Volunteer Day – July 10, 2015
Before getting started on the secret life of vines…
The best looking squash plant I have ever seen was a volunteer I found in a forest area in Baltimore County. It grew in dappled sunlight, mostly shade, had no powdery mold, no insect issues, and was full of vigor and promise. This curiosity made me really study the plant and consequently how we conventionally grow squash. The plant has large leaves, and the vine has tendrils and large fruits. The plant is built for growing up trees and living in an understory! Large leaves to fan out and soak up all available sunlight, tendrils to lasso any available hold on its way up the shrub and tree layers, and large fruits to splat on the ground and spread its seed. If given conscious thought I may have concluded all of this long before seeing this prime example in the forest. Next time you stuff straw or a bowl or whatever to hold the fruit off the ground, think about growing the plant up a tree instead. I attribute the lack of mold and insect issues to the health of the plant. Since this squash was expressing its natural squashyness, it was a healthy plant able to combat common issues. We should consider this with all plants.
So what is a vining plant, which we consider as one of the nine layers of a Food Forest? We are all familiar with at least a few kinds– English Ivy, Poison Ivy, Squash, Cucumber, Grape, Wisteria, Honeysuckle, Passion Flower, etc. Before placing it into a design, you must know a vine well and how it climbs. Some vines like hardy kiwi and grape will need a sturdy structure to climb on for the rest of their life. Other vines like groundnut and passionflower are non-woody and die back every year, thus requiring a less sturdy or permanent structure to grow on. Besides perennial vines, with a proper sun evaluation and orientation you could grow cucumber, squash, luffa, and any other annual vines on almost anything that can support the plant for that season. As with anything in a design, having the proper plant in the proper place makes less work for the grower and for the plant.
Many edible vines double as nitrogen fixers in your design system, such as groundnut, hog peanut, and all the annual beans and peas. One of our favorites is the scarlet runner. Meanwhile, vines we’re especially looking forward to are our Malabar spinach and air potatoes (a type of Dioscorea yam), which should hopefully be in abundance by next year.
Florida Weave Tomato Vining Demonstration:
A Florida weave is a way to provide support for tomato plants with minimal resources like stakes and string. If planned well you could even let cucumbers and other vines drape over the structure.
Update – Tree of Heaven Experiment:
Last month we made 360° cuts around many of the trees to girdle them for further mycological experimentation. It appears that in a very short time some of the trees “healed” over the cut and were able to reconnect xylem and phloem tissue and keep the above portion of the tree alive and vigorous. This healing response did not occur on all the trees, just a few. Our next move will be to cut and remove a larger window of bark and cambium around the tree. I’m not sure how this will affect the inoculation in the Spring so I’m hesitant to go forward with this just yet. Also, I would like to know how and why this tree was able to heal in this way before making any other alterations. I may observe it for a while and see if it reveals any its secrets. Here’s a great lesson on how a tree works.
Exciting to See:
Diversity in the Forest:
Thanks to Baltimore City Master Gardeners for joining us today!
- Florida Weave for Tomato Plants
- Created Strawberry Beds
- Planted Stinging Nettle
- Weed Pulling for future Hot Compost
- Wisteria Vine Management