Edible Garden Beds

green and red looseleaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

green and red looseleaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Integration of edible plants into a typical garden bed, as opposed to setting them aside in a vegetable garden, orchard, or berry patch, is an idea whose time has come. Proof of this is as near as your neighborhood nursery, where six-packs consisting of both green and red lettuce are now available. For the uninitiated, a six-pack is a plastic tray that is composed of six small cells in which flower, herb, or vegetable plants are ensconced.
Just like you can find pansies or snapdragons with different colored flowers in the same six-pack, so too, you can now find green and red lettuces together. With proper maintenance, lettuces will persist in fall and winter flower beds as long as pansies and snapdragrons.
Based on their supermarket experience, most people harbor the mistaken impression that harvesting lettuce is necessarily like harvesting tomatoes or apples. That is to say, harvesting lettuce is a “one and done” experience.
Yet a single lettuce plant may be harvested continuously for several months.
“Cut and come again” is a technique where lettuce is harvested by one or both of the following methods: 1) individual leaves are harvested every few days, while most of the growing lettuce leaves are left in the ground; 2) a scissors is used to shear off the tops of growing lettuces. In both cases, plants are very close to each other, so close that you may not be able to see where one plant ends and another begins. In both cases, plants are not allowed to grow more that four or five inches tall before harvesting begins.
Looseleaf and oak leaf – both of which are available in green and red versions — butter leaf (butterhead), and cos (Romaine) lettuces may all be harvested by the cut and come again technique. Crisphead lettuces are better harvested all at once, after they reach full size.
Lettuce seeds germinate as reliably as those of any other vegetable crop. Lettuce seeds have long term viability and they may keep for three years or longer. You can also grow lettuces in any season, although they will do better, during summer, with less than a full day of sun.
In Mar Vista, I visited the garden of Susan Holtz. She is growing a large number of robust looseleaf lettuces as well as some healthy parsley and cilantro. All these leafy crops are growing in excellent, well-drained soil on the north side of her house, where they have access to excellent ambient light.
Cilantro might be the most garden worthy crop you can grow. It does not need much water and has a light and airy foliar presence. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is in the same plant family as other vegetables with feathery foliage such as parsley, carrot, anise, dill, cumin, fennel, and parsnip. You can plant cilantro, which produces coriander seeds, in your salvia garden or with any other sun-loving or drought tolerant perennials. A bonus of growing cilantro is its self-sowing proclivity. If you leave cilantro alone, many of the seeds that it drops will turn into more cilantro until you may have a veritable forest of uniquely pungent-leafed cilantro plants.
I recently saw some specimens from the mustard family (Brassica group) that had been devastated by cabbage loopers and cabbage worms. Brassicas, also referred to as cruciferous vegetables or cole crops, include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard greens, Bok choy, mustard, rutabega, radish, and turnip. They are all attractive to cabbage loopers, which are green larvae that contort into a loop as they amble along, chewing up large holes in Brassica foliage. Cabbage loopers metamorphosize into brown moths whereas cabbage worms are transformed into those familiar white butterflies, often showing a black spot on each wing. The best treatment for biological control of these larval pests involves application of Bacillus thuringiensis, sold as BT or Dipel, a bacterial preparation that lethally infects the gut of the offending larvae. BT should be available at most nurseries and in gardening departments of home improvement centers.
I have a raccoon who is tearing up my grass in the backyard. Every 6 inches there is a divot. How do I get rid of him? Sonia Draper, Chatsworth
A quick Internet search reveals that there are many local companies with experience in trapping raccoons so you might want to contact one of them. There was a time when the county and city animal control officers would come to your home and assist you in trapping nuisance wildlife. That service, however, ended years ago.
In any event, if you are planning to install a koi pond, you should take certain precautions to avoid raccoon problems since these critters are especially attracted to koi. Make the sides of the pond steep since raccoons have no problem wading into sloping ponds and making off with their prey. Use of aquatic plants is also useful since they provide shelter for fish in the event of an encounter with marauding mammals. At night, you can also stretch nylon netting over your pond to protect the fish within. Finally, you can install motion sensors that activate sprinklers or flashing lights when raccoons approach. Make sure to keep all pet food inside since leaving it outdoors is almost a guarantee that you will have raccoon visitors. For more information on raccoons and how to keep them away, visit the web site at www.laanimalservices.com.
Tip of the Week: Paperbark melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia) makes an excellent tall, drought tolerant tall hedge or screen. This tree’s shape is columnar and it has appealingly peeling, spongy bark, which comes off in sheets. Flowers are cream to silver colored, depending on the light. Once established, paperbark is extremely drought tolerant and can withstand cold temperatures as well, being hardy down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Mature trees may grow to a height of 40 feet.

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