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Onion Bulb Allium Laura Fitch
Onion Bulb, Allium by Laura Leonard Fitch at flickr .com

Alliums, the Onion family, have been cultivated for decorative and edible uses as far back as 1594, and wild varieties have been foraged for millennia. The allium family provides at least one of the staple foods in nearly every culture!

Alliums are stinky and that’s exactly why we love them! They have a great array of flavors and aromas that call you to the kitchen to prepare meals with them, that call you to a mouthwatering meal! A lot of them can be grown all year long in SoCal, and if you live near the wild, they are deer resistant!

The bulbs are the most commonly eaten part of yellow, red and white garden onions, while scallions are usually harvested for their stalks, although the white base is also edible. Generally all parts of alliums are edible. And the lovely flowers are wonderful bee food!

Onions, Allium cepa, make us cry and give us bad breath but have stupendous flavor! Red onions are sweet. Yellow onions are good all-purpose onions. White onions are best used fresh. Some varieties of onions store better than others.

Table, bunch onions or Scallions Scallions are bunching onions, Allium fistulosum, with a bit less biting flavor. In summer heat, plant these onions in a spot with less sun. Plant all year long and you will always have fresh scallions.

Shallots, Allium cepa var. aggregatum, are a multiplier onion, which means that each shallot bulb you plant will produce a cluster of up to a dozen baby bulbs. They have a sweet and mild (although pronounced) flavor, with a hint of garlic, and lack the bite you get with yellow or white onions. Shallots are smaller and have longer, slimmer bulbs, are more commonly eaten raw.

Hot and dry! I’itoi onion is a prolific multiplier onion cultivated in the Baboquivari Peak Wilderness, Arizona area. This small-bulb type is easy to grow and ideal for hot, dry climates. Bulbs are separated, and planted in the fall 1 inch below the surface and 12 inches apart. Bulbs will multiply into clumps and can be harvested throughout the cooler months. Tops die back in the heat of summer and may return with heavy rains; bulbs can remain in the ground or be harvested and stored in a cool dry place for planting in the fall. The plants rarely flower; propagation is by division.

Leeks Leaf PatternLeeks
, Allium ampeloprasum, are tall, handsome and hefty! And they have that pretty leaf pattern! The leaves are large, flat. Leeks are easy to grow and their sweet, mild flavor and can be enjoyed fresh all year long in SoCal! Summer leek seeds can be sown from January to March to provide the best fall harvest and they overwinter well. You can pull up baby leeks at any time or savor mature leeks when they are about one inch in diameter. They too are a cut and come again. Cut them about one and a half inches from the ground and they grow back quickly 3 or 4 times! Use little ones in salads. Slice mature stems diagonally across and pop into winter soups & stews! The flower heads are elegant, the seeds are easy to harvest. Image by Jan at Jan’s Garden

Too much garlic, aka the stinking rose, Allium sativum and we smell like it! But that doesn’t matter to garlic lovers! There are festivals and restaurants that specialize in only garlic cuisine! It takes little space to produce a large supply of garlic. Elephant garlic, Allium ampeloprasum, makes a bulb about the same size as an ordinary garlic bulb, but it has only three to seven cloves and the flavor is mild.

Garlic is fun to plant! Check weather forecasts and plan to plant before a cold time! Let your garlic cloves or shallots sprout, plant them 6″ to 2″ deep, a 1/2″ if unsprouted. Don’t remove the skin. Plant in slightly moist soil, firm it lightly over the cloves, don’t water or water very little. Too wet and the cloves rot. Plant the biggest and best cloves for the sassiest plants! See more In six to seven months you’ll have beautiful cooking ingredients! Late October, November is likely the best SoCal garlic planting time to get the most cold weather for them. If you don’t mind smaller bulbs, you can also plant in spring.

Sadly, our SoCal warmth doesn’t make our garlic happy. In Santa Barbara our coastal humidity and lack of frosts and freezes like in inland areas let our plants get a lot of rust fungi. It stunts our plants and we get small bulbs. We can grow it, just not with the same jubilant success as happens further north, like at Gilroy CA, where winter frosts naturally kill off the fungi and plants are invigorated and healthy.

Chives Allium tuberosum Hudson Valley Seed LibraryChives,
Allium tuberosum – smallest of all the Alliums, garlic chives, Allium schoenoprasum are a perennial (grow year after year). They are great for your baked potatoes or cottage cheese. The flowers are edible too! While easily grown from seed, they take a while to mature. A nursery purchase is easier! Plant them where they can live weed-free for a long time. A pot of chives close to the kitchen is always a treat. Clip the leaves with scissors about an inch above ground level. They grow back! Image compliments of Hudson Valley Seed Library

Ornamental Alliums are used for landscaping and often edible too! Society Garlic though ornamental, has edible flowers and leaves! And it’s a pleasure to mix veggie alliums in your landscape!

GROWING  Most species of these hardy perennials prefer a sunny location, and many require a period of dormancy. That often happens during the dry time of year. Not to worry if your plant dies back for awhile. Don’t pull it, wait for it. It will return and flourish again. These shallow-rooted plants need well-draining soil – no standing water for them! They need slightly fertile to fertile soil because they have those short roots, so the soil has to be good right where they feed! They can take clay soil quite well. They need weeding. They don’t compete well with weeds. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Not maybe bone dry, ’cause if you live on the edge and don’t water enough you may lose your plant. Rotating your allium crops can help prevent disease. If you have limited space, and not enough room to rotate, keep your soil fertile by amending with quality well rounded compost, resting your soil for a season, or putting in a green manure cover crop.

Alliums work well as companion plants for roses, carrots and beets, but inhibit the growth of legumes – that’s peas and beans. Otherwise, when grown close to other plants they tend to increase that plant’s resistance to disease and reduce insect infestation. The smell of onions mask the scent of a plant that might be attacked.

Per Plants for a Future ‘You can make a very good tonic spray from onion or garlic bulbs that will also increase the resistance of plants to pests and diseases, and garlic bulbs have in the past been used as a fungicide. Simply chop up the bulbs and soak them overnight in cold water – a few cloves in a pint of water should be adequate, and adding some camomile flowers if available seems to increase the effectiveness. The juice of the common onion is used as a moth repellent. It can also be used as a rust preventative on metals and as a polish for copper and glass. It is possible that other members of the genus can also be used in these ways.’

PLANTING

Seeds: Generally sow in late winter or in early spring. Sow thinly and only cover the seed lightly. Germination is normally quite quick and good. They are so tiny, you may not realize you have them, possibly pulling them thinking they are grass coming up! Wait a few days before you weed an allium planted area. Apply a liquid feed occasionally to make sure that the plants don’t get hungry. A number of species from Mediterranean-type climates usually come into growth in the autumn, flower in the spring and then die down for the summer. You do have to be careful that they don’t damp off.

Most alliums can be planted in the spring (May is still doable) for fall harvest/blooms in the later summer or early fall. Table, bunch onions or Scallions can be planted year round. Garlic likes fall to Winter Solstice plantings.

Onion varieties are region specific, plant the varieties your local nurseries carry, farmers grow, or experiment! For the biggest, sweetest SoCal harvests, late summer and early fall are the prime times to sow seeds of short- or intermediate-day onions. Fall-sown short- and intermediate-day onions tend to yield more and are larger and sweeter than those seeded or transplanted in early spring. If you do plant in spring, sow summer-maturing onions Feb/March/April. In our area, the  1st half of Nov plant seeds of globe onions for slicing. Grano, Granex, Crystal Wax. December/January plant short-day (sweet) globe onions. 

Bulbs! Divide in spring for winter-dormant species, or in late summer for summer-dormant species. The method of division depends the plant. With chives, the bulb is constantly dividing and a clump of bulbs is formed. Dig up the clump, break it into smaller sections, one bulb, replant. In other species, a number of small bulbs, or offsets, are produced at the base of the parent bulb. For rapid increase, dig up the bulbs every year & plant out the offsets.

Rhizomes! A number of species, like Society Garlic, form a clump of rhizome-like roots. In spring, dig up the clump, cut it into sections with a sharp knife making sure that there is at least one leaf- growing point on each section. Or, without digging it up, chop sections away from the part you choose to be the parent. Either way, plant the sections where you want them.

Some species, like the Tree Onion (A. cepa proliferum), and Walking Onion, also produce small bulbs, or bulbils, at the top of the flowering stem. Sometimes these are produced together with flowers, sometimes instead of flowers. Plant them out as soon as they part easily from the flowering stem. Some of the alliums with bulbils can become noxious weeds! Too true!

Transplants are often the easiest for busy gardeners. Carefully separate the little plants. Make a trench where you want to plant them and lay them with their roots outstretched along the edge of the trench as far apart between them as is right for what you are planting. Simply push the soil from the other side of the trench over their roots.

CAUTION! Alliums are poisonous to dogs and cats. Don’t grow these in your garden if your pets can access them, and never give a dog or cat table food that has been seasoned with onion or garlic.

HEALTH! If you are one of the lucky ones and garlic thrives at your micro climate niche, hooray! For humans, raw Garlic, in particular, acts like a natural antibiotic! A Washington State University 2012 study states that a compound from garlic is 100 times more effective than two popular antibiotics used in the treatment of intestinal infections caused by the bacterium species Campylobacter bacterium. Many other scientific research projects suggest that raw garlic has incredible healing properties. It has a substantial history. in France, gravediggers supposedly drank wine mixed with crushed garlic to protect them from the plague. It was also given to soldiers – in both world wars – to prevent gangrene caused by bacterial infection. The healing properties of this spice ranges from anti-infective to antioxidant.

Garlic is amazing! It is the only antibiotic that can actually kill infecting bacteria and at the same time protect the body from the poisons that are causing the infection. Clinical research found garlic’s effectiveness to be comparable to that of penicillin, streptomycin, erythromycin, and tetracycline. In addition, it has proven effective against some resistant bacteria that no longer respond to prescription antibiotics. It has also been reported that the vapor from freshly cut garlic can kill bacteria at a distance of 20 centimeters!

HARVEST, Drying! In May garlic, bulb onions, and shallots naturally begin to dry. When the foliage begins to dry it’s time to stop irrigating. Dry outer layers needed for long storage will form on the bulbs. When about half of the foliage slumps to the ground, bend the rest to initiate this maturing. The bulbs will be ready for harvest when the foliage is thoroughly dry and crisp. Some gardeners gather and store the bulbs inside. Others leave them lying on the hot ground for about a week. If you like, plait your onions or garlic!

Onion Allium cepa Drying Bundles by Larry Rettig at Dave's Garden
Onion, Allium Cepa drying bundles by Larry Rettig at Dave’s Garden

STORAGE! 

Onions Garlic Storage
Image at Masters Produce, Auckland NZ

Besides plaiting onions or garlic, or bulk dry onion storage, make healthy probiotic treats. Conveniently chop and put in freezer bags in the serving sizes or the amount you will add to favorite meal, freeze. Canning and drying are traditional. Dry thinly sliced onions and garlic to spice up a camp stew later on.

Onions IN the Kitchen tips!

Store in a cool, dark, dry place such as your pantry.

No fridge! Cold temps soften their texture plus onions flavour your other produce.

NO plastic bags; they accelerate sprouting and spoilage due to lack of air circulation.

Store onions and potatoes separately! Both give off gases that accelerate spoilage of each other.

SAVING SEEDS is a joy! Let a few of your plants grow out. Put a bag over the seeding flower stalk, bend the stem, whap or shake it, and let the seeds fall into the bag. I use a clear, zipper style plastic bag so I can see it happen and seal the seeds in so I don’t lose them if the bag gets dropped or bumped!

Enjoy the tasty range of shapes, colors, flavors of your alliums. Experiment with different varieties!


The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

See the March 2017 GBC Newsletter!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

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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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15 Super Tips for a Productive Summer Veggie Patch!

Asymmetrical Design

Whether you are tucking things into niches between ornamental landscape plants, planting a patio patch like in the image, setting up a first time summer garden patch, or replanning your annual garden, here are some great ideas to increase your production!

1. If you have space, and are creating a back, or front, yard food forest, always start with your tree placements first! Determine which veggies grow well with each kind of tree. Santa Barbara Mediterranean Food Forests

2. Keep in mind veggies need sun! 6 to 8 hours, preferably 8! They are making fruit, and often many! That takes energy.

3.  Put tall plants to the north (see image below), so they won’t shade the shorties. If there is a partially shaded area, plant your tallest plants on the shaded side so they can reach up to get some sun; put the shorter plants in decreasing heights, in front of them so all get as much light as they can. When you are planting rounds, another batch every few weeks, start in the north or the ‘back’ – the shaded area, and work your way forward.

4. Trellises and tall cages are terrific space savers and keep your plants off the ground out of harm’s way – pests, diseases, damage. Your veggies will be clean, and have more even ripening. Cucumbers, beans, tomatoes. Squashes and melons can be trellised if you provide support for heavy fruits. Even Zucchini can be grown up through cages leaving a lot of ground space for underplantings. Harvesting is a lot easier and certain when those fast growing zuchs are up where you can see them!

Inefficient Single Row Planting

5. There are rows and there are rows! Single row planting wastes space! Compare the images. If you do rows, plant 2 or 3 different plants in side by side rows, then have your walk way, then another 2 or 3 plants together. Whether you do 2 or 3, or even 4, depends on plant size, your reach, and ease of tending and harvest. Plant taller or medium size plants, like peppers and eggplant, by twos so you can reach in to harvest. Plant shorter smaller plants like lettuces, spinach, strawberries together since they are easy to reach across to harvest. If plants in the rows are the same size, plant the second row plants on the diagonal to the first row plants. That way your rows can be closer together and you can plant more plants!

Attractive Multi-row Veggie Amphitheatre around the Eden Project restaurant!

6. Rather than rows, biodiversity, mixing things up, confuses pests, stops diseases in their tracks, because they can’t just go from the same plant to the same plant down a row. Since we are not using tractors, there is no need for rows at all, but they can be lovely. The curved rows in the image are behind the Eden Project restaurant outdoor seating! Truly garden to table!

7. If you need only a few plants, rather than designating a separate space for lettuces and littles like radishes, tuck them in here and there on the sunny side under bigger plants! When it gets big enough, remove the sunny side lower leaves of the larger plant to let light in.

8. Plant what you like, and will really eat along with some extra nutritious chards, kales.

9. Plants with the same water needs are good together. Like a salad patch – lettuce, arugula, spinach, bok choy, bunch onions, radish, chards. Putting the things together that you will harvest together saves time! Put carrots at the foot of pole beans.

10. Overplanting can take the fun out of things. Too many zucchini in hot summers, and you are going crazy trying to give away the over large ones you didn’t harvest soon enough. Too many green beans are labor intensive harvesting, takes forever. Planting green beans too close together is hard to harvest, and they mildew more with low air circulation. Overplanting is delicious when you plant lots of lettuces, carrots then harvest what you thin out! That’s baby kales, chard, mini carrots. These are the eat-on-the-spot-in-the-garden types!

11. Traditionally, and if you lived in the North with cold winters, you planted the garden all at once in spring! If your parents did that, you are unthinkingly likely to do it as well. In our SoCal Mediterranean climate, we plant all year though there are warmer and cooler veggie seasons. But each of these seasons are longer, and overlap! It is easy to get 3 plantings in succession IN EACH SEASON! Some plants will grow all year, mostly the ‘winter’ plants in our coastal gardens, for example, beets, broccoli, onions and cabbages. It takes strength to leave open space for successive rounds. But you can do it. Mark that space off, plant temporary fast growers, nitrogen-fixing fava, or lay down some soil feeding mulch like seedless straw. That space will be super productive when its turn comes.

12. Pole plants, have a lot longer production period than bush, like beans! Indeterminate tomatoes are true vines, can last all season long, but are susceptible to Fusarium and Verticillium wilts/fungi diseases. Might be better to plant determinates, limited growth varieties, in succession. That’s plant a few, then in a few weeks a few more, and so on. Let the determinates produce like crazy all at once, pull them when they show signs of the wilts. If you have only a small space available, or want to do canning, then bush plants are for you!

13. Plants that act as perennials in our climate are smart money plants! Broccoli’s for their side shoots, continuous kales and chards.

14. Special needs or companions!

  • Eggplants, though heat lovers, love humidity, but not overhead watering. Put them among other medium height plants.
  • Basils are great on the sunny sides of tomatoes, and go to table together.
  • Corn needs colonies – plant in patches versus rows! Every silk needs pollination because each produces a kernel! The best pollination occurs in clusters or blocks of plants. Consider that each plant only produces 2 to 3 ears, usually 2 good ones. How many can you eat a once? Will you freeze them? The ears pretty much mature within a few days of each other! So, if you are a fresh corn lover, plant successively only in quantities you can eat.

15. Consider herbs for corner, border, or hanging plants. They add a beautiful texture to your garden, are wonderfully aromatic, repel pests! Remember, some of them are invasive, like oregano, culinary thyme. Sage has unique lovely leaves. Choose the right type of rosemary for the space and look you want.

Please be CREATIVE! You don’t have to plant in rows, though that may be right for you. Check out this Squidoo Vegetable Garden Layout page! Check out the Grow Planner for Ipad from Mother Earth News! They may make you very happy! This is a perfectly acceptable way to play with your food.

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This is a great time to install native plants and fruit trees, so see if any of this info affects where and how you place them.  A food forest can be anchored by a south opening ‘U’ shaped planting of trees that captures heat for growing veggies in its center area.  It can start with a single tree.  Read Toby Hemenway’s book ‘Gaia’s Garden,’ especially the chapter on Designing Garden Guilds.  Toby says “…biological support replaces human intervention, shifting the garden’s burden onto the broad back of nature.”  If you have time and inclination, see Linda & Larry’s Food Forest Video!  Besides their suburban Santa Barbara yard being a food forest, it is the epitome of edible landscaping!  Your nursery will begin stocking bare-root trees this month!  Santa Barbarans, have you heard of Norm Beard?  He’s the man to see, past President of California Rare Fruit Tree Growers!  You will be amazed what we can grow here, and Norm knows the varieties and stocks the ones that grow best here!

*Guild plants are plants that grow well together.  It’s a LOT more than companion planting by twos, two plants that like, enhance, or help each other, though that is wonderful too.  Happy plants make more food!  Guilds are systems of plants starting with a tree if you have the space!  Check out Permies.com on Guilds  If you love the idea of guilds, and apples, check out this Apple Tree Guild! – image at left.  See the details at the link.  A super functioning guild utilizes both vertical space and horizontal overlapping circles!

I am in hopes you will talk this up to your apartment owner, install it on your own property, model your veggie garden after it, share it with every gardener anywhere, of any kind that you know.  This principle is so important in many ways.  Guild lists can be made for every area, plant zone, specific for every tree!  Guild planting makes sense.

  • It’s economical.  Plants grow densely, produce more.  We are making on prem food forests when times are hard and may get harder.
  • Ecologically we are restoring native habitat when we plant and support those plants that use our water more wisely.
  • It is sustainable –  produces more food on less land, cuts food miles, no fuel, packaging.
  • Health is prime as we eat organic, much more nutritious food that hasn’t been depleted by shipping, storage and processing.

Our list [SEE IT!] author is Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, M.A., MFT, co-editor with Craig Chalquist of the anthology Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, Sierra Club Books (May 2009).  She is a psychotherapist and ecotherapist in Santa Barbara, where she specializes in helping clients with career issues, financial challenges and the transition to a simpler, more sustainable and nature-connected lifestyle.  Linda is an heirloom rose lover, current VP of the Board of the Santa Barbara Rose Society, founder of the International Assn for Ecotherapy and co-founder of the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club!  She cares.

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 gardener’s successes, check with your local nursery.  This list is not tree specific yet.  We’re working on that!

SEE PART 2, the List!

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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!
____________________________________________________________________
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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Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Wolf Peach!!!!  Did you know – our tomato originated in South America and was originally cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas, came to Europe in the 1500s.  People were warned not to eat them until the 18th century!  Wolf Peach comes from German werewolf myths that said deadly nightshade was used to summon werewolves!  ‘Tis true, tomatoes are of the deadly nightshade family, and does have poisonous leaves.  But you would have to eat a LOT of them to get sick!  But they are not good for dogs or cats!  Smaller bodies, right?

Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Tomato - Healthy SunGold!

Tomato – Verticillium Wilt

Above on the left is a very healthy Sun Gold cherry tomato and happy owner.  On the right is a verticillium wilt fatality, not old age.  Almost all of us have had tomato wilt fatalities.  Very sad to see, disappointing and frustrating as XXX!  Tomatoes are pretty dramatically affected, but many plants get the wilt, including your trees, shrubs and roses.  Veggies affected are cucumber, eggplant, pepper, potatoes, rhubarb, watermelon, artichoke, beet, broad bean, strawberries, raspberries.  Cool, damp weather, like we had here in Santa Barbara area ALL last summer, referred to as the ‘May grays’ and the  ‘June glooms,’ is the worst. 

The leaves fold along their length, the stems get brown/black spots/blotches on them, the leaves turn brown, dry and die.  It is a fungus in the soil that is also windborne.  There may be too much N (Nitrogen), too much manure – lots of gorgeous leaves but no flowers.  That’s an easy fix, add some Seabird (not Bat) guano to restore the balance, bring blooms, then fruit.  The wilt is tougher.  When the toms get about a foot tall, STOP WATERING!  Remove weed habitat and don’t mulch.  The fungus can’t thrive in drier soil. Water the toms’ neighboring plants, but not the toms.  Tomatoes have deep tap roots and they can get water from below the wilt zone.

It is better to pull infected plants, called the one-cut prune, because their production will be labored and little compared to a healthy plant that will catch up fast in warmer weather.  And you will be more cheerful looking at a healthy plant.  Heirlooms are particularly susceptible, so get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery, or are a known VFN variety.  The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes.  Ask a knowledgeable person if the tom doesn’t have a designation, or check online.  It’s just a bummer when plants get the wilt.  If you are one who removes the lower leaves and plants your transplant deeper, don’t let the lowest leaves touch the ground. When your plants get bigger, cut off lower leaves that would touch the ground BEFORE they touch the ground or leaves that can be water splashed – some say take all up to 18″ high!  The wilt gets into your plant through its leaves, not the stem.  Don’t cut suckers (branches between the stem and main branch) off because the cuts can be entry points for windborne wilts.  Wash your hands after working with each plant with the wilt so you don’t spread the wilts yourself.

Verticillium-resistant Tomato Varieties
AAS (All America Selections) are Starred & Bolded 
  • Ace
  • Better Boy
  • *Big Beef
  • *Celebrity
  • Champion
  • Daybreak
  • Early Girl
  • First Lady
  • *Floramerica
  • *Husky Gold
  • Husky Red
  • Italian Gold
  • Jet Star
  • Miracle Sweet
  • Pink Girl
  • Roma
  • Sunstart
  • Super Sweet 100
  • Ultra Sweet
  • Viva Italia

There’s little you can do for/to the soil to get rid of the wilt.  The only method I know that most of us can afford is Solarization.  Put black plastic tightly to the ground during a couple weeks of heat to kill it.  Problem is twofold.  1) That would be high summer to get that heat, so you can’t have your summer crop in that area.  If you have enough space, it’s doable.  If you only have a small space, that means no toms this year.  2) We are coastal and the temp needed to kill the wilt isn’t maintained over a two week period.  Sigh.  So we do our best, resistant varieties, little water, removal of lower leaves, remove infected plants.  A lot of smart local farmers dry farm tomatoes, and it’s water saving. 

You can use straw bale planting, or make raised box beds and fill them with soil that isn’t infected with the wilt.  That can help for awhile.  Here’s a link to my Green Bean Connection blog post on Plant a Lot in a Small Space that has a bit on hay/straw bale gardening!  It’s about 2/3s down the page, with link for instructions!  But.  Not only are the wilts soil borne, but airborne.  That you can’t do a lot about except ask everyone with infected plants to remove them.  

See Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 2, including Fava & Basil Tips

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Or wear your awesome Sloggers!  With boots like these from Sloggers Garden Outfitters, No Problem!  Regrettably, their selection for men lags.  Oops, did I say that?!  No matter, buy some for your Sweetie!  Valentine’s Day is coming….

This is bare root time – plants without soil on their roots!  For us SoCal gardeners that’s cane berry bushes, deciduous fruit trees, strawberries, artichokes, asparagus, short day onions.  Think twice about horseradish.  It’s invasive as all getout!  If you do it, confine it to a raised bed or an area where it will run out of water.  Rhubarb, though totally tasty in several combinations, ie strawberry/rhubarb pie, has poisonous leaves!  That means to dogs, small children and unknowing people.  Either fence it off, or don’t grow it.  I don’t recommend it in community gardens because we can’t assure people’s safety.  Bare root planting is strictly a January thing.  February is too late. 

SoCal’s Lettuce Month!  They germinate quicker at cooler temps!  Grow special ones you can’t get at the store, or even the Farmers’ Market!  They like a soil mix of well aged compost, organic veggie fertilizers, chicken manure.  Lay your seeds in, barely, and I do mean barely, cover them, 1/8 inch, pat them in.  Water gently with a watering can, or use the mist setting on your sprayer.  Keep the bed moist.  That might mean watering even twice daily!  If it is going to rain heavily, cover the bed so the seeds don’t wash away.  Slug and snail cocktails (Sluggo) make sense or your seedlings may vanish.  If your seeds just don’t germinate, be sure your seed is fresh.  Feed the bed once a week.  Fast growth keeps it sweet; slow growth is bitter!  Eat the younglings you thin from the patch, or transplant them.  Pluck those larger lower leaves for robust winter salads!  Plant another patch in 2 weeks to a month to keep a steady supply! 

As you harvest your winter veggies, keep planting, from seeds or transplants.  Transplants will speed things up by a good 6 weeks if you can find them.  Your winter veggies are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, parsley, peas, chard.  Seeds of beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, radish, turnips, do well.  Pop in some short-day onions. 

Remember, harvest your cabbages by cutting them off close to the bottom of the head, leaving the bottom leaves.  New smaller cabbages will grow from those axils at the stem/leaf junctions.  You might get as many as four babies!  Do the same with lettuces!  Once you harvest your main broccoli head, let the side shoots form mini broccolettes!  The further down the stalk you cut, the fewer but fatter your side branches.  Pat Welsh, Southern California Organic Gardening, recommends the variety Bonanza.

The SideDress Dance continues – if you harvest, you fertilize.  That’s a good rule of thumb.  Sprinkle some fertilizer or drizzle your favorite liquid mix, especially before a rain.  Dig it in lightly, but not in a circle.  You don’t want to break all the tiny rootlets that spread out at the surface from your plant.  So do it on a couple sides max.  Dig it in a bit so the N (Nitrogen) doesn’t just float away into the air….  Use half strength of summer feedings to avoid a lot of tender growth a frost would take. 

Start seedlings of peppers!  They are notoriously slow growers, so to get them in the ground in March, start now!  Ask your Latino friends; they are experts!  When you see them planting, you do the same.  While you are at it, ask them if they happen to have any spare jicama seeds!  Fresh-from-the garden jicama is like nothing you have ever tasted! 

If you tossed wildflower seeds, keep their beds moist. 

Start a garden journal, especially enter your genius thoughts!  Domestic harmony?  Clean up your shed/working space, or build one.   Build a greenhouse!  Plan your spring garden, order seeds.  Order fall seeds now too so they won’t be sold out later on.  Build your raised beds – that’s with frames if you want frames, and start building your soil. 

Great Rain Tips!  Please click here!  Mulch keeps your plants from getting mud splattered.

Frost Watch!  Keep an eye on your weather predictions!  If it starts getting down near 32 degrees, run for the covers! That’s your cheap sheets you got at the thrift shop, spare beach towels, old blankies, and cover your plants mid afternoon if possible!  For things to know about cold weather plants, and more tips on how to save your plants, click here!

Do I see green leaves sticking out of the corner of your mouth?

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