So we are halfway through the year and it’s time to check in on the herb test beds.
Bai Ji (Bletilla striata) This is an effortless little plant, well-suited to part-shade and rich free-draining soil. It’s multiplying slowly in this little patch but it is multiplying. I’m looking forward to transplanting this out to the farm and propagating it more aggressively.
Ban Xia (Pinellia ternata) is a new addition. It’s staying in a pot until I can find out if it’s as invasive in Florida as it in Pennsylvania and New York. Considering that the part you harvest is the roots, “weedy” might be a good thing.
Dang Shen (Codonopsis pilosula) is a plant I’d really like to grow but it really does not love the Florida sun. It’s easy to start from seeds but difficult to keep alive through our dry springtime and full sun anytime after noon fries it. These are the most successful plants yet, in pots with regular watering, fish emulsion, and about an hour of morning sun. I think Codonopsis will thrive in the forest farm.
Gou Qi (Lycium barbarum) This little plant has been another struggle. I originally had this planted as the bush layer in a full-sun polyculture with pomegranate trees and beach sunflower but it never grew and was often completely leafless. I moved it into an area with afternoon shade and it’s finally flowering and sporadically fruiting. After three years I’m confident saying that while Goji berries are fun to grow they aren’t productive enough here to be a commercial crop.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is the tree that produces Bai Guo, which is the fruit of the female tree. I planted this ginkgo about four months ago after an unhappy winter in a large pot. It survived and is finally stretching its legs a bit. I say “its” because I won’t know until maturity whether this little tree is a boy or a girl. If it’s a boy I can still harvest the leaves.
Huang Qi (Astragalus membranaceous) This is one test crop that is only a maybe. Poor astragalus does not love the heat and wanted far more water than I was willing to give it through the dry spring. It may be the lack of inoculant but the seeds germinated readily enough, the plant is just not thriving. I’ve just given this patch a good dose of composted chicken manure so I’ll be watching how it grows through the rainy season.
Jie Geng (Platycodon grandiflorus) is a definite yes. It grew easily and well, has beautiful blooms, seemed to thrive in the heat, and produced beautiful succulent roots. I was very happy with last year’s test plot and will grow it more intensively this spring to gather data on root yield, inputs, etc.
Ku Shen (Sophora flavescens) These little seedlings are being held in pots until I can plant them at the farm. They will grow to large bushes up to 6′ tall. Keeping plants like this in pots long-term is definitely teaching me about keeping a plant nursery- mainly, that potted plants in Florida need constant fertilizer because the rain washes the nutrients right through.
Pi Pa Ye (Eriobotrya japonica) is the leaf of the loquat tree. Loquats grow all over the place here so this is an easy choice. There is already a feral loquat growing at the farm but I grafted an improved fruit variety onto this one.
Xuan Shen (Scrophularia ningpoensis) This plant has been an interesting experiment. I started a whole pack of xuan shen seeds back in February… and got close to 100% germination. I let the seedlings get too big in the germination tray and killed at least half of them transplanting them into starter pots. Then I held them in the starter pots too long, let them get too stressed, and gave them too much sun so most of the bolted and tried to go to seed before I got them in the ground. I decided to cut off the flowers and seed pods and plant them anyway and they have grown some but they’ve been stunted and twisted. I planted five in huge pots at the acupuncture school’s garden at least a month earlier and those plants are tall and gorgeous. I will probably pull these plants in the fall and start over. If I can get the timing right, I think this will be an easy crop to grow here.
Xie Bai (Allium macrostemon) is a gimme. This is an easy crop here in full sun and will be even easier in bright shade.
Whew! That’s about half. I’ll post the rest tomorrow.