Waterwise Edibles

| April 3, 2016 | 0 Comments
Rosemary can even spill over on a wall to make a decorative statement. Photo courtesy of Nan Sterman

Rosemary can even spill over on a wall to make a decorative statement. Photo courtesy of Nan Sterman

Nan Sterman, February’s Garden Club speaker, wears many hats. She is an author; host, co-producer and co-writer of a television show about San Diego County gardens and habitats; and she has served on several garden-related boards including the San Diego district of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers of which she is a founding member. Nan designs gardens and leads international garden tours as well’

Sterman’s presentation covered a variety of topics relating to sustainable edible plants: a description of our Mediterranean climate; various water-thrifty food producing plants; and when, where, and how to plant and maintain your garden.

She began explaining that there are five Mediterranean climate regions of the world, all located between 30 and 45 degrees north and south of the equator. Of these, two are found in the northern hemisphere: California and Mediterranean Europe. In the southern hemisphere this climate pattern is found along the west coast of Chile, South Africa, and the western and southwestern coasts of Australia.

A Mediterranean climate is dry over the summer with most rainfall in fall and winter and occasionally spring. In these regions, plants adapt to summer drought in a number of ways. One is going dormant in summer. In these regions leaves tend to be narrow and small to slow evaporation. Because native plants usually have small leaves, even when they drop, there is not enough leaf substance to accumulate organic matter. Thus our soils are, for the most part, lean. In colder climates with greater rainfall, deciduous trees grow many broad leaves that, when they drop, creating a rich mulch to provide nutrients to the soil.

Before expounding on which plants are “waterwise,” Sterman advised, “If you are going to spend water, spend it on something that’s going to feed you.” She showed us several examples, beginning with various trees. Nan likes to keep her food-producing trees short so the produce is more easily accessible. I agree, especially if you dislike ladders and are short yourself. She went on to explain that established figs and olives not only survive with limited watering, they also provide beauty and delicious fruit. Olives can be cured and eaten, or their oil can be used in dressings, flavoring food, or as a fat to keep food from sticking to a hot pan. Another drought tolerant tree is the persimmon. It is essential that you prune it when it is young. Sterman also likes loquats despite their messiness. She says they are easy to grow.

From trees Sterman moved on to shrubs. Pomegranates are wonderful, she says. They can be trees but are best as shrubs. They are more attractive when pruned, but unlike stone fruits and apples, they do not require pruning. Next she spoke about various varieties of guava are useful as both a screen and a food source. The pineapple guava harvests itself. Only the ripe ones fall from the tree.

Other water-wise plants such as vines, perennials, and even succulents can produce food. Grape vines can be so prolific that they require a very sturdy trellis to support their weight. Food producing perennials such as artichokes and capers are interesting to look at. Artichokes are delicious; their flowers are beautiful and unusual. You have to choose between flowers or chokes. The choke is the bud for the flower, so you cannot have both! Capers can grow in a large container with some shade. Even a few herbs thrive with a minimum of water. Oregano, thyme, marjoram bay leaves and rosemary are some. Thyme makes a good ground cover whereas rosemary can even spill over on a wall.

Whatever you choose to grow, you must consider many factors. Sterman advocates purchasing small plants, but she says, “Match mature plant size with the space available.” In other words, leave room for the plant to grow. From fall through spring is the optimum planting time. Don’t forget to pay attention to drainage; excess water can cause root rot. Group plants according to water needs, soil needs, and your aesthetic sense. If you or your neighbors have gophers, cages around the roots provide protection. These gopher baskets form a barrier around the root ball. As the roots grow, they will extend past the wire mesh; as long as the crown of the plant is protected, the plant will survive some gopher nibbles.

Young plants need frequent watering the first and second years of life. Obviously rainfall dictates frequency of watering. A good water meter is your finger, Sterman told me. She also feels strongly that in-line drip irrigation is the only watering system to use as it gives the most efficient delivery of water. Mulch prevents evaporation and enriches soils; Sterman uses a great deal of it. Mulch saves money on water and fertilizer. Nan uses very little of the latter.

She advocates patience with your garden. Like most creatures, no plant will reproduce until it is mature. Trees may need several years to mature enough to fruit. Flowers and fruit are part of its reproductive system. “Give them time,” Sterman advised.

Sterman spent a little time talking about disease. She had several strategies for dealing with them. One is to always use clean tools to avoid passing disease from one plant to the next. Another is to remove a badly diseased plant.

We enjoyed learning about growing food in San Diego. From Sterman’s perspective, “We just need to grow the fruits that are well matched to our climate.” She made gardening sound much easier than it probably is.

On April 7, 2016 Blaine Tiongson will show us how to turn bland pots into artful creations. The meeting will be from 6 until 8 p.m. at the church at 4070 Jackdaw between Fort Stockton and West Lewis. Members are free; guests pay $10. The guest fee applies to your membership fee if you join the night of the meeting.

Don’t forget to buy your tickets for the Garden Walk May 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Mission Hills Nursery.

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About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.