Edible Garden Plants That Grow Themselves (Almost)

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With a new cat to take care of, it’s a good thing that there are at least some plants that come close to growing themselves. Of course, I’m not including my extensive collection of invasives – those have death warrants, but I have a short list of plants that have a valuable edible reward for non-work. They are the ones I will always grow, since they are also delicious. This post will describe my aloes, and subsequent posts will include paw paws, basil, garlic, and daikon radish.

After starting out growing the most common aloe, Aloe vera, a very delicate aloe, I am now growing Aloe ferox or Cape aloe, originally from South Africa. _mg_6844The Aloe veras had a hard time adjusting to outdoor weather, especially to any sun at all, and I do like to clean up my indoor gardens in the spring and place many outdoors for the summer. The Aloe ferox is a larger, chunky aloe, which takes moves outdoors here in Michigan in stride. This variety, having larger leaves, also produces more gel. The Egyptians called aloe the herb of immortality because of the gel which is both antibacterial and antifungal. It is also soothing and healing for sunburns. I also like to use it in smoothies because it contains polysaccharides or complex sugars for sustained energy.

StrictlyMedicinalSeeds.com has a long list of available aloe plants of all kinds. Along with the Aloe ferox, I ordered a couple others, which are more like tree aloes. _mg_7063It will be interesting to see how tall they eventually grow (or not). I haven’t used these in smoothies, but they are fun to watch grow (so far). Richo Cech of Strictly Medicinal Seeds writes that “the leaf mucilage (gel) has a cooling and healing influence – the gel of Cape aloe is very similar to Aloe vera and may be used interchangably for it.” Dr. Group of the website Globalhealingcenter.com has an article on many other species of aloe titled, “Health Benefits of 13 Species of Aloe”.

Aloes are easy to grow, requiring only fast draining soil, sparse watering, and fertilizing only once per year. I simply start with my basic soil recipe, which is equal parts spaghnum peat (moistened), compost or worm castings, and expanded shale (or perlite) and add more expanded shale,perlite, or pumice –  about another one third. I like to place pea gravel around the aloe as a mulch (and it makes it more attractive). I have them dotted around the house, looking like starfish on the ocean floor, and I’m sure by spring, there will be many more “pups” to remove and replant in their own pots. Thank goodness for all the neat pots at Goodwill!

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Last Days of Fall Color Along Lake Michigan

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Meyer Lemon Surprise

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I was pleasantly surprised to see lots and lots of lemons on our potted Meyer Lemon (Citrus limonia) this January – over 30! I’ve tended this lemon since 2008, received from Edible Landscaping, but have only had 10 or so lemons every winter. It has a humble place in our basement in front of a sliding glass door. When our fireplace is burning, it’s quite warm there, but when it is off – quite frequently – it’s downright chilly (50s).  So it is subjected to erratic temperatures but has plenty of light. Not ideal.

I’m trying to remember what I did differently this summer when the lemon was outdoors and forming buds. Probably two things:  I’m sure I covered it with compost tea – from T and J Enterprises –  on my rounds, and I also likely included it my rounds of nettle tea.  The compost tea did such wonders for every plant in the garden, I think it takes first place. However, since citrus needs trace minerals like iron, zinc, and manganese, I’m thinking that the nettle tea provided that along with all its other nutritional treasures. French Gardening.com explains in detail the elevated status of the nettle in France and how to use it.

I think the lemon was just waiting for a catalyst to unlock its dormant potential. It had well drained but moist soil, about 1/3 peat/coir mix, 1/3 fine expanded shale , and 1/3 compost, and was fed with fish emulsion (5-1-1) and kelp sprays. Its pot is a soft root trapper type which causes the rebranching of small feeder roots resulting in many more root surfaces to absorb air and nutrients. But microbes seem to be the magic something that unlocks potential.

This compost tea, because it has been such a magic elixir, has inspired us in all things compost. Last summer, we built two compost bins to handle all our vegetable and garden residue.