It is early spring, which at Edible Acres means Sean is getting ready for for his first plant sale tomorrow.
For me and some other volunteers this means we got to go and spend the day among his awesome demonstration gardens, getting out hands in the soil, and picking his brain about all his amazing plant knowledge while helping him pot things up and learning a bunch about the plants we are getting ready for sale.
And it was the perfect day for such a task, with the weather being cool (probably mid 50’s) and mostly overcast with a few light sprinkles of rain. This weather is great as it is still pleasant to work outside but the plants stay moist and experience less stress as the soil they are being taken out of and the air and the soil they are being put into all are around the same temperature.
Here is a little about five of the plants plants and one mushroom that we worked with today. Most of this knowledge is what I learned from sean over the course of the day and am now refining and adding to from a little bit of online research (linked to throughout). I took home a plant or two of each of these five so I will try and let you know what I think of them as I actually get to experience their wonders first hand.
Sea kale (Crambe maritima):
Sea kale is an ancient perennial plant that resembles kale and is making a comeback as a favorite of permaculture enthusiasts. Permaculturists always love perennials because they require less work and generally support more stable and resilient ecosystems. Although Sea kale looks like kale it is actually not even in the same family. But its roots, leaves, and flowers are edible and it grows really easily in just about any soil. And it propagates really easily too! So what we did today was dig up some of Sean’s sea kale plants which had significant tuber like roots underground. Then we just broke the tubers up into pieces and planted them into sean’s potting mix making sure to keep their orientation correct, meaning the more tapered end of the root points down in the soil.
Walking onion (Allium proliferum):
So onions are great. But usually you have to dig them up out of the ground to harvest them, which can be a fair amount of effort, and then you have to replant them the next year from seed, which usually means buying seed, which costs money. But what if you had an onion that behaved more like garlic? Where you break apart your 1 head of garlic and plant, lets say 5 cloves from that head, and then the next year you get 5 heads of garlic. Welcome to the walking onion. This onion does just that; it creates new onions in a cluster around itself, growing every year if you leave them, or allowing you to dig them up, harvest some, and split apart the others and replant them to get more clusters of onions! Amazing!
But, that is really just the beginning of the wonders of this onion. What I described is one way to harvest onions from this plant. But there is a second way that doesn’t even require any digging at all! These onions have a top set that are like mini onions or shallots. These topsets will begin to form in spring and can be harvested pretty much at any point from when they are small and probably pretty mild to when they reach maturity in late summer. If you get them at the right time I hear you don’t even have to peel them! The topsets are smaller then your typical onion, ranging from 1/4″ to about an 1″ but I at least am excited to try substituting them into my cooking where I woulf normally used a regular onion. When the top sets get heavy enough they will cause the stalk to bend over to the ground and if conditions are right they will root, forming another root cluster, hence the name walking onions!
I am excited to see the single walking onion I took home hopefully multiply into many for years to come.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum):
A wonderfully smelling herb, anise hyssop is great to make tea out of or to sprinkle into salads or put on top of deserts. Medicinally, it is often used to soothe respiratory ailments such as a cough and as a digestive aid. It is in the mint family and so can be used in many of the same ways you would use mint. It also has wonderful purple flowers that the bees love!
This sorrel is another delicious perennial that is super easy to grow. I have a red veined sorrel variety planted the garden at my parents which I love, especially when the leaves are young. I anticipate that this common sorrel will be a little more tender and perhaps less strong in taste, if also a little less striking in appearance. It has a tart leaves that are great sprinkled in salads and a quick google search brings up some yummy sounding sorrel soup recipes. I am excited to try that when I have enough of it!
June bearing Strawberry:
This nice mystery cultivar that bears fruit in June (hence the name) seems to be quite vigorous and have great flavor, according to Sean. Sean found these in Ithaca and rescued them after someone carelessly mowed right over them and they have been thriving in his garden ever since. I planted a whole bunch in a little contained stone terrace outside my home here and am excited to have a vigorous strawberry patch to nibble from in just a few months!
Stropharia rugosoannulata (wine cap mushroom)
So, the last thing I got from Sean is not actually a plant. It was some mushroom inoculated cardboard. And as some of you know I have a soft spot for mushrooms. This one is what we call the wine cap mushroom- a mushroom I have never tasted and certainly never cultivated before, so I am super excited to see if I can!
Apparently the stropharia, wine cap mushroom, is an excellent companion in the garden as it likes complex environments and will not effect the plants in any negative way. In fact, it will help enrich the soil, speeding the composting process and helping break down any woody matter. It also feeds off of bacteria that may otherwise become undesirable runoff or contaminants, so some people have successfully used this mushroom as a bio filter to reduce numbers of such things as fecal coliform from cow manure runoff. Plus it is considered a choice edible by many!
Sean has a great video on his youtube channel showing how to take a little bit of incoulum and grow it into a lot. He also has a video showing how he has really scaled up his stropharium production and now includes this inoculum in his potting mix! So if you buy some plants from him you might just get luck and end up with a few wine caps popping up as well. I followed his video and took the maybe 4″x8″ piece of cardboard he gave me covered with white mycelium and sprinkled it through a large pot in which I layered cardboard, compost, some wood chips and straw. Hopefully in less than a month that garden pot will be full of mycelium and then I can make an even bigger batch and also try putting some directly into my garden so I can get flushes of wine caps around my sea kale and walking onions!
So there is some of what I learned from a day out at Edible Acres in Trumansberg, NY!