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Mediterranean Understory & Guild Plants for Food Forests – Part 2

Please SEE Part 1 before you read this list!


Here is what a young Food Forest can look like in a part of your urban yard!

Linda’s List is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world. The list in your area may be different. Check out your local gardeners’ successes, check with your local nursery. This list is not tree specific yet. We’re working on that!

More than a list of plants, Linda’s List gives tips for good growing, eating, and usage!
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Once our fruit trees are planted in their water-saving basins in a budding Mediterranean food forest, it’s now time to think about what else to plant in these usually moist wells and swales. Or up the trees? Or nearby? We need these companion plants to increase our food and medicine yield, and also to enrich the soil, provide habitat, pull up minerals and other nutrients from deep in the earth, draw nitrogen from the air and bring it into the soil, attract beneficial insects to control pests, create shade for delicate roots — and to provide beauty, a critical psychological and spiritual yield in every garden.

Thanks to the members of the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club for their ideas and input. Additions and corrections are welcome.  Please email lbuzzell@aol.com.  Especially welcome would be input on what plants do best under specific fruit trees – so far I don’t have much information on that.

BERRIES
Blueberry. To grow well here, they need acid soil, so a container is often the best solution, since Santa Barbara soil and water tend to be alkaline. One gardener we know waters hers with a very dilute solution of white vinegar, plus puts pine needles, coffee grounds around the plant. Best in Mediterranean climates are the low-chill varieties like ‘Misty,”O’Neal,’ ‘Sharpblue’
Cane berries. Upright cane berries are fun to pop in here and there as understory plants and they take some shade. But we found out the hard way that you probably don’t want to put in sprawling, thorny berries (especially blackberry) that sucker underground – they pop up all over the yard and are hard to eradicate. When we buy new berries we limit ourselves to thornless varieties and our current favorites are ‘Navajo’ and ‘Apache,’ although the thorny varieties that still linger in our garden – and will probably be there for hundreds of years as they’re ineradicable – taste best. So we live with them and enjoy the berries.
Elderberry. Shrub. There is a California native variety. Produces edible fragrant white flowers (used to make elderberry syrup and wine) and edible small blue berries that the birds love. Ripe berries are safe to eat but leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots are toxic. Has medicinal uses. We use our elderberry as a sacrificial plant attracting birds away from other fruit trees.
Lemonade Berry (native). Rhus integrifolia. Can also control erosion.

BULBS AND ROOT CROPS
Placement of these may take special care, as you don’t want to plant them too close to delicate tree roots.
Carrots
Edible canna. Canna edulis –Achira. Flowers are smaller than most cannas and the root is edible, can be chopped and sautéed like potato.
Onions
Potato and sweet potato

EDIBLE FLOWERS (note: most fruit trees, veggies and herbs also have edible flowers. Always triple check the safety of any flower before eating!
Daylilies. Hemerocallis species. Buds are used in Chinese stir fry, Petals in salad.
Nasturtium (flowers, young leaves and buds that may be pickled like capers) Let the plants die back in place. They will reseed and form a straw mulch.
Roses (yield petals for salads, sandwiches, syrups, desserts; rose hips for tea, syrups, jam)
Scarlet runner bean
Scented geranium

HERBS (most have edible flowers in addition to other uses)
Borage
Chili peppers, including tree chili
Cilantro
Garlic
Italian parsley
Lavender
Lemon balm
Lemon verbena. A drought tolerant shrub with delicious leaves for tea.
Mint. Some fear its vigorous, spreading roots, but we welcome it into drier areas as ground cover, autumn bee food and a source of fresh leaves for cooking and tea.
Mustard (young leaves can be stir fried, flowers are edible, plus seeds for making mustard)
Pineapple sage (leaves and flowers make delicious herbal tea)
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage

SHRUBS/Understory trees
Guava. Psidium Tropical shrubs native to Mexico, Central and South America that yield white, yellow or pink fruit. Not to be confused with Pineapple Guava (Feijoa) Psidium guajava (apple guava) is one tasty variety. Also try lemon guava and strawberry guava.

VEGGIES (there’s no way to name them all – it’s fun to experiment to see what likes the soil under and around your fruit trees. Our favorites are those that overwinter and/or reseed themselves)
Artichokes. Plant away from tree roots, in baskets as the gophers love them.
Brassicas like broccoli, kale, collard greens.
Chard.
Dandelions. Leaves are great in salads and so good for us. Small birds like the seed heads.
Fava beans and other beans.
New Zealand spinach.

VINES
We often forget about vertical space in the garden, but it’s nice to increase your yield by growing edible vines up fruit trees, on walls and over arbors, fences and hedges.
Grapes. Note: the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara has a separate list of recommended table and wine grapes for our area. Contact lbuzzell@aol.com for details
Passion Fruit. A garden member says “mine is simply rampant, productive and trouble-free; gets little to no supplemental water.” The juice can be used to make a spectacular salad dressing (served at Los Arroyos on Coast Village Road in their tropical salad).

MISCELLANEOUS
Bamboo. Use clumping instead of running kinds to avoid it taking over your garden. Bamboo shoots are a delicacy in Asia.
Pepino melon.
Sacrificial plants. In permaculture designs we often plant trees, shrubs and other plants that are nitrogen-accumulators, “nurse” plants or fruit-providers for animals that might otherwise eat our crops. When they have performed their function, we “chop and drop” them around our fruit trees as a nutritious mulch.
Yucca. We’ve read that yucca yields edible fruit and flower buds. Anyone have more info on this?

BENEFICIAL ATTRACTORS AND NUTRIENT ACCUMULATORS
Ceanothus. Shrubs and ground covers that fix nitrogen in the soil.
Salvia, ornamental. These are treasures in the Mediterranean forest garden.
Tagetes lemmonii. Golden color is lovely in fall.

GROUND COVER
Easy-to-grow succulents can provide temporary ground cover for delicate roots. They can act as a living mulch until other plants take over that function. This crop is often free, as gardeners who have ground-cover sedums always have too many and are glad to share.
Pelargoniums and lantana are other easy, colorful ground cover that can be removed as needed.
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#1 Home Permaculture book in the world for seven years!

Per PatternLiteracy.com, Toby Hemenway’s home site, Gaia’s Garden has been the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years. The enlarged, updated 2nd edition is the winner of the 2011 Nautilus Gold Medal Award.

The first edition of Gaia’s Garden sparked the imagination of America’s home gardeners, introducing permaculture’s central message: Working with nature, not against her, results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens. This extensively revised and expanded second edition broadens the reach and depth of the permaculture approach for urban and suburban growers.

Treat yourself and your land to this incredibly efficient way of gardening. Wisely use ALL the space available to you in a good way. Nature is the Master Gardener – follow her lead.

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Jetsetter Tomatoes, Early, VFFNTA!!!!

It may seem a bit early to talk about tomatoes, but tisn’t!  Hey, it’s always ok to talk about tomatoes, right?!  There are important things to know about that start well before planting time!  Read on….

Last year I tried the dandelion cure – either I didn’t do it right, not enough dandelions soon enough, or it doesn’t work.  But this year I am going to plant toms where the dandelions grew into big patches, just in case there are any residual benefits!  This year I found this info from Gene Bazan, Ph.D, about toms and favas and I have fava seeds!!!!

Favas First, then Tomatoes!  Or….

Gene says:  Many years ago I introduced a diseased Early Girl tomato plant I purchased at a greenhouse. Unknown to me, it had verticillium wilt. I thought the wilted look was just due to dry conditions, but didn’t think much about it. I composted the debris, and unwittingly used the diseased compost in the following year’s tomato bed. That year I lost 3/4 of our tomatoes to wilt. I then took a diseased plant to the pathology lab at Penn State, and got the diagnosis. I remembered that Jeavons wrote that fava (bell) beans counteract wilt, so the next year I planted fava beans in early April, and put the same tomato varieties in the same bed. Mortality dropped to 1/4th. Since that time, we always precede tomatoes with bell beans. We have reduced wilt even further.

Clearly, here in SoCal, we have missed the usual Sep to Nov fava planting window, so let’s do as Gene did, plant favas and tomatoes at the same time!  I already have one Jetsetter (those are Jetsetters in the image), unbelievable VFFNTA resistance/tolerance, in the ground surrounded with a six pack’s worth of favas.  All doing fine so far.  Next fall decide where you will plant your 2012 toms and put in a patch of favas then and there!  Plant your toms, as usual, starting in March.

Basil and Wilts Since so many of us like to companion plant basil with our tomatoes, and tomatoes are so wilt susceptible, and the wilt fungi are in the soil and windborne to boot, what’s a Pesto Lover to do?!  Get wilt resistant basil variety Nufar! Pesto lovers, Nufar is the first basil that is wilt resistant, developed in Israel in 2006.  It is a Genovese basil, heat and humidity tolerant, and very tasty!  ArcaMax Publishing says:  …some of the specialty basils (such as lemon and purple basil) have shown some resistance to the disease.  If you can’t find Nufar basil locally, do send for seeds ASAP, and ask our local nurseries to stock it!

And please, do NOT compost diseased tomatoes, or any other diseased plant.  Better to trash it, not even put it in green waste that the City will make into compost.  That’s how you spread soil born fungi, let alone that they are also windborne.  If your neighbor has a diseased plant, don’t be shy to respectfully and gently ask them to remove it.  Remember, they raised that child, besides having paid for it.  How hard was it for you to give up your plant?  Especially the first time.  See?  They may not even know about wilts.  Educate them if possible.  Tell them how you learned about it.  Offer to forward this info to them.

TOLERANT.  Some varieties like Surecrop, mentioned below, are wilt tolerant.  They keep producing well though diseased.  What to do?  At Pilgrim Terrace, the soil has the wilts and wilt is virtually unavoidable.  Slowing it down is probably the best we are going to do.  So, find out what variety your neighbor has planted before you make your request for them to pull a producing plant.  If the plant is simply dead, then it is a nonproducing disease factory, better for everyone that it is removed ASAP.  Use your discretion and kindness. 

If you have success with a particular variety, do let your nursery know so they will stock it again!  A couple gardeners at the Terrace have had good luck with 2 blight resistant/tolerant determinate varieties, New Hampshire Surecrop, a 78 day, great tasting slicer/canner, and Legend, a very early 68 day!  The best to you with yours!

See Tomatoes & Wilt, Part 1 for a list of Wilt Resistant Varieties, How to Save Your Plant Tips

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