Since New Year, only one day had been slightly above zero with temperatures regularly below -15C, but then a big shift in the weather happened a few days ago and it’s now 25C warmer than it was a week ago! It’s interesting to see how hardy some Alliums are, even when not insulated by snow and here are 3 of the most hardy: Allium carinatum (keeled garlic / rosenløk), Allium flavum (small yellow onion / doggløk) and Allium cernuum (nodding onion /prærieløk) can all be harvested even though the soil is frozen solid. Hablitzia tamnoides (Caucasian spinach / stjernemelde) shoots are also developing nicely and I’ll have a few for lunch today along with the onions.
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
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!
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”
The daughter Hablitzia tamnoides (Caucasian spinach / stjernemelde) was self-sown in the middle of what was where we parked the car and now where I store plants until they’re ready to plant out. It is now almost as big as its mother which is at the back, now about 18 years old!
I’ve often noted that Hablitzia plants grow slowly the first year or so, but under ideal conditions (more warmth than we get outdoors here) they can grow fast… I sowed seed in February, stratifying first for 10 days in the fridge and they germinated quickly in the living room. I grew them on indoors (it was too cold to put them out) and for lack of space I planted together with newly planted taro (Colocasia esculenta) tubers in a large pot. They grew quickly and they were about to start flowering yesterday when I dug up the plants and moved outside!
Hablitzia as a weed! While researching Hablitzia tamnoides for my book Around the World in 80 plants (2014) I found the following simple entry in a 19th century encyclopedia of ornamental plants: The author was clearly not impressed….. Further Frederik Christian Schübeler (1815-1892) who was professor of botany and manager of the Oslo botanical garden at Toyen in Oslo from 1866-92 also noted from northern Norway that “At Maalselvdalens Vicarage (69 deg. 10 min. N), where it also grows very well, it reaches 8 feet (2.5m) and doesn’t only give mature seeds, but spreads even in the garden as a weed.” I found this difficult to believe and thought initially that it had been confused with good king Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) which can be very weedy in a garden. I only had one plant at the time and I struggled to get more than a couple of seeds from it. Introducing a second plant, suddenly there was a lot of seed and seedlings appeared around the mother plants. Nowadays it appears in many parts of the cultivated parts of my garden spread by the low friction seeds blowing around on ice in the winter and through my compost. Small plants often turn up as a weed in pot plants indoors which have been fed with compost. This is a plant which germinated in a pot with a bay tree (Laurus nobilis) some years ago. When the bay died, I let the Hablitzia grow on and it now uses the bay as a climbing frame!
Nevertheless, Hablitzia seems to depend on naked earth to establish itself here and there are no reports of it escaping into nature approaching 150 years after its introduction as a garden plant here. Yesterday, I was weeding Hablitzia from newly emerged carrot seedlings!
Last night we made a green pea soup and apart from the Hablitzia (Caucasian spinach / stjernemelde), I used perennial vegetables growing in a wild part of the garden. With little or no help from me there’s a bounty of wild edibles in this area under wild hazels (Corylus avellana) and this made for a delicious pea soup with masses of greens. Campanula latifolia is documented as used in spring soups in the 16th century in my area in Norway and Heracleum shoots are also a tradional soup ingredient, in particular Russian borsch now thought of as a beetroot soup was originally made with hogweed shoots.
It’s that time of year that Hablitzia tamnoides (Caucasian spinach / stjernemelde) goes all floppy and needs help to go upwards rather than sideways! The floppiness you see here has nothing to do with the weather which habby loves although it’s never expereienced being snowed on for 5 days in a row in the middle of May in its short 18 year lifetime!
I noticed yesterday that the ostrich ferns (strutseving) in the forest garden had put on a spurt despite the cold weather and were almost past the harvesting stage. This is the main disadvantage of this great vegetable. The harvesting window is very narrow. I quickly harvested some, taking care not to take more than 1/3 of the shoots. Together with Hablitzia tamnoides (Caucasian spinach), a bit of sea kale (strandkål), ramsons (ramsløk) and sand leeks (bendelløk) this made a delicious green pasta sauce. See the video before I picked below!
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere I eat more Hablitzia tamnoides (Caucasian spinach / stjernemelde) than any other spring vegetable and have eaten it every day now since the beginning of March (70 days). A friend mentioned on Instagram that she would love to see my plant! Well, I’ve just counted them and I have 36 harvestable plants and many different accessions now and more on the way…spread around the garden. About time then for an overview. They grow back so quickly even though we’ve hardly had a single day above 10C this spring that you wouldn’t have guessed that I’ve cut most of them right back! They regularly self-seed but they only see to succeed in naked soil where there is little competition. All the plants I tried in the forest garden area didn’t make it (in competition with ground elder, Aegopodium).
Perennial vegetables, Edimentals (plants that are edible and ornamental) and other goings on in The Edible Garden