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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Other Things

Clay with FlowerIts strange how other things can take me away from gardening – and just when I resolved to let few things get off my radar. A call to do contract work.  Difficult, stressful, no clear solutions, black is white and white is black. Unethical behavior – it seems to be pervasive nowadays. Exhausted, I finally extricate myself by bowing out.

Back to the garden. It is still, lonely, quiet, humble – still delicate, gentle, beautiful, – today wet and windswept. But a bit of turmoil has crept in. Dark energy when I am trying to knit things together. Maybe I should move that large potted Japanese Maple into the greenhouse for the night. It hasn’t been hardened off for more than a few days and the predicted 25 mile an hour winds could stress it. At dusk I pick up the heavy, wet five gallon pot. I trip on that small pile of weeds I never took away. The pot, tree, and I tumble forward in a split second. No synapses could even meet to discuss what movements I should make. Knee injured on cement anchoring greenhouse. I hobble to house leaving Japanese Maple pot soil spilled and roots exposed, but at least in greenhouse. Try to figure out if anything is actually broken. Maybe a cracked kneecap, I’m guessing.  Knee stew.

The medical people. I  don’t usually go there. Longer sentences would mean my breathing is normal which it is not yet. But using a clay poultice on my knee seems a form of gardening – gentle, delicate, beautiful. Thanks Raymond Detreit  for writing one of my oldest and most revered books, Our Earth Our Cure (A Swan House Book).  I believe it is almost out of print, but there is another which provides similar insights:  The Healing Power Of Clay: The Natural Remedy for Dozens of Common Ailments by Michel Abehsera.  Clay has gotten me out of close scrapes before.

The wind made it all the way here,

Out of breath

With so much to tell.

My Brain on Schizandra Berries

My brain off schizandra berries ignored my four schizandra vines. Would a resident boa constrictor help as an excuse? It seems many other life forms also admire schizandra habitat:  moist, half shady, lush, and well drained. I didn’t think I created a tropical rain forest here in lower Michigan, though I did see a neon green snake in the schizandra one day. It was several years with several below zero non tropical winters before I ventured back to that garden again. And what effects was schizandra supposed to have again? “This herb develops the primary energies of life…..generates vitality and radiant beauty when used regularly for some time. This herb is considered to be one of the premium mind tonics of herbalism. It is used to sharpen concentration, improve memory, and increase alertness. Yet, unlike caffeine-like stimulants….schizandra is mildly calming while producing wakefulness and improved focus.”  Ron Teeguarden from his book Radiant Health.

And there is much more.

But my brain off schizandra forgot all that, maybe even didn’t quite believe in what stood before me. The schizandra vines had lots of blossoms last spring. I covered them with floating fabric one night when frost hit. I believed a little. All summer, timely rains helped out my neglect till beautiful berries were visible in August. I had seen schizandra shrivel on the vine, but this year, they were gathered. Encroaching civilization must claim a few rewards. This January I remembered the bags of schizandra in the  freezer and brewed the tea I had made a few times before. It was powerful and overwhelming – not bad tasting, just in need of balance. I tried adding deeper tastes I had on hand, to tether the galloping, rollicking schizandra – cinnamon, ginger, hawthorn berries, and horsetail (mostly taste-free and for silica) – and emerged on the other side with a great tasting tea. I drank this once a day or threw a tablespoon of frozen berries into my morning shake. Even though each berry has a seed, my blender (Vitamix) made no mention of them.

At Home With Schizandra

100 Days………Ron Teeguarden:  “If used for one hundred days successively, schizandra is said to purify the blood, sharpen the mind, improve memory, rejuvenate the kidney energy, and cause the skin to become radiantly beautiful.” The halfway point was late February  when I was half awake at 11 PM and At Home With Friends with Joshua Bell, violinist, appeared on PBS. First Sting sang the Elizabethan song “Come Again” by the great John Dowland, then Kristin Chenoweth sang an incredible arrangement of “My Funny Valentine”, Carel Kraayenhof on the bandoneon (historic accordion) played the meditative tango, “Oblivion”, and Joshua Bell played with a dead Rachmaninoff on piano through the miracles of recording technology. I have a music background of flute and piano – but for over 30 years have heard music and not heard music, as if a wall were there keeping music from penetrating to the nucleii of my cells – the center where electrons dance with passing sparks. This hearing made it past that wall – and music revealed itself as music, not plodding notes. To be sure, immense credit goes to Joshua Bell – schizandra doesn’t dance with just any musician. But I had heard excellent musicians before, including Joshua Bell, my husband being a music enthusiast, with little reaction. Even the memory of this music is so vivid, it plays in my mind “in stereo” with such accuracy, it sometimes interferes with meditation attempts.

Now I scheme and plot to hear Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk (pianist) in person along with other music performers. Let’s hope I am not neglecting my garden chasing around classical stars all over this summer…..though wouldn’t there be a nursery on the way?  Thanks schizandra!

                     by  Rumi

                     All day and night, music,
                     a quiet, bright
                     reedsong. If it
                     fades, we fade.