So everyone is probably aware of the concept of a food forest. It's basically just a bunch of edible plant species grown in a way to mimic a natural forest. But has anyone ever tried to grow a "food meadow"? Basically the idea is exactly the same as growing a food forest but doing it in a way that mimics a meadow instead of a forest so it would be all herbeaous species and exclude any woody plants like trees or shrubs. My idea is to plant perrenial vegetables such as walking onion, asparagus, rhubarb, and self seeding annuals like lambs quarters, tomatoes, curcubits etc. and eventually I'll have a self sustaining meadow of edible species. I think the hardest part will be the initial establishment and keeping out unwanted weeds, but I will allow edible weeds like burdock, and lambs quarters, salsify and purslane, and weed out all the rest. I realize that weeding could take a lot of work especially if I plan to expand the plot but the idea will be to keep it maintained and over time weeds will become less of a problem due to lack of seed sources and to all of the ecological niches being filled by edible species such as taprooted species, herbaceous vines, greens, perennials, etc. I will want a very robust polyculture of species to take up all the possible niches and realize that some species might not compete well over time and I could either manually reseed them or phase them out. I'm just mainly curious if anyone else have ever tried something like this and if the had any success. I have a pretty large area to do this in and ideally I'd like it to expand every year, with my help of course, and eventually become a huge edible meadow.
I think many well-established gardens that lean toward perennials could be considered a meadow.
Is this driven by climatic conditions? Is there a particular reason why you want to exclude trees and bushes? If sunlight is the issue, there are lots of low-growing things like currants and blueberries and all of the cane berries. Nature sometimes makes us fight for our row crops, while apples and plums keep coming like they're growing on trees.
I also wonder why the stricture about woody-stemmed things. Is it perhaps to be able to clear the space easily at need?
I think it could be a really good model for the reclamation of stranded pockets of land in urban and suburban areas, including temporary to permanent use of land cleared for building projects that later stall.
Another thing that comes to mind, although there's no reason to leave out shrubs, is land use that conventionally employs chemicals or mowing to maintain access, such as utility corridors.
Finally, I think such a model is likely to be well-suited to crop rotation involving frequent shifts between field crop, garden, and pasture modes, for rapid nutrient cycling and accelerated soil-building.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
Gabe Brown has done something similar in his fields, planting 30 different kinds of vegetables and letting them duke it out amongst themselves. The family harvested food as needed. I think this is the video in which he discusses this project:
I think your success will depend a lot on your climate and what the natural climax community there is. If the land wants to be forest, you will have to fight succession. If it wants to be shortgrass prairie or a natural meadow, you might do all right. But prairie generally requires fire to manage successfully. I think that if you are taking a natural meadow and shifting it toward edible species, it might work, but otherwise it will be impossible to fill every niche even with a polyculture, because many of the niches will be for trees, shrubs, climbers, etc. depending on what the land tends toward when left on its own. If the piece of land is really small, you might still pull it off. The weeding will be a lot of work. Are you planning to mow or graze? These will also change conditions to favor some plants over others.
It's an interesting idea, I think in my climate grass would dominate and it would be constantly trying to revert to scrub/forest. But it's interesting as I have to keep the ground in a "farmable" condition which does not include brush/trees.
I'm currently designing a food meadow that will focus on native edible plants that grow in meadow conditions. There are a number in the South Puget Sound in Washington state that are edible.
Camas is the classic one that people might be familiar with but there is also silverweed, dwarf and regular checkermallow, several native onions and bulbs, some native violets, yarrow (medicinal), and springbank clover (a traditional staple crop). If I create some raised mounds to improve drainage I can add Oregon stonecrop to the mix.
I might also look into some non-native edible plants that should play nice. Especially, some perennial vegetables.
Though I will also be adding some native bunch grass to the mix. A few are edible but either way bunch grasses will be an important part of the mix. There has been research into native prairies and meadows that have found they do better with the grasses mixed in.
I think this type of mix could be great and it would provide a lot of awesome food that would be easy to just forage. Plus, it would support a ton of pollinators and other insects. I'm sure the birds would enjoy it too.
My plan is to test the plant mix in my new food forest in open areas and then in the future if it works I want to plant a decent size meadow using similar plants. Eventually, I may setup some beehives in that meadow
There are a few different reasons I'd like to exclude woody plants. One being I think food forests pretty quickly succeed into mainly woody fruit and nut based system and over time, unless cut back, will shade out most short herbaceous species that produce more greens and vegetables. Another reason is just as an experiment to see if I can mimic a natural prairie or meadow ecosystem. My region is right on the border of the palouse prairie, but I think my specific property is more of a pine savanna or dry pine and fir woodland, so I realize I will be working against succession somewhat. I will probably not graze or burn my meadow because I think that would take out too many desirable species, but I do have a good amount of gophers which till the soil and create micro disturbances with thier dirt mounds which allow new seeds to germinate. They would be difficult to control anyways so I'm thinking of letting them do thier job. I also may open it up to browsing from deer once it is more established as I am curious how much it could withstand and which species would still be able to handle the pressure of the deer. And eventually I may just let parts of the meadow succeed into early Successional food forest depending on what takes root. I'm doing a very spread out version of a food forest on the rest of my property by planting desirable trees here and there. So if seeds from those trees or desirable wild trees start growing in my meadow I may just let them go. I think my main management strategy for maintaining the meadow will be weeding and over harvesting the more dominating edible species. Where as the species that do not compete well I'll harvest less of so they can spread. Like I said earlier my plan is to spread it out into a fairly large area, gradually increasing it's size year by year, but after so many years I will likely let parts of it go completely wild and see what happens without any interference. It's also likely that for more conventional garden vegetables I may need keep a patch that I water through dry spells and this will likely be a more intensively managed section of the meadow closer to my house as a zone 2 type area but the rest of my meadow I will make as zone 3 or even zone 4 once I mostly let it develop naturally. I think doing this will be a good experiment to really see what conditions and really how much abuse certain edible species can handle. And after so many years I will have a list of very robust, low maintenance and self reproducing species at least for my property and general region.
Something I'd like to add is that my planting site is currently growing as a natural meadow. My property is an abandoned pasture, probably not having any cattle on it for 15 to 20 years and the soil is actually pretty good. It is clay subsoil and that keeps it fairly moist most of the year especially for my region. Currently the dominant plants are Meadow foxtail and Kentucky bluegrass which I think will be my main "weeds" I need to compete against. There is also a good amount of yellow star thistle, sulfer cinquefoil, yarrow, plantain and a few other weeds in some of the more disturbed patches where the gophers have been. But it is definitely dominated by cool season pasture grasses which I think will be my biggest obstacle in controlling. I think I'm going to start this fall by tilling up a small section and start planting seeds and possibly root crops like potatoes and sunchoke and then covering with dead grass as mulch. Then next year early in the spring I'm going to start weedeating the grass on all sides and do this every few weeks to kill the grass. Then that fall I'll seed and mulch as I did before but this way I won't need to till. So it'll kind of start off in a "ruth stout-y" kind of way. I may end up needing to still till the grass if it survives my continuous onslaught of severe weedwhacking throughout the growing season, but ideally I'd rather not till. Also if anyone knows of a list of edible perennial herbaceous plants I'd be interested in seeing it as I want a huge diversity. I especially want species that are adapted to handle some drought or species that are mainly cool season plants because I think those will do better in my climate. Anything that requires a lot of heat and moisture at the same time will likely not do well on my property without irritation, but I think my soil is decent enough that some may still do pretty well.