Friday, April 30, 2010

Real Food. Real Easy.

By rights, all I should be doing right now is studying for the exams I have tomorrow. Instead, I went into the yard this morning with the dogs. From the window, I had seen it blooming, and I just had to get a close-up view. Had to.
This gorgeous yellow flower is the lone Russian Red Kale that survived the winter in my garden. In the fall, I was so busy with school... parenting... surviving... that I never cleaned up the garden for winter. When the snow hit, the garden was a wreck. Completely overgrown. *Sigh* I figured I would take care of things in the spring. But the spring semester has been even crazier than the fall and it hasn't happened.

Several weeks ago, however, I took a wrong turn in the yard and ended up staring a monster of a kale plant right in the face. Literally. The trunk on this thing is thicker than my drinking glasses. At that point, it had put out lots of new growth and was just starting to think about flowering. Free food! Exactly when there was nothing fresh locally, too. I pinched back it's first flower foray and harvested a surprising quantity of leaves. And then another. But eventually, it seemed cruel and pointless to stop this plant from flowering. It really wanted to. It was supposed to. And if it did, there would be more kale plants. So I left it alone to do its thing- and it has. It's beautiful. The trunk, stems, and leaf veins are purple, the leaves green, and the flowers this cheerful yellow. It's such a pretty plant that it left me wondering where I could use it in a flower border. Seriously. It's that pretty. And hey, people use those ugly, stinky ornamental cabbages- so why not kale?
But the kale wasn't all I found in the garden today. I also found an army or lettuce. Seriously. Check out the formation to the left. The solid green is Amish Deer Tongue, and the speckled is Forellenschluss (aka Speckled Trout Back, etc). Or perhaps I should say, that's what they were last year. Because I was not paying attention, I do not know if the lettuces flowered at the same time. They may be hybrids; or not. At this point, I don't care. I have an entire bed of lettuce growing, for which I did exactly nothing. In addition to these two, I've found exactly one head of this lovely (but poorly photographed) lettuce. I don't remember it's name, but will have to look it up and plant some more. It is really pretty! As you can imagine, I was thrilled so much lettuce going strong in the garden with no effort from me. But the bounty didn't

end there. The grapes that came with the property, whose trellis was all but obliterated by the series of storms over the winter, are leafing out. I haven't told them, but I've been thinking about pulling them out, rebuilding a stronger, better trellis, and planting grapes we actually like. The strawberry bed I put in last year is going like crazy. Apparently strawberries enjoy a certain degree of neglect because I have never seen strawberry plants this big. There are weeds everywhere, and still these plants make every effort to do what they are designed to do. If I remember to cover the strawberry bed to keep out the birds, it looks like we should have a bumper crop this year. How awesome is that? But wait, there's more! Despite my best effort to clean all the potatoes out of
the bed last year, one potato plant has come up. At this point, I'm inclined to leave it be for now and see what happens. You're not really *supposed* to do that- in order to prevent diseases from building up in the soil. But what the heck- let's live a little!
Then there's the chard, in red and yellow, and the corn salad that have seeded freely. And the hop vine running towards the sun. And the onions that didn't get pulled last year, but which I tried to pull early this spring and then gave up on because they were uber slimy, they are looking lovely as they prepare to go to seed.
As a gardener, and especially as a master gardener, I should be ashamed of myself for letting my garden fall into such a state. But as a real person with real responsibilities that have to come before the garden, I have to acknowledge that things happen. Usually, though, when "things happen" they don't result in free food sans work! Seeing the unplanned, yet very welcome, bounty in the garden- and the sheer beauty of some of these plants when allowed to go full cirlce,
has me thinking a lot about how and why we relegate food plants
to a garden of their own. Many plants from the food garden would be truly lovely mixed in with ornamentals. How about a walkway lined with gorgeous lettuce? Or kale as the backdrop to flowers? Onions provide interesting structural elements and the cool flowers common to all alliums. Strawberries might make a fun groundcover. Edible landscaping is not a new idea. But I'm not sure why its not more popular. I'm guessing people have just never seen the possibilities open to them. But it's worth having a good think over, because the potential exists to produce a lot of food without giving up the interest and decorative value of traditional landscape plants. Do you have an edible landscape? I would love to hear how you incorporate food with fun in your garden.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday hosted by Food Renegade.


  1. I've always found that all of the plants that come up from seed where they want to are always bigger and better then any or the starts I plant, especially tomatoes! I usually just store a tomato or two from plants that I liked the year before. They go in the garage or some such place and break down like normal and come spring I throw them onto the ground and they grow really well

  2. I have admired my ruby red chard all winter long. It tried to go to seed this week and I cut off the seed head. I know it's only a matter of time, but just one more harvest LOL. It's a beautiful plant. Beets are as well.

    I used compost from my own pile which apparently did not get hot enough to kill the things I threw in there last fall. I have had a ton of "volunteers" come up in my new garden beds. I decided to leave a few tomato plants just to see what would happen. Those volunteers are the first to have flowered! I'm not sure what I'll get as far as taste, but we'll see. IT's fun to see what'll happen.

  3. Blair, I looked hard through the garden in hopes of finding a tomato seedling- but no luck. I know there were tomatoes left in the garden, but maybe the birds got the seeds. You are right about volunteers being hardy. The lettuce in my garden now is really robust! Much more so than typical transplants.

    motherhen68, I couldn't agree more. Chard and beets are both really beautiful plants. And it really IS fun to see what will happen! I think that plants that come up from seeds left in the garden over winter must be the best of the bunch. There are so many things that can go wrong- birds or mice, rot, lack of water, too much water... Any seed/ling that survives it all without help is probably a good plant to mark for seed saving. It may not have a pedigree, but it will be better adapted for your particular garden than many plants.

  4. What a lovely post. And timely on my end. I've slowly been moving away from ornamentals and toward edibles, and hope some day to have edibles be the bulk of my yard/garden. There are so many beautiful varieties, and it's become a personal challenge to try and find edibles that thrive in various conditions.

  5. Things will get out of control with a little rain and warmer temps!

    I wonder too, why edible landscaping isn't more common. Seems a no-brainer, yet when I mention it to
    my neighbors, they look at me like I'm nuts. They probably also think I'm nuts because I'm letting last year's turnips and broccoli go to seed!

    Wish my DH like more kinds of lettuce, yours looks so yummy. Thanks for the inspirational post.

  6. What a great group of volunteers you have going in your yard! For now we have only things in pots high on a balcony out of reach of the critters. The only volunteers we get are the parsley plants that sprout in the cracks of the sidewalk below. Those always grow better than the ones in pots! Our old house had lots of edible landscaping in the front yard - alpine strawberries lined the beds, herbs were tucked in everywhere and we even planted tomatoes and peas on a trellis one year. None of the neighbors batted an eye. Now we have too many deer to do that! We can only get away with having herbs as they don't eat those.

  7. Leigh, Things are already out of control here! But I did make a dent it the weeds today. A little bit of progress is still progress, right?

    In addition to the kale, the onions here are going to seed. The flowers aren't open yet, but I am looking forward to seeing them. Vidalias. Yum. Maybe we can swap seeds later in the season?

    Marcella, Ugh. Deer can be so tough on a garden. I feel for you there. The only thing I know of that really works with them is high fencing. I love your parsley story though. Last year, my parsley grew to gargantuan proportions- like, parsley trees. I guess they thrive on neglect, 'cause that's what they got!