Spring Garden Meanderings

Yesterday & Today I recovered much of the space where I’ve had a bunch of Garden Squares. 4 x 4 foot dirt blocks with 2 foot wide cement paver paths all between them. Since my last contract in Florida, several years back, I’d basically ignored most of it. Last year I had only 4 squares out of about 16 in use. Along the way, Bermuda Grass overran many of them, and a California Bay Laurel tree grew up (2 of them actually). I’ve posted about the trees.

Well it had gotten rather large. About a 8 inch stem down low. At least 20 feet high. Today I cut it down to a stump (and strongly thinned the little one that it shaded out). Now I can set about recovering the 6 or so squares it made unusable.

So now I’ve got a lot of work to do trying to extirpate Bermuda grass all over the place, turn over dirt that hasn’t been turned in a few years, and do some various stump removal things. Oh, and a big pile of limbs, trunk bits, leaves, etc. But at least now I can see the dirt and the raised strips of Bermuda Grass where there are cement pavers down there somewhere…

I also got out and set up my small pile of pots. So far this year the Garden is 3 Hydroponic Trays, one “bag o’ dirt” lettuce operation (like last year) and about a dozen large pots. We’re talking 5 to 10 gallon sized. 20 to 40 litres. And a few dozen quart sized starter pots. Also a few rectangular “window box” type planters.

I’ve planted a load of lettuce, some radishes (already ate a few ;-), leaf beat (a meal already from the overwintered plants), beans, yams, peas, celery, overwintered carrots, and some squashes. I’ve also started some garlic, onions, beets, and chard. The beans and squash were started in too many kinds. Planted out now into the big pots (from little starting pots) due to my dealing with the tree instead of turning over dirt and prepping squares. So a container garden for now. Lot of containers…

Along the way I discovered a couple of interesting factoids. As, this year, I’m less interested in playing and experimenting with seed saving and types, more interested in edible production; part of my interest has been “What works best for very fast food in a spring emergency garden?”.

Well, first harvest was actually from last year’s overwintered plants. Carrots, Lutz Perpetual Spinach Beat (like small chard leaves), and Green Onions (that survived, ignored, in a hydroponic tub in the back yard). Next up was spring radishes. I tried the “Famine Food” of the leaves. Nice though a bit bland and with some small prickly bits on the leaves that feel weird but didn’t interfere with eating them.

So first lessons learned:

1) Having overwintered roots, and a winter crop if possible, is really really important in a survival garden. Next year I’m going to assure that gets done more fully. We’re talking Russian Kale, Fava Beans, Turnips / Rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, etc.

2) I want to explore some of the more unusual radishes to see if their leaves are less prickly. Black Spanish (grows will in winter here, though hot and spicy), Daikon, etc. I also want to try cooking some radish roots (reported to cut the hotness that’s an issue for Black Spanish) and seeing how the leaves do stir fried.

3) LEAVES of things are up way earlier than anything else. Spring Greens will come on before any other crop. I have started a few dozen peas in small pots. ALL of them have enough greens up top to make a decent stir fry or pot herb. It will be weeks before I see any peas. In a real AwShit, you want to have an over-planting of early vegetables with edible leaves, then the “thinnings” become lunch.

That, then, led to a bit of exploration of just what leaves ARE edible. Turns out it’s a whole lot of them. Essentially all the Brassicas. Both the overwintered roots (turnips, rutabagas, etc.) and the spring planted (cabbages, choy, broccoli, cauliflower) and then there’s the weather hardy leaves of kale, collards, beets / chard, onions. Many (most? All?) of the legumes. Lentils, peas, cowpeas / asparagus bean / yard long bean, fava beans. Even Lima beans if cooked. Sweet potatoes have edible leaves too. You can find more here in a searchable database for plants:


I’ve never done much with sweet potatoes. Did grow a small one once just to get familiar with it. It was not for production but in a Darwin’s Garden ™ kind of way. Hard dirt, poorly tended, cooler shaded spot. Did better than expected. These are warm season long day plants and I was deliberately not catering to it. This year it is in a big black pot in full sun. I’m hoping to get some decent production so I can report on how edible / tasty are sweet potato leaves. They would not be early crop here as our winters are too cold; but I’m pretty sure they would love it indoors, hydroponic, with grow lights. Here’s a recipe:


Sweet Potato Leaves Recipe: Contains more Antioxidants than Spinach

Posted by Urban Garden Chef

In much of Asia, dishes with sweet potato leaves are common, but it hasn’t gained as much popularity in the U.S. If you like spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and kale for their nutritional value, you should love sweet potato leaves. This uncommon but highly nutritious leafy green contain more antioxidants compared to spinach. Antioxidants are compounds that are disease preventing and health promoting. Click on the link or scroll down to check out my sweet potato leaves recipe!
From Garden to Table

Coming from a Filipino background, I grew up eating sweet potato leaves (talbos ng kamote) regularly for breakfast. In virtually every Filipino household with a garden plot, it’s a sure bet that you’ll find sweet potatoes flourishing. I planted my first sweet potato patch three months ago. I started with a few cuttings from my dad’s garden. When I get a craving for Filipino breakfast, I simply go to my backyard and harvest sweet potato leaves.

The way you cook them is basically like any other greens. Boiled pot herb or stir fried.

Sweet Potato Leaves Preparation

Sweet potato leaves can be prepared as a vegetable, tea, in noodles, bread, pastries, and supplements. It can be cooked in a similar fashion as other greens including spinach and cabbage. It can be sautéed with garlic or stir-fried with other vegetables. Other food companies utilize the dry powder for juice, paste, and ice cream. The simplest way I know to prepare it is by blanching it in hot water. This method is also great for preserving the leafy green’s nutrients.

So I’m going to try container gardening sweet potatoes for early greens as well as some tubers.

Moving on to beans…

The Cowpea (or southern pea or black-eye pea or…) in in the same tribe as vetch, fava beans, lentils and the regular pea. The vetch group has some that humans can eat, but some that we can’t (but cows can!). Mostly we care about lentils, fava beans (broad beans), peas, and cowpeas. All of them have edible greens For the other beans (common, runner) their leaves are also edible. Similar pot herb treatment (boil & flavour) or stir fry. Some taste nice enough for salads (peas!) The Lima bean has edible leaves too, but given their character (the bean has some cyanide in it that requires cooking to remove / destroy) I think I’d only eat them cooked too.

Here I’ve grown fava beans over winter, peas in spring, common beans and runner beans in summer / fall and lima beans mid summer when hot. This year I’ve started some early Lima beans. The first batch has the seeds rot from too cold a soil when I first set them out. The second batch did better and was planted on today. The early peas were just fine with cold soil at night. So, for California at least, I can get various legume greens year round. Similarly, I’d wager I can find some beans that are very happy in an indoor hydroponics grow in the dead of winter anywhere. Greens can have very high protein, minerals, and vitamin levels. They tend to be low in starches, sugars, and fats (but that’s just fine with me ;-)


This year has been wonderful in terms of trying new vegetables! Thanks to the wonderful farmers at Loam Agronomics I got to try Cow peas and this week’s CSA box is going to have Cow pea greens. I was so fortunate to try some out last night. Of course first I tasted them raw, they tasted somewhere between a spinach and a collard green to me. I could probably eat them raw in a salad, specially with an amazing dressing. But I decided to pair them with a roasted Delicata squash in this dish and wanted somewhat of a sautéed greens as the base.


Growing Fava Greens: Eating The Tops Of Broad Beans Beans By: Amy Grant Printer Friendly Version Image by Nenov Fava beans (Vica faba), also referred to as broad beans, are delicious large beans in the family Fabaceae, or pea family. Like other peas or beans, fava beans impart nitrogen into the soil as they grow and as they decompose. The beans are a staple ingredient in many cuisines but what about the fava greens? Are broad bean leaves edible?
Eating the Tops of Broad Beans Fava beans are cool season veggies that are extremely versatile. Generally, they are grown as storage beans. The pods are allowed to mature until the shell turns hard and brown. The seeds are then dried and stored for later use. But they can also be harvested young when the entire pod is tender and can be eaten, or somewhere in between when the pods can be shelled and the beans cooked fresh. The leaves are best when harvested young and tender where the new leaves and blossoms are emerging at the top of the plant. Snip off the top 4-5 inches (10-13 cm.) of the plant for use in salads, much like young spinach leaves. If you wish to cook the fava greens, use the lower leaves and cook them as you would other greens. The tender young leaves from the top of the plant are sweet with a slight buttery, earthy taste. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and are excellent made into a fava green pesto. The older greens can be sautéed or wilted as you would spinach and used exactly the same way in egg dishes, pastas or just as a side dish.

Now think about just how many leaves are on a garden full of bean plants. All that is food and we mostly all just throw it away.

I had a mountain of Scarlet Runner Beans one year. When picking the beans, I’d pick some leaves to feed the bunnies. They loved it, so one day I tried munching on one. Not too bad. Cooked as a pot herb they are a bit bland, so I’d likely go with stir fry or some added flavourings. Still, if you are trying to get The Most Possible food out of limited space, consider planting an excess of beans and having some of them as greens.

Cowpeas, like common beans, can be used as a dry bean / pea or used as a “green bean”. In the USA we mostly eat them as dry Southern Peas. In Asian cooking, the “yard long beans” are the same family, and usually cooked stir fried.


Has them cooked in a sauté with onions and tomatoes in olive oil.

So this year I’ve planted some cowpeas / yard long beans and I’m going to try some of the leaves and as a green bean too.

So you can choose a bean / pea to suit your local climate and have a lot of choices. Favas and peas are more cold tolerant. Common beans and runners intermediate. Cowpeas / Asparagus beans / yard long beans are more heat loving. Or you could just start some lentils in a pot under a grow light indoors and have a “mess ‘o greens” in no time ;-)

Beets have edible roots, but the leaves are essentially the same as chard. (Or chard is a beet without a bulbous root). Rutabagas have big edible leaves that most folks throw away. Why makes no sense to me, they are better than Kale IMHO. I’ve eaten the leaves and stems from around a head of cauliflower. It was very nice.

When you look into it a little bit, all sorts of things are edible and even tasty and we largely ignore them or just throw those parts away. Leaves on celery make great additions to soups. I’ve known folks who chop them off and toss them. Oh Well.

For more on what all in the world is really edible, see:


Do note that some leaves are not edible, or are even downright poisonous. Rhubarb leaves are very high in oxalic acid and not for eating. Tomato and regular potato leaves are high in solanine and toxic. Hyacinth bean, that we normally think of as an ornamental, is eaten in Africa, but with long cooking:


Uses in Cooking and a Warning

Hyacinth Bean Vine produces edible leaves, roots, seeds, flower, and pods. Immature, tender pods have a floury, chestnut-like flavor but the flavor is much stronger than the common green bean.

They can be stir-fried or blanched and used in salads or coleslaw like green beans, the purple color disappears with cooking. You can also use the dried beans as shelly beans, but keep in mind the following warning.

Important Note: Uncooked seeds are poisonous as they contain high concentrations of cyanogenic glucosides. They can cause breathing problems, vomiting problems, and convulsions. They need to be boiled for a long time, changing the water twice, to make them edible. Better to leave the cooking to someone experienced with them and save your seed for planting.

So watch the mature beans, but leaves and young pods are OK.


So, what’s the catch? There is one: Mature and dry beans have got a high amount of cyanogenic glycosides in them. Not good for you. Mature or dry beans must not be eaten raw. They have to be cooked. That means boiling soft raw mature beans or roasting as heat drives away the toxin. If they have dried — read they are hard — that means soaking overnight then boiling them a long time in a lot of water. Or, boil unsoaked dry beans in a lot of water twice. Actually, that is what one often has to so with many dried beans. And the older any bean is the longer you have to cook it.
Thus the Hyacinth Bean, aka Bonavista Bean, is suitable for the herb pot or the bean pot. Here’s another reason why: The leaves are more than 28% protein, 12% fiber, 7% minerals and 7% fat, eaten freshed or dried. They are an excellent source of iron and magnesium as well as a good source of phosphorus, zinc, copper, and thiamin. Beyond that, sprouts are edible and the cooked root is full of edible starch. You can even ferment the beans as with soy or make tofu. See recipes below.

For some beans, the leaves are safer than the bean!

So be careful with odd beans… Then again, Lima Beans have cyanogenic compounds too, just less, and a few kidney beans if undercooked can give a heck of a tummy ache.

So if you grow some odd plant, or just don’t know, look it up in one of the online databases first. But common garden variety beans? Good to go for table and kitchen.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in cooking, Emergency Preparation and Risks, Plants - Seeds - Gardening and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Spring Garden Meanderings

  1. Ralph B says:

    My wife is from the Philippines. We have some sweet potatoes growing right now in our basement (still frost risk here). They are the purplish Japanese style sweet potato not the standard orange type grown here. One thing she likes to eat is morning glory leaves, I am not sure if it’s the same as our morning glory though. I never tried them (the seeds) but I heard the seeds are hallucinogenic.

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ralph B.:

    Sweet potatoes are in the morning glory family.


    And for some of them, it is an obligate fugus making the psychoactive bits:

    The leaves and starchy, tuberous roots of some species are used as foodstuffs (e.g. sweet potato and water spinach), and the seeds are exploited for their medicinal value as purgatives. Some species contain ergoline alkaloids that are likely responsible for the use of these species as ingredients in psychedelic drugs (e.g. ololiuhqui). The presence of ergolines in some species of this family is due to infection by fungi related to the ergot fungi of the genus Claviceps. A recent study of Convolvulaceae species, Ipomoea asarifolia, and its associated fungi showed the presence of a fungus, identified by DNA sequencing of 18s and ITS ribosomal DNA and phylogenetic analysis to be closely related to fungi in the family Clavicipitaceae, was always associated with the presence of ergoline alkaloids in the plant. The identified fungus appears to be a seed-transmitted, obligate biotroph growing epiphytically on its host.[1] This finding strongly suggests the unique presence of ergoline alkaloids in some species of the family Convolvulaceae is due to symbiosis with clavicipitaceous fungi. Moreover, another group of compounds, loline alkaloids, commonly produced by some members of the clavicipitaceous fungi (genus Neotyphodium), has been identified in a convolvulaceous species, but the origin of the loline alkaloids in this species is unknown

    Interesting… not only is the parasitic weed Dodder in that group, but so is dichondra. I guess maybe I can eat my lawn? :-)

  3. cdquarles says:

    Honeysuckles are blooming here and the sweet scent is everywhere. I’ve never eaten their leaves, but their nectar is delicious. You do have to fight the honeybees to get it ;).

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    Interesting. Looks like honeysuckle has a variety of edible and poisonous species & parts:


    The honeysuckle family is iffy for foragers. It has edible members and toxic members, edible parts, toxic parts, and they mix and match. Some are tasty, some can stop your heart. So you really have to make sure of which one you have and which part is usable and how.

    On the top of the common list is the Japanese Honeysuckle. It is the honeysuckle kids grew up with, picking the flowers for a taste of sweetness. Young leaves are edible boiled. In my native state of Maine there is the L. villosa, the Waterberry, some times called the Mountain Fly Honeysuckle, with edible berries. It is also sometimes mistakenly called L. caerulea (which is European.) Let me see if I can clear that up: If it refers to L. caerulea as edible it is usually L. villosa which is actually being identified (Waterberry.) If it is L. caerulea and toxic it is usually the L. caerulea in Europe that is being referred to. How the L. villosa in North America got referred to as L. caerulea is anyone’s guess. Anyway, the Waterberry berries are quite edible.

    Among the edible are: L. affinis, flowers and fruit; L. angustifolia, fruit; L. caprifolium, fruit, flowers to flavor tea; L. chrysantha, fruit; L. ciliosa, fruit, nectar; L. hispidula, fruit; L. involucrata, fruit; L. kamtchatica, fruit; L. Japonica, boiled leaves, nectar; L. periclymenum, nectar; L. utahensis, fruit; L. villosa, fruit; L. villosa solonis, fruit;

    Among those that might be edible or come with a warning of try carefully are: L. canadensis, fruit; L. Henryi, flowers, leaves stems; L. venulosa, fruit.

    There are about 180 species of honeysuckle, most native to the northern hemisphere. The greatest number of species is in China with over 100. North America and Europe have only about 20 native species each, and the ones in Europe are usually toxic. Taste is not a measure of toxicity. Some Lonicera have delicious berries that are quite toxic and some have unpalatable berries that are not toxic at all. This is one plant on which taste is not a measure of edibility. Properly identify the species.

    FWIW, just picked (and ate) 1/2 dozen radishes. Decided to try cooking the greens. Just boiled.

    The slight prickle to the leaves is gone. They are like bland spinach. Faint radish smell. The stems a bit fibrous, but not enough to bother me. Buttered and salted, nice enough. I’d not hunt them out for eating, but I’ll be tossing a lot less on the compost heap…

  5. Bill In Oz says:

    E M Nice post. Good to read about your garden and what you are sowing…Here we are in Autumn tho’ it feels colder..More like an early cold Winter… Maybe the Global warming goddess got scared of by the CCP virus ?

    I too am gardening, putting in garlic, peas, broad beans, brasicas, etc.. The tomatoes and capsicums are gradually withering from the cold. But the 4-5 varieties of sweet potato are powering along still, covering ground. I think there is a good crop underneath all that foliage.. And my lady is eating the cooked leaves just like the Filipino guy you posted about.

    I hope it’s a great season for you in the garden !

  6. Paul, Somerset says:

    Radish tops “are strikingly more nutritious than the radish roots. The greens have significantly higher amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A precursors, iron, and calcium as well as a robust antioxidant profile from flavonoids.”

    The solution to the prickly leaves problem is simply to harvest them before they turn prickly, in which case they are lovely to eat raw. Simply treat the greens themselves as the crop, and harvest accordingly. From a nutritional point of view, the root is actually only a flavourful bonus to the main point of growing the plant.

    By the way, with carrots those vast, bushy green tops are fine as a pot herb – a little bitter, but with a nice, um, carrot-y taste too.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    @Bill In Oz:

    As a native Californian, my impression of Australia was “California on a continental scale” but with a UK cultural underlayment instead of Spanish. Toss in New Zealand for the Sierra Nevada mountains ;-)

    IMHO our gardens will be handled very similarly, just 6 mos. out of sync.

    I didn’t make it to the northern more tropical part, but San Diego grows banana trees ;-) so maybe similar.


    I think I’m going to be eating a lot more “variety greens”.

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    I think I found the reason Lina beans have been scarce. Reaching back to 2014 and production then:

    Click to access 204221.pdf

    The pdf doesn’t want to let me copy / paste and I’m too lazy right now for my bypass work, so I’m going to paraphrase.

    California grows Limas for dry and some canning. Acerage has been dropping as land vslues rise and higher value crops take over. Grown in southen Sacramento valley / northern San Joaqine valley. (Central area of The Great Valley).

    Well, that area is where I’ve seen big acreage gains for wine grapes on west valley side along I-5. The report talks about coastal land conversion to grapes. That spilled over into the central valley.

    Furthermore, on much of the rest of that central valley area, the water was withdrawn to be flushed out to sea for the Delta Smelt. A stupid thing as the smelt is being out competed by the Japanese Smelt imported by the Department Of Fish & Game who didn’t realize they were a different sub species..

    So I’m not getting my Lima Beans because California is being stupid about water and the rest of the world want more wine days.

  9. chiff says:

    I can’t plant sweet potatoes anymore as the deer here will knock down fences to get to the leaves. I use to bring sweet potato leaves, kale, carrots and onions to a boil then let them simmer until the carrots were softened. Emulsify them in a blender then add to a tomato sauce. It was the only way I could get veggies into my kids. Plus it thickens the sauce so no paste is needed.

  10. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, you could always try indoors growing. A 10 gallon pot with grow light ought to work nicely. Plus year round growing.

    @Fast Crop topic:

    About a week or 2 ago I bought 4 little rutabagas from whole foods. Left in the plastic bag, they started to sprout again. I’ve done this before, btw. Today I planted them out into a planter box of potting soil. In a couple of weeks they will start making lots of greens.

    Eventually they will go to seed and you can save the pods for a new crop. Until then, lots of greens.

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