I’m like a cactus – if you handle me the wrong way, I’ll stick ya!

This is something I think about all winter - a tomato and cucumber sandwich fresh out of the garden.

This is something I think about all winter – a tomato and cucumber sandwich fresh out of the garden.  It’s even better on my own bread. 

Nothing puts a shine on my day like a tomato and cucumber sandwich.  Now that I know how to make my own bread, it’s just scrump-dilly-umptious. Lather on that mayonnaise Honey, you only live once.

Home gardening might not save that much money – not with water prices – but it’s a healthy lifestyle that gets you out in the sunshine and gives you simple, whole foods. My family never thought twice about gardening – of course you garden, otherwise your children might grow up thinking food  comes from the  grocery store.

Food grows out of the ground, you just have to know what is edible and how to eat it.  One weird food you might not believe you can eat is the young leaves of the Nopal cactus,  found throughout Mexico, and wherever Mexicans go, they seem to take it with them. And like Mexicans, it’s a tough and thrives on hardship. There are huge stands along driveways and next to pump houses all around the Woodland area. It didn’t get there by itself, but once it was planted, there was no stopping it. These are tough plants, they might wither and look sad in times of long drought, but as soon as they get a drop of water they are growing like nobody’s business.

I found mine next to my mother’s door after she died. I had to sell her house, and the cactus was thorny and threatening. I was afraid of it – I’ve had spines in my skin, one caused an infection and had to be lanced with a razor blade. So one day I put my gloves on and got a big plastic garbage bag and I just ripped it out of the ground. 

I didn’t know what to do with it – at that time I felt I had to hold on to everything that had belonged to my mother as for dear life. I missed her and I still do. I kept stupid little things, things I take out and handle often to remember her. The cactus went into a plastic pot, and we toted it in that pot as we moved from one house to another over the next few years, fixing up old junkers and putting them on the rental market, then moving on to the next junker.

When I got here, I decided, time to quit moving into junkers. This is the junker I decided to stay in. The cactus had become so big, it was top heavy in the pot, so I picked out a good sunny spot, and I dug a little garden. It’s a good thing I cleared a good big spot because there turned out to be three separate plants in that pot by the time I got it out of there.

This is the "mother plant," the biggest one in the pot. To me it looks like the Virgin of Guadalupe, but you might not get that out of the picture.

This is the “mother plant,” the biggest one in the pot. To me it looks like the Virgin of Guadalupe, but you might not get that out of the picture.

I set the biggest plant in the middle, and flanked it with the other smaller plants. Wow, once they were in the ground, they went to town. 

These are three new leaves, but they're probably too old to eat now. You're supposed to get them when they're about half as big.

These are three new leaves, but they’re probably too old to eat now. You’re supposed to get them when they’re about half as big.

 

My plants have never put off the little “prickly pear,” a neat little round red fruit. It’s more popular to eat than the leaves, here’s a post a friend of mine did recently:

http://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/cactus-apple-jelly-and-jam/

These growing here at the base of the bigger plant are leaves that I thought had died in the freeze last year. I had thrown them in my compost pile, and later in the year I found they were growing, so fished them out and laid them on the ground, where they have just kept growing into this little mess of cactus.

These growing here at the base of the bigger plant are leaves that I thought had died in the freeze last year. I had thrown them in my compost pile, and later in the year I found they were growing, so fished them out and laid them on the ground, where they have just kept growing.  The upright leaves have all grown since I laid the old shriveled leaves on the ground. They’re not even planted.

 

I have to remind myself, this plant has tricky spines that will really bug the heck out of you if you get them in your skin.  I put them in an out of the way spot, off the main path. I also found out, the cuttings, no matter how dead they look, are still very much alive – don’t put them in your compost bin. These are a plant that you need to keep control of, don’t let it spread somewhere you don’t want it, or you’ll have to glove up and deal with it. 

 

 

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