A few years ago I got stuck with some land on an eroded hillside with rocky, clay soil near West Fork, Arkansas. No way I could put a conventional garden in without lots of money and work. The abundant wild blackberries and Jerusalem artichokes convinced me that if I planted a lot of different varieties of seeds and plants I might find a few that would grow in the ground just as it was. I was wrong. There were lots. These are my favorites; everyone of them likes growing in my tough-love garden.
My tough-love garden:
Very stingy watering, plants must live off rainfall.
Fertilizer: urine diluted 1:15 with water.
Soil always covered with mulch or cover crop.
Weeds tolerated and used as mulch and cover crop. Note: My primary mulch is leaves. I pull up grass and weeds and place them around the base of plants. The green weeds seem to stimulate them. Carol Deppe reports the same stimulating effect. I cut the ground cover weeds with a sling in winter and cover with a mixture of cardboard, newspaper, and old carpet. The carpet becomes pathways.
Boston Mountains neighbors, consider trying some of these in your garden. They are productive in my garden; guaranteed to be very productive in your garden. Click items for my source.
Crops from seed:
Rattlesnake beans, Wild Garden Russian Kale, Jellicorse Twin Dent Corn, Chires Baby popcorn, Bowling Red okra, Lemon Drop hot pepper, Oda sweet pepper, Hopi Red watermelon, Canadian Crookneck winter squash, Japanese Giant Red mustard, Super Sugar Snap peas, Colossus Crowder peas, Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato, Black Amber sorghum, Golden Giant Amaranth, Tambuli Edible gourd, Crimson Forest bunch onion, Green Goliath broccoli, Texas Red and White peanuts,
Korsor elderberry, Mara des Bois strawberries, Misty blueberry, Amish Red gooseberry, Natchez blackberries, Reliance table grape, Cythiana wine grape. Viking aronia, Kadota fig, Aunt Molly’s ground cherry, Youngberry,
Socia tea, Peppermint, Spearmint, Sage, Greek oregano, Citronella Lemon Balm, Catnip, Echinacea Paradoxa, Calendula Resina, Korean hyssop, Cinnamon basil, Wild Dagga, Marsh Mallow, Stevia, Garlic chives, Yarrow, Roselle, Milk Thistle,
The most loved plants in my tough-love garden. (click header for link)
Wild Garden Kale Mix – I loved Red Russian Kale the first time I grew it. Productive and tasty raw or cooked it’s also an inbreeder which makes seed saving easier. My selection from Frank Morton’s mix of un-named varieties is even more productive and has a large entire leaf that’s great for stuffed kale leaves. Frank said in his seed catalog that he hoped growers would develop locally adapted varieties. I did, thanks Frank.
In April I looked at my beautiful, dew covered kale in the early morning sun and wrote in my journal: epithet: “…became enlightened while watching kale grow.”
Misty Blueberry – I tried growing over a dozen of the Northern Highbush blueberries that are grown in NW Arkansas. Blueberry growers laughed at my attempt to grow blueberries in my garden without irrigation. They were right–none lasted more than a year. But I got the last laugh–I’ve been eating blueberries from my garden for 3 years now. I planted 4 varieties of Southern Rabbiteye blueberries. All 4 plants made it thru the heat/drought of the first year. They began growing in the Spring following a winter with below zero temperatures. Misty set a few berries. The next Spring following a hot, dry summer and another Winter with below zero temperatures Misty was loaded with berries and the other 3 had a few berries. This year all 4 had lots of berries; Misty ripened a handful of berries or more every day for 3 weeks. In addition the flowers of Misty are intensely fragrant and perfumed the garden.
Youngberries – Byrnes M. Young , an amateur plant breeder, wrote Luther Burbank that Burbank’s Phenomenal berry, a blackberry-raspberry cross, did not produce well in Louisiana. Burbank suggested crossing it with a locally adapted Rubus. Young crossed it with the Austin dewberry and created the Youngberry in 1905. I had a similar problem with another blackberry-raspberry cross, the Boysenberry–the berry that made Knott’s Berry Farm. A delicious berry but not very productive for me. I tried the Youngberry and fell in love. The unripe, red berries look and taste like large, juicy raspberries. The ripe, dark purple berries are juicy with a delicious, complex flavor that makes a great wine, Sadly, only the Australians seem to know this. Youngberries multply rapidly if allowed to run along the ground but all the berries get eaten by small animals. For berry production they grow best on a 2 wire trellis like Boysenberry growers use. The current year’s canes are all tied to one wire and the previous year’s canes (the fruiting canes) are tied to the other. I don’t understand why this fantastic berry is not grown more widely in the SE US.
Lemon Drop hot peppers – Every hot pepper I’ve grown in this garden, from the mild Anaheims to the blistering Habaneros, has grown more vigorously and productively than every sweet pepper. I speculate that hot peppers are more primitive than sweet peppers and adapted to a wider variety of soils. The sweet peppers are more recent and were breed in ‘good’ garden soil. As the heat was bred out, so was the ability to grow in any soil except ‘good’ garden soil. My choice for hot pepper is Lemon Drop, about the size and heat level of Tabascos and Cayennes. It has a pleasant, citrusy flavor and is attractive enough to grow in a flower garden. Most importantly it is a Capsicum baccatum and doesn’t cross with C. annuum garden peppers. For sweet peppers I grow a neighbor’s variety of Anaheim–nice thick walls, good flavor, and very little heat. LD peppers can be preserved in vinegar to make a superb ‘pepper sauce’ for sprinkling on greens and blackeye peas. 9/29/15 update: I may have a sweet pepper winner, Oda from Baker Creek more at harvest time.
Colossus Crowder Peas – The first year of my woodland garden I planted seeds from Baker Creek and some very cheap seeds from Walmart along with seeds from several 1 lb. packages of beans. My water was from a kiddie pool fed by a rain catch tarp. When our usual 30 day drought came early in July I abandoned the beans and cheap seeds from Walmart. In 2 weeks the cheap seedlings, weeds, and most beans were dead. The blackeye peas were still green and unwilted. They stayed green but didn’t grow till the rain returned in late August. They resumed growing and went on to set a nice crop. I was astounded.
I learned that Vigna unguiculata that includes blackeye peas, purple hull peas, crowder peas, and yard long beans, tolerate poor soils, heavy soils, drought, and heat. The next year I tried 6 varieties of Southern peas and 4 varieties of yard long beans. The yard longs were incredibly productive but I didn’t care for the taste either boiled or stir fried. The 6 Southern peas were all productive and delicious, each with a different flavor. The most productive in my garden was Red Ripper and it became my Southern pea of choice. I continued to test some each year and the third year Colossus Crowder was more productive and tastier than Red Ripper. It’s now my Vigna u. of choice.
Canadian Crookneck Squash– Enough testing! This is now my one and only squash. The 2 C. pepo squash varieties I grew this year go in the journal as F.T.T. (failure to thrive) Don’t grow any more pepos.–joining 4 or 5 entries just like that from previous years. C. C. squash is productive and relatively free from squash stinkbugs compared to other C. moschata. The neck can be sliced into 1/2 inch pieces and baked or fried. The seed bulb can be split, stuffed and baked. I like a mixture of chopped nuts (pecans!) brown sugar, and cinnamon topped with miniature marshmallows.
Rattlesnake beans – By whatever measure Rattlesnake beans are near the top. There may be better snap/green beans (Fortex, Marengo Romano, Blue Coco), better shell beans (Kentucky Wonder), better soup/dry beans (Pinto, Mother Stallard), more heat/drought resistant beans (Yard Long beans), even taller beans (Logan Giant) but Rattlesnake beans excel at all measures while being productive and resilient (coming back again and again after deer leave bare stems to regrow) Almost as early as most bush beans. I love my Rattlesnake beans and they love my garden.
Under construction, more to come including more links to seed and plant sources.
Jellicorse Twin dent corn
Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato
Hopi Red watermelon
……….. more to come