Your legacy on earth may be a plant

From Nautilus: Your legacy on earth may be a plant.

Most people don’t realize how easy it is, when it comes down to it, for almost all signs of their existence to be wiped from the landscape. Fields turn into forests in less than a generation, if properly neglected. Houses are overtaken with creepers and birds’ nests and their roofs grow mossy and sag groundward after enough heavy rain. Within ten minutes’ drive of our house, there were no fewer than five home sites that had gone to seed, and sometimes to earth, with nothing left but a foundation and thousands of daffodils.

This last detail turns out to be a telling sign of former habitation. “If you find daffodils in a wild area, you can usually find chimneys,” says Robert Warren, an ecologist at Buffalo State University. Warren lived for years in North Carolina, another place where daffodils are thick where there used to be homes—the flowers just keep going on their own, for decades after they’re no longer tended. The old residents “got them through the Sears-Roebuck catalog—the bulbs,” says Warren. When he goes hiking, he likes to try to read the landscape, looking for signs of an area’s history in the vegetation. [continue]

Wow, what a cool article.

A scale of sweetness

Today I was reading up on the two cherry trees I bought, and came across the term brix. Have you heard of that? I hadn’t.

Anyway, people interested in food or gardening might want to check out The 10.0 Brix Tomato Challenge from Jon Rowley’s blog, The Beautiful Taste. Here’s the part that fascinated me:

Brix is a measurement of the percentage of sugars in fruits or vegetables as measured by a refractometer. You can find inexpensive refractometers on eBay for about $30.

The ones I use come from Atago (model Master Alpha) and Vee Gee (model BX-1) in Kirkland. It is a simple instrument. All you do is put a drop of juice on a lens and then look through the viewfinder to get the instant reading. I’m forever befuddled why every farmer, fruit grower, buyer and home cook doesn’t have one.

So what does a Brix measurement tell us? A high brix reading (each fruit and vegetable has a different Brix range) indicates the fruit came from a successful plant and that the farmer has soil, watering, air and sun working together optimally. A plants primary job is photosynthesis. photosynthesis formulaEverything manufactured in the plant uses glucose as a building block. If if a plant has high brix it has more of everything, especially taste.

Moreso than a simple sweet taste, high brix usually comes across as a deeper, more satisfying varietal flavor. [continue]

Miner’s lettuce!

From The Atlantic: Foraging for Miner’s Lettuce, America’s Gift to Salad.

Miner’s lettuce is pleasingly crunchy, mild-tasting, has large leaves, remains tender even when in flower, and is so loaded with vitamins it will cure scurvy. The plant got its name because the Gold Rush miners ate it to stave off the disease, which is caused by a Vitamin C deficiency; they learned this trick from the local Indians, no doubt.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100 grams of miner’s lettuce—about the size of a decent salad—contains a third of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, 22 percent of the Vitamin A, and 10 percent of the iron. Combine this with stinging nettles and you have everything you need to revive your system from a winter’s worth of heavy meats, dried grains, and roots.

All of these qualities impressed early explorers so much they saved the seeds of Claytonia perfoliata and brought them back to Europe to grow, first as a curiosity, then as a food plant. [continue]

Miner’s Lettuce appeared in my garden, unbidden but welcome. I encouraged it, and now have amazing quantities of the stuff. It’s free, it’s attractive, and it’s yummy. How cool is that?

Good King Henry

Good King Henry is just what you want on your plate. From Slow Food UK’s Good King Henry page:

Good King Henry is a perennial plant native to Southern Europe and spread further by the Romans. The plant grows around 75cm high having a long stalk with arrow shaped leaves. It is a semi-wild plant, being cultivated as well as being found in the wild.

The flavour resembles spinach and becomes increasingly bitter as the season progresses. The leaves, stalks and flower buds are edible. The leaves can be boiled, steamed or eaten raw in salads. The young shoots and stalks can be picked before they go hollow and steamed or boiled, eaten like asparagus, while the flower buds can be, for example, sautéed in butter. [continue]

Temperate Climate Permaculture has more about Good King Henry:

This is a small perennial herbaceous vegetable that was once well known in England and central/southern Europe. While it has naturalized in the U.S., it is a rather uncommon food there. Good King Henry is in the same family as spinach, and its leaves are used in much the same way; however, its shoots are eaten like asparagus, flower buds like broccoli, and the seeds are an edible grain. Add its ability to grow in the shade, and this is a great plant to add to your Edible Forest Garden or other Permaculture plantings. [continue]

A few years ago I added Good King Henry to my garden. It’s hardy, easy to grow, and every so convenient.

Do you grow this plant? Have you tried it?

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Lasagna gardening

I thought that the keyhole gardening method was pretty spiffy (and it is!) but this might be even more appealing. Here’s Patricia Lanza’s article from Mother Earth News: Lasagna Gardening.

If someone told me years ago that he or she had found a way to do an end run around the sweat equity of traditional gardening, a way around digging, weeding, and rototilling, a way to produce more regardless of time constraints, physical limitations, or power-tool ineptness… well, I would have checked that person for a head injury. Yet such a system is actually possible, though I never would have believed it if I hadn’t stumbled upon the basics myself.

Lasagna gardening was borne of my own frustrations. After my husband retired from the U.S. Navy, we began our next period of work as innkeepers. When the demands on my time became so great that I could no longer do all that was required to keep both the business and the garden going, the garden suffered. I’d plant in the spring, then see the garden go unattended. I needed a way to do it all.

Just when I was about to give up, it happened: a bountiful harvest with no work. [continue]

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Later on in the article I found another idea I must remember to try:

When guests come for dinner, I give them a colander and a pair of scissors and point them toward the garden. They come back with an interesting collection of edibles and never forget the experience. Lots of good gardeners start out by getting their feet dirty in someone else’s garden.

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Keyhole gardens lock out starvation in Lesotho

From Celesias: Keyhole Gardens Lock Out Starvation in Lesotho.

Sometimes, the best solutions are low-tech. For example, in the tiny African country of Lesotho, a simple organic gardening technique called "keyhole gardening" is allowing people to produce enough vegetables to nourish their families without having to invest in costly technology, fuel, fertilizer or pesticides. As the BBC reported on June 3, a number of NGO’s have been teaching people how to use this technique in Lesotho, with incredibly promising results. A keyhole garden is a raised bed shaped like a keyhole and walled in by stone. In the center, a basket made from sticks and straw holds manure and later, vegetable scraps for compost. The garden is watered primarily through the basket in the center, which distributes the nutrients from the compost to the plants.

This gardening system has several advantages: [continue]

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Linnaeus’ flower clock

From The Proceedings of the Athinasius Kircher Society: Linnaeus’s Flower Clock.

Carl Linnaeus, father of taxonomy, divided the flowering plants into three groups: the meteorici, which change their opening and closing times according to the weather conditions; the tropici, which change their opening and closing times according to the length of the day; and the aequinoctales, which have fixed opening and closing times, regardless of weather or season.

Linnaeus noted in his Philosophia Botanica that if one possessed a sufficiently large variety of aequinoctal species, it would be possible to tell time simply by observing the daily opening and closing of flowers. Though Linneaus seems never actually to have planted an horologium florae, or flower clock, his plan was taken up with great passion by many 19th-century gardeners, who often arranged a dozen or more species in the manner of a circular clock face. Below, the approximate opening and closing times of aequinoctal flowers that can be used in an horologium florae: [continue, see image]