Hardy Banana Plant Information – Survives to Zone 6A

Hardy Banana Plant Information – Survives to Zone 6A

Hardy Banana Plant Information

This post gives Hardy Banana Plant Information including how to grow it, including winterization, and how to propagate this medicinal tropical looking plant.

Hardy Banana Plant Information - Front Banana

Hardy Banana Plant Information – Front Banana

The Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo) is also known as Japanese Banana, and Japanese Fibre Banana and provides a tropical look to any yard.  It is native to southern China and is an herbaceous perennial in permaculture.  I have found conflicting reports on line as to the exact hardiness of the plant.  Some sources say down to zone 6A, others say down to zone 4.

The plant grows up to 12-foot-tall and has leaves that grow to about 6-foot-long and about 18 inches wide.  It produces both male and female flowers in the same cluster.  It grows mini non-edible fruit.  The fruit is only about two inches long.

I planted mine in 2002 in full sun and very sandy soil.  I planted two of the hardy bananas in different areas and they have both done great.  Each arrived in a four-inch pot.  I put them in the ground, mulched them, and watered them for the first year.  After that I have not done much with them.  I have never fertilized them.  You can see from the pictures here that they are quite large.  They are looking a little ragged, but this picture was taken in late October after the oak leaves have already started to fall.

The bananas form a cluster.  The first year I had the one plant in each spot.  The second year I had about three plants sprout up around the first in each spot.  Each subsequent year more bananas sprout up.  I keep them in check just by mowing around the bananas.  If any sprout up in the lawn outside of the mulch, the mower keeps them at bay.

Winterize

For the first 10 years or so I winterized the bananas by putting a 4-foot high fence around them and then filled the fence with fallen oak leaves.  This was easy as I had dozens of oak trees in the yard.  When I did it this way, the stalks would usually survive up to about the 3-foot mark and would start growing from there.  This gave the plants a definite boost in height earlier in the season.

I now just blow the leaves around the banana plants and cut down the stalks to about two foot and use the banana leaves to cover the leaves and prevent them from blowing away.  Usually the stalks die back to the ground level doing it this way, but it takes less time than the old way because I don’t have to put the fence up every year. This year I surrounded one of the banana clusters with bags of leaves to build the leaves in the center of the cluster up higher.  This is shown in the YouTube video below.

Check out our Great Escape Farms YouTube channel to see more videos.

Propagation

Hardy Banana Plant Information - Back Banana

Hardy Banana Plant Information – Back Banana

In researching this variety of banana plant, it appears that the seeds are not viable and do not sprout.  So propagation is done via cuttings.  Online resources state that you take an entire sucker and plant it to form a new banana plant.  This will work.  But I have taken stalks from previous years and cut them to the ground.  I put the old stalks in the back yard to rot and self compost and many of them rooted and formed new plants in this area.  This is certainly something I will be experimenting with in the next year or two.

Medicinal

The roots are diuretic, febrifuge and sialagogue. A decoction is used in the treatment of beriberi, constipation, jaundice, dropsy, restlessness due to heat, leucorrhoea and croton bean poisoning. The leaves are diuretic. *

(Source:healingplantsinfo.com/plants/Musa-basjoo)

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

This post is titled Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review. Wednesday night I watched the DVD “Establishing a Food Forest” which was presented by Geoff Lawton.  This is at least the third time I have watched this 80-minute DVD and every time I watch it I still pick up something new.

Food Forest Definition

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Before I get into the review of the DVD, lets define Food Forest.  On Wikipedia, the term Food Forest re-directs to Forest Gardening.  Here is Wikipedia’s definition of Forest Gardening:

“Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat.”

DVD Overview

The DVD starts out with classroom lecture going over what a food forest is and how to design one.  They go into looking at patterns of existing forests and the layers of a forest.  The layers as described by Geoff are; canopy, understory, shrub, herbaceous, ground cover, vine/climbers, and root yield.  He does go into a few additional layers that are specific to the tropics.

Many of these layers are support species planted for the future end results.  He talks about support species as follows:

  • Ground cover – hundreds of thousands of nitrogen fixers per acre that will only survive for 6 months. This could be clover or other nitrogen fixing ground cover.
  • Herbaceous / bush layer – tens of thousands of nitrogen fixers per acre that will only survive for 4 to 5 years. Examples are certain legumes and peas.
  • Understory layer – thousands of small trees that fix nitrogen that will survive 10 to 15 years.
  • Canopy – hundreds of trees that will go full term.
  • The above are all support species used just to fix the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients and provide mulch through chop and drop. Mixed in with all of the above will be our fruit and nut trees.
  • In the beginning the mix will be 90/10. 90% of mass is support species and 10% is our fruit trees.  As time goes on we end up with 10% of mass is support species and 90% is our fruit trees.  This happens as the fruit trees get larger and the support species die out.
  • The support species is coppiced, pollarded, and chop & dropped. This happens during the wet season, which is when there is more rainfall than evaporation.
Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

Establishing a Food Forest DVD Review

After the classroom portion of the DVD, Geoff goes to the field and plants a food forest into a swale at the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI).  He demonstrates mixing a nitrogen fixing inoculant with some legumes (cowpea and lupin).  He shows a large variety of plants that they are putting in, how to put them in and why.

He then goes back to that same swale after 3 months and gives you a tour, shows the progress and explains what is going on.  He talks about too many grass hoppers not being a grass hopper problem but a deficiency in Turkeys.  He talks about too many slugs/snails not being a slug/snail issue but a deficiency in ducks.  He also demonstrates “feed the forest” by doing some chop and drop.

He shows fungus being the “teeth” of the forest and explains how the fungus is breaking down the dead plant life to feed the living.  He shows how chickens help establish a food forest and also explains how a food forest is low maintenance once established.

He shows a kitchen garden that has over 400 species of plants in it.  He goes on to explain how all of the diversity confuses the pest and how they make climates attractive to predator insects to predate on those confused pests.

My thoughts on this DVD are that it is a wonderful learning resource and I wouldn’t understand why anyone that likes gardening doesn’t want to put in a food forest after watching this DVD.  It is also one of the reasons I put a food forest in last year and will put more in going forward.  It is a wonderful concept and I enjoy the thought of high yield and low maintenance in the future.

Extras

In addition to the 80-minute main feature, there are five clips in the bonus section of the DVD:

  • 30-Year-Old Food Forest – 10-minute video walk through of a 30-year-old food forest in Thailand. Most of the plants in this clip are tropical and likely wouldn’t grow in temperate climate North America.
  • 300-Year-Old Food Forest – a 6-minute video walk through of a 300-year-old food forest in Hanoi.
  • 2000-Year-Old Food Forest – a 4+ minute video walk through of a 2000-year-old food forest in Morocco. This video has many fruits that do grow in North America.
  • Permaculture World Wide – a 4+ minute video about how to grow permaculture plants world wide and how to raise funds to do so.
  • Harvesting Water DVD – This is the trailer for another of Geoff’s videos “Harvesting Water DVD”

About Geoff:

According to Wikipedia: “Geoff Lawton is a permaculture consultant, designer and teacher. Since 1995 he has specialized in permaculture education, design, implementation, system establishment, administration and community development.”

He is Managing Director of The Permaculture Research Institute – www.permaculturenews.org. and is the go-to practicing expert on anything permaculture.

 

To Buy the DVD:

A downloadable copy of the DVD can be bought at:

permaculturenews.org/product-category/digital-downloads/

 

The physical DVD can be bought at:

www.ecofilms.com.au/store/

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Comfrey Plant Information | A Permaculture Wonder-Plant

Comfrey Plant Information | A Permaculture Wonder-Plant

Comfrey Plant Information | A Permaculture Wonder-Plant

This post covers Comfrey Plant Information | A Permaculture Wonder-Plant.  Comfrey, Symphytum, is a perennial herb that grows leaves two to three feet tall and has bell shaped flowers. It is originally from Europe and now grows in temperate climates around the world.  It is a member of the borage family and has a tap root that is ten feet long or longer.  This plant is one of the go to plants for permaculture.

Comfrey Plant Information | A Permaculture Wonder-Plant

Comfrey Plant Information | A Permaculture Wonder-Plant

More Info

Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator meaning that it mines and collects a number of nutrients that other plants can’t get to.  Comfrey does this with a very long tap root by mining nutrients from very deep down that are out of reach for other plants.  The nutrients are then brought up to the top and stored in the leaves.  The leaves are used as fertilizer for other plants and is a high source of nitrogen and potassium.  The potassium is beneficial to any flowering and fruit bearing tree.  Shown in this photograph I have a comfrey plant in the ground next to an apple tree in my back yard.

The Leaves

The leaves grow very large (12”-18” long) and grow directly out of the crown.  Comfrey leaves grow very dense and shade out weeds.  The leaves are hairy and can be a skin irritant to some people. The plant is fast growing, producing huge amounts of leaves that can be harvested 4 to 5 times a year by cutting the leaves about 2 inches above the ground.

Flowers and Seeds

In early summer it produces pink bell shaped flowers (white flowers on some varieties). The plant can become invasive with seed spread.  A cultivar of Russian Comfrey was created in the 1950s that is sterile via the seeds.  This cultivar is very popular in permaculture environments.  It is known as Bocking 14 and is the variety that I have in over a dozen locations on my Pasadena property.  While the seeds are sterile on Bocking 14, the roots spread readily if dug up and replanted elsewhere.  A one to two-inch root will grow a new comfrey plant.  You can get several dozen plants via root cuttings from one original plant.

Comfrey Plant Information | A Permaculture Wonder-Plant

Comfrey Plant Information | A Permaculture Wonder-Plant

Fertilizer

Comfrey makes a wonderful fertilizer, either as an addition to compost or as a comfrey tea.  The tea is made by putting the leaves in a bucket and covering with water for four to five weeks.  I will warn you that this mixture stinks to high heaven.  I made some up this summer near the back door and had to move it far away from the door because of the stench.  It can also help plants just by being planted and left alone.  Tests have proven that nutrients in the soil get a boost just by having comfrey planted.  My guess is it is because the leaves die back each year and the leaves decompose into the ground and deposit the nutrients.  I have at least 1 comfrey plant under each of my fruit trees in Pasadena.  I will do the same at the farm here shortly.

How to Plant

Plant comfrey roots two to eight inches deep.  In clay soil go closer to two inches and in sandy soil go closer to eight inches.

*Comfrey has a long history of medicinal uses.  It has now been banned by the United States FDA for internal consumption.  There are several remedies for topical use dealing with broken bones and wounds.  Years ago the plant was known as knitbone and boneset.  The protein allantoin is what gives comfrey its reputation of healing bonds and wounds. Bocking 14 has the most allantoin of the comfrey varieties.  In looking at WebMD, they still show many uses of comfrey as a medicinal herb.  With the FDA issuing a ban, I’ll say you have to use your own judgment on how to use this plant.  I have only ever used it as a fertilizer for my trees.

Amazon Link

Amazon has Comfrey Bocking 14 for sale at the linked site.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Lavender Plant Care | A Plants You Eat and it’s Pretty

Lavender Plant Care | A Plants You Eat and it’s Pretty

Lavender Plant Care | A Plants You Eat

Lavender Plant Care | A Plants You Eat. Plants you eat and lavender in the same title?  Yep!  Not only is it a pretty perennial plant and a medicinal, but it is an edible plant as well.  I must admit that I have not tried it myself.  I went on a buying spree of edible plants about four years ago and have been adding to the collection each year.  I actually forgot that this one was edible.  I will be giving it a try next year though.

Here are some of the technical specifications of this useful edible plant.  Lavender (Lavandula) has 39 known varieties and falls into the mint family. The leaf shape varies across the different varieties. The first picture below shows the lavender in my garden, which I think is English Lavender. Most plants that I have seen in the mid-Atlantic region look similar.

Lavender Plant Care | A Plants You Eat

Lavender Plant Care | A Plants You Eat

Lavender has purple flower on top of light green stalks. There is a color named for the shade of the flower. English lavender blooms from late spring into early summer. Lavender grows slow and it can take up to three years before it reaches full maturity.

Lavender does best in dry, well-drained sandy soil in full sun. There are perennial and annual varieties. I live in zone 7 and my lavender has survived over winter three years now. English lavender is winter hardy down to zone 5.  Lavender falls into the herbaceous layer in permaculture.

It is used in landscapes, as a culinary herb, in dried flower arrangements, and as an essential oil. I have a lavender plant in my Pasadena, MD garden with the sole purpose to attract beneficial insects. Culinary uses include condiments and are used in desserts, salads and dressings. It can be used in baked goods and pairs well with chocolate.

Lavender Plant Care | A Plants You Eat

Lavender Plant Care | A Plants You Eat

The essential oils are used for fragrance and the oils have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It was used in hospitals during WWI. According to webmd.com it is used for restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, digestive issues, loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, gas, upset stomach, and depression.***

According to the NIH: (www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/838.html#Safety)

“Lavender is LIKELY SAFE for most adults in food amounts. It’s POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth, applied to the skin, or inhaled in medicinal amounts.” The cited NIH article does have several precautions and warnings specifically to children, pregnancy and surgical procedures. Please check the article out for details.

Chicken with Herbes de Provence Recipe:

(Recipe from www.whatscookingamerica.net/Poultry/HerbesDeProvenceChicken.htm)

Recipe Type: Poultry, Chicken
Yields: 4 servings
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 30 min

Ingredients:

4 chicken boneless breast halves (with skin)*
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence**

* Do not remove skin until after baking, as the skin helps to retain moisture in the meat.

** Herbes de Provence – An assortment of dried herbs said to reflect those most commonly used in southern France. The mixture commonly contains basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, summer savory, and thyme.

Preparation:

Place chicken breasts, single layer, into an ungreased 13×9-inch baking dish.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine olive oil and the herbes de Provence together. Pour marinade over chicken breasts. Cover and marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes or refrigerate to marinate longer (turning meat over several times).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake, uncovered, 25 to 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (juices will run clear when cut with the tip of a knife); basting several times during cooking. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

***These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

This post, Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening, provides information on care and edibility of this medicinal wonder plant. The purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea,  is a showy flower that will add color and texture to any flower garden. The flowers are long lasting usually displaying the purple-pink color for the entire summer. I have been growing purple coneflower for fourteen years now and found that they are very hardy, tolerate neglect and drought well and are little affected by any pest pressure.  It is a perfect plant for forest gardening.

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening Purple Cone Flower

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

Purple Coneflower is a perennial flower hardy in USDA zones 3-8 (one site stated zone 2-10) and native to the eastern United States. It has purple daisy like flower heads, blooms from June until September, grows two to three feet tall and prefers full sun. The flowers can be used in wildflower gardens, as cut flowers, and as dried flowers. Cut flowers last seven to ten days in a vase.  The pictures in this post were taken this morning – October 6th and I still have some plants blooming.

They have a vertical stalk with a flower on top. The stalk has leaves on opposite sides of the stalk. The leaves on the stalks are teardrop shape with the narrow end away from the stalk. The leaves can be up to 4” long and 2” wide and are smaller the higher on the stalk they are.

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening Purple Cone Flower

Purple Coneflower Care | Purple Coneflower in Forest Gardening

Dividing the crown into multiple clumps and replanting can propagate purple coneflower. Seeds can be planted as well. The seeds need to be planted in the fall or stratified over the winter (stratified means wetting and putting in a cold environment 35-40 degrees). I seem to have volunteers (self seeded from previous year) every year and just transplant the volunteers when I need some new plants.

In the Maryland area beetles seem to like to eat the petals off at night. This plant attracts bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects like the soldier beetle. I also have one area where a vole or mole eats the roots every year. Somehow the plants survive and come back. In the Mid-Atlantic we have a fair number of gold finches (pretty little yellow birds) and they love to eat the seeds of the coneflowers in August and September. According to multiple sites that I have run across deer tend to leave this plant alone.

According to the USDA, Echinacea is widely used as an herbal remedy. The USDA goes on to say; “A purple coneflower product containing the juice of the fresh aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea was found to make mouse cells 50 -80 percent resistant to influenza, herpes, and vesicular somatitis viruses.” *

(Source: USDA http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_ecpu.pdf)

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Lemon balm plant uses are many.  Lemon Balm, melissa officinalis, is a perennial herb in the mint family that is hardy down to zone 4 or 5 and can be used as a forest garden plant.  It is a native to Europe, central Asia and Iran, but is now naturalized around the world. Lemon Balm has a mild lemon sent that is enhanced if the leaves are bruised or torn. The leaves have a lemon flavor and can be used for culinary uses in sweets and teas. During the summer the plant has small flowers that are great for attracting bees and other beneficial insects.

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Lemon Balm Plant Uses | A Forest Garden Plant

Propagation can be done through seeds that require sunlight to germinate, so press the seeds into the soil surface, but do not cover with soil. The seeds require a minimum of 70 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. Propagation can also be done with softwood cuttings and by digging up “clumps” of the plant while dormant.

I bought my seeds from www.rareseeds.com. You get about 300 seeds for $2.50 (in the 2015 catalog.) I planted Lemon Balm for the first time in 2013. I planted the seeds in my basement under grow lights in March and then moved them out to the garden after the danger of frost had past. I put two plants in a 1×1 square (doing square foot gardening). By the end of 2013 they took up a 2×2 area and that was after being trimmed several times that year. Now in September 2015 I still have those plants growing, coming back every year, and needing to be trimmed back on a regular basis (they are in the mint family, so they spread readily and grow rapidly).

I like the leaves mixed into a tossed salad as that gives it a little extra flavor and zip. I have also added some of the leaves to a smoothie for a little extra zest. I have not tried it yet, but I’ve heard that Lemon Balm is a great addition to herbal teas. It can also be used as garnish for deserts.

Lemon Balm contains 24% Cintronellal with which is one of the main compounds in citronella. It is said that crushed Lemon Balm rubbed on your skin is a repellent to mosquitos.

Lemon Balm is high in flavonoids and can have an antioxidant effect. It also contains Vitamin C and Thiamin (a B Vitamin).

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Lemon Balm was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic).

The University of Maryland Medical Center also posts the following warning regarding all herbs: “The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.” And “Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take lemon balm.”

Disclaimer: This document is for informational and educational purposes only. Great Escape Farms is not recommending, prescribing, or advising the use of any herb for medicinal purposes. Please consult a qualified medical professional for herbal treatments.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melissa_officinalis

https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lemon-balm

The Herb Society of America

Lemon Balm, melissa officinalis, is a great herb and I will continue to grow this at Great Escape Farms.  I plan on using it as a food forest garden plant on the farm.

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