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What's on the menu?

 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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Hi all, I've loved the idea of a forest garden since I first saw the term just a few years ago, and in some sense any garden I make here will be a forest garden, since my property could be described as forested with clearings. see here:

http://www.permies.com/t/22904/forest-garden/Project-Existing-Open-Woodland-Alberta

Please note: I am not at all trying to argue with anyone's aims or ideasl just trying to clarify for my own understanding.
I'm easily able to see a forest garden as usually described as a functional and effective operation in our current society where you can sell produce for cash flow and presumably buy things you can't produce. I can also see ti working easily with some areas for annual crops maintained, but it seems the goal is to get rid of all annual crops longterm?
All the crops I see listed seem to be fruits, nuts, greens and medicinals. those are all great, and could form a large part of a healthy diet. Are people expecting to actually eat only those things, or is the given that most proponents of this system are going to be eating a lot of animal products?

I like the idea of hazelnuts, for example, as an alternative to common starchy crops, but I need to search the topic more-- all the recommended uses I saw so far seemed to be as toppings, condiments, snacks, not actually as staples of a meal- is anyone using them that way?

Again, not commenting on anyone else's choices, but I only occasionally use dairy or eggs- so no staples, and I wouldn't likely raise them, esp dairy, and never eat meat, so my ideal is a system that could feed me directly, not feed animals.
Is it assumed that for a vegan/vegetarian system annual crops would remain necessary? (maybe small amounts of cereal crops, signifcant amounts of legumes-(any perennials species with useful efible seed production?), root crops such as potatoes etc..)
I am looking at some wild vegetables that are little used, for root or seed etc, and I'm sure others must be way ahead of me on that, but don't see a lot of mention of those kinds of things in forest garden listings..
 
dj niels
Posts: 177
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Coban, I understand your concerns. One thing to remember. though, is that in most permaculture books and designs that I have seen, a food forest is only a part of the total design, usually in the areas a bit farther from a house, with beds for annual and perennial veggies, herbs, edible flowers, and small fruits, things that are used frequently or need more care and attention, closer to the center of the design. Many pc designs also include space for some grains and/or main crops, such as potatoes, large plantings of food to freeze. bottle, or store in root cellars, etc.

Bill Mollison, the father of permaculture, in the books I have read, never indicated that we should eliminate annual crops, but that we should aim to use zones for correct placement of plants and other elements in our system according to how much care they need or how often we use them. A food forest was simply a part of that system, as an alternative to a conventional monocrop orchard that required a lot of labor to maintain it. By incorporating guilds of plants which support the main crop trees, we reduce our labor and receive more yield while creating habitat for the birds and beneficial insects that are an essential part of a healthy forest.

Another point to consider is that it is possible to make "breads" and other baked goods from non-grain flours such as coconut, almond, chestnut, etc, as many people who share my gluten-intolerance have been learning, with the growing numbers of gluten-intolerant people increasing dramatically in recent years.

Yes, I think most of us try to grow as many kinds of perennial plants as possible, given limitations of hardiness and climate etc, but for the majority of folks,especially in non-tropical areas, beds of annual crops still seem to have a role in helping us meet our individual goals of being more self- or community-reliant in whatever foods we are able to supply by our own efforts or locally (meaning grown within 50 or 100 miles, wherever possible). Whether that is simply fresh herbs to add to a purchased salad, or fresh berries from a neighboring berry farm, or a few beds of salad greens and veggies for stir-fry, or buying food from a local food co-op or farmers market, it still reduces our dependence on big ag.

I do tend to aim toward having my yard be mostly a food forest, but it does take years for tiny shrubs and trees to start producing fruits and nuts, etc. In the meantime, my yard does supply me with green onions and other herbs, greens for smoothies, and a green oasis to observe flying, twittering birds and beneficial insects which inhabit the young trees and shrubs. I just harvested a bucketful of sunchokes that I have been using in stir-fries, with mushrooms, onions, and eggs from my small flock of hens. The sunchokes also made a very nice privacy screen between my back yard and the alley last summer, and the dead stalks are great to add to the compost pile or just chop n drop.

I don't use dairy products, and didn't use eggs or meat or any cooked food for 10 years, but with my own really fresh, home-grown eggs, from chickens who are free to scratch and eat bugs, weeds, and greens from my unsprayed garden, eggs have become part of my life again. I do still buy grain for the hens, and we buy bags of rice and other grains to supplement whatever food we can grow, but I don't buy any commercial feed. I recently learned about a method for sprouting the grains for the chickens, and have started doing that now, at least until the weeds and grasses start growing so the hens can go back on pasture.

I don't know if I ever will be able to supply all my food at home, but I don't think that is really essential. I hope someday I can develop a demonstration garden that might inspire a few others, so we can develop a community of people with different products available, but for now, I just do the best I can to grow what I can. Being in a cold-winter climate with a short growing season, it is not possible to provide all my food, year round, unless I invest in a huge greenhouse, but whatever I can grow is a real boost to my budget and my health.

I have read about a community in Spain that I believe is practicing vegan permaculture, I assume they are probably growing lots of fruit and nut trees, not sure what else. I have also read about others in the UK (Scotland, maybe) that were using chestnuts and hazels as their main source of calories. It might be possible, with a bit of research, to find more about such groups and alternatives to annual crops. But as I said in the beginning, it does take years for most of these to start producing a crop.

Please don't limit your ideas to 'only' a food forest, but look at all the permaculture tools (hugelbeets, square foot gardens, sheet-mulched garden beds, keyhole beds, sunken greenhouses, and all the other ideas discussed here on permies and in the permaculture literature and videos). Based on my understanding of the PC toolbox, what we are after is an integrated system that uses many tools, according to which ones seem to fit our circumstances, in order to achieve whatever goals and desired outcomes each pc practitioner visualizes, to create an abundant life, while living within a sustainable or regenerative environment.
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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Thanks for the comments, DJ. No worries, I am pragmatic and will use whatever combination of techniques makes sense to me in my situation and don't involve toxic inputs. I'll surely be using some annual crops, though exploring much more interesting ways to do that, as well as keeping my eyes open for different perennial crops and looking closely at native plants that have been used for food- I think there is some real work to be done with selecting the best forms of wild food plants..
My confusion just stems from reading a number of accounts food forest aims and case studies, and apart from those who are incorporating some food forest principles into a mixed approach, there seems to be a kind of scorn for any annual crops being grown by anyone anywhere, and an ideal that all farmland in the world should become savannah. Of course I'm sure no one believes it's going to happen anytime soon, but that is the tone I get.

I do know of the interesting substitutions being made in gluten free foods, and even for many who just want to avoid modern wheat hybrids- I'm in that camp myself, and don't generally eat bread, but use modest amounts of Kamut and oats, as well as coconut, buckwheat, etc. Modest use of oils, but mostly olive and coconut. You may notice a small problem there- no way I can ever grow those tropical oils and flours in my climate! Ditto for things like coiffee, which I've reduced a lot anyway (starting to feel like the vegan thread here There too, I'm pragmatic for the moment- international commerce is in place currently, and if you try to buy carefully from sustainable and organic producers you can help individuals in another place- or so I hope, anyway..

I also don't expect to grow all of my own food anytime soon, but would like to make a nice dent in it- besides getting much nicer veg in (my very short) season, it would be nice to get some good things like dried beans and peas and quinoa.

Of course another issue in a sustainable food forest has been suggested and/or hinted at a bit in other threads-- maybe my forest doesn't supply all of my needs, but I may also have skills/arts to trade with those growing other things....
 
Alder Burns
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Perennial staples are a challenge, especially outside of the tropics. Part of the problem is our short-term thinking and impatience and our having become accustomed, over many generations now, to the high yields associated with tillage and annual monocropped staples. A look at longer timescales might be useful. Oak acorns and chestnuts have been, and in some isolated areas still are, used as staple foods in different parts of the temperate zones, and their yields can be comparable to those of annual grains and roots, especially when considered over several years allowing for on and off years. The biggest problem with these trees is the time required to wait for them to come into significant production.....here again that's our culture, and in this and quite a few other ways, permaculture is a multi-generational project. Also at issue is the hulling and processing required to get these crops ready to eat, but there is also quite a bit of processing involved with something like wheat, which has now been mostly mechanized and many of us have no idea how much dither it is to deal with....
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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No doubt an overall societal shift in attitudes is necessary..
As far as I have seen to date, chestnuts and oaks are out for me- I think there may be a small oak or two that are marginally hardy here, would be interesting to see if they could make it- I've already thought of them as ornamentals, not sure if they have usable acorns.. I have read about the native cultures which used acorns as a staple.
As to high yields we've been accustomed to- that is surely an issue to be carefully considered- I haven't seen any sign of population densities decreasing; even where I live, an area that only changed from 'improvement district' to county a few years back, has probably at least doubled in population since I left after highschool in 1982.
Actually, if there were useful nuts that could grow here and a non-labour intensive harvesting method (we have labour shortages and this is expected to get worse) this area could be a prime area for such development, since there is a lot of land that is technically farmed, but only lightly used- for forage or hay with large chunks of native shrubs and forest... Adding some forest crops could be a great additional use, but they'd have to compete with beef, dairy, canola and oil industry jobs!
 
Alder Burns
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I wonder if hazelnuts grow there? Check out Badgersett.....this place (in Minnesota I think) is breeding hybrid hazelnuts for mechanical harvest.
Another larger issue that you touch on is population density and sustainability. No matter what we grow and how, and in what combinations and with what inputs, there is a limit as to how many people a given climate and landscape can sustainably support. With cheap energy, people can specialize and the products of one place be exchanged for those of distant places.....but when that subsidy is removed, then what? I think a lot of areas, if not most (because of the fossil fuel input into the planet's energetic system) will not be able to support their current populations indefinitely. Many sustainable cultures, on which permaculture bases many insights, were niche occupiers. I would guess that in your area, wetlands might produce wild rice in abundance. But how much of your area is occupied by wetlands?
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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We have a wild hazelnut in Alberta, not in my immediate area, but not super far away- oddly enough, farther north and east, which means it doesn't like the mountains to the west or prairies to the south/east of me, but should be quite growable here. It's C cornuta, and I have seen (online) some vendors in the province offering it, I'd have to look around more to see if anyone is offering any improved cultivars, or the straight wild plant.
I'll take a look at the place you mention. For my very small scale purposes, mechanical harvest would not be an issue, and bringing live plants across the border can be tricky/expensive- though much more doable if someone were actually doing it on a larger scale.

Wild rice is an interesting thought- I'd never heard of it being grown in Alberta, but found this article:
http://www.edmontonjournal.com/health/Alberta+wild+rice+wetland+wonder/5018213/story.html
Sounds like its a sometimes-ish crop in Alberta- though maybe it is everywhere, and then again, what crop isn't? ( they mention it being killed by early frost some years, though that site is much farther north than me even)
Wetlands we have in abundance, though they say 3-4 feet of water, another category altogether.. there are small slough/lakes around here that might indeed be suitable, assuming one could afford the equipment- they mention airboats, though I'm sure a small operation could use any sort of small boat as the native harvesters would have used traditionally...
Interestingly, it sounds like they don't know much about the plant's requirements ' If you want to know if a lake will grow rice, throw some rice in it and see what happens'. Many people here make 'dugouts' on lowish land to water cattle, there is normally no attention to soil quality, but I wonder if one could replace the topsoil (not usually done for cows..) and make it a useful wild rice habitat.. not something I have the property to be trying, but very interesting idea.. Of course it is an annual so not really furthering the cause of perennial staples But it does seem like a sustainable crop since - these growers at least- are not doing anything to change the lake apart from sowing the rice..

To my surprise it (Northern wild rice, same as growin in Manitoba and Minnesota) is actually native to northern Alberta, I had assumed they brought it in from the famous locales to the East..
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_rice
 
Alder Burns
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Location: northern California
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I do know that wild rice doesn't mature all at once, and inevitably plenty of seeds fall back while harvesting. So technically it's a reseeding annual, which is the next best thing to a perennial....
What about Siberian and Korean nut pines?
 
Cohan Fulford
Posts: 79
Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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Here's an interesting page on pine nuts- geared toward U.S. but they mention P sibiricus has been successful in Canada, P koraiensis less so. Usual caveats I guess with nut bearing trees- long period before bearing- at least 20 years in plantations, 30-40 yrs in natural stands; very labour intensive harvest; erratic cropping with peak every 3-5 years.. Again, I imagine these are expected concerns amongst permaculturists offset with integrated systems of various cropping..

Next I found this page, with some very encouraging information- they are in Canada, list Korean pine to z 2, and mention some hybrid seedlings (though it wasn't clear if that was what they were selling, I need to look more) bearing at 6 years...
http://www.nuttrees.com/index.htm
 
mary yett
Posts: 73
Location: Manitoulin Island - in the middle of Lake Huron .Mindemoya,Ontario- Canadian zone 5
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What zone are you in? Hazelnuts will grow in really cold areas.

For a Canadian source of good quality hazelnuts try Grimo Nut Nursery. They offer ones that will grow in zone 3b. The hybrids they offer have American, Asian and European genes - will produce larger volumes of larger nuts than our wild hazels. I have only ever received excellent stock from them over many years. Linda is great for answering questions as well.

www.grimonut.com

I have had poor experience with Rhora's Nut Farm (the website you mentioned). They have a good website with lots of useful information, but tend to exaggerate where their trees will grow and how young they will bear. I received sickly, tiny trees with very poor root structure ( they did not survive) from them and they refused to replace them. I would never order from them again.

In general, hazelnuts have huge potential for becoming a perennial staple crop. They were THE staple crop for much of humanity's pre-agriculture history in northern latitudes, especially as the glaciers melted and humans pushed north along their edge. They are sometimes referred to as "soybeans on bushes" because they can be processed into many of the same products.

Manitoulin Mary
 
Alder Burns
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You are so right about the pine nuts being labor intensive! We have both a native (gray pine, P. sabiniana), and the Mediterranean stone pine (P. pinea). By the time they start producing cones, the trees are way over your head, and most of the nuts drop out of the cones to be lost, and the birds and squirrels take their share. The remaining nuts have to be pulled one by one from the cones when the cones finally drop, and then each one has to be cracked! Seeing whole bags of shelled pine nuts from China just boggles my mind...how the hell did they do that? I do hear that the Southwestern pinyon pines are shorter trees, and the tradition there is to knock the cones down half-mature, and then roast them in a fire, which causes the scales to open....at least that way you get the full yield, beating the competition. The nuts of any species are pretty even in size...perhaps a mechanical cracker could be devised. As for me, I can get a day's calories from any number of other things a lot easier....the pine nuts, even though they are all around me, are sort of a novelty....
 
Cohan Fulford
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Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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Thanks for the input, Mary, I will check out Grimo for sure. I probably wont be ordering anything this year anyway, but it is good to know what is available.
How easy is it to process the hazelnuts- either hybrid or wild? Is it just a matter of cracking like the ones you'd buy for eating, or are there other steps?
I'm officially in z3, (check my signature at bottom- I'm more or less between Edmonton and Calgary in both geography and climate) though I'm not convinced we wont still have some z2 winters..

Alder- that is something I wonder about all of the large nut trees (and large fruit trees!)- how are you supposed to get the nuts from 80 foot trees? I'm happy to have various native trees for birds and other wildlife and windbreak, but I have no urge to have any cropping trees i can't reach from the ground. I did notice at the site I mentioned that they had at least one dwarf pine, growing more like a mugo pine- that seems much more reasonable to me. He also mentioned some of them having very thin skins easily broken/rubbed off by hand- though I suppose that's still after you get them out of the cone.. Bet the squirrels would be really good at it- though we don't have pines right here, they start about 20-30 miles west of here, so the local squirrels eat mostly spruce cones..
 
Cohan Fulford
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Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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Hmm-- looking at this, it suggests a lot of nut harvesting is done from ground:
http://www.nuttrees.com/harvesting.htm
 
Alder Burns
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If you have a huge surplus of nuts, they can overwhelm their predators, and it also makes a difference if the trees are near people or dogs/cats, etc. Around here the best acorn trees are nearer to the house, or else by themselves along the roadside or elsewhere where squirrels have to run a long way through open ground (and therefore through a gauntlet of coyotes, hawks, rattlers, etc.) to get to them. Other nuts, like chestnuts and walnuts, have a prickly or bitter husk that resists the efforts of critters to get to the nuts for while, whereas humans with tools and gloves have an easier time of it.
Then there are the savvy people who locate the squirrels' caches and raid them, allowing the critters to do the harvesting for them! But you have to have some serious primitive skills for that!
 
Cohan Fulford
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There are squirrels everywhere here, and probably more near the houses- they know their predators are less able to spend as much time close by as they do- even though owls come right in and I'm sure coyotes do, but they are not that fond of people! Squirrels don't care...lol Still no doubt easier to get the nuts than the berries- birds outnumber the squirrels...
 
Paulo Bessa
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Hi Cohan,

I am also greatly interested in both forest gardens and perennial starches.
I have started several threads related to these in the permaculture forum. One of the best references is Eric Toensmeier and his website perennialsolutions.org

I think my opinion is the same as many people, and also yours: forest gardens are to be used as a combination with conventional annual crops as part as a transition. It will take us time to get used to new staple crops, change food habits, and of course these crops take plenty of time to produce an harvest once you start from seed or small trees.

Let's observe nature: you have forests, but you also have clearings with grasslands, where animals pasture, and cereals grow. On the sunny edges or on shrubs, legumes and brassicas or carrot-family plants might grow. We might mimic our permaculture gardens after this.

I am also looking for perennial starches and protein. In colder climates, especially like mine, animals are an easy answer. I do not eat meat, but I recognize the trouble of growing plant food further north where I live. Fish is another traditional way of ensuring survival.

In many places in the central US and central Canada, the summer is warm enough to be worth of trying most grains, especially rye, oats or barley.

I also like quinoa and amaranth, millets and other less known grain; I have been growing for the first year teff and a non-saponin type of quinoa, the chenopodium paudicaule. But these are annuals, therefore I am experimenting growing indian ricegrass (a perennial), and canadial wildrice (but for this one you need deep water). My winter seedlings died, so I am trying them again.

There are other potencial perennial crops listed in the books (available for free online) the Lost Crops of Africas and Lost Crops of Incas. But its hard to find seed for those perennial grains. Even better is perennial rye and perennial wheat, very hard to find, but some people at permies here do have them. I think they might be one easy key answer for perennial starch.

Then, you have perennial roots (that does not take as much time to grow as the nuts!): chinese yams, arrowhead, groundnut (apios americana) all can grow in colder climates and might be excellent sources or perennial starch (and even protein). Other roots are in my opinion impractical to be a staple: skirret (it is surviving well my winter), chinese artichokes, sunchokes (no real starch), tiger nuts (they need a bit warmer climates), yampa, earth chestnuts, and of course the peruvian roots: oca, mashua, ulluco, they are starchy crops, but they might have their challenges and low yields. I like yacon, produces a lot, but it requires warm climates and it is not a starch. More roots like maca or mauka or jícama (a high yield but low calory crop, also warm climate). I haven't tried water chestnuts or taro, but they need warmer climates. Sweet potatoes can be a great crop and staple, but they require a warm long summer.

Then, perennial legumes, you have many subtropical options (winged beans, lima beans, runnner beans, pigeon peas, peanuts) but less for cold climates. Mesquites and honey locust might be a key, they are hardy but these are trees! Siberian pea shrub grows in cold climates, apparently has edible seed, but I haven't heard anyone eating it.

In nuts, I am struggling to find possibilities for my Icelandic climate. I will try the conventional nut crops, but they all seem to require a hotter and longer summer than my short and cold 2.5 month long summer. Pine seeds are a tundra tree but not the most practical and high yield staple

Finally, perennial seeds. Some quinoa relatives are perennial, like docks, and stand cold climates. I heard their seed is edible despite small, but again I haven't met anyone that has ate those seeds. No idea about their potencial risks. But since docks and sorrels are a weed, it is a pity that no one has explore them. They would be a much better investment to explore than lupins, in my opinion. Lupins can be edible and are extremely hardy and perennial but only after much leaching and food processing. They can be quite toxic.

So in conclusion, you can think like this: starchy or staple roots, perennial cereals, perennial legumes, edible perennial seeds, and nuts.
 
Cohan Fulford
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Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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My original interest in any kind of gardening is in the plants themselves, so I will have fun trying some of the less common food plants. I suspect nothing is going to compete with staples that have been bred for high yields, but if nothing else, a much greater variety of food plants is a very healthy thing for our diet as well as our ecosystems, and I think there is some work to be done selecting for the best varieties of wild foods.
My property has lots of native plants and I have every intention to let them grow all around/among my food plants, whether or not they have any food value, but I will be trying lots of those also.
For other readers, here are a couple more threads where we are talking about northern foods and wild foods:
http://www.permies.com/t/22904/forest-garden/Project-Existing-Open-Woodland-Alberta
http://www.permies.com/t/15747/permaculture/Polar-permaculture
 
mary yett
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Location: Manitoulin Island - in the middle of Lake Huron .Mindemoya,Ontario- Canadian zone 5
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I started a packet of seeds for Illinois bundleflower inside last week- they aren't up yet.I got the seeds from J L Hudson, Seedsman.

The Land Institute has been researching this perennial species for many years, working to develop it into a perennial grain - it has something like 38% protein, is a NA Am native legume and a nitrogen fixer, has huge, deep roots that can break up hard pan and is pretty. Sounds like a species I would like to naturalize in my polycultures. Gonna try anyway.

hhtp://www.landinstitute.org
 
Cohan Fulford
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Is this the plant you mean, Mart?
http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/il_bundleflowerx.htm
Sounds a bit familiar- I think I must have seen it on a wildflower seed list somewhere and looked it up..

Interesting, not a lot of google hits came up on its seed edibility, though PFAF mentions it:
http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Desmanthus+illinoensis

Have you ever tried the seeds yourself, Mary, or will this be your first time if they produce for you?
Looks like a nice one to try..
 
mary yett
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Location: Manitoulin Island - in the middle of Lake Huron .Mindemoya,Ontario- Canadian zone 5
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Cohan,
Yes, the link in your message shows the plant whereof I speak.
No, I have never even seen the plant, much less tasted the seeds. This is a grand adventure in plant exploration for me ( I have been a member of NAFEX for decades, so I like plant adventures). Will post an update on my success or failure as it unfolds.

Manitoulin Mary
 
Cohan Fulford
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So many plants so little time
What is NAfFEX?
 
Cohan Fulford
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It occurred to me to wonder about caraway roots- supposedly biennial, but in this climate it is rather invasive around farm yards etc where it was planted, and it definitely has permanent communities.
Indeed they are edible and supposed to be quite nice - pre flowering plants supposed to provide the best roots, In areas where they have been mowed and not allowed to flower the plants must be a number of years old, not sure how those roots will be... I'll have to do some experimenting with them...
 
mary yett
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Location: Manitoulin Island - in the middle of Lake Huron .Mindemoya,Ontario- Canadian zone 5
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NAFEX stands for North American Fruit Explorers. It has been around for many decades-check out the website. Many permaculture types belong, as do university researchers, conventional and organic small orchardists, etc. Fruit (and nut tree) enthusiasts share their fruit growing experiences through a magazine (now mainly online), Pomona, and also through email blogs.

A great group to learn from, and friendly too.
 
mary yett
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Location: Manitoulin Island - in the middle of Lake Huron .Mindemoya,Ontario- Canadian zone 5
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Dang, I'll try again

http://www.nafex.org
 
Cohan Fulford
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Location: West Central Alberta, Canada
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Thanks- I'll take a look!
 
Did you see how Paul cut 87% off of his electric heat bill with 82 watts of micro heaters?
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