Gardening

Edirne Eggplant

I never ate eggplant growing up. It was just not a vegetable we used. But when I lived in Turkey for a few years, I was surrounded by eggplants. I learned to appreciate these versatile vegetables… technically a fruit, and even more accurately, eggplants are berries! Actually, I really fell in love with eggplants. They are delicious!

Most people are familiar with the common “Black Beauty” or “Black Bell” varieties. These are very good eggplants, which is why they are so common, but there are so many other varieties from around the world. They range in shape from small and round, to long and thin, to large and bell shaped. They come in shades of white, green, orange, red, purple; striped and solid.

We lived just off Edirne street when we lived in Turkey, and so I thought I’d love to try this Turkish variety in our garden. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds describes the Edirne Eggplant this way:

Originally collected in Edirne (Adrianople), Turkey, in 1948, and stored by the USDA ever since, until we grew it out in 2008! Gorgeous 6-8 inch fruits are richly striped in purple and off-white. May be even superior to Listada de Gandia in appearance due to its deeper luster, and actually preferred over it in our trials! Vigorous plants, very productive.

I made a version of Turkish fried eggplant (Patlıcan Kızartması) yesterday. Just slice the eggplant, fry in oil, and serve with a garlic-yogurt sauce… very heavy on the garlic! Simple and sublime!

I’ve made variations of this dish in the past with the common Black Beauty Eggplant, and this version was way better. I can’t say that it was entirely due to the Edirne Eggplant versus the Black Beauty, as it may have been the freshness of my eggplant. But for now, I think it may be my new favorite!

 

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Our First Goji Berry Harvest!

We planted four young Goji Berry plants this Spring on the farm. I intend to plant a lot more, but I wanted to test them out first. All four plants lived, but one of our Goji Berries was attacked by a Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata). I thought this was odd, because I thought Tomato Hornworms only eat tomatoes and peppers.

A few weeks later, the plants started to produce fruit. I was excited to finally eat a fresh berry. I had only ever eaten dried fruits. Well… it tastes kind of like a green pepper. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was not sweet at all. Our farm intern and I were talking about the flavor and then recollecting the Tomato Hornworm attack. I did a quick search, and sure enough, Goji Berries are related to tomatoes and peppers.

Goji Berry, also known as Wolfberry, are one of two closely related plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. These plants are in the Nightshade family (Solanaceae); I think I knew this fact at one time, but I entirely forgot it. But it was very interesting that with the caterpillar attack and the flavor of the fresh berry, we were able to place this plant into its botanical family.

I gave the fruit some more time to mature, and they did get a bit sweeter, but not much. I can see why no one sells the fresh berries. It’s not that they are not edible, but they are not that enjoyable. If I was very hungry, I could easily eat a few handfuls of fresh Goji Berries. But I wouldn’t seek them out.

There are a few named varieties of Goji Berry that have been developed, and they are reported to have a sweeter flavor when fresh. I will have to do some more research!

However, drying the fruit intensifies the sweetness. It changed the rather boring fresh fruit into a much sweeter, almost nutty, raisin flavor. They are quite good dried, and this is what I have done with all our Goji Berries this year.

Okay, so this is not a huge harvest, but it’s a start!

 

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Birdhouse Gourds!

Also known as Calabash or Bottle Gourds, Lagenaria siceraria are hardshelled gourds have been used for multiple purposes around the world. Many varieties are edible: edible fruit, edible seeds, edible leaves. Many varieties are hollowed out after they are dried. These are used as bowls, cups, bottles for water, storage containers for rice, serving dishes, serving spoons, water pipes, musical instruments, and more.

One of our Birdhouse Gourds.

The variety of Lagenaria siceraria we grew this year has been developed to make birdhouses, hence the name Birdhouse Gourds. Of all the squash/melons we grew this year, these plants were the most disease resistant and prolific. Almost no pests. And very late to developing any mildew.

Storing our Birdhouse Gourds in cardboard boxes.

We just harvested about half the gourds that had dried stems. The other half still have just a bit more maturing to do. We will let them dry out in our garage for the next 4-6 months. They are dried when the seeds rattle inside. Once they are dried, we will drill a hole in the side for an entrance. We will scrape out what we can, but the birds will do a pretty good job of cleaning out what we don’t get. We will also drill a number of small holes in the bottom for air circulation. Many people paint the dried gourds with a variety of colors and patterns, but a simple varnish or coating of white paint will also be sufficient to seal the gourds to help prevent rot. If sealed well and cared for in the off-season, these natural birdhouses can last for many years.

For best storage, the gourds should not touch each other.

I’ll share some more photos when we make convert these gourds to birdhouses… now we just have to wait 6 months!

 

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My Breakfast for Today

This is just another reason I love our farm/homestead… this is what I ate for breakfast this morning:

  • Swiss Chard (Verde Da Taglio)
  • Mustard Greens (Southern Giant Curled)
  • Kale (Forage Kale Proteor)
  • Kale (Nero Di Toscana)
  • Thai Red Roselle Leaves (Roselle is a species of Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and Thai Red is the variety)
  • Pea Shoots
  • Rosemary
  • Free-Range, Organic-Fed Chicken Eggs

The variety of healthful foods we regularly eat here on our farm/homestead just blows away any grocery store I’ve ever visited. These greens were harvested FIVE minutes before they were eaten!

I don’t share this to gloat, but hopefully to inspire others. Eating fresh, high-quality food is possible without a lot of work; it just takes being intentional.

So get out there and grow your own breakfast!

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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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.

Garden_Harvest_07

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