Easy Edibles for the California Central Coast Food Forest – Part 2

Easy Edibles for the California Central Coast Food Forest – Part 2

Pepino Dulce blooms in front of a Loquat tree

If you’re just joining me, check out Part 1 for more food forest ideas. In this series of posts, I’m exploring the many edible perennial plants that are easy to grow in the California Central Coast and San Francisco Bay Area. Here are a few more plants to get your food forest started or filled out: 

Ripe Loquat Fruits!

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a fantastic drought tolerant evergreen fruit tree. You’ll often see it planted as a low maintenance ornamental, and once you’ve tried a really good loquat fruit, you’ll want it around to snack on all the time.

Like apples and pears (they’re in the same family as the loquat), there are different cultivars of loquats available, ‘Argelino’ is one of my favorites. A good loquat is juicy, sweet and has a flavor evocative of a citrusy apricot. They’re best eaten fresh and don’t last long on the counter or even the refrigerator, so they make an excellent snack food while you’re working around the garden. They can also be made into jams and preserves, the leaves can be brewed into a sweet tea that is used in traditional medicine, and the seeds can be made into a liqueur.

Loquat flowers in January

It is also just a great looking tree! Generally reaching about 15-30′ tall and wide, thriving in full sun to part shade, drought tolerant once established and tolerant of many soil types. Delightfully fragrant white flowers in fall to winter. The flowers may not set fruit if temperatures drop below 28° F, but the tree itself can survive down to 0° F.

Ripe Pakistan Mulberries, yum!

Pakistan Mulberry (Morus hybrid) is known as the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of the mulberry fruits. Many Mulberry species will do well in our climate and most produce tasty fruits, but Pakistan Mulberry produces the tastiest, biggest fruits. Super sweet and juicy, the Pakistan Mulberry tree is covered in long, dark purple fruits in the summer with a taste some describe as reminiscent of raspberry mixed with blackberry jam. Anyway you want to describe it, Pakistan Mulberries are delicious. 

Pakistan Mulberry Tree

New mulberry leaves emerging in spring

The tree does well in full or part-sun and prefers well-draining soil with regular moisture. It can reach 20-30′ tall. Birds love this fruit too, but there is usually plenty to go around. Each fresh or dry for a tasty snack. Winter deciduous and hardy down to 0° F

Papaya Prickly Pear Fruit

Opuntia ‘Papaya’ fruit

Nopal Cactus (Opuntia spp.) aka Prickly Pear Cactus is not just drought tolerant, it needs very little water to thrive and can tolerate both extreme and garden conditions. These cacti are used for erosion control on hillsides, make great natural fences and borders, and are considered fire-resistant plants. They also make great structural elements in the garden. They’re visually pleasing and can be used to support vines–I will often use mine to support my annual pole beans.

Purple Pole Beans growing up a Nopal Cactus

All Opuntia species produce edible fruits called ‘Prickly Pears’ (or ‘tunas’ in Spanish). Different species and cultivars produce fruits of different sizes, colors and flavors. Fruits may have a flavor similar to dragon fruit, watermelon or papaya. They can be eaten fresh, as juice, or turned into preserves.

In California, the Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis) has traditionally been used as a brush to break the spines off of the prickly pear fruits before harvesting. Some Opuntia cultivars have been selected for having hardly any spines and many of the young cacti pads have few or underdeveloped spines. The young pads are ideal for harvesting and eating as a vegetable -they can be despined, thinly sliced and then cooked down until the liquid released from the pads evaporates. They can then be eaten on their own, cooked with eggs, added to tacos, salads or anyway you can imagine them. To me the nopal pads taste like an improved version of bell peppers–I love adding mine to scrambled eggs and breakfast potatoes to make a scrumptious ‘breakfast taco.’

Nopal Cactus Pad

Nopal Pad

Different species can tolerate varying conditions, almost all are hardy to at least 15° F, with some even more suited for cold conditions. Size varies by species and can be controlled by pruning. So simple to propagate, let pads removed from the main plant callous over in a shady place and then place on a very well-drained soil or rocky mixture–the pads will eventually grow roots and form a new plant. Can also be propagated by seed.

White Yarrow Flower

White Yarrow Flower

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is an herbaceous perennial that is native to most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere, including Coastal California. Yarrow grows as a fragrant groundcover and will form a patch a few feet across that is great for suppressing unwanted weeds. It sends up beautiful edible flowers summer thru fall that make excellent cut flowers and are great for attracting beneficial insects. Most varieties native to California are white, with a pink variety hailing from the Channel Islands, and yellow, pink, red and orange cultivars available from many nurseries.

Yarrow leaves and flowers

Patch of Yarrow starting to bloom

The young leaves are edible and can be cooked like spinach. The above ground portion of the plant is used in traditional medicine. Yarrow is also considered to be a ‘dynamic accumulator’-its deep taproot helps make nutrients more bioavailable to the plants around it. This ability, combined with its penchant for attracting beneficial insects, makes it an excellent companion plant to include around fruit trees. Yarrow is drought tolerant and adaptable to many conditions, it prefers full sun and well-drained soil.  Makes a good lawn replacement. Smells heavenly. 

Pepino Dulce Fruit

Ripe Pepino Dulce Fruit

Pepino Dulce (Solanum muricatum) is a versatile evergreen groundcover that can be trained as a vine and looks great spilling over a retaining wall or raised garden bed. Spanish for ‘sweet cucumber,’ the Pepino Dulce has a taste similar to honeydew melon mixed with cucumber when eaten fresh on its own or in salad. The sweetness is elevated when the slices are dried and taste like ‘Hi-Chew Melon’ candies to me, so very yummy!

Pepino Dulce Flowers

Pepino Dulce Flowers

Has pretty purple and white flowers. Grows in full sun to part-shade. Likes well-draining soil with regular water. Will survive down to 28° F and can be grown as an annual in colder locations.

Continue reading Part 3