Gardening

First Autumn Hard Freeze and Making Sauerkraut

Technically, a “hard freeze” is when there are at least 4 consecutive hours of temperatures below 25°F (-4°C). This is important to gardeners, because a hard freeze will kill most annual plants.

Autumn temperatures here in East Tennessee are not very predictable. We had a few mild frosts over the past couple of weeks, but no hard freezes. Then we had a forecast for temperatures dropping to 19°F (-7°C). I noticed this with only about 1 hour left of daylight.

So our current WOOFER (Jacob) and I went out to the garden with baskets and scissors and knives to harvest what we could before the cold could destroy it.

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Sunset and the hard freeze was fast approaching, and I just didn’t think about taking any photos of the garden before we started harvesting. In fact, this is the only photo I took while outside.

We have been at our farm for about 18 months, and we finally put in our first annual vegetable garden late this Summer. I say “we” very loosely, because although it was done with my guidance, almost all the work was done by one of our other WOOFERS, Marianne.

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We piled the harvest on the kitchen table.

 

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We had numerous varieties of cabbages we were testing.

Our hope is that this annual garden will be in place for many decades, maybe longer depending on how many generations use it. It was a project we wanted to get done last year, but so many things got us distracted. As with many things on a homestead and farm, late is better than never.

We finally got the garden in place, but it was just a bit later in the season than we were initially planning. The kale and Swiss chard did just fine, but our broccoli and cauliflower and Brussels sprouts did not have enough time to mature before our cold weather started slowing their growth. Our cabbages didn’t have enough time to develop a full head, but that’s okay… even a partially formed head of cabbage is still edible. It may not be great for long term storage, but it is plenty good enough to make sauerkraut!

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None of our broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts had a chance to mature due to late planting, but all the other plants did really well.

 

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We had some loss due to caterpillars, specifically the cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni), but this was pretty minimal.

 

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We also had a couple of varieties of kale and Swiss chard. We blanched and froze most of the chard and the Nero Di Toscana Cabbage (aka Tuscan/Lacinato/Dinosaur Kale). Here is my mom about to be buried in greens!

I’ve written about making sauerkraut in the past:
My First Attempt at Making Sauerkraut and My New Sauerkraut

Since these first attempts, I have made many batches of sauerkraut. Here is how I make it…

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We started with the entire plant. We separated the cabbage leaves from the main stem. We did not have any tight heads of cabbage. This was due to planting too late before cold weather set in. We removed the central vein from the large leaves (like the one pictured in the bottom right).

 

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We grew Tronchuda or Portuguese Kale (Couve Tonchuda). This kale was mixed with the outer, thicker leaves of the cabbage to make one batch of sauerkraut.

 

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We used a food processor with the slicer attachment to speed up the slicing! Here is a photo of another batch of sauerkraut using the inner cabbage leaves (what would have been the heads of cabbage).

 

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I used to measure my salt based on the amount of cabbage I used; however, now I just sprinkle a small amount of salt on the sliced cabbage as I go and adjust based on taste.

 

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After I sprinkle the salt, I then mix and squeeze the sliced cabbage until the juice is literally squeezed out of it. This is a third batch of sauerkraut made from only Hilton Chinese Cabbage, a Napa-type cabbage that grew great for us this year.

 

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The sliced, salted, and smashed cabbage is added to a crock. This sauerkraut is made with Aubervilliers Cabbage, Charleston Wakefield Cabbage, Glory of Enkhuizen Cabbage, and Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage.

 

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The cabbage is pushed down level and then covered with some whole cabbage leaves… remember to save these at the beginning!

 

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Cover the whole cabbage leaves with a plate or lid or, if you have it, a specifically made crock weight. This allows for even distribution of weight to push down/compress the sauerkraut.

 

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I use a gallon bag of water to weigh down the lid and sauerkraut. This weight pushes down the sauerkraut forcing the cabbage below the brine.

 

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The crocks of sauerkraut fermenting! I usually check the next morning to make sure the fluid has some bubbles in it… showing signs of fermentation. Then I let it rest for about 5 days before I start taste-testing it. Once it is as tangy as I like, then I will transfer the sauerkraut into mason jars and put them in the refrigerator. 

 

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Wild Onions!

We’ve got a lot of Wild Onions (Allium canadense) popping up in our pastures right now.

According to one source, there are over 100 Allium species in North America. Allium being the genus of species containing onion and garlic species. These are a number of similar appearing plants, but fortunately, any of these plants that smell like onions or garlic are edible. Some species are more tasty than others.  Note that there are many plants that resemble onions or garlic, but if they do not smell like onions or garlic then these may be toxic. Wild Garlic (Allium vineale) and Wild Onion (Allium canadense) are closely related and can be difficult to differentiate. The best way to tell them apart is to examine their leaves. Wild Onion has solid, flat leaves, while Wild Garlic has hollow leaves.download full film Ex Machina

It’s easiest to use just the green tops of Wild Onion or Wild Garlic as scallions/green onions. We can also use the bulbs if we want to dig them up. They are usually pretty small, but they still have a good flavor, somewhere between a mild onion and garlic clove or shallot.

Wild Onion and Wild Garlic will form spherical-shaped flower clusters, and often the flowers are replaced with bulblets  (as seen in the photo above).

 

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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: Currants

Common Name: Currant, Blackcurrant, Red Currant, White Currant
Scientific Name: Ribes species
Family: Grossulariaceae (the Currant or Gooseberry family)

Blackcurrant harvest!

Blackcurrant harvest!

Common Species: there are over 150 species in the Ribes genus. The Gooseberries were discussed previously in this article. The “flowering currants” are not discussed in this article. While there are a number of very uncommon edible currants, it is the common edible currants that are discussed below:

  • Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum): A more cold-hardy currant distributed throughout Europe with fair flavor.
  • American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): Our native Black Currant. I’ve never tried this species. Reports on flavor range from very poor to very good. This probably has to do with location, plant, and personal preference.
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum): Native to western North America, these currants reportedly have a good to very good flavor.
  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): This is the most widely grown currant with many varieties available.
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): This North American native has clove-scented flowers and can produce small batches of very good flavored fruit. This would be a prime plant for breeding/selective improvements.
  • Rock Red Currant (Ribes petraeum): A less common European species.
  • Trailing Red Currant (Ribes procumbens): A very low-growing Asian currant with good flavored fruit.
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): There are a number of red-fruited currant species that all have the name “Red Currant”, but this species has had many names in its past. Ribes rubrum is sometimes called Ribes sylvestre or Ribes sativum or Ribes vulgare, and you will still see these names in older publications (or with writers who aren’t aware of the taxonomic updates). These fruits are more tart than Blackcurrant, but full of flavor. They typically can tolerate more shade than Blackcurrants.
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): this is actually an albino sport of the Redcurrant, and it has a mild flavor and a pale color. Depending of the cultivar, the fruit color can range from almost translucent white to salmon to pink to yellow. These other colors are often sold as
  • American Red Currant (Ribes triste): Our native Red Currant. Good flavor, very tart, with a lot of seeds.
  • Downy Currant (Ribes warszewiczii): A Siberian currant with very good flavor.
There are a wide variety of currants.

There are a wide variety of currants.

Description:
Currants are one of my favorite uncommon fruits in the United States. Many other countries know and love them, and I think Americans are just reawakening to this small shrub thanks to their high antioxidant content. But apart from their health benefits, they are quite tasty fruit, albeit a bit tart when eaten fresh. Currants are shade-tolerant, provide food and shelter to wildlife, and while their leaves are edible, they are more commonly dried and used for tea. In addition, many currants can be quite beautiful plants. Unless you live in an area that restricts their presence, then I would highly recommend the addition of currants to your property.

Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum)

Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum)

History:
The Blackcurrant is native to temperate central and north Europe and northern Asia. The Redcurrant is native to western Europe and Britain. The Blackcurrant was cultivated as early at the 11th century in Russian monasteries. It was mainly used as a medicinal for many centuries. In the UK during the 1940’s (and World War II), Blackcurrants were used as a primary vitamin C source, and the government distributed Blackcurrant syrup to children under age of 2 years for no charge. Historians make a good argument that this is the reason for the lasting popularity of Blackcurrants in Britain. Blackcurrants were also popular fruits in North America, but once the White Pine Blister Rust (see below) threatened the timber industry in the U.S., a federal ban was placed on growing this plant. The federal ban was lifted in 1966, and only a few states still have existing bans. The contemporary focus on antioxidants, along with Blackcurrants’ high antioxidant levels, have combined to bring about a resurgence in awareness of this fruit. Although, the Blackcurrants previous popularity has not yet returned.

"White" Currants

“White” Currants are really an albino form of the Red Currant (Ribes rubrum)

Another version of the "White" Currant

Another version of the “White” Currant

A pink or "Champagne" Currant

A pink or “Champagne” Currant, also a Red Currant variety.

The Golden Current (Ribes

The Golden Current (Ribes aureum)

Trivia:

  • Blackcurrant is very high in vitamin C and antioxidants.
  • Blackcurrant seed oil is being investigated for its health properties (similar to grapeseed oil).
  • Zante Currants or Corithian Raisins (often just called “Currants”) are dried, seedless grapes (a.k.a. Raisins) from the small ‘Black Corinth’ grape (Vitis vinifera). These are not related to the true currants of the Ribes genus. These are tasty little raisins.
  • Jostaberry (Ribes x nidigrloaria) is a tetraploid cross of the Blackcurrant (R. nigrum), the western North American Spreading or Coast Gooseberry (R. divaricatum), and the European Gooseberry (R. uva-crispa). These have a taste that falls somewhere between Blackcurrants and Gooseberries, and there are a number of varieties available.
  • Cider & Black is a drink that combines Blackcurrant cordial with hard cider.
  • Lager & Black is a drink that combines Blackcurrant cordial with lager beer.
  • Snakebite & Black (a.k.a. Diesel) is a drink that combines Blackcurrant cordial with lager and hard cider.
  • Johannisbeerschorle is a German drink made from Redcurrant syrup and soda water.
  • Bar-le-duc or Lorraine Jelly is a hand-made jelly produced in the town of Bar-le-duc, France using whole, seeded Redcurrants or White Currants. It is highly prized and considered an elite food product. The seeds are traditionally removed with goose quills, and Here is a great article about this culinary gem.
Whit Pine Blister Rust on Currants (left) and Pines (right).

Whit Pine Blister Rust on Currants (left) and Pines (right).

White Pine Blister Rust:
This is a fungal disease that infects White Pine trees (Pinus, subgenus Strobus) and causes serious damage or death to these commercially important trees. The problem with White Pine Blister Rust is that it requires two host plants to complete its life cycle. One host are the White Pines. The other host can be one of a few genera of Broomrapes (small, flowering plants), but most commonly it is the Ribes (Gooseberries and Currants). The rust is native to Asia, and it was accidentally introduced to North America in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. Seedlings and young trees are the most susceptible. Alternatively, the infection on Gooseberries and Currants is usually minimal, especially in Redcurrants and Gooseberries. Also, there are a number of immune or resistant Blackcurrant cultivars now available. In infected Ribes species, the leaves may get chlorotic spots (light spots), and they may turn orange-brown and fall off early. But then the leaves fall off anyway in Autumn, and the infection is done. Many places in North America have banned the import and growing of Ribes species, and while some locations still have these policies (especially in New England), this management has not been very effective due to alternate hosts and wild Ribes species. I recommend checking with your local state’s Agriculture Extension Service/Department. Look to plant resistant cultivars especially if you have a lot of susceptible pines.

Baked desserts are one of my favorite ways to eat currants!

Baked desserts are one of my favorite ways to eat currants!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating – All currants can be eaten fresh, but many are very tart, especially Redcurrants. The tarter varieties are often used raw in small amounts in salads, fruit dishes, and as an edible garnish.
  • Cooked –  Preserves, jellies, jams, fruit leathers (may need to be mixed with more fibrous fruit juices/pulps), compotes, and desserts are significantly more common than raw currants and can be exquisite. Cooked currants also pairs with flavorful meats (lamb, venison, and other and game meats) or poultry (turkey, goose, pheasant, etc.).
  • Syrup – This is another common use of currants and can be used in salad dressings, desserts, and drinks.
  • Juice – This is a growing market as the juice is very high if vitamin C and other antioxidants. Typically combined with other juices before serving.
  • Primary or secondary/adjunct flavoring in wines, cordials, liqueur, and other alcoholic beverages, including herbal beers. Here is an interesting article on Blackcurrant Leaf and Nettle Beer.
Currant leaves are edible but most commonly used in teas.

Currant leaves are edible but most commonly used in teas.

Secondary Uses:

  • Medicinal Plant – The leaves and fruit are often used medicinally.
  • Tea Plant – The leaves can be dried and used as a tea or used with herbal tea mixes.
  • Edible Leaves – Young, tender leaves are edible, and most commonly used in soups, although I have yet to try this. I cannot find any source that states the leaves need to be cooked first, but all recipes use cooked leaves. I do not know if, for instance, the leaves contain any toxins that are destroyed with cooking, or if the leaves just taste better when cooked and used when mixed with other flavors. I’ve even seen a recipe for Blackcurrant Leaf Ice Cream!
  • Dye Plant – The leaves and fruit have been used as a natural dye.
  • Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the fruit, especially birds!
  • Wildlife Shelter – mainly birds and small mammals find refuge in the mini-thickets these plants can form.
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Hummingbird Plant – these plants have nectar for Hummingbirds
Blackcurrant Syrup!

Blackcurrant Syrup!

Blackcurrant Syrup:

  • Blackcurrant syrup has long been used as a treatment for sore throats and cough in children, but it can also be used to flavor soda or tonic water, teas, other juices, or mixed drinks.
  • Blackcurrant syrup is a pretty simple recipe. It consists of roughly one part sweetener, one part water, and two parts fruit. The sweetener is dissolved in the water over heat, and then the fruit is added. Boil for 5-10 minutes, then remove from the heat for a few minutes. Mash the fruit (a potato masher works well for this). Return to boil for another few minutes to make sure the juice is all extracted. Some people will add lemon juice or citric acid at this point. Strain the juice through a fine sieve, muslin, or jelly bag. Pour into sterile jars and keep refrigerated.
Red Currant plant in full fruit!

Red Currant plant in full fruit!

Yield: Variable, but an established Blackcurrant bush can produce up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) per year/3-5 quarts/3-5 liters.  Redcurrants produce a little less than Blackcurrants. Clove Currant can produce 4-8 pounds (1.8-3.6 kg) per plant. White Currants, being significantly smaller, produce even less.
Harvesting: Harvest in mid to late Summer. The longer the fruits stays on the plant, the sweeter they become. Although, this give birds more chance at eating them. The more “wild” species (ones with no varieties) will ripen more unevenly, so these plants may need to be harvested a few times.
Storage: Use within 1-2 weeks.

The Clove or Buffalo Currant has clove-scented flowers! (Ribes

The Clove or Buffalo Currant has clove-scented flowers! (Ribes odoratum)

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum): Zone 2-7
  • American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): Zone 3
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum): Zone 3
  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): Zone 4-8
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): Zone 3b-8
  • Rock Red Currant (Ribes petraeum): Zone 5-9
  • Trailing Red Currant (Ribes procumbens): Zone 3-7
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 5-9
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 5-9
  • American Red Currant (Ribes triste): Zone 3
  • Downy Currant (Ribes warszewiczii): Zone 3-7

AHS Heat Zone: AHS Heat Zones have not been defined for most of these plants (that I can find!), but most prefer less heat-stress locations.

  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): Zone 7-1
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): Zone 9-3
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 7-1
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 7-1

Chill Requirement: Blackcurrants need 1,200-2,500 chill hours/units. Redcurrants need 800-1,500 chill hours/units. The farther north the range of the native plant, typically the higher chill requirement.

Plant Type: Small Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available. This is a nice Cornell review of some popular Ribes varietiesand here is a very extensive list of cultivars available, also from Cornell. 

Pollination: Ribes are self-fertile, but Blackcurrant cultivars will fruit significantly better with insect-mediated cross-pollination of other cultivars. Clove Currant will also produce better with cross-pollination.
Flowering: Early to Mid Spring

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 3 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 3-4 years
  • Years of Useful Life: Not defined for most Ribes species, but Redcurrants can still fruit for 10-15 years, and Blackcurrants have been known to still be productive at 15-20 years of age.
Currants can be beautiful plants.

Currants can be beautiful plants (Ribes aureum)

Blackcurrant flowers.

Blackcurrant flowers.

Red Currant flowers.

Red Currant flowers.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum): 3-4 feet (0.9-1.2 meters) tall and 2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 meters) wide.
  • American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) tall and wide.
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum): 3-8 feet (0.9-2.4 meters) tall and 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) wide.
  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide.
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): 6-12 feet (1.8-3.6 meters) tall and wide.
  • Rock Red Currant (Ribes petraeum): 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) tall and wide.
  • Trailing Red Currant (Ribes procumbens): 8 inches (20 cm) tall and 3 feet (0.9 meters) wide.
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): 3.5-5 feet (1-1.5 meters) tall and wide. Up to 7 feet (2 meters) tall on occasion.
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): 2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 meter) tall and wide.
  • American Red Currant (Ribes triste): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide.
  • Downy Currant (Ribes warszewiczii): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide.

Roots: For the species that have been defined, most have fibrous or heart-shaped root patterns, and the American species often sucker (produces new plants from underground runners).
Growth Rate: Medium to Fast.

Beautiful Red Currant esplier grown by Lee Reich.

Beautiful Red Currant espalier grown by Lee Reich.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers partial sun/shade to almost full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade and can grow in fairly deep shade, but fruiting is substantially reduced.
Moisture: Prefers moist soils. Can tolerate pretty wet soils, but does not tolerate dry soils.
pH: As a very general rule, European/Asian Ribes prefer more acidic soils, and the American Ribes prefer a bit more alkaline soils; however, both do well at close to neutral.

Special Considerations for Growing:
Ribes tolerate juglone, a chemical produced by black walnuts that can be toxic to other plants (killing or severely stunting them), so Currants can be used as a buffer plant between your black walnuts and your other forest garden plants.

Propagation:
Most common propagated with seed; needs cold stratification for 12 weeks. Can also be propagated via cuttings, and this is how cultivars are propagated.

Maintenance:

  • With many Currants, about one-third of all stems can be cut out at just above ground level after leaf die-back in Autumn. The first to be pruned should be older stems with the least new growth. The goal is that fruits will be borne on spurs of 2-3 year old wood. Redcurrants need to be pruned less, unless you want to trigger new wood growth.
  • May need potassium supplementation (aka Potash) to maintain good fruiting.

Concerns:

  • Susceptible to White Pine Blister Rust as noted above. If in an area of concern, then choose resistant varieties.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.leereich.com/2014/08/weeds-birds-pest-free-currants.html
  • http://store.isons.com/content/220634/product_images/Currants/Red_Currant_Hi_Res_SS.jpg
  • http://www.rougemagz.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/red-black-white-currants-wide-wallpaper-514833.jpg
  • http://www.plantandgardens.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/white-currants.jpg
  • http://www.ornamental-trees.co.uk/images/products/zoom/1309442907-03271300.jpg
  • https://fruitforum.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/champagne-hampton-c.jpg
  •  https://thefruitnut.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/p5128822.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Ribes_rubrum_HC1.JPG
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-IFGz6wQkfQQ/Ta_TTEEHtRI/AAAAAAAAE98/ntYz27bZ3Fs/s1600/SAM_3978.JPG
  • http://plantillustrations.org/ILLUSTRATIONS_full_size/136900.jpg
  • https://thefoodieatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/blackcurrant-leaf.jpg
  • http://pharmeko.eu/wp-content/uploads/Pharmeko-Black-Currant-%E2%80%93-Ribes-Nigrum-wholesale.jpg
  • http://www.newplantsandflowers.com/wp-content/uploads/Ribes-aureum-Vierbeere-Fairberry-Orangesse-%E2%80%93-photo-Lubera.jpg
  • https://granadanativegarden.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/ribes-aureum-3-21-13.jpg
  • http://rootstofruits.biz/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/IMGP7987.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-bic0xItk6Nc/U85Sj3nHX_I/AAAAAAAADls/3lZCoXLx8MY/s1600/Black+currant+cordial+recipe.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-2t475likkzk/Tf6esr5TGqI/AAAAAAAAAs4/x3RmdKDMfs0/s1600/DSC_0297.JPG
  • http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/highelevationwhitepines/images/Education/rust_canker.JPG
  • https://extension.umass.edu/landscape/sites/landscape/files/news/images/Jostaberry_WPBR1.jpg

 

 

Designing A Custom Native Plant List

The first Permaculture Ethic is Earth Care. This can be realized in many different ways depending on appropriate context. Personally, as my family is preparing for our move to the farm, I have been in massive planning mode. For us, one aspect of planning for Earth Care will be the planting of native plants. There are a number of reasons for planting native plants including:

  • Restoring a native ecosystem
  • Increasing wildlife habitat
  • Increasing wildlife food sources
  • Pollen and nectar source for native pollinators
  • Pollen and nectar source for beneficial insects
  • Pollen and nectar source for honeybees
  • Ancillary forage source for domestic animals on the farm
  • Sources of herbal/plant-derived medicinals

Again, there are a number of things to consider when compiling a list like this, and I thought I would share how I built my list. I wanted plants that are:

  • Native. These are plants that should, typically, be designed/well-suited for my climate and grow the best. Of course, this is not always true with how the land has been used/abused/cleared.
  • Commercially Available. Yes, it is possible for me to find wild specimens and collect seed, divide, etc. But this is significantly less practical right now. I may do this in the future, but for now I will need to purchase these plants. Ideally, I will be able to get seed for these plants.
  • Attract Beneficial Insects, Pollinators, and Honeybees. This was described above, but it is important enough to reiterate. These plants provide food sources for birds, bats, native bees, bumble bees, parasitic wasps, predatory wasps, predatory insects, etc. All these animals greatly reduce pest damage (and many diseases by reducing the pests that introduce the diseases) and increase pollination rates. This equates to higher yields with less damage. It also increases general biodiversity with its many known and unknown benefits.
  • Non-Toxic… mostly. When I started looking through all the plants that met the above criteria, I decided to eliminate certain plants that were known to be highly toxic to people or livestock. Plants like White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima var. altissima), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberose), and Green-Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), to name but three, attract beneficial insects, but can also kill a cow or a child. That is not compatible for us. There are a number of plants I did chose to keep that are potentially toxic to horses, but since we don’t plan on keeping horses, these plants fit within our context. In addition, there are other plants, Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) is one example, that is known to have toxins in pretty much all parts but the fruit; however, the birds and I enjoy the fruits so much that I thought I would keep this one on my list. Finally, I kept a number of plants that have “some reports of toxicity”. This may mean that if a plant or person eats too much of it, they can get sick, so keeping a wide variety of plants mitigates this risk. I believe that many plants are harmful if eaten in excess, but a cow taking a nibble once in a while may have a health benefit – the plant may be slightly anti-parasitic, or it may contain certain trace nutrients an animal needs in very small quantity. I do know that these plants existed with grazing and browsing animals for a long time before we got rid of them, so it stands to reason that if a plant is not deadly toxic in small amounts, it likely deserves a place on a regenerative farm.
  • Non-Invasive. This can be a little controversial. I will likely be adding some plants to my landscape that some people would not because of a “risk of invasiveness”. I believe many “invasive plants” are only invasive because we have degraded the land so much that these plants are the only ones able to grow on it anymore. If we are dealing with healthy soils and pastures and forests, then many (NOT ALL) of these invasive plants are not a problem. With that said, I will not actively be planting Ironweed (Vernonia spp.) or Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans).
  • Finally, and this is more of an organizational method, I wanted a variety of plants that would flower throughout as much of the year as possible. You will see below how this works.

Let me know walk you through how I created a list of Native Plants for a Tennessee Permaculture Family Farm. How do you start?

You may happen to live in an area where someone has already created a seed mix. Peaceful Valley has a seed blend for California called the Good Bug Blend. For the rest of us, we need to make our own list and obtain our own seeds.

One great resource for lists of North American native plants that attract pollinators is the Xerces Society. Their site has a List of Regional Bee-Friendly Plants. Find your area and start a spreadsheet or list of plants for your area.

Another amazing resource (if you live in the USA or Canada) is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin. They have an extensive listing of native plants that are commercially available. There is a listing for each plant that also provides its blooming time. I recommend you find your state or province on their Collections Page. Add this list to your master list.

Next, I evaluated each species for invasiveness and for toxicity to humans and livestock. I utilized a number of sites for this including the NRCS Plant Factsheets, the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, and Cornell University’s Plants Poisonous to Livestock.

Using the above resources, I created a list of plants that met my criteria (yours will probably be different). I then made a table where I highlighted the months when the plant blooms. Next, I rearranged the table so that the plants were listed in order of bloom time. In addition, I left a blank for additional notes, and I color-coded the plant name based on its growth habit (Vine, Herbaceous, Shrub, or Tree).

This is the result:

Microsoft Word - Design Your Own Good Bug Blend - 4.docx

Microsoft Word - Design Your Own Good Bug Blend - 4.docx

Microsoft Word - Design Your Own Good Bug Blend - 4.docx

 

Click to download a PDF of this document: Native Plants for a Tennessee Permaculture Family Farm

I hope this article provides you with some tools and motivation to produce a custom native plant list. While it takes a bit of research and time, this list will be a reference for your land forever. To me, that is time well spent!

 


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Photo References:

  • https://kimsmithdesigns.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/cornus-florida-rubra.jpg

 

The Facts Behind Dynamic Accumulators

A significant goal for my site has been to amass reliable information for myself, and therefore, my readers. The information I place on this site has been extensively researched before it is posted. As a physician (M.D.), I strive for scientific accuracy. I am well-versed in the scientific method and critical reading of scientific research articles. I understand the world of academia. I know, beyond doubt, the benefit this arena has provided for the world. However, I also know, beyond doubt, that there is a lot of truth that has not been proven in a lab. This may be due to many factors. To name but a few: the topic has not yet been studied, there are flaws in the design of the study, the topic is too complex for reductionist evaluation.

It is with this mindset that I readdress the concept of Dynamic Accumulators.

Within the world of Permaculture we often find reference to plants known as Dynamic Accumulators. I wrote about these plants in a previous article, but in brief, it is the idea that certain plants (often deep-rooted ones) will draw up nutrients from the lower layers of the soil, and these nutrients will be deposited in the plants’ leaves.  When the leaves fall in autumn and winter and are broken down, those stored nutrients are then incorporated into the upper layers of the soil where other plants will benefit from their deposition.

Comfrey is one of the most popular Dynamic Accumulators.

Comfrey is one of the most popular Dynamic Accumulators.

So, with our scientific minds turned on, does the concept of Dynamic Accumulators hold merit?

In short, my answer is a non-comital “maybe”.

Let’s start with the scientific evidence… well, there is not much. In fact, I can find almost no research into Dynamic Accumulators. Strike that – I can find NO research into this concept at all. None. Many sources site references, but these references just don’t pan out. There are circular references, there are references to non-existing sources, and there are references to (just being honest) less than reputable books or authors. I have to be very fair and state that I am not the utmost scientific-research-article-searcher in the world, but I am pretty darn good, and my lack of results was a bit disappointing.

As it turns out, it appears that the concept of Dynamic Accumulators has been passed down and around for so long that it has been accepted as fact. This concept did not originate with Permaculture, but it has been adopted and advocated by it for a long time. So much so, that many people associate Dynamic Accumulators with Permaculture.

Chickweed is another popular Dynamic Accumulator with many additional benefits.

Chickweed is another popular Dynamic Accumulator with many additional benefits.

Well then, how did this concept get started? Where did it originate? Is there any proof at all?

This is where I back away from the cliff a bit. We do have evidence that some plants accumulate minerals in high concentrations in their tissues. This concept has been significantly researched. In the botanical community, this concept is known as Phytoaccumulation or Hyperaccumulation. There are a number of hyperaccumulator plants that can grow in soils with high concentrations of certain minerals, often metals. These plants can be grown in areas that have been contaminated with heavy metals or high-value metals. The plants pull out these minerals (phytoextract) from the soil. The plants are then harvested and processed to extract the minerals from plants to be recycled or dealt with in a more ecological manner. This “phyomining” has been used, with success, on significantly contaminated sites.

In addition, there has been an extensive database put together by botanist James “Jim” A. Duke Ph.D which provides information on thousands of plants. Specifically, and for our purposes, the database provides information on concentration of minerals found in the tissues of plants. His Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database is hosted on the USDA ARS site (that is the United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service). This is a wealth of information that would take a long, long time to fully peruse and appreciate. Using the information from Dr. Duke’s database, a free, downloadable Nutrient Content Spreadsheet was created. I am not sure who created it, but I found it on Build-A-Soil.com. This is well organized spreadsheet with multiple worksheets (pages).

Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album)

Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album)

With this information we can connect the dots for Dynamic Accumulators. For instance, we can see phosphorus (P) concentration in Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) is over 36,000 ppm (parts per million). This is a high concentration. Therefore, it would make sense to grow Lambsquarter on our site, let the Lambsquarter die back in the Autumn to be composted in place, and then have higher concentrations of phosphorus (P) in the Spring.

Unfortunately, while this scenario sounds good, we have no proof that it will work. Our logical pathway sounds plausible, but the reality is that Nature is never quite so simple as we would like. Minerals don’t appear out of nowhere (alchemy is still not a science!); if the soil has no phosphorus, then the Lambsquarter cannot accumulate it. If the soil has no biology, i.e. Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web, then there is a good chance the phosphorus may not be bioavailable to the roots. And while our scenario sounds good, we have no scientific proof (research data) that if the Lamsquarter did accumulate phosphorus it would indeed be returned to the soil in a usable form to future plants. Maybe it will, but would it take 1 year, 5 years, 25 years to become available again? This is information that we just do not have.

People will often swear by their Dynamic Accumulators. They will site their own garden as “proof”. Unfortunately, this is anecdotal information and not scientific evidence. I am not saying that their soils did not improve with the planting of Dynamic Accumulators, but was it the dynamic accumulation or another factor that caused the improvements such as mulching, composting in place, biomass accumulation, biodiversity, microclimate creation/enhancement, etc. As a good friend of mine likes to say, “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

What then should we do with the concept of Dynamic Accumulators? Take the information for what it is, soft data. That is, we can make some logical assumptions, i.e. “guesses”, and hope for the best. But we should not treat or teach the concept, the theory, of Dynamic Accumulators as scientifically proven information. We should not treat it as fact. We should definitely not rely solely on dynamic accumulation as our single solution for degraded soils. Of course, if we are appropriately applying and practicing Permaculture, we wouldn’t do this anyway.

Personally, I will continue to use Dynamic Accumulators in a holistic approach to soil improvement. It may help our soils for our intended purposes. It may help for entirely another reason. And having more diversity on our sites will almost always be of benefit… scientifically proven or not.

Note: If anyone has come across published research (not books and not anecdotes) on Dynamic Accumulators, please send me a link!

*SECOND NOTE: Due to some great input and conversation on this topic both here and on my Facebook page, I updated this article. It was published on the Permaculture Research Institute’s page here.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://lh6.ggpht.com/_ofF5B1eh_dM/SxPeCIYqJNI/AAAAAAAAITE/_azGECDUfi0/Symphytum%20officinallis.jpg
  • http://luirig.altervista.org/cpm/albums/bot-045/stellaria-media268.jpg
  • http://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blet_blanc#mediaviewer/File:ChenopodiumAlbum001.JPG

 

Permaculture Plants: Sage

Common Name: Sage, Common Sage, Garden Sage, Broadleaf Sage, True Sage, Cullinary Sage, Kitchen Sage, Dalmation Sage, and many more…
Scientific Name: Salvia officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae (the Mint family)

Sage

Sage is a small plant with big contributions to the garden.

Description:
Almost every herb garden has its obligatory Sage plant off in the corner, but few people know how to use Sage in the kitchen, and even less as an herbal medicine. While it is one of my favorite cullinary herbs, Sage has numerous other attributes. Sage attracts beneficial insects and confuses problematic insects. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, is drought tolerant, and can be used as a groundcover. it is just a beautiful plant, and is being planted more and more just for its ornamental value.

Sage

Garden Sage
Salvia officinalis

History:
Native to the Mediterranean area, Sage has been transported and transplanted all over the world. It was a very common medicinal and cullinary herb, and it had a reputation for healing and extending life. It remains one of the more popular cullinary herbs, although I think fewer people know how to use it nowadays. It has also become a rather popular ornamental plant, which is well deserved.

Trivia:

  • The scientific name, Salvia officinalis, comes from the Latin salvere (to feel well and healthy, to save) and officina (traditional storeroom in a monestary where herbs and medicines were stored).
  • “Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto” is Latin for “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”
  • Sage has a reputation for aiding in the digestion of fats and oils. Not surprisingly, these are the foods that pair best with this herb.
  • Sage leaves are covered in trichomes. These trichomes come in two types. One type is like a fine hair, and these are used to protect the leaves a bit. The other type is a spherical, glandular structure that secretes oils.
  • Sage, along with a variety of other herbs and spices, was always a component of the Four Thieves Vinegar. This concoction was used to ward off the Black Death in the Middle Ages. 
Sage

Sage is a popular cullinary herb and can be used fresh or dried.

Sage

Sage pairs perfectly with fatty or oily dishes and sauces.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Leaves – world-famous cullinary herb, and one of my favorites. Used fresh or dried. Typically cooked, but very young leaves can be eaten raw. It is great with fatty meats and savory dishes. Purple and Varigated varieties are typically more mild. Fresh Sage is more mild than dried; the drying process concentrates the flavor. A little Sage can go a long way, so start with a little and add to taste.
  • Edible Flowers – can be used raw as a salad garnish.
  • Tea Plant – made from the leaves, fresh or dried.
Sage Groundcover

Sage Groundcover

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – this has been one of its primary uses around the world due to its fragrant, attractive leaves and small, beautiful flowers.
  • Medicinal Plant – see below
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
  • Butterfly nectar plant.
  • Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that strongly attracts Hummingbirds
  • Aromatic Pest Confuser – potentially inhibits or repels garden pests. Sage is a common companion plant for cabbage and carrots.
  • Groundcover Plant – Sage is not a fast growing plant, and it may take a few years to get well established. This means you can either weed the patch for a few years or plant a mixed groundcover. Martin Crawford recommends planting with French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) as a good partner. Place Sage plants 24 inches (60 cm) apart.
  • Drought Plant – this species can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established

Medicinal Uses:

  • Sage has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb and a cullinary herb.
  • Sage has traditionally been used to treat indigestion, oral infections (mouth and throat), hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), feeling down/depression, and a number of memory or attention/concentration issues.
  • There has not been a lot of good modern scientific studies with Sage. As I always say, that doesn’t mean this herbal medicine does not work, it just means we have no modern scientific evidence that it does.
  • There have been some interesting research that seems to support using Sage to improve memory and treat Alzheimer’s disease.
  • There have also been some pretty good research that supports using Sage to improve mood.
  • Preliminary studies show some evidence that Sage may help in the treatment of herpes lesions and menopause symptoms.
  • There is some pretty good evidence that Sage has antimicrobial properties (i.e. it doesn’t allow microscopic things like bacteria, viruses, or fungus to grow or live) and anti-inflammatory properties (i.e. reduces swelling), but exactly how this occurs and how to use Sage for these problems is not well defined.
  • There is little scientific proof that Sage works on sore throats, but it remains a very popular treatment. Hard to say where the truth lies. If it works for you, great!
  • There has been almost no research on using Sage for diarrhea or excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), but Sage is still a traditional treatment.
  • Problems with using Sage (this list is not meant to discourage the use of Sage, but to make sure you are aware):
    • Using Sage in the amounts normally found in food and tea should not be a problem.
    • Using Sage topically (it is often in creams and ointments) should be safe, although some people may develop a rash.
    • Traditionally, Sage was used as both a fertility drug and a birth control. It was also used to help slow down breast milk production (lactation) and to help with menopausal symptoms (mainly hot flashes). While there is not a lot of modern studies investigating this, most sources recommend avoiding medicinal levels of Sage during pregnancy and lactation.
    • Using Sage for more than a few weeks, at a high dose (and I can find little information that defines a “high” dose), has been shown to cause many medical problems including seizures, restlessness, tremors, dizziness, vomiting, abnormal heart rates or rhythyms, elevated blood pressure, and damage to the kidneys. Remember, if you are using a plant as a medicine, there are potential consequences…
    • My advice is to be very cautious with using Sage essential oil as concentrations/dosing can be much higher.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvest year round (remember, it’s an evergreen!), but the flowers can only be harvested when blooming (duh!). Flowering occurs in mid-late Summer.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. Can be stored for many months if dried.

Sage

One variety of Varigated Sage

Sage

Purple Sage
Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 5-8 (some sources say Zone 4)
AHS Heat Zone: 8-5
Chill Requirement: Likely not very relevant for most uses, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Shrub (sometimes considered a “subshrub”, because it is so small, but still woody)
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Mid-late Summer to early Autumn, but this is extrememly variable depending on your local climate and conditions. I’ve had Sage bloom in April and May when living in the Azores.

Life Span: Sage will last about 3-4 years before it starts to fail. It may still be alive, but it will not thrive. Purposely sowing seeds in place may propagate the stand.

Sage

The wonderfully fragrant Sage leaves…

Sage

…covered with tiny “hairs” and “spheres” called trichomes.

Sage

Sage leaf micrograph (i.e. photo from a scanning electron microscope) showing the two types of trichomes, thin hairs and glandular hairs (which excrete oils). The stomata (mouth-like openings) are also shown which allow for gas exchange.
(click on the photo for a link!)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 18-30 inches (45-76 cm) tall and 30-36 inches (76-91 cm) wide
Roots: Heart-shaped and rather fibrous
Growth Rate: Medium

Sage

Sage patch in flower.

Sage

Sage flowers.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils. Can tolerate pretty dry conditions once established. Does not like wet soils.
pH: 5.5-7.5

Special Considerations for Growing:
Sage can be slow to start. Planting in Spring or Summer, in a sunny spot, will give the best chance for a good established patch.

Propagation:
Can be propagated from seed. No stratification is required. Sage can sometimes have low germination rates, but I always just plant more seed to make up for this. Can be propagated via cuttings or layering pretty easily as well.

Maintenance: 
Minimal. Sage can get a bit leggy or bare/sparse as they age. Pruning them back will keep the plants compact and more lush.

Concerns:
None. 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.psmicrographs.co.uk/sage-leaf-oil-glands–salvia-officinalis-/science-image/80015446b
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0e/Salvia_officinalis.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/Starr_070906-8850_Salvia_officinalis.jpg
  • http://37.media.tumblr.com/a09bf8a7553c9e43765cb69e920b6cec/tumblr_moz37aRpFg1r68th6o1_1280.jpg
  • https://sammisherbs.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/sage-04.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-v4FP9vqQcnE/T8iu3jjwf1I/AAAAAAAAAVs/LBLLoLtGoBU/s1600/Salvia+officinalis.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Salvia_officinalis_close_up_bottom.jpg
  • http://www.thienemans.com/photos/var/albums/Herbs/IMG_0389.jpg?m=1316135804
  • http://tended.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/dsc01466.jpg
  • http://onevanillabean.com/2011/06/15/charcutepalooza-june-challenge-cheddar-sage-sherry-sausages/

 

Permaculture Plants: Calendula

Common Name: Calendula, Pot Marigold
Scientific Name: Calendula officinalis
Family: Asteraceae or Compositae (the Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower family)

Calendula or Pot Marigold... a lovely little plant.

Calendula or Pot Marigold… a lovely little plant.

Description:
Calendula, or Pot Marigold, is a beautiful flower known throughout the world as an ornamental, but has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries. This annual reseeds very easily and can withstand fairly cold weather, the flowers are edible, and they also attract beneficial insects and butterflies. Calendulas are an easy to grow plant, and they are a great way to add some functional beauty to your Permaculture projects.

Calendula officinales

Calendula officinales

History:
Calendula is native to the Mediterranean, Southwestern Asia, Western Europe, and the islands of Macaronesia (which includes the Azores, where I currently live!). However, they have been grow for so long as a medicinal and ornamental plant, that they can now be found around the world.

Trivia:

  • The name “Calendula” comes from the Latin, calendae, which means “little clock” or “little calendar”
  • Calendula flowers close at night.
  • Calendula flowers also close before the rain, and it can be used as a simple weather guide, which is why another possible meaning of the name “Calendula” is “little weather-glass”
  • Calendula are considered good companion plants for tomatoes.
  • Calendula flower petals have been used for centuries in soups and stews, and is likely the source of its other common name “Pot Marigold”
  • True Marigolds are in the Tagetes genus, native to North and South America, and they are in the same family (Asteraceae) as Calendula

    Primarily an ornamental nowadays, there is quite a bit more this plant offers.

    Primarily an ornamental nowadays, there is quite a bit more this plant offers.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – This is its primary use in modern times, and it is indeed a beautiful flowering plant
  • Medicinal Plant – Historically, this was one of its primary uses (see Medicinal Uses below)
  • Edible Flower Petals – has a bitter flavor, some flowers can be more tangy or spicy, but the flavor can vary. Used fresh in salads or dried in soups and baked goods. Can also be used as a yellow food dye, and has been used as a saffron substitute and to color cheeses, custards, butters, sauces, etc.
  • Edible Leaves – used raw in salads.
  • Tea Plant – made from the petals or whole flowers.
Calendula attracts beneficial insects and butterflies.

Calendula attracts beneficial insects and butterflies.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect nectar and pollen plant – attracts beneficial insects, especially bees and hoverflies
  • Butterfly Plant – the flowers attract butterflies
  • Nematode Deterrent Plant – there are many reports of this plant repelling nematodes, similar to true French Marigolds
  • Groundcover Plant – Calendula can form rather dense clumps, although I still have had many other “weeds” pop up between plants. Calendula would likely be a good candidate for a mixed groundcover planting. I have had some success with Parsley and Calendula growing well together, but this was not exactly planned. Also, it does make harvesting the Parsely a bit tedious. I will experiement with other combinations, on purpose, in the future and will share my findings.
  • Cosmetics – with its history as a medicinal, especially for skin issues, it is no surprise Calendula is a popular cosmetic ingredient
  • Dye Plant – yellow dye from the flower petals

    A Calendula (and other herb) poultice.

    A Calendula (and other herb) poultice.

Medicinial Uses:

  • Calendula has been used from at least the 12th Centurey as a medicinal.
  • When something has been used for close to 1,000 years as a traditional medicine, there is a pretty good chance that traditional medicine works, at least for some things.
  • Calendula as a traditional herbal medicine is one of the most studied herbs by modern medical researchers.
  • Calendula has been used to treat insect stings/bites, chapped/chafed skin, minor cuts, burns, bruises, and minor infections, and there is good, modern evidence that topical Calendula preparations help wounds heal faster.
  • There is pretty good evidence that topical Calendula will help treat/prevent dermatitis, diaper rashes, and hemorrhoids.
  • There is some evidence that gargling with Calendula-infused water will help sore throat and mouth/throat infections.
  • There are a number of other medicinal uses, both topical and internal (typically in the form of teas), but there is not a lot or absolutely no modern research that has studied these uses. That does not mean these applications do not work, it just means they have not been studied in modern times.
  • There are no known modern or traditional medication interactions with Calendula, although some researchers suspect there could (theoretically) be interactions with Calendula and hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and sedation medications.
  • Most sources state that pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid Calendula, but I can find no good reasons for this, nor can I find any information if this is just for internal use or both internal and external use.

    Making Calendula Oil... quite easy to do.

    Making Calendula Oil… quite easy to do.

Calendula Oil – used for many topical skin conditions. The oil is easy to make. It can be used on its own, or it can be used to make other products.

  • Take dried Calendula flowers or fresh Calendula flowers (at least 12 hours old, this allows them to wilt and lose much of their water content).
  • Place the flowers in a glass jar.
  • Fill the jar with olive oil covering the flowers by at least an inch (2.5 cm).
  • Stir the flowers to evenly distribute the oil.
  • Cover the car with an airtight lid and shake well.
  • Place the jar in a sunny window.
  • Turn and shake the jar at least once a day for 3-6 weeks.
  • Strain the oil (a cheesecloth works well) into another jar.
  • The Calendula Oil is now ready to be used.
  • A double-strength Calendula Oil can be made by adding new Calendula flowers to the strained oil for another 3-6 weeks.
  • Other oils can be used like grapeseed oil or sunflower oil.
  • Store the Calendula Oil in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Calendula Salve -used in much the same way as the Calendula Oil, but it is more of a cream, so it can be easier to apply. This one is great for chapped hands and lips.

  • Chop up 1/2 -2 ounces (1/16 – 1/4 cup or 15-60 ml) beeswax.
  • Take 4-8 ounces (1/2 – 1 cup or 118-236 ml) of Calendula Oil from recipe above.
  • Place the oil and beeswax in a double boiler and slowly melt.
  • Remove from heat.
  • If desired, a few drops of lavender oil can be stirred in for additional scent.
  • If desired, a pinch of tumeric powder can be added for additional color.
  • Pour the salve into small jars or tins, allow it to cool, then put the lid on the container.
  • The Calendula Salve is now ready to be used.
  • Note that the ratio of beeswax to oil ranges from 1:4 to 1:8. The more beeswax will result in a thicker, firmer salve.
  • Store the Calendula Salve in a cool, dark place for up to a year

Calendula Compress – this is a more gentle, and less oily/greasy, way to apply Calendula to the skin.

  • Place dried or fresh Calendula flowers to a heat-resistant jar or bowl.
  • Just barely cover with boiling water.
  • Let the water sit until it was completely cooled.
  • Strain the Calendula-infused water into another jar or bowl.
  • Soak a clean cloth in the water, wring it out just a bit, and apply it to the skin.
  • Let the cloth rest on the skin for 30-60 minutes, one to three times per day.
  • I can find no good information on how long the Calendula-infused water will store, but it likely does not store for more than a few days.

Calendula Poultice – a poultice is a much more aggressive treatment than a cool compress. Calendula is often used to make a poultice either by itself or mixed with other herbs.

  • Grind dried or fresh Calendula flowers – some experts recommend a course grind, and others recommend a fine grind with a mortar and pestle.
  • Place the ground flowers into a heat-resistant bowl.
  • Add just enough boiling water to make a paste (most herbalists recommend using another herb or something like slippery elm powder to make the paste more mucilaginous/thick)
  • If the wound is not open (e.g. like a bug bite or sting), then the poultice can be put right on the skin.
  • If the wound is open a little (e.g. abrasions or very shallow scratches), the place some gauze on the wound first, and apply the poultice to the gauze right over the wound.
  • If the wound is open and large, then talk to your medical provider first – we don’t want to cause an infection while we are trying to treat/prevent one with a poultice!
  • Once the poultice is applied, cover the poultice with some sort of dressing (e.g. additional gauze, plastic wrap, etc.)
  • Leave the poultice in place for 30-60 minutes.
  • The poultice should remain moist for most benefit.
  • Heat will increase its penetration/effect, but is usually avoided when treating sunburn, heat burns, or when treating children.
  • Heat can be added with a hot, wet cloth or a hot water bottle applied over the poultice dressing.
  • Heat is a great adjunct when dealing with an infection like a boil (furuncle).
Click on the photo to see some of the best photos of Calendula I have ever seen.
Click on the photo to see some of the best photos of Calendula I have ever seen.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: The flowers can be harvested when in bloom (Summer-Autumn). The leaves can be harvested in Spring and Summer.
Storage: Use fresh. Dried flowers can last for years, but it seems that 2 years is really the maximum they should be stored if they are to retain their medicinal properties.

Calendula makes a pretty good groundcover.

Calendula makes a pretty good groundcover, but works best when in a mixed planting.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 6, but since it is an annual, Zone doesn’t matter that much
AHS Heat Zone: 6-1
Chill Requirement: None.

Plant Type: Small Herbaceous Annual, but can grow year round in some locations
Leaf Type: Annual
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available for this species.

Pollination: Each plant has both male and female flowers (pollinated by bees).
Flowering: Summer to Autumn, but this really depends on the growing location. Calendula is not sensitive to frost, and will often keep flowering after the first snowfall.

Life Span
This is an annual plant (lives for one growing season), but considering that the plants self-seed so easily, this is not much of an issue.

There are many varities of Calendula.

There are many varities of Calendula.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 12-30 inches (30-75 cm) tall and 8-18 inches (20-45 cm) wide
Roots: Shallow and fibrous
Growth Rate: Fast

Calendula adds a splash of beauty anywhere it is planted.

Calendula adds a splash of beauty anywhere it is planted.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates mederate shade
Moisture: Prefers moist soils, but can thrive in a wide variety of soil conditions.
pH: 4.5-8.3 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Give Calendula good conditions, and you will need to do little for it.

Propagation:
Calendula is propagated via seed. It self-seeds very easily, so once you have a patch growing, it will often continue to pop up every year.

Maintenance:
Removing the old flowers (aka “deadheading”) will stimulate more flower growth.

Concerns:
None.

Now this is real flower power!

Now this is real flower power!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.biabeauty.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Calendula_officinalis31.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-LbZrFvH3rIo/UBHW67QfxQI/AAAAAAAAGBg/ZU0uIeV4trA/s1600/calendula.JPG
  • https://davisla2.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/calendula-officinalis.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-gQ0iYdiIfJM/UdmeZGf3T8I/AAAAAAAAFyI/XGyQGViuwf8/s1600/77cleaned+calendula.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Illustration_Calendula_officinalis0.jpg
  • http://www.tandmworldwide.com/medias/sys_tmwld/8798115201054.jpg
  • http://www.onlyfoods.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Calendula-officinalis-Pot-Marigold-Pictures.jpg
  • http://rachelcorby.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/100_2458.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-GtvwEjfK59Y/UToxBkE8T5I/AAAAAAAAA-8/OCH4Y8FKfzo/s1600/Poultice6.jpg
  • http://macdragon.biz/gardeningwithcharlie/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/calendula.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-J5UhZtX8Wjc/UhJfmz3ir3I/AAAAAAAAEZw/PgmjX0DYVDg/s1600/P1030422+-+Version+2.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: Sea Kale

Common Name: Sea Kale, Crambe, Scurvy Grass, Halmyrides
Scientific Name: Crambe maritima
Family: Brassicaceae (the Brassica, Crucifer, or Broccoli family)

Sea Kale in a clump forming, edible perennial.

Sea Kale in a clump forming, edible perennial.

Description:
Despite its name and its origins on the European Atlantic coasts, Sea Kale does not need a nearby ocean to thrive. This Brassica has edible roots, shoots (like asparagus), leaves (like kale, cabbage, or spinach), and flower heads (like broccoli), and it is perennial! It is drough tolerant and attracts beneficial insects with it numerous, fragrant flowers. It is time more people rediscover this amazing plant that belongs in our forest gardens and on our plates.

 Carmbe maritima Johann Georg Sturm, 1796, from Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen

Crambe maritima Johann Georg Sturm, 1796, from Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen

History:
Native and widespread on the Atlantic coasts of Europe, it was wild harvested likely for thousands of years before it was first cultivated in the 1600’s. It became a rather popular garden vegetable in the 1800’s in Europe and North America. But due to it does not store or ship well, there was not place for Sea Kale in “modern” agriculture. It has been gaining ground as an ornamental, and more people are rediscovering this perennial vegetable. It has also been naturalized (gone “wild”) on the West Coast of North America.

Trivia:

  • Thomas Jefferson raised Sea Kale and was listed in his Garden Book of 1809.
  • Sea Kale shoots can easily be blanched, and local Europeans routinely covered the emerging shoots with loose rock to do this.
  • Sea Kale was preserved and used by the Romans on long ocean journeys to prevent scurvy. It is naturally high in vitamin C.
    Sea Kale has edible leaves...

    Sea Kale has edible leaves…

    ...edible shoots (that can be blanched)...

    …and edible shoots (that can be blanched).

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Leaves – Raw or cooked. Can be used like Kale or Collard Greens. Young leaves are best for eating raw (kind of like spinach); they get very tough and bitter when older. They have a cabbage or kale-like flavor (hence the name!).
  • Edible Stems – Raw or cooked. Mainly the very young and thin stems. Can be cooked along with the leaves or trimmed and cooked on their own.
  • Edible Shoots – Naturally purple, but commonly blanched. Raw or cooked, but usually cooked like asparagus. Crisp with a fresh, nutty flavor and a hint of bitterness.
  • Edible Flowers and Flowering Stems (Heads) – Raw or cooked. Used like broccoli but with smaller florets… closer to a broccolini or broccoli raab (rapini), but with a good, broccoli-like flavor.
  • Edible Roots – eaten cooked (boiled, roasted) and are starchy and a little sweet.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – this plant has become more popular in recent times as an ornamental, with its big leaves and abundant, fragrant flowers. It has gained the British Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
  • Maritime Plant – like most species in the Brassica family, Turkish Rocket can withstand maritime conditions; however, this plant is one of the few plants that are considered true halophytes… meaning they can grow in water with high salt content.
  • General insect nectar plant – especially bees and parasatoid wasps
  • Butterfly nectar plant
  • Drought Tolerant Plant – once established (due to the taproot)
  • Dynamic Accumulator – although I can find no good information to support this, it is likely considering its taproot. If it is like other Brassicas, then it would accumulate Phosphorus and Sulfur.
  • Groundcover Plant – this plant can be used as a groundcover, but probably would do best in a mixed species groundcover planting. Martin Crawford recommends planting Sea Kale with Chinese Bramble (Rubus tricolor), a groundcover raspberry. Plant Sea Kale every 2 feet (60 cm) for good coverage.
  • Animal Fodder Plant – like all Brassica’s one of its original uses. Cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry all can/have used this plant for food.

Yield: Variable, older plants have larger bulbs. Improved varieties also have larger bulbs.
Harvesting: Leaves are harvested in Spring when small and tender. Older leaves are tough (and get tougher when flowering), and can be eaten if cooked long enough, but they are often left on the plant to allow it to remain strong enough/build reserve to live through the dormancy of the cold months. Shoots are also harvested in Spring when small and tender (about 6-9 inches/15-22 cm); blanching makes them more mild in flavor, but decreases the nutrients. Flowering stems (heads) are harvested like broccoli in Summer. Roots are dug up when the plant is dormant. Typically only the smaller, outer roots are harvested, and the central, main taproot is left to continue growing.
Storage: Use within a day – Sea Kale does not store very well. Roots can be stored in damp sand for a few months before eating or replanting.

The flower heads are also edible... just like broccoli.

The flower heads are also edible… just like broccoli!

...and the roots, which can be quite large, are also edible.

…and the roots, which can be quite large, are also edible.
(that’s a key sitting on the root)

Another view of the taproot from a plant that had its soil eroded from under it.

Another view of the taproot from a plant that had its sandy soil eroded from under it.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-9
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 9-6
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous, mound-forming, spreading plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a few varieties available.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees, flies, wind.
Flowering: Summer (June-August)

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Harvesting: leaves and flowering stems (heads) can be harvesting in the first year, but shoots should not be harvested until at least year 3 (similar to asparagus).
  • Years of Useful Life: About 10-12 years. Considering that the plants can be propagated easily from division, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
This is what Sea Kale will die back to each Winter.

This is what Sea Kale will die back to each Winter.
(you can see the purple shoots just starting to grow)

The classic Brassica pattern of growth.

The classic Brassica pattern of growth.

The fragrant and numerous flowers attract beneficial insects.

The fragrant and numerous flowers attract beneficial insects.

 

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) tall and wide
Roots: Taproot. As this plant grows, new taproots form with new growing points – these are what can be divided to form new plants.
Growth Rate: Slow

Sea Kale is a clump forming perennial.

Sea Kale is a clump forming perennial.

While it is naturally found on the coast, it can thrive in a garden as well.

While it is naturally found on the coast, it can thrive in a garden as well.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Prefers moist soils, but is drought tolerant once established.
pH: 6.5-7.5 (can tolerate anything but very acidic soils)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Sea Kale prefers moist soils. Other than that, it doesn’t appear to be too picky.

Propagation:
Easily from division (Spring or Autumn) or root cuttings (when dormant). Root cuttings are typically 1-4 inches/3-10 cm long and can be planted in place or in pots until they are growing well.  Also propagated via seed, but the seed does not store long.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
None.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/Blanched_Crambe_Maritima.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/Crambe_maritima_flowers_062811.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/Crambe_Maritima_Estonia.jpg
  • http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sea-kale-cloud.jpg
  • http://www.fosbeach.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Sea-kale.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Sea-kale_(3676714910).jpg
  • http://mylittlecityfoodgarden.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/sea-kale-plant.jpg
  • http://sjhigbee.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/sea-kale-leaf-on-lton-beach1.jpg
  • http://mylittlecityfoodgarden.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/sea-kale-flower-bud.jpg
  • http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sea-kale-buds-e1341440257144-1024×575.jpg
  • http://seamagic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Sea-kale-roots-washed-up-on-Sizewell-beach-Dec-2013-Kate-Osborne.jpg
  • http://rxwildlife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/sea-kale-1.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Crambe_maritima_Sturm39.jpg