Climbing Layer

Permaculture Plants: Muscadines

Common Name: Muscadine, Scuppernong, Bullace, Bull Grape, Bird Grape, Munson’s Grape, Southern Fox Grape, White Grape, Fruit of the Mother Vine
Scientific Name: Vitis rotundifolia
Family: Vitaceae (the Grape family)

Americans are rediscovering this native grape!

Americans are rediscovering this native grape!

Description:
I’ve been planning on planting a large number of Muscadines for a long time, and recently Jack Spirko published a podcast discussing Muscadines, and so I thought I would elaborate on the topic. This North American native is at home in the humid southeastern parts of the continent, and these grapes thrive in conditions where the more temperamental European grapes struggle. They are vigorous, produce high yields (over 100 lbs/45 kg per vine!), can be eaten fresh, produce amazing preserves and wines, can be dried like raisins, and have edible leaves. This is a great vining option that will add diversity to your diet and your biome!

 

Muscadines

John J. Audomon’s Summer Tanagers eating Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia)

History:
Muscadines are native to southeastern North America. The natural range stretches from Florida to Delaware (but much more infrequent north of Virginia) and west to Texas. Native Americans used these fruits for fresh eating, juice, and dried as raisins for Winter food. Thomas Jefferson planted Muscadines at Monticello. Muscadine wine (including a fortified port-style wine) became a large industry in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but Prohibition severely crippled it, and it never recovered. There are a number of Muscadine Wine producers now, but it is seen as more of a novelty than a standard, although there are a number of wineries hoping to change that. There have also been a large number of improved cultivars that have sweeter and thinner skinned fruits which have growing appeal for fresh eating.

Muscadines can be very large compared to what most people think of grapes.

Muscadines can be very large compared to what most people think of grapes.

Trivia:

  • Muscadines don’t form the typical tight bunches of grapes like the classic wine and table grapes. Instead, they form loose clusters of 3-40 grapes.
  • Muscadines are all seeded with up to 5 hard seeds. The exception is the Fry Seedless, but these fruit are small and require chemical application for the fruit to grow to size.
  • There are over 300 Muscadine cultivars grown in the U.S.
  • Some Muscadines are self-fertile, but many are considered “female” or “self-sterile”. These plants produce pistils but no stamens (called “pistillate”), so they need a self-fertile (or “perfect” flowered plant) for fertilization. There are no “male” Muscadines (i.e. a plant that produces flowers with only stamens but no pistils, i.e. “staminate”).
  • Self-fertile plants do not need cross-pollination to set fruit.
  • Some self-fertile cultivars are: Alachua, Albermarle, Bountiful, Burgaw, Carlos, Cowart, Delite, Dixie Red, Doreen, Duplin, Fry Seedless, Golden Isles, Granny Val, Ison, Janebell, Janet, Late Fry, Magnolia, Magoon, Nesbit, Noble, Pineapple, Polyanna, Redgate, Regale, Roanoke, Southland, Southern Home, Sterling, Tara, Tarheel, Triumph, Welder.
  • Female plants need to be planted within 50 feet (15 meters) of a self-fertile plant to ensure good fruit production.
  • Cultivars that are more cold-hardy include Magnolia, Carlos, and Sterling.
  • In 1524, a green-bronze Muscadine was found growing along the Scuppernong River in North Carolina. Since then, many people mistakenly call all bronze Muscadines “scuppernongs”, but this is not accurate. The Scuppernong is one named variety. So all Scuppernongs are Muscadines, but all bronze Muscadines are not Scuppernongs.
  • The “Mother Vine”  is a Scuppernong vine that has been growing since at least the 1720’s (but possibly from as early as 1584!) on the northern end of Roanoke Island, North Carolina. It is the oldest known Muscadine vine in the world.
  • Muscadines have high GDH (Growing Degree Hours). This means, in general, Muscadines need long, warm days to reach maximum production. This is not surprising when we consider Muscadines are native to the southeastern United States. It is important to keep this in mind when choosing a variety, as some are more cold tolerant than others.
  • Muscadine cultivars are also evaluated by percentage of “dry scars” on the fruit harvest. The scar is the wound that is left when the fruit is picked off the vine. If the scar is “wet”, this means that the fruit can dry out and/or will start to rot faster (i.e. has a low storage/shelf life). If the scar is “dry”, this means that the wound seals over fast, and this fruit will store longer. Some examples of cultivars with “dry” scars include: Albermarle, Bountiful, Delite, Excel, Golden Isles, Granny Val, Hunt, Loomis, Magoon, Nesbit, Pride, Roanoke, Scarlet, Southern Home, Summit, and Welder. Some examples of cultivars with “very dry” scars include: Carlos, Florida Fry, Fry Seedless, Late Fry, Polyanna, and Tara.
  • The sugar content in Muscadines can range from very low (12-13%) to very high (20-23%). Some cultivars with high sugar content include: Albermarle, Bountiful, Darlene, Dixie, Early Fry, Pam, Rosa, Scarlet, Southland, Summit, Sweet Jenny, Tara, and Triumph. Some cultivars with very high sugar content include: Doreen, Florida Fry, Fry Seedless, Janet, Late Fry, Magoon, and Sugargate.
  • One reason Muscadine wine has not been promoted as much is because of its natural browning. This is when the wine, both white and red, slowly turn to a brownish color. There is no change in flavor, but marketers fear brown wines won’t sell. There may be some truth to that, but that isn’t going to stop me from making wine from my Muscadines!

 

Most cultivars of Muscadine are perfect for fresh eating!

Most cultivars of Muscadine are perfect for fresh eating!

Although many prefer to make Muscadine wine from the fruits!

Although many prefer to make Muscadine wine from the fruits! Click on the photo to see more on this wine.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating – While the skins are edible, most people do not like to eat them. This is because most varieties have thick skins; people either suck the fruit from the skin or spit the skin out. There are thin-skinned varieties that have been developed which have skins that are significantly more palatable.
  • Cooked –  Preserves, jellies, jams, fruit leathers (may need to be mixed with more fibrous fruit juices/pulps), compotes, and desserts.
  • Dried – Muscadine Raisins! In a small study looking at three cultivars, Noble was chosen as the best raisin Muscadine.
  • Syrup – This is another use of Muscadines and can be used in salad dressings, desserts, and drinks.
  • Juice – This is a growing market as the juice is very high polyphenols and other antioxidants.
  • Primary or secondary/adjunct flavoring in wines, cordials, liqueur, and other alcoholic beverages, including beers.

 

Muscadine leaves can be used just like European grape leaves.

Muscadine leaves can be used just like European grape leaves. Click on the photo for a great recipe from herbalist and psychotherapist, Holli Richey!

Secondary Uses:

  • Medicinal Plant – While the fruit contains many healthful antioxidants, the seeds are being researched for stronger medicinal benefits.
  • Tea Plant – The leaves can be dried and used as a tea or used with herbal tea mixes.
  • Edible Leaves – The young leaves are edible and can be used just like “regular” grape leaves. See photo/recipe above.
  • Edible Sap – I could only fine a few sources for this bit of information, but reportedly, the sap can be harvested from a cut vine. This is said to be a “coolly refreshing drink”, but may weaken or kill the stem/vine.
  • Dye Plant – The leaves have been used as a natural yellow dye.
  • Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the fruit, especially birds!
  • General insect nectar plant.

 

Many animals enjoy Muscadines as much as humans! Here is a Giant Leopard Moth ( Hypercompe scribonia).

Many animals enjoy Muscadines as much as humans! Here is a Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia).

Yield: Variable depending on the cultivar and variety. In one study performed in Mississippi, yields ranged from 15 lbs (7 kg) to 115 lbs (52 kg) with most cultivars yielding 55 lbs (25 kg) to 77 lbs (35 kg) of fruit per vine. That is a lot of fruit!
Harvesting: Harvesting can begin in the third growing season; all flower clusters should be removed for the first two years to establish a healthy vine. Muscadines are harvested when the fruit is ripe, in late Summer and Autumn (depending on location), and are typically picked one fruit at a time (not in bunches like bunch grapes). The fruit is ripe when it falls easily off the stem and has a pleasant, sweet fragrance. The fruit will not ripen more after picked, so avoid picking unripe fruit. Another harvesting method takes advantage of Muscadines tendency to drop when ripe. A tarp or sheet can be placed under the vine, and the vine given a hard shake, and ripe fruit will fall onto the tarp making for easier harvest.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. A few cultivars can be stored for about a week, but this depends on the cultivar.

 

Muscadine jelly is a Southern treat!

Muscadine jelly is a Southern treat!

Muscadine seeds are being investigated for their health benefits (thought to be almost identical to European grape seeds).

Muscadine seeds are being investigated for their health benefits (thought to be almost identical to European grape seeds).

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 5-10
AHS Heat Zone: 11-6
Chill Requirement: 200-600 units (or hours below 45°F/7°C).

Plant Type: Vine
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Vertical/Climbing Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are hundreds of varieties.

Pollination: Self-fertile or Female plants. Pollinated by wind and insects. There is some debate about honeybees pollinating Muscadines as I have seen conflicting reports in horticultural literature.
Flowering: Spring-Summer depending on the location.

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 2-3 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 4-5 years
  • Years of Useful Life: 20+ years.
The flower clusters should be removed for the first 2 years to promote healthy vines.

The flower clusters should be removed for the first 2 years to promote healthy vines.

Muscadine flowers are pollinated via wind and insects.

Muscadine flowers are pollinated via wind and insects.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: Up to 100 feet (30 meters) in length
Roots: Most grapes have a large portion of shallow, fibrous roots with some deep roots that can grow 20 feet (6 meters) down into the subsoil. Roots can spread laterally up to 33 feet (10 meters) from the vine, and it is likely that the longer Muscadine vines’ roots may be larger.
Growth Rate: Fast

Muscadine leaves can be eaten like European grape leaves.

Muscadine leaves can be eaten like European grape leaves.

Muscadines don't cluster like European grapes.

Muscadines don’t cluster like European grapes.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade, but fruit yield decreases significantly in the shade.
Moisture: Moist and well-drained soils is preferred. Avoid areas with standing water, as Muscadines cannot tolerate wet ground for long.
pH: 5.5-6.5

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • It is reported that irrigation is not needed in areas with at least 30 inches of rain (not surprisingly, this is typical for the areas where Muscadines originate). If there is no rain for more than 60 days, then supplemental watering is needed. If your region has dry summers, then irrigation for establishment is recommended for the first 2-4 years.
  • Female plants need to be planted within 50 feet (15 meters) of a self-fertile plant to ensure good fruit production.

Propagation:

Typically from layering of developed varieties, usually in Summer. Can be propagated via cuttings, but this is reportedly more difficult. Muscadines can be easily propagated via seed as well, but you may or may not get a good-tasting fruit. 1-2 months of cold stratification is recommended to increase germination rates.

Maintenance: 

  • For maximum fruit production, pruning and training are required. Pruning should be done when the plant is dormant (Winter) or the cut vine will heavily bleed.
  • Training to a trellis system is the most common method of growing Muscadines, but they will grow on fences, shrubs, and trees as well.

Concerns:
None

 

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Photo References:

  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-PEMDwGLbae0/Tl5S_qwObRI/AAAAAAAAADE/0q4wRZutFgo/s1600/IMG_4573.JPG
  • http://www.alcoholprofessor.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Muscadine-grapes-Wills-Creek-Winery.jpg
  • https://static.squarespace.com/static/52cc3095e4b083c53db90757/52d050d8e4b0c550db39dbab/52d050d9e4b0c550db39ddc1/1346026320093/1000w/Muscadine-seeds.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-KVY5zc1Wflo/UBm55VY2PVI/AAAAAAAAALI/zaigPsPcVxU/s1600/hcoutdoors.com+105.jpg
  • https://hollirichey.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/img_4007.jpg
  • http://blog.emergencyoutdoors.com/tala/uploads/2012/07/muscadine-05.jpg
  • https://happyhealthypurposed.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/istock_grapes1.jpg
  • http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/1403813/18419297/1338005919080/IMG_1284+2.jpg?token=SCM%2BjW1TU%2BWhWu2gjcd15zB4sxM%3D
  • http://i.imgur.com/5nbzI.jpg
  • http://www.caes.uga.edu/commodities/fruits/muscadines/cultivars/scuppernong/scuppernong_hand.jpg
  • https://mmmbrews.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/dsc05973.jpg
  • https://msfruitextension.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/april302012poplarville-008.jpg
  • https://tateshellblackwaterriverstateforeststs.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/p1010594.jpg
  • http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Muscadines1.jpg

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Sweet Potatoes

Common Name: Sweet Potato, Creeping Yam, Kūmara
Scientific Name: Ipomoea batatas
Family: Convolvulaceae (the Bindweed or Morning Glory family)

To me, harvesting Sweet Potatoes is like digging for treasure!

To me, harvesting Sweet Potatoes is like digging for treasure!

Description:
Sweet Potatoes are perennial in climates warmer than USDA Zone 8 or 9, and are grown as annuals if the climate is cooler; however, I personally think that with some experimentation and large trials, we could push perennial growth into colder zones. However they are grown, Sweet Potatoes are a wonderfully nutritious plant. The majority of people are familiar with the sweet, orange flesh of the tuber, which may also be white, yellow, purple, violet, pink, and red! But most Westerners do not know that Sweet Potato shoots and young leaves are edible and are considered a tasty vegetable in many parts of the world. In addition, Sweet Potato makes a great animal fodder – all parts are edible, and the fast-growing, beautiful vines make an effective groundcover, especially in perennial locations. Sweet Potatoes should be incorporated into most Permaculture designs!

There is such a variety of Sweet Potatoes to choose from!

There is such a variety of Sweet Potatoes to choose from!
This is just a tiny sample.

History:
Sweet Potatoes were likely domesticated in Peru by 8,000 BC, and they either had a second domestication or were transported to Central America and grown domestically by 5,000 BC. Although there appears to be growing evidence that the origin of our modern Sweet potato was on the Caribbean coast somewhere between the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela. There is also strong evidence that supports the Polynesian explorers visiting South America and bringing back Sweet Potatoes around 700 AD. In modern times, Sweet Potatoes are grown around the world in tropical and subtropical climates for human food (tuber and leaves) and as animal feed.

This purple variety of Sweet Potato is stunning.

This purple variety of Sweet Potato is stunning.

Trivia:

  • Sweet Potatoes are NOT yams, although in the U.S., Sweet Potatoes are often called “yams”.
  • Yams are tuber plants in the Dioscorea genus originating from Africa, and are typically drier and starchy.
  • Sweet Potatoes are tuber plants in the Ipomoea genus originating from South America.
  • Sweet Potatoes are considered “root tubers” which means they have modified roots called “storage roots”.
  • Regular potatoes are considered “stem tubers” which means they have modified stolons (stems) that enlarge just below ground.
  • Sweet Potatoes can have beige, brown, yellow, orange, red, or purple skins.
  • Sweet Potatoes most commonly have light or deep orange flesh, but white, yellow, purple-blue, violet, pink, and red-fleshed varieties exist.
  • Not all Sweet Potatoes produce tubers that are edible… they aren’t poisonous, but they do not taste good.
  • Sweet Potato leaves and shoots are a common vegetable in many parts of the world, and some varieties are grown only for the leaves.
  • Not all Sweet Potatoes produce leaves or shoots that are edible… they aren’t poisonous, but they do not taste good.
  • While Sweet Potatoes do best in hot and humid climates (Zone 8 and warmer), they can still be grown for tubers if the Summers are hot enough for long enough. If the climate is too cold for good tuber production, they can easily be grown for leaves/shoots as an annual vegetable in almost any location.
  • Tubers can take 2-9 months to mature, depending on the variety.
  • The Sweet Potato is considered the 7th most important food crop in the world.
  • The Sweet Potato is the state vegetable of North Carolina (United States), and this state is the lead producer of Sweet Potato in the US.
  • China is the world’s largest producer of Sweet Potato at 105 million tons (95,250,000,000 kg)! Half of it is used for animal feed.
  • People from Papua New Guinea consume about 1,100 lbs (500 kg) per person per year!
  • Americans consume about 4.5 lbs (2 kg) per person per year.
  • Random Bit… every time I read about Sweet Potatoes and see the genus (Ipomoea), I hear the tune for “The Girl from Ipanema” in my head!

 

The classic Sweet Potato seen in the U.S.
The classic Sweet Potato seen in the U.S.
Sweet Potato shoots and young leaves are a popular vegetable in non-Western parts of the world.

Sweet Potato shoots and young leaves are a popular vegetable in non-Western parts of the world.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Tubers – the root (tuber) of Sweet Potatoes almost need to description. The large tuber is sweet, moist, and fleshy, but there are some varieties that are considerably less sweet and/or less moist. The tubers are usually cooked – baked, fried, steamed, roasted, etc. The cooked potatoes can also be thinly sliced and dried. The dried potatoes can be used in soups or stews or can even be ground into a flour.
  • Edible Shoots/Leaves – the top 3-4 inches (7.5-10 cm) of growing (shoot) tips are used as a vegetable, as are the small, young leaves. Cooked – treated like most other “greens”.

 

Sweet Potato animal feed from tubers (left) and leaves/vines (right).

Sweet Potato animal feed from tubers (left) and leaves/vines (right).

Ornamental varieties of Sweet Potato abound.

Ornamental varieties of Sweet Potato abound.

Another ornamental Sweet Potato.

Another ornamental Sweet Potato.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – Sweet Potatoes are commonly used as an ornamental plant. The vigorous vine has attractive foliage and can come in a range of colors and shapes.
  • Groundcover Plant – very effective due to its fast growth.
  • Drought-Tolerant Plant – Sweet Potatoes can be fairly drought tolerant once established (after about 80-90 days… after the tuber initiation stage) as perennials.
  • Animal Fodder Plant – the tubers, stems, and leaves can all be used for animal feed.
  • Sweet Potatoes can be used to make alcoholic beverages (wine and liquors).
  • Industrial uses for starch and alcohol (ethanol) – research is being conducted for biofuel.

Yield: Variable. It all depends on how it is grown, where it is grown, and the variety.
Harvesting: The shoots can be harvested at anytime. The tubers can be harvested at anytime as well, if the plant is a perennial. If the plant is treated as an annual, than they are harvested at the end of the growing season (before the first frost).
Storage: The tubers can be used fresh or stored, but they need to be cured first. The simplest way is to let the tuber (unwashed!) sit in the sun for about a week or so when the temperatures are over 77 F (25 C) and the humidity is high. The cured tubers will last for many months (often up to a year) if kept in a cool, but not cold, location and handled as little as possible. Ideal storage is around 60 F (15 C), and there is conflicting information on whether dry or moist storage is best.
Using Stored Potatoes: Sweet Potatoes that are cracked or have large wounds (sustained from harvesting) that have not sealed during the curing process should be eaten first. Any Sweet Potato that is showing bruising should be eaten next. Sweet Potatoes with wounds that did seal during the curing process should be eaten next. Finally, the non-cracked, non-wounded, non-bruised tubers, which are the ones that typically store the longest, should be eaten last. Stored tubers can also be planted the following year.

Blurring the line between ornamental and functional groundcover.

Blurring the line between ornamental and functional groundcover.

A beautiful red-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety.

A beautiful red-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 9-12 as a perennial. There aresome reports of Sweet Potatoes over-wintering as perennials in Zone 8, and even 7, in a very protected space or microclimate. If you live in colder temperate climates, then treat Sweet Potatoes as annuals.
AHS Heat Zone: 12-1
Chill Requirement: Unlikely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous Vining Plant (non-climbing)
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Underground Layer, Vining Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

Pollination: Self-sterile (the vast majority of Sweet Potatoes are grown from slips, cuttings, tubers, or tissue culture). Sweet Potatoes need cross-pollination from another variety in order to set seed.
Flowering: Summer. Flowering events are rare for Sweet Potatoes grown in Temperate Climates. Flowering typically occurs in the Tropics or Sub-Tropoics, and is triggered by changing day length.

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available as we typically harvest the tubers and eat them. Considering that the plants can be propagated so easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant. But I would like to know this for those living in warmer locations and using Sweet Potatoes for groundcovers.
Flowering is not common for Sweet Potatoes unless they are grown in very warm climates.

Flowering is not common for Sweet Potatoes unless they are grown in very warm climates.

Sweet Potatoes' beautiful leaves... no wonder they are an ornamental.

Sweet Potatoes’ beautiful leaves… no wonder they are an ornamental.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 7-10 feet (2.1-3 meters) long
Roots: Large to very large tuber with small fibrous roots
Growth Rate: Fast

Sweet Potatoes are consider "root tubers".

Sweet Potatoes are consider “root tubers”.

A typical harvest showing the variety of large and spindly tubers.

A typical harvest showing the variety of large and spindly tubers.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade (Sweet Potatoes tolerate more shade in hotter climates)
Moisture: Prefers moist soils.
pH: 5.5-6.5 (prefers slightly acidic to neutral soils, but can still produce in less than ideal conditions; however, there are reports that state diseases occur more as the pH becomes more neutral.)

Special Considerations for Growing:tutorial android

  • Sweet Potatoes love the heat, and they really like humidity. But they really don’t like wild changes in temperatures, so it is important for them to planted once the temperatures stabilize. After that, the more heat, the better… within reason!
  • Sweet Potatoes do not like to be transplanted, so either plant in place or transplant as few times as possible.
  • Be sure to plant potatoes that are disease resistant and virus free if possible.
  • Planting in raised mounds or raised rows/beds makes for easier harvesting.
  • “Hilling” can be done (mounding up the soil or adding compost or mulch around the base of the plants) helps tuber development and prevents dehydration of the tubers.
  • If growing as an annual, rotate the Sweet Potatoes’ location to minimize nematode problems.

 

A slip ready to be planted.

A slip ready to be planted.

Many bare-rooted Sweet Potato plants - a common way these are sold.

Many bare-rooted Sweet Potato plants – a common way these are sold.

Propagation:

  • Sweet Potato can be propagated from seed. Like most species in the Morning Glory family, scarifying the seed or soaking the seed for 12-24 hrs before planting will increase germination. Sweet Potato seed may not yield plants with the same quality as the parent (i.e. they are not “true to type”).
  • Sweet Potatoes are often propagated via stem cuttings; these cuttings come from the terminal tips of a growing shoot, should be 7.5-18 inches (20-45 cm) long, and should contain at least three nodes. The lower leaves can be removed, and the cuttings are direct planted into the soil at about half to two-thirds their length/depth.
  • Another common way to grow Sweet Potatoes is by using whole tubers. The entire tuber is planted whole in the ground. This is an easy way to use your stored Sweet Potatoes.
  • Finally, Sweet Potatoes are commonly propagated by using slips. “Slips” are sprouts with small roots that are removed from a tuber (i.e. “slipped off”) and planted as individual plants. These are easy to produce yourself….
    • Just take a whole, half, or large chunk of Sweet Potato, poke some toothpicks in the side, and let the tuber sit about half in a cup/jar of water and half out. The shoots will grow out of the top. Once they are strong and healthy (about 8-10 inches/20-25 cm), the shoots can be slipped off (this takes a little practice) and placed in a cup of water, like a cut flower. Keep the water fresh, and roots will start to grow from the slip. Once the roots are about an inch long, they can be planted in place. Some sources state that these slips do not form as vigorous a root system as possible.
    • Alternatively, the tuber can be covered in moist garden soil or sand. Keep the soil moist. Sprouts will appear just as above, and the slips may be placed in water above or in moist soil.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
There are some relatives of Sweet Potato that are deadly poisonous. Just make sure you know what you are eating before you consume “wild” Sweet Potatoes.

The deep colors mean the tubers are packed with nutrition.

The deep colors mean the tubers are packed with nutrition.

A lovely red-skinned, violet-fleshed Sweet Potato variety.

A lovely pinkish/purplish-skinned and fleshed Sweet Potato variety.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Ipomoea_batatas_6.jpg
  • http://flowergardengirl.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/100_9931.jpg
  • http://www.onlineplantguide.com/Image%20Library/I/4341.jpg
  • http://www.thompson-morgan.com/medias/sys_tandm/8796166684702.jpg
  • http://albertvickdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/beauregard-group-shot-1.jpg
  • http://albertvickdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/beauregard-slip.jpg
  • http://www.public.asu.edu/~camartin/plants/Plant%20html%20files/green%20potato%20container.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/Ipomoea_batatas_(Purple_Sweet_Potato_Variety)_Flower.JPG
  • http://godshealingplants.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/dsc_0117-2.jpg
  • http://lettucebehealthy.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/purple-potato.jpg
  • http://www.farm-fresh-produce.com/spvarieties.html
  • http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com/files/2013/10/Sweet-Potatoes.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-lFDweqURoFA/TmMIGPugitI/AAAAAAAADB0/6hjvzNFImb8/s1600/DSC_0143.JPG
  • http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7108/7489529132_4c4078156f.jpg
  • http://mindsoulfood.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/heirloom-sweet-potato.jpg
  • http://static.parade.condenast.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/purple-yam-ftr.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-fJfuTMojpY8/UgfE-70WRsI/AAAAAAAAAT0/5PTBXi0ap24/s1600/Sweet+Potatoes.jpg
  • http://prettypiesbylindsey.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/dsc_0456.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-KRT9UJuinl0/UOtNQCusXYI/AAAAAAAABXY/jQBx9FxHU8U/s1600/Orange_Sweet_Potato_Harvest.JPG

Permaculture Plants: Vetch

Common Name: Vetch

Scientific Name: Vicia species
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume or Pea or Bean family)

Vetch09

One tiny plant… so many functions!
Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa)

Common Species:

  • American/Purple Vetch (Vicia americana) – perennial; fair flavor (top photo)
  • Carolina Wood Vetch or Pale Vetch (Vicia caroliniana) – perennial
  • Tufted/Bird/Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca) – perennial; poor flavor; good forage crop used with cattle
  • Bitter Vetch or Burçak (Vicia ervilia) – annual; poor flavor; good forage crop used with sheep/cattle
  • Fava/Broad/Field Bean (Vicia faba) – annual; excellent flavor; very good short-lived groundcover
  • Common/Garden Vetch or Winter Tares (Vicia sativa) – annual; seeds have fair flavor; leaves/shoots/pods edible; good forage crop used with cattle/horses; very good groundcover
  • Wood Vetch (Vicia sylvatica) – perennial
  • Hairy/Fodder/Large Russian Vetch (Vicia villosa) – annual or perennial in warmer climates – Winter hardy; poor flavor; forage crop; popular Winter cover crop
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My kids and I sitting and shelling Fava Beans on a Saturday morning!
This photo is mine. Please ask if you would like to use it for more than your own personal use!

Description:
Vicia is a genus of about 140 species of legumes commonly known as Vetch. These rambling, nitrogen-fixing vines are found around the world and used for food, animal forage, and green manures. They are pioneer plants helping to rehabilitate damaged lands, and their deep roots mine minerals which enrich and stabilize soils. They attract all sorts of beneficial insects and can be used as a groundcover. One annual species also happens to be one of my favorite beans: the Fava Bean! This is a wonderful plant to use on pastures, new swales, and in the initial phases of Forest Garden creation… truly a multi-purpose plant!

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Cow Vetch and Hairy Vetch

History:
Native and widespread around the world, Vetches are naturally found on all continents but Australia (and Antarctica of course). Because they were introduced in Australia, the Vetches are now found across the globe. It is likely that Bitter Vetch (Vicia ervilia) was one of the first domesticated crops being grown in the Middle East (Near East) almost 10,000 years ago!  Over time, different species of Vetch have been used around the world by indigenous people groups as well as pioneers as primary or supplementary food sources. Most Vetch species today are used as fodder and forage for livestock, but a few have been selected for human consumption, especially the Broad Bean (Fava Bean).

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We ran out of beans well before my daughter’s interest ran out…
she could have done this for hours.
This photo is mine. Please ask if you would like to use it for more than your own personal use!

Trivia:

  • American Vetch (Vicia americana), Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca), and Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa) have a taproot that may dive up to 40 inches (1 meter) deep. Other species may have taproots, but no reliable information can be found.
  • American (Vicia americana) has both a taproot and rhizomes and is drought-tolerant.
  • The Fava/Broad Bean (Vicia faba) can be used to make the popular Middle Eastern food, Falafel. Ground fava beans, chickpeas, or both are used to make the ball or patty which is then deep fried.
  • The Fava/Broad Bean (Vicia faba) can be inoculated with the rhodospirillacean bacterium Azospirillum brasilense and the glomeracean fungus Glomus clarum, and then the Fava Bean can also be grown in salty soils.
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Our harvest of shelled, blanched, and peeled Fava Beans.
This photo is mine. Please ask if you would like to use it for more than your own personal use!

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Grilled chicken, wilted broccoli greens, blanched fava beans, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper…
simple and delicious!
This photo is mine. Please ask if you would like to use it for more than your own personal use!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Shoots – young shoots are edible before they become fibrous; typically cooked*
  • Edible Leaves – young leaves are edible before they become fibrous; have a mild bean/spinach flavor; typically cooked; Leaves have been used as a tea substitute
  • Edible Pods – Only the very young pods are truly edible; use like green beans, typically cooked.*
  • Edible Seeds – Can produce medium to very large seeds or “beans”. These can be eaten fresh (raw or cooked);  the good-flavored ones taste like a mix between lima beans and peas. They can be dried and used like any dried bean; these have a dense, thick texture and are quite good with a flavor reminiscent of chickpeas/garbanzo beans.*
  • Flour – Seeds can be dried and ground into a flour; best when mixed with cereal flours.
    • *(flavor and palatability varies with the species with the Broad or Fava Bean (Vicia faba) having the best flavor)

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Shelter plant for beneficial insects
    • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
    • Parasitic Wasps prefer to rest and hide on this plant
    • Carnivorous Beetles prefer to live near this plant
    • Spiders prefer to live near this plant
  • Pioneer Species– helps reestablish overused or damaged land
  • Nitrogen Fixing Plant – this plant creates its own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms (bacteria) in its roots. It typically produces an excess of nitrogen that can be used by neighboring plants. This is a leguminous plant;  Pea inoculation groups.
  • Dynamic Accumulator Species – Potassium, Phosphorus, Nitrogen
  • Groundcover Plant – vining/running or scrambling plant, can rise up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) without support, but typically only about half that height
  • Green Manure Crop – plants are chopped and dropped (or often tilled under – NOT recommended by me!) to provide the beneficial nutrients accumulated by these plants to other surrounding plants
  • Fodder Crop/Animal Feed Plant – typically only with ruminants, and in moderation. Too much has the potential to  cause toxicity. As always, variety is best!
  • Fiber Plant – Vicia faba from the stems
  • String Plant – Vicia villosa from the roots

Yield: Variable and depends on what is being harvested, the species, and the location
Harvesting: Seeds are typically harvested late Summer and early Autumn… but this is very dependant on the species, where it is grown, and when it was planted. Obviously, young pods which contain the immature seeds/beans are harvested sooner. Young leaves can be harvested at anytime they are available, but before they get too large and fibrous. Pods/Seeds can be harvested in Spring if the plants were allowed to over-Winter.
Storage: Use fresh leaves, pods, and seeds within a few days. Dried seeds (beans) can be stored for years (decades?) if kept cool, dark, and dry.

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Vetch makes a perfect cover crop and/or groundcover.
Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca)

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • American/Purple Vetch (Vicia americana): Zone 3-7
  • Carolina Wood Vetch (Vicia caroliniana): Zone 3-11
  • Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca): Zone 4-11
  • Bitter Vetch (Vicia ervilia): annual
  • Fava Bean (Vicia faba): annual
  • Common Vetch (Vicia sativa): Zone 5
  • Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa): Zone 4 (Zone 3 with snow cover)

AHS Heat Zone:

  • Carolina Wood Vetch (Vicia caroliniana): Zone 12-1
  • Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca): Zone 12-1
  • Fava Bean (Vicia faba): Zone 10-6
  • Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa): Zone 8-1

Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous Vine (most are perennial)
Leaf Type: Evergreen or Deciduous depending on the species and location. Most of the deciduous Vetches are frost tolerant, and will often Winter-over without losing their leaves if the Winter is not too harsh.
Forest Garden Use: Climbing Layer, Groundcover Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties and species available

Pollination: Self-fertile; pollinated by bees
Flowering: Spring through Autumn – again depending on the species, location, and planting time

Life Span: No good information available as we typically harvest or till before they expire.

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Fava or Broad Beans can develop huge pods…

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…which develop huge seeds!

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Not all Vetch seeds are gigantic
Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • American/Purple Vetch (Vicia americana): 3 feet (90 cm) tall and wide
  • Carolina Wood Vetch (Vicia caroliniana): 1-5 feet (30-150 cm) tall and wide
  • Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca): 6 feet (180 cm) tall and wide
  • Bitter Vetch (Vicia ervilia): 2 feet (60 cm) tall and wide
  • Fava Bean (Vicia faba): 3.3 feet (100 cm) tall and wide
  • Common Vetch (Vicia sativa): 4 feet (120 cm) tall and wide
  • Wood Vetch (Vicia sylvatica): 2-6 feet (60-180 cm) tall and wide
  • Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa): 4-6 feet (120-180 cm) tall and up to 12 feet (360 cm) wide

Roots: Deep Fibrous or Deep Taproots or Rhizomatous depending on the species
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast

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All Vetch leaves have very similar characteristics… although not all are so hairy!
Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa)

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But they all have pretty flowers
Common Vetch (Vicia sativa)

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Full to partial sun
Shade: Tolerates light to full shade depending on the species
Moisture: Prefers medium moisture soils.
pH: 6.1-7.0 (prefers mildly acidic soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
None.

Propagation:
Typically from seed. Pre-soaking or scarifying the seeds may increase germination rates; however, at least with the Fava Beans I have grown, this was not needed.

Maintenance:
None.

Concerns:

  • Favism – Fava Beans should be avoided in people with G6PD-deficiency as they have the possibility of developing hemolytic anemia, a condition where the red blood cells breakdown. The fava bean-induced hemolytic anemia is named “Favism”. While all people with favism have G6PD-deficiency, not all people with G6PD-deficiency will develop favism when they eat fava beans.
  • Poisonous – while not containing any specific toxins, Vetch contains certain chemicals which have the ability to block the absorption of essential nutrients. If too much of this plant is eaten for too long, then people and animals can develop deficiencies which can cause minor to significant health problems. Moderation is the key!
  • Invasive – because many species of Vetch are fast growing and can fix their own nitrogen, they can spread easily in damaged landscapes. Some species can “strangle” smaller, neighboring plants with their tendrils. I would not introduce these species to a functional ecosystem.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/318_Vicia_cracca,_Vicia_villosa.jpg
  • http://www.agroatlas.ru/content/cultural/Vicia_sativa_K/Vicia_sativa_K.jpg
  • http://img2.etsystatic.com/000/0/5844782/il_fullxfull.236701470.jpg
  • http://www.naturescape.co.uk/acatalog/TuftedVetchLarge.jpg
  • http://fourstringfarm.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/vetch-seeds-sprouting-after-7-days.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Q9THXqPVvWo/Ta5xkYgQYdI/AAAAAAAADhU/YNypUTuL6xU/s1600/Opening+Fava+Bean+Pod.jpg
  • http://www.vegetablegardener.com/assets/uploads/posts/5352/kg28-summer-squash-08_lg.jpg
  • http://pinkmoondaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/fava-seeds-640×426.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Hog Peanut

Common Name: Hog Peanut, American Wild Peanut

Scientific Name: Amphicarpaea bracteata
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume or Bean or Pea family)

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The Hog Peanut has had very little development.

Description:
This North American native plant is one of the rare shade-tolerant nitrogen-fixers. It can be used as a groundcover, has two types of edible seeds, and has edible roots. The Hog Peanut fills a niche in the Forest Garden and is likely going to be a very popular plant in the future.

History:
Native to central and eastern North America, the Hog Peanut has had almost no development. It was a minor food source for Native Americans, and it is now being used more as people begin to understand its usefulness.

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Hog Peanut is unique in that it produces two different types of seeds.

Trivia:

  • Hog Peanut is unique in that it has two types of flowers. One is an open flower that allows for cross-pollination; these are born on the top of the plant and produce 1-4 seeds each. The other is a closed flower that will only self-pollinate; it grows very low on the plant and produces a pod that buries itself underground and makes a single seed which wild pigs like to eat… hence the common name.
  • The genus Amphicarpeae is Greek for “two-seeded”, referring to the two seed types discussed above.
  • Hog Peanut has delicate white to pink/purple flowers.
  • While many Native American tribes utilized the Hog Peanut as a minor food source, it was the Pawnee who had the most unique harvesting method. They let the rats do it! Then
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Sunchokes and Hog Peanuts are a great polyculture as described by author Eric Toensmeier.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Groundcover
  • Nitrogen Fixer – this plant creates its own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with microorganisms (bacteria) in its roots. It typically produces an excess of nitrogen that can be used by neighboring plants. This is a leguminous plant; Cowpea inoculation group.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plan
  • Shelter plant for beneficial insects, especially parasatic wasps.
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant.
  • Edible Seeds – About one-quater to 0.15-0.25 inch diameter (4-6 mm). Pods containing seed develop from the flowers on the upper parts of the plant. Need to be cooked.
  • Edible Peanuts– These “peanuts” are actually seeds that develop from flower pods growing just above the soil surface (see Trivia above). They are larger than the above ground seeds, about 0.60 inch diameter (15 mm). If young and tender enough, these seeds may be eaten raw. If older, then they need to be cooked like any other bean.
  • Edible Roots – From extensive literature reviews, it appears that some Hog Peanuts can produce medium-sized taproots which are edible. This appears to be the exception than the rule.

Yield: No reliable information could be found for a single plant, but typically yields are not high.
Harvesting: Autumn for above-ground seeds. Autumn-Winter for below-ground seeds or “peanuts” – these “peanuts” are not large and can look like a small clod of dirt. This is the pod, that when opened, reveals a pretty, speckled seed. If there is a dense planting, a handful can be collected within a few minutes. Roots, if large enough to be worthwhile, would likely be harvested in Autumn-Winter.
Storage: Use fresh or dry well and store like any dried bean.

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There are so few shade-tolerate nitrogen-fixing plants.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-9
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information could be found.
Chill Requirement: None – this is an annual

Plant Type: Annual running vine
Leaf Type: Deciduous (annual)
Forest Garden Use: Climbing Layer, Groundcover Layer, Underground Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Minimal development has been done on this species

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Summer – Autumn

Life Span:
This is an annual plant – lives just one year. However, it reseeds so easily, it can almost be treated like an herbaceous perennial.

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Hog Peanut has small, beautiful flowers.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 1-5 feet (30-150 cm) tall and wide
Roots: Fibrous, but some may form a taproot
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers light shade to full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Medium-moisture soils.
pH: 5.1-7.0

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Grow this under plants that are at least 3 feet tall so the Hog Peanut doesn’t climb and overgrow it.
  • Hog Peanut gets going a bit later in the Spring to early Summer, so early season Spring ephemerals (e.g. Ramps) will grow well with it.

Propagation:
From seed. Scarification recommended – pre-soak for 12 hrs in warm water is typically sufficient. Sow in place in the Spring.

Maintenance: Minimal.

Concerns: None

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9a/Amphicarpa_bracteata_-_hog_peanut_-_desc-foliage.jpg
  • http://paradiselotblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/sunchoke-hog-peanut.jpg
  • http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Fabaceae/amphicarpaea-bracteata-fl-ahaines-c.jpg
  • http://apiosinstitute.org/sites/default/files/resize/hog%20peanut-500×375.jpg
  • http://www.pfaf.org/Admin/PlantImages/AmphicarpaeaBracteata.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-LeU1KQ5KFIg/UFPXsbWRL7I/AAAAAAAABGE/KcQtmsYWBLc/s1600/hog+peanut+leaves+in+hand.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Amphicarpaea_bracteata_subsp._edgeworthii_4.JPG