Brandies: An edible garden can feed the entire family
Gardeners are planting more edibles than ever before. That's certainly true of Jared and Tanja Vidovic. The couple has only been gardening for three years, but their garden is better than any grocery store. Homegrown food is fresher, tastier and more nutritious than anything you can buy, they say. And growing it is a great adventure for them and their daughter, Kalina. Tanja especially likes having salads with 20 different kinds of greens. They make the most of both common and rare fruits: papayas, moringa and chaya trees, as well as oranges, lemons, grapefruit, mangos, avocados, pineapple and at least 16 more.No one enjoys the garden more than Kalina. She flits around barefoot and even at the tender age of 2, she knows what she can eat as she goes and what she must not touch. She sometimes chews on a raw bit of thorn-less cactus pear, though it's mostly used for stir-fry. They have chickens for eggs and bunnies for pets. The Vidovics harvested 50 pounds of sweet potatoes from a 10-by-10-foot pile of wood chips, and two jars of shelled peanuts from two plants. They plan to have a whole row this summer. Tanja also found a collard tree online and got cuttings that rooted pretty easily. She's planting as many perennial vegetables as she can, including asparagus. There are a few varieties that do really well here. They have three. While in season, they harvest 10 to 20 spears a day. Everything possible is recycled in the garden. They have rain barrels. They compost from the kitchen, use cut banana leaves and palm fronds around the garden, and mulch with anything else that will break down and add nutrients. They use chicken and rabbit manure and wood ash from the fire pit. Though they don't drink, all of their friends save bottles for them, which Tanja buries upside down along the edge of the beds as an edging. Even their flowers are edible: violas, Johnny jumpups, spiderworts, nasturtium, citrus flowers, daylily, elderberry blossoms, arugula and mustard blooms. Today's pick ... is the peanut butter fruit, Bunchosia argentea , a small bushy tree with bright yellow flowers that turn into orange-red fruit. The fruit tastes like peanut butter. The fruits can be picked when orange and will ripen indoors. They should be soft before you eat them. The tree likes sun, will take some shade, and should be protected from freezing. It grows quickly and easily from seed. You can find the plants online. Now's the time to ... tell you about the Rare Fruit Council International. Its Tampa chapter meets every second Sunday of the month at 2 p.m., usually at the Tampa Garden Club, 2629 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa. At regular meetings there are free seeds for members, a plant exchange and buffet. The large group includes both beginners and experts who are helpful and friendly. They have a wonderful newsletter worth the yearly dues even if you can't get to meetings.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, author and freelance writer who can be reached at monicabrandies@ yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.