 years and provide protein.
Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)2 is a beautiful native shrub in flower, fruit and fall color. Large flower heads may be dipped in batter and fried as a fritter. Flowerets can be snipped off for a fluffy addition to pancake and muffin batters. Dried flowers can be steeped for a tea. The tiny berries ripen to a deep purple in August and September. Fresh berries can be used for syrup and jelly. Dried or frozen berries can be used in breads and pancakes.
Northern Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)3 is a species of blueberry native to eastern North America. It is a deciduous 4-6 foot shrub and grows best in open areas with moist acidic soils. It has pretty white flowers in the spring and brilliant red leaves in the fall. Varieties are available that will produce berries all summer. Freeze extra berries for pancakes and muffins. Bird netting is a must. Protect young bushes from rabbits.
Daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus)4 is an amazing all around plant. All parts are edible and varieties flower from May to August. It works in sun or light shade. Tender, inner leaf sprouts in early spring can be eaten in salads. Unopened flower buds can be boiled for a mild green bean tasting vegetable. The open flower petals are beautiful tossed in a salad or the flower can be battered and fried as a fritter. The day old drooping flower can be torn into soup.
Annuals Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)1, 5 is a climbing snap bean. Its red blossoms are a tasty edible flower for you and humming birds. If you don’t eat the flowers you can harvest the small green beans until frost. They are best when about three inches. It is susceptible to the usual snap bean bugs, which are controllable through physical removal by hand or water blast from the hose.
Sweet Potatoes Bunch Porto Rico (Ipomea batatas)1, 6 also called "Bush" and "Vineless," is favored for limited space. They grow well in full sun and fertile, loose soil. You can buy starts from nurseries or raise your own from an untreated organic potato by keeping the root end down in a jar of water starting in March.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)4, 5, 6 is an herb with decorative foliage and loads of brightly colored blossoms. They come both compact and trailing and produce more blooms when grown in full sun. Direct sow seed in the garden after danger of frost. Blossoms and leaves are a peppery addition to salads. Blossoms can be stuffed with cream cheese or egg salad. They are an easy cut flower.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)4, 5, 6 Both the dried fruits (usually referred to as “dill seeds”) and the fresh or dried dill weed (leaves) are used. Plant from seed as early in spring as you can scratch the surface of the soil. Unharvested seed will produce a fall crop of dill weed.
Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)4, 5, 6, have a straight thin, white-flowering stalk that is much taller than the leaves. It grows in slowly expanding perennial clumps, but also readily sprouts from seed. They do reseed with abandon, so cut off seed heads before the black seeds start popping out. Harvest the tender leaves by clipping a couple of inches from the ground.