Sunday, March 4, 2012

Keeping it growing

Pseudofumaria lutea (syn. Corydalis lutea) - Yellow Fumewort 

The above is the same yellow fumewort plant covered in the plant spotlight on 5-29-2011. Outside of bulbs the fumewort may be the first garden perennial to bloom in spring and does so about the same time if not earlier then the rosemary. The name fumeword comes from the strongly scented oils released when handling the foliage of the plant. While descriptions of the scent vary I'd personally say it resembles model airplane glue. Scent aside yellow fumewort likes light shade, and decent soil, and will willingly resow itself to take over a limited area. Thankfully other then occasional watering in drought periods, it needs virtually no care considerations.

What a winter, score one for the case proving global warming is real. But jabs at the naysayers aside today’s topic of discussion is how to keep harvesting the kind of foods you like regardless of seasonal changes.  It’s a fact that certain plants produce during certain seasons of the year. Some food crops require cool weather some prefer hot, and then there are the limitations of the three plant life cycles. All plants fall into the category of being a annual, biennial or perennial. For those new to gardening; these three groups can be defined as follows.

1.     Annual- Any plant that germinates, matures and produces seed within a single season.
2.     Biennial – any plant that germinates, matures and then produces seed in its second year, and dies thereafter.
3.     Perennial – Any plant that lives more then two years often maturing within a year or longer and that produces flowers and seed almost every year once fully mature.

Of course these life cycles sure as soil quality, insect and disease problems death and taxes are something we gardeners must learn to plan for. We have the dubious distinction of being comparatively long lived compared to our most common food crops so our want to eat say, lettuce year round has to be tempered by the fact that these plants we grow do so in their own time frames. Before you throw up your hands and head for the produce aisle at the super market know this; there are seasonal alternatives to our favorites that can add flavor and variety to an otherwise bland diet. Below you will find a list of cools season crops and their warm season replacements.

1. Spinach:
- Giant Goosefoot (Chenopodium giganteum)
- Orach (Atriplex hortensis)
- Malabar Spinach (Basella alba)
- Amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor,  A. hypochondriacus)
- New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides, T. expansa)
- Strawberry Spinach (Chenopodium  capitatum)

2. Swiss Chard:
          - Beet Greens (Beta vulgaris)

3. Snow & Sweet Peas
          - Southern Peas (Vigna unguiculata)
- Asparagus Peas (Lotus tetragonolobus)

4.  Arugula
          - Nasturtium (Tropaeolum minus, T. majus)

5. Mesclun
          - Mustard, Mizuna (Brassica juncea)

6. Cilantro / Coriander
          - Vietnamese Cilantro (Persicaria odorata or, Polygonum odoratum)

7. Common Sorrel
-Purselane (Portulaca oleracea)

8.  Celery
          - Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

9. Cucumber
          - Armenian Cucumber (Cucumis melo)

10. Radiccio, Endive, Escarole
          - Chicory (Chicorium intybus)

As you can see from the list above,  most cool season crops have readily available replacements that take similar care yet need only the expected change in temperature to do well. One group excluded was the cabbages, from which several types are typically started in late spring for minor harvests through summer into the next year. Other cabbage crops however start bolting when the temperature spikes above sixty degrees for any length of time and thus are exclusively cool season crops.  In a number of cases there simply is no seasonal substitute for the real thing as seen in the tomato, pepper, eggplant, bean, and lettuce crops. As a last note for you observant gardeners out there, #10 and #2 are unusual situations. In the case of #2 both swiss chard and Beets in general have the scientific name Beta vulgaris, as they are divergent types of the same plant give or take one produces a edible root and some leaf greens where as the other just produces larger leaves. In respects #10 is similar; Escarole, Endive Radicchio and Chicory are all in the Chicory family. Radicchio is essentially a divergent cultivated Chicorium intybus, where as Escarole and Endive are related and scientifically named under Chicorium endive with a variety based additional identifier after such as ‘var. crispa’ or ‘var. latifolium’

As a final thought for today’s post when your attempting to maintain a constant supply of some sort of food item it pays to understand that item’s life cycle and to keep a careful eye on the availability of other possible alternatives.  In some cases you will find no shortage of alternatives and yet in others you may need to look no further then close relatives or alternate forms of the same plant. In short often with urban farming plant alternatives it quite literally takes one to grow one.  Stay tuned for next weeks post where we cover the assorted plants that can be used to make substitute coffees.

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