Last month, I had the pleasure to interview Emily Steinwehe about the Basic Starter Kit offered by Wisconsin Food Forests (WFF). I was curious about the individual plants and how they work as a guild.
Emily is a professional naturalist and proprietor of Emily Plants. I think of Emily as being a community connector, as she has friends and influence in many communities and is a gracious hostess of many events, such as her annual seed and plant swap and the Sustainable Gardening Club. She teaches children about nature at Blooming Grove Montessori School in Madison. Emily prunes trees at Door Creek Orchard east of Madison and orients orchard visitors to apple production and varieties.
Emily has said that her life’s ambition is to bring edible landscapes into people’s lives, yards, and schools. I asked Emily how she came to be so passionate about woody plants. She surprised me by saying that she is a lazy gardener. Fruiting trees and shrubs and perennials are easier to grow than annuals, according to Emily.
In addition, these kinds of plants have the following attributes that make them more favorable than annuals:
They do a better job of sequestering carbon. They are more resilient. They can provide a windbreak. A food forest can provide a hedge. They provide habitat and food for wildlife. They mitigate urban heat island effect.
We spoke specifically about the WFF Basic Starter Kit, which comprises trees and shrubs. Emily has specific criteria for the plants she chose. They are plants she is familiar with (either she or someone she knows has grown them). They are not not aggressive and will not spread. They are low maintenance.
These plants don’t produce an overwhelming harvest. This is important because of the time element of dealing with fruits. Nobody wants to be dealing with more fruit than they can handle.
Emily has a special interest in native plants because they are easy to grow.
The trees Emily chose for the Starter Kit include tart cherries, Carmine Jewel (Prunus fruticosa x P. cerasus) or North Star (P. cerasus). Tart Cherries do better in our area than sweet cherries, which, according to Emily, succumb to cold, disease, and Japanese beetles.
The other tree included in our Starter Package is the Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), which is a nitrogen fixer with edible flowers. Also, Emily chose this tree as “a nod to beauty.” Anybody familiar with this gorgeous tree has to agree.
Shrubs comprise the rest of the Starter Package because they can easily integrate into an existing landscape. They also remain a manageable size that can easily be pruned and easily reached for harvesting. Shrubs fit in limited space and can be cut off at ground level when pruning. Emily designs the food forests for WFF depending on the landscape. Some of these plants do better in more shaded areas than others.
The WFF Starter Kit includes Regent Serviceberry/Juneberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), Hazelnut (Corylus americana), black, white, or red Currant (Ribes spp.), Black Velvet Gooseberry (R. grossularia), Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa elata), Wild Rose (Rosa blanda or R. carolina), and Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea L.).
In subsequent blog posts, we will examine each of these plants in detail.