Sunday, 30 September 2012

Hopes of perennial food

What is an appropriate level of excitement for buying plants?  I don't have an adequate answer to that question, but suffice to say I am very excited. I have been casting an covetous eye over the Edulis website/catalog for some time, but I finally decided stop vacillating and take a few of my hard earned notes and actually buy some plants.

I have been interested in self-sufficiency for a very long time and first became aware of permaculture and forest gardening at the age of 12 (or thereabouts) when one of the national newspapers ran an interview with Bill Mollison in their weekend magazine.  I got his book, Permaclture One, out of the library and was given a couple of other permaculture/forest gardening books by my sister.  I even made an attempt to plant a forest garden by under-planting some apple trees with some gooseberrys and strawberrys, but the trees were far too close together, so very little light reach the lower layers, meaning no fruit.  Since then I have got on with other things, finished school, university, work, back to university, a couple more jobs, back to university again, but this time as staff.  All that time the dream of self-sufficiency has been with me.  I even had an allotment at one point, but growing annual plants can be rather time consuming.  At the time I was mainly living over a hundred miles away from my allotment which made midweek visits for watering and weeding a bit unrealistic.

This experience only made me more drawn to permaculture ideas of using perennial plants where possible.  They only need to be planted once, can usually stand a fight against a few weeds, usually need less nurturing and keep on producing food.

Fundamentally I am quite lazy, the kind of laziness where I would spend hours writing a program or making some equipment, just to avoid a repetitive task.  Its the kind of laziness that engineers should have.  So the idea of doing the planting once and getting it right appeals to me.  My ideal garden would be one that produces lots of food and the most effort that I have to put in, is eating it all.  This is why I take an interest in perennial vegetables and fruit.  A little while ago my sister gave me a copy of 'Taste of the unexpected' by Mark Diacono, which introduced me to some very exciting species of fruit of veg (It really is a great and inspiring book, with beautiful photos).  Some of these plants sound almost indefeasibly exciting offering the delectable culinary wonders, but with out the nurturing usually associated with growing veg.  (Maybe that book is rather too well written!)  The main problem is that these plants (with the exception of fuchsias and a couple of others) are not available at your local garden centre.  After searching the web I found two places in the UK that stock such plants.  Edulis in Berkshire and the Agroforestry Research Trust in Totness.  After years of not having a garden that I could set up for production I finally have my own place and that is how I came to be hightailing it to Edulis to pick up some plants.

After much pondering the plants I settled on are; Yacon, Oca, Japanese Ginger, Wild Ginger, Wasabi, Szechuan Pepper, Chilean Guava, and Blue Honeysuckle.
If you are like me that is an almost pant wettingly exciting list of obscure plants that produce some lovely food.  Hopefully.

I now have these little beauties home and have planted them out or potted them on.  But what are these rare treasures I hear you cry.  Well luckily I have got my trusty camera out, so prepare yourselves.
lets start with the Szechuan Pepper.  I already cook with it thanks to some Chinese guys that I lived with a few years back.  It is actually the seed husks that are used as the spice, but the whole plant has quite an aroma.  However I will be thinking twice before using any other plant for culinary purposes on account of it having some of the most vicious thorns I have ever seen on a plant.  Even the leaf stems have thorns.
Those thorns make for an unappetizing look, but the smell is  a pleasure to behold.

Yacon is a root vegetable from the Andes, which is sometime called the ground pear.  Eating it is meant to give you super powers, but I may be getting it confused with something else, maybe kryptonite.  I have planted mine in a nice sunny spot in the middle of a flower bed and hopefully it will produce a crop in the remaining part of this year.
Oca is another Andean root vegetable that looks rather like clover. Again it should produce a crop this year. Although I will keep most of it for next years seed.

Chilean Guava as the name suggests is from Peru.  I believe they come from Chile too, but this one was collected in Peru apparently.  It is not a guava as you might know it either.  That might make it a contender for the most inappropriately named plant.  It is however a shrub that produces small red berries, but that would not make such a good name.  Apparently it was  favored by Queen Victoria and she was, after all, right about so many things such as sex, drugs, foreign policy .... well lets hope her taste in fruit is suitable to the modern age.

Japanese Ginger has edible shoots and looks rather splendid.  I am quite partial to ginger so lets hope this satisfies that desire.
Wild Ginger is not ginger at all, but I believe it is found in the wild, so slightly better naming there than the Chilean Guava.  It is a low ground cover type of plant and part of it is apparently edible and tastes of ginger, hence the name.  The other interesting thing about this plant is I have neglected to photograph it yet.  I shall remedy that in due course.
Wasabi is the green Japanese horseradish of sushi fame.  I am a big fan of sushi and have a shortage of useful ground cover plants, so choosing this was an easy decision.  It looks a bit like the Wild Ginger, and like the Wild Ginger I have not photographed it either.  Maybe I have a prejudice against ground cover plants.
All plants are in the ground or larger pots now, so lets hope they come up with the goods.

Well the update is here, the photos of the Wild Ginger and Wasabi are here. but it seems I toatally neglected to mention the blue honeysuckle.
Wild Ginger

So the Honeysuckle its from siberia, so it should be able to handle the cold.  It is a shrub rather than the usual climbing honeysuckle that you might know and its meant to produce tasty blue berries early in the season, which I am looking forward to.

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