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Edible Cacti as perennial crop for the cold dry west.

 
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I live out on the plains so food forest isn't really a very realistic option out here.  I have been looking for some good perennials for cold and semi-arid plains.  I know prickly pear grows well in my region and was thinking it would be a nice low work perennial. I have had the fruit many times as my family used to gather it when we were kids.  There are at least 8 different varieties that will grow in my hardiness zone.  Anyone have a few in their garden?  Or does anyone know of other edible species that would grow in zone 4?
 
Lynn Garcia
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I guess I should have looked in Greening the desert first.  The prickly pear thread there probably has all I need to know.
 
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There is a wealth of edible cacti which aren't covered in the prickly pear thread.

Wikipedia has a list of edible cacti. Found here,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_edible_cacti

Here's a link to a website dedicated to cacti. The forums (under cacti talk) there has a wealth of growing information for many many kinds of cacti. There's also a subsection dedicated to useful cacti. They also have lists with lots of pictures; a great aid for identifying any cacti that are found in your region.

http://www.cactiguide.com/

Many pieces of literature I've read, that discuss the history of the Southwest regions, mention that people would eat various cactus seeds. As to which are edible & palatable, I haven't a clue. Definitely a topic worth exploring if you live near any of the deserts.


 
Lynn Garcia
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With the shift in hardiness zones I think some Cholla may be able to grow here as well.  Strawberry Cactus as well.   I may just plant a big cactus patch.  I will have to look into some of the other prickly pears for my region.  I am pretty sure the newer varieties have been mostly acclimated well below zone 5.
 
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A little goes a long way.  In this region (Southern California), you'll find nopales cactus pads for sale in the Mexican markets --- even in the mainstream grocery stores as well.  One pad gives you plenty of nopales.  I can eat a bit, as part of the filling in a taco, but it tastes pretty tart and has a slimy texture --- it draws the way okra draws.  How much of that are you willing to eat?  One healthy cactus plant is pretty much all I'd ever need.  Because my neighbor has one (and I help her hack it back once a year), I don't need to plant on myself.

Yes, it would be a perennial crop, but if that's all you've got to eat, it's going to be a pretty lame Christmas.

Do chickens eat them?  The spines/thorns on them make them a bit of a pain to work with (see what i did there?).  Perhaps you could bake then or boil them and toss them into the chicken coop --- but if they won't eat them, I'm not sure who would.  Goats?  
 
Lynn Garcia
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I don't mind nopales on occasion but I was more interested in the fruits. My family used to make all kinds of things from them. The variety native to my region is best to just eat the fruit. The pads are not really very good. Could have just been the prep though.
 
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The pads taste like green beans if cooked properly.  I have not cooked them only eaten them. I have heard that they are best when young in the spring.

The fruits, Tuna, are usually only available when ripe about August.  I don't know about your region.  You could can the jelly or jam to eat year round.

 
Lynn Garcia
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When I was a kid we made jelly, jam, chutney, wine, and more from the fruit.  This all took many hours of the family out walking through the valley near our house. Growing a patch or them sounds much simpler.
 
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