Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Rhapsody of Green

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market where we test those garden theories so you don’t have to! This week we have another installment detailing a garden herb and it could not be contained to just the herbal parts of that grouping. That’s right this week we are talking about the Apiaceae family formerly known as the Umbelliferae or more commonly called the Carrot or Parsley family.

The pot on the right is filled with Cilantro, which having froze several times over the winter was rather vigorous after.

Looking at the family at a glance it is no wonder we like it so much as it radiates across four spectrums of plants. Apiaceae ranges from the incredibly poisonous with Queen Anne’s lace and Hemlock, to a plethora of common herbs and vegetables we often see at the super market and don’t think twice about. For starters the vegetable group includes Carrots, Celery/Celeriac, Fennel Hearts, Parsnips, Parsley Root, and Lovage. The herbal side of the family also includes Parsley, Fennel, Dill, Anise, Coriander/Cilantro, Cumin, Cicley, Chervil, Caraway and Angelica. A fourth angle to the family can be found with the largely Ornamental Sea Hollies. Needless to say the family is huge and incredibly beneficial to the gardener and those who eat at his or her table.

This is a Paris Market carrot, note how the foliage resembles most other members of the family except for dill and fennel.

With all the most common members of the Apiaceae family listed and grouped lets talk for a moment about some of the ones that most gardeners don’t grow. The first plant on the list is Lovage which is a perennial celery substitute; we tried this one in year one of the NC test garden and it did not do well. The reason for it not lasting was the soil quality and placement. It turns out Lovage doesn’t mind full sun as long as the soil is fairly rich, but needs afternoon shade and regular moisture otherwise.

Black swallowtail butterfly  larvae and cocoons on Bronze Fennel

As far as taste goes it came across as a more pungent celery thus needing less stalks per recipe. Fennel which is best known by its ‘ornamental’ variety Bronze fennel is often labeled as a xeriscaping plant and indeed it is good for that, but it also is quite flavorful and grows in good and bad local soil as long as it’s not kept wet. You as a gardener will be rewarded with ultra-fine foliage and yellow blooms which stand in contrast to the rick green or almost-black color of the foliage. Further more the plant is often host to Black swallowtail caterpillars and will often be perched on by dragon flies. I also have to mention certain varieties of fennel form fleshy bases and are often called fennel hearts, they add the flavor of anise and fennel to your soups and stir fries. 

A dragon fly perched on a caterpillar chewed Bronze fennel stem. This one literally sat there as the camera hovered mere inches away as if wanting his or her majesty on record.

A third underused member of the family is the Parsnip. If you do not use Parsnips already then you have likely seen them near the carrots at the supermarket, they look like white-tan carrots and are often twice as wide while being the same length on average. A parsnip is to a carrot what cauliflower is to broccoli excepting the fact that a parsnip actually normally looks this way and needs no human intervention and is a separate family member. Typically one would peel the parsnip with a potato peeler, cut off the ends, then slice the root into bits as thick as you can handle and add to your soup or a baked meat dish before cooking. Overall the parsnip adds the overtones of celery, parsley and carrot, and since the roots are large, you need less vegetable stock to achieve the effect. I might ad in the refrigerator parsnips keep well due to their low water content. In the garden they are not any different or more difficult to grow then carrots and numerous varieties are available to meet your needs including sweeter long season types.

We at LITFM encourage you to try some members of the carrot family beyond your regular  staples and you can bet you will find a range of flavors and textures that can change your cooking pretty dramatically. Most of the family in cultivation are either annual (Cilantro, Dill) or biennial (Carrot, Parsnip, Parsley) however there are some perennials (Fennel, Lovage, Anise). For the purposes of permaculture the possibilities of incorporating members of this family are endless, as the edible members also are quite nutritious and reasonably rugged once you learn their preferences and relate them to your area.

That said, this weekend I will be at the Fayetteville City/Farmer’s Market in downtown Fayetteville.  The weather is supposed to be decent so come on down, the market is open rain or shine and most vendors are pretty good about this as are some of you hardcore market goers. The market is located at 325 Franklin Street at the Fayetteville Transportation Museum and there is no shortage of parking. The market is open from 9:00 am through 1:00 pm so feel free to stop buy and chat or pick up the latest stuff about conservation or heck get a member of the apiaceae family as we have some lovely parsley plants that need a home. Here is this week’s Plant list:

4x Burgundy Okra
3x Japanese Long Eggplant
2x Sweet Banana Pepper
4x Habenero Pepper (Hot!)
3x Tumbling Tom Tomato (Yellow Cherry)
7x Beefsteak Tomato (medium-large slicing)

6x Italian Parsley
1x Common Sage
1x Oregano
1x Mountain Mint
1x Lavender Cotton
2x Hidcote Lavender
2x Cinnamon Basil
4x Sweet Basil
10x Egyptian Onion

House Plants:
2x Pepromia verticilliata - Rotary Peperomia (house plant)
2x Sanseveria cylindrical – Spear Sanseveria (Houseplant)
2x Aloe barbadensis – Medicinal Aloe / Aloe Vera

-And of course whatever else I can squeeze onto the truck!

This brings to a close another episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market and the month of July. In August we will continue the Herbs series as well as some status updates on a few of our pet projects. I hope you all enjoyed this episode and might add that we did recycle some old photos for this post as, our camera as some of you might know was stolen during a break in of the test garden property.  That aside I’d love to hear the results of any forays into the Apiaceae family you make and even swap some recipes.  As always folks keep ‘em growing!

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