21 July 2013

edible ecosystem

Creating an edible ecosystem is what permaculture is all about, looking for ways to layer in more life, more food, and fewer tasks for the gardener. When Christopher Shein came to City College this week to introduce his engaging new book "The Vegetable Gardener's Guide to Permaculture" I was grateful to be there with my friends Dorothea and Ellie.

I was reminded that the leaves and shoots of Chayote squash are edible. First introduced to this idea at a Hanoi restaurant where sauteed pumpkin leaves were on the menu, I had forgotten that these vital fuzzy greens are delicious! Chayote is a vigorous grower that will overrun anything in its path. Trimming is essential, and these tender early parts will soon be on our dinner table.

We talked about climbing Malabar spinach that produces year-round in coastal San Diego. Lucky us, to have the leaves of such a beautiful vine to add to salads. It has a slippery texture and tart flavor more like purslane than spinach. I've only eaten it raw. It may taste more like spinach when steamed.

From the garden at Merritt College in Oakland, Christopher shared seed for collards, chard and the Mimosa tree. I've planted them all. My Aunt Pat had a pink-flowered "silk tree" in her front yard when I was little. It's a nitrogen fixer that improves the soil as it spreads a broad canopy, but lets through enough filtered light that lots of food can grow under the Mimosa shelter. We do need some leafy cover to buffer the bright Southern California sunshine. Now to find the right place for it...

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