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Greetings. I live in West Seattle. 

Here is the deal: I am collecting crops that I consider "strategic" for backyard crop production. As of this time I am focusing on tomatoes, potatoes, various cruciferous vegetables at least some of which are PERENNIAL or can be made so, various easy-to-grow berries including and especially strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, Sorrel (any one of several perennial species of Rumex that make good spinach-like leafy greens; not to be confused with "Wood Sorrel" which is Oxalis--although come to think of it I have some Oca in my yard), Good King Henry (another spinach-like crop for the shoots and/or spinach-like young leaves), several easy-to-manage crops in the Onion alliance, various easy-to-grow leafy greens, Skirret (sort of like a parsnip, but multi-rooted and easier to grow), and a few others.

Why potatoes? Because potatoes are roughly the most productive crop that you can grow at temperate latitudes. "More protein per hectare than soybeans!" Potatoes are only about 2% protein, but it's actually of fairly good quality, and potatoes are so much more productive than soybeans, you still end up with an amazing yield for the growing space. That's how the Irish fed about 20 peasants per acre; with more typical crops it takes about an acre to feed a person.

Potatoes also contain enough vitamin C to keep you alive, and if they have colored flesh, they have some phytonutrients. Contrary to popular opinion, they're not empty calories. The potatoes I am raising have flesh that is QUITE colorful. One of them is the yellowest (carotenoids) potato I have ever seen in my life, and another one drips inky black-purple juice when you cut into it.

I'm going to be doing a potato promo with a local breeder. There is still a little time to plant potatoes, and we are looking for folks who are interested. He's also looking for recruits for his tomato experiments. I could staff a booth if you will let me pass out promo literature.

Why perennial crops, which are rather rare by the way? Well, only if it makes sense, but the idea is crops that don't absolutely require yearly replanting, or if they do, are relatively easy to do so. Lets say you plant peas, and delicate little seedlings are just about to poke through the surface. Your entire crop could be wiped out by a visit from some hungry crows...

On the other hand, rhubarb is pretty darn reliable. Stupidly easy to grow. So is Sorrel, which provides greens over a long time period.

Now let me explain why I am doing this. I am not particularly "green". I certainly don't drive a Prius--in fact I don't drive at all unless it's really necessary. While doing research on investments, I thought about the consequences of petroleum depletion.

Let's see...about 10kcal of fuel to produce ONE kcal of wheat. About 10kcal of corn to produce ONE of chicken (let's say). And corn significantly more resource-intensive than wheat. The numbers aren't exact but they are good enough for rule-of-thumb calculations.

You can see where this is going. As we deplete petroleum, we are at risk of STARVATION. The so-called "green revolution" was based on the use of industrial farm equipment, hybrid seed, and resource-intensive fertilizers.

You can pretty much forget about "hydrogen economy" (where does the energy come from to split water molecules? Fuel cells are nothing but fancy batteries), thorium reactors (where are they?), breeder reactors (every terrorist's dream...), shale ("shale oil is the fuel of the future, and always will be"), and all the other "magic bullet" solutions.

This is a real problem. It's not going to magically go away.

Plus, we are going into this situation after the longest credit expansion in world history, that has just about gutted most of the "western" economies under a pile of debt. And I promise you that everything that is "being done about it" is making it worse. The debt is being "monetized", meaning the Fed and the banks are creating NEW MONEY, much of which is being allocated to unproductive boondoggles.

My website (www.mutuallyassuredsurvival.com) is an information resource, and my urban farm will soon (not yet) be a resource for crop starts.

I need some help. Among other things, contacts who can help me with the potato promo, who might be interested in future promos of other crops as well.

I'm having a devil of a time completing my propagation stock. Some of the crops I am rescuing are on the verge of extinction from the markets. I bought the last 3 skirrets from the last grower who has any (I ordered 4, and now she doesn't think she can ship more than 3), and she's not 100% sure they're in shippable condition (as in, they're barely alive. See where this is going?). I'm still waiting for some of my perennial Brassicas to arrive. I've bought out some of the last seed stock from a breeder whose operation went broke and sold the name but the seed lines won't be continued. It's coming down to the wire, folks.

 
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Hi neighbor,

I also live in West Seattle and share your passion for urban food growing. I have converted my front lawn last summer and am in the early stages of creating a food forest in my backyard. I am very interested in perennial vegetables and have been frustrated by how difficult to find many of them are. I would love to talk with you about collaborating.

Susanne
susi_anne at yahoo.com
 
                            
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Thanks, Suzanne. I replied offline.

I will try to make it to the Sustainable West Seattle Fair, hopefully with an appropriate t-shirt to identify me, some brochures, and a sign-up sheet.
 
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None of the crops you've listed have anywhere near enough protein or amino acids.  Rhubarb is heavy on oxalates. 

Plants that contain complete proteins (all nine essential amino acids) are amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, hemp, and soy.  Or, you'll have to combine some foods to get the complete proteins:  legumes + nuts, legumes + seeds, or legumes + grains. 

Perennial vegetables look like an easy out, but there aren't enough of them to do much good.  Survival is not health.  The Irish Potato Famine of the 1800s showed what happens when you depend on one type of crop.

Allowing annuals to reseed naturally without intervention year after year leads to a serious decline in quality, as they revert back to the weeds they used to be.

There's just no quick and easy solution.

Sue
 
                            
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Thank you for your observations, Susan.

None of the crops you've listed have anywhere near enough protein or amino acids.



Not enough protein for what purpose?

The scope of what I am trying to accomplish is just to make crops available for backyard cultivation, that otherwise wouldn't be, and that only on a fairly local level, other than perhaps shipments to distant friends. Any more than that is quite beyond my capacity.

Plants that contain complete proteins (all nine essential amino acids) are amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, hemp, and soy.  Or, you'll have to combine some foods to get the complete proteins:  legumes + nuts, legumes + seeds, or legumes + grains.



Right. And these are mostly beyond the scope of the average backyard gardener, although I have grown Quinoa in my backyard. Hemp is rather problematic in the USA, though I might grow it elsewhere as the fiber is quite useful, being one of the few really durable natural fibers that can be grown in a temperate climate.

I don't think most people will figure out what to do with Amaranth. You can sneak small amounts of Amaranth flour into baked goods, but by itself it cooks up rather unpleasantly gooey to most palates. And although there are short varieties that will grow in this climate, it is probably better suited to climates that overall are warmer and drier.

Another problem is that most of these crops are not very productive compared to limited growing space and/or the necessity to till the soil by muscle-power. Potatoes are one of the few crops that would produce enough calories to live on. Calories are the limiting factor before protein.

I would expect commodity crops to remain available on the market--or if not, we're in worse trouble than I can deal with. Better eat the potatoes.

Rhubarb is heavy on oxalates.

 

Right, the leaves, which people don't usually eat, contain Sodium oxalate, which would cause gastrointestinal distress.

The leaf-stems ("petioles") don't, which is why they are safe to eat. They do contain Oxalic Acid. I wonder if you are concerned about the Oxalic Acid binding up calcium? You'd have to eat rather more than you are ever likely to, raw, for that to be a serious concern. I do eat some Sorrel leaves raw, but not enough to be a concern.

My Sorrel, Good King Henry, and Oca (Oxalis tuberosa I think) contain Oxalic acid. So does spinach, although breeding has gotten rid of most of it. Spinach isn't as sour as it used to be.

Survival is not health.



Right. Survival is survival. If the variety of foods available on the market is cut off--which would probably be a temporary matter, for example, due to a banking or currency crisis, ala Russia or Argentina--then I'll take my chances with survival.

Of course one can not grow food fast enough from scratch, starting from seed, say, fast enough not to starve to death. So, it is a prudent precaution to store dry goods, and as a precaution, perhaps some vitamin tablets. One can utilize the complementary proteins that you mentioned, such as rice and lentils.

Then the only problem is securing fresh vegetables to go with our dry goods--hence the backyard garden.

At some point, we reach equilibrium again, though I suspect at a rather more austere standard of living, than what most are used to or emotionally prepared for.

The Irish Potato Famine of the 1800s showed what happens when you depend on one type of crop.



I agree. My backyard produces many more different crops than entire states do on a commercial scale. Backyard gardens are not the source of global monoculture; global plantation operations are.

As for why the Irish were growing so many potatoes--it's because the Lords who owned all the land wanted to devote  as little land as possible to feed their de facto subjects. It also didn't help that they had a damp chilly year that year. The disease was Phytophthora infestans which, being natives of the southern hemisphere, potatoes have no natural resistance to, though I have some breeds which have some resistance.

When I was in Ireland I happened to visit Glasnevin, where the disease was identified--too late.

Allowing annuals to reseed naturally without intervention year after year leads to a serious decline in quality



OK. Not sure what brought that up; I'm not advocating that. And most highly-bred crops won't reseed "naturally" anyway.
 
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Atash wrote:
I bought the last 3 skirrets from the last grower who has any (I ordered 4, and now she doesn't think she can ship more than 3), and she's not 100% sure they're in shippable condition (as in, they're barely alive. See where this is going?).



Atash,

Perennial Pleasures Nursery (http://perennialpleasures.net) offers skirret. According to Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier the one they offer is a superior clone.

Good luck!

Dave
 
Dave Boehnlein
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Location: Orcas Island, WA
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Susan Monroe wrote:
None of the crops you've listed have anywhere near enough protein or amino acids....
Plants that contain complete proteins (all nine essential amino acids) are amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, hemp, and soy.  Or, you'll have to combine some foods to get the complete proteins:  legumes + nuts, legumes + seeds, or legumes + grains. 



Regarding complete proteins and essential amino acids there is an old theory saying that you had to get all of them in combination at one meal. This is no longer believed to be the case, although it continues to persist in the world at large (especially the vegetarian community). I founds a concise write up on how this really works at http://www.vegsource.com/attwood/complete_protein.htm. The author explains the theory and, interestingly, uses the example of potatoes.

Dave
 
                            
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Hello, David. Pleased to meet you.

Perennial Pleasures was my source of the Skirret. There are only a few suppliers left in the country, that I am aware of. 3 plants arrived and are now sitting in my back yard.

According to Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier the one they offer is a superior clone.



Supposedly it's coreless. One of the reasons the vegetable declined in popularity, is that you have to core them, which is not easy as the roots are not all that fat.

If true, I wonder if its seedlings could be reselected for corelessness. It would be nice to have a seed-grown strain. Couldn't be very hard from seed.

I've put up a placeholder for my new website. It's not ready for prime-time yet, but I wanted to get something out just to get the indexing process started:

www.depressioncrops.com

Regarding complete proteins and essential amino acids there is an old theory saying that you had to get all of them in combination at one meal. This is no longer believed to be the case, although it continues to persist in the world at large (especially the vegetarian community)



Frances Moore-Lappé (who isn't a vegetarian--contrary to common misconception) was the source of that idea. She later conceded the point and became defensive about her earlier claim. What happens, as long as you're getting enough protein overall, is that needed amino acids get recycled from tissues that get broken down (like old blood cells).

The funny thing is that complementary proteins just seem to "go together" anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if it were some sort of instinct. Beans and rice, pita and hummous, split pea soup and pancakes, rice and lentil in dosa batter, etc. So, even though its not absolutely necessary, I try to plan menus around complementary proteins just to simplify things.

Something I'd like for my new website is a downloadable chart explaining the matter (and including a reference to complete plant proteins). What would be really cool would be if it were done artistically. Maybe I should hire an artist.
 
I'm not sure if I approve of this interruption. But this tiny ad checks out:
Paul Wheaton's keynote presentation
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vZPTPIHO8w
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