Edible Landscaping – Miner’s Lettuce

bigstock-Miners-Lettuce-3924059So, if you have read any of the recent posts, you will know that we have moved to a much bigger property. You will also know that the house on the property is, well, a bit of a fixer-upper (and that is being kind). While we work on figuring out the remodel, I have been a bit depressed. The house is depressing – it doesn’t get much natural light, the ovens don’t work, the fireplaces don’t work, there is very little water pressure, and it is ugly.

I’ve been wallowing in my self-pity.

But I am done with that (at least for now ~ don’t hold me to it). The daffodils are in full bloom across much of the property (gotta love the early Spring in So Cal) and I’ve decided if I can’t love the house, then I will love the property. And I’ve got 5.64 acres of property to plant with edible landscaping. WOOT!

It is overwhelming trying to plan a functional edible landscape.  We already have more than 110 avocado trees (OMG), and tons of citrus (orange, blood orange, grapefruit, tangerine, lemon, lime, limequat) as well as a huge loquat. We also apparently have some peach and apricot, but it is hard to tell since the trees are mostly dormant right now.

Over the weekend, I planted the existing trees I had from my rooftop garden – 3 weeping mulberries, a variety of dwarf apples, a plum, a persimmon and 2 jujubes – as well as my blueberry bushes (including the 3 fabulous Pink Lemonade blueberry plants).

Then, I went shopping.  On President’s Day, I had fun visiting some (but not all) of my favorite local nurseries and also browsing through seed catalogs. I picked up some fruit trees to add to the orchard at Sunflower Farms in Gardena, California. They are being delivered on Saturday. I fleshed out our selection, adding 2 more Persimmon trees (Fuyu), a pluot, and more. I’ll post pictures.

I also hit Centrose Nursery and picked up 2 tree collards and 2 grapes.  I’ll post pictures of the plantings.

But mostly I planned and plotted how the landscape should look and investigated options for sun, partial shade and shade. I have a lot of shade because of the mature trees and I need some plants to fill in underneath. I was at a bit of a loss and overwhelmed about what to plant where.

But, I was reminded of an old staple, Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) at Sunflower Farms.

I grew up with Miner’s Lettuce in Marin County. My sister and I used to eat it on our rambles around the neighborhood. We would pick it to take home, but we hardly ended up with any by the time we got home.   It was everywhere. It was and is good. It is perfect in salads or on sandwiches (though I also like mustard leaves in my sandwiches for a bit of “pop”).

It is so easily recognizable and so abundant that I am surprised I didn’t think of it first.  It is native to America – unlike many of our edible “weeds.”  Plus, and most important, it is a great plant for shade. In fact, it prefers moist shade.

If you aren’t familiar with Miner’s Lettuce, it is not really soft but not crunchy, has a mild taste, and stays tender even when it flowers. It packs a punch of Vitamin C and iron.  According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100 grams of miner’s lettuce—about the size of a decent salad—contains a third of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, 22 percent of the Vitamin A, and 10 percent of the iron. You can buy seeds or plants (it is super easy to grow from seed). I bought some plants just for a jump start and to cure my doldrums.

Here’s some more detail on Miner’s Lettuce.

That’s a picture of it too in this post. If you are doing some wild foraging in Northern California, you should be able to find it in the shady spots, particularly near water.

Moving & Murphy’s Law – What can go wrong, does go wrong

bigstock-Bad-day-7213682Okay, so the title isn’t quite Murphy’s Law. Murphy’s Law is “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” That being said, I like my saying better because I’m going to hope that nothing more goes wrong.

In any event, the universe’s tendency towards perversity seems readily apparent when moving. So first we had running toilets. Then we had a broken furnace. Then our dog went missing for two days (but we luckily found her thanks to Noah’s Bark Rescue Organization). Then a waste line broke under our house. After that was remediated and the line fixed, the master bath’s toilet and shower backed up. That seems to have been due to somebody prior to us putting Swiffer dusters down the toilet. Now we have a water leak under the house. Oh the joys of home ownership.

But . . . . my first seed catalog came and I’m plotting what I can plant on our almost six acres. I’ve been thumbing through the 2013 Bountiful Gardens catalog looking at the wonderful heirloom, untreated, open-pollinated seeds. So I will just soldier on and plan my garden . . . .


Adventures in moving . . .

MovingAs I previously posted, we’ve moved. Our new property features a run down house that we plan to fix up and 2 lots approximately 5.64 acres in total. I’ve got big dreams about creating a self sustaining homestead, but first I simply have to find my shoes. New Year’s Eve we went to a swanky party hosted by some friends to raise money for the San Pedro Youth Coalition and I had a dress with no shoes. I still can’t find most of my shoes, but I’ve got my tennis shoes and 2 pairs of black shoes so I can go to work.

I do want to give a shout out to our movers – Delancey Street Moving and Trucking. If you haven’t ever heard of the Delancey Street Foundation, you should go read about this amazing organization. The moving services were top notch – the men helping us were still hustling at the end of a grueling 9 hour day. They ran back from the truck even though it was late in the day. They didn’t complain when my rooftop planters splashed gunky water on them (it had just rained). They were polite, friendly, and extremely hard working. If you need to move, then I highly recommend you consider Delancey Street Moving and Trucking. And if you use them to pack (we didn’t), you might be able to find your shoes.

Now that we are in the new house (albeit temporarily), I’m uncertain about where to even start to create a self sustaining homestead. I planted my fruit trees from my rooftop garden, but there is so much more room for fruit trees, brambles, vegetables and more. I want to create a raised bed garden. I want to add some chickens and perhaps Coturnix quail. But we’ve also got to organize and then remodel the house.

In the interim, I’m trying to figure out what to do with the huge bounty of avocados and oranges on the land. Last night, I had sliced avocado with smoked sea salt as my dinner with a bit of rice and some grilled chicken. It was awesome but I’m going to have to eat a lot to get through the bounty. Any ideas?


Pick Your Favorite To Go Green And Healthy

So, this week I’m working with Double Impact and Treehugger to make sustainable actions court for charity. You get to do good by being sustainable – a win-win in the real sense of the word (and not so much how politicians use it).

So, this is how it works. I’ve picked three fairly easy sustainable steps any person can take in his or her everyday life, and I’ve explained why I picked these three actions below. You vote on which idea you like the best. The top idea will go live at the end of week on Double Impact’s website, and then that action can be used to count towards a charity, such as Healthy Child Healthy World.

You get an opportunity to win fabulous prizes for voting, and in the long run, Earth may be the real winner. This week, you can win Earthbound Farm coupons for voting.

So, the three actions I picked are:

(1) Go reusable with produce bags.  Go beyond the reusable shopping bag and eliminate plastic produce and other bags. Most of us probably usually choose reusable over paper or plastic at the grocery store, but then still use plastic produce bags. Did you know the world consumes just about 2 million plastic bags every minute? That’s right. It is estimated the world consumes 1 trillion plastic bags per year.  Dividing that out, it means we consume 32,000 plastic bags a second. And that with the exception of the very small amount of plastic that has been incinerated, every piece of plastic made in the last 50 years is still around in the environment? When it comes to plastic bags, only 0.5 to 3% are downcycled worldwide. So let’s get rid of those plastic produce bags too. I found so wonderful options on Etsy, but there are also organic cotton and other options on Amazon.

(2) Skip single serve convenience containers. With the school year getting started or about to get started, those single serve convenience containers are attractive for lunches. But, most of those containers are plastic. And plastic doesn’t just go away – it lives on in our environment. Even recycled, it is just downcycled into another plastic item that will persist. Single serve containers are also virtually always much more expensive. And plastics may leach harmful chemicals into your foods. So, pick up some glass or stainless steel containers. You may think that glass doesn’t work with kids – but those shatter resistant glass items with plastic lids (that usually don’t touch the food) made it through the  year with my kindergartener.

(3)  Take off your shoes before coming indoors. This is to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals. We track in lead, cadmium, pesticides and more on our shoes. Did you know that they still find DDT on kitchen floors in the US even though it was banned more than 30 years ago? We track it in on our shoes because it persists in the environment. But, by taking off our shoes before we step inside we can reduce exposure by as much as 65%.

Okay, so go vote.

Planting Blue Jade Corn in My Container Garden

So, if you read my blog, you’ll know that I have relatively recently become obsessed with gardening. But I don’t have a traditional garden – my garden is a container garden on my roof. So, what I choose to grow must do well in my climate, and also perform well in containers. 

I’m also trying to get my kids to eat more veggies. And one of the tricks is to have then eat the veggies they grow. Most kids like to plant seeds that they recognize – pumpkin, watermelon, and, of course, corn.

I’ve been wanting to grow sweet corn, but most sweet corn does not perform well in containers. I did try some last year, but I really didn’t get much of a yield. And that’s the problem – corn grown in containers doesn’t seem to produce much of a  yield for how much space the corn requires. The best approach is to try for dwarf varieties.

So, I was super excited to learn about Blue Jade Corn (Zea mays). It only grows around 3 feet high, and bears 3 to 6 ears with steel blue kernels that turn jade blue when boiled. Talk about perfect – corn that performs well in containers and that is a bright color that my kids will love and a sweet corn at that? Heaven. I first learned about it on Subsistence Pattern – his blog about corn being his nemesis made me feel like a kindred spirit. It seems like I can grow most anything else but never did well with corn. I was excited about his success.

So, I was going to order some seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, but I was shopping at my current favorite nursery, H & H Nursery in Lakewood, California, and they had seedlings. Whoot! So now I have some planted and will let you know how it goes. Not sure if the kids will like the flavor – I understand if you are used to the super sweet flavor of today’s varieties the less than super sweet heirloom taste may not be to your liking. I’m just glad to find a heirloom, non GMO corn to grow in my containers.

DIY – Herbal Infusion

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with growing and using my own herbs. Herbs are so easy to grow – you don’t need a garden even – just a sunny spot and some pots. You can even often just use an indoor spot with a sunny window. They really don’t need much care – some herbs even have a better flavor with a little stress. 

I also want to use them, and not just for cooking. I have this romanticized notion of the herbal healer woman. And I have a desire to be that herbal healer woman. At least sort of. A modern day notion. The ability to be able to make my own tonics and creams and teas and all that appeals to me.

So, in any event, I’ve been researching and reading what to add to my herbal garden. I thought I would share some of my adventues with you.

One of the easiest  herbal preparations is probably something you are already familiar with – the infusion. Preparing an infusion is really just like making a cup of tea. You bring water to a boil (a good, roiling boil – you want the hot water to break the cell walls of your herb(s)) and then pour it over a herb or a combination of herbs. Allow it to steep. Then, you can use a a tea strainer, or a small bag, or a ceramic insert strainer, or a strainer, or whatever, to take the herb(s) out when done. That’s it. You are extracting the herb’s scent, flavor, and color into the water. An infusion works best for delicate herbs.

Now, how much of the herb to use in relation to how much water, and the steeping time, depends on what you are trying to do.

Generally, you use about a cup of herbs in a quart jar, and fill with boiling water; close the lid; and allow to steep for 4 to 10 hours. Strain. You can then keep it in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. 

You may use an infusion for a variety of reasons. I just made a herbal infusion for purposes of doing a facial steam. I used 1/3 cup of lavender blossomes and 2/3 cup dried chamomile (from last year) blossoms. After steeping and straining, I refrigerated the infusion. Then, 2 days later, I brought the infusion back to a boil, let sit and then draped a towel over my face and gave myself a facial steam. I then rinsed my face. Voila! Instant tension reliever, and chamomile is supposed to  soothe irritated skin.

Have you ever tried a herbal infusion?