Category Archives: Food Foresting

A planned Forest to yield food, be it Roots, Fruits, Greens or Shoots

My Tropical Asian Treasure Trove – Part 2

Apart from those hidden Asian treasures in the micro shady boondocks of my backyard, summer warmth has spurred the growth of aromatic foliage which I need, for home style cooking, dishes which I grew up with, taught by my mother and grandmother, food that makes a house smell like home.

Walking around in the morning, at times with coffee mug in hand, pinching or breaking a leaf or two, inhaling the aroma, makes me appreciate what a little bit of each plant can do to enhance our chemical sensing system of smell and taste.

The very easy-to-propagate Lemongrass, nothing to do with lemons, has a citrus flavor which can make a not-so-appetizing dish smell heavenly. In Asia, it is used in soups, spicy stews, sweet tea, curries, as a basting brush for barbecues, as an air freshener in cars, fragrance for soaps and hair oil, heck! it’s supposed to even attract Honey Bees (which is why Lemongrass essence is placed in swarm boxes).

Lemongrass does not like lemons

It looks like scrawny weeds but has very sharp-edged blades and hibernates to a brown clump in winter. It’s also supposed to repel mosquitoes but that aspect is one I can’t vouch for.

The Curry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii) to me is what makes a Curry taste and smell like real Curry!  It is a plant native to India and Sri Lanka … the land of Curries, of course! I grew up with this in my backyard ~ yes, déjà vu.

Curry Leaves do smell like Curry.

Can this be found in all Asia grocery stores? No, only Indian run stores, unfortunately, which is why I need to grow my own. I harvest and dry some when it produces its leaves abundantly, just in case there is a bout of winter frost, that’s when it gets bald.

But … there is so much more that can be concocted with this herb, not just curry,

Just a versatile herb.

and in case you are curious (and brave) enough, you might even like to try making Indian Shepherd’s Pie. 😀

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My Tropical Asian Treasure Trove – Part 1

It looks like some overgrown wasteland, neglected, in disarray … well, Ma Nature never created forest growth in straight rows. If they can grow in harmony as companions, and they have for over 3 years, why should I try to ‘straighten things out’ and spoil their habitat?

My shade loving Asian bed

It’s summer. Both plants and human beings in this household can feel the heat, which results in the planting and monitoring frenzy of spices, herbs and rhizomes I use in the kitchen. I try to grow as much as I can, to harvest and preserve (dry or freeze) as I know when the weather gets cooler, they die off or hibernate. They make way for their cool weather comrades.

You may ask “why not just get Asian stuff from an Asian grocery store?” Well, it’s over 35 miles to the closest well-stocked Asian produce store so it would be crazy frequently heading there just to get herbs & spices I need. More important, many of the items that I use, are not sold there … oh yes, not all Asian culinary spices are created equal.
(Click on the sub-titled links for more info & photos.)

Turmeric ~ a much-needed spice in my kitchen. It has grown in my backyard for over 3 years so it simply feels at home and will start re-growing in Spring but will show its leaves in Summer. I use these leaves in tea, curries and as wraps when roasting; and the roots in curries, pickles, sambal, etc.

Fresh green Turmeric leaves.

Galangal (Alpinia officinarum) 南姜 ~ which I simply call Lengkuas is another crucial item needed when preparing S.E. Asian dishes like those Mum taught me.

Galangal – just “normal” looking rhizome growth.

Can you get these in Chinese, Vietnamese or Filipino owned stores? No, but you might find it in Thai & Indian stores … frozen ones, yes but fresh ones, maybe.

Sand Ginger (Kaempferia galanga) or Cekur/沙姜 ~ the mysterious ornamental ginger which I began growing when a ginger-growing enthusiast sent me a rhizome.

Cekur, it makes a beautiful groundcover

Leaves and rhizomes are edible. Lovely as ground cover, even lovelier as an organic backyard grown food aroma enhancer. Can one find this in Asian stores in Florida? Unfortunately I have to say 99.9% it’s “No”. So I simply grow it!

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When the Growing gets Tough

… the Grower gets Going… to keep it Growing!

It all began 5 years ago when I wanted to have a temporary trellis to grow some beans. It was easy. I simply went to Home Depot, got some PVC water pipes, some L and T joints and a string trellis. I measured the pipes, cut them up, hammered 3 pipes vertically 18″ into the soil, connected the top portion with the joints and used some tie-straps to hang and fasten the string trellis. Less than $10 and voila! trellis was done.

The beans progressed to gourds and the gourds progressed to Passionfruit, which grew with such wild passion, I began to foresee a forthcoming calamity. Yes, after 5 years the pipes were no longer standing 90° with the soil and the string trellis were kind of “blowing in the wind”.

My pipe and string contraption.

I’ve had fair, good use of this impromptu trellis so something needed to be done ~ hopefully without cutting off all the fruiting vines and killing those precious Ladybugs and their cocoons nicely tucked in & on that little green wall. I kept asking that question till finally the husband decided to come up with what I call a “slip-and-grip” replacement.

Fastened to pipe; 18″ above the soil.

A carefully measured Made-in-Garage wooden trellis (which is patterned with a space for the kitchen window in case of later preference) that was lugged and slipped behind the pipe & string trellis contraption, to be gripped with metal fasteners drilled through the wood frame and the metal pipes. The metal pipes have been hammered 3ft into the soil and the wood trellis sits 18″ above soil level. It’s definitely more rigid than PVC pipes & strings.  😆

The vines (& some remnant trellis strings) are now tied onto this new brainchild and it is my ardent hope that it will give at least 10 years usage.

I’ve trimmed most of the lower portion of the string trellis and now have more sunny space to insert some forthcoming Spring seedlings.

Wooden trellis fastened to a metal pipe.

Time to thin some herbs and cool season vegetables below and pay close attention to lots of Passionfruit buds now waiting to bloom. To all potential Passionfruit growers, prepare a steady, heavy-duty trellis for that vine because when it takes off during the growing/fruiting season, it needs heavy support OR you will have some weighty work trying to save that monstrous plant.

Can I fool them? Is it Pawsible?

With so much re-planting going on, as in my last post, I’ve decided to see if I can create a micro-climate cool zone, induce germination and (hopefully) the growth of a plant which grows in zone 8 or cooler. I’m in zone 9b/10.

In June, I received a present from a sweet Facebook friend in West Virginia (Zone 5b-6a) ~ yes, she sent me some fresh Pawpaw seeds! (BTW, Pawpaw in the US is Asimina triloba and not Papaya as what Pawpaw is, in Australia). Now that got me thinking … so I decided to stratify them, put them in the fridge, give them a period of cold (40o F/4o C) for 4-5 months, try to “make them comfortable” in hope of breaking their dormancy.

Fresh, clean Pawpaw seeds.

Fresh, clean Pawpaw seeds.

Florida has just experienced her first cold front this week, it means winter is forthcoming and cool weather, ideal for Pawpaw seed germination, calls for some action, right? I had already done some information gathering and know that Pawpaw seedlings will develop long tap roots so I decided I’d do some recycling instead of buying expensive tree seedling cell-pots.

My style of deep cell-pot begins with the cutting of a bottle-cap to allow water drainage but not soil/potting mix loss.

Bottle cap cuts

Bottle cap cuts

Then cutting the base off a small water bottle; screw the cap back on and fill the bottle with seeding/potting mix.

Filled with potting mix up to 1" from top

Filled with potting mix up to 1″ from top

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Microclimate Early Spring Tomatoes

In a simple short description … my Crazy Tomato Wall … yes, this is an update of my post (put up exactly 4 weeks ago) about tomato seeds sowed outdoors in winter by a south-facing concrete wall.

It works! The combination of Vermi-Composting & Bokashi, right by a heavy feeding, fruit-producing plant, does work. See the white lid of the bokashi worm bin below.

The Tomato Wall

The Tomato Wall with a buried Bokashi/Worm Bin

That 1 little red spot in the photo above stands out, doesn’t it? I see it, the birds & insects see it too, but the fruits here are preciously guarded. The birds can have some of my cherry tomatoes, those I’ll share. :mrgreen: With what I call the Protection Bags, the tomatoes on the plant are more noticeable from a distance.  Moving closer, it can be seen that there are bunches of pretty large tomatoes, each, individually bagged.

Fruits in Bag

Fruits in Bag

So here it is …

Almost ready for harvest.

Almost ready for harvest.

The 1st heirloom tomato from that plant which I am leaving to naturally sun-ripen to its fullest. Then it’s devouring and more importantly seed saving time!

Update: 1 day after the above post, it just felt right for some action to be taken.

10 ozs

10 ozs

Not all tomatoes are created equal, I guess.

Not all tomatoes are created equal, I guess.

 

What a chemical free Food Forest brings your way …

I know it looks kind of strange but …

Guest room's window view.

Guest room’s window view.

that’s what my guest(s) will see when looking out of one of the bedside windows. It’s my form of sun-shading and window dressing.

That's a gourd window dressing.

That’s a gourd window dressing, almost ready for harvest.

… and then there’s my kitchen window scene too!

It's my green scene.

That’s food hanging by the window.

My beehive is in the background and some gourds in the foreground. Are you wondering why I’m keep all these green gourd vines in its natural unruly form? This morning, I had a camera in hand ~ at the right place and the right time.

Who needs insecticides & pesticides? Let Mother Nature take care of things.

 

Do Walls Affect Plants?

Absolutely!

It’s still winter, but being at the border of zones 9b & 10a, I decided to plant a little differently this year ~ the Chinese Year of the Fire Monkey.
I found a neighbor’s discarded “extra” fence material & what better way to recycle?! Hubby built it a frame using wood pallets and we let it stand on 2 “bricks” (45¢ each from Walmart!) and thus created a “temporary” trellis, heavy enough to withstand Florida winds, leaning against a south concrete wall.

The frame on bricks leaning on wall.

The frame on bricks leaning on wall.

Then I put 3 tomato seeds into  the soil (end-December) and now I have a tomato forest of sort. Each morning I check to ensure the tomato branches are supported (also sniff at my Curry Leaf Plant right there) and all the other plants there are enjoying each others’ company and the worms* are happy.

My Green Wall

My Green Wall right behind the coppiced Curry Leaf plant (note the buried red bin)

Tomatoes & an accompanying baby Bittergourd

Tomatoes & an accompanying baby Bittergourd (arrowed)

Tomatoes growing all over...

Tomatoes growing all over…

and then there are beans ...

and then there are beans starting up …

Luffas too.

and Luffas too.

I’m not sure what else will show up from the soil but I think come Spring, it will provide me some interesting harvests.

*Worms ~ mentioned earlier in the post ~ they live in that little red bin which has no base. Yes, that is my most recent Vermicompost Bin but I add just a pinch of Bokashi Bran, to hasten food fermentation during winter, so that my worms get their tasty feed & poop their return.

 

Growing Tomatoes? Bag ’em!

For tomato growers (well, maybe other tender-skinned fruits as well) I think I may have found a problem to save your fruits ~ from birds, squirrels, horn worms, flea beetles and other pests which attack the actual fruit(s).

Gift Bags! Those attractive organza gift bags!

This is the size I selected but there are ample sizes & colors.

This is the size I selected but there are ample sizes & colors.

After toying with 1 which I got from a baby’s baptism, holding little trinkets & a card, I ordered some via e-bay.  A size that can fit bunches of cherry tomatoes as well as individual large Beefsteak ones costs USD5 for 50 pieces ~ 10¢ a piece ~ how wrong can that be? (Anti ‘Made-In-China’ buyers can buy them from gift stores and check the label yourselves.)

Cherry tomatoes still young and green.

Cherry tomatoes still young and green.

A newly formed bunch of cherry tomatoes … “Bag em before the pests get em!” is my new motto. Yes, I’ll share some, but AFTER I make sure I get to keep some for my hard work.

Easy to loosen and remove.

Easy to loosen and remove.

It allows air flow, sun, rain and everything as per normal except the direct attack of other tomato-loving creatures. Bagging involves gently slipping in and pulling the cord, removal will be easy as I’m not tying knots. IF the cords disintegrate after 1 use, I will re-cord using burlap strings.

That’s my contribution to lessen fellow tomato growers’ head and heart aches, when fruit of your labor is gobbled up before you get it onto your cutting board. Happy Tomato Growing & Picking & Devouring.