- Author: Betty Homer
When gardeners speak of “perennial vegetables,” the edible plants that often come to mind include asparagus, rhubarb, and artichoke. The purpose of this article is to introduce you to other rare and/or unusual perennial vegetables which may be worth cultivating in your own backyard garden.
My quest for rare and unusual perennial vegetables led me to a plant sale recently held at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center in Occidental, California (see www.oaec.org for more information). Although I purchased a number of perennial vegetables at the sale, most of which I have no experience growing, this article will feature two of those plants, which seem to be thriving thus far in my Solano County backyard garden. I will report back on other weird and wonderful perennial vegetables in the coming months, depending on how well they fare.
I had been searching for yacon (Polymnia sonchifolia), also known as Bolivian Sunroot, for quite some time, and was thrilled to have found it at the OAEC plant sale. Yacon is considered one of the “Lost Crops of the Incas.” Yacon is a relative of the sunflower and and native to the high Andes. Although my yacon plant is currently 5 inches tall, the literature I have read indicates that my yacon plant should reach 5-feet tall at maturity. To harvest yacon, the tubers are dug up in the autumn (so I have another a year to wait). Yacon is a versatile plant, as it can be eaten raw like fruit, or can be stir-fried, roasted, baked or made into pies and chips. Some cultures use the leaves of the yacon plant with which to wrap their food. Although I have never tasted yacon as it is not readily available in the markets that I shop at, I have read that yacon tastes like jicama, only better. Another description that I found, said that yacon tastes like a cross between celery and a Granny Smith apple. Yacon is best grown in full sun and in well-drained, fertile soil.
In recent years, yacon has grown in popularity, both in gardening literature and in nurseries specializing in rare plants. This may be due to the fact that yacon is an up and coming “super food,” as food companies are developing yacon into various products such as yacon syrup, which is a low-calorie sugar substitute appealing to both diabetics and people on diets.
Although I debated whether to buy malabar spinach (Basella rubra) at the OAEC plant sale, I gave in, as I knew malabar spinach to be a staple for those interested in permaculture/creating an edible food forest in their backyards. It is not actually spinach, but has the flavor of spinach, and can be substituted in recipes which call for spinach (note that malabar spinach is fleshy and mucilaginous, and is best consumed cooked and not raw). Under the right conditions (e.g., full sun, and fertile, well-drained soil), malabar spinach which is a vine requiring trellising, can reach 8-10 feet in length. Because malabar spinach is so prolific, I have read that one vine is sufficient to feed a family of 4. Malabar spinach is frost tender and may need to be dug up and brought indoors during the winter.
I will report on other unusual perennials growing in my backyard in the coming months, so stay tuned for updates.
- Author: Trisha Rose
I stroll pretty frequently through our neighborhood with dogs in tow. Many of my neighbors are gifted gardeners and I get a chance to check out and share in their summer bounty. While some of the "suburban farm plots" are shutting down for the season, others are still pumping out the tomatoes and squash. 'Bearss' Lime and 'Improved Meyer' lemon trees are bearing next to a driveway, volunteer squash are flowering by a hose spigot, baby lettuce is keeping company with Kranz aloe and bags of tasty tomatoes and squash appear at my front door along with peppers. Even okra grown from seeds brought in from Northern India is growing very well in the August sun.
Besides all this, one of my neighbors just brought over a dozen fresh eggs naturally colored in shades worthy of an Easter Egg Hunt. This hard working gardener has lots of that great by-product of chicken life she uses throughout her own salad bowl garden and orchard of fruit trees. And she lets a local beekeeper use a back corner for hives which produce lovely honey they both share.
Lots to see here when I put on my walking shoes and start looking around. It's a great way to stay in touch with my neighbors and share in their success as gardeners both literally and visually.
- Author: Betty Homer
My current gardening obsession is hunting for nurseries and resources that carry perennial vegetables. Such plants are usually available in the U.S. during the Spring (they are currently available at this time of year in Australia), but being the impatient personality that I am, I am anxious to get going now.
But this post is not about perennial vegetables—that will come in a later post once I succeed in acquiring said unusual and rare plants (such vegetables will go well beyond asparagus and artichoke), which may occur sometime in August (if you are interested, see www.oaec.org). It was my pursuit of these perennial vegetable plants that led me to recently stumble across a wonderful bakery and a small edible garden tucked behind it, which is the subject of this post.
So you ask—where is this place where one can find both amazing food and a beautiful garden? The answer--in Freestone located in Sonoma County. The bakery is called “Wild Flour Bakery” and features tasty creations such as sticky bun bread, scones dotted with strawberry and white chocolate, and savory goods (see http://www.wildflourbread.com/). The garden behind the bakery is cleverly named “Wild Flower Gardens” (play on the word “Flower” and “Flour”) which I suspect supplies some of the fruit used in the bakery’s baked goods. Unlike many edible gardens that can become overgrown because there is so much to manage, Wild Flower Gardens is, on the whole, well-ordered. In that space, you will find a small grove of young fruit trees consisting mostly of pears and plums. Also, in that space, are edible plants (kale, lettuce, raspberries, grapes, herbs, etc.) combined with ornamentals, the arrangement of which always interests me, because I enjoy seeing how people integrate these seemingly disparate groups of plants so that they look harmonious together. Best of all, there is seating scattered throughout the garden where you are invited to bring your fresh baked goods in to sit down and enjoy. It is a great little weekend getaway, just slightly over an hour from Solano County--not to be missed!
- Author: Marian I Chmieleski
As the summer vegetable garden's bounty is harvested it is time to think about a second planting to keep things going and even begin to move towards cooler-season crops. According to Renee's Garden (firstname.lastname@example.org) this is the perfect time to plant short season varieties. You can go to their website for planting information and even garden plans, but generally it is a good time to begin all the brassicas, lettuces and other salad greens, peas and several herbs. And it's a great time to think about companion planting.
A couple of months ago I was curious and did some research on companion planting and found that not only do some plants do better with certain others, but some are actually harmed (or at least hindered) by some others. I found, for instance, that you should never grow basil with sage. Oh. I had just planted a lovely couple of basil plants right next to my sage. And no herbs with the chard. Again, my little garden is a perfect example of what NOT to do. So here are a few things I learned and a couple of resources you might find interesting before you put in your next crops.
Do NOT plant any of the brassicas (cabbages, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower) near tomatoes, beans, peppers, or strawberries. Likewise, do NOT plant potatoes near tomatoes or squashes; nor peas near onions, garlic, leeks or chives. Do plant your basil right next to your tomatoes. The basil actually improves the flavor of the tomatoes on the vine. Beets go well with lettuces, onions and the brassicas and are helped by catnip, garlic and mint.
If you find that your strawberries are being eaten by worms, try planting borage near them to strengthen their resistance to insects and disease. A border of thyme around those strawberries will also help deter the worms. Borage, in fact, along with loveage and geraniums, is a very good companion to almost everything including your cabbage.
Cilantro/coriander is good with spinach; sage will help repel moths from your cabbage crops and dill is a good companion to lettuce, cabbage and onions. But don't plant it near your tomatoes as it will attract the tomato hornworm.
Parsley sacrificially attracts insects that attack tomatoes. Tarragon's scent is disliked by most pests and is thought to have "nurse properties", enhancing the flavor of crops grown with it. Marigolds are a "wonder drug" in the garden, and FRENCH marigolds (Tagetes patula) produce from their roots a pesticidal chemical that will last in the soil years after the plants themselves are gone. Nasturtiums attract aphids so they will leave your other plants alone and the nasturtium petals and young leaves are great in a salad.
There is a wealth of information out there on companion planting and you can find information on just what you intend to plant. Below are some sources that I found helpful with one caveat: sometimes I found conflicting information in different sources. As always, gardening can be an adventure--but a beautiful and tasty one!
http://ucanr.edu (Search: Companion Planting)
- Author: Karen Metz
The concept of edible landscaping has been growing in popularity for the last few decades. It proposes that we integrate edible plants into our regular landscape design and plantings. Its proponents argue that since plant-able soil is at a premium for many people, using all our space makes sense. They also point out that in addition to helping us eat healthier by growing some of our own fruit and vegetables, many of these plants are downright pretty.
I found myself on the flip-side of edible landscaping the last few years. I have two raised beds, six by six feet in my back yard that I have grown herbs and vegetables in for years. Several years ago I bought some dahlia tubers at the San Francisco Garden Show. When I got them home, I realized I didn't know where I could plant them. Front and side yards all had established plantings that weren't amenable to some potentially four foot neighbors. I decided to put them in the very back of my raised vegetable beds. Over the years, I got a few more varieties. I thought the foliage and flowers made a nice backdrop for my vegetables.
Then I saw some corms for the most beautiful two-toned gladiolas. I tried a few in the front yard but they kept getting blown over by the wind. The backyard seemed my only solution. I reasoned that since the leaves were tall but slender I really shouldn't have to worry too much about shading out my vegetables. I planted them in a big line right across the front of both raised beds.
The first year was beautiful and my plan worked well. Gradually though the gladiolas multiplied and I found myself with a thick wall of foliage last year. I tried pulling the foliage to each side of the tomatoes to try and let some sunlight in, but it was the worst year for tomatoes I had ever had.
After growing season, I dug up the gladiolas, gave some away and replanted some farther back in the bed in little clumps not solid rows. When it came time to put in the tomatoes this year, I placed them on the edges and right in front. This year the tomatoes are doing much better.
Just to let you know I am a firm believer in edible landscaping. In other parts of the yard I have a fig, a crabapple and an olive tree. I have pomegranate and pineapple guava shrubs and some smaller blueberry bushes. I have artichoke, and lavender plants and some herbal plants and ground-covers.
I love food and I love flowers. As long as we can give them the soil, the light, and the water they need, they will get along just fine.