Archive for the edible leaves Category

Super Sweet Potatoes

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2012 by PickMeYard

We grew a crop of sweet potatoes this year that really surprised us.  I had no expectations for the sweet potatoes and thought to myself that I’d figure it out as I went.  I tend to learn by ‘doing’ when it comes to our garden.  I make mistakes but I also learn to think outside the box.  It’s nice to not always follow the leader.

did do what I was told in regard to buying the sweet potato plants and not rooting the tuber from the supermarket.  A tuber from the store is easy to root, but apparently it can carry disease into your soil.  I’m certain this can happen any time you buy a little plant at the hardware store and plant it in your garden (especially with tomatoes).  I chose not to take the risk with potatoes and purchased some little plants from a local edible nursery.  The sweet potato starts were inexpensive but really tough to find.

I started with a variety called ‘Boniato‘ several years ago.  Now I’ve added several other varieties such as ‘Beauregard’ and ‘Tainung’.  To be honest, I’m not sure which variety is growing where in our yard.  Those labels are long gone.  This isn’t a problem for our us though because our sweet potatoes are for our table not a market.

Hydroponincally grown sweet potatoes at The Land in Epcot, Disney World.

I harvested a huge amount of sweet potatoes this year and it was back-breaking work.  These tubers were heavy and I had to dig and dig to find them.  I learned the hard way that I should never throw the potatoes.  They bruise easily and the bruise will turn into a rotten area.  I tossed a few a little too hard, but didn’t do too much damage.  Some of the tubers were gigantic.  I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing and worried that I waited too long to harvest them (maybe way too long).  My good friend Dr. Nune assured me that a larger sweet potato doesn’t mean it’s not tasty, just more of it to cook.  A farmer friend told me that the larger potatoes are more difficult to sell at the market.

Pick Me Yard's backyard sweet potato harvest.

This huge sweet potato was growing in the middle of the crop. Grayson named the potato "It" after the brain in "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeline L'Engle.

I was careful to keep my sweet potatoes from sitting in the sun while I was digging.  After I harvested my huge potatoes, I dragged the full and heavy wagon into my garage.  I left them to cure for a few weeks.  Then, I gave a bunch to Dr. Nune to be the taste tester.  She called me a few days later and said, “have you given any of those sweet potatoes away?”  I replied with a worried answer that I had not.  “Good”, she said.  “Let’s keep them only for us.  They are the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever had in my life”.  She was right… they were.

We had a endless supply of sweet potatoes to fill this basket for months.

I thought I found every last tuber in the ground when I harvested.  I worked really hard to get them all.  Well, that was several months ago and I missed many, many tubers.  The area has completely grown back again with sweet potato vines.  This is a no-no in the gardening world because it invites the dreaded sweet potato pests and diseases.  Click here  for the latest on growing sweet potatoes in Southwest Florida as told by the University of Florida IFAS office.  I’m going to harvest most of the greens in this patch for my goats.  We’ll save a few for ourselves.

Our 5-year-old was so excited that a garden was growing in our garage. These will all be replanted. They're the left-overs.

The sweet potato leaves are a delicious edible for the dinner table.  Our friend Mama Do told us that steamed sweet potato leaves are a favorite in Vietnamese cuisine.  One evening I was making dinner and realized I needed a vegetable.  I remembered what Mama Do told us and I sent the kids out to cut a bowl of leaves.  I steamed them on top of the chicken I was cooking and we have been huge fans of the leaves ever since!  Even the kids loved them… probably because they picked them.

Edible and yummy sweet potato leaves. These are heart-shaped.

This year I have planted sweet potatoes all over our yard.  There are patches everywhere and probably look like crop circles from an airplane.  They grow great in our yard because of our sandy, Florida soil.  I never water them and it hasn’t been a problem.  They tend to crowd out most of the weeds and I just weed-wack around the edges of the big circle.  They’re almost maintenance free in our yard.   They also thrive in our hot, humid, sweltering summer.

I’ve tried something new this summer and have planted some in an area with pigeon peas, sunflowers and calabaza pumpkins.  I’m hoping it turns into a crazy mess of vines and little pigeon pea trees that crowd out all the weeds.  It could be great or it could be a disaster.  Either way, it’s an experiment and I’m growing most of this to feed to our lovely goats anyway.  It’s our goat garden and I can either cut it for them or put their leashes on and lead them to it to clear it out.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

This will continue to grow and fill in. By weed wacking the edges, it turns into a big circle.

This is just a small section of the goat's garden. It will be interesting.

Come grow with us!

Advertisements

Little Garden, Microgreens: Part II

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by PickMeYard

The beauty of growing a little microgreen garden is that it’s so compact and convenient.  The toughest part for us is remembering to water them everyday and to never let them dry out.  We have forgotten about them before and had to start a new batch, but it wasn’t such a big deal.

We like to re-use food containers to grow our microgreens.  My favorite was a big, plastic birthday cake container from the grocery store.  We used a lighter to burn holes in the bottom for drainage. It even came with a lid… perfect.  We’re amazed at how many food containers are ideal for growing our microgreens… trash to treasure.  I can’t take credit for this idea though.  It was sparked by You Grow Girl.com.  That chick has some clever ideas.

I think this container had lettuce in it. The plastic is thin which makes it easy to burn drainage holes in. Sometimes I use the lids as a base to catch drainage water.

I keep a bucket of mixed potting soil with a cup on my porch all the time.  It makes it convenient to start a new batch of microgreens.  We only put a couple inches of soil into the containers.  The first time we grew microgreens,  we filled the soil to the top.  When the seeds germinated they pushed the soil right over the sides of the container.

When we grow microgreens, we tend to use a lot of seeds.  The seeds should be sprinkled generously over the top of the soil.  I buy bulk seeds for growing microgreens since they usually have a better price.  Oh, and some seeds should be soaked overnight for a better germination rate (chard and peas, for example).  Also, keep in mind that each seed type will have a different growing ideal.  Broccoli and purples cabbage are some of the easier micro greens to grow, whereas celery and basil could poise a challenge.  We love to experiment, hate to follow instructions, and have a “just do it” attitude around here.  We try to learn from our mistakes though.

Bags of seeds for growing microgreens.

After we’ve selected our container, half-filled with it soil and sprinkled our seeds, we cover each container with a paper towel.  The paper towel should not be removed until the microgreens push it up with their growth.  The paper towel should not stick to them at this point.  Don’t be too hasty to pull the towel off or you could pull your microgreens out with it.  We like to lift up a corner of the towel and peek underneath to see how they’re doing.

Microgreens trays covered with paper towels. We water right over the towels. It keeps everything in tact and helps the seeds germinate.

The seeds do not need light to germinate, but they do need water and warmth.

Are they ready yet? Nope, not yet.

They can’t be allowed to dry out.  I made a watering canister out of an old juice container by drilling holes in the lid.  It delivers the water like a rain shower.

More trash to treasure. This juice container was saved from the landfill and makes the perfect microgreen waterer.

Grayson spreading his favorite seeds... fennel.

Master micro gardener.

How could this not be packed full of nutrients?

Beautiful, non-toxic and chemical free greens grown in our rich little garden… rich with life!

Come grow with us!

Little Garden, Microgreens: Part I

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , on April 23, 2012 by PickMeYard

We’re in love with microgreens.  They make the perfect urban, mini-garden.  I think you should fall in love with them too.  Oh please, please let me tell you why.  Don’t let your eyeballs glaze over… this is good stuff.

Are you wondering what microgreens are?  Sprouts?  Baby greens?  They’re not either.  Microgreens are the stage of growth when a plant develops its first leaves, after the seed sprouts.  If the microgreen is not harvested, then it grows into the baby green stage.  The microgreen is a treasure trove of nutrients.  I don’t have a nutritional analysis on this though, only logic.  For further reading, there is a fabulous book called Microgreens by Eric Franks & Jasmine Richardson.  Microgreens look beautiful, taste like heaven, and have health benefits.   They’re full of flavor and I don’t have to chew and crunch like I’m eating a salad.  They do actually melt in your mouth.

A bite of avocado with microgreens, shredded jicama, and a miso dressing.

However, the best part is they are incredibly easy and fast to grow.  I love the little garden look on my indoor patio.  Our favorite microgreens are fennel (tastes like licorice), basil, alfalfa, wheat berries, peas, amaranth, kohlrabi, celery, onion, beets (they’re red), sunflowers, red clover… but there are many, many more that we haven’t tried yet.

It tasted as good as it looks.

Our little microgrreen garden.

My children love to grow microgreens in the summer because there are no weeds, no insects and no hot sun.  It’s not possible for us to grow lettuce (and a lot of other stuff) in our Southwest Florida heat and humidity (during the summer) because the elements are just too extreme.  Our microgreen garden, on the patio or in the kitchen, makes up for this.  We can have our cake garden and eat it too.

Loring planting the seeds in our microgreen garden.

Kindergarten.

Have I talked you into growing some?  I’m trying really hard.  In my next post, I’ll share a really easy and inexpensive way to grow them.  We’ve been growing crops in recyclable containers on our lanai and in our kitchen.

Grapefruit with microgreens and edible flowers. Delicious!

Our wheat berry microgreens with water droplets on them.

Come grow with us!

The Kaffir Lime Tree

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by PickMeYard

Every time someone new visits our yard, we take them straight to our kaffir lime tree (Citrus hystrix) to introduce them.  We find that most people have never heard of it.  However, those that are familiar with it absolutely love this fabulous tree.

This is one of our kaffir lime trees. It needs pruning. The butterflies love this tree.

The first thing I do is pick a leaf off the tree, crush it and stick it right up to our guests nose and say, “smell this”.  The reaction is always the same… oh wow!  We never fail to send our guests home with a freezer bag full of the fresh leaves.  They freeze perfectly for later use.  They can frequently be found in the freezer section of most Asian markets in the U.S.

The kaffir lime leaf has a unique shape and flavor. Citrusy and aromatic.

It’s tough to describe the flavor and smell of the kaffir because it is unique.  It’s very pleasing though.  Most people love it right off the bat.  Personally, I don’t think I could live without it in my life.  Okay, that might be a tad dramatic, but you get my drift.  It’s exquisite.

I have a kaffir lime tree growing in my front yard and in the back.  My kids love to grab a leaf as they walk by the tree, crunch it up in their hand and hold it for awhile.  Sometimes they’ll bring some leaves in the house to throw in their glass of water or lemonade.  I do cook with the leaves quite a bit too, especially in my coconut milk, lemongrass chicken and Thai curries.  The leaves are used to flavor and are not usually eaten.  For some more kaffir lime leaf recipe ideas, check out ThaiTable.com.

It is the leaf of this citrus tree that is generally used for culinary reasons, not the fruit.  We’ve started using the fruit recently though and now we wonder why we didn’t start using it sooner.  The fruit tastes exactly like the leaf but it’s very sour (a little bitter maybe).    We think the kaffir lime makes a wonderful drink and we even add the zest to the drink.  I like to add a little of the zest to my yerba mate too.  I’m sure there are thousands of ways to use this incredible flavor.  I will not be letting them fall off the tree to rot anymore.

Funny looking, bumpy, and very sour kaffir lime.

A kaffir lime cut in half.

The kaffir lime tree grows well in zones 9, 10 and 11.   It is susceptible to frost damage.  My trees have been through a couple very cold Florida winters recently and only had minimal damage.  They recovered quickly from their frost bite.

Check out LifesDandies.com for more information on finding a kaffir lime tree in Florida.

I haven’t grown a kaffir lime tree in a container for myself, but I’m certain the tree would do well if it was taken care of properly.  It would need to be fed during its growth cycle and shouldn’t be overwatered.  My favorite book on growing edible trees in containers is Growing Tasty Tropical Plants*in any home, anywhere… by Laurelynn G. Martin and Byron E. MartinI love this book for its pictures because it inspires me and gives me great ideas. The book gives some information on how to grow tropicals inside, but I think it could use a lot more.  It still remains one of my favorites.

A female Eastern Black Swallowtail on our kaffir lime tree.

Have I talked you into growing a kaffir lime tree for yourself?  I hope so.

Come grow with us!

A Special Salad

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , on November 19, 2010 by PickMeYard

We have been growing many varieties of leaf lettuces lately.  They’re too easy to grow in pots.  I think everybody should do it.  I’ve said it before and I’m sayin’ it again… bagged lettuce from the grocery store is yuk.  It’s no wonder salad has such a bad rap.  Fresh lettuce harvested at home gives non-salad eaters a new perspective (my kids, for example). 

Harvesting dinner.

My 3-year-old has taken the new position of being the household salad cutter.  When she hears the word “salad” mentioned, she starts yelling, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, let me do it”!  I don’t let her do it alone, of course.  She always chirps about cutting lettuce to make “a special salad”.

She always eats her dinner when she's allowed to help prepare it.

I grew a Siamese dragon stir-fry mix of seeds that I bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  There’s not much left of them because I stir-fried them all.  I’m definitely getting more of these seeds.  They went into several large meals. 

A “before” photo would have been much nicer but I always went out to the pots armed with scissors instead of a camera.

The big pots that my lettuces are growing in are complete overkill.  Lettuce can be grown in a shallow container, probably 4-6 inches of depth are necessary.  A wide container is ideal because more seeds can be grown at the same time.

Delicious leaf lettuce.

I couldn’t  think of anything to make for dinner the other night and ended up throwing together a Cobb salad.  It was my own version of a Cobb salad.  My 9-year-old son has now decided that he likes gorgonzola cheese because the salad was so delicious.  The calories this salad contained was definitely not for the rabbits.

More delectable lettuce.

Different kinds of leaf lettuces.

A Special Salad.

Come grow with us!

Planting Lettuce for the Entire Season

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , on September 29, 2010 by PickMeYard

When I wrote the post on growing lettuce  in pots, I forgot to mention something very important… it can and should be grown in succession.  We made the mistake of not doing this the first time we grew lettuce.  We planted many, many pots of leaf lettuce all at the same time.  Thus, they were ready to be harvested all at the same time.  We quickly realized that we’d made a mistake.

The correct way to cut the leaf lettuce is to cut outer leaves first. We let the kids cut it any way they want... it's lettuce.

So, now we pace ourselves and grow a few big pots of lettuce at a time.  We just toss some seeds in another pot a few weeks after we’ve planted the first ones.  We’ll pull out and re-plant the cut-and-come-again lettuce after it’s been cut a couple of times.  It tends to lose its flavor the more it’s cut.  Don’t be afraid to start cutting on your lettuce when it’s growing.  Baby lettuce is delicious and the seeds are cheap.  

We don’t have an exact planting schedule because we wouldn’t be able to adhere to it.  However, we have decided that we are going to try the Farmer’s Almanac’s suggested planting times  for all our plantings this year. 

For a fantastic post about the different varieties of lettuce and how to grow them, check out Steve’s Garden Blog

 Come grow with us!

Fresh lettuce that melts in your mouth!

Growing Lettuce in Pots

Posted in edible leaves with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2010 by PickMeYard

When I look through the bagged lettuce at the supermarket, I have a really hard time finding one that looks good enough to eat.  We’ve been spoiled because we know what homegrown lettuce tastes like.  Oh yeah, it’s that different!  Tastes like buttah.  We just go outside to the pot that it’s growing in with our scissors in hand.  Usually it’s at night with a flashlight too.  We cut enough to fit in the bowl that’s brought out  to the garden.  It’s so fresh and wonderful that it’s turned my kids into salad eaters.   This kind of lettuce is called “cut-and-come-again” lettuce.  You cut the outer leaves and it keeps growing so that you can go back for more.  It doesn’t take much of it to fill a huge kitchen bowl.

Flame lettuce growing in a pot. It requires cooler temperatures.

The problem with growing lettuce in Southwest Florida is that it’s too warm for half the year.  Lettuce prefers cooler weather.  So, we’re without fresh, homegrown lettuce from about May through November (depending on the weather).  At the end of September, I have my kids toss a bunch of lettuce seeds in a big pot and some in a garden bed.  It’s usually ready to start cutting around 6 weeks later.  We’re just absolutely desperate for our fresh lettuce by then.  The wait really makes us appreciate it more.

I don't remember what kind of lettuce I was growing here. We always buy many different kinds to try.

We put styrofoam pieces in the bottom of our pots when we’re growing lettuce in them.  This keeps the pot light and allows for good drainage. Lettuce doesn’t have a deep root system.  I use a good potting soil, never soil dug out of the yard.  I have been trying to come up with a clever lettuce growing container to use this year.  They don’t need to be too deep.   The leaf lettuces are so super easy to grow and so rewarding with flavor. 

Merveille des quatre saisons (Marvel of four seasons)... our favorite variety!

There are so many kinds of  lettuces to grow.  We like to grow the leaf lettuce over the head lettuce  because we like the cut-and-come-again thing.  Both are easy and have a short growing period.  I tend to start harvesting mine when it’s really young.  It’s so tender.  The leaf lettuce in the above picture was grown from seed that I bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I bought the seed from them last year and again this year.  I’ve been dreaming about it.  

Lettuce seed packets are easy to find at just about any hardware store though and even some grocery stores.  However, I’ve found that there is a huge array of flavors with all the different lettuce varieties.  Just because one is tough or spicy doesn’t mean they all are.  I don’t really care for the mesclun blends or the baby arugula, but that’s just my preference.  I like my lettuce to be sweet and buttery.  The different varieties can have a big difference in texture and flavor.

A local farmer told me that the red-leafed lettuces are a good choice for Florida because they tend to be somewhat heat tolerant.  Lettuce doesn’t like heat and when it gets too warm… it bolts.  Bolting  is when it sends out a thin shoot from the middle of the plant and it goes to seed.  This makes the lettuce taste bad.  So, when it bolts, it’s time to send it to the compost bin.  Lettuce can be grown in the shade of other plants to help with the heat.  It needs a few hours of morning sun though and should be watered every day.

More leaf lettuce.

A variety of leaf lettuces.

Come grow with us!