Monday, October 12, 2015

A permaculture guru shares his craft

[Press Herald] Gardeners who wants to get the most nutrition out of a piece of property might grow peas, tomatoes and corn. But they also will have to grow – and eat – some things that the average shopper at Hannaford likely has never heard of. Sometimes the problem with a plant is not growing it but figuring out how to prepare it, said Aaron Parker, a landscaper who three years ago opened Edgewood Nursery, specializing in unusual plants, including many suitable for permaculture designs.
Permaculture is a method of design that incorporates principles of natural ecosystems and can help make people and their homes as independent as possible, without using fossil fuels or goods from a great distance away. Food-producing perennial plants, which are planted once and require little care, dominate. The annual vegetables that people are often more familiar with must be planted each year, requiring soil amendments and more tending.
An example of the type of plants Parker advocates is Toona sinensis, also called Chinese toon or Chinese mahogany.
“It’s supposed to be big in Szechuan cuisine, but I don’t know Szechuan cuisine,” he said.
Parker gave me a leaf from the plant. It was substantial, fairly crisp and had a spicy and floral taste, with a hint of onions. It provides a lot of edible leaves with little care, and the wood also can be used for furniture or other projects.
The Herb Society of America said that the shoots as well as the leaves can be eaten and often is used in stir fries and egg dishes. It also is used as an ornamental and can be grown as a single-stem tree or a multi-stemmed shrub. The hardwood can be used much as the more well-known mahogany from South America is used for furniture.
Another plant Parker likes is Hablitzia, or Caucasian spinach, because it produces edible shoots right after the ground thaws, when you aren’t getting anything else in the garden. It can be used anywhere you would use spinach – in salads, pizza, quiche and other dishes.
Crambe maritima, or sea kale, is a good plant, Parker said, because you can use it in so many ways. It has a nice leaf – a more astringent flavor than the Toona – and he uses it like collards. The flower buds are edible, a lot like broccoli. The seed pods look and taste like peas, he said.
Plus, it’s pretty. The sea kale received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit as an ornamental.
While these plants are productive and unusual, Parker said his favorite food crops are fruit trees. He generally urges clients to stay away from apples in the home garden because they attract so many pests, but there are alternatives, from the fairly rare native paw paw tree to the more common peaches and plums. Read More