The weeds at LA Green Grounds may have thought they had us beat, but the weeding party on a recent Saturday let them know they were wrong.
Weeds had proliferated on the berm at the south edge of the farm and all around our orchard. And plenty of other spots, too. For a few weeks now, Garden Keepers have been pulling them whenever they could. But a whole group took them on and dug out heaps of weeds, which Chad crammed into two trash containers and several bags.
Many thanks to Veronica, Gordon, Suzanne, Chad, Naba, Catherine and Florence. A special "Shout Out" to Mr. Forte, a 93 year-old long-time Good Earth Community Garden member who grubbed out those weeds with a hand mattock, and had previously weed-whacked a bunch of unsightly and vigorous weeds in "No Man's Land" near our LAGG teaching garden. Also, thanks to Jay, whose guitar playing helped keep everyone in tune. And finally to the ice cream vendor whose paletas de Michoacan eased the effort for everyone, with flavors including coconut, walnut, jamaica, guanabana, strawberry, coffee and mango.
Contributor: Garden Keeper Mary M.
It’s easy to take for granted the plants that grow in abundance without much human work, but a new set of eyes often can see those plants in a new way. So it went with the LA Green Grounds patches of New Zealand spinach.
New Zealand spinach is not native to this continent, but comes from New Zealand and Australia, South America and some Pacific islands. It’s drought-tolerant and often used as an edible landscape plant because it forms a lush green carpet.
One of our LAGG Garden Keepers, Veronica Anderson, took some home from LA Green Grounds to try. She found this website that's full of New Zealand spinach recipes: http://recipesfortom.blogspot.com/2012/09/tsuruna-new-zealand-spinach.html. Thanks, Veronica! It’s also good steamed or stir-fried with a bit of olive oil, garlic and salt; and on pasta or pizza. Some people eat it raw.
While it’s not actually a spinach, the taste is similar, especially when cooked. It’s high in vitamins A and C and a good source of calcium.
The famous Capt. Cook took New Zealand spinach onto one of his ships, where people ate it to prevent scurvy; and Sir Joseph Banks, an explorer and botanist, introduced it to England in 1772.
The plant is a halophyte, meaning it is salt-tolerant. It likes heat, and seems unaffected by most pests. If you plant it, give it room to spread.
~ Contributed by LAGG Garden Keeper Mary M.
These lovely orange flowers have become a not uncommon sight in salads, in part because they're a beautiful contrast to lettuces and in part because they're delicious -- a little sweet and peppery. They're Nasturtium flowers, and they grow freely in gardens and in uncultivated places, bringing color and liveliness as they climb the sides of buildings, fences, slopes and in many spots at LA Green Grounds. But many people don't know that the rest of the plant is edible, too. The stems and leaves can go in a stir-fry, and the seed pods can be pickled like capers or tossed into salads. LA Green Grounds volunteer Kat shows various ways she cooked the plant in these pictures.
When you think of the food that grows at LA Green Grounds, you easily might think green. Green beans, green zucchini, green peppers. But these days, you’ll find some delicious purple vegetables thriving among, yes, all sorts of green.
The kohlrabi, mizuna and purple mustard are all delicious. The mizuna and mustard are harvest by individual leaf, rather than taking the whole plant. And unless you are feeding a crowd -- something few of us are doing these days -- you don’t need many leaves for a meal.
“Pruning is an art,” says Florence Nishida, the founder of LA Green Grounds.
And a daunting one at that.
Fruit trees are pruned in their dormant stage, and several needed winter pruning at the garden, including the fig, stone fruit and pomegranate trees. So, with attention to Covid-19 social distancing, three people gathered with Florence to do some pruning.
Pruning is done to keep a tree at a particular size, to keep the tree healthy and to ensure bountiful fruit. And that’s just the start. Particular branches should be cut – as Florence noted, the three Ds: dead, deranged and diseased branches. And the cuts need to be made in particular ways. For instance, cuts should be made cleanly, just above a node of new growth.
It’s important to learn from someone who knows how to prune, or to hire an experienced person. If you want to learn more, we recommend taking a look at a book called, reasonably enough, How to Prune Fruit Trees, by R. Sanford Martin. It’s a small book, originally published in 1944, and covers dozens of varieties.
LA Green Grounds is blooming as the new year begins. Everywhere you look there are flowers, frequently with bees or hummingbirds feasting on them. The white and purple fava flowers that soon will yield delicious beans, the marigolds that were planted into the garden after the holiday of Dia de los Meurtos, the vibrant pigeon pea bushes and so many more. Come by, take a look, but of course wear a mask and make sure there are not many people around.
The summer squash plants at LA Green Grounds spread on the ground, with a couple of zucchinis growing unnoticed till they were nearly the size of a hefty baguette. So it's understandable that the long green fruit on a nearby vine seemed like just another sort of squash.
Ah, but it wasn't. We've produced our first luffah (or loofah), and on the vine they look quite a bit like summer squash. But it’s another story once harvested.
"It was a lot of fun, peeling back the skin and voila, there was a sponge!" said Florence Nishida, the garden founder.
Luffah is in the gourd family, and can be eaten if cut when it’s young and abut 6 inches long. But leave the fruit to mature, which can mean two feet long, and you’ve got a bathtub accessory. It’s a scruffy sponge, often used to exfoliate the skin. Make sure to rinse it and dry it out after use to keep it free of bacteria.
Let the luffah dry out in the sun before using it. You can save the seeds for next season.
- Contributed by LAGG Garden Keeper Mary M.
I'm not sure why the usually dark-red-skinned Japanese sweet potato that we planted in the LAGG Teaching Garden grew to be light-colored potatoes, but their taste was great! It is also known as satsumaimo.
I finally baked mine last night.
We pulled them about three weeks ago.
Remember: sweet potatoes should be allowed to cure for at least two weeks after harvested. Don't wash the skin or scrub it hard to remove soil. The skin is very tender for a few weeks. To keep them in storage to cure without drying out, wrap each in two layers of newspaper, or a paper bag might work.
When ready, wash the skin well. Scrub lightly.
Bake in oven at 350 degrees until you can smell it cooking. Depending on the size and thickness, this is about 30 to 45 minutes. Squeeze it (through a pot holder, or use a fork) and remove from the oven when tender. Try not to over cook.
To serve, slice in half and add a bit of butter and eat hot. Delicious.
- Florence Nishida/Master Gardener & LAGG Founder