Kids in Southern California can grow bananas in their yard by getting a pup from a neighbor’s banana plant or a banana corm from the nursery. Kids have been eating bananas for 10,000 years. An instant energy booster, bananas are rich in fiber, loaded with essential vitamins, and high in potassium and iron.The banana plant is not a tree, but the largest herbaceous flowering plant with about 1000 edible varieties. Bananas are tropical plants and grow more slowly here than in the tropics. Because some varieties grow to 20 feet tall, dwarf varieties growing to about 12 feet are best for fruit picking. Kids can choose a Dwarf Brazilian or Dwarf Namwah for sweet tasty bananas that grow well in Ventura County.
The banana has a corm instead of a trunk, which is a stem of the plant that stores nutrients from one growing season to help to grow roots, leaves, and flowers for the next growing season and has a rhizome that sprouts shallow and extensive root systems, like ginger or turmeric. Banana plants spread rapidly with their underground roots and need to be pruned to one or two stalks. It takes about 18 months for a stalk to start flowering. The curved fruit grows on the long flowering stalk and the bananas form in clusters called hands. Kids should wear old clothes to harvest them because sap from the bananas permanently stain. Each stalk will only bear fruit once and should be removed after a few replacement stalks grow.
Bananas like rich organic soil, lots of water, and heavy feeding when they are growing, spring through fall. Plant them near a warm south facing wall to protect them from winds and frost. Kids can prune the dead leaves and use them with lots of compost for mulch to hold in the moisture. In the winter, when they are dormant, water the bananas very little. Each flowering stalk holds 6 – 8 hands of bananas that ripen from the top. Kids can pick the ripe hand of bananas, leaving the green hands on the stalk to lengthen the harvest and not have too many ripe bananas at once.
Yams, dioscorea, originating in Africa called “nyami”, are root vegetables growing under perennial herbaceous vines, and come in over 600 varieties. They are cylindrical with rough brown bark-like skin and yellow flesh; some varieties have white, purple, or pink flesh. Over fifty years ago, U.S. supermarkets and producers began using the term “yam” to distinguish between types of sweet potatoes, which come from South America, but true yams can be found in African grocery stores. Fried yam is a beloved African snack and side dish. Basic ingredients in West African cooking are onion, fresh ginger root, chili and tomato with a Five Spice mix of cubeb black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and ground ginger. Traditional farming methods are used to grow fresh herbs and vegetables in garden compounds with homes dotted around them, making most Ghanaian food organic, locally sourced, sustainable, and unprocessed.
Kids can substitute orange sweet potatoes for the hard to find yams. Preheat the oven to 400°. Wash 4 organic yams or sweet potatoes, prick with a fork, and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 45 minutes. On a separate baking sheet, place 3 organic red peppers, drizzle with organic extra virgin olive oil, and bake along side of the yams for 20 minutes. Sauté a diced organic red onion in a saucepan in 1 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes, stir in 1 deseeded and minced red chili pepper, 1 tsp fresh minced ginger, 2 organic minced garlic cloves, and 8 cups of mixed organic baby stir fry greens. Add ½ tsp sea salt, ¼ tsp cayenne, ⅛ tsp cloves, ⅛ tsp nutmeg, ⅛ tsp cinnamon and 2 tbsp water. Cover and steam until spinach has softened. Remove the baked yams and peppers from the oven. Chop the peppers, discarding the cores and seeds, and add to the spinach mixture. Stir in ½ cup chopped cilantro. Cut down the middle of the yams without going all the way through and divide the spinach mixture stuffing it into the holes and allowing some to spill over the sides of the yams. This dish is traditionally served in Ghana with roasted plantains.
Spices in India have been ground in a mortar and pestle, as well as the cooked lentils in this recipe, for thousands of years. The spices in this traditional lentil dahl are rich with nutrition. Turmeric contains powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties with brain, heart, and joint healthy nutrients. Cumin aids digestion and the immune system with antibacterial and antiviral properties. Coriander seeds (cilantro) lowers blood sugar and blood pressure. Ginger contains antioxidants to relieve motion sickness, nausea, and muscle pain. This soup is perfect to warm kids on a cold winter’s day. Rinse thoroughly in a strainer ½ cup organic red lentils and place in a pot with 2 ½ cups of water, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 ½ tsp cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, ½ inch piece of finely chopped fresh organic ginger, ½ tsp sea salt, ¼ tsp cayenne. Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes. Add 1¼ cup chopped organic cauliflower and 1 chopped organic red potato and simmer another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a slotted spoon, reserve ½ cup of veggies in a small bowl. Pour the lentil soup and 1 tbsp vegan butter into a blender and mix until smooth. Pour into bowls and top with the reserved veggies and fresh cilantro. Serve with organic brown basmati rice and organic whole wheat tortillas.
Kids can add color and spice to a winter garden by planting quick growing radish seeds in the winter. Radishes are a root vegetable with varieties in many colors (red, white, black, or purple), shapes, and sizes (long and cylindrical or small and round) and do not mind a light frost. Radishes have been cultivated for salads and for medicinal purposes since before the pyramids were built in Egypt. Kids can plant different variety of radishes in intervals all year for a continuing crop. Radishes do not transplant well but are easy to grow in pots, containers, or raised beds and many varieties mature from seed in only four weeks. In a cold climate winter, radish seeds can be started indoors in a pot to sprout, especially the daikon radish, a white carrot shaped winter radish which takes eight weeks to mature. Radishes grow well in any container with carrots and lettuces. Like lettuces, radishes like some shade, lots of water, and rich soil. Kids can harvest the popular red globe radish by pulling up the entire plant when the radishes are marble sized, the smaller the size, the sweeter the taste. Radishes are perfect for adding a crisp peppery crunch to salads. In Asia, the daikon radish is often pickled and can be cooked like a turnip. Good for weight loss and urinary problems with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, radishes are high in fiber, vitamin C, and help to eliminate toxins. Besides adding snap to any salad with thin slices of radish, kids find that radishes are tasty in sandwiches, in tacos, or with pesto on a crostini.
Kids in Southern California can grow organic snow peas and sugar snap peas in edible pods in their winter raised bed garden next to a trellis or a support for the vines to grow. Snow peas are flat with immature pea bumps inside the edible pods and sugar snap peas are plumper and shorter, a cross of snow peas and garden peas; both have varieties that have strings attached to the stem. Kids love to eat sweet just picked peas while standing in the garden, as its natural sugars start to break down into starch the minute it is picked. Peas bring heavy hitting nutrition to the table. Snow peas have nutrients that protect the brain and manage blood sugar. Snap peas are sugary and have a juicy, snappy crunch, as well as nutrients that are heart healthy and help with joint stiffness. Kids can rinse fresh organic peas in cold water and snap the stem toward the pod and pull the string to the opposite end. Steam the peas just 1 – 2 minutes to keep them crisp or drop them into cooked dishes during the last couple of minutes. Planting different varieties throughout the seasons, kids can harvest fresh peas all year.
Acorn squash is a Native American winter squash and each half is just the perfect size for an elegant party side dish. It looks like a large green acorn and is rich in bone and eye healthy nutrients. Stuffed with pistachios and cranberries, it is delightfully sweet with nice crunch. Preheat the oven to 350°. Mix 2 tbsp melted organic vegan butter with 2 tbsp organic cane sugar, ⅛ tsp organic molasses, and 1 tsp cinnamon. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush the mixture on 2 organic acorn squashes, halved through the stem and seeded, and sprinkle with sea salt. Stick a fork into the sides of the squash and brush any excess sauce on the tops and side to cover the squash. Roast the squashes for 45 minutes. While the squashes roast, bring 2¼ cups of water to boil, add 1 cup organic Whole Foods brown basmati and wild rice mixture, and simmer 30 minutes. Mix into the rice 2 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil and 6 cups of baby spinach and simmer 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered 10 minutes. Shell 1 cup organic pistachios, place them on a baking pan in the oven next to the squashes, roast 5 minutes, chop, and mix into the rice. Separate and pout 1 cup dried cranberries into the rice and stir in 2 tbsp fresh organic lemon juice, ¼ tsp sea salt, and ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper. Stuff the squash halves with the wild rice mixture and serve. Makes a beautiful party dish for the holidays.
Families can create an edible landscape in their suburban yard and take a big step towards sustainability. Especially in southern and central California which has a mild climate well suited to growing perennial veggies and abundant varieties of fruits and nuts. In the picture above, kids and parents volunteer in a school garden filled with perennials that provide a salad bar for school lunches. There are three kinds of edible plants: annuals, which flower and produce in one season; biennials, which take two growing seasons to flower and set seed; and perennials, which require little care for multiple years, even decades, of harvests. Families can create an ecosystem right where they live that provides for itself involving organic native plants, animals, birds, and insects that have been uprooted by urban expansion. Native plants used in a home’s landscape require the least amount of water and offer food and shelter for beneficial insects and wildlife. Surrounding the house with fruit trees in the correct climate varieties provides shade and sweet treats all year. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and grapes are perennial vines that kids can plant in raised beds, trellises, or on fences. Fruit trees can be planted with herbs and veggies growing under them to act as mulch. Asparagus, rhubarb, and artichokes are popular attractive perennials that can be planted as a border for the veggie garden or planted in a polyculture bed of companion perennial plants. Planting crops together is a great way to increase diversity, utilize space, and increase productivity. Sweet potatoes, chard, garlic, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes can be perennial in a frost-free environment; however, they are often grown as annuals or biennials for better flavor and to prevent diseases. Perennial veggies are great soil builders, attracting beneficial mycorrhiza fungi and improving the soil’s water holding capacity and organic matter. Most herbs are perennial and help attract pollinators and repel pests. Perennial fruits and veggies are low maintenance once they are established in a suitable climate and provide years of food at time when there is little else in the garden.