Homestead Heros, Plants of Promise: Ground Nut & Strawberry

Homestead Heros, Plants of Promise: Ground Nut & Strawberry

Groundnut (Apios Americana)& Strawberries too!

I know last time I promised strawberries, but the American Groundnut is just so much cooler!Groundnut Vine Being a man of my word this week you’ll be getting a twofer!  Real quick like I’ll go over how we use strawberries on the Traditional Catholic Homestead, and then I’ll go into greater detail on the Groundnut.

Strawberries:  there’s a ton of info out there on how to grow and cultivate the strawberry so I won’t really go into that here.  What I’ll touch on real quick is how I use them in my garden.  I like to think of strawberries as a medium density, low growing, ground cover that provides for a delicious yield, as well as a living mulch.  I plant them in a pattern where they will fill in open spaces on the hugelkultur beds to provide competition for weeds and what not.  I also let them runner out and fill in more overtime.  I don’t really do a whole lot with the strawberries other than some light weeding, and picking.  I planted both june-bearing and ever-bearing types.  One word to the wise, while strawberries and white dutch clover fill the same gap as a medium density, low growing, living mulch the clover will easily overtake the strawberries.  That being said they are not a good pair if you don’t plan on doing a lot of clover harvesting!  Trust me on this one, I made that mistake last year and am still dealing with that issue… the downfall of perennials (they really are the gift that keeps on giving)!  I suppose there’s worse problems to have though… like Canadian Thistle (I’ll talk about my plans for managing that problem in another post)!

Now onto the truly wonderful Groundnut!  First off I want to make the distinction between the Apios Americana that I’ll be talking about today and other plants people refer to as ground nut (like peanuts, et. al).  The groundnut is a North American native found from southern Canada down to Florida, and as far west as Colorado.  It is called many names including potato bean, and American groundnut.  Propagation is generally achieved by planting the subterranean “nut” in a moist location and letting it go from there.   Groundnut is a perennial that is hardy to USDA zone 5.  That being said I have tried planting them in the fall with little success.  This year I was able to source some tubers in the spring so I have high hopes of getting them established on our homestead.

Nice find... a spring source for groundnuts to plant!
Nice find… a spring source for groundnuts to plant!

The edible portion is the subterranean tuber as well as an edible bean pod.  The tuber is prepared like a potato with a similar flavor and texture, though some say it has a bit of a nutty flavor.  The groundnut should not be eaten raw.  It is not poisonous, but digestibility and nutrition is very low unless cooked.  Once established the groundnut is a reliable source of valuable nutrition, and being perennial it will continue to produce year after year, so long as you do not over harvest.

Groundnut is also a leguminous plant.  With that in mind it will fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil to provide for its own fertilizer and enrich the surrounding soil for the betterment of other plants.  They also grow in more of a vine than a bush or grass.   I plan on using the groundnut in my garden the same way I do peas.  Utilizing them for soil enrichment with a nice yield of consumable tubers is a nice example of function stacking in the garden.  They should have some support to keep the vine off the ground.  I also kind of like the idea of planting them near some of my fruit trees.  This would provide for a trellis for the vines (growing on the trees), and fertilizer for the tree (nitrogen from the groundnuts).   I really like the multiple yields and symbiotic relationships between plants.  These kinds of pairings should reduce my inputs overtime, allowing me to bring larger areas into production.  This idea is paramount to providing for my family’s nutritional needs overtime, reducing our dependence on outside sources, and increasing our self sufficiency.  Being a hardy perennial that produces copious amounts of nutrition is what makes Apios Americana (the humble groundnut) this weeks homestead hero, another plant of promise!

Our hero...Apios Americana!
Our hero…Apios Americana!

Next week I’ll decipher the world of the mightiest of  all alliums… Garlic!  Join us then for our next installment of Homestead Heros, Plants of Promise!

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