Southern green shield bug

Short version:

The invasive southern green shield bugs are not benign like the native green shield bug (England). Let them live to the peril of your berries, fruits and beans. This one species comes in many guises. I can only apologise for the blurry photos, especially the microscope lens ones.

I found these newly hatched bugs whilst harvesting beans. What do they look like? Beetles? Ladybirds? Leave them be I may hear some of you say. Don’t you want a gazillion tiny ladybirds that will become voracious eaters of pests?

No… well yes… I do want that. But no. These are not ladybirds. These are Southern green shield bugs, also known as stink bugs. I know they’re definitely NOT ladybirds. I know because ladybirds start off as alien looking nymphs (click here for last week’s post). In fact when I wrote last week’s post I had put some eggs into the bug jar so I could confirm that they were ladybirds. They hatched and this is what they looked like below. Mini ladybird nymphs.

This is an interesting bug for it’s young alone. After hatching it goes through quite a few stages, known as instars before it becomes the recognisable green shield shaped bug. If you hadn’t seen them before, you wouldn’t be the only one to think that the different instars were different bugs. Now the common green shield bug (palomena prasina) adult looks very similar to the southern green shield bug (nezara viridula) except it has a darker patch at the back of the body. I’ve not seen any of them in the garden so I have no photos, but if I did, I would not mind as the common green shield bug isn’t a berry pirate. The southern one though…

This monster only arrived on our shores fairly recently (reportedly 2003). It is thought they hitched a lift on food produce from Africa. The southern green shield bug does a lot of damage. I first came across them about 6 years ago. My cucamelons had funny little bumps on them and it was only when I saw the shield bugs swarming over them (if a dozen constitutes a swarm) and put 2 and 2 together. I hadn’t really minded them in the last 2 years in this new garden, until they treated my blackberries like juice boxes and damaged hundreds of berries. I wouldn’t mind so much if they ate the whole berry. When half of the drupelets have gone this weird white colour, the berry just isn’t appealing. The individual drupelets then go on to die anyway. So, when the berry isn’t ripe and this damage is done, by the time the berry is ripe, the damaged drupelets are just disgusting. They have needle like stylets which they use for piercing. You can see the entry wound on the individual druplets.

I had harvested many of the blackberries 2 days before and everything looked lovely. In only 2 days they had done this. I knew it was them as, again, I saw them crawling over the berries. After a good old hunt and collect of the berry pirates there was considerably less damage.

They seem to favour berries, beans and tomatoes in our garden. Their eating can cause little bumpy scars on beans and cucamelons, which I don’t mind too much to be honest. Unfortunately when they feed heavily there can be distortion of the beans.

From looking at the young you wouldn’t have thought that they were green shield bugs. This is how they change over time. Just as an FYI they are a giant pain in the butt to kill. I tried to take photos of them alive, but boy do they move fast. I tried to drown them in an old jam jar. I thought they had died and lined them up to take photos. 20 minutes later though they were wandering around… Every…. Single…. One of them! These are hard little devils. I’m afraid my camera is only my iphone, I’m no photographer and my subjects were very reluctant so the photos are not great quality. The young come in stages called instars. I’m not sure how accurate my identification is, but this is a rough estimate of the nymphal stages:

They apparently stay on the egg cases for 48 hours, which is probably why I was lucky enough to spot them and capture a batch before they wreaked havoc. They moult between each stage and as far as I can tell only the adult has wings. The one from the above photo had a damaged wing so they never folded away properly.

As I tried to take a photo of what I thought was a dead shield bug, it started to wiggle and then climbed into my microscope lens. They really are resilient little blighters!

Ladybirds

Short version:

Harlequin ladybirds have overtaken the native British ladybirds mostly in the South of England, but they are still great predators to encourage in the garden. They go through a nymph stage, turning into a pupa, before becoming the recognisable beetle shape.

I was actually going to post about berry pirates, better known as the Southern green shield bug but as I was writing I found myself researching an awful lot about ladybirds. You’ll understand when you see next weeks blog. I was also hunting the garden for specimens of both the shield bug and ladybird to take photos of and I found the ladybird in its various stages and thought it might be an interesting read. So pictured here are both ladybirds that are one of the most helpful critters in the garden. Yes, I do realise that pictures are a little blurry, but these are small creatures that are being photographed with an iphone, through a microscope.

Unfortunately, the British native red ladybird (coccinella septempunctata –7 spot or adalia bipunctata – 2 spot) is in decline because the harlequin ladybird (harmonia axyridis) has muscled in. They are all part of the same Coccinellidae family, but the harlequin reportedly came from Asia in 2004 via Europe when it was introduced as a pest predator, according to the natural history museum website. I’m sad to say that I haven’t seen a native ladybird for about 15 years. This is also down to a move from a more rural setting up north to a big southern city, where the harlequin is reportedly more prevalent.

The same website also mentions the STD that the ladybirds are reported to carry. It is a fungus called laboulbenia, and no, it does not affect humans. Phew! I was bitten during my research this week. It hurt but at least there are no lasting effects.

Between the STD and the natural predators like parasitic wasps there will be an equilibrium reached where both native and invasive species should co-exist (so says the website). In the meantime, I’m rather fond of the harlequin ladybirds (even the bugger that bit me) because they are voracious eaters of the aphids that are my most unwelcome garden inhabitants. The photos are all harlequin ladybirds as those are the only ones I seem to have in my garden.

Below are ladybird eggs, I think. I have put them in the bug jar and so will confirm this when they hatch. They were laid on the most aphid infested leaf that was in the garden which is a good indication. Mothers will lay eggs where there is a plentiful supply of food. The leaf would not have made for good eating with that much damage.

Below is a ladybird nymph. They hatch as tiny versions of these. I’m afraid I couldn’t get a photo because bugs that small are hard to find. I did manage to get a photo of a discarded skin though. As the nymph grows it sheds its exoskeleton several times.

They then enter a pupa stage, where its insides change. It then emerges in the beetle shape. This is the adult form with a hard wing case that hides the wings when not in use. They hibernate over winter, ready to lay eggs in the summer.

Despite their very different colouring these are below are all harlequin ladybugs. Their colouring acts as a warning to tell predators that they taste unpleasant and they can extrude a horrible yellow liquid when they feel threatened from their leg joints.

The best way to encourage ladybirds into the garden is to have plenty of food, i.e. aphids, and to not spray pesticides. You can help them to overwinter by providing them with somewhere to hibernate. Apparently the bug hotel of choice is one with narrow tubes of various sizes like a pot stuffed with bamboo and other woody, hollow stems.

Musk mallow

Short version:

A tasty and attractive short lived perennial plant with unusual leaves and lovely large pink flowers. It can grow in almost all soil types and can tolerate some light shade.

Malva moschata or musk mallow is a relative of the better known marsh mallow, whose roots in times past were use to make the confections of the same name.

I started growing this after reading about it in ‘How to grow Perennial Vegetables’ by Martin Crawford. I’ll have to blog more on this book at a later date as I’ve found it to be an amazing resource. Out of the types he listed: hollyhocks, wood mallow, marsh mallow and musk mallow I found, at the time, the musk mallow seeds the easiest to purchase. All mallows are supposed to edible (but don’t eat them unless you’re sure of your identification and do your own research to check that the specific one that you’re eating is definitely edible) but I think only these ones are listed because the others are biennial or annuals.

How to grow

These can be grown from seed either in autumn or in spring. If growing these for the first time I’d suggest sowing in a pot indoors if possible, to help with identification when the seedling appears. It can then be planted out after frosts. I originally sowed mine in autumn and kept it indoors through the winter where it grew fairly slowly.  It then was a strong little plant in the spring.

It can tolerate all types of soil but prefers a moist soil that drains well. I’ve read that it should NOT be fertilised as it can accumulate harmful levels of nitrates in the leaves. Apparently, it is the same with lettuces. It likes full sun but can tolerate light shade. Ours are in a pot which only gets sun from about 1pm onwards and they’re happy.

It has the strangest leaves though. They become more divided as the plant flowers. This makes for interesting pressed leaves or sunprints (which I’ll do a blog on at some point too). In the set of pics of the flowers you can see all the different leaves.

The flowering period runs from July to September, but we have had some flowers in late June before.

It is an evergreen plant and will keep a few leaves at the base, even if the frosts come. However, it is a short-lived perennial but it does self-seed quite happily (even my voracious 5 year old doesn’t manage to eat ALL the flowers before they have a chance to set seed). You won’t notice the oldest plant has died if you have a few that are a year or so old filling in the gaps.

How to harvest

Help yourself to leaves and flowers as of and when they’re there. After flowering, the unripe seed pods can be eaten. I’ve read that they are called cheeses due to their shape. These only have a short window of opportunity before they ripen and become hard seeds. That isn’t a problem as it means you’ll be able to save seeds for next year or let it self seed.

How they taste

I’ve been trying to grow a plethora of edible flowers. Edible is not synonymous with tasty. Things like artichoke buds are gorgeous steamed, borage makes a fun cucumbery snack, nasturtiums are tasty but a bit spicy when raw to eat many of, pansies have a wintergreen flavour (think ‘deep heat’ spray) and then there’s sunflower or dahlia petals which are nicely nutty but many varieties are bitter. Some taste like the rest of the plant, like brassica flowers or herb flowers. Some are just deeply bitter and I find it hard pressed to call them food, though they make a lovely garnish like fuchsias or Siberian purslane. I’m still growing fuchsia in the hope that one of the varieties I grow will produce tasty berries (all are edible but not all taste good).

Musk mallow is a delicate, beautiful flower that grows prolifically in season and tastes lovely raw. It has a lettuce like flavour so goes very well on top of salads or, as it happens in our garden, as a snack as soon as the petals open. If you’ve beaten the bees to it (and the bees do love it) you’ll also get a lovely sweetness to it. The flowers have a slight musky smell if you put your nose in close – hence the name. The musky smell is not noticeable when eating though.

The leaves have a lettuce like taste again, but they also have a slightly mucilaginous feel which is probably why they can be used to thicken soups or stews.

The ‘cheeses’ taste slightly nutty.

Chinese Chives

Short version:

These perennials have flat, grass like leaves that radiate from the base in an upright manner. They spread slowly and grow in clumps. They can be grown from seed or the bulbs/rhizomes can be transplanted to start a patch. They thrive at the opposite time of the year to three cornered leeks so work well grown in conjunction. They taste like sweet mild garlic.

I have been around Chinese chives , also called garlic chives – allium tuberosum – my entire life. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents, as well as my mum grew these in their gardens. Each single plant looks like a succulent wide leaf grass with the leaves stemming from the base. They will grow in a clump.  

How to grow

They can be grown from seed in little pots around April/May and then planted out as small clumps. It’s written in lots of websites that they self seed invasively, but in my own experience the seeds don’t germinate particularly easily. They also lose viability within the year. This may be why they don’t spread very fast. An easier way to get started is to ask someone who already has them to give you a dozen or so spare little plants. They are perennial so they come back every year and can keep growing for decades. The plants my mum has have continued to thrive even after 30 years. It would be hard to know though whether they are still the original plants or whether the oldest plants have died off years ago but have been replaced over the years by self propagating itself some replacements plants. They don’t run rampant like three cornered leeks, which can fill a whole bed within a couple of years. The Chinese chives (from what I’ve seen in my and my family’s gardens) will stay rather local and spread much much slower.  They are however a great plant to grow in conjunction with three cornered leeks.

The three cornered leeks thrive in the winter. They start in October and are in full swing by November when the Chinese chives are beginning to lose their umph. The three cornered leeks flower in April and die back soon after. This is when the Chinese Chives are filling out. As you can see from the photo they look very similar with the broad, flat leaves. The three cornered leeks have the middle rib and have the triangular cross section, whereas the the Chinese chives are very flat.

They like sun but grow fine in shade. This year the runner beans have completely shaded them and they’re still looking fine (picture at the start of the blog – you can even see that the nasturtiums are trying to overrun them).

The flowers grow on tall stalks that get tough as the flowers open. The flowers are lovely and don’t look out of place in a flower bed.  They are also loved by bees.

How to harvest

You can chop the whole thing off at the base before they send their flower shoots up. This is the quickest way and generally how my mum harvests. I, myself, often pull the thickest, juiciest, individual outer leaves to give the inner leaves a bit more time to grow, by severing with a thumbnail.

The flower stem with the bud on top can be harvested, as scapes, before the bud opens.

The flowers can also be harvested and look lovely in a salad, but by this point the stem will be too tough.

How they taste

They have a sweet, garlicky taste. They are excellent lightly stir fried or added to dishes at the last minute. We often eat them as a spring onion substitute in crispy duck pancakes. When they are at their fullest and juiciest, we sometimes stir fry as much as we can collect as a side dish. If they’re chopped up into centimetre long bits, they can be dropped into piping hot soups or congee (a Chinese rice porridge) to add flavour and colour. The scapes are fabulous just lightly fried in a pan.

Japanese Wineberry

Short version:

Like a raspberry but much easier and very yummy. Doesn’t require ericaceous soil, as much sun, has it’s own defence system and won’t send runners into every corner of your garden. The only downside I’ve found so far is that it doesn’t survive not being watered as well as raspberries do.

How to grow

This is much easier than its raspberry counterparts as it doesn’t require ericaceous (acidic) soil to grow in. It can also deal with a little shade and still provide plenty of sweet berries. Its stems are completely covered in these spikey hairs, which provide a wonderful defence against insects, but it does not make it any more cumbersome to harvest than other raspberries with thorns (pruning can be a little difficult, but good gloves help). The wineberry doesn’t tend to wander like raspberries. Raspberries tend to send underground runners into your garden and you’ll find escapees popping up all over the place. This is wonderful if you’re looking to propagate lots of plants, but if you have a small garden and / or a small ericaceous bed then it can become tiresome rather quickly – especially when the raspberries have over run and choked the blueberries. I have read that the wineberry will self-seed. However, in our little garden in London (UK) this has not happened. It might be because the berries are so yummy and not so numerous on our young plant so far that we haven’t left any to do so.

However, they don’t deal as well with dryness as raspberries do, as I found out earlier this summer in a hot spell. The raspberries all did fine, but the Japanese wineberry dried out and died. It was probably because all the raspberries had zapped all the water. It was at this point that I was very sad that it wasn’t invasive like the raspberry or had self-seeded. When I replace it, I will put it in a corner away from the raspberries. I only put it in the ericaceous bed when I originally got it because I thought it was just another type of raspberry. I was very wrong. The flowers do look very different to raspberries. The prickly sepals provide a wonderful defence. In the photos you can see the berries just beginning to push out from under the segments of these flowers.

They are perennial and they will get bigger as the years go on, unless you forget to water and leave it to die… humph!

The canes can be pruned in the autumn after fruiting.

How to harvest

The wineberry get another point for its harvest time. It comes into its own as the summer raspberries are starting to dwindle and the before the autumn fruiting raspberries begin. The berries ripen behind the spiky sepals. The spiny sticky hairs protect the fruit from pests that would like to sneak in there first under the radar before the berry has even had time to grow. The berry starts to push its way out when it is still green. The berry will go orange and then deepen to a scarlet colour. They are quite small, smaller than raspberries.

How it tastes

They basically taste like raspberries, except sweeter. I think these beautiful, shiny, little berries taste how raspberries would taste if they were magicked into sweets.

Lend and Tend – matching garden owners with garden tenders

www.lendandtend.com is a site that matches people who want to tend a garden (or a bit of a garden) with people who own a garden. Obviously, it’s great for those who want to do some veg growing and don’t have the space or find it hard to get an allotment. It’s also great for those that love their garden and for whatever reason can’t look after it like they used to. It’s a great way to build communities and meet people and it’s a great way to get more greenery on our residential streets.

The website has no fees, they run on donations, but the more people that sign up, the more likely that there’ll be lenders and tenders living in close proximity.

I’ve interviewed it’s founder Joyce Veheary on Zoom so she can tell you all about it:  

To help you navigate it – if you don’t have 25mins to listen to the whole thing:

0:11 Introduction to lend and tend – how the website joins lenders who want people who look after their garden to tenders who have no garden space .

1:18 How lend and tend has reached other countries and how the Netherlands have started their own version of the site called ‘Green Thumbing’

3:06 How the coronavirus and social distancing has affected lending and tending gardens and how we can continue with it safely and keep interested in gardening.

6:01 How a patch match happens. How the whole process starts with an introductory call to get to know each other and talk about what the lender and tender is looking for. This is followed by a meet (each can bring another person for safety). Also, a bit of information about what to expect and other safety aspects.

10:30 How the mutually beneficial exchange generally means that both lenders and tenders keep lines of communication open in order to ensure that a happy relationship is maintained.

12:30 For when minors want to get involved in a patch match.

14:15 How lend and tend came about.

15:03 How produce from the garden is shared.

15:52 The other benefits of lending a garden:

  • The broken window theory and how well tended gardens have an effect on the crime rate.
  • A friendly face and some social interaction for those who are more isolated.
  • Someone to use a garden when the owner is too busy

17:55 How to help if you like the ethos but are not in a position to lend or tend. Donations are welcome. Sharing via social media in order to provide closer lenders and tenders is appreciated. Someone with the technical knowhow to volunteer would also be appreciated.

21:50 Websites to follow and free things to sign up to and a couple of last few bits

So… now you know all about it, please do sign up and / or let other people know too. There are so many benefits to gardening, especially when growing some food. For every plant you grow, that’s carbon dioxide being removed, and oxygen being added to your immediate environment. For every single own grown thing you eat, that’s zero food miles and zero packaging. Think not of just the disposal or recycling of our supermarket packaging, but also the energy required in its manufacturing. That’s also food grown without damage to the environment if you choose not to use pesticides or fertilisers.

Know your enemy – the munchers

Short version:

I’d say avoid this one if squeamish. It’s a slightly different look at a couple of the pests you can get in the garden. You may find that it’s a good idea to let certain caterpillars (and possibly even slugs) live. Meet the caterpillar zombies that care for the parasitic wasp and the predatory slug… and just when you thought slugs couldn’t get any grosser…

Caterpillars

We love beautiful butterflies with their pollinating loveliness, but we hate caterpillars and their vegetable destructiveness. Unfortunately, one cannot exist without the other. In lock down they became a source of home edu-tainment.

I don’t use pesticides, so I often find batches of caterpillars in the garden. They are usually cabbage white caterpillars. They come in 2 types. The smooth green cabbage white ones often get put into a dish and left on the table for the robins. The spikey other ones don’t get eaten by the birds, so they are often chucked in the bin. Sometime I keep eggs in case they are something that eats other bugs – like ladybirds.

Little one followed me around the garden during much of the beginning of lock down and because she knows that caterpillars turn into butterflies, she begged me to let the caterpillars live. I couldn’t really let them go free, so instead they became pets. They were put into a very large glass vase and then sealed loosely with a bit of card. They were given the half-eaten leaves to finish off and then given a clean and the leaves that didn’t look so appetising to humans every other day. This was my compromise. They got to live, but they weren’t free to nibble holes in the best-looking leaves willy nilly. After about a week we discovered that one had turned into a chrysalis and a couple had turned into something else. A quick hunt through the internet informed us that the tiny yellow cocoons next to the caterpillars were in fact parasitic wasps. These wasps lay their eggs under the skin of the caterpillar. When the eggs hatch the grubs grow and then chew their way out of the caterpillar. They spin their cocoons and the caterpillar spends the rest of its life as a zombie nanny. It protects the wasp cocoons and forsakes eating. We were expecting to teach little one about the life cycle of butterflies in greater depth – but got something much more eye opening.

We waited a couple more days till all the caterpillars reached their inevitable conclusions. Out of 10 caterpillars, 7 had become zombies and 3 had become chrysalises. We placed the zombies and their charges back into the garden and cleaned the vase again and put the chrysalises back inside.

We waited almost 2 weeks before the first butterfly emerged. Unfortunately, the sides of the vase were too slippery for it to climb up, so the end of its wing was touching the bottom of the vase and dried a little crumpled. We assume that it became bird food as it wasn’t a great flier. We put a selection of twigs inside the vase and the next day the other 2 emerged and climbed up the twigs to air their wings. Little one released them a few hours later. 

So… we’ve learnt a few things. If 70% of the caterpillars that are in the garden become hosts for their predators then maybe we should let them live and then the next cycle there will be more of these predatory wasps available to keep the caterpillar population down. In nature it’s all about balance. It’s not easy to tell from looking at a single caterpillar if they are carrying the wasps, but if a caterpillar looks much chubbier than its cohorts then it may be a host. The chrysalises do fine on the bottom of their ‘cage’ but there needs to be something the new butterfly can climb up high enough for its wings to fully extend. Now that we have a system and need something to keep lockdown little one entertained (and also to teach a bit of compassion as we don’t want her to go around thinking it’s OK to kill things just because we don’t like them) the capture and contain method has been deployed 3 times in total. Twice there were some zombies, but our 2 peacock caterpillars both survived to butterfly-hood.  

If you do decide that you’d like to keep caterpillars, don’t keep any of the furry ones (spikey ones are OK). Their hairs can cause respiratory problems or skin irritation if touched. They end up turning into moths anyway.

Slugs and snails

Slugs and snails are evil. As an edible gardener I find it hard to find anything redeeming about them. This year they have destroyed beans and peas by chewing through the stems by the soil, they have completely gnawed most of my aubergine plants down to a single stalk, they’ve eaten a good portion of the courgette leaves and the brassicas don’t stand much of a chance.

They are, however, grossly fascinating creatures. From what I’ve read it seems that slugs have evolved from snails, which seems illogical. You would have thought that slugs came first and then evolved a shell to protect itself. Apparently not. Slugs may not have that instant protection of being able to curl up inside a shell, but they can, without an attached cumbersome fixed shape squeeze themselves into any tiny crevice which provides all the protection they need. They don’t require large amounts of calcium carbonate or need to expend energy in having to build the shell either. They then don’t need to expend even more energy in having to bear this constant load.

Slug and snails are also incredible reproducers. They carry both sperm and eggs and when they mate, they fertilise each other’s eggs. This means double the amount of offspring from a single coupling. I was hideously mesmerized when I found this pair mating. From later research I found that the white thing you can see is in fact their huge penises (a word I never expected to write when I started this blog). I really didn’t want to touch them. Slugs are already slimy and icky.  With the added grossness of the horizontal tango it was more than I could take. Unfortunately, by the time I had returned with an old bag to scoop them up into and dispose of them, they had disappeared. I’m sure by next week, when the garden is overrun by the slippery buggers, I’ll be cursing my squeamishness.

Well, I guess I can comfort myself with the knowledge that despite them being a giant pain in the brassicas, they do at least clean up dead matter and debris and aid in decomposition. They also provide food for other creatures. Failure to dispatch is maybe a little like stocking the larder for the amphibians, hedgehogs and birds. However, that won’t stop me from heading out after a rain with a jar and a pair of disposable chopsticks to hunt them down. Judging from the leaf devastation out there, there are not enough predators to keep the gastropod population down. I won’t use slug pellets, these are terrible for the food chain. You can see more info in this post about pesticides.

One last consideration is that I’ve heard that there are some gastropods that are great predators, though these ones tend to live in the sea rather than on land. The leopard slug reportedly will eat other slugs. Unfortunately, when there are no other suitable foods, they will wreak havoc on the plants.

Edible Flowers

Short version:

There are plenty of edible flowers that can be both beautiful and tasty. There are some that taste a bit rubbish or look a bit boring and there are some that you may already eat without thinking about it.

I have tried hard to maintain my “if I can’t eat it then I won’t grow it rule “so of course my little one has consistently kept up a campaign of asking for flowers. She absolutely loves flowers. I have in my ‘lockdown, terrible home teacher, nanny TV, trying to squeeze working in and ignoring her’ guilt, caved. During our lockdown exercise walks (where photos of lovely things were gathered for ‘My Beautiful neighbourhood 2’)  little one saw lots of beautiful, scented wisteria over many lovely houses. Near the start of lockdown, around April/ May they were glorious in their purple clustered beauty. I agreed to get one, but only because the Thompson and Morgan website, that I purchased the flowers from, said that wisteria flowers were edible.

Quote:

Wisteria: The flowers are the only edible part of the plant and can be made into an aromatic wine. All other parts of wisteria are poisonous.

We won’t of course eat it till more research is done. That’s a problem for future me anyway as it won’t bloom for a least a year. Apparently, it can take up to 15 years for a wisteria to bloom. In hindsight I have realised that this is probably going to be a mistake. Wisteria also lives to a ripe old age and can get very very large. I’m sure my very small garden will not be able to support it without some very heavy-handed pruning. Future me will not be grateful for current me being bested by a 4 year old.

Whilst I was at it, possibly still under the influence of terrible lockdown parenting guilt, I bought seeds for dahlias, forget me nots, aquilegia, and a variety of violets…. And er… some fuchsia plants as I know these are edible. Apparently, some taste better than others. As a bonus, fuchsia berries are also edible.

So now, I thought it might be worth writing about some edible flowers. If you thought about it, you’d probably realise that you already eat some flowers. You may also be growing edible flowers as ornamentals.

We have in the past grown, or are currently growing a few edible flowers. Where flowers are highlighted (in red), hover for a link you can click on for more info on the plant.

Brassicas

Broccoli or cauliflowers (the clue being in the name) are the flower buds of the plant. Sprouting broccoli is basically the flowering shoots. You can also eat the flowering shoots of kales, Turkish rocket or radishes too.

Chard – Beta vulgaris

You can eat the flowering shoots of the chard, though the flowers are not much to look at. Different coloured chard can be grown as ornamentals too with their interesting coloured stems. The young flowers shoots are very tender when cooked and taste like spinach.

Artichokes – Cynara cardunculus

It is the young flower buds that are eaten. These are great boiled for 20 mins, then you eat the fleshy bottom of each ‘petal’. They make an excellent vegetable with plenty to eat. If left to mature the flower resembles a thistle and is loved by bees.

Squash flowers – species within the Cucurbita genus

We very rarely eat the flowers because we want the female flowers to develop into squashes/courgettes and the males are crushed a little in hand pollinating. So, I’ve only eaten the flowers when there are an abundance of male flowers and no female ones. However, the female flowers with their young squashes would make a beautiful dish. Both sexes are versatile and fun to cook with. The pistil and stamens (the sticky out reproductive bits) need to be removed. They can be stuffed with cheese and baked, fried in butter or steamed. They taste much like the squashes do.

Nasturtiums – Tropaeolum

We can’t really get enough of these. It’s amazing to find such large, lovely flowers that taste good. They are really quite spicy with a watercress taste so may not be everyone’s cup of tea. We have a lovely climbing variety that self seeds every year. The leaves are also edible, and cooking makes the flavour much milder so even the little one will eat quite a bit. The petals are great sprinkled on hot food to wilt them and reduce the spiciness. They have a little cone of nectar at the back that my little one sometimes pulls off to suck.

Borage (starflower) – Borago officinalis

This is my little munchkin’s favourite snack flower. She will happily graze on these cucumber tasting beauties that bees also love. They look lovely in ice cubes and work well in Pimms and in gin.

Violets – Violaceae

These gorgeous little flowers have a wintergreen flavour, which is like a minty/menthol taste. Pansies are also from the violet family and can be eaten. Little viola tricoloreating (also called heartsease, johnny jump ups and wild pansies) are very mild due to their size and are also gorgeous frozen into ice cubes.  

Elderflowers – Sambucus nigra

We don’t grow these but we have foraged for them or our neighbour sometimes drops some round from their tree. The flowers make great cordial and sweet fritters. They basically taste how they smell, with a lovely floral yumminess. Do not eat the leaves or stems.

Calendula – Calendula officinalis

This one comes up quite often on lists of edible flowers. They can be grown easily from seed and give a lovely splash of orange for long periods. I’m afraid we didn’t like these much. They taste a bit bitter. The petals can be sprinkled into salad though for a bit of colour.

Chrysanthemum – Chrysanthemum

This is one we have grown as ‘chop suey greens’, so say the seed packets. They have a strong taste that I remember from childhood (it’s sometimes used in Chinese cooking), but it’s not one that I’m sure I like. Cooking doesn’t change the flavour much. It’s a specific flavour that is difficult to describe. Chrysanthemum tea is rather pleasant though.

Cornflower (bachelor’s button) – Centaurea cyanus

Little one loved the colour of these as they are indeed beautiful. Bees also like them. We don’t bother to eat these anymore though as the texture of the petals is a bit papery and the taste is a bit bland.

Roses – Rosaceae

We are only growing these because they were here when we moved in. I was going to dig them up and replace with fruit bushes or kales, but they were beautiful, smelled lovely and the little dictator forbade it. I’ve read that all rose petals are edible, but not all taste good. Where the petal attaches to the base should be removed as it is often bitter. We don’t eat these often, but we do love making crystallised rose petals.

Musk mallow – Malva moschata

Marshmallow (althaea officinalis) flowers (and leaves) are edible. Their roots used to be used as a thickener for the sweets that carry their name. We’ve been growing musk mallows from the same family. These rather large pale pink flowers taste a bit like a sweeter version of lettuce.

There are of course plenty of flowers of vegetables and herbs that can be eaten that basically taste like the rest of the parts that you are used to eating.

Watercress – Nasturtium officinale

These tiny flowers pack a punch. They have that same peppery taste as the leaves when raw (with a bit of sweetness), but like the leaves, are much milder and really tasty boiled.

Purslane

Winter Purslane flowers (claytonia perfoliate) have the same lettuce like taste. Siberian purslane (claytonia sibirica) are prettier and pink, unfortunately they have quite a bitter earthy taste, like the rest of the plant. Summer purslane (portulaca oleracea) has pretty little yellow flowers and have the same refreshing sour tang as the leaves.

Peas – Pisum sativum

It does seem a shame to eat the flowers when they could develop into something more. However, we’ve been growing lots of peashoots from cheap, supermarket bought dried peas in lockdown and when these are left to grow a bit too much the flowers develop. Because these are dried peas for eating rather than growing – the pea pods produced are rubbish. We eat the pea tasting flowers with some of the shoot attached as an easy garden snack or as a salad addition.

Alliums

We’ve eaten three cornered leeks, Chinese chives, chives and wild garlic flowers. They all basically taste of some mix of garlic and/or onion. All the alliums have edible flowers that taste like the rest of the plant. They make great garnishes or go great for that garlicky or oniony kick in salads. Cooking makes the taste milder and sweeter in all the ones we’ve tried.

Herbs

Oregano, marjoram, rosemary, mint, coriander and dill flowers have been used in our cooking the same way we use the leaves. The flowers are generally small and unremarkable, but they do make pretty garnishes. We especially love the dill flowers because we think they look like little fireworks. The coriander and dill can be used in fairly heavy quantities in salads too.

Fuchsias

This is the first fuchsia flower we have ever grown. Apparently all fuchsias are edible but they vary in taste. The berries are also edible, but again they vary in taste. We of course had to taste it (literally this morning). The petals were pleasantly succulent. It tasted a bit peppery with a slightly bitter after taste. I doubt they’ll survive to berry stage if my little one, with her fondness of picking all our flowers, has anything to do with it. There are a couple more varieties still to bloom in the garden so we’ll have to wait to be sure if these are worth growing.

I’ve been trying to introduce bellflowers, purple clover and daisies into the lawn for both colour and food but have so far been rather unsuccessful. I’ve also been trying to grow daylilies and dahlias. The dahlias have become happy little plants, but no flowers so far. Dahlias flowers (and tubers) are edible, but they can taste very different. Hopefully I’ll continue to find edible flowers that I love that I can share with you in another post.   

These, below, aren’t dahlias that we’ve grown but are photos I took in the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall as an example of how beautiful they are. Didn’t think it was acceptable (or safe) to taste them. That will have to wait till we’ve grown our own.

Warning

Please don’t eat anything that you cannot confidently recognise. Please also do some research and read sites that you feel are trustworthy for information. Please also be aware that you may have unknown allergies e.g. if you have a ragwort allergy – chamomile tea is not advised. My daughter used to be allergic to watermelons. This was connected to ragwort pollen allergies. Luckily, she has grown out of it. My brother-in-law has a raw apple allergy and that is connected to birch tree pollen allergy. Anyway, the point is – try a small amount of anything new first after you are sure it is edible. There are similar looking species like the three cornered garlic flowers look much like white bluebells, though the allium smell of the flower is unmistakeable. Bluebells, lily of the valley, snowdrops and foxglove, amongst others, are really very toxic.

Worrying – but necessary to mention. Still, there are plenty of flowers that are already in a typical diet and there are plenty more that can be added. You might be surprised how beautiful a salad can be.

Mulberries (Morus)

Short version:

Mulberries are worth growing as they are one of the things that you can’t get in shops. They are less fussy about soil than raspberries and blueberries. They don’t need pruning the way blackberries and raspberries do. They taste like a cross between a grape and blackberry, but without the pips. The leaves can also be edible (but see warning at the end).

Mulberries are something that you either have to grow yourself or forage for. You’ll be hard pressed to find fresh mulberries in the shops. Ripe mulberries make a squidgy mess easily so they would never be suitable for transit or storage. Even underripe mulberries come apart easily.

I only have a limited experience with growing mulberries as I’ve only had my bushes for just over 2 years and both are a dwarf variety called Charlotte Russe, bought from the Suttons website. I have sadly read that this variety, despite winning awards, isn’t particularly great tasting. The best tasting ones must be amazing then. I like the ones we have anyway, and they’ve received the seal of approval from my little fussy eater.

Mulberries come in red, white and black. We have the black ones (M. nigra). The black mulberries are supposed to taste the best and are they are the hardiest. The white mulberries are the ones that are often dried. The leaves of the white mulberry are those that silk worms eat and are apparently smoother and easier to eat than those of the black or red. Oh yes, the leaves are edible. However, I have ready that some varieties can cause stomach upset, so maybe test with a small quantity first.

How to grow

Mulberries are a great berry to grow as they requires less attention than most of the other berries. Raspberries and blueberries need ericaceous soil. Mulberries are tolerant of soil type. They do like deep fertile soil that retains moisture and drains well though. They like full sun, but can tolerate light shade.

Raspberries and blackberries grow on 2 year old canes so you need to allow the canes to grow in the first year without letting them shade out the fruiting canes. Then the canes that have fruited need to be pruned after harvest has finished. With mulberries you can just let them grow. Pruning is only required to keep its shape or to remove dead or diseased wood.

A typical tree can get very large, so if you have a small garden like we do then I would suggest a dwarf variety. The Charlotte Russe is a good one as it fruits after a year, unlike full size mulberries which can take around 8 years after planting before producing fruit. The dwarf ones do well in pots. They arrived in April 2018 and by June 2018 their branches had grown a little already. In early 2019 we repotted, one into a larger pot and one into a much larger old water tank. That year we had our first taste of mulberries. There wasn’t much difference in the size of harvest of the 2 pots. There were about 20-30 fruit on each. This year you can see a clear difference in the size of the plant and there are more fruit on the bush in the larger water tank.

The branches of mulberries can be a little delicate so some protection from strong winds will be beneficial. However, mulberries can be late frost tolerant. This year the young leaves had started to form (it is deciduous) when a couple of cold nights hit. The developed young leaved did die back, but then it had new growth and recovered fine. When a similar thing happened to our one of our grapes, the whole vine died.

Mulberries, as far as I can tell are wind pollinated.

How to harvest

The ripe berries come off the branches easily with a little stalk attached. This stalk is also edible. If it is underripe it won’t come away easily. However, if left too long the berries become dull and dried.

What actually happens in this house is little one goes into the garden and picks fruit straight off the tree and eats it. Our dwarf bush produces plenty of berries within an infant’s reach. She struggles a little with the larger bush. With lockdown she has been out there every day grazing. There isn’t a huge glut of berries produced at once. It’s hard to tell with the little marauder, but I think there have been about half a dozen ripe mulberries (between the 2 bushes) a day since the beginning of June. This was about 3 weeks earlier than last year and may be due to the early hot weather. There are still plenty of unripe berries, and even a few flowers, on the bush so I guestimate that they will continue to produce for another couple of weeks at least.

There is a red mulberry bush in a local park. I have only noticed the ripe fruit on it this week and there are hundreds of unripe berries, but it’s hard to know about fruit in public spaces. I may not have seen any ripe berries yet because there may be someone removing them before I spy them.

I have read that if you have a very large tree then an easy way to harvest is to spread a large sheet underneath it and shake down the ripe ones to collect in the cloth.

How they taste

I’m afraid I can’t account for how all mulberries taste. This is part of the joy of growing them. I have never been able to find fresh mulberries elsewhere. The first mulberries I had seen were on a mulberry tree in the Botanical gardens in Birmingham, but they weren’t ripe at the time.

Our Charlotte Russe variety tastes like a bit like a grape crossed with a blackberry, but without the blackberry pips. There is a definite mild mulberry taste that I’ve also tasted with dried white mulberries. The dried mulberries are sweeter and remind me of raisins crossed with that mulberry taste.  

The red mulberries in the park are almost twice the size of ours and taste a little less sweet than our black ones, but have a stronger flavour.

It’s like all fruit. There can be variation within varieties.

The leaves from our black mulberry, when stir fried in a little oil with a pinch of salt, remind me of dried, crispy seaweed. Not the fake seaweed made of cabbage, but the seasoned stuff that is like the nori used in sushi. I wouldn’t eat this as a bulk vegetable, maybe more as a snack or pretty side dish. I also don’t like to eat many of the leaves as I think this would affect berry production. The leaves are a bit tough. I’d like to try white mulberries leaves one day to see how they compare. They are, however, one of the few edible leaves in the garden in the hungry gap that aren’t brassicas. Pick the youngish leaves, but leave the shooting ends alone.

Warning

I have read that the milky white sap can be mildly toxic to humans, causing stomach upsets or skin irritations. I think the effects vary wildly for different cultivars. Little one plays with our tree constantly and has not had any problems. We have also eaten the leaves with no concerns.

My Beautiful Neighbourhood 2

Short version:

Since posting about ‘My Beautiful Neighbourhood’ I’ve come across so many more amazing gardens and edibles in public spaces in a wider radius around Streatham…and I’m still singing the song by Space. I feel I have to stress that their neighbourhood is nothing like mine. Streatham truly is lovely.

I wrote this post with two friends of mine in mind. One has a front garden, but no back garden and until recently she was under the impression that it was not the done thing to grow food in the front. This will hopefully give her some inspiration and some ideas of what grows well in the area. One is thinking about moving to South London and I’d like to show her how lovely the neighbourhood can be.

During lockdown we have been exploring further afield in search of more remote areas of green. Until recently we had no idea that South London contained so many pockets of mini woods. The husband tells me that most of them used to be part of what was called the Great North Wood (as opposed to the South ones in Surrey) that have been cut into and built upon as London expanded. There are some wide expanses left like Sydenham Hill Woods or Dulwich Woods and some smaller closer ones like Biggin Wood, Grange Wood or Unigate. We’ve also been exploring parks like Norwood Park, Palace Road Nature Gardens, Norwood Grove Recreation Ground, as well as our old haunts like Tooting Bec Common, Brockwell Park and Streatham Common.

Walking to these places we’ve come across some fantastic things in gardens and in parks themselves. We’ve seen plenty of the usual fig trees and crab apples, but there are a few more fun things in gardens:

Edibles are still being used to create structure:

Edibles are found in all sorts of places:

I love seeing every conceivable space used:

I can still appreciate things if they’re not edible:

Of course not everything has to be in gardens. These are some great things in public spaces:

Of course I am most impressed when a front garden has lots of edibles:

This one has tomatoes against the house, runner beans in the pot on the left with the canes and either some chard or beetroots in the blue pot.

I noticed this garden for the escaping squash and nasturtiums. Upon closer inspection I saw masses of raspberry plants in the left side of the garden, then spied a rhubarb nearer the house and some sort of brassica.

The residents here are really going for it with the pots. I love it because it shows that you can use just about anything for a pot. There’s a pear tree in an old storage box and there’s a young cherry tree in what looks like a bin. There were also plants off to the right and more plants in the public space on the other side of the iron fence. In this garden, all in pots, I could also see spinach/chard plants, lettuce type things (mizuna I think) potatoes, blackcurrants, raspberries, some sort of onions and a plethora of herbs. I’m sure there were plenty of things I didn’t recognise and I last saw this garden in April, so there may have been many additions since.

This house below is my favourite. I even spoke to the lady who owns the garden and she said, “What else would I do with it?” I thought that it was a fantastic response. It’s true. If you have a lovely large space in the front, you live on a hill (and there’s no dropped curb) so parking in the front garden is difficult and the road isn’t so busy that you need to worry about pollution. I spied the rather large strawberry bed on the right first, with the large blackberry bramble hedge. I then noticed the pots in the middle with runner beans twisting round the bamboo canes. The ‘hedge’ on the left side was made of raspberries (just off shot), with a thornless blackberry cane in the middle. You can see the feathery ferns of the asparagus bed on the left with a blackcurrant in front, and then a lily (which I’d love to think is an edible daylily). I didn’t get too close a look, as I didn’t want to intrude too much, but I think there was also chard, courgettes and lots of herbs like mint and lemon balm. I’m sure there were plenty of hidden gems not visible from the road. There is of course the lovely wisteria that is making its way over the house. Little one managed to guilt me into getting her a wisteria, which I only did because I read that the flowers were actually edible. More research is still needed, however.

And finally… After nosing in other people’s gardens I thought it only fair that I should share ours too. I think this is a good example of how little you can see from the road and how many edibles can be hidden in a front garden. From left to right. Hidden behind the wall is a newly planted wisteria that we’ll wind through the brickwork. After that there are 2 squashes that should hopefully make their way up that trellis leant against the bike shed. On the bike shed in pots are cuttings of gooseberry and chilean guava, some wild rocket, some fuchsias and other edible flowers. After that you can see the roses which we’ve only used for crystallised rose petals so far. The bush next to it is a physalis. Making their way up the sides of the arch are peas and beans. Down the wall on the right are watercress, a tromboncino, an artichoke and 2 honeyberries. Under the windows in pots are a serviceberry, sweet potatoes, scorzonera, potatoes and a blackcurrant.