Friday, January 27, 2012

Sourcing Plants and Seeds Part II -
Vocabulary TMI

There are some people who know immediately what kind of seeds they want. It should be heritage, preferably an old, rare variety that if they don't grow, might blink out of existence, and it should be organic. Then there are others who don't really care as long as it will give them reliable yields with fruit that will make their neighbours envious or at least prevent them from looking down their noses at their crazy gardening hobby. Then there are just those that don't know what the heck all the fuss is about. Isn't a seed a seed?

Sure all seeds are seeds. After all if they weren't, we'd call them something else like grains or gerbils. But there are movements afoot and sometimes they are bannered by sleeping baby plant packages.

Organic vs. Treated

A blast from the past: Here's my youngest as a toddler playing with an unnamed soy bean that had been saved for generations on a farm. Given out at a terminator seed protest. I grew it out for years before turning it over to a small living seed bank.

To produce the seeds, you need plants. If these were grown organically, then some standard - this varies from place to place - must have been met. For example, your seeds were not grown with the help of death-icides or chemicals fast food fertilizers. The seed house may be officially certified - see Cottage Gardener - or they may simply state that they are organic because, for example, their land may still be in transition.1

Some seeds are additionally treated after harvest with fungicides or other chemicals. This will often make them weird colours. Normally it will say on the seed package, but this is a good reason not to eat any seeds not marketed for that purpose. Your own extra seeds make the best sprouts anyhow. Some plants really pump out those seeds too. Yes, I'm talking to you mustard.

Hybrid vs. Open Pollinated

If you are planning on saving your own seed, then it is easiest to start with plants that are open pollinated. This means that the baby plants will be similar to the parent plants. Hybrid seeds are (usually) produced by cross pollinating two distinct, genetically predictable (such as inbred) parent lines. The result is highly uniform but if you were to save seeds from them then the genes get reshuffled and you cannot predict the exact result.2 The statement, "you can't know what you'll get" is a bit misleading however as a gardening friend once pointed out. If you grow out seeds from a hybrid pepper plant you will get.... a pepper plant.3

Hybrids are created to produce, among other things, uniform results in size, yield time and to incorporate resistance to negative pressures such as disease or pests. If you want a particular trait in your plants and can't find them in an OP (open pollinated source), you could try growing out some seed saved from hybrid plants. After several generations of selection, you may have a strain that maintains that trait AND is more or less predictable in form from one generation to the next. In other words, you will have de-hybridized the hybrid. This is a common hobby among backyard breeders. The delectable hybrid tomato Sungold has been, or is in the process of being, dehybridized in all sorts of ways. Big Sungold is an example mentioned on Tatiana's Tomatobase.

It will usually say on the seed packet/description that it is a hybrid. Another clue is an F code behind the name. F1 means that it is a first generation hybrid.

Some people believe that certain plants need to be hybrid or they will be dismal failures. Around here, the brassicas such as broccoli and the melons are often touted as flops if they are not F1. I have not found this to be true. Once you know how to grow these plants, both of them are top performers. Keep in mind that I do not run a CSA nor am I a commercial farmer so maybe I have different acceptable margins.

Heritage/Heirloom vs. Traditionally Bred

Some people are allergic to plants that are created any later than 1930. Often very old and perfectly good varieties are in danger of being lost because they are just not grown. It has been argued that very, very old varieties may have been inadvertently selected as extra healthy because people depended on them to survive. The hypothesis goes that families and varieties co-evolved meaning that families/localities growing the best varieties had more reproductively successful children etc... you know the theory. To dis/prove this you would have to do a nutritional analyses on the crops. Keep in mind too that you would have to use the same cultural practices - ways of working the land, growing the crop - as they did under the same climatic and soil conditions to achieve a similar result. That's not to say that heritage varieties aren't worth growing or aren't healthy. I'm just complicating matters.

My eldest threshing some cabbage seed.

Unfortunately, the rarer of these varieties can suffer from one of two effects by being seldomly grown out. They may have lost a lot of genetic diversity as the seed parent pool is quite small especially if they are out-breeders4. Alternatively, they may no longer have the traits they did in the past. Maybe the solid orange squash from 1890 now has yellow stripes because of cross breeding with other cultivars. Both these situations call for revitalization. If you have a pet variety, you can grow out lots of it and reselect for the original characteristics (assuming they haven't lost the genes responsible for them) or you can intentionally cross them with something similar to increase their genetic diversity and vigour. Of course by crossing them, you are creating something new but that's okay in my books. In this way, you might get a great crop that maintains the original variety's genes even if the phenotype (form) is slightly different. It's like the heritage variety is hiding out in the new variety. Or you could reselect for something that looks like the original.

I love heritage varieties. There I said it. I didn't want you to think otherwise. I don't worship them but I do really like them and I do like to believe that co-evolution hypothesis if for no other reason than it sounds neat.

But what you ask is the definition of a heritage/heirloom crop? It varies but the internet consensus seems to be that it has been created and maintained in a traditional way for at least 50 years (some use before the end of the second world war as a time limit) though others say at least 100 years old.

Even today, people are breeding plants in traditional ways. Some may be saving all seeds from high and poorer performing plants. This can maintain more genetic diversity as not all plants perform the same from year to year because of variations in pest/disease pressures and weather. That said, you will probably have some plants that produce consistently higher seed yields and therefore self select. Other breeders intentionally cross plants either with a goal in mind like a purple turnip or just to see what will happen. This blogger's fun with cabbage breeding.

These modern reselections, de-hybridzed crops or intentional breeding projects have value! Wild Garden Seeds (a fav of mine) is busy producing disease resistant lettuce in what they call hell's half acre and strawberry spinach with more reliable germination. That sounds as cool as ancient veg. to me.

Wild Collected vs. Raised Local or otherwise

Seeds in catalogues are produced by an assortment of growers. Small companies often grow a lot of their own seed but also may have other people grow a portion of it. The growers may or may not be nearby. If you are looking for locally adapted varieties, inquire. On occasion, seed companies will merely be reselling seeds from other suppliers. Hopefully they are forthright about where they get their wares.

Other seeds, especially of native varieties, are collected in the wild. As best you can, you should be sure that the collectors are doing so in an ethical way - i.e., taking only a few seeds from different populations if they are rare varieties and none from endangered crop populations unless they have permission and are attempting to increase the population. The same holds if you are the collector.

Speaking of seed explorers, I have seen seeds offered from collections made off of a neighbour's interesting tree, a weird looking bean found on vacation at a market, or even a tag along seed that didn't belong in someone's soup mix.

Grex, Mix or Landrace?

Ripe species seeds from Myhrris odorata - no cultivar name - or Sweet Cicely.

It is becoming more popular to sell seed mixes. Often it'll say 'using our special formula' implying a precision mix. This means that they are adding seeds from different batches together. On the other hand a grex is the herd of babies produced by a cross. These are sister and brother plants that don't necessarily all look a like. Extreme Gardener talks chicory greges.

Which brings me to landraces. These are populations of plants that come from a particular locality and show variability. For example, a landrace of soup peas might have different dry colours and growth type but it is traditionally all saved together and used to make soup. Language - being a means of communication - has led to the evolution of the use of this term so that landrace can refer to intentional variability by mass crossing plants. Here is Joseph's definition of an adaptivar landrace and some of the interesting work he does on his farm.

And finally, when growing many herbs or unusual vegetables from seed, there may be no named cultivars at all. This does not mean that there aren't different varieties, so getting a species variety from two different spots may give you plants that vary in dates to maturity, shade tolerance and so on. Even the seeds grown out from one area may vary considerably. Often, there ARE named varieties even if it is just a regional name attached but because it is unusual to us, we clump them all together.

'K - go out and buy some seeds now.

1 For example, here's some organic regulation standards linked from Canadian Organic Growers.Or you could try and navigate this omafra site.

2 So you want an (overly simplistic) example? Okay let's say you have two parent plants. One has the following genes for three traits: aabbcc. The other plant has these complementary genes: AABBCC. Now form 'a' and form 'A' are for the same gene but each parent has two of the same. When you cross these two inbred lines you get uniformly plants that are aAbBcC as the babies each get one gene from each parent. If you were to let these F1s cross and make baby seeds then you would be crossing two plants with the genes: aAbBcC x aAbBcC. The result could be any of the following: aabbcc, AABBCC, or aabBcC, aABBcc, aaBBcc, etc... See? They may be more like one parent or the other and who knows what the parents were like.

Some people claim that all hybrids are produced to be dependent on big-agri crutches like chemical fertilizers. Though the holy grail of capitalism is to create brand dependency, such as GMOs that work with certain pesticides, this is not always the goal. I don't endorse F1s per se but I don't see anything inherently wrong with them especially when they are produced by combining two cross-pollinating OPs together to invigorate a crop. These may or may not be uniform but they also may show the glorified hybrid vigour. My point is you don't need a lab to do it. It can be done in a garden setting and it might be to your benefit depending on the situation. Or it might just be a fun science experiment.

Here is a decent explanation - It also lists a three line system which uses more than two parent line hence the qualifier in my description.

3A plant that is produced by crossing two closely related species could also be called a hybrid. Obviously this is more unpredictable and it is possible to have mules - sterile plants. If the hybrid process used male sterility in one parent line, I suppose it is also possible to pass on this trait to seedlings. My experience so far, however, is that hybrid plants produce F2 babies which produce F3 seeds and so on.

4 Outbreeders are plants that require cross pollination of others of their kind to produce healthy, viable offspring. Otherwise, they suffer from inbreeding depression meaning decreased fitness and fertility. They are normally wind or insect pollinated. Examples are cabbages or corn. This contrasts with inbreeders that are often self pollinating and need smaller populations of parent plants to produce healthy offspring. More on the subject.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dandelion to the Rescue Harvest Monday

This fall, among the beets, parsnips and carrots, I dug out of the ground, I also collected dandelion roots. They were stored in fall leaves in a pot in our cellar. About a month ago, I started taking them out to force.


Some were potted in moistened soil and left to grow in the near dark of the furnace room. A small window makes for soft green rather than yellow leaves. After harvesting these milder dandelion greens, they were moved upstairs to the kitchen window where within days they became deep green and prepared to flower! Can't wait to see those sunshine yellow blooms.


These dandelion and chicory roots were soaked in water for a few hours than place in a freezer bag in the vegetable drawer of our fridge to sprout as mentioned in Salad Leaves for All Seasons by Dowding.

I particularly like eating bitters in deep winter as a vitamin and mineral rich tonic.


You've heard it before and I'll say it again: many weeds are good for you and the queen of them all is arguably the Taraxacum officinale. It is hardy, doesn't take much room and requires even less care, pretty if you can get past the reflex to eject it from the earth and useful. Roots can be roasted, leaves used in all manner of recipe calling for 'greens' and petals can give their delicate flavour to baked goods or even wine. If you find dandelion greens too bitter then concentrate on eating new growth in the spring or blanch like you might endive by placing a plate over the crown. You can also harvest them in the fall to use in the winter!

There are various species of dandelions including red leaved, pink or white flowered too. In places where dandelion is grown as a green more commonly, there are some that have been selected for juicy hearts or thicker leaves such as Ameliore a Coeur Plein and Vert de Montmagny but the common weed is wonderful enough. Instead of pulling out every dandelion you see, give a few some extra love and experiment in the kitchen with this edible perennial.


I just had to include this recipe as the pictures are great: Dandelion Flower Fritters

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sourcing Plants and Seeds
Part III - Plants for a headstart

You want to buy that cool pear-sorbus hybrid or that nifty variegated form of sorrel, prepare to be frustrated. Though there are lots of plants for the buying in Canada, many google searches will leave you slavering over the unattainable (or quite difficult to attain) plants in the US or Europe. Your next step, if you are me, is to try and find seeds of same variety but as many unusual forms of plants don't come true from seed, that might be a either a lost cause or a long venture. Of course, you could import some plants from the states using a phytosanitary certificate but I always felt too bogged down in the mire of expense and paperwork to try it.

As this is primarily an edible plant blog, I'm going to focus on plant mail-order houses with edible entries, but there are a list of nurseries in the area that may have what you're looking for or MAYBE will order them in. I say maybe because I've submitted various requests that were filed under 'not in our lifetime.'

This will NOT be a complete list 'cause I don't spend all day on the internet. Feel free to contribute your brain power and free time to the project by recommending others.

Mail-order Edible Plants in Canada:

Acorus Restoration: Native plants, many edible. Generally listed as mail-order
Alberta Nurseries: Hardy tart/sweet cherries and other small fruits. Not a huge selection.
Alcla Native Plants: Some edibles most notably ground plum - Astralgalus crassicarpus which I normally only see as seeds such as from Prairie Moon Nursery (US native seed and plant source)
Bamboo World: I have not researched which would be good to eat but if you have the right zone, then here's a source.
Beaver Pond Estates: Seed garlic - link takes you to seeds of diversity page for email
Boughen Nurseries: Fruit trees and plants including U of Saskatchewan Cherries and cultivars of Seabuckthorn.
Boundry Garlic - Lots 'o garlic.
Clear Sky Farm: Heritage Garlic Varieties.
Cornhill Nursery: Small fruits, including a good selection of grapes for mail-order.
Denman Island Heritage Apples: The name says it all, includes cider apples
Eagle Creek Farms: Lots of potatoes. Years ago, I ordered from them with very good results.
Fraiser Thimble Farms: Has some edible listings
Golden Acres Farm: Seed Garlic. No direct link to website so linked to Seeds of Diversity info
Golden Bough Nursery: Sells Red Mulberry, American Plum, grapes, some other rare fruits and nuts
Green Barn Nursery: Odd naming practices such as using the term apple-pear for an asian pear, and using the heading cranberry for high bush cranberries. Nursery stock is interesting but expensive: crosses between cherries and plums and a cross between an apricot and plum, mulberries, nuts and more.
Grimo Nut Nursery: All sorts of interesting things from paw-paw, quince, north hardy nuts to mulberries. My trees arrived in a good condition and grew well so far.
Hardy Fruit Trees: Doesn't the first picture make you wondering if he's peeing on his plants? At any rate, good selection.
Hawfield Farm Garlic: Garlic farms don't seem to like to have websites so I'm pretty sure this is the right one.
Henry Fields Seed & Nursery: Small berries, trees and some veggie starts
Heritage Harvest Seed: Perennial walking and potato onions.
Hortico: Fruit trees and plants along with lots of other perennials and woodies.
Humber Nursery - Fruit and Nut trees available - not clear if plants are shipped
La ferme tourne-sol: Jersusalem Artichoke and chuffa
Maddog Farm: Just discovered this one (Thanks Mike!) Large selection of Jerusalem Artichokes, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Also sells crosnes (Stachys affinis). Also sells honey bees.
Mapple Farms: My original source of sweet potatoes and crosnes. They also sell the Volga2 variety of Jerusalem Artichoke. Mr. Allan's plants have always grown well for me.
McFayden: Various small fruits and some fruit trees
Mr V's: Good selection of fruits including cherry-plums. Said to be expensive compared to others.
Mycopatch: Mushrooms - navigating this site is not easy.
Pine needle farm: Tree nursery
Rhora's Nut Farm: I've not ordered from them before but they offer some unusual nut and fruit trees that are hard to come by like cornelian cherry and beach plum. My only complaint is that they sell inoculant for their different plant categories.
Richters: Venerable herb house of Canada with lots of offerings including some fruit trees and vegetable starts. Prices are reasonable and though the size of the plants are small when they arrive, they grow well in my experience. Lots of seeds too.
Saskgarlic: You guessed it.
Seeds of Diversity: Last time I received their trade catalogue, there were cuttings available
Silver Creek Nursery: Reliance peach, asian pears and more
Siloam Orchards: These guys come up as a mail-order house though I couldn't discover how to order. Mostly apple varieties but also asian pears, cherries and more. They sell perry pears too which I have just discovered are pears selected for cider production.
Strawberry Time: Mostly strawberry and raspberries, good prices.
T&T Seeds: Interesting plant selection from hardy kiwis to Saskatoon berries.
The Cutting Veg: More garlic!
The Mushroom Patch: Large selection of kits and plugs. I can't tell you how my plugs did yet as they were started just last year.
William Dam Seeds: The usual: asparagus, raspberries, strawberries, potatoes and so on.


Some specialty or collector perennials, such as daylilies, are also edible but slogging through those numerous websites is making me woozy. For what it's worth, it's normally easier finding seeds of interesting species of popular edibles such as citron daylily and red-leafed dandelion.

Also, conservation societies can be a good place to get inexpensive tree seedlings for reforesting. Ferguson Forest Centre is nearby. Try native nurseries and sales too for plants such as edible fiddleheads.

* It was supposed to be definition day but I decided to do Part II next week as I have an eye on getting some more trees this week :)
** They also sell bloody dock, various shallots, garlic, walking onions, lovage, various hops, more mint than anyone should plant and lots and lots of herbs many of them with culinary uses.

Coming up next week:

Part II - Not all Seeds are created equal from hybrid, heirloom, landrace, GMO, species, GREXes and more.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Harvest Monday - Checking the cellar

Story of Supper II - Checking the cellar
Condensed growing adventures

Winter and summer squash are stored here along with citron - a hard rind watermelon. White scallop summer squash left to ripen fully and harden has stored well so far and still have the a summer squash texture and flavour. I see a slightly wrinkly butternut which probably didn't fully ripen before I took them in but it will still taste delicious in summer. Also shown here is one cob of decorative flint type corn and a couple potatoes that I rescued from the freezing garage still looking fresh as daisies but sprouting. Not sure what to do with these.

When we first moved back to the land of snow and ice from the land of green and grey - Canada from England - I had grown accustomed to having herbs all year long what with the sturdy rosemary hedges and bay laurel the size of small trees. Eliot Coleman and friends told me it could be done by season extension and proper storage. I put up a cold frame and scoured the seed catalogues for mention of terms like storage varieties or long keepers.

Parsnips stored in fall leaves as an experiment. The roots are still very firm with a bit of sprouting.

This last year I didn't have time to set up a polytunnel or dig my dream root cellar in the side of the hill but our new house did come with a storage room in the basement probably meant for canning jars or wine (something the previous owner liked to make). It is now filled with last year's pick of pumpkins, roots packed in fall leaves and a few in dirt.

Swiss chard roots planted to force leaves in the winter. I should probably move this to a sunny spot so that the leaves get more colour and so the plants don't exhaust themselves too quickly.

I went down to the cellar to see how things were doing and to eat things that won't last too much longer. One butternut is begging to become pie and roasted seeds, the chicory roots are drying out a bit too much in the leaves. I think it would be better if they were kept in dirt or sand. The smaller beets were getting a bit dry in the leaves but not the large, well grown ones. Carrots of all size were beautiful looking, no need to eat them quite yet. Parsnips too will wait for a February dinner. Celariac was quite small and shrivelling but as they are planted in dirt, I think I will bring them upstairs to grow in a sunny window. For some reason the daikon radishes are melting but the turnips are doing well. Perhaps the daikon radish have a disease or pest issue.

This is the way I have always stored roots before, in dirt, from the garden. My dirt has always been the well draining sandy type. I wouldn't try it with clay. Here's a sun choke from the top of the pot.

The cool and damp of the cellar seem to keeping the Jerusalem artichokes just fine, even the last cabbage not in my freezer is doing well.

Check out the San Michele x Red Rock Mammoth F1 - it's a survivor, making some roots where the stem was cut. I have a mind to cut back the leaves from the stem and plant this beauty.

One of the great things about growing your own food is it takes some of the choice out of what's for supper. We are having some lentil and pumpkin patties with a nice beet salad. Those drying chicory roots will be soaked in water than placed in plastic bags in the fridge to see if I can force them still. That will make up the bulk of a meal soon to come.

Fruit big and small: Citron and ground cherries. Kept in their husks, ground cherries and tomatillos keep a very long time. Citron, the first time I've grown it, seems to be doing well too. I should do a cutting open experiment soon.

Other things: Canna, glads, dahlias are all firm while the cardoon could use a bit of freshening up. Sweet potatoes are being kept separately in the warm, furnace room and are getting tastier every day. Apples are mellowing if not rotting so I think I'm going to take the ones that are spoiling and make some apple butter today.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sourcing Plants and Seed
Part 1 - Seedy dreams

Samples of all the types of beans I saved from my garden this year, painstakingly arranged for what purpose I am not sure... we'll say to go with the dream theme cause I certainly didn't have THAT much time to waste.

It's the time of year we start to dream. Just like when we are snuggled in our beds, our dreams can be strange, disjointed, wild, frightening or just impossible. We scour seed catalogues, websites, our own stock and lust whilst planning for next year's (im)perfect garden. It's one of my favourite gardening activities!

Where can I get my seed?

The Establishment

The first place you'll notice seeds is a rack at a grocery or hardware store. Unless you are lucky, these will likely be from one of the big seed houses like Mckenzie. The selection, at first, might seem exciting but as you go from store to store, you'll feel the deja-vu of global capitalism's so-called choice. This even plays out across small seed companies as well but to a much lesser extent. Plant nurseries (Richmond Nursery sells OSC seeds and Make it Green sells Seeds of Change), Seed and Feed stores, even health food stores (Rainbow Foods sells Eternal Seeds if I remember correctly) or other places where hipsters* and garden fanatics hang out often sell seeds too.

The Wild Wild Web

Much greater choice can be had by exploring the many small seed houses from those aimed at hybrid-friendly agri-complient customers to those in the heirloom/native or bust camp. There's something for everyone and lots in between. Try Seed of Diversity's diverse web listing of places to buy seeds. The problem is that you may want a dash of this and a dab of that from a bunch of different places which can add up to big shipping costs.

You don't have to stay in country, though locally produced seeds have a better chance of being adapted to local conditions, pests, weather and gardening practices. Though I've gone no further afield than Europe and the US, Canada is pretty lenient about admitting seeds into the country. Just remember to check the currency conversion so there are no surprises in price.

Seedy Celebration

Better yet, you can wait (if you can wait) for a Seedy Saturday/Sunday festival where lots of small seed houses will be gathered in one spot to sell their wares. This is great for most seeds but not for ones with exacting germination requirements such as those that are best sown fresh in the fall or that need to be planted indoors before February / March which are the most common dates for seedy days. They also mostly cater to the kitchen garden crowd.

Not all big business

Just like crocheted dollies and ideas, individuals sell seeds on the internet. I've gotten some really nice plants this way but it can be a gamble as I have also gotten duds. Dave's Garden has a feedback facility so you can rate your interaction with companies including one (wo)man operations as does ebay of course. For example, I've had good success with seeds and plants from Yuko's Open Pollinated Seed and Casey's Heirloom Tomatoes.

It's a mission

Some seed savers are in the business of preserving seed strains, such as heritage, or otherwise interesting species, cultivars and so on. They often belong to a seed saving organization through which you can get seeds. Seeds of Diversity is one of these as is the Seed Saver's Exchange in the U.S. Here in Canada, Salt Spring Seeds also has their own Seed Sanctuary.

Swap Meet and Round Robin

Of course in the seed world, there is more than one currency. You can trade seeds for seeds. Seedy Saturday usually has a swap table. Plant forums such as Garden Web often have trade sections. If you hang around plantophiles for long enough, you'll notice they are mostly a generous sort. So much so, that the mere mention of a plant can act like a magical incantation as those very seeds end up in my mailbox (thank you everyone!!). On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are scammers too looking to get free seeds for 'charities' only to resell them or that promise a trade but never deliver. Thankfully I've almost never encountered this.

Plantcycles, horticultural societies and the like often have swaps or round robins. I've never done the latter so I refer you to this definition.

Seed Trading Etiquette

There are often rules for different clubs or organizations but here's my take:

1. Packaging: Use something that is easy to open and close but that will not spill and write on it as much info as you can such as the common name, botanical latin name (I really must remember to do this), seed source, year seed was saved, any problems with seed such as low germination or special germination requirements.

2. For your own seed, make sure people know what they're getting: If it is an outbreeder, did you isolate it or could it have crossed with another plant, cultivar or weed? Was the parent population low? Remember that there are distance requirements between different cultivars of inbreeders too but these are less likely to be adhered to by backyard seed savers. Also, some inbreeders such as beans can be crossed by insects in certain areas.

3. Disease and pest issues: If you have an important seed born disease then it is probably best to keep it for your own use but at any rate, you should inform the recipient. There are some standard precautions taken for certain vegetables such as fermenting/bleach treating tomato seeds or freezing dry bean seeds to kill weevils if they are a problem for you. Also, be careful to remove all pests and weed seeds from your seeds. This is a good reason to remove chaff.

4. Storage requirements: Some seeds germinate MUCH better if they do NOT dry out after collection and so could be shipped moist packed. These are typically those that are best sown fresh. For examples, see Gardens North's catalogue. I can't think of any examples of this requirement for common vegetables though. Others may be easily crushed like sunflower or cabbage seeds so should be packed in bubble wrap.

5. Amount of seeds: This will vary on the type of plant, the rarity and how much you have. If you are planning to give far fewer seeds than normal, make sure the recipient knows. Also most people don't want to grow 50 tomato plants of the same variety so 10-20 seeds is plenty but they could easily sow 50 peas.

6. Postage: Normally if you are trading something more or less equivalent then no postage changes hands but otherwise, it is customary to offer. I never ask figuring all that paid postage can go into my karma bank.

That's not all

There are genetic databases, grocery stores and markets, gardens, the wilds and more but I'll tackle those subjects in different posts. P.S. As sourcing is my obsession this time of year, I thought I'd make it my winter posting theme.

Part II coming up next week: Not all seeds are created equal from hybrid, heirloom, landrace, GMO, species, GREXes and more.

* Not just for geeks, agrarians and grandparents anymore. Gardening is trending right now, especially edible gardening. Food is a big topic for good reason I'd argue. And I like the sudden influx of company. It was lonely way back when people's eyes used to glaze over when I started talking plants. Wait, they still do sometimes... At any rate, it's a garden party!


Monday, January 2, 2012

Harvest Monday - Jeruselum Artichokes

For a 2012 change, my Harvest Monday posts are being dressed up as the Story of Supper.

Story of Supper 1 - Leftovers
condensed food growing adventures


Lunch - the sweets used were a white fleshed variety.

We had people over for New Year's dinner but cooked way too much even for a day of excess. So today, I used what was leftover from one of our kid friendly options - rice with peas and grated sweet potato - and fried it up with some sliced Jeruselum artichokes and onion with kale chips sprinkled on top. Other than the rice, all the rest are easily grown in the Ottawa area. Quinoa, polenta (made from ground corn) or even wild rice would make a nice substitute for the rice in this dish and are also easily grown. If you are interested in going beyond fresh summer eats, there is a movement underfoot to grow grains in the city such as in Lawns to Loaves.

This story begins when I first learned that there were perennial vegetables.* Talk about a paradigm shift! I could have vegetables that were as easy to grow as my herb garden? I started to gather as many as possible including all the classics like horseradish, rhubarb and Jerusalem Artichoke. A friend had brought me some sunchokes for planting from a farmer's market. They grew and grew and grew. My neighbour referred to them as the Jack-in-the-beanstalk plant. After reaching 12ft, they threw out some comically small in comparison yellow sunflowers. After frost, I felt like a kid unearthing the palm sized crunchy tubers from the soil. When we moved here, I brought some descendants of that original variety and have added some other types including one with red skins.

The next chapter happened last fall when I tossed some mixed kale seeds on the cool, wet ground expecting them to sprout in the spring as I usually do of plants that successfully self sow. Late in winter, I seeded long day, storage onions in a flat and in spring my kids dropped shelling peas into a shallow trench. The onions were transplanted in another trench that was carefully tended throughout the season to produce the best growth. Sweet potato tubers that had been placed in warm water in a sunny window had grown slips that were planted as soon as summer had set in which is about the time that the early peas were ready - around the beginning of June. In my family, it is challenging to grow enough peas to freeze because those sweet treats are mostly shelled and devoured while standing over the vines.

By late summer, the kale was in full swing so freshly washed, dried and salted leaves were placed in a dehydrator to make addictive kale chips. Onions had also bulked up so were picked to cure and then their dried leaves were braided to be hung in a cool, dry place. The ground beneath the sweet potatoes was beginning to heave. Before first frost, I carefully pitch forked the soil. The kids collected the sizeable treasures to cure at high heat and humidity for a week or so before being stored at room temperature to continue to deepen in flavour. Frost does not harm the tubers of the Jerusalem artichoke however but improves it. I waited until the ground threatened to freeze solid before digging up the bed, putting up the harvest in pots of dirt that will be stored in the cold cellar.

A few months later, it is all ready for use: the peas are defrosted, the sweet potato and Jerusalem artichoke peeled and sliced, the onion torn from the braid to be caramelized. All fried up with cooked rice and topped with crumbled, dry kale leaves.

* For the interested, please see Plants for a Future (cross check info as there are some errors especially in hardiness zones), Perennial Vegetables by Toensmeier (available at the Ottawa library), or just put terms like culinary herbs, useful wild plants, edible native plants, permaculture plants, or self sowing vegetables into a search engine.

The Sunchoke - Helianthus tuberosus


Sunchokes taken from storage in a pot of dirt in our cellar.

These perennial tuber making members of the sunflower family store their sugars in a form called inulin that can cause gas in some people. Our family does not seem to be affected (thankfully). Inulin is also the culprit in bean's reputation. They are so easy to grow that some people call them invasive though I haven't heard of them seeding themselves this far north so they are more contained. They are sometimes recommended as a warm season screen as they can grow impressively tall - some of mine in my old house were 12 feet tall - but will lodge in a wind storm. As with any self reliant plant, exercising a little control will make them manageable. Put them in a place where they won't be a nuisance or affect the growth of other plants. As they are sunflowers they may cause an allopathic reaction in other plants though I haven't noticed this.

Dig out the patch in the fall after some frost and store in moist sand in a cellar or soil. Their thin skins lose moisture quickly so they may not store as long as some other roots in less than ideal conditions. You can choose to amend the soil then with some compost or well rotted manure and replant some nice looking tubers but I often find that some tubers, or pieces at any rate, will escape your attention restarting the patch again next year. You can leave some in the ground to harvest until the ground freezes and before they start to grow again in the spring.

I've also recently learned that the blanched shoots are quite tasty. You can leave on the skin, just scrub the tubers. To make this easier, knock off the knobs** that may be hiding the dirt and scrub those separately or you can peel the skin. You can use them in similar ways to potatoes but they're flavour, though pleasant in my opinion, is more overwhelming. Raw, they have a crisp, juicy texture and are nice in salad. They can be baked but quickly turn mushy - still tasty though. You can also add them to soups, sauces or fry them. I find they pair really well with seafood.

** In my last residence, the tubers of my variety were quite smooth mostly with few knobbly bits. The ground was quite friable and fertile. Here it is also sandy but less fertile. The plants did not grow as long and the tubers were significantly more knobbly. I'm curious to see if this changes as more organic matter is reincorporated into the soil.