We seem to be at least a month ahead of normal this year. I don’t normally see new shoots of ground elder (Aegopodium) until the middle of April but this year they are popping up all over the place. Today’s veggies are a bit different from yesterday as it depends which part of the garden I harvest from. They are: Hablitzia tamnoides (Caucasian spinach; stjernemelde) Aegopodium podograria (ground elder; skvallerkål) Rumex acetosa (non-flowering) (sorrel; engsyre) Rumex patientia (patience dock; hagesyre) Taraxacum officinale (dandelion; løvetann) Allium fistulosum (welsh onion; pipeløk) Allium paradoxum Allium x proliferum (Egyptian onion; luftløk) Myrrhis odorata (sweet cicely; spansk kjørvel) Allium cernuum (nodding onion; prærieløk) Hemerocallis (day lily shoots; daglilje) These were used in a delicious vegetable pea soup!
It was warm enough to sit outside yesterday and “prick out” (i.e., transplant into bigger pots) all the spring onions and leeks I’d sown a week ago inside. Neither Allium cepa, Allium fistulosum nor Allium ampeloprasum (porrum) need cold treatment to germinate unlike many other Alliums. Of the 40 varieties I sowed, about 28 germinated (some of the seed was a few years old). I’m still searching for a spring onion that is hardy enough to sow in late summer here so that I can harvest in early summer. The best bet is one of the cultivars of Allium fistulosum used for spring onions, but most of the modern varieties, mostly bred in Japan, have lost the hardiness of the species (from Siberia).
On 1st June, I gave a talk at one of Norway’s oldest herb farms, Nordigard Aukrust, run organically by Ola Aukrust since the 1980s. This was my first visit although I’d known of Ola’s work for many years! See the pictures below, including a few Alliums in the beautiful herb garden (immediately below is a summer shot taken from a local tourist page!)
On the bus from the train at Otta to Lom the evening before, I noticed a sign to Valbjør Farm, which my friend and Norwegian Seed Saver (KVANN) Andrew McMillion had visited in 2015. During the visit he had found Allium fistulosum growing on one of the turf roofs and had been given a few onions which he has since shared through KVANN’s Year Book. 10 years ago, I had been on a tour of nearby onion turf roofs near Otta and Vågå (see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=14436). I had heard that there were also onions at Valbjør but hadn’t yet been there. It turned out that the woman who offered to give me a lift from the course at Lom back to Otta, had been at one of my talks some years ago in Heidal. I asked her if we could see Valbjør up on the hills from the main road and told her about the onion roof! Even better, she said, we’ll make a detour to the place.
So, it came to pass that we spent 45 minutes or so at the farm and met the long-term organic farmer, Kai Valbjør, who had run the farm organically since the 1980s and, it turned out, was one of the open organic gardens in the national Norwegian organic network which we and Nordigard Aukrust were part of!! It’s all interconnected!! There was also an overgrown herb garden. Valbjør Farm comprises 13 restored buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th century and is protected by law. A young couple, Ola og Kjerstin Kaurstad, had bought the farm last year and, in particular, Kjerstin was very interested to learn more about the herbs that had survived, despite the neglect. We spent some time looking for herbs and I took a few with me, in case they turn out to be old! There were a few more surprises, see the album at the bottom of this page!
Where did the Valbjør onions come from?
It turned out that the roof onions at Valbjør had not been there for long and had come from another location. Initial information was that they came from Sve Farm (which I had visited and already had onions in the national onion collection at the Ringve Botanical Garden in Trondheim. Kai Valbjør told that Andrew that they had been given them from herbalist Adi Bertoli at Sjoa. Adi was not sure that it was she who had given the onions to Valbjør, but her roof onions came from seed she was given by botanist Hans Shwenke in Otta (who had been on the tour of roof onion locations 10 years previously). Adi remembered that Hans had his onions from a place called Steberløkken in Kvam. Hans confirmed that the farm was probably called Næsset.
My new life is as a “visiting onion researcher” at the Ringve Botanical Gardens in Trondheim where I’m developing an Allium garden to be officially opened later in the summer! One of the perks is to have access to collections in other botanical gardens on an exchange basis. I visited the Oslo Botanical Gardens last week (June 2019) and I was given a spade and given permission to take a few of whatever onions I wanted! Not having accession data available I took a few of most onions I found. On the way out of the gardens with bags of onions and rucksack with various Allium victorialis sticking out of the top, a couple approached me and the man says “Det var en god fangst!” (That’s a good catch!) ;)
I now have the accession data and am sorting out which ones are interesting enough to keep!
I’ve also promised to correct some of the mistakes as several were clearly wrongly labelled!
12th June: Added pictures of a few more edibles!
Tonight’s garden foraged perennial veggies for an oriental stir-fry!
Lots of Hablitzia (stjernemelde), ground elder (skvallerkål), Svenskelauk (a form of Allium fistulosum), sweet cicely (spansk kjørvel), dandelion (løvetann), day lily shoots (daglilje), blanched horseradish shoots (pepperrot) and a variety of Allium victorialis (victory onion, seiersløk) which is the earliest form I grow along with one from the Kola peninsular in northern Russia; other varieties have hardly grown yet!
I’m just passing the mountain village Otta in Gudbrandsdalen on the train . In 2009, I visited several old farms in this area to witness first-hand the old onion turf roofs still to be found nearby and collect some samples (see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=14436). Norway’s old edible roof gardens are also described in my book Around the World I 80 plants! I recently heard that a botanist, Bjørn Harald Larsen, did a thorough field study of the area last year (2016) and made a number of new finds. His report can be downloaded below (with many new pictures!). Bjørn Harald has tried to partition his finds of old Allium fistulosum (pipeløk / Welsh onion) in this area as follows: There are now 10 intact roof locations documented of 31 «original known onion roofs»; 12 intact of 16 finds where plants had been moved / planted from older roofs; 2 occurrences where plants have naturalised on dry slopes; a few that have been planted in gardens; and finally two instances where plants seem to originate from other cultivated forms (i.e., plants have a different growth form – I had also noted this when growing out some of these onions in Malvik).
On 3rd July 2009, local historian Geir Neverdal invited me on a tour to witness first hand the old traditional onion roofs of Gudbrandsdalen near the town of Otta. I had first heard of Geir through the following web site about these very special old turf roofs on which Allium fistulosum / welsh onion / pipeløk had been planted as a protection against fire (the leaves are succulent even in very dry conditions and this Siberian species is extremely hardy and drought tolerant): http://www.otta2000.com/Diverse/Pipeloek/pipeloek.htm. The onions were also traditionally harvested in spring and used in scrambled egg and other dishes.
He had arranged visits to 5 different farms near Otta and Vågå. Two local botanists had also been invited along: Hans Petter Schwencke and Bjørn Engehagen.
One Norwegian botanist thinks that as these roof onions have developed over such a long time in this very special environment that they should be lifted to species level. I suggest Allium gudbrandsdaliensis ;)
Below are a series of pictures from these farms: Søre Breden where owners Knut Romsås Breden og Eldri Seim met us; Hole; Nedre Gjetsiden; Nerøygarden (where Ingrid Dokken and her husband met us)and, finally, Sve Gård in Vågå kommune where farmer Harald Bjørndal showed us around. At the bottom is a document in Norwegian which I wrote after the visit. The story of these onions is also told in my book Around the World in 80 plants!
A little secret I’ve had since last autumn (apart from a select few) when I was told that I would get my very own Allium bed at the Ringve Botanical Garden in Trondheim :)
Yesterday, 18th August 2017, I finally got the time to start the planting. I will be planting both the collection of old Norwegian perennial onions that I have collected from all over the country over the last 10 years and a selection of species Alliums to show off their incredible diversity!
The first phase was mainly the planting of my old Norwegian onion collection, Allium schoenoprasum (chives / gressløk), Allium fistulosum (Welsh onion / pipeløk including old Norwegian roof onions from Gudbrandsdalen) and Allium x proliferum (walking onions, tree onions, Egyptian onions / luftløk, etasjeløk). I also planted about 22 accessions of Allium cernuum (nodding onion, Chicago onion / prærieløk) plus a few others like Allium carinatum pulchellum and Norrlands onion (Norrlandsløk).
It was a long day starting at home at 8 am with packing, sorting and documentation, returning home after 10 pm – it was worth it for the sunset from the garden over Trondheimsfjord!! Looking forward to phase 2 which will probably be in September!
Thanks to the Norwegian Genetic Resource Centre and particularly Morten Rasmussen for funding the bed preparation and Vibekke Vange and the staff at Ringve for making me feel so welcome!
Preparing Allium cernuum accessions for Ringve at home:
Sunset and the new Allium bed with the accompaniment of screaming (approving) swifts! Life is good!!