Physalis pruinosa a.k.a. “Ground Cherry”

While strolling the nursery seed isle this weekend looking for things to plant for our summer food needs, Homegrown Revolution came across a strange fruit we’ve never heard of, Physalis pruinosa, a.ka. ground cherry, a.k.a. husk tomato. a.k.a. strawberry tomato. Homegrown Revolution hates to throw around scientific names for plants but in this case we have to because the common names get so confusing. The back of the Tompson & Morgan seed package mis-labels this plant as the “Cape Gooseberry” (“Cape Gooseberry” is actually the very similar Physalis peruviana).

Physalis pruinosa is part of a genus Physalis of the nightshade or Solanaceae family, which includes edible plants such as tomatoes and potatoes, and psychotropic plants such as datura and tobacco. Many plants of the nightshade family combine edibility and toxicity–Physalis pruinosa has edible fruit that tastes something like a cross between a pineapple and a tomato, with the rest of the plant being poisonous.

The Physalis genus, which includes Physalis pruinosa, is somewhat of a neglected backwater of the nightshade family with a number of very similar plants that produce sweet berries including the aforementioned Physalis peruviana or Cape Gooseberry, Physalis heterophylla, also known by the unappetizing name “Clammy Ground Cherry”, Physalis philadelphica, the Purple Ground Cherry, Physalis pubescens also known as the Ground Cherry and Husk Tomato, Physalis viscosa, the Sticky Ground Cherry and the much more common (at least in our neighborhood) Physalis ixocarpa or Tomatillo. To add to the confusion several hybrids exist of these plants. Clammy ground cherry pie anyone?

As for the fruit of Physalis pruinosa itself, it does not ship well, hence you’ll never find it in American supermarkets, which only seem to carry things that have been shipped for thousands of miles and are therefore both durable and, inevitably, tasteless. Cultivating strange things like this is one of the best arguments for growing your own food–access to flavorful and exotic fruits and vegetables.

The very similar Cape Gooseberry (Physalis perviana) is commercially cultivated in many places in the world but is not considered an important crop. It is most commonly used in jams and pies. According to the Horticulture department of Purdue University,

In England, the cape gooseberry was first reported in 1774. Since that time, it has been grown there in a small way in home gardens, and after World War II was canned commercially to a limited extent. Despite this background, early in 1952, the Stanford Nursery, of Sussex, announced the “Cape Gooseberry, the wonderful new fruit, especially developed in Britain by Richard I. Cahn.” Concurrently, jars of cape goosebery jam from England appeared in South Florida markets and the product was found to be attractive and delicious. It is surprising that this useful little fruit has received so little attention in the United States in view of its having been reported on with enthusiasm by the late Dr. David Fairchild in his well-loved book, The World Was My Garden. He there tells of its fruiting “enormously” in the garden of his home, “In The Woods”, in Maryland, and of the cook’s putting up over a hundred jars of what he called “Inca Conserve” which “met with universal favor.”

Our package of Physalis pruinosa was priced at a staggering $3.99–a lot considering the package only contained 12 seeds. You can be certain that we’ll be doing some seed saving on this one if we get a successful crop! The googling required to sort out the many common names of Physalis pruinosa revealed an intriguing source of seeds, Trade Winds Fruit, located in Chula Vista. Trade Winds carries a number of nightshade family plants including four from the Physalis genus and even something called Solanum uporo or Cannibal’s Tomato, so called because it’s well suited for making a sauce compatible with human flesh.

We’ll forgo the cannibal recipes, at least for now . . .

Cooking with Poo

Homegrown Revolution Toronto correspondent Nicholas Sammond wrote us this morning asking if it would be possible to generate enough methane in his new abode via a composting toilet to cook with. It’s a great question since once abundant natural gas is getting scarce and expensive here in North America, and the desperation has gotten to the point that large and dangerous liquefied natural gas terminals are in the proposal stage across the continent.

Unfortunately, as individuals we produce just enough methane gas each day to barely heat a cup of tea. If you own pigs, it’s a different matter. Francisco X. Aguilar of the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester has come up with a simple way for folks with a few pigs to generate methane with little more than a big plastic bag. Each day you add one bucket of excrement and five buckets of water. In return you get “biogas” and usable compost.

Some clever artistes have turned biogas into art. A Danish collective who call themselves Superflex have created a biogas system involving an bright orange ball to collect biogas and claim that just two cows will generate enough gas for 8 to 10 people.

SurviveLA is working acquiring a herd of water buffalo for Silver Lake. Next step will be to tear up the asphalt parking lot of the RiteAid for pasture. A plastic bag, some pvc pipes, and we’re in business.

Fallen Fruit

Homegrown Revolution tagged along on a neighborhood tour with the beige jump-suit clad fruit foraging collective known as Fallen Fruit. Our capable guides, David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young, led a group of well over fifty folks through a hilly part of Silver Lake just above the 99 cent store in search of street grown loquats, (in great abundance right now) kumquats, oranges, lemons, bananas, carob trees and more. We all ended up back at LA’s non-profit du jour, Machine Project for banjo music and samples of the evening’s harvest.

At times our tour group, resembled a sort of pedestrian critical mass as startled motorists gawked at the sight of people actually walking in LA. Along the way Fallen Fruit eloquently stated the case for public edible plantings and a plea for a neighborhood dynamic based on sharing a street-grown harvest. Like the folks behind Rebar, who turn parking spaces into temporary parks, Fallen Fruit’s mission ultimately is to get us to profoundly reconsider our neglected and underutilized public spaces. And these citrus revolutionaries have issued a manifesto:

A SPECTER is haunting our cities: barren landscapes with foliage and flowers, but nothing to eat. Fruit can grow almost anywhere, and can be harvested by everyone. Our cities are planted with frivolous and ugly landscaping, sad shrubs and neglected trees, whereas they should burst with ripe produce. Great sums of money are spent on young trees, water and maintenance. While these trees are beautiful, they could be healthy, fruitful and beautiful.

WE ASK all of you to petition your cities and towns to support community gardens and only plant fruit-bearing trees in public parks. Let our streets be lined with apples and pears! Demand that all parking lots be landscaped with fruit trees which provide shade, clean the air and feed the people.

FALLEN FRUIT is a mapping and manifesto for all the free fruit we can find. Every day there is food somewhere going to waste. We encourage you to find it, tend and harvest it. If you own property, plant food on your perimeter. Share with the world and the world will share with you. Barter, don’t buy! Give things away! You have nothing to lose but your hunger

They also have a set of handy maps of publicly accessible fruit in a couple of neighborhoods and a video for those who missed the fun last night. Rumor has it they will be doing a jam making session sometime this summer and SurviveLA will be there.

Now we just need another collective of clever revolutionaries to deal with LA’s other great street resource–abandoned mattresses and couches.

Artichoke Season at the Homegrown Revolution Compound


You can’t ask for a more perfect plant than the Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) which is also one of the most ideal plants for our climate here in coastal California. Let’s count the other reasons:

  • They are perennial, producing and abundant crop starting with the second year.
  • Artichokes are attractive, making an ideal choice for edible landscaping.
  • They spread like crazy.
  • Suckers can be transplanted elsewhere.
  • They’re damn tasty either steamed, combined with pasta or made into an omelet.

They do best in foggy coastal places but will also grow in the warmer interior where the Homegrown Revolution compound resides. In cooler locales they will thrive all year round. In warmer places they die back in the summer but return like crazy in the early spring. We just cut them to the ground when the leaves die off. It’s a huge plant so make sure you give them plenty of room–at least a six foot diameter circle, preferably more, for each plant.

The only drawback is that aphids love them, so they require constant spraying down with a hose to blow off the damn things, not to mention thorough cleaning in the kitchen. Our love of artichokes means that we’ve gotten used to eating the occasional aphid.

They may even have medicinal uses according the the Plants for a Future Database (which only gives them a measly 3 out of 5 score for usefulness!),

The globe artichoke has become important as a medicinal herb in recent years following the discovery of cynarin. This bitter-tasting compound, which is found in the leaves, improves liver and gall bladder function, stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, especially bile, and lowers blood cholesterol levels.

The artichoke is also the primary ingredient in Cynar, a aperitif distributed by the Campari group. No doubt, Cynar may become the primary libation around the Homegrown Revolution compound this summer . . .

Loquat Season

For some mysterious reason our corner of Los Angeles has an abundance of loquat trees (Eriobotrya japonica) that, at this time of year, produce prodigious amounts of fruit that mostly goes to waste. Many of these trees live in public spaces, the parkway and people’s front yards making them prime candidates for urban foraging i.e. free food.

The tree itself has a vaguely tropical appearance with waxy leaves that look like the sort of plastic foliage that used to grace dentist office lobbies back in the 1960s. In short it’s a real tree that looks fake with fruit that nobody seems to care about.

The loquat tree invites considerable derision from east coast types. Blogmeister, extreme cyclist, and fellow stair climber Will Campbell came to the defense of the under-appreciated loquat in one of his missives a few years back. And up-and-coming rock musical performance artists My Barbarian give the loquat an amusing cameo appearance in their video Pagan Rights, Part IV.

We’ve noticed that the street loquats we’ve sampled vary widely in quality, due perhaps to genetics or simply the amount of water they get. Apparently most loquat trees are sold as seedlings, but if you’re planning on planting one of these things it’s best to get one that has been grafted specifically to produce quality fruit. Much like an apricot tree, the loquat tree will produce larger and better quality fruit if you cull some of the future harvest early in the season.

So while the geeks at boingboing link to the latest Second Life phenomenon, Homegrown Revolution is proud to present a more useful set of loquat linkages:

General loquat info

Loquat jellies and jams

Loquat wine

Loquat chutney

How to Stake Tomatoes

Our tomato staking method around the Homegrown Evolution compound is simple and lazy. We plant our tomatoes and then surround them with rolled up concrete reinforcing wire. Normally used to reinforce concrete slabs, reinforcing wire comes in 3 1/2′ by 7′ sections. We use a circular saw with a metal blade on it to cut off the bottom rung, so as to leave spiky wires with which to stick the reinforcing wire tubes into the ground, but this is not absolutely necessary.

Once in place that’s it. According to So Cal gardening guru Pat Welsh, tomatoes surrounded by a reinforcing wire staking system need not be pruned nor will they need any additional staking.

Over time the reinforcing wire rusts lending the garden a certain deconstructed vibe.

A garden that looks like a meth amphetamine lab

This year around the Homegrown Revolution compound we’ve finally thrown off the tyranny of the beautiful. There’s simply too much of what we call “garden porn” out there. Coffee table garden books, Martha Stewart and 24 hours of bullshit home improvement shows set up expectations that drive us all to useless spending at nurseries and home improvement stores all in pursuit of unattainable ideals, at least unattainable for anyone not employing slave labor. Forget about creating a mini Versailles–it’s time to get down to business and grow stuff you can eat. Our new criteria for success in gardens is this–a garden must simultaneously provide food for our table and habitat for beneficial wildlife, and it must take care of itself with a minimum amount of human intervention.

We also need to start growing food everywhere we can. There’s an ugly concrete patio just off our back door. We could have spent much money and effort to jackhammer it and replace it with a yuppie entertaining deck but instead we’re growing food on it. We built some self-watering containers (for instructions on how to do this see our earlier post) and we’re growing collard greens, tomatoes and southern highbush blueberries, so far with great success. It looks like a meth amphetamine lab. But since it provides tasty fresh food, who give a damn?

Silver Lake Farms

This week Homegrown Revolution visited Tara Kolla the founder of Silver Lake Farms. Kolla runs a ambitious and beautiful flower farm on a medium sized lot right in the heart of Los Angeles. She specializes in freshly cut sweet peas, but also grows anemones and ranunculus and sells them at the Echo Park, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and Los Angeles Arts District farmer’s markets. Kolla believes in the power of the local, and only sells at farmers markets within a five mile radius of her unique urban farm.

But best of all Kolla will be sharing her gardening knowledge with a new class she will be offering:

“Organic Gardening: Introduction” takes place at Silver Lake Farms on Sunday, March 18 from 1pm-3pm. There are 12 spaces available for this class so register now at http://www.silverlakefarms.com or call (323)644-3700.

Also, as a reminder–permaculture expert David Khan will be offering his regular introduction to permaculture this Saturday March 3rd. After the lecture Mark McAfee President, of Organic Pastures, LLC. will present a talk entitled “Got Real Milk?”. Lunch will be available but you must RSVP. See www.sustainablehabitats.org for more information.

Purple Sicilian Cauliflower


The Homegrown Revolution compound’s purple Sicilian cauliflower (Cavolfiore di Sicilia Violetto from Seeds from Italy) from our illegal parkway garden is now ready for the table after four months since planting from seed. Cauliflower needs some attention; it needs to be kept moist and it’s prone to aphids, but the little buggers can be blasted off with a hose fairly easily. While the plant takes up a lot of room and doesn’t yield a lot per square foot, what most folks don’t seem to know is that the leaves of cauliflower and broccoli plants are edible as well, although best when small.

Ultimately if you’ve got the space cauliflower is worth the effort, especially this particular variety, since when it gets down to it, the Man’s cauliflower at the supermarket just does not compare to the rich flavor of our home grown version. And if flavor isn’t enough to convince you to grow your own, cauliflower is one of those plants that demonstrates the groovy world of fractal geometry, where the smallest parts of the plants maintain the geometry of the whole. Take a look at the even more fractal broccoli cauliflower mashup, chou Romanesco.