East Sac Edible


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Drying Herbs: Thyme and Oregano

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Herbs are one of the easiest plants you can grow especially in small spaces. Once plants are established you can pick from them when you need small amounts. I much prefer cutting herbs from my garden than buying a bunch from the store only to use a small portion. Also store-bought herbs are expensive. Picking herbs right before using offers the freshest taste as well as smell.
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One of my favorite herbs is thyme. I love picking fresh thyme because it smells so delicious. Currently I have about 6 thyme plants around my garden. I have tried to grow thyme from seed without much luck. I have also grown thyme from cuttings from my dad’s plant. I just took some cuttings, put them in water for a few days until I started to see little roots then stuck them in some pots. This year I have bought a few established plants from the nursery because my seed starts did not transplant well. DSC_2893

Today I also picked some oregano to dry. I have two main oregano plants. One has been established in my herb bed for two years now. The other I started by taking some cuttings off the first plant and sticking them in the ground. This plant has done amazingly well and for little to no work! Two plants for the price of one! DSC_2894I have tied up the oregano and thyme bunches with ribbon to dry. I usually dry my herbs inside because I like smelling them as I walk by. Hang them up for a few weeks and then you can separate the leaves from the stalks to put in spice jars. This is an extremely economical way of having spices and much cheaper than buying dried spices from the store.

 

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Planting Beans

Last year my most prolific bean was the Blue Lake Runner Bean. My niece and I built two bamboo trellises in between our pineapple guava plants. The beans took over and wrapped themselves around the guava plants as well. Here is a picture of when we first planted in April, then a picture of the beans sprouted in late April and then finally a picture in September of 2013. You can’t even see the pineapple guavas!

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I also made an 8 foot trellis to plant Scarlet Runner beans, saved year after year from my dad’s garden. These flowers of the Scarlet Runners are so beautiful and attracted many pollinators but I ate a whole lot more Blue Lake beans than Scarlet Runners. Here is a picture of the trellis which I made partially to screen the compost from view, the second picture you can see the Scarlet Runners in mid-season and then a picture of them in September on the left.

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I also planted several varieties of bush beans and staked them up using short Mulberry branches. I planted Purple Queen Bush Beans and Yellow Wax Bush Beans. I like planting bush beans because they give you a harvest earlier than the runner beans. I also tend to plant these in my raised beds so they give back to the soil. They also are a faster crop than runner beans. Bush beans tend to put out lots of beans at once and then the plant is done whereas you can harvest from runner beans all season. It is nice to have a mix in your garden. I harvested 4.21 pounds of bush beans and 15.25 pounds of runner beans in 2013.

After the 2013 bean season was over, I let the plants die on their trellises. I collected some seeds from the best specimens. Then I cut the bean plant at the base leaving the roots intact in the ground. I chopped the plants into smaller pieces and lightly dug them into the ground. Beans are soil builders. Their roots fix nitrogen into the soil which benefits following crops of heavy feeders. This is why I use the chop and drop method of cleaning up my beans. Plus it is hard to keep up with all the biomass at the end of the summer so dropping them in their place helps free up space in my compost.

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This year I decided to move my Blue Lake Beans to the main 8 foot trellis since that was what we enjoyed eating the most. I planted some Scarlet Runners in the front yard because I thought they would be a beautiful addition to my front yard landscape adding color from the flowers and height. However, the beans never germinated so I wont be enjoying any Scarlet Runners this year. I also planted two more varieties of runner beans: Trionfo Violetto and Orient Wonder. I also wanted to experiment with a few beans for storage so I planted the Calypso Bush bean in the back of the yard and California Blackeye Cowpea in my raised bed. Since I am just going to wait for these to dry on the plant to collect and store the beans I tried to put them in places that were out of the way. I think some of the beans I am just getting into the ground way to late so I am hoping I will get some sort of harvest from them before it is too late! Here are a few pictures of what my beans looked like in the garden yesterday:

DSC_2116Blue Lake Runner BeansDSC_2114 Calypso Bush Beans

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Orient Wonder Pole Yard Long Beans in the herb garden.DSC_2124 Trionfo Violetto Pole Bean climbing up a corn. The corn blew over in strong wind the other day so I am not sure how successful the bean or the corn will be.DSC_2127Trionfo Violetto climbing up Mulberry canes attached to the support cables from the power lines.


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Harvesting Onions

DSC_1751 DSC_1752 DSC_1270Way back on September 17, 2013 I planted a row of onions along the curved path in my front yard behind the salvias. Now that I think about it, that was about 9 months ago! I put these onions in as an experiment to see how well my recently de-lawned soil would handle a crop. I barely worked the soil. In fact, I just dug a small hole right were I was going to plant which was difficult to do since the soil was quite hard. I think I threw in a little compost into the hole but other than that I let them be. I barely watered them either.

The reason why I decided to plant a row straight into my landscaping was because in 2013 I planted onions in one of my garden beds. They did pretty well but I planted them so packed together that I ended up with really small onions or where two onions meshed together into one plant. The two onion heads were particularly hard to store and many times when I went to cut into it, the onion had mold in-between the two-headedness space. Onions take a really long time so I decided to move them to the outskirts of my landscaping where I wouldn’t bother them. And my results were pretty good. I had many that are just huge (soft-ball sized onions) and others that are a little smaller.

Well the last couple of weeks I have noticed a lot of those onions go to flower and a few days ago I noticed a few of the stems had finally flopped over, a sign that they are ready to be harvested. I harvested the flowering onions separately from the flopped over, non-flowering onions because flowering onions will not keep so I need to be sure to use them first.

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In 2013 my total harvest for onions was 9.31 pounds. I am letting this harvest dry out on my patio and I even have a few left in the ground that were not ready to be picked. I will weigh them after they are cleaned up, tops chopped off and ready for storage. Here is a picture of my small 2013 onion harvest.

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Onions are light feeders. This means that they can get by with less fertile soil. If you have soil that you are gradually improving you can put onions in areas of your garden that is not your richest soil and still have a good yield. That is why I think onions are a great crop for first time gardeners.

Even if you have a small space or you are not sure how much work you want to put into your garden, planting onions gives you a whole lot of output for very little effort. You basically can just plant them and forget them. Plus onions are a huge benefit to your garden. Since they have such a strong scent they tend to deter a lot of insects. This means I don’t have to worry about my onions for pests plus they discourage insects on other plants as well. I haven’t had much luck starting my onions from seed so I usually get mine in seedlings but I have also grown them from bulb sets as well.

Plus did I mention they are delicious? There is a reason why most recipes start with sautéing onions as a first step. I love slowly sautéing them in olive oil and making caramelized onions to top my homemade pizzas. Yum!

 


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Drying Lavender

My dad is growing a different variety of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia “Hidcote”) than I am growing and it smells delicious. The stems are long and easy to harvest whereas mine are stumpy and not easy to bunch together. Plus my lavender doesn’t smell as good. So I harvest my dad’s and dry it out. I use a twist tie to gather a small bunch and cut! Hang it upside down until it dries out. Then you can separate the lavender flowers from the stems. I bottled mine into an old spice jar. I opened the top and put it into my linen pantry.

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