Chufa is a misunderstood plant in that within Cyperus esculentus there are two broad subspecies. The first C. esculents var. sativus is one of the oldest cultivated crops, grown around the Mediterranean sea and beyond. The cultivars that I have tested from this type grow a mass of tubers underneath their sedge greenery and are killed by frost.
The second is the weed yellow nutsedge that is cursed by farmers and gardeners alike. It is also edible except it can survive frost and its tubers (from what I've seen) are neither as large nor born as densely beneath the plant. There is also purple nutsedge that grows even more down south and is a different species.
I grow the better crop though winter wimpy plant: Chufa (var. sativus), also known as cultivated Tigernut. Now that we have cleared that up.
Since I grew a lot of Chufa this year - partly for sale, partly because they are highly nutritious and taste like a cross between a sweet almond and coconut, are versatile in cooking and store well - I had a lot of processing to do in the fall. If you have ever pulled up chufa to clean, you'll know why this seems like a big task. My kids and I spent a day separating, cleaning and drying tubers. Yield compared to the lower commercial yields in Spain which made me happy. No doubt this was because of our unusually high heat units for 2016.
Here are some cultivars that I trialed. Other than ALE select (the typical Canadian variety you'll find simply as Chufa and offered by various seed savers that I have been growing out for years), Black Tigers was second in yield. It's a round variety with darker skin than most of the others. I look forward to trying them again and being able to offer several varieties in 2017.
Stay tuned to a companion post, how to process and use Chufa.
obstacle based observations
Any tips or tricks, that I might have developed, generally have to do with overcoming obstacles and I'm happy to share some with you:
1. Space - Though somewhat dependent on what you are selecting for, you are more likely to see the weirdos (like cool colours, resistance and so forth) if you grow larger numbers out. I don't have all the space in the world, so if I can select for a trait at the smallest possible size then that's what I do. Right from seed (more uniform germination, wrinkled seed coat) to baby leaves (colouration, size) to seedling (all sorts possible here). This means I can sow 1000s in a relatively small space and cull down to a more workable number. Some traits, however, I can only select when big old space hogging plants are in the ground in their expected growing conditions.
2. Time - This goes hand and hand with the above but if you have a clear goal in mind then you may want to start with optimal material. If you are looking for cold hardiness, get seeds from more northern grown plants, for example. Plants that attract a large number of hobbyists, often have heredity charts that you can look up to focus your efforts such as tomato colour. Doing some winter growing may not only help save some time but may make it easier to jump start things with a tidy controlled cross in an environment without pollinators. I've been forced to this with cabbage accidentally once. Don't get me started about biennials...
3. Diversity - This hasn't been too much of an obstacle for me but getting ahold of a wide range of material can be very helpful especially if you are looking to create a diverse crop such as a modern landrace.
4. Expertise - We are always learning and must remain open to that. Thankfully there is a very large community of lay breeders just bursting to talk to you about what they've learned. Search blogs and other forums. If you are feeling up to it, find yourself some scientific papers. There are some excellent books on the subject too such as Carol Deppe's Breed your own vegetable varieties. I came to plant breeding to fill a need in edible landscaping. I just couldn't find the plants that I was looking for ... partly because they didn't exist, or at least not in my part of the world. There was never a shortage of other enthusiasts to support me. And likewise, as I learned, for me to support. Since that first need, my interests have branched out.
5. Data - Getting into the habit of collecting good and meaningful data is a skill that takes time to learn. It is also something that busy growers don't always do a lot of. Over time, based on your goals, you'll get a feel for how much information you need to record but keep in mind that sometimes data that you didn't think would be that important will end up being valuable to you or to someone else working on something related.
6. Time, space, expertise, diversity, data take II - This translates into working with others. Most of us work together informally but when it comes to scaling up projects, you may find yourself trying to recruit farmers, students, gardeners and so forth. In my experience, this can be challenging. Essentially it's a relationship issue. Informal collaboration often works because you are usually working with friends and expectations are limited. In a more formal situation, I've heard that a clear contract can help, ie. good communication. Ultimately you'll get more follow through if you cultivate a good relationship. This means contact, clarity and appreciation.
Remember that projects can change. You may discover something that forces you to abandon a project or for it to change direction or split off in more than one direction. You may lose material. Just like life itself, it is always dynamic.
* Lastly, compared to many of the people who have been kind enough to share their expertise, encouragement, observations or plant material with me, I'm a relative novice. In the future, I hope to write another post with what I've learned since this post. In the meantime, please offer your own thoughtful advice below.
My husband makes this great meal that is a variation on eggplant lasagna. I love the crunchy exterior and creamy interior of each breaded and fried piece of eggplant. It doesn't hurt that it's layered in his special tomato sauce and cheese.
Eggplants were one of the first heat loving plants that I figured out how to grow in the Ottawa regions. They are resource hungry but the right variety and respect for their need for space to mine these resources has given me great crops most years. I also use plastic mulch as per sweet potatoes though this year I'm going to grow a row without to compare. The best book I've read to help with heat lovers is Ken Allan's Sweet Potato Book.
This year, I had two eggplant projects on the go. One based on long-asian varieties and another on smaller European tear shaped ones. The long variety that I had preformed adequately this year though not as well as in 2015. My favourite was definitely derived from seed sent to me as dehybridized Ophelia.
Seedlings were robust and vigorous and they managed to cope adequately with the drought. I was also happy to see at least three flushes of fruit.
I chose some of the best fruits and let them mature to collect seeds. My favourite seed cleaning technique with eggplant is to use a cheap blender. I scrape the mature flesh in, add some water, and blend for about three seconds. It needs to be a cheap blender or you might end up with seed mush. After that, I add more water, drain off the pulp and then strain the water and seeds. The seeds are dried on a paper plate before packaging.
This is one project I'm always happy to expand because more eggplant just means more of my husband's delicious meals, more ratatouille and more baba ganoush.
2017 Eggplant plans
This year, I plan on continuing the selection process and deciding on the range of characteristics. Low input growing is a must but also useful size, early harvest and good taste will be in there. I'll also have to figure out a name - something from Shakespeare I think.
Seeds are available at the shop.
I can tell I had a difficult year when I can't find too many pictures of a project. Usually what happens is that I go out into the gardens, point my camera at the mess and think "nah." Sometimes I snap the shots anyhow because photographs are one of my primary record keeping tools but I must have been sufficiently depressed or overwhelmed by other projects that I didn't bother! That or there's a trove of photos somewhere that I couldn't find (note to self, tag all photos).
The Cucurbita moschata, Butternut Squash, Community Landrace Breeding Project was a success this year though not exactly in the most ideal way. We had a serious drought. We had bugs, masses and masses of cucumber beetles (several types), squash bug and squash vine borer (though no obvious cases at ALE and none reported in these squash from participants I don't think. C. moschata is resistant because of solid stems). Eventually we had powdery mildew at around August 23rd (according to my scant photographic records).
Germination wasn't ideal as I am a low input acreage and rely mostly on irrigation from the heavens. They weren't obliging so I probably poured a few buckets of water on the rows every once in a while. I swear I have some seedling photos from like mid-June or even later... Flowering was late. Fruiting was very, very late. I have immature first flush fruit photos from September. Note the lack of sandals in the below picture... suspicious. Not only that but I cannot find a single full harvest photo. And I've looked three times. Please don't make me look again, I have a lot of photos of plants...
So we did get one and a half flushes of fruit rather than two or three like usual. The half meant that I was harvesting some very immature fruit at frost time and using them more like zucchini.
So why was this good? Well these survivors will potentially enhance some pressure genes into the mix. It also gives me a sense of what parameters this strain can handle. It clearly isn't super thrilled with very high heat and/or very dry soil at flowering time staying in the male flower phase for quite some time. Participants that irrigated or lived in hills that were receiving more precipitation had much better fruit set.
When it comes to plant selection, all years are good years in that they produce results (null - more on that below - is a result) even if those results are not stellar.
Notes from community PARTICIPANTS
I'll post more results when I get them. Thank you everyone!
Past and future
Memories from an easier year 2015.
Plans for the future
Happy Pumpkin Pies and Squash Stews!
I suppose if there is one thing about drought, it is that it usually comes with heat, and since sweet potatoes like heat, this year's harvest was AWESOME. Some of my field mate's sweet taters were the size of her forearm. Well performing Georgia Jets were the size of bowling balls! In fact, it was somewhat challenging to find mid-sized bakers to sell to a local CSA that didn't manage to get their sweet potato slip order in on time.
I mostly slip my own plants from those with good storage, yield and eating qualities that were also good at flowering and setting seed from 2015. More slips were planted from two suppliers: Mapple Farms and Burt's Greenhouse - this was part of a large group order for my Facebook group Edible Ottawa Gardens Group (thank you to some industrious members who did the heavy lifting on this one). We planted around the end of May.
Plants established and grew well in the newly cleared field and existing beds. Though we did get an excellent harvest, flowering was delayed compared to 2015 and seed set was minimal. And by minimal, I mean I think I got three seeds or maybe four. At any rate, not stellar. Thankfully, I have been sent a nice batch of seeds to try from a couple fellow plant breeders, including some produced in a shorter season European climate. I am exploring options to help stimulate seed set for 2017 especially as it is slated as one of my super-crops for a longterm project.
I plant in approximately two foot diamonds (all the way around) and water only for establishing. I don't believe I gave them any rescue watering even in the worst of the drought as they recovered in the evening. If I did, it was maybe once or twice. They were dug in the third week of September as temperatures started to fall. Below left, you can see one of my rows and below right is Farmview's Gardens harvest from the shared field here. He uses a pitchfork like you are supposed to. I tend to dig immediately around the plant with a slicing spade (I don't slice on purpose) as I find that, at least short season varieties, cluster just beneath the plant (My favourite shovel's name is Sherman). The purple that we grew this year did have quite a few far flung tubers though I suspect it's a longer season variety. Yield was 0.5lb per square foot.
I also tried a tuber planting experiment as I've often heard people telling me they just put the whole seed-tuber in the ground. They did pretty much nothing for me except produce greens so I wouldn't recommend it as a technique at least in this climate.
Very quick update on one of my favourite taste driven projects. Actually it's use driven too. I love this little mange-tout pea. It's orgins are a bit of a mystery but it's a keeper. I've been increasing for some time now mostly for selfish reasons. I like eating it and find cutting up the whole pod (rather than shelling) for freezing for winter use is convenient. Next year, I might finally have enough seed that, all going well, I'll be able to share!
I start peppers at the beginning of March and plant out when the weather is safe. Usually sometime at the end of May. Usually, they have flowerbuds at this point. It was a very dry year, culminating in severe drought status by mid-summer. I don't irrigate but try to plant with the spring rains. They didn't come so plants were watering in. They also received some sparing rescue watering and by that I mean, I lugged out some buckets and poured water into their planting holes during the most intense heat and water stress. This didn't happen as much as they would have wanted.
Picture on the left is from June 27th. First fruits are those from early flowers. Picture on the right is July 13th.
You can see from the above photos that some plants coped a bit better with the intense drought than others. Note plant above right is not wilting. As far as I know this isn't an artifact of its planting position though maybe it found a juicy morsel of something just beneath it.
We had a good thunderstorm August 13th and I record picking quantities of ripe peppers as of August 20th though there were some before.
Photos below left was taken September 7th and below right just before a predicted though not materialized light frost sometime near the end of September.
All in all, I am happy with the project again this year. The peppers are early, tasty, and preserve well (both dry and frozen). Since I've been working with them, they haven't been subject to any excessive pest or disease and have preformed well in different weather years. I'm also happy to see some intermediate forms (see below) between the Unamed Yellow-red and the Spanish-Survivor Bell though I'd like to do a few controlled crosses to explore this further. If you are interested in trying out some seed, it is available in the shop.
Spanish Bell Survivor (top) originated from seeds sent to me from Spain. Most of the plants struggled the year I grew them and/or didn't set ripe fruit. A few did so I added them to my seed mix along with a few other sweets that were performing well in cooler/low heat unit summers.
So it happens. You chat with someone about edible plants and they write up a little something or other for their group's newsletter and they get it wrong. Not a big deal right? Well when it comes to edible plants, my poor heart nearly leaps out of my chest!!
We live in a world filled with information produced by people of all levels of expertise. This same world has articles written by other people using materials that they have found who may or may not be discerning about their source materials.
When it comes to edible plants, this is understandably problematic. I urge you to always double check all information that you read and to remember that even in the world of edible plants that:
a) not all plants are edible in the same ways (some must be cooked for example)
b) not all part of edible plants are edible (DON'T EAT rhubarb leaves)
c) not all edible plants grown in all circumstances are safe (nitrate accumulation in goosefoots)
d) not all edible plants are edible by all people (allergies)
e) not all edible plants are edible at quantity
f) some edible plants look like non edible plants (the carrot family)
g) common names are NOT your friend
h) some edible plants can contain toxic relatives or varieties (almond trees)
Please be safe people!
Double, triple check. Start slow. Be sure.
I do not want to copy the misquote directly as it would leave a word stamp so to speak that would seem to corroborate incorrect information but it suggested that I called iris and lupin edible. Generally speaking, they are not. There are some minor instances of iris being used in some ways though with warnings about these possibly being toxic so it's not a Genus I'd explore. There are low alkaloid lupins out there that may be rendered edible after leaching out dangerous alkaloids but again, I wouldn't lump them in with edibles normally. Lastly, it mentions daylilies. Common ditch lily - Hemerocallis fulva - is the one that most foragers have experience with and can be considered edible though caution is advised with the mutliple varieties that have been bred.
This mistake came out of a phone conversation where many plants were mentioned in different contexts. For example, iris makes a nice companion for edible plants but is not edible itself.
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.