Posts Tagged ‘Portugese kale’

Breeding Your Own Landrace

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A plant variety is carefully selected to be as uniform as possible, so that each plant you grow of that variety will resemble the others fairly closely, with allowances for growing conditions.A landrace is a different and more chaotic and vibrant thing. A landrace is expected to have a high degree of variability, with the idea that you can plant it in a variety of different conditions and at least some of the plants will grow under those conditions. One way to look at a landrace is that it’s the widely varied genetic material from which varieties can be selected. So why would you want a non uniform seed stock? Well, does your weather change from one growing season to the next? Some members of your landrace will take the changes in stride. If you move, your landrace will go with you, and you will get some plants that adapt well to your new location. Hardcore survivalist types want landraces that can adapt to the challenges of a post-catastrophe area. Those of us who think in terms of smaller catastrophes still want to know that in a bad or atypical growing year our garden food supply will come shining through, or at least some of it will.

Currently I am trying to create my own overwintering brassica landrace. Overwintering doesn’t sound like a big deal among the brassicas, because many of them will overwinter in very cold climates, but our desert climate is a little different. Our winters are very dry and windy, and we have no snow cover, and so many plants like kale that overwinter well under snow will desiccate to death in our conditions.

I started my project last year, by planting four different brassicas and leaving them in place over winter to see which ones survived. I chose to start with collards, Portuguese kale, Tuscan kale,and sprouting broccoli. Selection this spring was easy, because only one of the four survived. The Portuguese kale (also known as Tronchuda) came through the winter and put out a very nice crop of leaves during the late February and March “hunger gap.” I cooked some of the leaves to make sure that they were tasty, and they were sweet, mild, and very good.I let the plants go to flower, and found that bees mobbed the light yellow flowers. The buds were also a good addition to vegetable stir-fries, although they have to be picked small because they toughen quickly, and of course you have to leave a lot of them on the plant to get your seeds. The plants get huge as they set seed, and I trained them into the paths so as not to lose too much bed space. I let a spring planted broccoli go to flower at the same time, to try to introduce more genetic variability, and let the bees do the cross pollination. The plants set thousands of seedpods each, and I found that when the seedpods are about 2 inches long and very slender, they make a very nice stir-fry, with much the same flavor as the leaves but a different texture. Currently the seeds are ripening on the plants, and when they are dry I will plant some for fall eating and send them through the winter to see how they fare.

I hope to end up with plants with at least some variability. We do have a number of wild brassicas that grow in the area, so a little bit of outbreeding could occur even if I had not let the broccoli into the mix, and variability is what I’m after. Selection comes later; right now my interest is in having brassicas that overwinter in our difficult climate but aren’t uniform, and might even provide specimens that I want to select and stabilize for different purposes, maybe one type for hunger gap leaves and one type for masses of buds, for example. I have already spent happy hours researching the possibilities, and happy time is among the benefits that my garden provides.

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Filling the Hunger Gap

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Our recent sunny warm days have brought the happy little Crysanthus crocuses up, and when they bloom I know that I’ve survived another winter and we are well on toward spring. But we are still in the time of year called the “hunger gap,” when in leaner times you would have eaten most of your preserved and stored food and fresh food would be a distant memory. In those days, just about the time that scurvy threatened, there would be a precious few fresh foods that would come through for you. I am no longer that interested in eating preserved foods, so the fresh greens of the hunger gap are increasingly important to me.
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Stinging nettles are not just a fresh green in earliest spring, they are a nutritional powerhouse. Vitality and well-being seem to course through your body as you eat them. Also, they’re delicious. They don’t occur naturally in Albuquerque, and I had to buy plants in order to have them, but I have two nice patches now. They need some water and mulch in our desert area, but given those they spread rapidly, so be ready to control them by digging out excess roots when they spread too far. They sting fiercely at any age, so don’t plant them near paths and have good heavy leather gloves (they sting right through fabric)¬†ready for harvesting. Pick any time after they reach about 5-6 inches high, harvesting the top 2 or 3 inches. You will have about a month to harvest before they get tough, gritty, and nasty. Keep your gloves on while you wash them and drop them into boiling water. Once blanched for 1-2 minutes, their spines are softened and their venom is broken down, and you can treat them like spinach or any other mild green. I love them in omelets or just blanched and chopped with some butter and cream. Be aware that the raw nettles can sting animals as well as people, and severe allergic reactions to the sting are possible, so please do site them responsibly.
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Bladder campion is another weed that doesn’t occur naturally in central New Mexico. I bought seeds from an herb supplier. Sprinkle them in a place that you can keep watered in late winter. In hot sunny areas they will appreciate a little shade. They will be scant and spindly the first year, and there won’t be anything to harvest. The second year you can pinch off the tips when they are 6-8 inches tall to add to salads, and by the third year you should get enough to cook. They are among the tenderest and mildest of wild greens, and I prefer them in salads, but a quick saut√© in a little good butter is nice too.
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Tronchuda is not a weed, but a Portuguese kale with a cabbagey but mild flavor and enough vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to make you crow. I bought my seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery a couple of years ago, and am selecting the ones that live through the winter for my Hunger Gap crop. You plant them in the spring, harvest the huge leaves for greens in summer and fall ( my chickens appreciate them too), and then leave the stem and the tuft of leaves at the top over the winter. They won’t survive if you don’t leave some leaves on. Those that survive will begin to leaf out again in February and provide you with thick, substantial leaves for stir-fries and cooking by early March. They are biennial and begin to shoot to flower by late March, and you can harvest the buds as a broccoli-like vegetable. Do bear in mind that if you want to save seed, you have to leave plenty of clusters to go to flower. Bees love the flowers and they are a nice early source of nectar. Collect the seed, dry them, and start the cycle over again.