Let’s face it: almost no one has an ideal location for growing food.
California has great soil… and terrible droughts. Florida has a year-round climate… and lousy sand. Parts of Minnesota have rich glacial soils… and a long frosty winter.
Some locations are tough… and some are really tough.
One of the least attractive places for gardening is in swampy areas. I’ve had people tell me they’d love to garden but “can’t” since they’re subject to long stretches of muck and flooding thanks to their location next to – or in – a swamp.
Fortunately, even if you live in a swamp, there’s hope. Let’s take a look at how you can quit fussing over what you DON’T have and start using what you DO have.
Swamps Are For Swamp Plants
If you live in the swamp or in a low-lying area that stays damp, you’re likely to have bad luck with typical fruit trees and vegetables. A lot of our common crops just don’t like waterlogged soil. Fortunately, there are plenty of edible plants that don’t mind wet feet.
A few of my favorites include duck potatoes, water spinach, rice, sugarcane, Chinese water chestnuts, water celery, cattails, pickerel weed, watercress, canna lilies, malanga, bananas (climate permitting), taro, ground nut (Apios americana) and water lotus. I also like skunk cabbage and swamp mallow, even though they’re both only minor edibles.
Some useful and edible trees can also take swampy conditions, such as elderberries, pawpaws, chokeberries (Aronia spp.), honey locust and willows.
Right there you have plenty of plants you can use to start your own swampy food forest. (Food swamp?)
Take a local foraging class when you get a chance and see if there are any edible wild plants worth adding to your swamp.
Swampy Areas Don’t Need Irrigation
It’s a no-brainer to say so, but swamps don’t need irrigation. That right there makes them attractive. Any gardening area you don’t have to water is fine by me. If you look at your wet areas as self-watering gardens it changes your whole outlook. You might try making larger mounds in a swampy area – or better yet, hugelkultur beds – and seeing how they do. If they flood as well, build them higher!
I did a horticultural analysis and wild plant ID report for a prepper couple who owned a pasture on the edge of the swamp. The sheer abundance of elderberries along the edge of the mucky area was something to behold. Rather than viewing it as a pain-in-the-neck area with lots of brush that needed occasional clearing, they now view it as their highly productive elderberry patch. They were also able to clear an area and dig a pond alongside the swamp that let them develop an edible water garden. That’s good thinking!
Swamps Are Rich In Organic Matter
Another benefit of swampy areas is their ability to hold on to organic matter. Years and years of rotting vegetation combine into thick layers of black muck. If you view that muck as an asset, it makes it less annoying to slog through when you’re out frog-gigging.
Your swamp can be your compost pile.
In Farmers of Forty Centuries, F. H. King relates how rice paddy farmers used the canals in between their rice patches as sources of soil fertility. All of their weeds and spent plants were thrown into the canals; then later, the canals were dredged and the rich muck was spread out on the fields. You can do the same if you have a swampy area.
When I was a kid and such things were still legal, companies used to pick up truckloads of muck from the Everglades and sell them to homeowners for their garden and landscape plantings. It worked like magic, adding a massive dose of fertility to the sun-baked sand of south Florida.
Additionally, if you have invasive aquatic species such as water hyacinth, you can scoop them up and throw them in piles in drier areas and they’ll rot into fine compost all on their own. Water hyacinth will reproduce at a prodigious rate so if you avoid harvesting all of it, you can basically grow your own compost without any work.
If you have a tractor with a bucket you can also go along the edge of a swampy area and scoop up large amounts of reeds, plants and muck and dump them somewhere high-and-dry to make a big compost heap for your annual gardens.
Finally, if looters come around, the last place they’ll be looking for food is in a swamp. Your melons may dissappear from the garden near the house… but the ground nuts in the muck? Nope.
Swamps may not be ideal for standard vegetable gardening, but growing food in a swamp doesn’t have to be a huge chore. Work with nature, rather than against it and you’ll find innovative ways to grow all you need.