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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Edible Container Gardens with No Space, No Green Thumb

I'm very ambitious. I come up with all sorts of projects and ideas that I want to do to save money and be self sufficient... but often my dreams end up falling apart when hit with a big dose of reality and my time constraints, not to mention physical constraints.
Gardening is just one of those many things. 
When we were in our old apartment, we grew tomatoes and swiss chard, and got all revved up to make a square foot garden... and then our rabbits escaped from their cage repeatedly and ate up nearly all of the plants.
Then we got rid of the rabbits, but then we moved from that apartment, and no longer had a backyard in which to garden, and didn't even have a porch entirely of our own that we'd be able to fill up with containers for a container garden.
So then I decided to plant stuff in window boxes, and I bought all these seeds and soil and ollas and it failed miserably! I didn't have even ONE successful plant in that round of gardening. My zucchinis seemed to be growing ok at first, but then as soon as they grew bigger and touched the metal railing near them, they pretty much dried out and died. I think they got burned because the railing is dark green and absorbs heat easily and that's what killed the plant.
My tomatoes and peppers and string beans never even germinated.
My okra plants grew so tall, taller than the top ledge of the window they were on... and gave a yield of 2 okras each. 2 woody, inedible okra plants.

That was an utter failure.

So it was back to simpler things.
And I no longer had any plans to grow things on my porch, as I'm afraid of them getting burned by the railings...

Now the mission for gardening is this- 
Something easy to grow.
Something that I don't have to grow from seed, since I don't seem to be very good at getting plants to germinate.
Something that won't die right away if I forget to water it occasionally.
Something that doesn't need a lot of room to spread out, or won't grow so tall either.

But all those are nothing in comparison to the most important lesson I've learned so far in gardening.

If you haven't got a green thumb, don't try growing a plant that will take a while until you actually can eat anything from that plant, because there is a good chance your plant will a) die before it flowers and/or fruits b) not even germinate, and the flowers will fall off and die and you won't even have a fruit developing.
So that cuts squash out of the picture, even if the other things didn't. Because the other thing about my squash plant- even before it completely died, I wasn't having much success. Beautiful squash blossoms, yes, but they never turned into squashes- they just shriveled up and died!
So now my rule is- I only grow it if I can eat it at all stages of its growth, so I don't have to wait and wait and wait for a plant that may or may not yield anything.
And of course, I want the plant to be something that I can continually harvest, meaning I can snip a bit off at a time, and use it, and the plant will keep on growing, so that I can snip off more stuff at a later date.

Let me back track for a second. I didn't know it at the time, but squash is a plant that can be eaten at all stages of its growth. The fruit of the plant, the actual squash, of course is edible, and many know that squash blossoms can also be eaten, but did you know that squash leaves and stems are also edible and routinely eaten in Asia? And oh, that okra plant I grew? Its leaves and flowers were also edible, and can be used like mallow, its cousin.
But before you get all hyped up about eating the leaves and flowers of all the veggie plants in your garden, keep in mind that tomato plants, eggplant plants, potato plants, and pepper plants are ALL poisonous, other than the fruit itself.

I decided to show you what's currently growing in my window box brown thumb garden, all edible, all tasty, all nutritious, all ready to be eaten whenever you want. 

As of this morning, I had the same plant in all 3 of my window boxes. 
And not just small amounts. You know why? 

Because purslane is one of my all time favorite veggies. Its crunchy, its yummy, its mild, it can be eaten raw or cooked, its very nutritious (highest source of omega 3 fatty acids in plants), and since it's a wild edible, its VERY low maintenance. 


If you aren't very successful with growing things, start with wild edibles, because they grow like weeds, literally, because they are weeds. They've adapted themselves to not needing much human intervention to grow them; they handle themselves pretty well without you needing to fuss around with them.
If you forget to water purslane for a whole week or two, don't worry- the plant will still be strong! All that will happen is it'll get a bit more sour, because it goes through another process that produces a type of acid when its short on water.


I routinely give all my purslane a "haircut" whenever I want to eat some, and it grows back nice and tall and fresh and yummy. A constant harvest.

The one thing that's important to know when growing purslane is that it'll reseed itself, and the next year, the plants will grow in VERY thickly, with a million little plants in your window box. Thin it out a LOT! If you don't thin it out drastically, your purslane won't grow big and healthy and strong. 
If you want to know what to do with all the puslane plants you pull out in order to thin them, you can either plant some in a new window box, or you can do something called "guerrilla gardening", which is secretly planting wild edibles in public places. I just scatter my puslane seedlings in areas that I want it to grow and where there'll be some water (like in the vicinity of the municipality's drip irrigation system because it doesn't rain here in the summer) and watch it take off.

Celery
I've written before about regrowing a celery plant from the base of a store bought celery, and it works terrifically. See how robust and healthy it looks?


I just wanted to point out that no, this regrown celery doesnt grow thick stalks, just thin ones, but lots of leaves. It's very strongly tasting. I use this in my soups, and as flavoring.

The celery shares a window box with purslane, and the next plant, which I grew similarly-

Beet Greens
Beet leaves are edible, as I hope you know. They can be used exactly like swiss chard. (In fact, some people mistakenly call chard "beet greens".
Did you know you can grow beet greens from the cut top of a store bought beet?

If you want to do that, chop off the top of a beet, ideally one that has a drop of green on it. Even without the green it's still ok, so long as the beet looks fresh and crisp and isn't old. Leave about a centimeter or more on the top part of the beet that you're cutting off.  DON'T PEEL THE BEET.

Take your beet top and place it in a bowl of water, submerging it most of the way.


Every day or two, pour off the water and replace it with new water. You should see new leaves starting to grow.

After the leaves start growing, bury the beet top into your window box so that just the leaves stick out, and then continue to water it every day. My leaves are still small, because I only recently transferred it to the soil.

Apparently you can do exactly the same thing with carrot tops, whose greens are also edible, only I had success only until the point where I put it in the soil. After 2 days in the soil, the leaves shriveled up and died. Anyone know why?

Basil
I have a basil plant that my husband bought me from a fundraising sale. It was cheap and it provides me with fresh basil whenever I want. I just trim at the top, and it shoots out more branches to the side, which them transforms my basil plant into a little bush of sorts. (It recently had a haircut, which is why it's sparse looking.) Somehow I managed to not kill it yet.


Here's my window box that was filled with puslane, but got too overcrowded, so the purslane looks anemic and stayed small. I pulled out all this purslane, and did the guerrilla gardening with this. What is left in the box is---
Scallions.
I grew the scallions using the method I wrote about here- I just took the roots from purchased scallions, soaked them in water for a few days, then planted them. I rarely ever buy scallions- I just give my scallions a haircut, and they keep on growing longer and longer.



What else do I have growing, and what do I plan on doing with that last bit of room in my window box?

Saving the best for last.

Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are not related to potatoes.
An important distinction.
Because every part aside from the ripe tuber of the potato is poisonous.
But sweet potato leaves and stems are not only not poisonous, they're edible and commonly used as a green in Africa and other places that typically grow sweet potatoes. They're used in place of spinach. Their taste is kind of like a cross between spinach and a sweet potato.

Did you know you can grow sweet potato plants from a sweet potato you buy in the store?


And while you need more than just a window box to be able grow your own sweet potato tubers, you don't need much space at all to be able to grow your own sweet potato leaves to eat.

Note that some sweet potatoes grow in vines and some grow in bushes. But I doubt the store owner where you buy your sweet potato from will be able to tell you which type this is. Oh well. Be surprised. I was.

So, what do you do?
Cut the sweet potato in half the short way. If your sweet potato is especially large, you can cut it into three chunks.


Poke toothpicks (or chopsticks) into the sweet potato halves on three sides, and then prop them up in a glass jar filled with water so that they're partially submerged, with about an inch or less covered in water at all times.


Set aside in a warm place, and keep an eye on the water. Every few days, make sure the water is still covering the bottom of the sweet potato, and pour out the old water and put in new water to discourage spoilage.

In time, you'll see the sweet potato send out white roots, also from the cut side, and also from the skin that is submerged in the water.

Then you'll see the sweet potato send up something that looks a bit like this. Only one. And shorter. This is called a sweet potato slip. 

And then it'll send up more and more and more slips.

You can twist off each slip, and then stick it in water until it roots, or stick it directly into wet dirt, and each slip will grow its own sweet potato plant.

But if you're afraid of messing around (because you're afraid you'll kill it), or if you can't be bothered to plant the slips, they'll just keep growing and growing like vines, trying to find the light. (So keep them near a window.) They will develop leaves, which you can then eat!


Just today I twisted off some sweet potato slips. 


And planted them in the window box that used to have the anemic overcrowded purslane.


I then set it in the sun on the windowsill, and then placed the sweet potatoes with the slips still on them in front of the window to keep on growing. I wonder which will thrive more? The sweet potatoes or the slips...


So there you have it- my completely edible container garden with no space, created ideally for the person with absolutely no green thumb.

Do you garden? Are you good at it, or do you mess things up? Do you have any tricks for someone like myself who doesn't have a green thumb, how to get a green thumb?
If you garden, what are you growing now, or what did you grow this summer?
Have you ever grown any of the things I mentioned?
If you have window boxes to grow food, what do you grow? What would you suggest I grow?
Did you know sweet potato leaves, the entire squash plant, and the entire okra plant was edible?

Linking up to Hearth and Soul Blog Hop

1 comment:

  1. i have one sweet potato that grew on its own, and when i noticed it i put it in a glass of water to make it grow better

    ReplyDelete

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