Soule Garden: Edible vines produce food, fiber and usable products - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Soule Garden: Edible vines produce food, fiber and usable products

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Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 3:00 am

Vines are “vunderful.” Since they need very little root space to flourish, they will have ample room to grow, no matter if your yard is small or large. Many vines have beautiful flowers, and the bloom period can be months long. It offers an opportunity to fill your yard with color, but best of all, there are a number of vines that produce food, fiber and usable products for around the home.

Passion flower vine has more than 300 species, most with edible fruit, including one used in the making of Hawaiian Punch fruit juice. That particular species (Passiflora edulis) does better in high humidity, but there are a number of passion flower vines that grow well here. Plant this vine for the striking flowers as well as the fruit. The flowers come in purples, reds and wild combinations of colors. Most blooms are very large, and look like some sort of alien spaceship. 

The native Sonoran passion flower (Passiflora foetida) is a night bloomer with a heavy, musky scent that draws in bats and giant hummingbird moths. A fast grower, one plant can cover a space measuring 20 feet by 15 feet. The edible fruits ripen throughout the summer. I have planted mine under a mesquite tree, and it weaves prettily through the foliage. Passion flower will not choke the tree like some of the aggressive vines.

Baja passion flower vine (Passiflora foetidia v. longipedunculata) has more showy flowers that last to midday. It can die back to the ground in a hard freeze, but mine has already resprouted. Normally they start blooming in March and last through to November.  A fast grower, one plant can cover 20 feet by 15 feet. The edible fruits ripen throughout the summer.

The hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta), also called bower vine, peewee kiwi and kuwi, grows fast to about 40 feet by 10 feet from spring to fall, before dying to the ground in winter.  While it is in the same genus as kiwi, the fruits have no fuzz, are much sweeter, and are about one-third the size. I far prefer them for flavor and ease of eating. 

Also consider the more heat tolerant Chinese kiwi (Actinidia chinensis) with a sweet, almost strawberry-like flavor and peach-like fuzz. Either species will withstand our climate and soils, but they will need extra water. The only real drawback is that you will need one male plant for every three to five female plants. You will have to order these from a specialty nursery (using the scientific name). 

Fast-growing hops (Humulus lupulus) can reach 40 feet by 10 feet in a single summer. The female flowers (before they set seed) are the part used as an herb or for beer flavoring and stability. Like the hardy kiwi, you need one male plant for every three to five female plants. Hops has large leaves and does not do so well in our low humidity, but if you brew your own beer, it might be fun to grow your own hops as well. 

Many members of the cucumber family have a vining habit and can be trained to climb trellises. Cucumbers, luffa, summer squash and all manner of gourds, such as bottle, dipper, birdhouse, Easter egg and swan-neck, grow well on trellises. Pumpkins will vine too, but only consider growing them off the ground if you plant the kind with tiny fruit.  More about these in July when it is time to plant them.

Jacqueline Soule’s new book, “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing & Using Them Today,” is now available for sale. Send your email address to to receive more information on where the book is currently available.

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