Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Xeriscaping Series Part 2 of 9

Welcome back to another weekly installment of Lost in the Farmer’s Market. Today we cover part two of the Xeriscaping series with a pair of plants you would likely not expect would go together that work in a wide range of the USDA’s hardiness zones. But before we get into that I’d like show you a picture of last week’s harvest.

Clockwise from the lower center: Cayenne Pepper (2), Lemon Drop Pepper (6), Turkish Italian Eggplant (9), Black Beauty Eggplant, Hansel Eggplant (4), Lemon Drop Tomato (11), Sweet 1000s Tomato (10), Red Burgundy Okra, Emerald Okra (2) , Red Currant Tomato (34) and, a single roma tomato in the left-center.

What is a gardener to do with all this organic goodness? Make the largest salad ever?  Nope what I do with the first harvests before August is I make a preserve I call ‘Nightshade Delight’.  Basically all the tomatoes, eggplant and any sweet peppers harvested are cut especially fine, and added to 1 cup of broth per ½ pound of vegetables which is then seasoned with fresh herbs from the garden. The purpose of this is to form a good natural version of bullion for winter soups and other similar recipes.  Below is how I make my ‘Nightshade Delight’, obviously you can substitute your veggies for my express use of the nightshade family.

1. Wash all produce and herbs carefully.
2. Make one cup of broth per ½ pound of vegetables & herbs.
3. Cut all vegetables finely and add to the broth.
4. Cut all herbs very finely and add to broth.
5. Bring to a gentle boil and maintain for 5-10 minutes to prepare for canning.
6. Follow preparation procedures for your preferred form of canning and transfer mixture to jars or cans to appropriate amounts.
7. Make sure to allow mix to cool before you put it away in a cupboard.

It is worthwhile to keep in mind I also harvest my tomatoes at differing ripeness levels to produce different flavors. For instance in the picture most of the red currants are orange or orange-red, they aren’t fully ripe, but they are very tart in this form and add a certain bite to whatever they are used in. Lemon Drop tomatoes are also harvested early for their citrusy bite plus their nutrient levels are somewhat different when not fully ripe. Sweet 1000’S are picked as ripe as is possible for maximum sugar content. The roma tomatoes are picked orange because they break down when cooked and tend to add tomato flavor but also color a soup orange-ish. The eggplants are always picked before they reach full size to reduce the amount of seeds that may be in the fruit. Lastly the peppers are often dried and crushed to use in place of traditional black pepper which does not come from our native climate. The lemon drop peppers are a substitute for lemon-pepper mix and cheyennes are just for good respectable spicy bite. The one thing on the platter that stands out is the Turkish-Italian Eggplant which retains their orange skin despite cooking, in a stir-fry they really stand out, and their flesh remains roughly whitish despite cooking. I can’t wait to see if I’ll have enough to make some sort of eggplant parmesan with them. For those of you out there who bought some of the Turkish Italian from me at the Urban Farm Day please feel free to trade your recipes, I'd like to know what you did with the most orange eggplant on the market. Also stay tuned, striped togo eggplant season is coming soon, I will have recipe suggestions for that and feel free to reply with your ideas.
Now to the topic at hand, the two Xeriscaping plants for today are an excellent set of companions. One plant forms a living mat that most weeds cant penetrate and the other grows tall and shelters the former from receiving too much heat and sun both draw their nutrients from differing levels of the soil and thus do not compete.

The first plant for today is the persimmon which has a exceptional range allowing for specimens to be grown as far north as Zone 5 which covers a significant portion of the northeastern states. This plant is the Persimmon, which is a member of Ebonaceae or the Ebony family  in fact certain species of non-edible fruit bearing persimmon are grown for their dark wood. Three distinct types of persimmon are important to us for the purposes of Xeriscaping and they are the following:

This is D. kaki 'Fuyu' the Japanese persimmon in the test gardens, admittedly I picked it because 'Fuyu' is fun as all heck to say in casual conversation.

Diospyros kaki – Japanese persimmon 7-11
Diospyros virginiana – American Persimmon 5-9
Diospyros texana – Texas Persimmon 7-9

Each one is specialized for a region and set of temperatures with the American persimmon having the most land area naturally covered. In the trade it is most common to find Japanese persimmon because the astringency of the fruit prior to ripening has been bred out. The funny thing about persimmons is that depending on what type you buy they may or may not require a pollinator. When buying a persimmon make sure to verify what the needs of the plant you are buying are. For instance I can verify that the Japanese persimmon variety ‘Fuyu’ definitely does not need second plant for cross-pollination. However after planting it may take a few years to produce any fruit because the buds are produced on old wood and the act of transplanting may shock the plant and cause it to abort fruit buds for a while.

My personal favorite aspect about persimmon is its incredible ability to tolerate periods of drought and its utter lack of care if it is provided subsequent fertilizer. That level of sheer self-sufficiency is some what rare when you’re talking fruit bearing trees. All you have to do is prepare the site, plant it, nurse it for about a year with a little extra irrigation and then it can handle itself barring especially bad weather conditions such as extremely prolonged drought. Even if your persimmon does not bear fruit for the first few years you still get attractive large dark green foliage and a graceful plant that birds will love to perch in with a bird feeder nearby you get a free wildlife show.

 This is a yarrow variety called 'Summer Berry, it's virtually evergreen in the south not the mention the really cool pink blooms that fade to a off-shade of white. This is what it looks like in spring and fall when the color is at it's best!

Now the companion plant of a persimmon tree is the herb Yarrow, which admittedly can become somewhat weed-like in certain climates. For those not familiar Yarrow’s scientific name is Achillea millifolium. As of the last decade or so plant growers have introduced many cultivars and hybrids of yarrow that introduce differing foliage, and some unique flower colors. For the purposes of medicinal-herbal use you want to stick to plain white yarrow. Thankfully pollinators love yarrow no matter what color it is and will visit it repeatedly which in turn means they will visit whatever else is nearby. Fortunately Yarrow tends to attract various species of bees but tends not to attract wasps or hornets which when viewed from the personal safety angle is a good thing. Yarrow is a rosette/crown forming perennial that produces leaves from a central growing point, the leaves generally are produced in a radial pattern allowing for impressive groundcover effects. Yarrow is so good at operating as a ground cover that most weeds have a severely hard time getting through. Once established the original crowns will often produce offsets which further thicken the foliage blanket. Typically yarrow’s foliate will top out at about eight inches to a foot; the flower itself can extend upwards of another foot above the foliage. I might add yarrow may also reseed in lawn areas but most varieties will not tolerate foot traffic or mowing for very long.

How does this relate to the persimmon? Yarrow when grown as a living ground cover under a persimmon will effectively out compete the weeds which means you don’t need to even apply mulch to your persimmon tree after a while. Since Yarrow responds well to fertilizer you can rapidly grow a ground cover that can tolerate the exposure of full sun, drought and is pest and disease free. When it gets out of bounds you can dig up the little plants and move them to other areas so they can either take over and choke out weeds there or give them to friends. Generally once established you can ignore yarrow except for occasional upkeep which makes it an incredible Xeriscaping plant. Put the two plants together and you have a bed that looks like a bed without you the gardener having to do all that much.

The pair look like this when seen together, chalk one up for xeriscaping that defies the standard! The centipede grass nor the weeds can hope to encroach on the persimmon because the yarrow has a mafia-like grip in the triangular bed.

Next week we will have the third installment of the Xeriscaping series detailing another neat plant combination that could work for you. Remember folks to stay hydrated and take periodic rests in the shade during out door activities, having a perfect garden and winding up at the hospital trying achieve it simply isn’t worth it. Also be wary of ground nests, its summer and the wasps out there are a heck of a lot less docile and have the numbers to do some serious damage.

As always folks see you right here next week and Keep ‘em growing!

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