Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What did the kids think of the snow

you can see it on their morning faces:


Introducing my garden helpers: ages 3 and 5.

Wordy Wednesday

Okay, I promise not to say to much but I just don't do wordless well:

My garden growing plastic. Why?

Unseasonably early snowstorm

It should melt before the weekend is out (I hope) and then I'll have to play it by ear when to dig up the remaining root crops for cellar storage. I like to leave them in the garden as long as possible. You can see my half constructed polytunnel on the top picture. It will be different from the peaked polytunnel of years gone by but what it will look like not even I know.


What's wordless Wednesday. Well it's one of those meme things. You know a joint blog posting idea. I can't recall where it comes from and I don't normally participate because of my general wordiness but I bumped into a blog participating and figured what the heck.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Harvest Day - the roots of fall

We've had a couple hard frosts so I yanked up some roots for a simple roasted dish of mixed veg.


Carrots, turnip, beets, scorzonera (black skin), jeruselum artichoke (bumpy thing), and salsify (thin white roots)

Freshly pulled are dandelion, chicory, beets, carrots, jeruselum artichoke, chinese artichoke, salsify, scorzonera, horseradish, sweet cicely, and turnip. Next year, I hope to add skirret (tried to grow these before but no luck), apios (already added thanks to a generous gardening friend), tuberous sweet pea (found a patch in Gatineau park), turnip rooted chevril, hamburg rooted parsley and more parsnip. I might even grow rampions (campanula rampunculus) but then again, I think it already grows in my yard as a weed.


From left to right: chicory, horseradish and sweet cicely (the last two look similar but feel and taste very different).

You may wonder why I have such a thing for roots but in the cold climate of Ottawa, a root cellar can mean the difference between eating store bought food and cooking from the fresh larder of your own garden. I am lucky enough to have an old cellar built under our front step which is the right temperature but a little dry for root storage. To compensate, I put bowls of water down there and sprinkle a little on top of my roots from time to time.


Scorzonera, salsify (both collectively known as oyster root) and carrot

Also, some roots are great for forcing in the winter to produce fresh greens. Of the above, you can eat the leaves of dandelion, chicory, beet, carrot, scorzonera, horseradish (young leafs), turnip, and sweet cicely. Of course, you can also eat parsley but not the leaves of the turnip rooted chevril. Particular types of chicory are grown for the purpose of forcing them in darkness to produce tasty crunchy chicons for the gourmet market. Thankfully the plant itself is easy to grow in the home garden as are many roots.

Left to right: Jeruselum Artichokes and Chinese Artichokes

Given a light soil (though there are varities of many of these vegetables that will grow in heavy soil such as oxheart carrot, egyptian beet and Russian Kral parsnip), roots require little space compared to other vegetables and some will even take a little shade. They are also the basis for many a meal from mashed to baked to fried to boiled. The famous 'root' used for these purposes is the potato which is actual a tuber but I am playing fast and loose with the definition here. Any undergrown food storage organ is being named 'root' in this post.

In Ottawa you can also grow Gobo (or wild burdock as I'm sure you know if you've ever taken a dog on a country walk), wild carrot / Queen Anne's Lace, short season sweet potato (I did last year with great success), tiger lily (really?), evening primrose, daylily (really, really?),jicama(according to Solana Seeds - who knew), chufa (have grown but was difficult to process) , dog's tooth violet (according to one source only survival food but it's pretty and native here), and many aquatic species such as the very useful cattail, and I'm sure I'm missing something.

-- inserted next day: how about radishes and rutabagas? (someone else should really be at the helm of this brain ship) --

I have the last two in my garden but extraction of a couple first year primerose rosettes revealed no tap root so I shrugged and moved on. The daylily I haven't tried yet.

* You can also cheat by digging a trench and filling it with loose soil or using a crowbar, shoving it into the ground, whirling it around to make a cone and filling with loose soil then planting your seed at the top.


Root storage and inulin

And now a fun little lesson. Inulin is a polysaccarhide that is used by many plants to store food. It can give people gas and if I remember correctly, it is one of the culprits in beans. In one of my wild edible food books, the writer talks about cooking roots with high amounts of inulin to break it down. Unlike many people who complain after they eat Jeruselum Artichoke of a gassy tummy, I don't normally react like that. I don't know if this is because of the variety I grow, the way I cook it or my own digestive system but I thought this was an interesting factiod.

More on inulin at Doc Weed's Doin's


Four Season Harvest by Coleman
Plants for a Future
- has other roots that grow in milder climes as well
Wikipedia entry on edible roots with specific classifications between taproots, tuberous roots, modified stems and so on.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Lastest - not seed saving but plant breeding...

Before I start, let it be stated that I approve of this trend! OK, now you can read on.



Seeds of Diversity mag perched atop my favourite read of the moment. NRC (National Research Centre)'spublications Herbs of Canada and Vegetables of Canada.

If you want to be part of the ultracool organic, edible plant geeks this summer, then you have to do more than just save your seeds. Seed strain purity is good but if you really want to wow your friends and impress your neighbours, then a melon variety named after you is even better.

All kidding aside, I have noticed that there has been more and more talk about amateur plant breeding amoung seed savers. Perhaps it's just a natural progression. First you learn how to define OP and heirloom (let me know when you figure the exact definition of this btw). Then you get up the nerve to save more than just bean seeds. Next thing you know you are wondering if you can develop a purple podded snap pea or an early gold cherry tomato or, if your addiction has gone far enough, a perennial grain or a wide cross between two plant cousins. You have joined the ranks of the amateur plant breeders.

Even the cover of the latest Seeds of Diversity (great resource for gardeners/seed sharers/savers - check out their Canadian Tomato project) highlights this growing interest by featuring a generational digram of bean seeds. In this you see that the 'plant breeder' is not sure of the 'father' of his cross. Which brings me to the more haphazard version of plant crossing called 'accidental.' Of course, in the article he details and follows the accidental cross in a well planned manner.

I would describe myself as a more or less lazy plant breeder. I like to buy mixed seed packs of plants like mustard or beets and let them cross in my garden*. After awhile, I will then start to select my favourite outcomes of the cross and eventually (one hopes) get a strain of beets or whatever that I like. They may not be uniform and there might be a lot of rouging (getting rid of) inadequate varieties but I enjoy the variation. I also feel that the wider genetic variation will allow for yearly differences in pests, conditions and so on. Before any 'professional' amateur plant breeders read this and tsk-tsk my technique (if you can call it that), there are a lot of details that I have decided not to go into in this post just to keep the length down and to not bore to death those that haven't been overtaken by plant manipulation fever.**

It is also a bit inaccurate to call this a new trend. People have been selecting, intentionally or not, for improved edibles for as long as we have been eating. Just think of our ancestors choosing one fruit over another and then depositing the seeds in our 'special compost' near our dwellings perhaps even in clearings. Those seeds would get fertilizer and potentially more light. Then as we liked those fruit, we might have decided to weed around it a bit giving it all the more advantage and then eat the result etc... It just got more sophisticated from there.

This 'new' trend is reclaiming an art lost to many gardeners. A knowledge of genetics makes it less haphazard (ie. not my technique) and even more fun. For more on amateur plant breeding, genetics and techniques, I highly recommend Carol Deppe's book Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties.

* If I offer seed varieities, I do try my best to ensure seed purity. In the furture, I might offer mixed seed but do you really want it?
** Seed saving is essentially plant selection which is why it is a good idea to know a little about plant genetics to avoid disappointment in future plantings.
*** I know I didn't have a third footnote? Don't let this scare you off seed saving, however, it is great fun.
**** Also a member of a plant breeders forum that seems to be based around a seed development company has recently left his url on my blog. If you are a plant breeder geek, you might be interestd in

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The seed company less well travelled

I have just seeded some unusual plants from Yuko's Open-Pollinated Seeds: manchurian plum and nanking cherry. She also has lots of other interesting varieties that she saves from her garden and sells at reasonable prices including Mitsuba (perennial japanese 'parsley') and a variety of ground cherry that amicably sows itself around her garden. This company especially interests me because it is local so I know the plants are adapted for this climate (if not my particular garden conditions).

I also visited (and promptly bought seeds) from Solana Seeds who have recently translated their webpage into English. Stunned by the number of plants including Piel de Sapo melon (a keeper melon), Red okra and more solanum berries than you can shake a stick at, I decided to try more french websites and bumped into La Societe des Plantes who made me swoon by selling turnip rooted chevril (I was beginning to think this veggie was a myth) and skirret (perennial 'carrot' relative) seeds. Both these Quebec companies also sold scozonera (another potentially perennial veggie I'm trialing here) which I could not easily find in NA prompting a kind European blogger to send me some seed from over there (I'm not linking him only because I don't want people to think of him as a courier ;-).

One final company that I quite like is Wild Garden Seeds as they genetically mixed seed packs so you can do your own selection for a variety suited to your microclimate.

Thought I'd bring these smaller seed company to the attention of locals and perhaps even those further abroad.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Show me your harvest day

As promised, this is the first of my intended meme on showing me your harvest. On a monday, I encourage other veggie gardeners to post their produce. To kick off I present to you the Winter Keeper Tomato. Here they are sitting on my kitchen counter.

Winter Keeper Tomatoes

For those unfamiliar with long storage tomatoes, they reputedly keep until New Years or Easter or some other far off tomato-less time. Often it is suggested that they are stored in idividual wrappers one layer deep not touching but Mapple Farms, my seed supplier, said he just kept his on a bowl in the kitchen and that sounded way easier. The type I have ripen from the inside-out which may be a common characteristic of long storage tomatoes but don't quote me.

Cut open winter keeper. On the outside it looked icy orange and inside, red.

Anyhow, last year something happened to my plant so this is the first year that I have to really experiment. They do appear to be ripening a bit more slowly than other tomatoes that I brought in and I have only had one rot on me but I suspect that the skin had been damaged. I picked them from the just off green to blush stage before frost in late September and they have an acidic but acceptable taste that is far superior to a supermarket tomato, however much less sweet than a vine ripened one.

Also harvesting:

The veggie patch is still going strong after our first true ground frost of the year. We have brassicas including tatsoi, broccoli, cabbage, kale and mustard; roots like carrots and beets and soon to come are the unusual roots (post next Monday); lots of greens like rocket, chard, mache, minituna, salad burnet and so on; and crops like celeriac and florence fennel.

The coldframes are up but the polytunnel has to be constructed again this week as we are expecting dips to -5C. Soon will come the snow.


Mapple Farms - winter keeper (my variety)
Sand Hill Preservation Centre - various storage tomato types

Friday, October 17, 2008

Blog Bounce

I'd like to introduce you to a game I have decided to play called blog bounce which is where you hop around from link to blog link through their blog rolls (impossible to play on my blog because I can't commit to a blogroll. But don't worry all my favs are hidden away on my computer. I just can't write one because I would be the kind of person to have a blogroll that scrolled into the horizon just 'cause I hate leaving people out). If you want to play blog bounce from my blog, hop over to to see some fun with genes (and a seriously cool pea pod last I checked).

The reason why I am blog bouncing is because I'm trying to expand the blogs I read that are interested in edibles.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Overwintering Peppers - 3 year old Fatali and friends

Fatali Habanero Pepper

Every once in a while, you learn a gardening trick that sticks in your brain like stubborn pine resin and this was one of them: Pepper plants are perennial; you can bring them inside and produce a crop from the same plant next year. As I have a tendency toward adventure gardening, I thought, "cool" so I did just that. The first year, my pepper lost all of its leaves and looked so dead that I threw it out. Further reading suggested that leaf loss was not uncommon so I tried again. The second winter was a fantastic success yeilding a crop of long cayenne even indoors. The third year I was plagued by insects and this year will be the fourth year that I try it.

I particularly like this method for hot peppers because though I love spicy food, I don't need an overwhelming mass of hot peppers at any one time and I find that this method provides me with two crops of the shorter season Long Red Cayenne instead of one bumper crop. For the longer season Fatali habanero, I get one crop ripening near first frost in September. In fact, it was the pathetic growth of what was previously known as 'four leaf fatali' that promted me to try again. It hadn't fruited at the end of the season and as my husband had picked it out, I thought I would try growing it a second season.

Other then the jalapenos that were devasted this year by a mystery malady (I was away much of the summer), I had thought I had all the hot peppers I needed until I took a stroll in the Canadian Agricultural Museum, aka the Experimental Farm (more on this garden soon). What did I see but a demonstration patch of varigated Fish peppers and some Medusa Head? (or small pepper plants that stick straight up in multiple hues of orange and red - all identifications are welcome). Some animal had rampaged through the patch leaving several pods strewn across my path. What could I do but rescue them? So next year, I intend on adding Fish, Fatali, and maybe Medusa Head to the party wintering over.


Gardening 201 - How to Overwinter Peppers

Pot to Pot

This is the easiest method, plant seedlings in a large pot and repot in something larger when needed. You might want to add compost tea every once in awhile as well. Bring out for the summer, bring in for the winter. The only problem with this method is that you have to remember to water well. I have had branches die back - even the whole top of the plant - from what I assume is drought. My solution this year was to mulch. The plants only received rain water so it seems to have worked. This year was however a bit of a soaker.

Pot to Garden Bed to Pot

I have done this as well and the plants grew much larger bearing heavier yields. Of course they were much more disturbed when about a month before first frost near the end of September, I dug them up. I have read that you should trim the roots and tops at this point but I have never done this.

Problems and Observations

Before bringing in your plant, observe very closely for whitefly, aphid, spider mites and the like. They are difficult to combat inside so do so outside while you can. If you do get an infestation in the middle of winter, you can try applying a light soap to water spray, rinsing off after 10 minutes or so. You can also just try jetting the plant with water to dislodge at least some of the interlopers. I would do this when I watered them about once a week. I also used the squish method of pest control by examining my leaves very regularly and manually smushing the pests. This kept them under control enough to keep them alive until natural predators cleaned them off in the spring outside.

Peppers are very frost tenders so you can start introducing them to real sunlight as opposed to that filtered window stuff as soon as daytime temperatures are warmish. For me, that's 10 degrees celcius. I usually have them in a covered coldframe. Increase the amount of time spent out each day in increments or if you are me, forget they are outside and start swearing when you see them in the evening looked bestraggled. Once danger of frost has passed, you can abandon them in pots in a warm, sunny place or plant them in the ground.

From my short time overwintering, I have noticed that my pepper plants will grow and crop well then show decreasing leaf size and then the leaf size will gradually increase and they will grow and crop well again. I haven't grown enough peppers to say that this is always the case but it has been for me in the two pepper varieties that I have inside.

So now you know, go ahead and try it. As for me, I'm going to try overwintering minature sweet bells next year too in order to see how they do. There is a rumour that the smaller fruited species overwinter more successfully.



Most of the links are to my older gardening blog - Ottawa Hortiphilia which talks on length of my overwintering peppers saga.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day - The Seeds of Poverty

Computer and seeds from my garden

As a gardening blog interested in edible plants, it seemed natural to talk about seed security on Blog Action Day 08. Most of us plant crazed individuals know a little about seed saving, heirloom, open-pollinated and the such even if we do not actively participate. We also know that in places far away (Saskatchewan seems far away to me) there are seed arks that attempt to preserve the genetic diversity of our food crops in case the giant seed-opolies and lab seed-splicers get it wrong. And we get that it is poor people in those exotic far off lands that need protection from the dark shadows of imported patented seeds. That they need to save their seed legacies so that they be at least partially food self-sufficient. For it is food, or more importantly the lack of it, that most signifies poverty to many.

However, the scarcity of good food does not just occur in far off lands. The endangerment of plant diversity and local seed legacies certainly is not just happening somewhere else. And most importantly there are seed banks existing all around you - living seed banks.

When you choose to grow open-pollinated seed and save it, you are participating in the maintenance of genetic diversity, but there is more. You can choose to save extra seed and give it to someone. If you are gardening fanatic anyhow, it is no torment to skip around town suggesting that this patch of dull lawn be turned into a garden and by the way, here are a couple packets of seeds to plant in it.

For many urban poor, it is good produce that is hard to come by as mass produced 'inorganic' veggies, sometimes processed out of recognition, are the cheapest eats. You can work locally to create community gardens or to volunteer your time to demonstrate alternative gardening methods (check out these kiddy pool gardens). If you do not have time to do that but have the garden space, you can also participate in the Grow a Row initiative. Just plan for part of your harvest to go to the local foodbank at participating communities. Heck, if you don't live in a participating community, why not try and change that?


Nitty Gritty on Seed Saving

Not all plants reproduce equally so if you want to know if you can properly save seeds of a particular plant, Seed to Seed by Ashworth is a great start, along with innumerable other books. Some plants need large populations to ensure that the offspring are vigorous, others can potentially be saved from one plant. Some need to be grown two years to grow a seed stalk, others will give you seed in the first year. Here is a list of easy seeds to save:


P.S. I have chiapas wild tomato seeds available for those interested.


Some of those links again:

Bloggers Action Day
Plant Gene Resources of Canada - Gene Bank
Seeds of Diversity Canada - seed saving and sharing, living seed bank and resources
Community Gardens in Ottawa from Just Foods
Grow a Row - growing for food banks

Beans saved from my garden: short season chickpea, purple podded pea, speckled cranberry bean (originally saved from grocery store pods), white broad bean (hmmm... variety?), cherokee trail of tears bean

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Plants on Trial - The grasses

Instead of one measly defendent, I decided a whole catagory of plants would face The Elimination Round. I, the ring leader, will decide whether these plants will stay or be tossed by the roots into the compost (or a black plastic bag in the sun for the real offenders).

The Accused

Varigated Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinacea)
Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra')
Pathetic grass - golden something?
Switch Grass 'Heavy Metal' (Panicum virgatum)
Varigated Maiden Hair 'Morning Light' (Miscanthus Sinesis)
Blue Oats (Helictotrichon sempervirens)
Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Miscanthus 'Porcupine Grass' (Miscanthus sinesis 'Strictus')
Miscanthus 'Huron Sunrise' (Miscanthus sinesis)
Bottle Brush (Hystrix patula)
Blue Fescue 'Select' (Festuca glauca)
The Lawn

Huron Sunrise seedheads after flower colour has faded

The Game Show Court Proceedings

(The grasses sway together nervously looking like shaggy multi-hued green heads in various states of disarray.)

Ring Leader (me): Varigated Ribbon Grass. You came to my garden as a gift from another gardener but I should have known by the number of small pots of the stuff that you are rhizomous! Tell me do you plan on sending runners throughout the perennial bed?

Varigated Ribbon Grass: Me? Don't you think I'm pretty? Listen to my leaves rustle in the wind and in the spring, my shoots are an adorable pink. Love me.

Ring Leader: Yes, I do think you're pretty which is why ou have lasted 2 seasons but frankily you are outgrowing your spot. I've seen it happen in other gardens too. One season a foot square, the next 4, the next 12. It's just wrong!

Varigated Ribbon Grass: But... but...

Ring Leader: Are you edible? Are you native?

Varigated Ribbon Grass: Well, I.. No. Not really.

Ring Leader: It has also been said that you are a threat to native wetlands. You are out of here!

Varigated Ribbon Grass: Nooooo!

Ring Leader: And you Japanese Blood Grass also have runners, do you deny it?

Japanese Blood Grass: How could I deny it. Just remember that I am only borderline hardy. One poor snow cover year and I'm history. You can let me live on a little longer. Come on just one more year, you'll see how gorgeous I am.

Ring Leader: You are also an invader and rhizomous but it must be said that your runners run a little more slowly.

Japanese Blood Grass: Exactly. And you did buy me as a gift for your husband.

Miscanthus 'Porcupine Grass'

Ring Leader: I hate to admit that it is true. Fine, you can stay but I am transplanting you into a pot and I better find a good future spot or you're out of here too. And how about you Pathetic Grass whose name I have forgotten. What have you done but look dead? I know you are supposed to seem like a golden haze (perhaps that was your name) but I can barely see you in that spot and frankily I don't know why I've kept you so long. You're out of here too!

Unnamed Pathetic Golden Haze Grass: Sigh.

Ring Leader: Switch Grass 'Heavy Metal'. You're gorgeous.

Heavy Metal: I know.

Ring Leader: And clumping and native!

Heavy Metal: I know, I know.

Ring Leader: You grow so well and give structure to the garden. I love you. You can stay.

Heavy Metal: I know.

Varigated Maiden Hair: What about me?

Ring Leader: Well you do look nice with Heavy Metal and your growth is rather weak for a miscanthus. Fine, you can stay too.

Varigated Maiden Hair: Yes!

Ring Leader: Blue Oats. You are a cool season grass that comes up early in the spring making it look less dead unlike your warm season cousins. I like you. However, you aren't actually native.

Blue Oats: Shall I just pull up my roots now?

Ring Leader: Oh don't be dramatic - except of course for the affect of your foliage. You and the blue fescues lining the path can stay. Good little well behaved grasses that you are. Whose next... Oh Northern Sea Oats quit quivering... actually don't, it's quite pretty.

Northern Sea Oats: Thanks, I think.

Northern Sea Oats

Ring Leader: How could I get rid of you. You're seed heads are amoungst the most interesting of the ornamental grasses despite the fact that I note several babies at your base. You may be even be a native but I cannot find definitive evidence and your fall colour is pleasing. You can stay but keep that reproduction in check, deal.

Nothern Sea Oats: Suuurrre...

Ring Leader: This brings us to uh yes the other Miscanthus. I do believe that 'Huron Sunrise' and 'Porcupine Grass' are represented. I'm sure you know that you are also non-natives though both of you have your decorative uses, I'm afraid one of you will have to go. Who will it be.

Huron Sunrise hides beneath fluffy top.

Porcupine Grass tries to blend in with the sunflowers.

Ring Leader: Eeny meeny - sorry Huron, Porcupine is by far more interesting and I don't think I really like your fluffy seedheads. It's the curb for you.

Huron Sunrise: Noooo!

Ring Leader: Bottle Brush grass where are you?

Bottle Brush: Here! Here!

Ring Leader: Would you grow already? I heard that you can be a pest but I have barely seen anything of you for two seasons.

Bottle Brush: Well you grew morning glories all over me.

Ring Leader: True... that will be corrected for next year my beautiful native. You too can stay. And now for our final grass - The Lawn.

The Lawn: You can't get rid of me. I'm everywhere. Everyone loves me. What can compare with my durable, long season nature. All I ask is for my huge share of water and nitrogen. Oh and space. I like large amounts of space.

Ring Leader: You are difficult to get rid of but be forewarned. I have already disposed of 2/3 of you and more will be going.

The Lawn: This is an outrage. You can never entirely get rid of me. Never! You'll see. What about the children's soccer games? What about that lovely green swatch to show off your garden and what about my durability.

Ring Leader yawns: My work may not be done but it has begun.


Switch Grass heavy metal with varigated maiden hair miscanthus in front


You'll notice that keepers are all 3s and above except for Japanese Blood Grass that I am hanging on to mostly for sentimental reasons though it will be potted.

Varigated Ribbon Grass - 2
Japanese Blood Grass - 2
Pathetic grass - golden something? - 1
Switch Grass 'Heavy Metal' - 5
Varigated Maiden Hair (miscanthus)- 3
Blue Oats - 3
Northern Sea Oats - 4
Miscanthus 'Porcupine Grass' - 3
Miscanthus 'Huron Sunrise' - 2
Bottle Brush - 4
Blue Fescue - 3
The Lawn - 1



Other native grasses for this area, based on a list from the Wildlife Fletcher Garden and Acornus Restoration Nursery:

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Side Oats Gamma (Bouteloua curtipendula)
Canadian Wild Rye (Elymus canadensis)
Sand Dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus)

More on Ontario Grasses, Sedges and Rushes

Ornamental Native Grasses

Friday, October 10, 2008

Garden Decorations

Patrick from Bifucated Carrot wrote about voting time. Fall season for pumpkins, brilliantly coloured leaves and political signs popping out of the ground like mushrooms. Here's our sign:

Says: "Left out. Looking for a truly progressive party"

Hoo hum. Who to strategically vote for.

Book Review - Roots Demystified

When I first picked up Roots Demystified by Kourik from the library, the cover made me think that I was in for some heavy duty learning. The scaled version of a underground root section looked like the cover of a scienific article. I was not prepared for the lively, fun-filled, and easily accessible language that I found inside.

Many of us are familiar, even if it is only through our own experience, of the tangle of stems, leaves, trunks, flowers and fruit that make up the aboveground existence of the plant world. We note tomatoes' fluttering friends and slithering foes. We grin with fascination at its speedy top growth or frustration as that massive cherry tomato pulls down yet another trellis. But what do we know about what goes on beneath our feet?

For example, did you know that 90% tree roots only grow in the top 18 inches of soil! Okay, maybe you knew that, but did you know that the root system can expand many times its drip line? You've encountered that too with your shovel? Okay, then smartypants, did you know that it is estimated that 80% of plants are in a happy relationship with mycorrhizal symbionts. Huh, huh? Diddya know? (What are mycorrhizals symbionts? Read the book to find out...)

My point is that despite the scary (if beautiful) cover illustration, this is one rivetting book. I will not tell you the conclusion because I do not want to be a plot spoiler but suffice it say that it will appeal to the mulchers amoung us.

Highly recommended.


Roots Demystified... change your gardening habits to help roots thrive by Robert Kourik.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The White Death - too tender for frost

Tomatoes before the fall. They were not trellised this year as I was gone for most of the season but the vines stretch at least 6-8 feet.

I decided to give a mercy killing to my tomatoes today as it calls for frost tonight. I chopped off their mighty vines and yanked out there firmly grasping roots. My Chiapas Wild tomatoes tumbled to the ground where they will undoubtedly reseed lots of Chiapitas in the spring.

Spilt tomato progeny. It just occurred to me that I should save some more seed with these fallen ripe ones.

What was really interesting for me was their roots. I have always been amazed at how tomato roots tend to grow laterally, just undernearth the surface of the soil, but this time I was amazed at a difference. The Chiapas Wild tomato had huge, tenacious roots to match the massive size of the 6 foot sprawling vines I imagine. The more demure and more cultivated varieties had much smaller root systems.

The left is a cultivated variety like brandywine or black plum. I don't remember but they all had similiarly smaller root systems. The right is the mighty chiapis wild.


More on Chiapas Wild Tomato

Question: Is it wild?
Answer: Apparently, it is a wild progenetor of the modern cultivated tomato

Question: Is it disease resistant?
Answer: They say yes. All I can say is that it didn't seem that bothered by foliar disease in my garden.

Question: Did you like these tomatoes?
Answer: These are the perfect kid tomato. There are tonnes of very small, intensily sweet tomatoes. They are also very good whole in salads.

Question: What did you not like about these tomatoes?
Answer: Whoever said that they had 5 foot vines and didn't ramble (I also would call them red rather than orange?) was not growing my seed out. It had huge vines that should have been trained. They also tend to drop there tomatoes much like ground cherries when ripe. This is fine as long as you collect them. They'll stay fresh for quite a while. They also hold onto their stems unlike other currant sized tomatoes.

Question: Worth growing.
Answer: You bet.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Plants on Trial - Hardy Chrysanthemum

Crimson mums in the foreground and fire orange in the background keep the garden glowing this time of year.

I choose these lovelies next because they scream for my attention this time of year and I have heard that some people eat the flowers. It has me wondering, how useful are they? Would I cook them for guests? Do the bugs make use of them as a late nectar source or do the typical double-zillion flower forms make it difficult for bugs to get their dinner?

These brilliant yellows I rescued from a box stores dumpster. It was a six pack of mums and they have been moved and divided again and again. I forget the name or it might not have had a tag but I imagine it was something like 'sunset colours.'

To answer the first question - are they palatable - I decided that I'd try some. Okay, I am gingerly picking some raw pink petals and popping them into my mouth. Taste? Kind of floral - chyrsanthumy and ever so slightly bitter. I wonder what they'd be like after a frost. Not altogether unpleasant and probably quite nice sugared but these flowers have a tradition in asian cooking so I am not going to stop there.

They seem commonly added to hot water concoctions like 'tea' and 'hot pots' or 'soups' so I will dry a pile of them and when the moment strikes, throw some into my dish. I'll report back on the effects.

Addendum: Apparently, some people develop a skin reaction when handling garden mums. I never have but maybe you will.

Note: I am not going to eat the French Marigolds but they were added into my overwintering pots of peppers as a 'spell?' against aphids. At any rate, I thought it couldn't hurt. Other flowers are calendula, nasturtiums and mint. I've also cut some sweet cicely and lemon balm for tea, along with oregano and sage for winter use.

So do double chrysanthemums provide a late season nectar source? Generally, sources will tell you to buy single flowering varities whenever possible because the nectar and pollen are more freely available. In fact, according to The Vegan News Summer 2003, double mums would contain almost no pollen which is good news for those with allergies and may also be good news when you wish to consume the flowers. It is oft' quoted that 'one should avoid the pollen in the centre least you be allergic' even if the flower is edible. Not only that, but there are a lot more edible petals on the double varieties.

Last year, I got bowled over by the pink hues of mums and this year the oranges captivate me more.

So I'm guessing that these 'formal' double mums are less than thrilling treats to the wild critters but that the following pink mum with these lovely yellow eye sends them into the happy hungries.

Speaking of pink mums, I especially like these simple flowered ones which are hard to come by. Here are some growing amoungst the blueberries.

Of course Chrysanthemum coronarium, which comes in various leaf shapes, is used for edible greens. (I have no idea if other mums greens are edible but at least one source suggests not.)

Unlike many other mums, this is an annual. I have heard of it self seeding sometimes such as in The Organic Salad Garden by Larkcom but I've yet to grow it myself. It is definitely on my curious enough to try it list.

In the meantime, check out the list link for mum recipes to try yourself.

Plants on Trial Score: 5
Will I keep it in my garden: yup (I might get more)


Vital Stats:

It's not so easy to discuss the care of these diverse plants so I am going to focus on hardy, fall flowering chrysanthemums not florist mums.

life cycle: Hardiness varies with cultivar, easily divided and transplanted.
Use: Flowers edible and possibly palatable greens (Garland mum is grown specifically for edible greens).
Design Use: Up to around 3 feet high, the vast array of flower colour and form give great fall colour in any garden setting. It is generally recommended that they be pinched back earlier in the season to make a bushier form.
Growing Preferences: Full sun but will take some shade, average water. There are sooo many varieties that I can't be sure of what all of them prefer but in my garden they are grown in well drained soil in part shade in my generally dry front yard.


Chrysanthemum fire pot

Chrysanthemum Wine

Chrysanthemum Tea

Chrysanthemum Hot Pot

General info about garland chrysanthemum greens

Purple Podded Peas blog on 'Chop suey Greens' or edible, annual mums, looking for recipes. So am I.

Great article - seed potatoes

Just wanted to direct you to this thought provoking blog post about experimenting with growing potato from seed by Spade Work.

In fact, the European community of bloggers has a number of impressive blogs interested in sustainable food gardening. I have been following garden activist (hope he doesn't mind me calling him that) Bifucated Carrot for years, for example, and always enjoy his posts. If you are a North American garden blogger and haven't spent too much time over the pond, I recomment that you make the virtual trip.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Plants on Trial - garlic chives

All the plants in my yard are on trial in order to decide who is worthy of occupying the precious little space on my urban plot. The questions:

(+1 for the following questions)
1. Are they beneficial to me or my wild friends?
2. Are they edible?
3. Is it perennial or self sustaining?
4. Suitable to the climate / easy to care for?
5. Are they native?
6. Are they gorgeous?

(-1 for the following questions)
7. Are they invasive?
8. Are they just pathetic.

Depending on how these questions are answered - they will be voted 'in' or 'out.'

First defendent on the stand: Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)

Thanks to DelosJ for this creative commons photo. I looked but could find no pictures of my own anywhere!

Let me tell you about this plant. I can't remember where I got it. Perhaps it was at a plantcycle event, perhaps I purchased or maybe I even bought seeds eons ago when I was a gardening novice and didn't understand things like 'some plants all your neighbours have too many of.' It greens up early in the spring and produces attractive white flowers in the summer. If you don't remove those flowerheads, it then makes about a million babies. These babies must be removed young because this is one herb that performs well as cut and come again so there is no careless yank. It will grow back if you don't dig up its rhizomous root structure.

Initially, I thought the taste unexceptional until a plantcycle lady of chinese background got really excited about it. I looked up some recipes and found out that its flowerheads are considered a delicacy. Good because despite the fact that they are pretty, they can also produce the aforementioned million babies. The leaves can also be blanched and the golden growth used as a potherb. Since leek moth descended on my garden, they have also become the only allium more or less unaffected by this scurge, bumping up their usefulness a couple notches.

There is an attractive pink flowered cultivar if you are feeling brave enough to let it flower or don't have a taste for its flower buds.

Rating: 4
Keep it in the garden: yes (but I don't consider it entirely innocent)


Vital Stats:

life cycle: Hardy perennial, self seeding,rhizomes and bulbs
Use: Edible leaves, bulbs, flowerheads, apparently even the seeds, oil can be produced from seeds, leaves can be dried. The flowerheads and seedheads are used in flower arranging. I can definitely see this about the seedheads as they dry into rigid straw coloured stems topped with a globe part filled with black seeds.
Design Use: 10-12 inches tall, grass like clumps, good edging plant or ground cover
Growing Preferences: full sun to light shade, normal watering. Will tolerate some drought.



Wikipedia on garlic chives
Floridata article on Garlic Chives
One of many garlic chive dumpling recipes
Cheat Eat blog talks about using blanched or yellow garlic chives

Check out this cabbage

A little worm eaten but huge and beautiful all the same. I am not sure if cabbage ranks highly in my new sustainable planting project. It requires too much space for seed saving and would cross with some kinds of Kale, which is a far better plant for various reasons that I will elaborate on in another post but check it out. That is a pretty big acorn perched on top too.


The variety is a heritage: Mammoth Red Rock. Oh yeah, a heritage brassica with vigour! It's a late season variety with a dense head, and fantastic nutty flavour.