Forest Gardening: Non-Timber Forest Products



When most people prepare a garden the first thing they do is cut any trees that might shade it. However this isn’t the an option for everyone and it doesn’t need to be the only option. Whether you’re physically or financially unable to clear land or you simply enjoy your forest there are many products that can be grown beneath the trees. They’re often referred to as non-timber forest products or NTFPs.

NTFPs are valuable for several reasons. They give woodlands economic value beyond timber and tourism. Forest gardening can help ensure protection for wild managed areas. Some NTFPs are themselves endangered or over harvested and benefit from a little care and management.

As NTFPs include any product besides timber there’s obviously a wide range to choose from. NTFPs can be plants used for food, medicine, or even fiber. There are probably specific NTFPs that are better suited to your land and goals. A few examples are listed below.




This tasty vegetable is actually a type of fern. The fiddlehead is actually just the young fern before it unfurls. Check out this publication to learn more about sustainably harvesting fiddleheads.


American ginseng is an important plant in herbal medicine and for this reason often commands high prices. Sadly this has led to over harvesting and the depletion of native populations.

It does take quite awhile to get established but if you’d like to invest in your future and help stabilize ginseng populations it’s an excellent choice. Find ginseng here.


Also called wild leeks, ramps are known for being an Appalachian favorite however they can be found throughout Eastern United States. Sadly like ginseng in many places they’ve been extremely over harvested.

Adding a patch to your woodland can help keep ramps and the culture surrounding them alive while potentially providing you with an additional source of income. They are often well received at farmer’s markets.


Another endangered species, goldenseal populations have been on the decline. The plant is valued in herbalism for its antibacterial properties.

You can find out more about SESE’s goldenseal rhizomes and find our growing guide here.


Reishi Mushrooms

Mushrooms are easier to cultivate than most people imagine and are an excellent crop for shady areas. There’s a wide variety of both medicinal and edible mushrooms to suit your needs.

You can purchase four varieties from Sharondale Farm though SESE here.

Paw Paws

These trees are one of the few fruits native to North America. Though they’re not available in grocery stores there are domesticated varieties available or you can work to encourage wild stands. Paw paws make for a tasty autumn treat for the backyard grower or might be interesting to sell at a local market. It should be noted that they’re not used commercially because they don’t ripen well off the tree and are too fragile to ship when ripe.


Prior to industrialization “farming” willow was actually very common. Willow was once used for medicine, it contains the chemical found in aspirin today, and to make baskets. Today it’s still sometimes used by artisans to create baskets. You may also see it used by herbalists and in toys for some pets like rabbits and guinea pigs.

Most willow species do well in wet low-lying land. If they grow on your property they can be easy to manage. Many willow species can be coppiced, meaning you can cut the main shoot and it will sprout additional shoots. They are also easily propagated, a cutting shoved into the soil will sprout roots and take hold.


There are many wild nut trees in the United States producing food each year that few people utilize. Hickory nuts, black walnuts, pecans, and acorns can all be harvested in the eastern U.S. and eaten or sold. You can utilize and encourage existing trees or plant some in your forest which can also help wildlife populations thrive.

Some nuts like the acorn require much more processing and know-how than others. Despite this they may still be worth while. They’re extremely nutritious if processed correctly and you may even find a market for products like acorn flour.

Whatever you decide on it’s important to learn as much as possible about your NTFP. Research its preferred habitat to (especially if there’s not already some growing on your property) and learn how you can encourage it. As many NTFPs are endangered you want to be sure your management is sustainable. Like with traditional gardening you can’t take without giving.

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Tips for Growing Awesome Fall Greens

Until I started gardening I was definitely not a fan of greens. People always talk about the difference in taste and texture between a homegrown and store-bought tomato but I think the difference is just as notable with greens. Summertime temperatures often bring a lull in backyard garden green production but fall means it’s time for some more great harvests!

Garden prep.

Chances are you’ll be planting your fall greens in a space you’ve already harvested from during the summer. There’s a few things you can do to prepare your garden for another succession that will help ensure a good harvest.

  • Add fertility.
    It’s a good idea to go ahead and add a layer of compost to your garden before planting.
  • Fork your garden.
    If your soil seems a bit compacted you may want to loosen the soil (not turn it over) with a garden or broad fork.
  • Add some mulch.
    Adding old leaves, straw, or grass clippings around your planting can help add fertility and stabilize soil temperatures.
  • Set up season extenders.
    If you plan on using any sort of season extension wether its cold frames or low tunnels it’s best to get it ready to go ahead of time so you’re not struggling to get it set up around young plants when the weather channel calls for your first hard frost.

Planting Tips

  • Space your planting appropriately.
    If you’re trying to get as much as possible out of a small garden it can be easy to overcrowd things. Trust me though, you’ll get better harvests if plants are given enough room to thrive.
  • Keep soil moist!
    If it’s not as hot it’s easier to forget watering but your seeds still need to be kept moist to germinate well.

Dealing with hot weather.

If temperatures are still high in your area it can sometimes be tricky to establish cool weather loving fall crops in your garden.

  • Try transplanting.
    While not every crop is ideal for transplanting many lettuces like bibbs and romaines can be started in a cool area of your home and transplanted out with great success.
  • Use row cover.
    When it’s hot you can use your row cover to give your young plants a little shade and keep the soil cooler. As the temperatures drop you can use the same row cover to give crops a bit of protection from frosts and cold weather.
  • Mist your planting.
    While drip tape or soaker hose is often a preferred watering method if your trying to get a cool weather crop to germinate and grow you may want to break out the hose. Using the mist setting on most hose nozzles you can keep your soil and plants moist and cool by watering every morning.

Hardy greens to try.

There’s a surprising amount of greens that perform well in fall gardens. Check out these varieties for ideas.

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Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls

Even though the temperature isn’t really saying “fall is here” in our area the garden certainly is. We’ve been harvesting pumpkins, winter squash, and popcorn and sowing fall successions of beets, lettuce, and cabbage. With this and my love of all things autumn in mind I decided it’s time to bring out the fall recipes.

These cinnamon buns are a delicious way to start enjoying the autumn harvest without breaking out the pumpkin pie. They’re delicious and fairly easy to make.



  • 2 1/2-3 C all purpose flour
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 C milk
  • 3 TBS vegetable oil or butter
  • 1 TBS molasses
  • 1/4 C pumpkin puree


  • 3 TBS butter
  • 1 C pumpkin puree
  • 4-5 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/4-1/2 C brown sugar


  • 1 C powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2-3 TBS milk

Never made your own pumpkin puree? Check out this post.


Raised rolls ready for the oven.

Preparing the dough.

To begin combine the milk, oil or butter, molasses, puree into a microwaveable bowl or small saucepan. Heat these ingredients until they’re quite warm but not hot.

In a separate bowl combine the sugar, spices, salt, and yeast. Once the liquid ingredients are warm pour them into the bowl as well. Stir until well mixed and then begin adding the flour a little bit at a time. As the dough gets hard to mix you can turn it out onto a well floured surface and knead it with your hands.

You’ll know you’ve added enough flour when the dough forms a nice ball and is tacky but not sticky. Now allow the dough to rest for about 5 minutes.

Next roll the dough into a rectangle. I generally roll the dough between 1/4-1/2 inch thick though you can change this to suit your preference.

Dough with butter, pumpkin, puree, and spices. Still needs sugar.


Now you can spread the filling. First soften or melt the butter and mix it with the pumpkin puree and spread this in a thin layer on the dough. Then sprinkle the spices (alternatively you can use a pre-made pumpkin spice mix) evenly over the dough. Do the same with the brown sugar. I rarely measure the spices or sugar and just go by eye.

Roll the dough into a long tube and slice it into 8-12 pieces and place them into a greased, 9×13 inch baking pan. Place the pan somewhere warm and let them raise for 2-3 hours until they have doubled in size.

Bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes until they’re golden brown.


To make icing combine the powdered sugar and vanilla and stir in the milk a tablespoon at a time until it reaches your desired thickness. Icing should be added after the cinnamon rolls cool.

Saving the Past for the Future