Monday, September 29, 2008

Phenomenal Fall

The big three (aster, mum, anemone) fall ornmental perennials are beautifully blooming. Unfortunately, two out of three are rule breakers. What are the rules? Well, I am trying to use my precious urban plot to grow more worthy plants. To qualify as worthy, they could be:

1) Native
2) Beneficial to beneficials, or
3) Edible or otherwise useful

I'm afraid that the following plants only qualify for the fourth rule-breaker rule:

4) Too pretty to take a shovel too.

Japanese Anemome

Here featured with a common coleus. The coleus is not winter hardy but roots easily from cuttings.

I cannot get rid of this gorgeous flower even though it did originate in... well a nurseryman's test plot - these are people-made. It is a member of the buttercup family and therefore not even edible!


The background to Scottish curley kale and 'blue false indigo' which has yet to flower for me. Next year?

Nothing adds colour late in the season like this plant. It's brilliant reds, yellows, pinks and purples, complement the fall leaves. "Hello sugar maple, you look magnificant in that colour of red." "And why you Mum look fabulous. What is that burnt orange?" They are edible - specifically the variety Chrysanthemum coronarium - and are probably a late season nectar source so they squeak by in acceptability. Phew.


Wild aster.

Finally, a virtuous plant that is both a number 1 and 2! It's quite pretty to boot and there are lots of showy cultivars out there. I have regular field aster which grows to over 5 feet in garden conditions. There are also lots of native asters.

Black Eyed Susan

A crazy messy garden with self seeded sugarloaf chicory. You can see it popping out of the grass, lemon balm, and so on.

Another pat on the back for this self-seeding perennial. You could easily have yourself a field of aster and BES as I refer to it in my gardening notes. The wild type is a tall flower with a mass of charming, petite blossoms.

Obediant Flower

Still flowering, though nearing its end, this native also provides late season colour in the shade of pastel pink. This has one of those spreading rhizomes. You've been warned. Bees love it!

The leaves

Blueberry bush with a pink chrysanthemum just unfurling its pink blooms.

In my garden, the most striking leaves so far are on the blueberry bushes, evening primrose, chokecherry, and the hibiscus. I mention the latter because it is an exotic ornemental so I was planning on getting rid of it until it did this:
Hibiscus showing off.

How can I get rid of the fire plant?

I then read that the leaves are 'technically' edible. This is also true of Rose of Sharon leaves, and I am guessing Okra. I should really look into this more closely. Hmmm, probably a number 4 plant?



Pickled mum flowers - I have 'no' idea what these would taste like.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not just any solanum - sunberry, wonderberry, litchi tomato and more

Seeds of Diversity and Feast of Fields...

I volunteered to represent Seeds of Diversity at the Feast of Fields last weekend and had a great time. It is an event that pairs a local, organic grower with a team of chefs to create fabulous dishes. As a volunteer, I was spared what I consider the heavy entrance fee, and was able to sample the vittles.

Sunberry / Wonderberry?..

As well as thoroughly enjoying talking to people about seed saving, I got to sample two interesting tomato relatives from Greta's Organic Gardens. The first was the 'wonderberry,' also known as sunberry (Solanum burbankii). What intrigued me about this little black berry was that it was very different from my 'sunberry' that I had purchased from Mapple Farms a couple years back. The berries (couldn't find the seed listing this year) of Greta's variety were larger, but the taste was more bland and skin was thicker. They are similar but much better tasting than Garden Huckleberry (Solanum melanocerasum).

It could be that the growing conditions on my plot were different but the morphology was too distinct from mine leading me to beleive that these really were different, though very similar plants. Interestingly, Baker's Seeds described Chichiquelite Huckleberry (Solanum nigrum) as slighlty larger than the sunberry, and it is part of the cross so I wonder if there are just different phenotypes out there?

I love my Sunberries even if their small size makes them tendious to pick. They are no more of a chore than picking blueberries. They are also tasty raw. Not just edible, but flavourable with a unique smoky 'blue' taste. They also self seeded in my garden. I transplated one into a semi shade area at the back of the yard which has been heavily ammended with organic matter over the years, and it has done quite well. This year we had less sunlight than usual with tomato growers complaining of slow ripening times so it is quite possible that the crop of self sown Sunberries would be respectable next year. We'll see.


Self seeded sunberry plant growing in my raspberry bed

The Lovely Litchi Tomato...

Greta also allowed me to try litchi tomatoes (Solanum sysimbrifolium) which are apparently related to eggplants. The plant itself looks like a thorny tomato but the fruit has a small husk like the physalias. In fact, I would say that the seed reminds me of a tomatillo or something just as much as an eggplant.

It was delicious.

I immediately asked her if she would have some for sale next year because I will buy them. They were crisp, juicy, and fruity.

Ground Cherries...

It reminded me that I am going to try to get some ground cherries to self sow this year. I had one of Aunt Molly's ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa / prevuinia) pop up this year from last year's crop but it has not fruited and I do not think it will before next frost. Yuko, from Yuko's Open Pollinated Seeds, on the other hand often talks about where her ground cherries have migrated next. Many complain that ground cherries are a pain to pick as you have to wait until they are ripe and fall to the ground and you do not get a great deal of them but my kids love them and they do make a nice addition to desserts or salads even though I rarely get enough to bake a ground cherry pie. Last year, they also lasted in their husks until well into winter so they are worth growing again.

I would love to get my hands on the 'clammy ground cherry' (Physalis heterophylla Nees) which is a wild perennial around these parts though I have no idea how well it crops or how tasty it is but hey it would not hurt to try.

Don't eat a chinese lantern...

Because of my constant hunt for new vegetables, I decided to brave a chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi). There are claims that it is edible though there are also counter claims that though it won't poison you, it tastes awful.

Chinese Lanterns in my garden littered with insect chew holes.

Yes, chinese lantern didn't kill me. Yes, it tasted AWFUL.

I suspect that indeed it had a high level of bitter alkaloids and the life preserving part of me said stop. So, I am happy to keep them in my yard as a trap crop for the colorado potato beetles, that love them above all other solanacea, but I will not be trying another.

And Tomatillos too...

What I would like to try to grow again are tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) though I am undecided as to the variety. I secured some seeds from Chris who runs the CSA common ground for 'Yellow tomatillos', which are actually yellow/purple in colour when ripe, but I also have Mapple Farm's 'Indian tomatillo' variety. The problem is that 'Yellow tomatillo' seems to split its husk whereas 'Indian tomaillo' does not. I find that members of the physalia family keep much better in their husks even if I think I like 'yellow tomatillo's' taste better. Decisions, decisions.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Big Agriculture and Home Grown

As we drove across Canada to see family on what is likely to be our last fuel splurge ever, I became fascinated not just by the natural splendor of our vast landscapes but also by the human scars that we have trained our eyes to avoid. Instead of turning my camera away, I found myself snapping shots of overhead wires, and lumber mills, but what most captivated me were the big rigs.

Truck driving down the rain drenched highway somewhere in Canada.

Those behemoths that ferry our resources - our food - along the ribbons of grey highway that travel beyond the horizon.I began to think again about the barriers toward people growing their own vegetables in their own yards. For some, the vegetable garden lacks curb appeal and so it is hidden in a less than ideal spot between a shed and a cedar hedge. For others, it just takes too much time. Even those who do have a little plot complain that they often don't manage to eat all the tomatoes and zucchinis they produce.Then I went to Spain to see the other side of the family and marveled at how in some villages every available space was crammed with edibles. Instead of the squash being treated like a second class citizen, it was the ornamentals that were dotted here and there along a fence line or in a lonely pot on the front step. I was surprised to notice that despite the lack of space, people grew vegetables, and yet in Ottawa where some yards could feed a family; the tyranny of the green yawn prevails.

Small garden in the basque country, Spain.

My vow

Though I do have a large backyard vegetable patch which all together is about 40 by 20 feet. I also have an equally large, if not larger mini-orchard in the front underplanted mostly by ornamentals. It is my vow this year to start replacing these with more useful plants. I am going to start with the exotics. I will never rid my garden of flowers as many of the natives attract all sorts of wildlife, as well as lift up the spirit, but some plants are not earning their keep and it's time they go!

Welcome to my experiment

I am veggie garden fanatic, passionate about perennials, a sucker for self sowers, constantly curious about plants. Some might even say that I have an infliction which I have termed Hortiphilia. Yes, I love plants, especially those that can enrich the lives of my family, the space around me, and the ecosystem in which I live. Toward this goal, I am preparing myself to re-examine everything I know about growing 'my own.' This is a temporary blog which I intend to write only a year or two detailing my experiments and experiences, after which I will return to my regular blog Ottawa Hortiphilia.