The Sami Way

What’s more impressive? That humans figured out how to live in the arctic or that we figured out how to collateralize debt obligations? As we deal with the consequences of the latter it’s nice to reflect on those thousands of years spent herding reindeer. It’s also comforting to know that there’s still some folks left who know how to take care of reindeer even if they now use snowmobiles.

Homegrown Evolution had the privilege of meeting Nils Anders Kuhmunen today, along with a bunch of art students, in an arctic village in northern Sweden. Kuhmunen is a Sami, an indigenous people populating the northernmost parts of Scandinavia and part of Russia. The Sami tended reindeer for thousands of years. The pictures of our visit speak for themselves (though you won’t be able to taste the delicious reindeer meat Kuhmunen served).


A wooden form of the traditional circular Sami hut.


Kuhmunen speaking eloquently about what can only be called arctic permaculture, life in touch with the cycles of life and the importance of context specific design.


And speaking of context, the smoke of the fire rising up through a hole in the roof. The dirt floor is insulated with a layer of burnt twigs, followed by moose skins and a top layer of reindeer fur. It works. It was bitter cold outside and toasty in the hut.

Kuhmunen and grandchild feeding the reindeer some lichen.

Not only does Nils Anders Kuhmunen herd reindeer, he also has a website.

Loquat or Noquat?

We get questions. As generalists and writers, not experts, we do our best to answer them. We’ll throw this one out to the readers. Charles Chiu writes to ask if the tree above is a loquat. My vote is no. It doesn’t quite look like the loquat tree, from our neighborhood, pictured below.

Opinions? If not a loquat what is this tree?

Karp’s Sweet Quince


Our good friends Nance Klehm and neighborhood fruit guru Lora Hall both had the same suggestion for our small, steeply banked and awkward front yard: plant lots of fruit trees and keep them pruned. Thus began our mini-orchard, delayed for many years by messy foundation work. One of the newest additions to the mini orchard is a bare root tree we ordered from the Raintree Nursery, Karp’s Sweet quince. As you can see from the photo above it’s just started to leaf out.

Quince (Cydonia oblonga), a tree native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, has rich, symbolic meanings to cultures in these parts of the world. Biblical and classical references translated in English as “apples”, in most cases, most likely refer to quince (it was probably a quince and not an apple or Cheeto that Adam tempted Eve Eve tempted Adam with).

Most quince must be cooked to render it edible with way too many recipes to mention in a short blog post, everything from jams to Spanish tapas dishes. Having to cook the fruit and the tree’s susceptibility to fire blight disease means that it has fallen out of favor in the US. There are a few varieties that can be eaten raw including Karp’s quince, which the USDA’s Germplasm Resources Information Network describes:

“Grown in the Majes Valley in the province of Arequipa in southern Peru. C. T. Kennedy of the California Rare Fruit Growers received this from David Karp of Venice, California, who says it is called ‘Apple Quince’ in Peru. It is juicy and non-astringent and can be eaten fresh. Karp obtained scions from Edgar Valdivia who grows this quince in Simi Valley California, and whose relatives had brought the cultivar from Peru. The Valle de Majes is a fertile valley between 200 and 800 meter above sea level with a warm climate year round.”

Quince trees can be grown in many different climates, but the “edible when raw” varieties tend to do better in warm places such as here in Los Angeles. What little information I could dig up on the internet about Karp’s quince (also known as Valdivia quince) concerned some controversy about just how edible the fruit is when raw. Mr. Karp, if you’re out there please get in touch with me, I’d love to hear more about the story of this variety! And readers, if you’re quince aficionados, please leave some comments.

Perennial Vegetables

For lazy gardeners such as ourselves nothing beats perennial vegetables. Plant ‘em once and you’ve got food for years. For novice gardeners, perennials are plants that, unlike say broccoli (an “annual”), don’t need to be replanted every spring. The best known perennial vegetable in the west is probably asparagus which, given the right conditions, will produce fresh stalks for years. But there are many thousands more perennials little known to North American gardeners that are a lot easier to grow than fussy asparagus.

Unfortunately, there used to be a lack of information about edible perennials until the publication of Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book, Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles. We’ve got a few of the species Toensmeier mentions: artichoke, prickly pear cactus, stinging nettles, crosnes (more on those in another post) and goji berries. Edible Perennials contains growing information for each species offering something for every climate in North America.

Up to now many of these plants were hard to find, but growing interest in edible perennials and the power of the internet has brought many of these species into our backyards. See the Mother Earth News Seed Search Engine on the right side of this page to hunt down some of the more rare items.

Now, time to fertilize those goji berries and ponder the controversial air potato.

We sometimes make mistakes . . .

Some time ago we printed the wrong email address for Franchi seed distributor Craig Ruggless. His correct email address is: [email protected]. Send him a note and he’ll send you a catalog. Check out Craig’s blog here or drop by his booth at the Sierra Madre farmer’s market on Wednesdays.

We’ve been using Franchi seeds for years and have been consistently impressed with the results.

Sky full of Paw Paws

Mrs. Homegrown Evolution is deeply concerned about Mr. Homegrown Evolution’s midlife obsession with rare fruit trees. The California Rare Fruit Grower’s Fruit Gardner Magazine is the new Hustler around here. And now our fruit tree internet video porn needs have been satisfied. This week, the always superb Sky Full of Bacon video podcast from Chicago’s Michael Gebert serves up a tour of Oriana Kruszewski’s orchard which contains Asian pears, paw paws and black walnuts trees. Kruszewski’s knowledge, enthusiasm and perseverance is inspiring.


Sky Full of Bacon 08: Pear Shaped World from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

A Purple Dragon Carrot


It’s purple, it’s fairly tasty and it came from Seeds of Change. [Please note, Homegrown Evolution Reader Jeremy comments: "Seeds of Change, those super-friendly people who are owned by the Mars Corporation, who tried to shut down the HDRA's Heritage Seed Library, and who registered am ancient Hopi "mandala" as their trade-mark? Enjoy." Thanks Jeremy, we'll be doing some research on this one.] According to the seed package it was bred by someone named John Navazio who I can find no information about on the internets. John clearly has more important things to do than updating a Facebook page.

My dragon carrots grew without a hitch in our “guerrilla” parkway garden. As you can see from the photo, the carrot has a deep purple color reminiscent of the domesticated carrot’s wild ancestors, which were probably tamed in what is now Afghanistan. Wikipedia identifies the purple hue of these carrots as anthocyanin a possible source of antioxidants and a common pigment in many red-hued fruits and vegetables.

Also note all that foliage. It’s edible. I tossed the carrot tops in with some couscous, olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a tasty dinner. The carrots themselves were served as a side dish mixed with a dressing made out of olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Native Plant Workshop

Vitus californica covering our ugly chain link fence

There’s a couple of common misconceptions amongst novice gardeners about native plants:

1. If you use native plants the whole garden has to be natives.
In fact, it’s great to mix natives with non-native plants. The natives bring in beneficial wildlife, are hardy and are efficient in terms of water use. Flexibility is key here–go ahead and mix natives with vegetables, fruit trees and other climate-appropriate plantings.

2. Natives aren’t edible.
Many natives yield edible and medicinal crops. In North America the best way to delve into this topic is to figure out the plants that Native Americans in your area used.

3. Southern California is a desert and native plants are desert plants.
Coastal Southern California has a Mediterranean climate not a desert climate and native plants adapted to this region do not look like desert plants. Coastal natives can be very lush and attractive.

Note: the workshop listed below has been postponed due to rain. See the Green Beacon Foundation website for more information.

In order to dispel these myths and offer practical advice, a new non-profit organization, the Green Beacon Foundation is hosting a native plant talk and demonstration conducted by Lisa Novick of the Theodore Payne Foundation. Theodore Payne is a great resource for finding native plants and seeds and, in Southern California, now is the time to get those natives in the ground. Here’s the 411 on the workshop:

“The Green Beacon Foundation (GBF) located in historic Elysian Heights serves as a community resource for the public to have tactile experiences of “going green,” through on-going workshops, lectures, and tours.

The Green Beacon Foundation is hosting Lisa Novick of the Theodore Payne Foundation who will present the lecture entitled, “Why Plant Natives?”on Saturday, February 7th. at 2pm. If you have always wanted to learn more about California Native plants and how to incorporate them into your garden, this is the event you’ve been waiting for!

Native plants not only save water, they save species. Learn about crucial native plant-animal relationships and gardening to attract birds, butterflies and hummingbirds.

With only 4% of our wild lands left, urban and suburban native plant gardens will be the “make or break” difference to the support and preservation of bio-diversity.

Lisa will show and tell you about several varieties of native plants as well as provide samples for sale.

Immediately after the lecture in the garden we will be conducting a tour of the house to show and tell you about green products and renovation processes that will help save money while caring for the earth.

Suggested donation for the lecture and the tour: $10 each

Please RSVP for address to Julie Solomon:

[email protected]

or call 323.717.9636″

Spreadin’ Seed

The past week was spent feverishly spreading genetic material around. No, we weren’t backstage with Metallica. We’re talking plants. Here’s a few ways we’ve been spinning the genetic biodiversity wheel in the past week:

Seed Swaps
Yesterday was International Seed Swap Day of Action, sponsored by Food not Lawns. We celebrated the day in Altadena with a bunch of local gardening enthusiasts and countless boxes of seeds. We got seeds for Armenian cucumbers, red ruffled pimento peppers, feverfew, echinacea and zucchini among others. In return we gave away okra, cosmos, and mystery seeds from my mom’s Greek neighbor. A seed swap makes a great excuse for a party and a great time was had by all.

The Neighbors
My mom’s elderly neighbor, who spends each summer in his native Greece, loves to garden and grows, among many other things, at least four different kinds of arugula, which he calls, “the Greek Viagra”. He gave us seeds for two different arugulas, some basil from the northern mountains of Greece and countless other untranslatable plants, and packed them up for us in blue medicine bottles. We’ve grown his vegetables before and, while we can’t vouch for the aphrodisiac qualities and don’t stoop to Viagra jokes, they taste really great.

Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit member supported organization that maintains a seed bank of over 25,000 varieties of vegetables. You can order seeds from them at www.seedsavers.org.

Catalogs
We’ve been obsessed with the Italian seed company Franchi for almost ten years now. Meeting the west coast distributor Craig Ruggless at the seed swap and seeing his display racks of seeds was the horticultural geek equivalent of bumping into a rock star. Craig’s got a blog here and, in addition to distributing seeds at local nurseries, he can be found at the Sierra Madre farmer’s market on Wednesdays. Craig also has a mail order operation–send an email to him at [email protected] and he’ll send you a catalog.

Lastly, if you aren’t already, consider collecting as many seeds as possible from your garden to save and share. Here’s some seed saving directions for common vegetables.

Italian Dandelion Redux

Italian Dandelion (Cichorium intybus)
It’s been a difficult winter growing season here in Los Angeles. Our unpredictable Mediterranean climate has thrown a few curve balls in the past few months courtesy of an ocean temperature phenomenon known as La Niña which has caused alternating periods of cool weather followed by 80º days and little rainfall. Our deciduous trees did not loose their leaves until after New Years, most of the winter vegetables we planted seem unhappy and to top it all off someone took all of the shallots and daikon radishes that were growing in our illegal sidewalk garden before they were ready to harvest.

All this leads me to muse about things that are really easy to grow and tough even in the strangest of weather. On this, the occasion of our 400th post, I had intended to discuss my favorite, indestructible vegetable, a leaf chicory popularly called Italian Dandelion (Cichorium intybus). Doing a Google search for it revealed, ironically, that I have already blogged an ode to Cichorium intybus. Let’s just say that despite the erratic weather, the Italian Dandelion soldiers on, providing nightly dinners of strong flavored greens (tasting delicious, incidentally, mixed with turnip greens). Horace, writing (blogging?) in a similar climatic region 2000 years ago writes “Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, me malvae” (“As for me, olives, chicory, and mallows provide sustenance”).

It’s a comfort in these uncertain times to observe such a hardy plant. While my cabbage and kale wither under the hot sun and an army of aphids, the Italian Dandelion seems immune to both pest and disease. And, nearby, volunteer mallow hints at a spring of easy foraging. Horace was on to something.

And to all who responded to my call for urban homesteaders: I’m overwhelmed by the response (and the emails!). You are all an incredible inspiration and, like my botanical friend Cichorium intybus, a sign of abundance in the midst of adversity.