Edible plants for an HOA landscape part 2

Figuring out how to grow useful and beautiful things that are edible in your HOA landscape is a challenge. This post is going to focus on smaller shrubs and perennial plants (ones that come back year after year) rather than trees which are covered here in part one.

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Evergreen edible plants & ground covers

Evergreen shrubs are extremely important in the landscape. They form the backbone during winter. I want to be able to look out and see a ground covered in green in January. Not a bare silvery weathered fence, some bare twigs and tan grass. That’s common here in the burbs of Austin.

Herbs

Rosemary – Has multiple varieties. They all seem to have the ability to get large. 5 feet tall, no problem, 6 feet wide, Yep. Some grow upright and some are the “weeping” variety that crawl and look great draping over an edge of a raised bed.

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Sage – Multiple varieties and colors. From my experience the silver one does best in our area. but there are yellow and purple varieties that are beautiful and would work also. There are some that are more hardy than others Pineapple sage you’ll probably have to plant every year it because it’s not cold hardy. Some sages are really only ornamental so make sure you’re picking a cooking variety if your thinking about eating it. These are relatively short lived in Austin. 3 years is probably the max you’ll get out of them before they need to be replaced. But it’s easy to make more plants out of your existing one so that’s not too much of a deterrent for me. We use sage mostly in making Rosemary-Sage Salt.

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Thyme – Multiple varieties and colors. These can be green, yellow, variegated with white edges. Some have beautiful pink, red or purple flowers.

Society Garlic – I see this plant EVERYWHERE. A lot of people don’t realize it’s edible. Traditional gardeners may even think that it’s not edible because it is commonly sold as an ornamental. But it is, and you can. The problem is that I have yet to find a recipe I like to really put it to good use. In the victorian era it was dubbed “society garlic” because it was thought to be less pungent of a flavor punctuating the breath of the people that ate it compared to regular garlic. So it was thought to be more polite to use it in a dish for company. It has pretty purple flowers that make it a great addition to any front yard. So far the only way I can find to use it is in chicken noodle soup. The variegated variety is less rugged than the traditional.

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Oregano – Soooo many kinds and colors. I have two in my Yard. One gets to be a massive bush that I have to beat into submission so I can still use the pathway it is planted along and the other is a super low growing variety that has started to invade the grass in the yard. both are great for cooking.

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Green onions – Believe it or not, the green onion bunches you buy at the store are made for Texas. Every time I buy a bunch i leave 1 inch of white stem with the roots still attached and plant them out in the yard. They are carefree and easy. They are green all year round and the best part is, next time you want some you can just snip off the top and they’re gonna grow right back.

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Other

Spine-less prickly pear – Not entirely true as my shin can tell you. This evergreen cactus has edible paddles and provides prickly-pear fruit in late summer/fall. it’s a win-win in my book. You can eat both the fruit and the main plant. Mine personally struggled through last winter but prevailed so That’s why it still gets a post of honor here. Even though it may be sold as “spineless” don’t be fooled. Little tiny splinter still protrude from the nipples of the plant (where normal large spines would be) These are called glochids and there are just as evil as their large spiked cousins. Not because they hurt more, but because they are hard to see and have a tendency to break rather than be pulled out. Never-the-less I think it’s a valuable addition to the edible landscape.

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Dwarf Bottle brush – This plant is great for making tea. The dwarf variety is more cold-hearty than it’s taller relative. It’s beautiful red flowers attract hummingbirds in spring. It’s a lovely addition to the landscape.

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Dianthus – Sweet william is a great low-growing ground cover that provides edible flowers that smell sweet and spicy. They flower in spring and fall, and are dormant but still provide a blue-green foliage when it’s too hot in summer and when it’s too cold in winter.

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Deciduous edible plants & ground covers

Herbs

Mint – most people want to contain it. This one tolerates more shade and I use it as a ground cover beneath deciduous fruit trees. It also is more thirsty than a lot of other plants to keep it looking good.

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bee balm – Good for teas it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and has beautiful flowers. be prepared for it to spread. In my yard it’s crazier than any traditional mint plant the way it spreads. the flowers get to be 3-4 feet tall so put it in the middle or back of your landscape and probably not next to a fence if you don’t want to be responsible for it getting into your neighbor’s yard.

Mexican mint marigold – has pretty little yellow daisy like flowers in fall and an anise taste (black licorice). It gets to be about a foot and a half tall and loves full sun.

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Lemon balm – is less invasive than mint and my go-to for under fruit tree ground cover in more shady areas. It doesn’t like full sun, it will burn in our Texas summers but it still needs some sunlight, dappled sunlight is fine. This is a staple in my sun tea. Not as thirsty as traditional mint in my experience.Lemon-Balm

Echinacea – beautiful flowers and if you feel like it, you can dig up some of the root and use it to make things to stave off winter colds. I have multiple plants in my yard and I have to confess the idea of pulling them up is not my idea of fun. They are too pretty. I’d rather just buy echinacea tea.

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Chives & Garlic chives – similar to the society garlic but smaller in stature and less pungent still. It adds a delicate onion flavor when a hint of it is desired. Plus the purple flowers are pretty.

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Sorrel- This sees to be a short lived perennial here. full sun burns the leaves. It needs a partial sun position with deep rich soil that drains well to do its best. Mine is in clay and is just sort of doing ok. Makes a great addition to salads with a zippy lemony-sour punch that is fun. The red veined variety tastes just as good and is more ornamental than the solid green.

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Fruit bearing plants & other

Chile pequin – a naturalized native hot pepper that grows into a sizable shrub if you let it. Responds well to pruning. You could have a little hedge of this if you wanted to in a full sun location. I got mine courtesy of a bird dropping which now grows next to my fence. It may die back in winter but it will come back again in spring.

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cardoon – This is a Mediterranean native. It’s related to the artichoke. You eat the stems of the plants instead of the flower. I made a traditional Mediterranean cardoon casserole with a rue base and the best description I can come up with is artichoke mac-and-cheese. It’s pretty delicious although a little bit of work to get it prepped. And yeah, they get huge. I had no idea mine would end up being 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Ideally you’ll cut them to the ground when they get maybe 3 feet tall to harvest the leaves for their stems. They will pop back up again. As long as they have sun they seem to be happy.

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How to protect fruit from birds

If you’re like me and don’t want to hassle with nets and can’t stand the use of chemicals, this is the best way I’ve found to deter birds from fruits like peaches and persimmon that ripen on the tree for best flavor. The following is an organic method that works for deterring the bird pests of the Austin, TX area.

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The image of maturing fruit makes you eagerly anticipate the season. All your work has finally been rewarded. The LAST thing I want to see is this:

IMG_9295This is mockingbird damage specifically. I’ve seen the culprit. They start pecking at under-ripe green fruit that looks perfect and make it pre-maturely ripen on the tree essentially rotting to ripeness due to injury.  I don’t mind sharing the top third of the tree that I can’t reach. But the bottom two-thirds, that is for me. And this is how I make sure it stays that way:

When I notice the first signs of fruit damage or, the fruit is just starting to change color like this:

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Take 20 minutes and install little bird barriers:

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Regular sandwich boxes. The type you get from a deli if you order to-go. That’s what you want. I got an order of 100 from amazon like these. It doesn’t take long to secure 30-50 of these with a rubber band and it will last easily until the fruit is ripe enough to clip it from the tree. I used to bother with poking in air holes in the corners but I’ve found not much difference for the effort so now I don’t bother. Prior to finding these I’ve tried panty hose and paper bags. Panty hose let the fruit ripen and change color because the sun still gets to them but the birds peck right through it. Not enough disguise. The paper bags seem to not let the fruit change color to the full extent due to lack of sun. This is the best thing I’ve found so far and I’m happy with it. I’ve given dozens to friends and co-workers who have the same problems I do. What do you do to protect your fruit from birds? I’m curious to see what else is effective.

Thanks for checking in!

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Edible plants for an HOA landscape part 1

There are tons of plants that are multi-functional. Beautiful and tasty. Probably wouldn’t recommend putting tomatoes in the front yard if you’re in an HOA that doesn’t allow it, but there are so many other things that you can do to get your yard to be productive for you. Here in Austin Texas this is some things that you can plant that you can eat in addition to serving other purposes in the landscape that are also beautiful and you can put in your landscape without worrying about HOA’s.

I’ll starting with the big stuff and work my way down through the different layers of a landscape which is how you plan out what you want to plant. I’ll provide pictures and ideas on how to use the plant and where to put it to make it the most happy.

One thing to keep in mind is fruiting times. I tried to pick varieties that vary when they ripen so I don’t get gobs of fruit in fall but nothing in spring or winter. Also since we are on the verge of semi-tropical/arid here but still have the ability to get snow, I also picked an array of trees that will do well under different conditions. If we get an unseasonably cold year, the peaches, pears, persimmons and plums will do great, if it is a warm winter year, I’ll get plenty of loquats, and mandarins, kumquats and pomegranates.

Evergreen Fruit Trees/Large Shrubs

Evergreen with fruit that you can eat! Evergreen trees do not lose their leaves in winter and are great if you are trying to block a view or provide a permanently shady location. Austin has two of them that seem very happy in this climate and a few more finicky varieties that may or may not be happy depending on the sort of whether we get that year and the site that you plant it.

The lovely Loquat

This thing grew SUPER quickly it can get 25 feet tall and wide so be sure to give it enough space from the fence line and other trees. It has nice large dark green leaves with lighter new growth all year which is valuable when the typical scene in the winter time here is tan grass and silver leaves. I NEED GREEN. It’s Perfect for blocking views of neighbors. Not only that, it fruits in winter/early spring when the winters are warm enough to not kill the blossoms.

Pineapple Guava

(also known as Feijoa)- you’ll see this name when looking for recipes since it’s a South American plant

This was plant is a slower grower but still grew to approximately 7 feet tall in 4 years. Pineapple guava will get to be about 15 feet tall without pruning which it takes well. It would be well suited to a hedge, or tree form. The stunning flowers you see in spring have the added surprise of having edible petals. They taste like tutti fruity which is why the birds go crazy for them. Then in fall the fruit drops to the ground which is how to know it is ripe. takes about 4 years to produce. I had 2 or 3 fruits last year on all 3 of my trees this year they are loaded so heavily it’s weighing down the limbs. The one that is the happiest is in Part shade. The one in full sun doesn’t fruit as much and is shorter. It looks fine but could probably do with supplemental water. The best thing about these is that all pests – even the birds – seem to leave them alone.

Other Evergreen Edible Trees

  • Bay leaf – for cooking spices needs full sun and winter protection. I have one in a pot that I bring in for the winter. I’m sure I could put it in the ground if I was willing to baby it for a few years with winter protection…but I’m not. Full sun, they can get HUGE but do well with trimming.
  • Olive – I have mine in a pot that lives outside all year and can take the cold and yes it fruits olives! (making them edible is a longer process than I was prepared for).
  • Mandarin – This one is more of a temperamental plant, careful site selection for full sun but shelter from winter winds and cold is important. Pay attention to variety. Mine is arctic frost. It’s given me 5 mandarins one year and they were dry and not flavorful. I assume that’s because the plant is still young and takes longer to produce good quality fruit. There’s one in our neighborhood that’s HUGE. I wonder how long it’s been there to get that big.
  • Elaeagnus or silver berry – has a wonderfuly fragranced flower in winter and fruits berries that taste close to grapes with one long football shaped seed in each. Used commonly for hedges in sun-part shade areas. Bees love this plant and so do I.
  • Kumquat – Same issue for variety and site selection as mandarins. We got a cold snap last year down to 26 degrees (only for a day or two) and that was enough to kill off over half the plant.
  • Pygmy date palm sounded tempting but when a description of “the absolute worst tasting ‘date’ I’ve ever had, may be edible but is not palatable” description popped up in my searches I decided against trying it. After all, I’ve got limited space to work with.

Deciduous fruit trees

for places where you want shade in winter and full sun in summer or don’t care about blocking a particular view all year-long.  They loose leaves when it gets cold. Consider the following when selecting trees:

  • Fruit. Trees. Get. Big. look for dwarf or semi dwarf varieties if you don’t want to hassle with ladders or extensive pruning. If you have enough space to get a standard apple tree that will get 50 feet tall and wide that’s great, but that’s not my little suburban back yard.
  • Chilling hours. A lot of fruit require a certain number of hours a year below 45 degrees in order to even form fruit. I looked for the lowest number of chilling hour requirements. We supposedly get 700 on average a year. However, that is average. We get winters so mild banana plants make it through the winter every few years, then will get a light snow. My philosophy here is hedge your bets. Plant things that require a lower number of chilling hours (I looked for ones in the 400-500 range) because they will most likely get that, even in a mild winter. Cold doesn’t kill stone fruits like apples, peaches, pears and plums. A lack of winter will though. Enough winters without enough chilling hours will stress the tree so much it will die.
  • Self pollinating. This was another big one for me. A LOT of fruit tree varieties require a pollinator to get anything, but there are always a few that don’t. Most will say something like “is self fertile but will produce more with a pollinator”. Those are fine. Anything that says self fertile go for. If you’re lucky a neighbor a few blocks over will have a peach or plum tree too and you’ll get even more. You don’t need a self pollinating variety if you’re willing to plant two or more types of whatever you’re looking at but that takes up space and you want to be sure they’ll flower the same time.
  • Plant them in Fall. It gives the poor thing as long as possible to grow roots and to get adjusted before summer hits. Buy them bare root or in a pot dig a large hole, fill it with a TON of amended soil and water it well. It will reward you with leaf buds in spring. The first TWO summers water it very frequently and deep if you want it to live. When we get a crazy summer every other day may be necessary.

Peaches

I am so happy with my peach tree. It’s been the most reliable producer of fruit of all my trees to date. Fruiting buckets when it was only 3 years in the ground. In spring you get beautiful flowers and later on you get wonderful fruit: IMG_6382

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It was a four foot tall, wispy stick when I stuck it in the ground 4 yeas ago which is the first picture. I had to prop it up with bamboo sticks during a windstorm its first year. This is my first recommendation for anyone wanting traditional fruit here in Austin. It’s far and away out performed every other tree I have.

It’s provided us with fun things like peach cobbler, peach pie, and peach salsa the past two springs (which is must do if you haven’t tried it).

Persimmons

This is by far the second best fruiting tree I’ve planted. I actually have two of these. They are self pollinating but I love them so much I wanted more than one variety. They love full sun.

 

This was my tiny persimmon tree. It’s fourth year in the ground it decided to give me a bumper crop. Both trees were LOADED.  I hadn’t expected that so it caught me off-guard since every other year the fruit dropped before it was mature (it’s common for young trees to do that and focus their energy on growing instead of producing fruit). I had so many I didn’t know how to use them all so I froze pulp until I could figure out what to do with all of it. The largest variety is now 20 feet tall and the other variety is a dwarf which will stay provably 6 feet tall or so.

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Other Deciduous Fruit Trees

  • Plum – Mexican Plum handles the summer heat well in our area but is a sporadic producer.  Plant in full sun to part shade
  • Pomegranates – have the most beautiful red showy flowers. I planted the “wonderful” variety and have been very unimpressed. The tree is only in the ground 4 years so it’s possible it needs longer to produce than that. So far last year we got two extremely tiny and under-ripe pomegranates. I only see 3 flowers this year so even if they all pollinated I’m certain it will be about the same. Plant in full sun.
  • Pears – be very choosy what variety you pick for this. Mine hasn’t even flowered yet. I’ve seen nothing. My neighbor however gets tons of fruit every few years. Full sun.
  • Figs – are suited well to the area. This is the first year I’ve gotten any figs about 3 handfuls. Plant in full sun.

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Ways to use herbs 9/9/2017

What good is growing an edible landscape if you don’t use it? It’s fun to find new ways to use the stuff out in the yard. The cool and fun thing about it is making things that you wouldn’t be able to find at the store. Growing odd stuff means you get to be a little creative with how it’s used. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use some herbs that are in the general landscape at my place.

 

Sun-Tea

Sun Tea was something newly discovered a few years ago here. It’s super easy and a great way to use fresh herbs from Spring through Fall here in Austin. In its simplest form you can just put a tea bag in a cup of water and leave it outside in the sun. The version I make now varies depending on what is available in the yard. There are herbs strewn throughout the fruit trees along the border of our lawn so all that is required is taking a stroll to see what is available.  The lemon/lime/mint flavors seem to work well. It can be made as simple or complex as desired, but here’s the base recipe:

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Sun Tea (for approximately one gallon):

  • 1/2 -1 cup honey – depends on desired sweetness level (or you could completely leave it out and use stevia.)
  • 1 cup of leaves in any combination (common varieties I use are mint, spearmint, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon verbena, stevia, and pineapple sage)
  • Juice of a whole lemon or lime – (the skins of the fruit impart an unpleasant bitter pith taste).
  • 5 tea bags. Usually Mint and/or Tazo’s Zen Tea (made of mint and lemongrass)
  • glass pitcher & water

Pour honey into the bottom of the pitcher, throw in your washed herbs and if using lemon & lime juice plunk that in too, and then muddle. The goal of muddling is to bruise the leaves not to tear them. If you muddle for around 2-3 minutes you’re good for sure and you can probably do it in less just fine. Top off your pitcher to the desired level with water, toss in your tea bags (drape the tea tags over the side of the pitcher). Use saran wrap over the top of the pitcher secured with a rubber band so bugs can’t get in. Then plop it in a sunny part of the yard for a few hours. My pitcher will normally be outside anywhere from 4-8 hours. Strain out the teabags and leaves from your tea, press out the remaining liquid from them and refrigerate. (We toss the used up leaves and tea bags back out into the garden.) Serve over ice and drink while it’s cold for the best flavor. It’s amazingly refreshing on a hot summer day. It will last a week in the fridge but mine rarely makes it that long. You can also freeze it into ice cubes and use in a cocktail. Now that sounds like it would be good in some hard lemonade.

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My favorite variations of this recipe so far are:

  • Lemon-Lime = uses lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon grass, stevia Zen tea bags and the juice of a whole lime or two. Good for summer when mint goes dormant.
  • Lemon-mint = uses fresh mint and spearmint, lemon balm, juice of a lemon and 3 mint teabags and 2 zen teabags. Great for spring new leaf growth.
  • Pineapple sage = pineapple sage, stevia, juice of a lemon and zen teabags. Good when running low on minty or lemony herbs.

Experiment and see what you like. It’s super easy to throw together in the morning then you have something to look forward to after work.

Cheers!

Want to kick your drink up a notch and do something a little more boozy? try some Herb simple syrup .

Rosemary-Sage Salt

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This has become a cooking staple in our household. It is something I usually only need to make only once a year. A small mason jar of the stuff will last us the whole year.  It’s super easy to scale the recipe because it just dependent on how many herbs you have on hand to use. Basic recipe:

  • 1 part rosemary
  • 1 part sage
  • 2 parts salt

Wash and dry the equal parts of rosemary and sage collected. Go for similar total volume once the rosemary is de-stemmed. now the part that makes the whole house smell amazing: Chop up the rosemary and sage into the smallest pieces that you can. The goal is to get them to be salt-like sized so you can use it through a shaker (although we never do). When the herbs are chopped it’s time to get your glass container out. Make a thin bottom layer of salt. Aim for 1/8-1/16th inch evenly covering the bottom of the jar. Sprinkle your minced herb mixture in approximately 1/8 inch or less thick evenly over the salt layer. Pour over the top of that an even layer of salt again covering up the herbs completely. when finished, there will be little distinct layers of salt and herbs beautifully ringing the container.

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The herbs are fresh and still have moisture in them, the salt helps draw out the water content of the herbs and I’ve found that if the container is turned upside down on top of a paper towel it has a way to escape. So I leave mine on the counter for a week or two until it looks like everything has evaporated and then seal it up and put it in the cupboard.

 

You can use other herbs too. Thyme, oregano, and lavender would all work well. We love the original so much we haven’t strayed from it yet though. It will last for a year and then the potency of the herbs starts to decline although it is still perfectly edible. My husband will use this to season almost any meat he’s cooking, he’ll put it in ground beef, on lamb, on top of steaks, chicken, to seasoning oven roasted new potatoes… It’s pretty delicious in almost any savory dish you can think of.

Herbed Salad

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It seems like a no-brainer that you can use herbs in a salad. When I think of salad, I still think of pre-washed bagged stuff from the store. But making it out of the yard isn’t hard and is a great way to use some herbs. I will say through trial and error there are some that I would leave out of a salad in the future. The more woody herbs that are perfect for the salt recipe above (rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, lavender) do not lend themselves well to an herbed salad in my opinion. That was an experience getting a mouthful of thyme leaves and an intensely bitter/pine taste and spitting them out again. Those herbs are best left for cooking and infusing drinks.

Things that go well in an herbed salad (in my opinion). Also you can add in some edible flowers for fun. If you have them why not use them?

  • Spring onions / chives & purple chive flowers – oniony taste
  • Society garlic stems & purple flowers/ Garlic chives & flowers – garlicky taste
  • Nasturtium leaves and flowers – peppery taste
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Red veined sorrel/lemon balm/lemon verbena leaves  – lemony & sour taste
  • Chard – nutty taste
  • Basil
  • Mint

Making a base of chard or some less intense flavored leave works the best. but I add in a ton of just random things that are available at the moment and it’s amazing how well it all seems to work together. Just take a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

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