Monday, March 01, 2010

I'm addicted....

I mentioned in a post a while back that I was excited about the opportunity to be growing my own food again this year. Whilst this is by no means going to become a food blog (because there are too many good ones out there already and I don’t have enough knowledge to share therein); there are a few things I wanted to share.

If you are interested in wildlife and nature (which your presence here suggests you are) – you should be interested in food. The link between the two is inescapable be it the consumption of plants, animals and fungi or the effect of food production on our wild ecosystems.

I recently read that “80% of our calories are provided by just 12 plant species (eight cereals and four tubers), despite the fact that 30,000 edible species of plant are known.” I think this might not be accurate but I guess it depends on your definition of “our”. I can guess at the 8 cereals but I’m rather intrigued by the identities of the 4 tubers (potatoes and [sweet potatoes? Yams? Cassava? Oca). Anyway notwithstanding the accuracy of the stat. My personal food production is going to be focussed on the production not of major calorific crops but on as many species of vegetable and fruit as possible. I’ve recently become very interested in “primal” food as espoused by Mark Sisson on Mark’s Daily Apple. I can’t really fault the logic he employs behind his suggested food choices and whilst I haven’t gone at it full bore I can say that taking into account his suggestions has made me lose weight and generally feel better.

The end result of all this thinking about food is that I’ve become rather obsessed with purchasing vegetable seed. What I’ve been looking for is variety. I want food I can’t get in the shops, food with history, food which is a little different, food which is clean and food our most distant ancestors might recognise. The end result is a weird mix of type species, F1 hybrids and ancient open-pollinated selections owing debts to the Inca, caribbean slaves, modern plant geniuses and peasant farmers all of which are bundled in an envelope awaiting the completion of our house move in a couple of weeks (fingers crossed, touching wood).


So here is what is under starter's orders as I type:
  1. Allium cepa "Furio" - Red Salad Onion - This is just a red form of the spring or salad onion. I chose this one as it forms rounded bulbs as opposed to straight bulbs and will bulk up into small onions so I can thin out the yong plants by eating spring onions leaving some to grow bigger. Generally I don't intend to produce big numbers of cooking onions - the pros can do that cheaper and more easily than I ever will.
  2. Beta vulgaris var. cicla "Rainbow beet" - Chard -I'm planning to use these as baby leaves for salad but, subject to my ability to stay on top of them, may end up with some leaves to cook with.
  3. Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. vulgari "wodan" - Beetroot - This is simply a standard beetroot - you may have noticed it is simply a different subspecies to the chard and as a result you can tuck into the leaves as a leaf vegetable as well as the root - a side benefit many people miss out on.
  4. Brassica juncea "Osaka Purple" - Japanese Red Mustard -
  5. Brassica oleracea Acephala Group "Red Bor" - Red Kale/Borecole -
  6. Brassica rapa "rubi" - Purple Pak Choi -
  7. Capsicum annum "Fish" - Chilli pepper -Capsicum annum is the species from which all bell peppers and most chillis are derived. I'm growing "Fish" because its a variegated chilli which looks spectacular (whilst tasting good) producing bent fruit striped with white. I also like its history - Fish originated around Baltimore in the USA where the variety was maintained as the white striped fruit allowed chilli heat to be added to the white sauces favoured with fish in the region. The remarkable story of its continued survival and more info can be found here.
  8. Capsicum baccatum "Dedo de Mocha" - Sweet Aji pepper - having described C. annum above as the species from which all bell peppers are derived, this is the exception to the rule. C baccatum is a peruvian pepper species most forms of which are hot peppers. The exception is this form. I'm growing this because (being Andean in origin) this species can be more easily overwintered than most so I'm hoping for a reasonable harvest of its sweet peppers this year and then monster hauls in years to come.
  9. Capsicum baccatum "Lemon Drop" - Hot Citrus Aji pepper -This is probably the best known Aji type pepper. Lemon drop is a hot, citrussy pepper as its name suggests. It produces bright yellow fruit and, again, I'm hoping it'll overwinter for me.
  10. Cucumis anguria - West Indian Gherkin/Burr cucumber - This is, like the "Mexican Gherkin" below, not actually a cucumber. This one is at least in the same genus though (true cucumbers belong to Cucumis sativus). I'm hoping it'll produce large numbers of small cucumbers for me to munch (or pickle then munch) but apparently the Brazilians use it in stews. Notwithstanding the name and that last fact this is originally a species from Africa.
  11. Cucurbita maxima "Burgess Buttercup" - Winter squash -
  12. Cucurbita moschata "Waltham butternut" - Butternut squash - The butternut squashes apparently derive from the West Indian pumpkin C. moschata; however a lot of descriptions of this particular form suggest a "wild african squash" contributed to its genetics at some point. I know not if this is correct. Whatever it is I like butternut squash so hope this is a good one.
  13. Cucurbita pepo "hasta la pasta" - Spaghetti squash -I'm growing spaghetti squash because I want to cut down on wheat pasta for the reasons mentioned above and you can't seem to buy them regularly here. Hopefully a couple of plants will produce enough squashes for us to regularly have "spaghetti" over next winter.
  14. Cucurbita pepo "summer crookneck" - Summer squash -Why grow the crookneck summer squash as well as two courgettes? Because it looks awesome that's why.
  15. Cucurbita pepo "trieste white half-long cousa" - Courgette/Zucchini -a white, oblong courgette. This is apparently the style of these things in the middle east. Hopefully it will grill well.
  16. Cucurbita pepo "verde di italia" - Courgette/Zucchini -Standard courgette/zuchini which is derived from the same species as the white oblong cousa courgette as well as the spaghetti squash and the crookneck squash. Diversity thy name is squash. If you're wondering why I'm growing so many squashes its because a) I love them; but also b) they are fairly undemanding and easy to get decent crops from (he says tempting fate).
  17. Daucus carota subsp. sativus "flyaway" - Carrot - Utterly uninteresting modern orange carrot (I like carrot/apple juice). You probably already know that carrots are default coloured orange now solely because the Dutch like Orange.
  18. Eruca sativa "Sicilian Mixed Salad" Arugula/Rocket - I think we learnt in the last US election cycle that Arugula is only eaten by liberal elitists or something. Whatever. It is more delicious than Iceberg and if that makes me elitist so be it.
  19. Lactuca sativa "Morton's Secret Mix" - Lettuce - Wild lettuce originated as some sort of daisy like plant and has morphed really rather dramatically. The seed from this packet should illustrate that perfectly as they will yield a range of near random chaos from the breeding projects of master salad crosser Frank Morton (about whom more here)
  20. Lactuca sativa "Really Red Deer Tongue" - Lettuce - Holy crap; check out the picture!
  21. Melothria scabra - Mexican Gherkin/Mouse melon - One of my new projects for this year. which I heard about here. This is a vine from southern North America related to, but completely distinct from, the cucumber. It will, hopefully, produce large quantities of fruit resembling grape sized water melons which apparently taste like ready pickled gherkins. No cultivar on this one as the seed are of the true species. I'm hoping it'll add something a little different to my salads.
  22. Pastinaca sativa "Excalibur" - Parsnip - Parsnips are underused vegetables in my view. Awesome in soup, roasted and with honey on.
  23. Phaseolus vulgaris "Cosse violetta" - Bean - Its a bean (like a suspiciously high number of things on this list it is also purple). 'nuff said.
  24. Rumex acetosa "Belleville" - Sorrel-Sorrel is basically a type of Dock. It can be used in salads or cooked and has a lemony taste caused by oxalic acid contained in the leaves (so don't eat too much). It doesn't wilt like lettuce when picked and goes well with new potatoes too. Also it is perennial so less effort for yours truly assuming I can get it going.
  25. Rumex sanguineus[?] - Red Veined Sorrel - This is essentially the same as the above but with ruby (or as the name suggests; blood) red veins. I'm not sure on the species of this one.
  26. Tropaeolum minus "Black velvet" - Nasturtium - Nasturtium is well known for its ease of growth and beautiful yelow to dark red flowers and is usually grown as an ornamental. Less well known but by no means top secret is the fact that the leaves and flowers are edible - older leaves are very peppery but I quite like the younger ones and the addition of a few nasturtium flowers will pimp out your salad to the max. This one has dark flowers.
  27. Tropaeolum minus "Ladybird" -Nasturtium - As above but yellow. Incidentally I always thought the species name was "majus" not "minus" but I'm quoting the packet here.
So that is twenty odd species to tuck into. I'll keep you updated on their progress. There will inevitably be more, some will arrive as plants rather than seed and there is already other awesome sounding seeds I'm trying to resist........

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