5 Garden Favorites

My garden is overflowing with greenery, and everything I planted this year serves a purpose. Some are food for me, some are food for my dogs and some are food for my bees. Some a pest deterrents, some are trap crops. Each one is uniquely useful, but there are definitely a couple plants that seem to be in my kitchen or on my mind almost daily.

1. Variegated Collards
20140718-140856-50936173.jpg Collards are a staple of southern cuisine and also extremely easy to grow. Most collards take 80 days to mature but the strain propogated by Fedco Seeds takes only 60, nearly three weeks less and we happen to sell them at Biofuel Oasis, where I work. It produces massive 12-18in long leaves whose waxy coating makes them both mildew and aphid resistant.

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They are juicy and tender and very flavorful but the ribs are tough and needs to be removed before cooking. I’ve been cooking these as a side  dish for almost every meal and added them to a quiche with excellent results. They add color and texture as well as a huge dose of vitamins K, A, and C and I also love dehydrating them in place of kale for chips for a crunchy snack that satisfies.

 

2. Yarrow

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Yarrow is a spectacularly undervalued herb in most gardens. It is often planted as an ornamental in its yellow or red blooming form. The colorful blooms are a beautiful contrast against its silvery green leaves, but the white variety is the most medicinally potent. For this reason, I planted two varieties, one for looks and one for use, though even the colorful variety is still an wonderful aromatic.Yarrow prefers well drained soil, and full sun, but can survive in partial shade. It handles our acidic clay soil in the East Bay quite well and can thrive in nutrient-poor conditions.

One of the most effective uses of Yarrow is for halting bleeding by applying crushed green leaves to the wound. The root is also an effective analgesic that can be chewed to alleviate toothache and reduce gum inflammation. A tea made from the leaves and/or flowers will open pores and raise body temperature and is said to air in breaking fevers. Dilute tea is also effective in regulating menses.

20140718-140444-50684714.jpg Of course Yarrow has a whole other usefulness too. It’s an excellent pollinator attractant and one bloom will often play host to numerous bees at once. The blooms are long lasting and numerous, and can provide nectar and pollen even during dry times as the plant is extremely hardy and drought tolerant. This plant is also very easy to propagate from small root segments which is exactly what I did by pulling up small shoots in neighbors’ yards to plant it in my own. I also use Yarrow in my herbal infused bee food which I make fresh every couple weeks.

 

3. Scarlet Runner Bean

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This one is pretty straight forward. Scarlet runner beans are highly productive and will continue to bloom if beans are harvested continuously. The blooms attract all manner of pollinators including honeybees, native bees, butterflies, and humming birds. Vines grow up to 20ft with bright red blooms and lush green leaves along the entire length.

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When pods are picked young, before they begin thickening, the entire pod is edible like any green bean. Later, when beans mature, they can be left on the vine or picked to dry and storage beans. At this point, the pod walls become hard,  fibrous and undigestible, but the beans are large and flavorful when cooked in soup or chili, or as a dish on their own.

According to Eric Toensmeier, author of Perennial Vegetable, runner beans can overwinter in climates that remain above 23 degrees Fahrenheit, however I don’t know anyone who has tried to do this. I plan to try it once these beans have spent themselves out by mulching them over for the winter to keep them cozy and warm.

 

4. Mullein

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Mullein has nearly three dozen names including Our Lady’s Flannel, Clown’s Lungwort, Shepherds Staff, and my favorite, Hare’s Beard. The leaves and flowers of the plant contain most of the medicinal potency, though some applications for the root are said to exist. Mullein is mainly used as an anti-spasmotic which works wonders to alleviate coughs and or gastrointestinal cramping. It is also a mild sedative, so it is best taken at bedtime, lest it leave you feeling drowsy. However, combined with catnip, mint, lemon verbena, sage, and lavender, it makes a soothing and delightful sleep tonic. The leaves and flowers can be used fresh, or hung to dry for later use.

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The plants can grow up to 3ft wide with a single flower spike up to 8ft tall, whose lemon-yellow flowers are appealing to hummingbirds and butterflies as well as honeybees. The leaves are large and velvety soft and, because they grow as weeds in many places, hikers and backpackers have often used them as trail-side toilet paper.

Mullein has a two-year growth cycle but isn’t a true perennial as it only blooms its second year, however it does reseed itself prolifically. Fear not, it is easy to weed out when it is young and is easily shaded out by faster growing plants which keeps it from being aggressively invasive. It grows best in full sun and is another plant which can thrive in nutrient-poor clay. It does however prefer moderate water, especially in its second year while blooming.

 

5. Zucchini

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Okay, this is a bit of a no-brainer. Zucchini is a big food-producer. It takes almost no effort to grow and is easy to cook in a wide variety of ways. Our plants are producing huge sweet zukes every day and we can’t keep up with harvesting them so some have gotten a bit bigger than intended. I recommend every beginning gardener plant a few because it is incredibly rewarding to produce such a bounty as one’s first experience and even as an experienced backyard farmer it is good to know you have one fool proof crop in the garden in case everything goes haywire. All they need is sun and rich soil. They don’t like their roots disturbed to place them in a area where they have plenty of room to spread.

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In my home zucchini is used in just about anything from quiches to curries, and dog-food to fritters. It freezes well for later use in zucchini bread or pasta sauce and also keeps whole for quite some time. It ripens in perfect time with grilling season and there is something almost magical about plucking a vegetable and taking to straight to the grill without ever touching a kitchen counter or pantry. Somehow home grown veggies will always taste sweeter.

 

Right now, these five are my big favorites, though there are certainly many others in the garden that I love having quick access to. I expect that there will be a whole different set of favorites as the seasons change. What are your favorite garden products?

 

 

The Garden Roster

The other day, on a whim I decided to write down all the edibles in my back yard. After months of feeling like I was missing this or that plant, I was startled to discover that my efforts had brought me to over xdozen plants, not including those that had already been removed. Some of these are still in my propogate on area, just starting to root, but most are planted and even producing.

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Following is a complete list of the edible plants I am currently growing. In upcoming posts I will write up plant profiles of a few specific ones and if you’d like to know more about anything on this list, I would be happy to elaborate on them!

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Herbs:
lemon thyme
english thyme
yarrow
greek oregano
rose geranium
purple culinary sage
culinary sage
marjoram
comfrey
bronze fennel
mullein
catnip
lemon balm
nugget hops
lemongrass
taragon
rosemary
lavender
chamomile
stevia
lemon basil
sweet basil
echinacea
italian flat parsley
tobacco
chives
skullcap
coneflower(echinacea)

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Other Edible Perennials:
rhubarb
artichoke
thornless raspberry
blueberry (sunshine blue, misty, jubilee)
everbearing strawberry
elderberry(york, nova, black beauty)
canna
oca
yacon
blackberry
olive tree
dwarf Taro
purple Taro
borage
currants( Crandall, black, red, white)
jostaberry
asparagus(UC-127)

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Edible Annuals:
red indian corn
sweet bicolor corn
sweet yellow corn
peacevine tomato
cherokee purple tomato
variegated collards
russian kale (red and white)
lacinato kale
curly kale
cajun jewel okra
zucchini
cucumber
scarlet runner bean
celebration runner bean
blushed butter oak lettuce
hopi red dye amaranth
garlic
scallions

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I am already experiencing a bountiful summer. I have a constant Harvey of zucchini, have picked the Indian corn an some of the bicolor corn, eaten young scarlet runner beans sautéed with butter and garlic, and of course used lemongrass in curries. I’ve also come up with a great herbal bee food using only things in my back yard, water, and sugar and it has given my bees a great advantage this spring. It is so rewarding to benefit from the work I’ve put into my garden!

Picking Up Chicks

Last fall we got chicks and now they are full blown hens and one lucky girl is trying to become a momma herself!
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Inky, our old lady australorpe (adopted from another flock) has been sitting on her nest for almost just over the 21 day incubation period. She actually stole the nest out from under Ginger, the Mille Fleur D’Uccle Bantam, and I added some eggs at that point so they might be hatching late. Ginger had 16 eggs under her tiny body and I think she just couldn’t keep them warm enough. I have been candling and periodically removing bad eggs and the 6 left are heavy and warm. Fingers crossed, and we shall see what hatches if anything at all.

Meanwhile, we are adding new birds to the mix that my Mama picked up from Just Struttin Farm in Novato, CA yesterday. The two that are mine have gotten their names already.

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Meet Georgie! She is a 12 week old Calico Cochin pullet who weighs next to nothing. She is a little shy, sweet and falls asleep in my lap once I’m holding her.

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Kiki is a Mille Fleur Leghorn cross hen. Her coloring isn’t spectacular, but I think she fits right in with our other two Milles. She’s a bit of an escape artists and quite curious. Last night she escaped her temporary run and roosted on the tin roof of the main chicken run about 9ft up. Today she is relishing exploring the run with the rest of our flock, already comfortable and settled in.

The second pullet we brought home is the one that instigated all the new additions. My mother and I had been searching for Black Orpingtons for months. Last fall we visited another urban homesteader’s property and my Mama fell in love with the breed. I practically had to pry our hosts hens from her embrace!

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The way she cradles this beautiful gal, I suspect it will be much the same in our own back yard. Though she doesn’t have a name yet, she has already proven herself a perfect fit for our microfarm. She comes up to me in the coop and is anything but skittish, almost asking to be picked up.

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This is the last of the new girls, a double blue laced barnevelder. I fell in love with the blue laced red plumage on wyandottes but because of my busy schedule I didn’t feel ready to raise them from chicks. Luckily, Deann had one hen the needed a home who has just the feathers I wanted and serene, people oriented personality to boot. This photo really does no justice to her sensational coloring.

The rest of our flock is of course our Mille Fleur D’Uccle Bantams in the middle of this photo, Cinnamon, and Ginger.

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These two are quite the troublemakers, occasionally upsetting our neighbors with 6am wake up calls and daytime squawking and honking as well as the loudest crow I’ve heard from such a tiny rooster. We like to joke that he is compensating for his size.

The Ameraucanas we raised from chicks, Hawk and Mary Kate.

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Though both the same breed, and from the same breeder, they look quite different and so do their eggs. It’s fun to have such variety in the egg basket!

Last but not least is the 3+year old matron of our flock, Pinky. She came to us along with Inky and two others that we decided to cull out (Blinky, and Dot).

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Despite her poor laying, we decided we really like her and she gets to stay by virtue of being our top hen an one of the friendliest. She too loves being held, a trait we obviously appreciate in our hens.

Fava Feast

It is spring and tons of plants going in the ground. That means it’s time to get rid of the winter cover crops. For us that means FAVAS!

I pulled all the plants from one of our beds and chopped up the root to let it nitrify the soil. The stalks got piled onto the patio table to be defoliated and stripped of edible size beans.

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I came away with roughly 4lbs of beans and 1lb of braising greens. A few years ago I made an incredible fava and citrus salad. This time, who knows.

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I’m open to suggestions!

Artfibers yarnsplosion!

This post was supposed to go up February 14th but yet again, I was foiled by technology. The following was written while in line for a total of 4 hours.

It’s a sad day when an incredible yarn company goes out of business. The only bright side is the sale. At 9am February 14th they opened the doors to their workshop in order to clear out the last of their stock, supplies, and equipment. Fortunately this closing was by choice, not hard circumstances, and the owners are moving on to new projects and less responsibility. That means no guilt for those of us benefiting from their closeout!

I came with a budget and am blowing that out of the water but it is well beyond worth it! I have pounds and pounds of silk, viscose, modal, bamboo and alpaca undyed yarn cones coming home with me along with a couple amazing super-skeins of luxury yarn that I would normally never be able to afford.

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Of course I’m not the only one who came to Vallejo, CA to score. I am 2/3 through the line and have already been waiting nearly two hours.

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We’ve camped out in yarnville and kind coconspiritors have taken to passing around cookies and holding places during bathroom breaks and last minute additions.

Suffice to say I’m excited and will of course be starting up my active knitting life again. One project has already been completed.

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This scarf for my partner Michael is made entirely from my handdyed and handspun yarns. I’m proud of it despite it being messy because it’s the first project I have finished in a couple years. I’m expecting many more to come.

Puppy-Time!

Please welcome our newest addition to the family, Otto! He came us in October when this post was originally supposed to go up. I’ve updated everything with new photos and anecdotes.

At 2am I get a text message from my mother (who I live with) that says this: “careful not to let the new dog out” with this photo.

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I groaned and rolled over to settle into bed. To understand that reaction you have to know that my teenage years were filled with stray dogs and fostered pups. Every month or two I would come home to a new dog that we had found or had been abandoned with us or once had actually been offered to us on the street by a distressed woman who was at wits end and moving to where she couldn’t keep her pooch. It was an incredibly rewarding but heartbreaking emotional roller coaster as we fell in love with those wet noses and dirty paws and repeatedly had to return them to their owners or find them new homes because they never meant for us to keep.

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I fell in love right away. I called shelters and advertised on Craigslist to make sure he wasn’t missed anywhere else. It’s been a few weeks now. Without any answers to his origin, I’m pretty sure he’s mine.

[edit] Months later he is definitely a permanent member of my family. We have had him neutered and vaccinated. Treated and cleared of the tapeworm and fleas he came to us with, Otto is a healthy and happy dog.

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He loves nothing more than cuddling up with us in bed or on the couch and gets along famously with the family dog, Shadow.

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