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Yesterday I was responding to a forum post about mushrooms, which got me to reminiscing about my own experiences with growing gourmet mushrooms.
When I bought and moved in to my home a few years back I began the task of cleaning up parts of my yard that had been buried under blackberry brambles, refuse, and piles of old brush and sticks. I discovered these huge maple logs that had been covered over, which ran up and down some steep inclines on the side of my yard. Rather than cut them up and use them as firewood, I instead used a chain saw and cut steps in them, making them in to stairs.
I also purchased, via mail order, oyster mushroom spore dowels from a company called Fungi Perfecti. I drilled holes all over the top portions of these logs and inserted the mushroom dowels in them.
Last fall, I got two big blooms of oyster mushrooms
I was really careful to match the descriptions of the mushrooms with what I saw, referring both to mushroom descriptions in the catalog, and also the descriptions in a couple of books I have on mushroom identification.
I then tried eating just a little bit of one of the mushrooms and waited 24 hours to see if I had any reaction to it, since it is not impossible to have an allergic reaction to any new food. In the meantime I harvested and dried enough oyster mushrooms to last me over a year. I had roughly a couple of 5 gallon bucketfuls of dried oyster mushrooms.
Since then I have enjoyed being able to rehydrate my mushrooms when needed and include them in soups, pizzas, sandwiches, stir fries, and more.
Oyster mushrooms are best harvested and used when still small. I wasn’t expecting mine to have a bloom so soon after planting, so I wasn’t checking for them, so they got bigger than I would have liked. When this big, they can be kind of rubbery. I haven’t really been able to figure out a good use for the stalks, which got the most rubbery and can be kind of chewy. The caps still have enough suppleness that they are good in things.
The drawback to having oyster mushrooms in my log stair case is that it will cause it to degrade more quickly. The mushrooms actually feed on the log and cause it to decompose.
So as you can see in this picture, the top of these log stairs is in pretty bad condition, where I had the mushrooms bloom.
I figure that this is an acceptable cost if I am able to continue having great gourmet mushrooms for years to come. At some point in the future I will need to replace the logs, when they have degraded beyond use, with something more permanent.
In the past I've also grown elm oyster mushrooms in wood chips, but I'll leave that story for another time.
Elderberries (Sambucus species) are one of those kinds of berries that you don’t see often in the store. True, you can sometimes find elderberry jam or syrup, but it isn’t nearly as commonly seen as other kinds of berry. I feel this is unfortunate, since healthwise, elderberries are great.
I’ve got two different elderberry bushes in my front yard. I have them in the front since they are some of the most attractive berry bushes I have.
For example, my 3 year old Guincho Purple elderberry bush has some great seasonal pink tinted flowers on it that contrast really well with its purple foliage.
The individual flowers look like this
I also have a Variegated elderberry bush, which has a nice contrast of creamy white and green foliage, with seasonal white flowers that are similar to the pink ones on my other elderberry bush.
In the fall, those clusters of flowers change to clusters of small blackish berries, so as you can probably imagine, my elderberries are pretty productive. I’ve heard the berries described as being tasty, though I’ve never been too keen on elderberries straight off the bush. I think they are best used in the syrups and jams. In other words, I like them sweetened.
I’ve heard of people using the flowers to make elderflower cordials or dipping them in pancake batter to make fritters, but I haven’t attempted that. I’ve also heard of people making tea, wine, or juice from the berries.
Overall, my elderberry bushes have been low care shrubs after planting them. The hardest part of having them is picking the berries in the fall. They are deciduous, so you may want to rake their fallen leaves in the fall.
I am growing two elderberry bushes since they need to pollinate each other.
My Guincho elderberry bush is in a more sunny location and has grown more in response, versus my Variegated bush growing under an evergreen tree where it gets much less light and much less moisture. I have actually been pleasantly surprised by the toughness of the Variegated Elderberry bush.
The hollow stems of elderberry bushes can be used in a variety of ways like making flutes, popguns, or temporary fences. The berries can be used in dyes.
It is spring in the northern hemisphere. All over my yard I see fruit and berries forming, making this the time of great anticipation for the harvest I hope for. This is an exciting time as I gauge the fruit of my labors and the ongoing growth of things I planted in prior years.
Like these red currants, that will soon be turning red and getting their sweet and sour taste that we enjoy by the handfuls.
In our society we sometimes get caught up in the “I want it now” mentality, which I am by no means immune to. When it comes to gardening and orchards, you are required to plan ahead, sometimes years or decades ahead. So, through my edible landscaping and gardening I feel I have better learned patience and come to value the investment of time and work on a wanted harvest. Fruit trees in particular are an act of patience. When I purchased my first peach tree about 4 years ago, it produced nothing the first couple of years. Then 2 years ago it produced 3 peaches, last year it produced 4 peaches, and this year it looks like it has about 20 peaches on it.
Sometimes things take so long to produce that you don’t get to fully enjoy the fruit of your labors. In the U.S. it often seems like people move every few years with the changing of school, jobs, or other life changes. Time after time as a kid and even as an adult my family has left behind fruit trees we planted, which we had planted with such anticipation of enjoying the fruit, only to leave it behind before seeing that really happen. I was fortunate when moving in to my home to already have something of a young orchard established, so I was able to benefit by previous owners planning, work, and anticipation.
Like with this European Prune plum tree, which was here when I moved in, has been loaded with hundreds of plums that have been eagerly looked forward to being ripe by my kids each year.
Or like this below picture of some Mirabella plums that I am expecting will soon redden up into juicy sweet fruits that will be really delicious.
Another established tree that I love and am anticipating fruit from is my cherry tree.
I don’t ever want to again uproot my family and leave these gifts behind. The story I tell my kids, and I am sticking to, is that the only thing that could get me to leave my home and the bounty of all this wonderful harvest is if God told me to leave it. Otherwise, I will happily live the rest of my days in my home surrounded by the joys of the harvest of the things I patiently cared for and tended, with my door open to those I love. In my quirky way, I summarize this to my kids as being that I am never planning on moving and someday they can bury me under the cherry tree.
In my front yard I planted from seed about 6 different edible flowers last year, including blue cornflowers. I wanted to have experience with them all, both in how to grow them, how to use them in a landscape, and how to use them in the kitchen. I let them all go to seed and since that time, most of them have come back this year. One of the first ones that grew this year was my cornflowers, sometimes called by its Latin name of Centaurea Cyanus, or common names of Bachelor's button, Basket flower, and Boutonniere flower.
These are one of the only flowers that are a true blue color. Blue is my favorite color, so I jumped at the chance of having a blue edible flower. As you can see in the picture, not all of my re-seeded cornflowers are blue, but also come in shades of pink and light purple.
I made the mistake of growing these toward the front of my planting area, since the plants get between 3 to 4 feet in height at their full size, which blocks out my shorter flowers. They would look much better in the back.
The plant looks kind of weedy, and I’ve read that originally it was considered a weed in the United Kingdom from where it originated, though is now pretty rare there. I can understand it becoming a weed, since it was very prolific in re-seeding itself. So, I think it would be best controlled to having a backdrop location, with smaller foreground plants hiding all but the upper portions of the cornflower plant from view, but still allowing the blossoms to be seen.
Only the petals of this flower are edible. I would recommend trying a little before using it in large amounts, since some have reported having allergic asthmatic reactions to the pollen.
The flower petals are more stiff and fibrous, so not something you would want to put in a salad. The floral taste reminds me of roses, but with a little bit more spicy sweetness. It is a good flavor for tea.
In the Pacific Northwest we are really fortunate with a growing trend for edible landscaping. I think a good part of this has been encouraged by some of our regional nurseries, who not only offer great plants that combine aesthetics with harvestable benefits, but some even offer classes and help with how to incorporate edibles in your landscape design.
I have about four nurseries that I feel have been of incredible help to me in my passion for edible landscaping.
Please note that all of these nurseries are in the Pacific Northwest, so they might not be the best match for your climate. They all have online websites and mail-order catalogs. I don’t represent them in any way, but personally have found them of great value.
The nursery that introduced me to the idea of edible landscaping was Raintree nursery.
Back in about 2000 I drove the 2 hours to their location from my home and took a day class with them on edible landscaping. The most exciting part of this class was sitting down with a landscape designer for half an hour, who looked over my landscape plot and sketched out a plan for me that incorporated a nice design filled with fruit trees, berry bushes, and more.
I spent the next summer implementing that plan, and to this day think that my yard became one of the most beautiful, productive, and interesting back yards I’ve ever seen. Later, I was really sad to sell that home, mostly due to my love for that yard. My kids still refer to it as “The Garden house.”
Raintree has one of the best selections of plants for edible landscaping you can find. They grow a lot of things directly in their nursery, but also offer a wide selection from other nurseries, which further expands what they offer.
I was really impressed with the knowledge and passion of the people that own and run this nursery. Their owner has such a passion for what he does that he visits and stays in touch with experimental stations in New York, Russia, Washington, and other locations in the search of new exciting edible landscaping options. It seems like every year their owner has gotten back from some new international adventure with exciting edibles he has found. Their catalog is filled with wonderful pictures and a whole lot of helpful information.
I probably wore out my welcome at their nursery a couple years back, when they had to discourage me from over-picking their on-site orchard.
I’d say that prices are mid-range with them. Factor in the cost of shipping or driving there, and the cost is a little bit high. They have summer sales and specials, which can really bring the costs down.
I’ve gladly and well spent thousands of dollars buying plants from Raintree.
Cloud Mountain Nursery
I later discovered a somewhat cheaper nursery called Cloud Mountain Nursery.
This nursery also offers edible landscaping workshops. I haven’t tried any of their workshops, but was impressed with their facilities and the helpfulness of the people working there when I visited them to buy my 20+ blueberry bushes.
They grow a lot of their own grape plants and other plants, and seem to undersell Raintree in price, though their selection is not as varied.
Burnt Ridge Nursery
Probably the most affordable nursery I’ve found is Burnt Ridge Nursery.
This is a smaller nursery, with the owners running a weekend farmers market stand. They have a great selection of nut trees and a limited selection of other berry and fruit plants.
There have been times I have purchased plants from one of the other nurseries, only to discover that Burnt Ridge sells those same plants for much cheaper. So, I now try to remember to check with them before buying elsewhere, though I often forget due to the allure of the prettier catalogs of the other nurseries.
The drawback to Burnt Ridge is that their selection is more limited, unless you are shopping for nut trees.
I spoke with the owner at the farmers market and he was really personable and helpful. We’ve exchanged emails on a few occasions and direct service, which was a rare treat you don’t get with some of the bigger nurseries. I was impressed.
One Green World
The fourth nursery I greatly value for edible landscaping is called One Green World.
What really caught my eye with this Oregon based nursery was their catalog, which has great pictures and helpful information. Sometimes I can find things offered from them that aren’t offered by Raintree, though that is rare. Prices are comparable to Raintree.
I grow carrots primarily for my kids. My kids think of carrots as an easy and desirable snack that is usually available to them. It is not uncommon for me to hear the hose come on during the summer and when I check to make sure they aren’t having a wild water and mud fight, I find them instead washing carrots to snack on that they had just pulled up from the garden. I think I I’ve trained them well.
I currently have more than 20 feet of carrots coming up in my garden.
I planted them in the bottom of my terraced garden bed, within easy reach of the kids.
Out of the different carrot varieties, I prefer the Nantes variety. I like it largely for its sweetness and larger size. I also like that it looks more like the carrots in the store, making it easy to slip in to things for people that are choosy about anything that looks different or nervous about anything coming from the garden where bugs and dirt are.
If you think carrots are sweet, you should try an overwintered carrot. After a freeze, carrots sugar content and sweetness goes up as the carrot adjusts for the colder temperatures. Though be warned, if you are like me, every time you eat a summer carrot after that, you will be wishing it was a winter carrot. I find that the Nantes varieties I get are great for overwintering.
Last year I got a fun carrot seed mixture from Cook’s Garden, which was intended for kids. It contained different kinds of carrot seeds that ranged across white, yellow, orange, red, and purple colors. The kids thought it was a lot of fun to plant and watch them grow.
An interesting thing I just learned is that the green carrot top foliage is edible.
In many landscapes I’ve seen evergreen hedges that are trimmed and maintained to form living walls of foliage. I’ve often seen these hedges maintained between 3 to 10 feet, or sometimes even unmaintained and left to become behemoth walls of greenery. The trend in these hedges is to use an evergreen bush, usually some sort of broad leaf shrub, which can withstand intense pruning.
In my approach to landscaping of using edible plants in traditionally ornamental landscaping techniques, I found an attractive edible evergreen broadleaf plant that can withstand heavy pruning. The plant is called Laurus nobilis, perhaps more recognizable by its common names of Bay Leaf, True Laurel, Sweet Bay, Grecian Laurel, Laurel, or Bay Tree. It is an aromatic evergreen tree, whose leaves are most commonly used in such ways as adding flavor to soups and stews
Bay leaf is best maintained and pruned; otherwise it can reach up to 40 feet high and 32 feet wide. It handles pruning well, and is even successfully kept as a houseplant.
About 2 years ago I planted my bay leaf hedge of 4 plants in a partially shaded area. The suggestion I read was to plant them 10 feet apart, but since I want them to overlap and form a hedge I instead spaced them about 4 to 5 feet apart. When I bought the plants they were about 1 foot high, since then they have exceeded 6 feet. The hedge is now beginning to section off a part of my yard to form a private area that I intend to turn into a veranda. I am planning on maintaining the hedge at about 6 feet and encouraging more overlapping growth in the following years.
I’ve come to use bay leaf a lot, not only in my cooking, but in pest control as well. The aromatic nature of the leaves seems to ward off insects like earwigs and weevils. Whenever I have a box of fruit that needs to sit for a day or more, I put a handful of bay leaves in with it to chase away and keep the earwigs out. I’ve seen grains stored for years with bay leaves in it, in order to discourage insects from invading. I started putting a bay leaf into the forming artichokes in my garden, which has been helpful, since I used to find earwigs in my artichokes, which was a nasty surprise when eating them.
In my cooking, I usually just walk out to my hedge and get any number of needed leaves off one of my bay leaf shrubs, wash them, and include them fresh in my soups. I like the complex and rich flavor that is imparted to my soups when cooked with bay leaf. Once my soup is done, I remove the bay leafs. The bay leaves are fibrous so they aren’t palatable, but I’ve seen them dried and powdered for direct use in the store. I’ve seen or heard of bay leaves used in Indian, Mediterranean, and European cooking, though that is outside the range of my cooking skills. I’ve only personally used them in soups. If you have any good suggestions for cooking, I’d be interested in hearing about it.
I’ve heard from some that drying the leaves and letting them sit for a couple of weeks will increase the flavor; however I have not been able to notice a difference in my cooking between the fresh or dried leaves. So, drying them seems to me to be a waste of work, unless I needed to store leaves for a long time. Since I have a year round supply of more fresh bay leaves then I could ever use, I haven’t bothered drying any. If I were to give bay leaf as a gift of spice to family or friends, I’d probably dry them, since I wouldn’t know when they would need to use them.
I’ve read books and information on intensive gardening techniques. Many talk about succession planting, in which you grow one thing after another as a way to increase the productivity of your garden through utilizing that space more efficiently over a season by not letting the space stand idle.
Succession planting is a great idea and something I sometimes do, though personally I try to follow something a little more intensive, which I believe further increases my yield. I try to overlap my plantings. So, while some of my garden finishes their season I have other garden plants sprouting and getting ready to fill in to take their place.
You can see an example of this in this picture I took this weekend.
In the picture you can see garlic plants that I overwintered, which will be ready to harvest near the start of June. A couple of weeks ago I planted edamame beans interlaced in-between the garlic. The edamame beans are still small sprouts. By the time I harvest the garlic, the beans will be medium sized plants.
By overlapping my plantings I don’t feel like I impair my plants growth since the initial stages of growth of the new plants have very little impact on the previous plants.
The challenge with using overlapping succession planting as part of intensive gardening is the strain it puts on the garden fertility and difficulty in amending the soil. In true sequential succession planting it is easy to amend the soil in-between plantings with compost or some sort of fertilizer, however if there are always plants present in that location, you don’t want to be dumping compost on top of them. I assure you that lettuce and compost don’t make for good salads.
I’ve come up with a couple of solutions to the challenge of maintaining or restoring soil fertility. The first one being that I tend to use some sort of beans as one of my overlapping plantings, since they are nitrogen fixing and increase the fertility of the garden soil for the next plants. In the picture and example above, the edamame beans are a kind of sweet soybean, which have the nitrogen fixing quality to them. I also tend to stop overlapping my plantings for at least one harvest of the year, so I can top dress with compost before continuing. Due to plants being harvested at different times, I have to do this in a patchwork way in my garden. Winter tends to be the best time for me to do this.
From an aesthetics perspective, I think something growing in my garden is a much more pleasing sight than empty areas of dirt, so if I can keep things visibly present in my garden I feel my garden is more beautiful and more of a personal delight.
I have probably more than 1000 square feet of vegetable and herb garden space, so it is a real challenge for me to maintain truly intensive and overlapping planting regimes throughout my garden, but it is something I continue to work on and keep in mind.
As part of my attempts of doing year round gardening, I over-winter garlic and elephant garlic. Personally, I prefer elephant garlic (Allium Ampeloprasum) more than normal garlic. My reasons being that I find the elephant garlic’s milder and slightly sweeter taste and larger size of cloves to be better for roasting. Don’t get me wrong, I like garlic and use it all the time in my cooking, but when it comes to roasting garlic with some pot roast or a tinfoil dinner, a clove of elephant garlic is best. One of my single cloves of elephant garlic is often as big as or even bigger than a complete bulb of normal garlic.
Here is a picture from a couple of weeks ago of some I have growing in my garden.
This picture is a southern facing hill that I terraced into rows of garden beds. I use boards as movable walkways that I can change to different levels from year to year as part of my plant rotation.
Elephant garlic is actually not real garlic, but more closely related to leaks. I believe it gets its name from the size of the bulbs, which I would say are between a baseball and a softball in size in my garden, which look a lot like giant garlic bulbs and have a somewhat similar taste.
Three years ago I purchased elephant garlic from a seed catalog and for the first time planted it in my garden in the fall. Since then I have saved the best cloves and replanted in the fall from that summer’s cloves. Each year I have planted a little more. This year I think I might have more than I can use in a year.
I’ve read that some people use the young unopened flowering heads as a vegetable. I am considering trying this in a stir-fry and seeing how my kids react.
The plant, if left alone, will spread into a clump with many flowering heads. These can be left in flower gardens to discourage pests, though the plants have always looked kind of like corn stalks to me, which I’ve never thought very ornamental.
In this picture you can get a sense of the difference of size of normal garlic plants to elephant garlic plants.
The sad looking plants in the foreground are an early variant of garlic called Chinese pink garlic, which are full size and will be ready to harvest soon. My dog has been laying among them, which resulted in the sad condition you see them in.
The next row up is my elephant garlic. They are starting to form flower heads and put on the last of their height. I’ve seen these plants get as much as 4 feet in height.
Behind my elephant garlic is asparagus, which is beginning to show its natural fern form.
Since I wrote last about an edible evergreen groundcover, I thought I would mention another one that I have and really like, namely American Wintergreen, or sometimes called Eastern Teaberry, Checkerberry, or Boxberry. The Latin name is Gaultheria procumbens.
This is native to the U.S. East Coast, though endangered there. Grows in zones 3 to 9 and loves shade. It spreads via root to a diameter of something like 12 inches. It is low growing reaching about 6 inches in height. It is one of the very few edibles I have that have berries in the late fall and winter. The berries are red with a white center, which remind me of candy.
I love the flavor of the leaves and berries. If you have ever eaten Wintergreen Lifesavers or had some of Wrigleys Winterfresh chewing gum, then you have tasted the flavor of this plant’s leaves and berries.
This is my favorite thing to include in my homemade teas. If allowed to steep for awhile, the flavor will cover over many nasty medicinal herb flavors, allowing me to give some medicinal teas to my kids when they were younger. Personally, I just like the flavor and include it whenever I can with my mint and chamomile teas. I’ve read that you can increase the intensity of the flavor by first fermenting the leaves for a few days in some warm water, though I have never tried that.
The berries can also be used in a nice winter-time fruit salad. Imagine the surprise of your family or friends when encountering the wintergreen flavor from a red berry, about the size and shape of a pea.
My one point of frustration with this plant as a ground cover is that it is slow growing. I wish it would grow faster, so I could use it more often. I have to use a lot of restraint to not keep picking at the newer leaves for just chewing on or using with tea. I am planning on compensating for this by buying more and filling in the plants closer to each other.
In keeping with my eccentric goal of only landscaping with plants that have edible parts, I have been experimenting with a variety of edible groundcovers.
One area of my front yard is under some evergreen trees, which block moisture and most sun, and instead rain down pine needles that cause the soil to stay pretty acidic. Hardly anything will grow there.
What I have found that will grow in such dismal conditions are creeping raspberries (Rubus Pentalobus).
In the picture you can see the very dry conditions and the blanket of pine needles. I watered this plant some the first summer to make sure it was set, and then have pretty much ignored it.
This edible ground cover is amazing! I am starting to see it used all over the Seattle area. It forms a low growing mat of green growth that stays under 6 inches in height and spreads 3 to 6 feet in all directions. It spreads by sending out runners, with leaves on them, which put down their own roots. It doesn’t climb trees or structures, so it won’t smother any of your other plants. I have seen it in lovely displays as it cascades off walls, softening hard edges of raised planting areas.
During spring and summer, the thornless leaves are shiny, dark green above and gray-green below. They turn burgundy or scarlet color in fall and winter. I’ve not really noticed the flowers, but have seen in late summer yellow raspberry like berries that form. Some have described them as tasty; personally I am eagerly waiting to try one to see how they taste.
You can easily propagate this plant by separating the different nodes that have put down roots.
I think most people think of spices and cooking when thinking of chives, which are truly important things with this wonderful herb, though I’ve found it to also be a really attractive flower and plant in my landscaping.
This is a picture I took, just a couple of days ago.
In April and May, my chive plants blossom in a showy display of purple bulbous blossoms.
Later in the summer the flowers turn into a bulbous whitish grey cluster of seeds. I used to have just one chive plant in the location of the picture, but I’ve allowed my chives to seed new plants around it, forming clusters of plants.
For much of the rest of the year, my chives look kind of like tufts of decorative grass.
I use fresh diced chives all the time in my cooking as an onion substitute, for things like sandwiches, roasts, soups, mixed with steamed or fried vegetables, and so on. I’ve tried using the edible flowers in cooking, but found the flavor to be a little bit too strong of an onion flavor for my taste. If you like a stronger flavor of onion, there is a good chance you would like the flavor of the flowers.
I’ve read that chives lose very little of their flavor when frozen or dried, but I really haven’t had to worry about that since for about 10 months of the year I can get fresh chives right out of my yard.
Chives make for a great companion plant. Like onions, they repel a variety of unwanted pests, while still attracting bees. For this reason chives are now planted in amongst my front yard planting areas, my herb beds, and my garden beds.
As a medicinal herb, Wikipedia claims that:
“The medical properties of chives are similar to those of garlic, but weaker; the faint effects in comparison with garlic are probably the main reason for its limited use as a medicinal herb. Containing numerous organisulplide compounds such as allyl sulfides and alkyl sulfoxides, chives have a beneficial effect on the circulatory system, acting upon it by lowering the blood pressure. As chives are usually served in small amounts and never as the main dish, negative effects are rarely encountered, although digestive problems may occur following over-consumption.
Chives are also rich in vitamins A and C, and contain trace amounts of sulfur and iron.”
One of the things I grow in my winter garden is Fava beans. Fava beans can be over wintered in zone 6 and above, which includes the Seattle region that I live in. I like keeping my garden as productive as I can year round, and growing fava beans has the advantage of helping me do that by leaving less area unused over the winter. They also have the advantage of being a nitrogen fixing plant, reducing later need for fertilizer. So I like over-wintering fava beans where I know I am going to have heavy feeding plants like corn grow the next summer.
My favorite fava bean is the Aquadulce variety. These make for a good dried bean that is comparable to Lima beans. These are also open pollinated, so I’ve been able to save the best of my beans and replant them the next fall, further improving my seed to my particular micro-climate from year to year. I am now on to the 3rd year of doing this.
I bought my original seed from Territorial seed, which describes this variety as:
“An early, long-podded fava, cultivated in Europe since the 19th century. Introduced by Territorial as perhaps the best tasting, big seeded fava. Dark green 6 inch pods are filled with 6-8 light green, slightly flattened, beans that turn a buff brown when dried. Substitute these in any dish calling for lima beans. Suitable for spring or fall sowing; plants grow to 30 inches.”
The disadvantage of over-wintering fava beans is that after planting them in about October, they take at least 6 months for them to be ready to harvest, so I find that the space isn’t freed up for planting until about June. This is fine for me for plants like corn that I can’t plant until that time, or for things I have been holding off on planting like late summer salad greens.
I’ve heard of some people being allergic to fava beans, so it is best to try a little first, but I’ve never personally encountered anyone who has been allergic, at least that I know of.
In the below picture you can see one of my smaller fava bean plants interplanted with some garlic that I also over-wintered.
My daughter’s cat is trying to get my attention and some love.
One of the things I love about where I live, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, is that the seasons are relatively mild. I figure that this is due to the many cloudy days we have in Seattle, which keep temperatures more even.
As a gardener, what this means is that I can have a year round salad garden. The trick to it is planting the right amounts at the right time. For example, in summer things grow quick, so I plant less and more often. In late summer and fall I turn a majority of my garden over to growing my winter and spring salad garden. In winter, things pretty much stop growing, so whatever I was able to plant and grow in fall is what I will have to last me through the winter. In spring, is when things start to grow again, so the smaller salad plants I planted in the fall start to get some growth on them again.
A couple of weeks ago I planted a small section of my garden with my first summer salad items. I am still harvesting lettuce and spinach that I planted last fall, while I wait for my summer lettuce and spinach to grow. In other words, the pictures below are of different kinds of lettuce that I planted last year, which either survived the winter or grew early this spring from seed still in the ground.
I’ve found that I like variety in my salad. I learned this the hard way. Two years ago I tried to feed myself and my family salads made from a single type of lettuce. Boring salads quickly grow unappetizing.
So, I now tend to buy lettuce mixes that are season or theme based.
Overall, I prefer leaf lettuce, since it is easy to cut back just a part of it and let the plant grow back, allowing me multiple harvests.
Being an edible landscaper, I try to incorporate aesthetics in my salad gardens by intermingling my salad plants with other companion plants. I avoid planting in rows, unless that is the shape of the area I am planting in. This makes for a much more natural and organic look to my garden, which I find much more pleasing to look at.
I tend to over plant, then thin out the plants as baby greens for salad. The salads made out of baby greens are really good, though it takes more time washing the smaller greens.
I prefer growing my salad greens in my raised garden beds, which are formed out of treated lumber. The treatment process is based on a copper compound, which seems to detract the slugs more. It doesn't totally eliminate the slugs getting to my lettuce, but I do see a lot less slug damage.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my adventures in growing sweetshoot bamboo.
Since that time I’ve seen bamboo shoots starting to appear.
In the picture notice the spike like stems in the middle area of the picture. These are the bamboo shoots, which if left alone will grow at an incredibly fast rate into the bamboo culms that will make up my future grove. These are also the edible part that are used in Asian cooking.
Yesterday, I finally took the plunge and cut one that was about 8 inches tall. It was only about ¾ of an inch thick, but I figured big enough to give me a sense of the taste. I peeled back the outer leaves that were tightly wrapped around the shoot and found several layers of similar tightly curled leaves. I took off about the first 4 layers of leaves and noticed that the inner leaves seemed fairly vegetative, so I tasted one and found the flavor and texture to not be unpleasant. I actually found it kind of pleasant and proceeded to take a couple of bites off the tip of the bamboo shoot.
I then cut the remaining bamboo shoot up and included it in some stir fry I was cooking for the ultimate taste test with my kids. I told my kids it was in the stir fry, at which my youngest son, age 6, promptly announced that he hated it, as he poked at with his fork. My daughter, age 12, carefully put some in her mouth and tasted it, and announced that she liked it. My 6 year old decided that maybe it was safe to try as well, did so, and announced he liked it as well. My 9 year old son, ate it without comment. So, I think it was a success. Sweetshoot bamboo has passed the ultimate taste test in my home.
I’ve found mint to be a fun and easy herb to grow. The appearance of mint plants is not unpleasant, while at the same time not especially beautiful or eye catching.
I find many mints to be soothing in flavor and a personal favorite for tea, gum, and some candies. I sometimes make my own teas from fresh mint and chamomile, which has been a really nice combination for me when I want to sit and relax for awhile. One of my co-workers from India has made a repeated request for any spearmint I can spare, so he can make mint chutney out of it.
As an herb it is also a nice quick solution for any concern about bad breath, not that I would ever personally admit to such problems, but it used to be nice to grow it in my office at work when I had a window with sun for this not admitted reason.
While these good things are all true, there are some things to really watch out for. I’d never recommend planting mint directly in your yard or garden, since it can become invasive and take over. I say this from experience from when I lived in a house in which previous owners had planted spearmint in the front landscape area. The mint had spread by root to grow everywhere, taking over the whole landscape area. No matter how much of it I pulled out, it always seemed to come back and in a short time be everywhere again. The only thing that seemed to contain it was it not being able to spread too far into the frequently mowed grass.
After seeing that, I realized that at my new house I needed to contain my mint plants if I wanted to grow much of anything else. The first thing I tried was to plant the mint in large pots directly in the ground, which I assumed would be enough to contain the roots from being able to spread. However my peppermint had a tendency to put down new roots whenever one of the stems came in contact with the ground, so it began escaping from the pot. A year later, I am still trying to weed it out before it can take over my herb beds. Maybe this fourth time of removing every shred of the mint I could find, just maybe, it will be enough and it will be finally gone.
It is a hard herb to kill if it is given enough water. So, if you know of anyone that claims to not be able to keep a plant alive, you might be able to prove them wrong with a mint plant. I am not saying it is invincible, since I once was able to kill mint growing in a pot in my house. But such a deed will astonish people, like happened to me when I told people at a nursery of my feat of killing mint.
After the episode with the garden escape, my next solution was to move my mint to large above ground pots on my front balcony. This was great since these pots were located in full shade, which mint is really comfortable growing in. So far, my mint has not been able to escape to the ground about 12 feet below the balcony. I think it has been adequately contained, but I have thought that before and come to the conclusion that mint can be sneaky. So, if you happen see my mint on the loose near your location, be sure to let me know.
Here are some pictures of my imprisoned mint plants
They are growing in some large pots made from cut tires that have been painted.
While it is possible to grow mint from seed, I wouldn't recommend it. With mint seeds you never know what you might get. To get something like a true peppermint or spearmint plant they need to be propagated by cuttings or division.
There are now more than 3,000 named varieties of tulips, coming in all sorts of colors, sizes, and bloom times. A couple hours drive, north of my home are fields and fields of tulips grown and sold all over the United States. In the springtime, people from all over flock to those fields to witness the beauty of the tulips and celebrate the ending of winter.
I too celebrate the blooming of tulips in my yard, as they herald in spring and bring color back to my garden in a way that drives away the doldrums of winter. I planted tulip bulbs a couple of years ago, during the fall, after ordering a collection of varieties described as romantic, with hues of red, orange, and yellow.
I got mine from a Dutch tulip company, which had an incredible selection of varieties. I haven’t seen anywhere else offer as much selection as the Dutch companies, so if interested, I’d recommend looking there first.
Tulips require a period of cold for them to bloom, which is why I planted mine in the fall.
My tulips have been pretty low care. In the summer the stalks die and I trim them back, not so much for the health of the flower, but to just keep my flower bed looking nice. A few of my tulips look diseased this year, in which they look burnt and didn't reach their full height. From reading on the topic, it sounds like what could have caused this is that they didn't get enough water in the growing phase, which is pretty important for tulips.
All parts of tulips are reported as being edible, though I have only tried the petals. I found the petals to have a pleasant flavor, kind of like that of a sweet pea, which is a flavor I have liked since I was a child. My kids like the flavor too and have shocked visitors to our house by nonchalantly eating the flowers as a snack. My Grandmother once told me that during World War II, people in Holland supplemented their diet with Tulips.
The petals can add great color to fruit salad or desserts. I’ve been meaning to try a recipe I have seen for awhile of stuffed tulips, in which you take a tulip blossom and stuff it, kind of like you would stuff a sweet pepper, and bake them in the oven. Since sweet peppers don’t really grow well in my area and tulips do, this has looked like a great and colorful thing to try. Tulip blossoms have some resiliency in their structure, so they would be good for something like this.
In January of 2006, I went to my sister’s house over 100 miles away from my home, where evergreen huckleberries grow wild, and I dug up about 60 evergreen huckleberry bushes for my yard. Up north, in the Seattle area, it is dark at about 4PM during that time of year. By the time I got home at 5PM, it was pitch black out, but being the gardening fanatic that I am, I couldn’t wait to plant, so I went out by lantern light that same evening and planted my new berry bushes in the dark. I sometimes wonder what my neighbors must have thought seeing me out and about in the dark with my lantern frantically digging holes and putting things in them. Maybe it is out of fear that they have never asked for an explanation.
That spring, I dreamed of hedgerows of evergreen huckleberries covered in dark blue and tasty berries.
The summer of 2006 had some of the driest and hottest periods in Seattle that I can remember. Life caught up with me and I mostly forgot about my huckleberries. My fanaticism that had driven me to plant in the dark by lantern light was forgotten. When I would remember, I would haul buckets full of water to try to hydrate my suffering huckleberries, but those times were few and far between.
To my horror, in the fall and winter, about half of the huckleberries were brown, crisp, and apparently quite dead. I lost almost all of the larger bushes.
The moral of the story is, don’t forget to water freshly planted plants the first year, or they might end up looking like this poor dehydrated bush best used for kindling a fire, once called an evergreen huckleberry.
I would think that unless you were in the fire business, you would want your plants to look more green and alive, like this one.
So, remember, short-lived fanaticism scares neighbors, but consistent watering is good.
I like sweet potatoes. I like them so much that I keep trying to grow them, even though I seem to really struggle getting much yield with them in the Pacific Northwest. Sweet potatoes prefer hot days and warm nights, which we don’t see a lot of here in the Seattle region, especially not the 150 days that are needed.
Once again, I ordered a set of Georgia Jet sweet potato slips (starts). Hoping this year would be different.
In past years, I have gotten sweet potatoes, though not many and hardly any of much size. Last year I took a break from growing them, only to have lots of little sweet potato plants seem to spring up from nothing but shreds of tiny roots. I eagerly let them grow all summer and fall, and in the winter dug and dug, but to my disappointment I couldn’t find even a trace of sweet potato.
I like the sweet potato vine, with its heart shaped leaves. In my garden I have seen them climb about anything they can, so it can be fun to create wire frame or bamboo structures and let them cover it.
I know it is possible to grow them in the Pacific Northwest. It is almost a matter of family legend of a year when I was a teenager, back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, that my parents on a whim grew sweet potatoes in the Seattle area. They thought they hadn’t gotten any, but in about December my Dad dug deep and came up with buckets of them. I didn’t see it and I haven’t been able to reproduce it. So, maybe I just have bad luck or am doing something wrong, or maybe this is something of a garden version of a fish story.
Once again, this year I prepared my 4x4 garden bed, with a rich loose garden soil mix. But this time I resolved to try to increase the heat of the garden by putting down a layer of black plastic to soak up the sun’s heat and trap it under, which I stapled to the edges of my garden beds. I then cut holes in the plastic about 12 inches apart and planted my sweet potatoes. While this may not be pretty, it should be low maintenance, since weeds will not be able to grow.
Maybe this will be the year I get to make my own family legend. If I succeed I just might start trying to grow my own slips for next year.
Have you ever considered surprising your dinner guests or family with a gourmet salad or entree? I am not talking about having food catered, or some packaged and frozen “gourmet” dinner, but making something great on your own. If you want to have something like is offered in the finest of restaurants, than presentation is important. One of the easiest ways to make a boring salad or dessert into something amazing is to include edible flowers. For example, a green salad with the pizzazz of purple or yellow petals is astounding, or how about a fruity drink, garnished by a lovely blossom.
Great edible flowers to do this with are pansies or violas. The range of color and variety of pansies and violas is amazing. I am growing Johnny-jump-ups, which are a common variety of pansy, but I have seen an incredible range of other possibilities at large nurseries.
My Johnny-jump-ups have something like a wintergreen-mint flavor, though the flavor can vary some by season. Sometimes different varieties and colors can have different flavors. Be sure to sample a little before using them in your cooking.
I would not recommend sampling any flowers in a nursery or at a floral shop. Many floral preservatives contain toxic chemicals and many nurseries have pesticides sprayed on their plants, which are also toxic if consumed.
I grew my pansies and violas for more than a year, or from seed, before starting to taste or consume them. Since planting them, the original plants have died away after having re-seeded themselves and come back on their own.
In the landscape, pansies look great in pots, mass plantings, and clusters. They grow well in sun to semi-shade and only reach a height of to six to ten inches, so are great as an understory plant, which is how I am using them. Flowers bloom in late winter and spring in warm areas and in summer in cool zones.
In general, edible flowers should be picked as fully open flowers in the cool of the day, after the dew has evaporated. Like any other garden herb or vegetable, be sure to wash them before using them. Pansies and violas have a bit more durability than many other kinds of edible flowers and will store fine for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
A good way to start using edible flowers is in a salad. You can even make a salad dressing using flowers. Another way to use them is as a garnish. A flower floating in the soup is a sure way to get conversation going at the table.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, edible landscaping is about cultivating things you can eat, and yet designing it all in a beautiful way. What I especially love to find is an edible that can compare to or exceed the plants that have been bred specifically for visual appeal. I feel I found this with Arctic Beauty Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikita).
Arctic Beauty Kiwi is the hardiest of kiwi vines that I know of, able to withstand temperatures to -40° F, making it possible to grow it in the widest range of climates. Yet, it is also is, in my opinion more lovely then many ornamental vine plants you can find.
I really like the pink, white, and green variegation of the leaves. The picture is of a male vine, which pollinates my 2 female vines, which is needed for them to produce fruit. The male vines tend to be the ones that are variegated and the prettiest, but I was fortunate to also find female vines that get variegated as well. Usually it takes one or more years for the variegation to set in. The vine in the picture was planted last year.
Arctic Beauty Kiwi prefers some shade, unlike other kiwi vines. This makes it a great candidate for areas that otherwise would be a real challenge to produce some sort of fruit.
Kiwi is also really easy to propagate. One of my female vines I have growing was a cutting I took from new growth on my other female vine, which I just stuck in the ground and watered some. I was happy to see it still growing this spring, after obviously surviving the winter.
Kiwi vines can put on a huge amount of growth in a single season. They cannot support their own weight and will spread up to 30 feet. They require strong support such as trellis, arbor, or fence. “Strong” is the key word here, since I have seen a hardy kiwi rip a trellis apart due to the weight of its new growth, and saw it pry boards apart as vines grew larger and larger in the cracks. In nature, they grow up into trees. I have pruned a fuzzy kiwi vine to the ground, and watched it grow back the next year with another 30 feet of new growth. Do not be afraid to prune and control the vines. Arctic Beauty Kiwi is not as aggressive in its growth as the other varieties I had these experiences with, but it is still something to be conscious of.
This is not the typical kiwi you find in the store, but rather a smaller fruit, about grape size, which has no fuzzy skin, with the same great kiwi flavor. It is easy to just pop them in your mouth right off the vine when they have reached their ultimate sweetness and are somewhat soft to the touch. A mature kiwi vine can produce 200 pounds of fruit.
My kids love these. I think one year some of them made themselves a little sick from eating so many. I saw a bucket of these disappear in about a day.
Kiwi are very high in vitamin C and great additions to fruit salads and desserts, like ice cream, pies, jam, and wine
I’ve never thought chain link fences were pretty. If you put a little barbed wire on top, you’d think it was a prison. I’ve searched for ways to get away from the stark and drab look, and instead beautify my chain link fence.
One thing that struck me years ago was how the chain link fence could be used as a trellis. The structure of the fence allows great air circulation, lets most light pass through, and usually provides a strong structural support. With that in mind, it is possible to turn it into a living green hedge, with a variety of possible flowers, vegetables, or fruit vines growing on it.
Early on in my edible landscaping attempts, I tried growing peas on my fence. While that provided a lot of growing space and a great trellis for my peas, it just wasn’t as attractive as I had hoped. I am sure you could grow beans, peas, squash, cucumbers, etc. on the fence, but it would be relatively short-lived, take awhile for the fence to be covered, and go through an ugly phase as the vegetable plants die in the fall. Not exactly the level of beautification I had in mind.
One idea I had was to grow kiwi on my chain link fence, however, I haven’t yet tried it since I am worried that the aggressive growth of the kiwi could end up damaging the fence. If you know of anyone that has done this, I’d be very interested in hearing about it and better yet, seeing pictures.
What I finally settled on was the idea of growing grapes on my fence.
I’ve actually seen this done at a community college. I’d heard a rumor that the local community college had grapes growing on the fence that surrounded its running track. I went and checked it out and found this incredible scene of a living fence with about 4 different kinds of grapes that had completely covered a 6 foot chain link fence for over a hundred feet. I of course went back when they were ripe and picked to my heart’s content, saving the school the hassle of having to clean the falling grapes off the track. I had almost 50 quarts of grape juice I canned that year.
A lot of the information on growing grapes is really particular on how you should care for the vines. However, I saw them successfully growing untended and unrestrained, with a good amount of grape production at the community college. I am sure that the vines would probably have had bigger grape production if tended and pruned according to the practices developed over considerable time, but the benefit of using otherwise wasted space and beautifying a fence in the process seemed like a good trade-off.
So, this spring I planted two grape vines as a test case on my own fence. There are grape vines that can be grown in almost any climate that people live in. I was careful to try to choose varieties that were suitable for my area.
Canadice is more winter hardy than most seedless grapes and produces medium clusters with small red berries that are similar to Delaware in flavor and appearance. I really like the spicy flavor of the red grapes often available in grocery stores; I am hoping these have something of the same flavor.
Interlaken Seedless is an early-ripening seedless grape with a strong, American flavor. The clusters are medium sized and compact with small, light green berries that ripen very early. This cultivar was derived from the same cross as Himrod.
I am not expecting any grapes this year, since I just planted the vines, but I am hopeful for later years.I am kind of expecting some difficulty with pruning grape vines on a fence, but really am not expecting to do much pruning that often, since I want them to serve the dual purpose of covering the fence.
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