The term “guerrilla gardening” has been around for awhile…most recently it’s been recycled by an activist group intent on urban beautification. This article will be discussing the old-school meaning of the term that was first heard back in the 1980s. There’s alot that’s been written about the survival-type guerrilla gardening strategy and most of it seems to have been written by those that are just planning to do it but haven’t actually attempted. A few of us in our group have been working on this type of cultivation/foraging over the years and we have come to a few conclusions about what works and what is generally a waste of time. I want to stress that this article is not advocating trespassing in any form. All of our experimentation was done on our own property or with landowner permission.
We started our test project by planting extra vegetable seed from our home gardens in easily accessed lots on commercial property in the area and along paths on vacant property. It was easy to find small patches of ground that were neglected by the landscapers and property maintenance crews.These spots could be visited without drawing much attention to ourselves since they were fairly high traffic areas. The areas seemed to be very fertile since there was plenty of wild growth around that regularly did very well.
This experiment was mostly a failure. We ran into every type of problem that could be imagined. Typically the plants would be devastated by insects but we had other problems such as seeds not germinating or the other wildlife would get to what little produce that did manage to grow. Over a period of 3 years we attempted to get a regular vegetable to grow in a wild environment. It was frustrating to say the least. The closest we came to a harvest at all was a collection of “Three Sisters” plantings that were placed on the northwest slope of a retention pond. The plants grew well but were absolutely recognizable from a distance. As the sweet corn was nearing full size, the stalks were knocked down by raccoons and the ears were eaten. It was obvious that this plan could not be depended on. Garden variety vegetables are meant to be grown in a garden and do poorly in an unattended environment. Tending a garden takes time and spending that amount of time digging and cultivating an unprotected area is something that can’t be fully hidden and is just inviting trouble. It was time to change our tactics.
As foragers, we habitually use every opportunity to scout for wild edible plants, even around parking lots and in the yards of friends and family. Many times the size and numbers of these plants can be surprising and when you find a large plant or multiple plants in one area, you know that the conditions are ideal. Cleaning up around the area and removing any small scrub foliage can create even better conditions for the edible plants to thrive. This method has proven itself many times over the years. It has the double benefit of taking less of your time than garden plants do and when the plants do reach their full size, most passers-by will not even notice anything unusual.This method does require a good knowledge of how the plant propagates and how to harvest properly. We’ve done this with plants as common as dandelion and complicated as Muscatine grapes.
Another tactic that has shown great results is planting edible landscaping. Jerusalem Artichoke and Day Lilies are just two attractive landscaping plants that are easy to grow and multiply voraciously. After they establish themselves and begin to spread, they can be divided and planted elsewhere and given away to folks you know so they can start another patch. These extra patches can be used as a reserve to count on in case something happens to your crop.
Summary: The old-school guerrilla gardening strategy of planting vegetable gardens in secluded and unattended areas is, in my opinion, a very poor plan. There are just too many ways for this plan to fail. Planting low-maintenance edibles and good foraging techniques have proven to be a more reliable way to grow food remotely and with less effort.