Potato Bean (Apios americana): has brown tubers that gradually desiccate in open storage, making them slow to sprout – so store in pots of compost, unwatered, until about April; or leave buried in the ground. (Clean ones also seem to store well in plastic bags in the fridge, but check for the occasional mouldy one.) Then pot up, insert a small cane (avoiding the tuber) and provide water and warmth. Plant out after danger of frost and grow alongside your runner beans. They shoots are liable to slug damage while young. Water in dry spells - in the US, they're a pest in Blueberry fields, that's how much they appreciate moisture! And the tubers get lost in the blueberry roots. Which means it's a good idea to plant in a dug veg bed, well away from perennials, shrubs, paving and lawn. Harvest the strings of tubers (one stretch of root can have many tubers along it, like beads) in winter. Boiled, they taste like baked potatoes: they're more concentrated than spuds, with lots of protein. They were once considered as an alternative to potatoes during the Irish famine. If you hang on to the 'mummy' tuber - it gets bigger year after year, producing a stronger plant each time - but suffers rot in parts. Here's a picture of a real oldie weighing about 850g.
That was taken early 2009: the following winter it had rotted to virtually nowt. And big tubers have a habit of feeding themselves rather than spawning many new tubers - so use them up, and plant the new ones. Old tubers are edible (before they rot!). There's an interesting article in Orion Magazine, from the US, and useful information on the PFAF website.
Achoccha (Cyclanthera pedata): black seeds looking like witch’s teeth. Sow in spring, as other members of the squash family, and plant out in rich soil after danger of frost. Water if necessary. It can monopolise a bean pyramid. Climbs by tendrils, so appreciates twigs rather than canes. Crop the fruits for salad when no longer than 2” (5cm) - preferably at 1½", otherwise they get ‘chewy’. Don’t worry if you miss any – they’ll form seed for next year, and on a vigorous plant don’t appear to hinder the formation of further fruits.
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata): long thin seeds that grow into a perennial, aniseed-smelling, herb. Sow the seeds when they happen in autumn - they need frost treatment. Use the leaves or scrubbed roots in cooking; the young seeds are good raw.
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum): black seeds in ‘foetal’ shape, with peppery smell. Sow the seeds when they happen in autumn, or perhaps spring, where they are to grow. Use the leaves or young shoots in cooking – parsley-like flavour, or the peppery seeds (I've got some in a peppermill!). The flower buds and young umbels are tasty raw, and the young flower shoots, well before there's any sign of buds, make a tasty dessert briefly fried and coated in icing sugar. (In the picture, that's flowering quince in the background). A big asset is that the leaves survive the winter well, just wilting when frosted then picking up as they thaw, so they're available throughout the winter. It's also good looking and the flowers, in May and June, are fragrant! In flower, it's about 4' high. Naturalisable, but keep away from ground elder - they have similar leaves (but thankfully different habits).
Quince (flowering) - Chaenomeles japonica, C. speciosa. A common garden flowering bush. The smaller fruits of the former smell distinctly marmalady in autumn and are brilliant flavouring; but they have a short shelf life. The larger fruits of C. speciosa are make it easier to cut the flesh off the core, and they last longer. They're a great lemon substitute (though too firm for squeezing). I use them in apple sauce, curries, and in flapjack. Such flapjack is lifted by a small sprig of rosemary. Both reach 6' or so, C. japonica slowly suckering.
Poppy - Papaver somniferum. Beautiful flowers, forget the resin - when the seed capsules start to open their vents at the top, it's time to gather them. The seeds are not narcotic, although I've heard your urine can test positive after eating them! Let the seed heads dry out fully, put them into a jar and SHAKE! Pour the contents through a kitchen sieve - it should let the seeds through without the gubbins. Bread-making time! As for growing it - just scatter and let it do it's weedy thing. For more on edible seeds and flower heads (fennel, lavender, coriander, dill, lovage, and New Zealand flax) see Alys Fowler's column in the Guardian, 23/7/11.)
Wild Chamomile. There are a few chamomiles - here we're talking of Matricaria recutita, a fragrant annual weed with daisy-like flowers. For a delicious cup of herb tea, put perhaps 3 flowers (depending on taste) in a cup with boiling water. You can also dry them, on an open tray indoors, perhaps (but not necessarily) on top of the boiler, for storage in jars and later use. I've known of caterpillars amongst the stored flowers, so check. Pineapple Weed is related, and can be used similarly; flavour like pineapple. I don't keep seeds.
Jerusalem Artichoke - Helianthus tuberosus. I don't offer this - too expensive to post, and you can get them easily enough from veg shops and gardening mates. (For some reason they're always pleased to pass some on!) Plant in winter or spring, leave to grow (young shoots may need protection from slugs) and harvest the tubers as required in winter. If you're planning planting something else there, be ready to grub up any artichokes you left in: I've not yet succeeded in getting them all out - crop rotation with these is futile! You can plant for next season simultaneously. Tubers deteriorate, losing water, in storage. Plenty of recipes for cooking; my favourite is just to scrub and eat raw!
Butternut Squash - Cucurbita moschata. I get my seeds from bought fruit, or if I'm lucky, plants I've grown from same. It appears they may not hybridise with other cucurbits (unlike a vegetable spaghetti I kept from year to year, gradually getting more marrow-like.) Start in spring indoors, as any cucurbit, and plant out in fertile soil. May need watering in dry weather. Allow to trail, or they can be encouraged to grow up strong canes. Cut ripe fruits off through the stalk. Young late fruits are delicious raw. I have spare seeds originating from bought butternuts.
Winter Radish - sow summer, reap in winter. One we dug up weighed 2lb (pic). While slugs were devastating our little salad radish, these were untouched. Probably because they're hot! One thin slice needs plenty of other salad on your plate! And if they go to seed, do as the Chinese would - harvest the flower stalks. Very young, they'll do for salad (pretty flowers), they're also great in stir fries, etc. A bit further gone, and you can eat the young pods. After that, you're harvesting the seeds. I've seen radish seedlings for sale in our local supermarket, and have tried growing these seeds on a windowsill - they don't believe in synchronisation! (Maybe there's a technique.) Take the ripe, dry pods and give a bit more drying indoors, then rub briskly between your hands to release the seeds (leather gloves may be helpful), dropping everything into a dry washing-up bowl. Take it outside, tilt and shake everything to the bottom, and blow the chaff off the seeds, which being heavy and round, will keep to the bottom. Remove the chaff as it gathers at the top, and repeat. Then shake the chaff out of your hair! We inherited this variety, it's probably Munchen Bier, or Münchner Bier.
Tomatillo. This you grow like a pepper, and it's tough enough to survive outside in summer. Like a pepper, it branches each time it flowers. The flowers are attractive yellow things, held face down beneath the branches attracting bees. But pollination is very occasional, so I've been using a paint brush - you have to do this before late afternoon, otherwise the flowers close. The pollen is fine, and seems to be released explosively onto the brush by all too few flowers. When you succeed, you get a golfball sized fruit (ours is green) within a husk. The fruits have sticky waxy coatings that enable them to stay good for months indoors.
Mesembryanthemum. The Livingstone Daisy of flower borders, whose bright blossoms enlighten sunny days. The leaves are good in salad - crunchy and very mild, certainly in autumn. Mine are growing in a hanging basket, away from slug interference, and with a hippo (thing you use to reduce the amount of water flushed by a toilet cistern: it contains a water-absorbent gel) buried in the compost. No seeds available.
Epiphyllum. Let the berries develop on your Epiphyllum/Orchid Cactus: the taste, when they eventually ripen, is out of this world! (Cuttings available, random varieties)
Sweet Potato. I tried again! This time, under a cloche, we manage to get something thicker than a pencil. Variety is from New Zealand via our local shops, called Kumara (a Maori name for Sweet Potato!) I'm not bothering in 2009. 2013: I'm trying a bought plant in the greenhouse.
Dahlia. I've a hunch this is edible; I've always been tempted by those fat roots! Said to be bitter though. Petals are said to be OK in salads. No seeds.
Hazel. I love this - it's definately got permaculture's requirement of at least 3 purposes. In February, out come the catkins: the plant is covered in yellow lamb's tails, telling you spring is on it's way. Take a branch indoors and put in a vase of water: a week later, with no wind blowing it, the catkins will be loaded with pollen, so a flick will produce a cloud of it. In autumn, there's the nut crop. Finally, there's a need to trim it, removing long, straight, useful canes. That's 3: if you're up to the trouble of extracting them and enjoy the taste, you might try planting one inoculated with truffle spores.
Juneberry - small suckering tree, very pretty with its white spring flowers. These are followed by berries, the size of small currants, that are ripe when they turn a dark, bluey red and pull off easily in your hand. They're well spaced apart, and ripen sequentially, so although tasty, they're inconvenient to pick. And blackbirds love them. So enjoy the flowers, and let the fruit distract the birds from your strawberries!
Ribes odoratum, Buffalo Currant. This shrub has long, weak shoots; by good fortune mine's planted beneath a Rowan, whose lower branches support it. It's blessed with gorgeous yellow flowers in spring, with a delicious perfume. These are followed by small black currants, tasting rather like blackcurrants. You'll know they're ripe from the attentions of blackbirds. You can pick whole bunches as long as some are ripe, but you may prefer to pick your other fruits and leave these for the birds.
Potato. It's not hard to grow these from seeds, though the results are unpredicatable - but you retain fewer pests and diseases that if you save your own tubers. Collect ripe berries fallen from favoured plants, and split out the seeds - you can spread these on paper, or use the technique used for tomatoes if you prefer. I sowed mine, collected from Sarpo Mira berries, in early spring indoors, transplanted and planted out. Gathering in the first crop, I found a mixture of sizes, shapes and colours, despite them all coming from the same mother. I replanted, and grew for their second season, getting a reasonable crop. So a mixture of characteristics, including blight resistance - one seedling was particularly promising. I've noticed that I only get berries on my Sarpo Mira on the allotment, where it can be pollinated by other spuds: there are no berries on the plants in my garden, where there are no other varieties.
Sowthistle. This scrappy annual weed is actually tasty! You want the Smooth Sowthistle, not the Prickly Sowthistle: taste is the same, but latter is a tad rougher on the palate! Take the young shoots and add to salad; they've got a slightly bitter taste like chicory or lettuce stem. I don't bother saving seed, I just let the odd seed head do its thing. So simple to grow, just pull out the seedlings that are in the way; and it's not bothered by slugs! This one has been growing overwinter in my greenhouse, absolutely loving it, and this branch is about to be cropped before those flowers go over. But the plant will have to make way... I need the space.
Evening Primrose. I have Oenothera biennis: bright, yellow, lemon-scented flowers that open in the evening and fade the following day. I always let it seed, and often see goldfinches sitting on the dead flower heads in winter, picking at the seeds for minutes on end. Of course, this means they come up like weeds on disturbed ground, and need extracting to allow other crops space. We cook them, in stir fries and with other green veg - just trim off the dead and dying leaves, and the fine roots to leave yourself with the main red+white tap root, and wash.
Hyacinth Bean. Too early to say its worth - starting with just 4 seeds and not a vast crop coming, there's no room for tasters until frosts loom. It seems to appreciate warm conditions. Very pretty, slightly scented flowers against dark foliage in this strain, and wacky pods - look! Crop from 2009: 5 seeds! I tried starting them earlier... except none came up. And their allegedly perennial roots got frosted. 2011: have bought a packet of beans from a Chinese food wholesaler, so lots to play with! Unfortunately these are possibly a short day variety; I never saw any flower buds.
Land Cress. Another plant that will happily seed itself, so you can forget about packets of seed and sowing rows. It's a relative of water cress, but tastes stronger (especially the flower heads) and doesn't need running water - ordinary soil is fine. It seems to come up any time of year, but those that start in the latter half don't seem to run to seed so readily. It will then provide winter salad greens in all but the worst weather - providing (as on our plot) pheasants aren't pecking it! For best results, protect the winter crop from the worst of the cold weather, and keep the summer crop watered. Grow about 9" apart.
Bistort. This perennial forms an expanding patch, with dock-like (but clearly not dock) leaves in spring, later topped with waving wands of pink flower spikes. No great taste in the leaves, but they're OK cooked and were once a vitamin C staple before vitamin C was heard of. I think mine's a cultivated variety of Polygonum bistorta, with slightly thicker flower spikes. Popular with bees, and does produce seeds, which come up in favourable spots.
Meadowsweet. I grow this by my pond, to take advantage of the overflow and allow me, during dry spells, to splash some water via it into the pond. It forms a slowly expanding patch. In summer it forms its gloriously scented fluffy white flowers; a small portion of which (I use a lump about an inch across) make an aromatic cuppa using just boiling water. Alone, it's not producing any seeds. If it gets dry, it suffers mildew, which can spoil the flowers.
Mashua (tuberous nasturtium). This is mainly grown for its edible tubers, which are said to require an acquired taste: as this is my first season with them, it's too early to report. After beating off many attempts at colonisation by blackfly and cabbage whites, my two plants, grown in pots so that I could extend their season into frosty times, produced these elegant little flowers. The taste of the flowers knocks spots off garden nasturtium: that spur at the back is chock full of nectar! That's followed by a gentle peppery kick! I've lost this, so many slug problems last year it never got going, and perhaps the competition from the oca in the same container was too much.
Ramsons, the wild British woodland plant, is brilliant to have growing handy in the garden. One leaf adds a garlicky bite to a cheese butty, and I know someone who makes an ace pesto with a bagful of leaves. I also like to use the flower and seed heads while I can see them - saves them seeding around. The bulbs are especially pungent! Leaves and flowers only available in spring and early summer.
Cherry Plum or Mirabelle. Forms a suckerless (I've not seen any) tree, covered in white blossom in early spring, and followed in August (July this year, 2011) by cherry-size, plum flavoured fruits with a flattened stone. The fruits come in various colours from yellow through to deep red - my tree has yellow fruit.
Balm of Gilead, Cedronella canariensis
Beautifully aromatic foliage. A not reliaby hardy small perennial bush member of the mint/sage/thyme family, best therefore grown in a pot. Fantastic for herbal tea.
Aromatic, almost minty leaves; great for summer flowerbeds too, the spikes of blue flowers attracting bees. Start off indoors in pots, just covering the seeds, which may take 1-3 months to germinate. Also easy from cuttings. Possibly hardy, but easy to save seed and restart. Great for herbal tea.
Cape Gooseberry, Physalis peruviana
This is grown from seeds from bought fruit. It's grown as you would tomatoes, being half-hardy, but from experience they don't mature early enough for a bountiful crop. They are, however, perennial (but short-lived), so I've saved the rootstock in a greenhouse under mulch and got a much better crop in the second year. It's resistant to potato blight, so can be grown outside (and I think it prefers being outside). It's bushy and self-supporting. This past winter has seen the end of my 2- and 3- year old plants, leaving my one younger plant. Time to sow more!
Pepino, Solanum muricatumAnother plant grown from seeds from bought fruit. This tomato relative is said to be blight susceptible, so I've grown it in the greenhouse. 2013 was my first year with it; I got one fruit maturing on my one seed-grown plant, and had hoped that it'd mature before the frost! Again, this is a perennial, so I'll be protecting the rootstock; it also roots easily, so I'm taking cuttings. I'm hoping this will produce flowers earlier next year, and give a reasonable crop. It forms an upright bush, and hasn't needed any support. The flowers apparently need night temperatures above 18C to set. Any whiff of frost or low temperature is not appreciated, and warmth appears to be needed by cuttings.
Vietnamese Coriander, Persicaria odorata
An unexciting plant resembling the weed persicaria, but more upright, with a coriander scent and a slightly peppery taste. It never flowers (or I've not seen any), but cuttings root very easily in water. Add leaves at the end of cooking.
A British native evergreen herb (though my seed's originally from elsewhere) of the coast. So far, I've only grown mine in pots in the greenhouse; they'll mature and flower in 3" pots, but form lusher plants in bigger pots. The leaves have a delicate taste, the young ones without the fibre known of inland (ribwort and ratstail) plantains.
A herbaceous pond plant producing tasty tubers. I've grown the native Sagittaria sagitifolia - it produced small tubers. The non-native Sagittaria latifolia, which I now grow, has tubers the size of door knobs, that you can spot floating in the water when the mating frogs start disturbing them, so you can harvest them. They'll also grow in a bucket of water (I don't allow these to freeze). The leaf stalks are feeble, so need shelter, but the plant needs light too. I cook the tubers - they have a starchy texture like potatoes, but a flavour of asparagus.
For more information on these plants (and many others), see the Plants for a Future website, http://www.pfaf.org/