When you embark on a homesteading journey, whether your property is large or small, getting the most out of everything becomes very important. Sustainability, limiting our waste, reusing and repurposing are all ideals that have always been important to me, but now as a mother and mini-homesteader, I feel that these have been amplified. They are a major part of my core values, lessons that I want to teach and instill in our daughter.
This got me thinking about something I call purposeful planting. What is it? What does it mean?
Purposeful planting is the act of thinking about your crops from start to finish, how every part can be used, and designing your garden spaces to use those plants to their fullest. Whether you are planting flowers, herbs, vegetables, grains or fruit, everything can be arranged and maintained to create a symbiotic relationship on your property. Here are some examples of purposeful planting that we use, which may help you, too, as you plan your garden and landscaping.
• Companion Planting: I’m sure most of us are familiar with this practice, even if it’s by name only. Companion planting is when you put specific plants together that are known to help each other out in one or more ways. Sometimes it may be as simple as one plant deterring pests from the other, like marigolds do for tomato plants. Or maybe one plant replenishes a specific nutrient the other needs to thrive, as in chives with strawberries. Considering what plants will be beneficial to each other (and which are less friendly together!) will greatly increase the success of your gardens and harvests. This is especially true when planting perennials, as they will be in the same spot year after year.
• Function: How will your crop interact with its surroundings? What will it do to boost the health of your soil, native bees, or local wildlife? Does it serve alternate purposes for you?
Choosing plants that have multiple purposes or functions will be beneficial to you and your garden. Cover crops are a great example of a plant the enriches garden space. They avoid erosion by holding soil in place with their root system, replenish necessary nutrients to the soil (especially when allowed to decompose back into the soil after its season), and can provide food for bees, insects and birds.
Considering what the plant will look like, and how it will grow, is also important. Is it decorative? Will it provide shade in a needed spot, or act as a privacy screen between neighbors or an unsightly storage area?
• What other harvestable resources does it provide?A great example of purposeful planting, is considering what other unusual reasons you could harvest the plant for. As an example, we will be planting a patch of sunflowers near our driveway that will serve for several functions: a decorative “fence” to block the view of storage from our house, pollen for bees, seeds for birds, our chickens and some for replanting next year, and once the plants have died and dried out, we will use the hollow stems as tubes for our native bee house next year.
There are many other plants that can have more than the obvious, intended purpose. Choosing items that will give you the most return for your labor and time helps you to utilize your space the best. Consider using stalky plants as supports for creeping vines (think “Three Sisters”!); attractive, perennial ground covers that flower for bee-food, but may have culinary or medicinal purposes; even a small patch of oats! We will be planting oats this spring to reduce erosion, encourage healthy soil, to harvest for our own oats to eat and we will use the dried straw for chicken bedding and mulching!
Purposeful planting can really help you farm your land to your greatest benefit, which is even more important the smaller your property is. But it goes beyond what you can get out of it; this is about being a good steward for the land. Replenishing and enriching your soil doesn’t just mean a bountiful, nutritious crop for you, it encourages healthy bacterium and insect life. Choosing plants like borage, bee balm or feverfew that are beautiful, medicinal/edible perennials also means food for bees, without whom we wouldn’t have anything to eat.
By planting with purpose, we can farm and homestead in a way that is symbiotic with nature, harmonious. We can take care of the soil, plants and wildlife that feed and sustain us as well, ensuring that we can continue to do so for many, many years to come. So as you start putting plants and seeds in the ground this Spring, take a step back and consider what additional uses those plants provide – to you, and your land.