All posts by Stephen Barstow

Towards a record early harvest

This summer we’ve experienced a big swing in temperatures from one month to the next…from a record cold May to a record warm June followed by most of July being also record cold. The warmth in June straight after planting my runner beans on 11th (later than normal) resulted in quick growth and by the end of July the earliest variety, two-toned Painted Lady was already in flower, a month earlier than a normal year (if there is such a thing as normal anymore)….so maybe we are heading for a record crop, where runner beans are marginal and almost never give a good sized crop:

My courgettes (zucchini), planted out on 14th June on my shady composting area (no more than 2 hours of direct sunshine) also started cropping very early at the end of August:


Finally, I was surprised when folk told me last year that their Worcesterberries (a selection of Ribes divaricatum) ripened in July.  I’m usually eating mine from the middle of September to the first frosts late in October, but they are also turning colour already:




Hopniss at 63.4N

Hopniss (Apios americana), one of several plants known also as ground nut, is a clambering perennial legume and native american food plant of Eastern North America from Southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. For a good account of this as a food plant, look no further than Samuel Thayer’s book “The Forager’s Harvest”. Like many others I’ve tried and failed to grow this and no longer do so. However, it was fun trying and I did at least get  something to eat. 
I first planted this 20 years ago in my old unheated greenhouse in October 1999. Hillery Hanby who was a member of the Yahoo group Edible Wild kindly sent me a tuber. It grew weakly and didn’t produce anything. Then in early 2009, Hristo from Bulgaria, one of the active members of the Homegrown Goodness forum persuaded me to try again with his supposedly improved variety and I planted it in the greenhouse in spring 2009. This grew better and flowers were opening on 9th October 2011:

On 13th November 2011 I discovered I had a small yield (this is 3 year’s growth!). The tubers grow on a long string rhizome and Sam Thayer reports from 2 to up to 20 tubers on each.  He also reports that tubers (in the wild) can vary from size of a grape to a grapefruit and shape also varied considerably.

I also had a plant grown in two large pots which I also harvested and both had about 15 small tuberlets on the rhizome that was found winding aroud the base of the pots:

Then, a month later, disaster struck and the greenhouse look like this after  a major storm, Dagmar, devastated this area:

I had replanted some tubers which grew poorly under the new colder conditions without the greenhouse. I was therefore suprised to find my largest tuber “ever” two years later on 26th October 2013:

I suspect that I had missed this one in 2011 and this was one was therefore the result of 5 seasons of growth.    Then, in 2014, I took part in trials of new improved varieties.  Søren Holt in Denmark coordinated this trial of 4 varieties received from Gautam in New York. Both Søren, Åke Truedsson and myself participated.  Gautam wrote: “I have just received our latest batch of improved Apios americana, and am taking the liberty of sending you a very few tubers of our best “bunching” and “trailing” cultivars. Will send you the smallest sizes, for convenience in shipping, but not to worry. They come from excellent stock, with excellent size potential”. Here they are on arrival:

They were planted in a sheltered spot in the garden.  These improved varieties were far from improved enough for my climate and. despite having shoots ready on planting, two of the varieties didn’t even bother to grow and the second two grew so badly that I gave up the trial after a couple of years!
So that’s my experience of hopniss in Malvik. I guess I need to try at least one more time before saying it’s not worth it in my climate.
There is one other species, Apios priceana. This one produces one large tuber, but judging by its wild distribution it is unlikely to be more cold tolerant. I’ve only seen it once, at Joe Hollis’ Mountain Gardens in North Carolina last autumn.

 

 

 




RIP Stephen Facciola

I was very saddened to hear yesterday evening that Stephen Facciola, author of Cornucopia II: A Sourcebook of Edible Plants, the most useful reference work in my journey into the world of edible plants since I bought it 20 years ago, has died in California. This means, sadly, that his monumentous work on the world’s edible plants will probably never be completed. However, he was aware that it would take 20-30 years to complete when he first told me. I was in contact with Stephen over the last 10 years since he contacted me for a copy of my article on Hosta in Permaculture Magazine and I later sent him a copy of my book as he wanted to know more about Hablitzia in particular! He sent me 3 sample plant profiles in 2018 and I will  post them below and in my Edimentals and Perennial Vegetables FB group to give you an idea of what could have been.
The picture below was taken some 5 years ago when I finally got a new copy of the book to replace my original copy. Today, the new book looks almost as bad as my first one
I sent the picture to Facciola, he laughed and commented he’d never seen such a well used copy 

Thanks to Joshua Christian for posting this link to an article about Facciola that I’d never seen: https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2000/nov/22/cover-cornucopia-stephen-pacciolas-edible-world


The following obituary by David Karp was posted on the FB group of the
Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery
(incidentally, Karp also wrote this article, All Things Green and Edible in the Los Angeles Times at the completion of Cornucopia II at the end of December 1998: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1998-dec-27-fo-57875-story.html)
 

Finally, here are the 3 sample plant profiles that were sendt to me by Facciola in 2018. None of these plants are in Cornucopia II. Our loss is great….let us hope that a team is assembled with proper funding to document the world’s edible plants according to Facciola’s vision while we still can!

Download (PDF, 608KB)


Download (PDF, 450KB)

Download (PDF, 248KB)

 

2011: “Stephen – Nice to see that readers are using ‘Cornucopia’ to such an extent. I’ve seen some beat up copies but I think yours is the winner. Having developed a format for an illustrated book on all or most of the world’s edible plants, I’m currently not planning a third edition of ‘Cornucopia’. I do have damaged copies of ‘Cornucopia II’ I can send you but the shipping charges would be high. Please send the Hosta article. The Hablitzia article was available for free download. I enjoyed reading the posts on your “Friends of Hablitzia…” group page. Regarding the reddish early-season shoots: what percentage of seedlings have this trait? Also, do plants described as red-stemmed also have red leaves on mature vines? Best regards, Stephen”

2014: “I haven’t made much progress in writing but I have managed to do some traveling: to Holland, Oman, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia and Uzbekistan.”

2017: “Hi Stephen, congratulations on ‘Around the World in 80 Plants’. There won’t be a ‘Cornucopia III’, I’m working on an ‘Edible Plants of the World’ book which is still a long term project even though it will be an abridged version. Just how abridged depends on time, health and funding. Best, Steve”





Hedgehogs in the garden

2013 was sadly the last time I saw a hedgehog here (see the last picture here)…and there are only 3 reported observations since 2013 in the whole of Malvik Kommune, all found dead (killed in traffic), the last in 2017. There’s still a small population in Trondheim, so there’s a chance they will return. The population collapsed in the 2000s and it’s thought they were impacted by a virus, but many are also killed on roads and lack of habitat (too tidy gardens). As it’s never properly dark here in summer we have been able to photograph them at night and about 3 times have followed courtship and mating! Below are a number of pictures of hedgehogs in the garden over the years.
The first shows mating in the garden in the 1990s (from a slide):

Courtship display on 13th May 2006:

July 2006 by the outhouse door camouflaged sitting on a fibre mat!

5th May 2007

After emerging from hibernation, 15th April 2011:

Road casualty (2nd July 2011):

Magpie (skjære) with dead young hedgehog on the neighbour’s deck.

Hedgehog and ground elder (25th July 2012)

This hedgehog seemed to be hunting a worm or similar and was totally oblivious to my presence allowing this series of pictures to be taken on 1st May 2013:

The last sighting in July 2013

Broad Bean Mix

Broad beans (favas / bondebønner) will easily cross with other varieties that are growing nearby.  In order to keep a variety pure, you need to isolate them physically. I like to have different varieties with different coloured flowers and bean colour in additon to maintaining early yielding varieties such as Express. I’ve found that I can plant different forms close together and if I save separately beans with different colour and bean size and mark for saving plants with particularly nice flower colours, then I can maintain a good mix in the same place. The flower forms below are all growing within a few metres in the Væres Venner community garden. They were grown from the mix of beans saved at the same place in 2018 (first picture). I don’t offer the different forms as named varieties, but as a mix or composite “Væres Venner Mix” so that others can also select for separate forms! Bumble bees were all over the flowers when I was there!