These past seven seasons of stewarding the Garland Community Garden have been a learning period for me. Based on this experience I can make a few plant recommendations for residents of Garland that I will stand by. I don’t like to fuss over plants too much. Thus to make my list, the plants need to be low maintenance and high yield. At the top of my list are greens, blackberries, loofah, and sweet potatoes.
Kale and Swiss chard growing in one of my garden beds - Oct 24, 2015 [Swiss chard does need to be covered if there is to be a heavy freeze with icy rain.]
You can have greens from your garden year-round in the DFW area.
Greens such as Swiss chard, Kale, Mustard greens, and Malabar spinach grow well in our area. In fact, it is possible to have kale from your yard year round.
Most greens, kale being an exception, will grow only in our cooler seasons of late fall through early spring. However, Malabar spinach is one green that loves the heat and shrinks away when temperatures go below 50 degrees F. Its leaves, although smaller than common spinach, are tastier.
Keyhole Garden Container at Garland Community Garden. On the left we have broccoli and Indian Mustard. The right half of this container contains Malabar Spinach. October 24, 2015
Malabar Spinach--Garland Community Garden October 24, 2015.
MALABAR SPINACH Basella alba –also known as Ceylon spinach and Indian spinach
If you hurry, you can see it growing in the green keyhole garden down at the Garland Community Garden. Many people in our area are not familiar with tasty Malabar spinach. Unlike Spinacia oleracea (the type of spinach that most of us know which is cold-hardy) Malabar Spinach loves the heat.
Plant Malabar spinach in the full sun. Part shade will increase the leaf size, but the plant prefers sun.
In our area, direct seed Malabar spinach two to three weeks after last frost date. You can also propagate with cuttings. Germination time is 14 to 21 days. If you scarify the seeds (scrape with sandpaper) you can speed up the germination time. Flowering is said to increase bitterness in the leaves but I have not noticed that.
Since Malabar spinach is a vine, it will do better and be easier to harvest if you support it with a trellis.
I just recently learned the berries of the Malabar spinach are also edible, but of course, save some of them back for seeds next spring. There are several you-tube recipes for Malabar spinach berry jam and jelly on the Internet. There is even one video that shows how to make pasta out of Malabar spinach berries. Later this morning when/if the rain subsides, I plan to go down to the Garland Community Garden and harvest the Malabar spinach berries. They will become the seeds for plants next year.
The leaves on the blackberry bushes in my yard have begun to turn. Since ancient times the leaves of the blackberry have been used for medicinal purposes. Native Americans chewed on the leaves to heal canker sores and inflamed gums. Other uses of the leaves include applications to relieve rashes and inflamations of the skin.
BLACKBERRIES--Don't get me started!
I am a champion for planting blackberries here in Garland. You stick them in the ground, provide them a trellis, water now and then and you will have blackberries.
At the Garland Community Garden we have sixteen blackberry bushes planted. Next spring as most of them come into their third year of maturity, I anticipate that we will have well over 100 pounds of blackberries from these plants. In my own yard I have four bushes that have consistently produced over 50 pounds a year for the past two years. A hundred pounds of blackberries at an average price of $5 per 12 ounces will yield $665. Blackberries freeze well and are extremely nutritious—packed with antioxidants. An easy plant to grow, take care of and harvest.
The loofah is a great vine plant to grow for many reasons: It loves the heat. Plant transplants in mid-May when the soil is warm (from seeds you started indoors in April). If you don’t have a fence for them make a trellis for them to climb on. They can create an ideal shade spot for backyards with no trees. Put four posts in the ground and cover with a wire roof. Put wire trellis on one side. Plant the loofah seeds and by the first week of July (when it really starts to getting hot) the roof will be covered in vines. Your kiddos will have a shady place to play. Furthermore, when the loofahs are small, you can eat them. They are very tasty, crunchy, when eaten raw in salads. Then you can save a few of the mature ones to make loofah sponges from to give to your friends on special occasions.
Charlie's Sweet Potato bed at his home - October 24, 2015
SWEET POTATOES – --Another green that thrives in the summer!
Sweet potatoes are tough! And organic sweet potatoes are expensive. Even if you only have a patio, I recommend growing some in a pretty pot. They will make a beautiful vine with large deep green leaves. Unlike white potatoes, sweet potatoes are not a member of the nightshade family. You can eat the leaves of the sweet potatoes and they taste good! Better than spinach.
The leaves can be stir fried with garlic and soy sauce and served over rice, or mixed into soups. Sweet potato leaves may also be eaten fresh in salads. Cook them quickly by stir frying or steaming, so to not lose essential nutrients. Boiling the greens loses extra vitamins in the water. Better yet, eat them fresh in a salad. One or two slips of sweet potatoes planted in a large pot on your patio will supply a family of four with greens all summer long. Then in late October or early November you can turn the pot upside down and harvest a few potatoes—perhaps enough for two meals.
I never tried to grow a sweet potato until this year. I am very pleased with my successes thus far. I grew about 7 in an eight gallon pot and 15 more in the amended clay soil down at the Garland Community Garden. I dug down about 10 inches and amended the soil with hydroton (kiln heated expanded clay balls a little smaller than marbles). If you don't add some inert substances to the heavy clay soil to aerate it by creating air spaces, I doubt the potatoes will have much of a chance to grow. I grew several large sweet potatoes and more small ones. But as you can see from the larger potatoes, they are all bumpy--no doubt from their adaptation around the little balls of expanded clay. The potato in the foreground weighs two pounds.
Sweet potatoes from the Garland Community Garden - October 2015
SUGGESTION FOR APARTMENT DWELLERS WITH PATIOS OR DECKS:
Next spring invest in two 10-gallon pots. Put trellises in each pot. Plant two sweet potato slips in one pot and plant Malabar spinach seed in the other pot. You will have edible leaves for a salad for a family of four every day from June through mid-November. You will save at least $120 on salad greens, and you will have two lovely plants for your patio or deck that require little care. What fun to walk out onto your patio and pick some fresh greens for your salad!
If you want to give a great holiday present: Find containers that are about 10 gallons, build a wire trellis for each of them, get instructions for growing from the Internet and VOILA! There is one holiday gift.