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Perennials Edible Vicki Mattern

If you have enough space for them, and for winter and summer favorites and staples as well, they are just the ticket! Save time. No replanting because a perennial is a plant that grows year after year. Lucky for us coastal SoCal gardeners, lots of plants act as perennials here since we have such a temperate climate. As a system that more closely mimics nature, and gives a longer growing season, expect higher yields! One of the beauties of perennial garden plants is they usually only need to be split to start a new plant! Another saving. Pick hardy varieties right for your climate and soil. These days, SoCal gardeners, give special consideration to drought tolerant perennials.

Mediterranean Favorites All those wonderful herbs – marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, winter savory.

There are many edible perennials! Alpine strawberries, asparagus, chives, French sorrel, lavender, lemon grass, peppermint, various peppers, rhubarb, society garlic.

Would you believe, Artichoke?! 

Edible Perennial Artichoke Plant Fruits

A type of thistle. Depending on the plant’s vitality, commercial growers let them grow 5 to 10 seasons! Full sun, grows well in all soils with compost. Lots of water is required, as well, so water deeply every 2-3 days, but they are drought tolerant once established. They produce about mid-summer, often sending up a second crop in fall. In the very best growing conditions you may be able to harvest artichokes throughout the year. From a well loved 3-5 year old plant you can get dozens and dozens! Gophers do love them, so please protect them – plant in a large basket or do what you do, ‘k? When they get big and happy, simply split off the new pups for new plants. The Green Globe cultivar is the variety of choice of California commercial growers, and California produces 100% of all commercially grown artichokes in the United States. We know how to do ‘chokes!

Tree Collards, affectionately called TCs

Edible Perennial Tree Collards from Africa
‘We’re thankful for caritas seeds donators, whose collective action to provide sustainable solutions to hunger serves as a constant blessing for countless families in Kenya!’ Women Farmers

It’s a full circle. Reputed to come from Africa, and have been propagated and passed on by cuttings within African American communities in this country, especially the Los Angeles area, we are now sending them back to Africa! Ask for cuttings at your local Farmers Market.

They are also called tree cabbages. There are a few varieties, collards, cabbage, kale, that grow slowly on an upright husky central stem. TCs grow 6′ tall average, but up to 11 feet! They withstand light frosts, and like some other Brassicas, are reputed to taste sweeter after the frost!

Brassica family, Tree Collards can thrive for four to five years (and possibly 20 years), it is probably better to rotate them after three years, since they remove so much calcium from the soil. Get new cuttings well started before you remove an old bed. They need full sun and rich, moist soil. See a LOT more about them at http://treecollards.blogspot.com/ Also, Richards Farms has a great info sheet.

Know this: TCs are high in Calcium, and unlike spinach, chard, and beet greens, collard greens don’t contain high amounts of oxalic acid, an anti-nutrient that can deplete your body of important minerals like Iron. Eat them fine chopped in your frittata/quiche, as wraps, steamed over rice, in your tasty bean soup, as a pretty stir fried bed of greens under your protein slices! Finely shredded raw leaves may be added to salads, sandwiches and tacos.

Dragon Fruit Cactus Dessert! 

Edible Perennial, Amazing Dragon Fruits
May 2012, 66-year-old mother of four, Edita Dacuycuy, was in Malacanang, Philippines, to receive her presidential award as the year’s most outstanding high-value commercial crop farmer. There’s more to her Story, about her daughter.

You have to love cacti to appreciate how this plant looks. But the FRUIT! An amazing array of different colors, a delicate taste, textures from creamy to crunchy, a shape that will never bore you! Easy to grow from seeds or starts right here in Santa Barbara CA! Just stuff a segment in the ground, water, and it will grow. Put it near your fence and tie it along the way. True to its cactus forebears, little space, care or water needed.

The Ultimate – Perennial Tree Crops

Four excerpts from Mother Earth News, A Permaculture Farm: The Perennial Revolution of Oikos Tree Crops. A Michigan permaculture farm defies the agricultural status quo by growing in harmony with nature as told by Eran Rhodes:

The Oikos Tree Crops landscape is, in a sense, complete. There are a plethora of nut trees: pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, hickories, buckeyes and, of course, oaks. There is just about every fruit or berry tree, shrub, vine or crawling groundcover imaginable: nannyberry, bearberry, buffaloberry, snowberry, thimbleberry, and berry much more! And for every type of tree or bush or vine, numerous varieties. The main food staple that has been missing from the food forest is perennial vegetables.

Besides all the wild edibles that grow as weeds around the property, such as dandelions, clover, plantain, nettles, asparagus, among many others, we are now propagating dozens of other edible plants that can become like weeds, and grow on their own, either as perennials, or by self-seeding. Ken does not follow the general public’s fear of weeds — utilizing and working with nature’s abundant diversity, he has never had one weed take over completely.

Wild varieties of squashes and melons are growing on their own out in the fields, and will hopefully spread on their own in the coming years. Earth peas with their exploding pods will become a permanent edible legume. Perennial wheat and other grasses with edible seeds will slowly replace the aggressive bindweed. Tubers, such as Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, chufa, oca, wild mountain yams and others are all thriving. We even have a wild variety of crabgrass that originates in Russia, and we cultivate the seeds for food. We have dozens of perennial salad greens, quinoa (a close relative of the common weed lamb’s-quarters), rhubarb, and even tomatoes and peppers.

Our model would be the perfect homestead system for anyone interested in truly living off the land with minimal tilling.


This brief write-up is meant as a teaser to intrigue you, disturb some of your thinking! If Perennial Gardening really makes you happy, see Eric Toensmeier’s list of all lists of edible perennial plants. Peruse his website for valuable tips!

May it go well with you and your new Food Forest!

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Happy October, Month of Magic!

The next months…so you can plan ahead!       

October  Transplants of all fall crops, but specially of cabbages and artichokes.  Cut Strawberry runners off to chill for Nov planting.
November  Seeds of onions for slicing.  Wildflowers from seed (don’t let the bed dry out).  Strawberries in no later than Nov 5.  More transplants of winter veggies.
December is winter’s June!  Crops are starting to come in, it’s maintenance time!      

My campaign this fall is for garden cleanup, and turning the soil to expose the fungi that affects our tomatoes, and other plants, so the fungi dries and dies!     

Purple Broccoli, Bright Lights Chard, Cauliflower, Yellow Mangetout Snow Peas, Radishes or Beets of all colors, ‘Licous Red Lettuces!

This is Southern California’s second Spring!  Time to plant your winter garden, all the Brassicas, that’s, cabbage, brocs, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kales, plus celery, chard and peas, peas, peas!  All kinds!  And what I call the ‘littles,’ the veggies you plant all year, beets, bunch onions (the ones that don’t bulb), carrots (bonemeal yes, fresh manure no), radish, spinach, arugula, and, especially, all kinds of lettuces!   Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays!  Start making holiday gifts, herbal wreaths, powdered herbs, pretty vinegars and oils, shampoos, soaps, or candles!      

Winter weather?  Bring it on!  Starting to cool down now!  Your plants will grow fast then start to slow down.  Less weeds and insects.  Aphids & White Flies are a winter crop problem (see below please).  Some people prefer the cool slower pace of winter gardening to the more phrenetic hot summer labor and work of big harvests, distribution, storage.  Harvesting cold hardy vegetables after they have been hit with a touch of frost can enhance the flavor and increase the sweetness of greens such as kale and collards.     

Extend the crop! Cut and come again!  Harvest your big greens – kale and collards, and lettuces leaf by leaf rather than cutting your plant down.  Many lettuces will ‘come back’ even if you cut them off an inch or two above ground.  Leave the stalk in the ground, see what happens!  Rather than pulling your bunch/table onions, cut them off about an inch to 2 inches above the ground.  They will come back 3 to 4 times.  Leave a potato in the ground to make more potatoes.  After you cut the main broccoli head off, let the side sprouts grow and snip them for your salads or steam them.  Cabbages?  Cut off right below the head, then let them resprout, forming several smaller heads at the leaf axils.     

Gather your last lingering seeds midday on a sunny dry day.  Dry a few seeds from your favorite tomatoes!  Sidedress continuing and producing plants.  Then cleanup!  Remove funky habitat for overwintering insect pests, fungi.       

Build wire bottomed raised beds for gopher protection.  For very useful information, please see University of California, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Pocket Gophers.     

Prepare your soil!      

  • If you are a new gardener at Pilgrim Terrace, ask other gardeners, or the previous person who had your plot, how the soil  was tended.  Some plots may need no amending, others may need a lot.  Add compost, manures, seaweeds, worm castings as needed.  Some people do the whole garden at once, others conserve valuable materials by preparing only where they will specifically plant, for example, a large plant like a broc.  If it is a lettuce bed that you will do repeated plantings in, you might opt to do the whole bed at once.
  • Since mulch keeps the soil cool, some people pull it to the side in winter, to let the sun heat the soil on cool days.
  • Simple soil test!  Test the soil by putting a drop of vinegar in a teaspoon or so. If it fizzes, it’s too alkaline. Then test it by putting in baking soda mixed with a little water. If it fizzes, it’s too acidic.

Garden Design       

  • In addition to planting your veggies, plan ahead to plant flowers, to always have some in bloom, to attract pollinators.  Borage is a lovely plant, blooms all year, has purple blue star flowers that are edible and good for you!  Toss a few on top of your salads!
  • Make habitat!  Plants for beneficial insects, poles for birds, rocks for lizards! 
  • Plant tall in the North, the mountain end of our plots; plant shorties in the South.  This is especially important in our winter gardens because of the low sun long shadows.
  • Give your big plants plenty of room to become big; plant fillers and littles (beets, bunch onions – the ones that don’t bulb, carrots, radish, spinach, arugula, lettuces) on their sunny south sides!
  • Put plants that like the same amount of water together (hydrozoning). 
  • Put plants together that will be used in the same way, for example, salad plants like lettuces, bunch onions, celery, cilantro.
  • Biodiversity.  Planting the same kind of plant in different places throughout your garden.  It can be more effective that row cropping or putting all of one plant in one place, where if disease or a pest comes, you lose them all as the disease or pest spreads from one to all.
  • Layering example:  Transplant peas at the base of any beans you still have.

How to plant!       

  • This is the time to put your mycorrhiza fungi to work!  One of the great things mycorrhiza does is assist Phosphorus uptake.  Of the N-P-K on fertilizers, P is Phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop.  Sprinkle it on the roots of your transplants when you plant them!  More about mycorrhiza:  http://www.mycorrhizae.com/index.php?cid=468&    http://www.mastergardeners.org/newsletter/myco.html      Island Seed & Feed carries it.
  • Use vigorous fresh seeds, choose vibrant not-fruiting transplants that preferably aren’t root bound (having a solid mass of roots).  If the transplant is pretty big for the container, pop it out of the container to make sure it isn’t root bound.  If it is the only one there, and you still want it, can’t wait, see what John R. King, Jr (2 min video) has to say on how to rehabilitate your plant!
  • Lay down some Sluggo (See Slugs & Snails below) right away, even before seedlings sprout, when you put your transplants in, so your plant isn’t overnight snail and slug smorgasbord! 

Strawberry Runners!  Mid Oct cut off runners, gently dig up if they have rooted, shake the soil off.  Clip all but two or three leaves off, tie ‘em together in loose bunches. Plastic bag them and put in the back of your fridge for 20 days.  Plant them Nov 5 to 10!  Prechilling your plants makes them think they had a cold winter.  When days get longer and warmer, they will produce fruit, not as much vegetative growth.  You can then either keep your plants that produced this year, or remove and compost them, start fresh with new plants!     

Watering – Morning when you can because plants drink during the day, and we want them to dry so they don’t mildew!  Water underneath, especially late beans, and your new peas, who are especially susceptible to mildew.  Except for your short and shallow rooted plants, once a week and deeply is good unless there is a hot spell or rain.  Then, check ’em.  Poke a stick in the ground to see if the soil is moist under the surface.     

Happy playing in the dirt!

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The next months…so you can plan ahead! 

As more of your plants are finishing, make notes about your summer crops in your garden journal. 

September  Let some plants continue to grow for seed saving!  First fall planting month! 
Planting from seeds is fun; transplants produce sooner.  Plant Sweet Peas for Christmas bloom!  Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays! 
October  Transplants of all fall crops, but specially of cabbages and artichokes.  Cut Strawberry runners off to chill for Nov planting.
November  Seeds of onions for slicing.  Wildflowers from seed (don’t let the bed dry out).  Strawberries in no later than Nov 5.  Transplants of winter veggies.
December is winter’s June!  Crops are starting to come in, it’s maintenance time!

Congratulations to all you first time gardeners!  You have planted a summer garden, learned a lot, enjoyed the fruits!  Welcome to an abundant coastal southern California winter garden!  September can still be hot, but you will start feeling the difference, shortening days, the light on your plants changing, thinking of snuggling in with your seed catalogs and a cuppa. It will soon be time to enjoy crisp weather, water a bit less, wait a bit more as things slow down. 

Labor Day weekend is a great time to plant!  If you haven’t already, start your first fall peas at the base of your declining beans.  If you don’t have enough room yet, establish a little nursery in an open area to plant celery, your Brassicas:  cabbage, brocs, Brussels sprouts, collards cauliflower, kales – to later  transplant into other garden areas, or spread apart, late September and October.  Or start in containers for later transplanting.  If you don’t have the time to tend them, simply get transplants at the nursery when you want them.  However, the beauty of planting from seed is you can get the varieties you want, you can experiment with new varieties!  A seed catalog is a lovely and dangerous thing. 

Plant lettuces in shadier spots behind plants that will protect them during the September heat, but who will soon be done allowing your lettuces full sun when it is cooler later on.  Remember, September can be HOT. 

Time to be building gopher-protected fall raised beds or hardware cloth/aviary wire baskets!  You can custom make these baskets yourself.  Make deeper ones for single plants, ie your big gopher-tasty brocs.  Or make a long basket to put along the foot of your pea trellis, deep enough for the carrots you plant with them, that enhance peas.  Or make a shallow basket for your square yard of salad greens.  See what I mean?  These are fine portable baskets.  When you are done using them in one area, they can easily be moved to the next spot, even reshaped to fit a new location.  Inexpensive wire cutters are all you need.  Talk with Hillary Blackerby, Plot 24 – see hers.  She dug trenches, then stepped on the hardware cloth, shaping it exactly to the trench!  Perfecto!  

High in Antioxidants, Brassicas,
the Backbone of Your Winter Garden!

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kales, kohlrabi!

In our climate, Brassicas can be grown year round!  But they thrive in cooler weather, are fairly frost hardy, and are said to have better flavor after a frost!  They love a very rich manured soil and need it because cooler winter temps slow the uptake of nutrients.  Be generous.  Except for broccoli, Brassicas are grown for their leaves, and rich soil makes leaves, and broccoli leaves are edible too!  If your soil is slightly acidic, sprinkle a bit of lime to increase the pH, and help prevent the fungal disease club root.  Firm the soil, with your feet, around your Brassicas to support the plant in its upright growth, especially in a windy area.  A lot of Brassicas are top-heavy, sometimes needing staking.  Mulch and water well.  

If you water too well, making a ‘softer’ plant, or have too much nitrogen (manures), white fly and aphids are more likely.  Studies show hosing them away is as effective as chemical treatments!  Do it early in the day so plants can dry off (prevent mildews), and be sure to get the underside of the leaves as well, and especially in curled leaves that protect aphids.  Or spray with insecticidal soaps or oils.  Even though aphids and white fly are yukky, keep watch right from the get go!  They like tender baby plants.  Don’t delay spraying, and keep watch every day until they are gone!  Don’t let them spread to other parts of the plant or other healthy plants, your neighbor’s plants.  They stunt the growth of your plant and open it to other diseases.  If the infestation is too much, remove infected leaves ASAP, at worst, the whole plant.  Don’t leave them laying about or put them in your compost.  That truly ‘nips them in the bud!’ 

Now, here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know about some of your Brassicas!  From AllExperts, Organic Gardens:

Your ‘Kale Vegetables’ are Brassica Family crops that pose their own pro’s and con’s in your battles with bugs.  Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Turnips, Horseradish, Radishes and some other vegetables generate a natural chemical called GLUCOSINOLATES.  If you till the spent plants in at the end of a season, then rotate to another NON-BRASSICA Crop, or even just a Cover Crop, they’ll decompose all Summer and release those Glucosinolates into the Soil.  [BIOFUMIGATION

The nicest thing about this is that Glucosinolates are NATURAL INSECTICIDES (plus they demonstrate anti-Cancer properties in the laboratory).  They also act as Fungicides because they contain sulphur.  Cornell University School of Agriculture tells us these weapons ‘sit benignly inside a cell until it’s punctured — usually by predator feeding. They then mix with certain enzymes from other cells, reacting to yield sharp-tasting, sometimes toxic compounds.’

My comment:  Clearly, this is a problem if you are planting small seeds, especially lettuce, under your Brassicas.  Dying parts of the Brassica family of plants produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing.  Plants with small seeds, such as lettuce, are especially affected by the Brassica poison.  A professor at the University of Connecticut said Brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.  Ok, so if you decide to chop and drop your Brassicas, plant transplants of small seed plants in those areas rather than starting plants from seed.

Brassica Companions:  Aromatic  plants, sage, dill, chamomile, chard, beets, peppermint, rosemary, celery, onions, potatoes, spinach, dwarf zinnias.  Brassicas are helped by geraniums, dill, alliums (onions, shallots, garlic, etc), rosemary, nasturtium, borage.  Dill attracts a wasp to control cabbage moth.  Zinnias attract lady bugs to protect plants.  Avoid mustards, nightshades, strawberries.  Notice there are contradictions – potatoes are in the nightshade family.

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