I love leeks. Their sturdy, cold hardy upright growth which shines in the fall garden. Their flavor that adds a subtle and nutty onion taste to soups, stir fries and other dishes. I’ve grown them as long as I’ve gardened, favouring the kinds that turn blue in cool weather like a seed selection by the Long Island Seed Project that included the heirloom Blue solaise. So when my crop was devastated by leek moth – an introduced leaf miner moth pest of alliums – I didn’t want to give up hope. And then someone told me about a leek that was resistant and perennial called Oerprei.
Oerprei means ancient or old leek. Instead of forming one swath of leaves, it forms a dividing clump analogous to a green onion instead of a bulbing onion. Dividing and individually planting out these slender, baby leeks allows them to grow larger.
At the same time, I also noticed that the LISP blue select tended to offset or perennialize. Various leeks will grow pearl leeks off the main stem after flowering that can be harvested before flowering the following year. I let my Oerprei and my leek blue select cross out of curiousity. It produced a set of vigorous plants with often blue coloration in the cold. We’ll see how they develop in terms of winter hardiness and perenniality over the next few years.
When researching edibles that would do well in low water conditions, I bumped into Prickly Pear Cacti of the genus Opuntia. Turns out there are even natives that grow nearby. Most of them seem to have small or dry fruit though my understanding is that you should be able to eat the pads of all of them. This would be tricky with my fragilis as it is quite small and a challenge in learning how to process the rest. They are cool to grow regardless.
I don't know why I got so excited about growing chickpeas. It could be because I have a thing for edible plants in general. All I know is that I ordered a Winnifred's Garbanzo from Salt Spring Seed one year and grew it out. I liked the pinnate foliage, the little pea-like flowers and the plumb pods. It was a pain to thresh but not as hard as some of the grains.
Over the years, and through the kindness of seed traders, I have collected a bunch of varieties including Carol Deppe's popping chickpea - one of the best growing ones in my gardens so far.
They come in a fascinating variety of textures, colours and sizes to keep even a bean collector interested. I have been growing them and saving them together in modern landrace style with the exception of the popbean which I mostly grow in isolation. Increasing my seed stock was going well until the drought of 2012 where I had a poor crop and lost a lot. I hope to bring up my numbers again next year.
Sometimes you plant out humdrum seed like the stalwart but common Lincoln and you get a surprise. In this case, I got a variegated pea. I had planted these on my window sill to get pea sprouts so wasn’t prepared when something unusual appeared. The plant eeked along in the weak window sun until a single pod developed and set seed.
Now I wasn’t expecting this trait to passed down. Afterall, I had read that it was likely a chimera – two genetic lines (one without chlorophyll) intermingling and expressing in the plant – but the second generation had a percentage that was also variegated.
What happened next was I failed to properly label my seeds. When I teach seed saving, there are two points, I try to drive home (well three – all saving is selection) and they are 1) most seed needs to be dry for storage and 2) label. In fact, make notes. Put those notes right on the seed package. So how could I fail to label? I’m embarrassed to say that it was not the first time nor the last. Perhaps I thought I’d remember that those wrinkled green peas were the special ones. So the next year, when I thought I sowed them out, I saw only green and figured it was gone.
Low and behold, I discovered a jar of unlabelled packs of pea seeds two years later (um yes a whole jar full of different packages of different peas with no labels...). I sowed them. About a month later, a friend and I were walking through the garden when she leans down and says, “look at that.”
And there it was, appearing from seed in the third generation. The variegated pea had returned. It’s not something I’m likely to be able to offer as it takes a while to increase but it sure is fun to grow.
I heard that cinnamon vine, Dioscorea batatas, produced edible aerial tubers that could be plucked off and eaten yam-like. I figured great. No digging. There was even an attractive variegated version so I planted it near a trellis and waited.
Took awhile but it sprouted, grew weakly and disappeared. The following year when I hadn't seen it by the end of May, I figured it wasn't hardy here so I mulched over where it was and grew vining tomatoes. Later in the year, I saw a strange yellow tendril struggle to the light. My yam! I apologized and gave it a few weeks of sun before winter returned. The following year I waited and waited and sometime in June, it made it's appearance. This year, it grew quite well, expressing a nice irregular variation. No aerial tubers though.
We'll see what 2015 brings (or not).
Whether you call it litchi tomato or vila-vila, its not a tomato but it is related. The prickly perennial (grown here as annual) produces red fruit that taste a bit like a seedy cross between cherry and a tomato.
They are also mildly frost tolerant. That's right, a solanum that doesn't melt at the first touch of ice. A problem if you live somewhere with mild winters but just fine here. It also repels potato eelworm/nemotode in the soil. The large white to bluish flowers bloom all season offering a late nectar source for the bumbles.
There has been some selection but a lot more work could be done. Imagine a world of vila-vila diversity: ones with huge fruit, one orange with stripes, different flavours and even those that enhance their ornamental flowers. As it is, I belong to a group that is hoping to find a spineless mutant. See Friends of Vila-vila (Solanum sisymbriifolium) on Facebook to join. Though I have to say, a little part of me would be sad to loose the spines.
In 2014 when I was seeding some alpine strawberries, one plant looked strange. At first, I was afraid it had some sort of virus which was mottling the leaves only the pattern seemed very regular. Some leaves were half white and half yellow. I planted it in isolation from my other strawberries and watched it grow… big, healthy and variegated.
It has been suggested that maybe it is a chimera. I hope it survives the winter!
William Woys Weaver writes a great article about their edibility in Mother Earth News. He has continued his breeding project and I hope to hear more about it in the future. In the meantime, James Wong from the UK has also tried to popularize their use as food calling them Dahlia yams. Apparently the yellow cactus types are particularly good.
A few years back, I decided to try my own hand at selecting for good food quality. The first few years were a resounding failure as my seedlings kept succumbing to a fungus including ever last one of my Dahlia merkii. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I did get two that survived in 2014 only to be taken down by a careless foot (not mine) and a mysterious disappearing act. I don’t normally have damping off problems so I’m not sure if they are particularly suspectible or I was cursed. At any rate, last year, I got a good group growing of Children of Bishop’s Llandaff. There was quite a bit of variability in the roots.
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.