Archive for the ‘Plant profiles’ Category

Plant profiles: Tamarillo

May 7, 2014

This is #3 in the plant profiles series and a good time to write it as my tamarillos are starting to ripen at last:

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They’re really ripe when the colour changes from purplish to bright pillar-box red and that’s when I pick them.

You don’t see tamarillos much in the shops in this country (at least not where I live), so I assume no-one is growing them as a crop. The only time I did see them in the supermarket, they were selling at about $1.75 each, so it’s no wonder they’re not well known.

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While I was researching this post I came across the Wikipedia entry which is about as comprehensive as it gets, so to save myself a lot of typing I’m going to be lazy and link to it here. (Some of my regular readers (hi Fran), who do ferments might be interested in the bit under the ‘culinary use’ heading about using tamarillo to flavour kombucha tea).

Anyway, I can confirm that the plants are shallow-rooted and blow over easily. I can also confirm that they will grow easily from seed or cuttings. I cut the tops out of my plants when they’re about a meter high, to encourage them to branch, otherwise they form a tall trunk and when they do branch, the fruits are too high to reach.

The leaves are dinner-plate sized and have a distinctive, unusual (unpleasant to this nose) smell when you touch them (Wikipedia doesn’t mention that) and they don’t like hot sun. Last summer’s temperatures did this to mine:

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Growing them in a hugelkulture situation might be a good way to overcome the shallow root problem, although I haven’t tried it.  I would plant a group of 3-5 in a slight depression (must be well-drained soil though), and heap logs and cut branches around the roots for stability then top up with some rich, composty mulch.

I can’t confirm that they’re short-lived, having had no deaths yet from natural causes (some have blown over and died), but to be on the safe side, I usually sow some seeds every year and can always find somewhere to add a few extra plants.

If you would like some fresh seed, let me know via the comments box (only if you’re in Australia though) and I’ll organise a post-out.

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Plant profiles: Pepino

November 18, 2013

This is #2 in the plant profiles series which deals with unusual edibles not generally available in the supermarket. I’m just enjoying three large, delicious pepinos harvested last week, so this is a timely post. It’s basically the same post which I wrote some time ago, with a few additions.

The pepino (Solanum muricatum) is a low-growing shrub in the same plant family as the tomato and the potato. The fruits are usually lemon-sized but can be smaller or larger. The flesh starts off pale green and ripens to pale orange, often with attractive purple stripes. The texture and flavour is similar to rockmelon, only not as strong. The skin is tough-ish and I usually peel them. They’re extremely juicy and easy to propagate and grow. I’ve found flavour can vary between plants when grown from seed. The fruits I’m eating at the moment are particularly good, so I’m going to take cuttings from this plant and plant more out.

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I was given a branch of a pepino plant by a friend many years ago when I was just starting my food garden. Her plant had never been cut back and was sprawling over several metres. A huge network of bare branches with leaves only at the ends. I cut it into 6 pieces and put them up as cuttings. They grew roots in just over two weeks and eventually I planted them all out. They flower in spring and autumn for me and set a lot of fruit. Because they’re low-growing, the weight of the fruits tends to cause them to lie on the ground where they’re liable to attack by any number of critters, so keeping them up off the soil is advisable. I gradually thin the small fruit and leave a few of the best.

They’re easy to grow from seed. The seed needs the same conditions as tomatoes, i.e. sow and plant out during the warmer weather. The bushes are perennial, but may have a short lifespan in some soils, so I keep new plants coming along. I prune them back when they get straggly. They haven’t been particularly drought-tolerant for me…I’ve lost them over dry summers if I don’t keep them watered. They appear to have shallow root systems.

Because I have problems with rabbits eating the fruit at ground level, last year I planted one in a wicking box up on the deck. I figured the constant moisture would be an asset, the fruit could lie on the deck without getting chewed by things that go bump in the mulch and (so far) the rabbits haven’t learned to climb stairs. It’s done well and is flowering at the moment and setting fruit:

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The pepino hails from South America. It’s a useful addition to the permaculture garden and would be a good understorey plant in a food forest (if you don’t have rabbits!).

Plant profiles: Salsify

April 29, 2013

I’ve been researching unusual food plants and writing it all in a notebook for future reference, so I thought I would share it here. I’m concentrating on the sort of things that aren’t normally for sale in your average supermarket/greengrocer.

So here we go with the first in the series: Salsify

I’m not sure how one should pronounce this. I’ve heard Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall on River Cottage call it ‘salsi-fee’. I would have been inclined to say ‘salsi-feye’ (‘eye’ as in those things on either side of your nose that you see with). Whichever pronunciation you use, if your listener hasn’t heard it before, you’ll be considered correct and in-the-know.

Its botanical name is Tragopogon porrifolius, a horrible mouthful that makes ‘salsi-fee/fye’ sound almost mellifluous. It’s a member of the huge daisy family, botanically called the Asteraceae.

It’s a biennial, meaning it lasts for two years—grows in the first year then flowers and sets seed in the second.

It’s native to the Mediterranean but introduced into other countries, including Australia. My good friend Fran from The Road to Serendipity blog in Tasmania, tells me it grows wild near her (she sent me seeds—more on that later).

Because it’s a root crop, it likes similar soils to carrots and parsnips—deep and fine-textured with no fresh fertiliser. pH 6-6.8.

The carbohydrate in salsify is inulin—a fiber that occurs naturally in many foods like bananas, wheat, onions and garlic. Found in high concentrations in chicory root, it can be extracted for industrial use. Unlike more familiar carbohydrates, which are broken down in the small intestines and turned into fuel for the body, inulin passes through the small intestines to the colon where it stimulates the growth of ‘good bacteria’ and is fermented by bacteria. In some people it can cause gas, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhoea. If you’re planning to eat lots of this stuff, you might want to research it a bit more.

Some of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s salsify recipes are here.

I sent to Phoenix Seeds in Tassie for salsify seed. I planted it in late August last year and it germinated in 15 days. The seeds are long and spindly and should preferably be direct sown. It eventually develops a large tuft of grass-like leaves. The young leaves can apparently be used as a green, but I didn’t try them.

I kept the water up to the plants in summer (watering should be regular—irregular watering can cause the roots to spilt) and the tuft of leaves got bigger and bigger. Last week I decided it was now or never and dug up 3 clumps:

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I wasn’t expecting all those side roots. I don’t know if that’s normal or not. The largest one had a decent-sized main root anyway:

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I cut off all the side roots and this is what I was left with:

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It was almost 4 cm wide at the widest point. If it had been a parsnip, I’d have been rapt at that size.

I peeled the largest of the side roots and microwaved them. The flavour was a bit like a flavourless parsnip. I forgot to mention that it’s sometimes called ‘oyster plant’, because it’s supposed to taste like oysters. I couldn’t say because I’ve never eaten oysters. Oh, and peeled roots discolour so you need to stand them in water and lemon juice if there’s a delay in cooking.

I peeled the main root and roasted it with other vegetables. It had a bit more flavour, but only, I suspect, due to the browned surfaces.

Overall, it was easy to grow but flavourwise, on its own, not something to write home about. Probably it’s the other things it’s cooked with, or the sauces used with it that make it more appealing. Good for adding bulk to a recipe. It can also be boiled, mashed, stir-fried and steamed.

I’m going to leave the rest of the crop in the ground until spring when I expect the plants to flower. I want to see if the flowers are attractive to bees, plus I want to collect more seed. It might be a useful plant to have in the food forest for attracting bees and for times when other food is scarce.

I mentioned that Fran from Serendipity Farm sent me salsify seed. I sowed it in early December last year but it didn’t germinate. Because it was freshly collected, I suspect that, like many other Asteraceae family members, it had gone into dormancy. I’ve just sown more and it has germinated, as has what was left of the Phoenix seed.

If any readers have grown salsify, please share your experiences in the comments box.