Archive | Edible Landscaping

3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed

Over the past number of years, I have strategically let some of the plants in my garden go to seed. It all started with me just being lazy and leaving plants in the ground longer than I was hoping. However, there were a number of benefits that came from letting these plants go to seed. Here are 3 reasons to let your plants go to seed:

1. Beautiful Flowers

3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed

Most of the plants I have let go to seed have surprisingly beautiful flowers. These include a variety of lettuces, kale, arugula, basil, radishes, and cilantro. When these plants have flowered, they add a striking beauty to my entire garden space with white, yellow,and pink flowers. For this reason alone, it is worth letting some of the plants in your garden go to seed.

2. Seeds for Next Year

3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed

The second benefit to letting your plants go to seed is that you can collect and save seeds for next year. If you haven’t let your plants go to seed and saved the seeds before, you will be surprised at how many seeds you can collect from each plant. The key is to allow the seed pods to dry out as much as possible before picking them. Then, let the seeds dry out a little more before putting them into an envelope to preserve for the next year’s planting. Last year I saved almost an entire mason jar full of scarlet runner beans. I have even just saved the entire stalks of basil that went to seed and then planted the whole stock in a little trench in the garden the next year. The basil sprouted perfectly and I enjoyed incredible basil all summer long.

3. Free Volunteer Plants each Spring

3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed

Beet Start from last year’s beets going to seed

The last reason I let my plants go to seed is that I always get free volunteer plants each spring. This has been particularly true for my beets, tomatillos, tomatoes, radishes, nasturtium, and arugula. In fact, bought 3 tomatillo plants 4 years ago and have not bought another start since then. Each year I allow some of the tomatillos to remain on the plant until they drop into the garden bed. I leave them in the garden bed all winter long. Each Spring, I get dozens of tomatillo plants – so many that I have to weed many of them out and give them to friends and neighbors. This year, I also have about 7 nasturtium plants that came up from last year’s plants that went to seed and dropped into the garden bed. Nasturtiums give beautiful and edible flowers all season long.

For these 3 reasons, I highly recommending choosing to strategically let some of your plants go to seed each season. It will save you time and money buying starts each year as well as add incredible beauty to your garden beds throughout the growing season.

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Growing Hops in Your Garden

Growing hops in your garden is very easy to do.  Last October I posted an article titled, “Grow Your Own Beer” where I considered all the ingredients that go into a pint of beer and then looked at the practicality of growing each ingredient.  Hops won out for a number of reasons.

Hops Flower

Hops Flower

Around February, I grew antsy and began looking through catalogs containing hops rhizomes.  If you don’t know what a rhizome is, Wikipedia sums it up nicely as, “a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes.”  Think of how grasses send runners as they spread across your yard.  That underground root-like runner?  That’s a rhizome.

Cascade Hops

My New Cascade Hops

In mid-March planted them in a few key spots around our house and to my surprise, they are doing very well.  No special skill was required on my part.  You simply dig a hole, stick them in there with the nodes pointing up and cover them with about an inch of dirt.  Given that we’re in Portland, Oregon, I didn’t water because of our spring days that alternate between wet rainy and warm sunny (the weather make weeding fun, too). If you live in a drier climate, consider giving your new hops regular drinks.  About 2 weeks later, signs of life appeared and 3 weeks later, I now have a 4 inch vine poking up (see above).

If you are considering planting hops, here are a few tips on planing your cascade hops rhizomes from my earlier article:

  1. Find some space!  Although not quite as much space is needed as with barley, these vines grow vertically so you’ll need some sort of a pole/twine system.  One site even showed an old swing set re-purposed for – and engulfed by – hops.
  2. Pick a spot.  Direct sunlight and well drained soil is key.
  3. Plant them.  If you are reading this article now in October, you will need to wait (with me) until the spring before May.  However, you can begin conditioning your soil now with lime and other key ingredients.
  4. Prune the runners.  Only the strong should survive.

Out of the numerous varieties, I selected Cascades because they are easy, grow relatively quickly and are very versatile in brewing.   They are commonly used in both bittering and flavoring a wort or beer and act as a natural preservative.  John Palmer, in his landmark book (a.k.a. bible), “How to Brew” describes their flavor profile as having a “strong spicy, floral, citrus (i.e., grapefruit) aroma.”  The desirable characteristics come from the lupulin glands (range from yellow, orange or gold in color) found at the base of the flower petals.

Anatomy of a Hops Flower (Courtesy Wikipedia)

When they really get growing, you’ll need to train them using some structure or bailing twine.  We are using them to line the top of our front porch as they grow.  You can even grown them in halved wine barrels or large buckets if you are concerned they will run.

If you aren’t into brewing, you can still join in the fun of planting these fast growing vines.  As the vine grows, the flower cones hang from the vine and put off an amazing aroma.  However, don’t expect too much from them in their first year – it is a critical time where they are establishing their root systems and they may not produce flowers.

Are there non-brewing uses for hops?  You bet.  Apparently they can be used as an herbal remedy for as a treatment for anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.  Wikipedia goes on to state:

“A pillow filled with hops is a popular folk remedy for sleeplessness, and animal research has shown a sedative effect. The relaxing effect of hops may be due, in part, to the specific chemical component dimethylvinyl carbinol. “

Be careful, though.  The oils in the lupulin glands can go rancid quickly and what was once a fresh smelling pillow will begin to have a cheese scent.  Not exactly what you want to smell while falling asleep.  Hops can be preserved in a cold, dark place for short periods of time.  Long term storage requires drying the flowers and then storing them in an oxygen barrier bag.

There are many, many varieties, each with their own particular characteristics and fragrances.  Pick some up today to add great accents and greenery to your garden soon – planting season ends in May!

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Benefits of growing rhubarb and how to care for it

Benefits of rhubarb and how to care for it

Rhubarb is easy to grow and delicious to eat

Rhubarb is a garden plant that is very easy to grow and care for. It is a perennial meaning that it grows for more than 2 years and survives winters. Rhubarb is hardy and will give you plenty to harvest all season long. The stalks (or petioles as they are technically called) are the parts of the rhubarb that you eat. Many people ask me why I grow rhubarb. My answer is always a question, “Have you tasted a strawberry rhubarb crisp?” That use alone makes it worth it. Here is a great Rhubarb Crisp Recipe in case you needed one: Rhubarb Crisp Recipe.

Benefits of growing rhubarb and how to care for it

Nutritional information of 1 cup of raw rhubarb

However, the nutritional content in Rhubarb is another reason I grow it. It is actually very healthy for you and contains a ton of vitamins and dietary fiber and even some protein. Check out the image for  nutritional information that Siri on my iPhone gave me when I asked for the nutritional information for 1 cup of rhubarb. You get low fat, low calories, high dietary fiber and high levels of calcium and vitamin C among many other vitamins. So, that is why I love growing rhubarb – it makes great desserts and has great nutritional value.

Benefits of rhubarb and how to care for it

Rhubarb flowering and going to seed in the Spring

In the Spring, rhubarb will begin to go to seed by sending up a tall stalk with little flowers on it. If you let the rhubarb go to seed, the plant itself will not produce as many stalks and will focus its energy on the flowers. So, to increase the productivity of your rhubarb plant, simply cut the flower stalk off each year when it appears. I do this with my rhubarb each year and it helps me to get incredible yields all summer long.

The only other thing  you will need to do to care for your rhubarb plants is to give it water and to fertilize it each year. Any organic fertilizer will work or a if you want to simplify things, get some organic Jobe Fertilizer spikes. These are little dissolvable spikes that you put into the ground around your plants to give organic nutrients to the plant slowly over time. Buy the fertilizer spikes on Amazon through this link: Jobe’s Organic All Purpose Fertilizer Food Spikes, 50-Pack. That’s it, pretty simple.

With each new growing season, rhubarb will slowly spread forming new “crowns” (the portion of the plant where the stems meet the roots). These crowns can be divided to form new plants. Each year I have cut off a few crowns to give to friends and neighbors so they can plant their own rhubarb. Rhubarb also does well as a potted plant as long as their is enough room for the root system. A pot roughly the size of a 5 gallon bucket would be more than adequate to grow rhubarb. The large green leaves and the red stalks add beauty to any yard or patio.

Note: The leaves of rhubarb should not be eaten as they contain small amounts of oxalic acid which can be toxic to humans if consumed in large quantities (about 10 lbs of the leaves would need to be eaten by one average size adult to be lethal). 

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Fall Beauty: Blueberry Bushes add Fall Color to your Landscape

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My blueberry bushes have started to turn a beautiful red and yellow as we enter into the colder fall months. This is one of the side benefits of using blueberries as edible landscaping. And, since I used multiple varieties of blueberry bushes, I get a mix of fall color: red, yellow, and fiery orange.

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The fall is a key time to prune blueberry bushes. Blueberry bushes are a little tricky to prune. You want to make sure that each of the stocks gets adequate sunlight which requires trimming off dead or weak stocks. Blueberries only produce the next season on last year’s growth. So, if you are pruning for the first time, you may have less produce for one season. After that, however, your bushes should produce more than ever. Here is a great article with detailed instructions on pruning blueberry bushes: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1430.html

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