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From Old Nonpareil to Lady Williams: Apple tasting notes, late season 2012/2013

Line of apples Here are my tasting notes from mid to late season.  The Late season extends quite late here with Lady Williams coming in at the end of February.  For notes on earlier apples and my thoughts on tasting and evaluation in general, see the previous post, Red Astrachan to King David.  I did not review every apple I tasted this season.  If something was really good, I'm inclined to mention it, but I feel I need more time to live with many of them before I make any judgement at all.  Young trees don't always produce exemplary fruit, and it can be difficult to judge when to pick and eat apples.  I also reserve the right to change my mind in the future as I encounter more specimens of various apples and maybe find new benchmarks for comparison.  And, as always, what does well here in sunny (often hot) Northern California might not do so well where you live, and vice versa.  This time around I’ve stuck mostly to apples that I did actually really  like, or had a lot of, and passed by many that were just not that interesting.  Some of these fruits are presented in the order of ripening, and some aren't... if that makes any sense... if that doesn't make sense, I guess I'll just give up and get on with it.


Old Nonpareil:  Light, juicy, pleasing, easy to eat.  Old Nonpareil has been very enjoyable eating this year.  Old Nonpareil has a difficult to describe quality that makes me think of some candy that I can’t remember, if it ever even existed in the first place.  It is not particularly intensely flavored or rich though, and is more along the lines of a light refreshing pleasant apple.  Everything seems to come together pretty well for an enjoyable eating experience.  It has something of a citrus quality, but I’m not sure if that's due mostly to the acidity or actual flavor compounds in the citrus realm.  Either way, citrus comes to mind, and not just to my mind.  Like many old apples, it is not crisp or crunchy.  It is alleged to keep well, but we didn’t have enough to try keeping any, especially since they seem to be prone to dropping from the tree before they are ripe.  The branch is in the shade and this is it’s first year bearing significant fruit, so I’m not sure the fruit is exemplary.  For now I’ll look forward to eating them when I can get them, and will probably graft a branch in a sunnier location for further evaluation.

Wickson:  Hella intense flavor in a tiny sugar filled package.  YUM! This tiny apple is named after then famous California Agronomy champion Edward J. Wickson, who had a large impact on agriculture in the state early in the 20th century.    Albert Etter must have recognized great quality in this fruit to name it after his friend and associate, who was an important figure at the time.  Everyone loves a Wickson.  Early in the season it did taste a bit oddly like crab (it is a crab apple after all), but the seafood element faded as the season moved on.  The latest specimens, though cracked from fall rains, were intensely flavored with insane amounts of sugar.  It is difficult to describe the flavor of Wickson, so I won't try, but it really is awesomely, rich and unique.  The only apple I've had that was close to similar in flavor is Crimson Gold, another Etter variety, which is also delicious, though not as intense.  (edit:  tonia says that if an apple could have umami, it would be wickson.  Adam of Adam's Apples blog describes one of the flavor components as malt.  I know what he means, though I wouldn't say that specifically, and haven't been able to characterize that flavor by comparison to anything else.)  I've heard two people this year say that if they could have only one apple it would be Wickson... one was a fruit expert and one was my mom.  During a talk on apples and apple growing, when asked what trees he would recommend planting Tim Bates said with confidence and practically before the question was finished, "WWWICKSON!".  He also added that when interns stay on the Apple Farm, Wickson is always their favorite apple by the time they leave.  Find one to eat, graft a branch, graft a tree, graft two, Wickson rocks!

Karmijn de Sonneville:  Ginormous cox decendent.  I tasted this Cox’s Orange Pippin/Johnathan cross from September through late October at least.  Most of my notes are very positive, though my memory is not equally positive.  The apple is very tart and that characteristic never mellowed much.  Karmijn de Sonneville had very bad watercore on frankentree the first few years, but seems to be getting over it now that the tree is bearing more regularly.  The tree that I planted of it in the garden orchard had horrible watercore this year and not a single good apple was harvested.  I’m hoping it will come around as the tree matures.

here are some excerpts from my notes on Karmijn de Sonneville:

Oct 15th  riper now.  still very tart, probably too tart for some.  Delicious though.  citrusy with other fruit flavors.  Very juicy, pretty rich, fairly complex.  The perfect apple for people who like to chew on lemons, it has a sensational level of tartness with strong undercurrents of relatively complex flavors.  Add to this a great texture and lots of juice and no wonder the Karmijn de Sonneville is a common taste test winner.

Oct 29th  very good.  Citrusy, pretty tart, yummy coxlike thing.

Grenadine®:  a fun apple that tastes as red as it looks.  Grenadine® is a rather obscure apple bred by Albert Etter of Ettersburg in Humboldt County California.  He was working on red fleshed apples, and this is the reddest of those available.  Grenadine® has one major issue (texture) and probably would not have been released in Etter’s time... and wasn’t.  Still, it is a remarkably flavorful apple with strong berry or fruit punch flavors.  Everyone seems to love it, and I’m quite fond of it myself.  The flesh is very dark pink, bordering on red.  The longer it hangs into early winter, the more intense the flavor becomes, but it also becomes more mealy.  Last year it was not as mealy as it is was this year.  It requires a long season for ripening.  This year it was probably at it’s best compromise between mealy and fully flavored around mid November.  I haven’t tried all the red fleshed Etter apples that are out there, but my guess is that another couple of generations of breeding would have yielded better specimens than are available now.  Greenmantle Nursery maintains a trademark on the name and doesn’t want anyone growing it without buying the trees exclusively from them and signing an non-propagation agreement, thus all the little ®'s.  As a result, the apple is very uncommon, but cuttings of it show up at scion exchanges, and it is not patented.

Grenadine.  Probably the reddest of the Etter red fleshed apples, and possibly the most intensely flavored.  As you can see the juice is red as well, and very delicious.

The apple formerly known as Rubaiyat®?:  Red flesh, red flavor, more please!  This is the Albert Etter apple trademarked as Rubaiyat® by Greenmantle Nursery.  The fact that Greenmantle limits propagation and demands royalties under that name serves as a disincentive to use it.  Perhaps if it had another name it could become popularized and thoroughly assessed by apple collectors and fruit growers, and could possibly even be found for sale now and then.  I had just a few of these on frankentree this year.  Many dropped from the tree prematurely and only one really fine specimen was harvested.  That specimen was, however, delicious!  The Texture is open and juicy with berry like flavors common to Etter’s red fleshed apples.  Grenadine® has stronger flavors, but this one seems to have better texture and is generally a more refined fruit.  I’m reeeeally looking forward to taste eating more of these.

Ruby is very red inside and as delicious as it looks.  Thanks Albert.

Becca’s Crab:  Tiny, crabby, but yummy.  My buddy Becca the farmer sent me some scions of this from North Carolina.  Apparently in came out of a university research orchard or something like that.  She said it made great cider.  I distributed some to other apple collectors and cider makers.  My scions died when a piece of frozen meat was set on them in the refrigerator, but one single bud miraculously lived.  It didn’t even grow the first year, but did the following year and it fruited quite a bit this year.  The apples are about an inch in diameter, beautifully red, round, with a deep yellow/orange flesh.  I ate some in the fall and more later in the December and January.  They hung well without going really soft.  A few were left hanging on January 1st, but many were starting to rot.  I picked them and the few that were still good were delicious.  The late ones had a lychee flavor as tonia pointed out.  The earlier ones were reminiscent of cherries, especially when eaten seeds and all.  It is a little crabby, with a marked astringency and it can also be somewhat mealy, but given a pile of them, I would probably eat a lot.  We’ll see what I think of it after living with it a few years.   If it makes great cider too, which seems not unlikely, I’d say this is a pretty swell little apple.  I may actually graft a whole tree of it.  Wish I had a few to munch on right now.  I wouldn't be surprised if this is a common named cultivar, but I don't know my crabs, so...  Does it look familiar to anyone?

Becca's Crab.  Tasty if a little crabby.

Pomo Sanel:  Local discovery falls short... This apple hung really late.  I picked the last ones on January first.  The texture was still firm.  The latest specimens had some skin blemishes and pitting, but were not rotting or anything like that.  The flavor is fairly rich, but not complex being dominated by a banana like flavor.  Banana not being my favorite, I found them inedible, even though I kept trying to eat them.  Suffice to say, the Chickens got to eat a lot of them.  Too bad because I am looking for late hanging apples.  This is probably an old known variety, but who knows, it might be a local seedling.  It came from a scion exchange and I believe the bag said it was from an old homestead or farm in Talmage.  I assumed that it was named by whomever collected it.  I would not say it was a bad apple at all, but just not excellent and not to my tasts, so I will not continue growing it.

Newton Pippin:  A most praised and praiseworthy apple.  (a.k.a. Newtown Pippin, Albermarle Pippin):  There is a tree of this famous American apple on the property next to us.  I grafted it onto frankentree some years back because the old tree is so decrepit that I figured it didn’t have long to live.  In fact, one of the three trees I took cuttings from fell over and died within a year.  I had a few late harvested apples off the remaining Newton Pippin this year, and it they were similar to other good newtons I’ve had.  There is a strong fruit flavor like jolly rancher candy, sometimes the watermelon flavor and sometimes just generic fake candy flavor.  I’m very intrigued.  I’ve been told numerous times that Newton will not do well here, but I’m not convinced.  (Recent conversations with local growers indicate that it probably does fine here, but that it may take a very long time to come into bearing and is scab susceptible.)  Interestingly, the apples that I harvested off frankentree, which were grafted from the original tree are not nearly as flavorful.  Still, they were quite good and when eaten out of the fridge in late January were of a very welcome quality.  I’m also looking forward to trying a couple of highly rated offspring of the Newtown Pippin- the Virginia Gold (Golden Delicious X Newton) and the New Rock Pippin, an English seedling of Newton Pippin purported to keep extremely well.  Virginia Gold scions just arrived and I’m working on getting New Rock Pippin into the country with the help of apple super enthusiast John Gasbarre of Lamb Abbey Orchards.  The Newton Pippin has an interesting history, but I’ll save all that for another time and place.  for a little more on Newton Pippin check Orange Pippin.

The Venerable Newton Pippin.  A thorough review of the literature would probably show this to be the most praised American apple.  It was still common in grocery stores when I was a kid, but only in a green and very tart state, much Like Granny Smith today.

Hauer Pippin:  Hoped for better, still hoping...  I’ve been really excited to try this apple, but it turns out I’ve been trying it for a few years under the pseudonym of Rose Pippin.  I planted a semi dwarf tree of it on recommendation from a friend in Santa Cruz County who is especially fond of it and knows his apples.  Axel of the Cloudforest Cafe is also very fond of it.  To me, it did not have Wow flavor and it didn’t actually store that well.  The texture after a short time in refrigerated storage was bordering on mealy.  The flavor is hard to describe.  There are some subtle notes of cinnamon candy that I like, but the dominant flavor is somewhat peculiar, very subtle and impossible to nail down.  It’s almost more of a sensation than a taste, like alkalinity or acidity are.  I’ll try this a couple more years and hope that it comes around.  Maybe I have to pick it earlier and store it, but so far, not so good, although it hangs late and is not a bad apple by any means when it is still firm.  I just want more out of it if it’s going to have a whole tree to itself.

More on the Hauer Pippin by Axel Kratel here:

Hauer Pippin Ripens very late and is reported to keep very well, though mine went mealy pretty fast... maybe I need to pick them sooner.

Lady Williams:  Super late and quite tasty, Lady Williams scores more points!  Lady Williams was encouraging this year.  One tree was drought stricken (no water and heavy competition from a huge Poison Oak bush) and had poorer quality apples.  The apples off frankentree were much better.  As usual, they ripened late January, being pretty prime right around Feb 1st.  Lady Williams is a tart apple, but by the time it is really ripe on the tree, the high measure of acidity is balanced by a shit ton of sugar!  It is a very sweet apple.  Flavor is also strong and I guess I would say fruity for lack of any specific descriptors.  The one odd flavor I picked out was on the drought stricken tree, Oregano of all things.  Those fruits were very stunted though.  Lady Williams is a descendent of Granny Smith and the parent of Pink Lady, which seems to be the best supermarket apple out there.  The Lineage is... French Crab begat Granny Smith, begat Lady Williams, Begat Pink Lady...  Lady Williams looks like a keeper for sure since it is not only extremely late, but it is quite good as well.  It requires this long season to ripen though, which would seem to limit its distribution to only a few areas.  It will withstand considerable frost and freezes, but I'm sure there is a limit.  We rarely see temps as low as 20 degrees.

Welcome to the Paleotechnics blog!


Welcome to the Paleotechnics blog.  While this blog springs forth from various motivations, the one thing we would like to be sure of is that you learn something when you visit us here.  What will you learn?  The topics will vary quite a lot, but most will fall in the realm of natural living skills and getting to know the natural world and the articulations of life around us.  A few posts may venture more into theoretical realms and philosophy, but again within the same focus on human participation in nature at a basic level using the simple equation-  Learn stuff > gather stuff > make things > use the things you’ve made = personal empowerment and greater self reliance.  We have well over a hundred potential blog post topics already jotted down.  topics will cover tanning skin, stone working, the nature and potential uses of materials, processing of materials, common mistakes, cordage, fire topics, tips and techniques for various skills, plant profiles, wild foods, photo essays and more.  Our lives are built around gaining and sharing knowledge, so we're excited to share in this format!

Paleotechnics has always been about de-mystifying and making accessible natural living skills and basic technology.  The business manifested as an outgrowth of this passion and continues to strive to empower people to become less domesticated and more self reliant.

buckskins on woven wall

Posts will likely be infrequent and short to medium in length.  The goal will be to hold subjects to an accessible degree of detail or break them up over more posts.  We plan to write much more extensively on some of these subjects in the future.  If those plans come to fruition, the books will be available as paper and/or ebook versions.

While this is a business, and we do need to make money, we would like to strike a balance between making a living and providing free information for people with the motivation to seek it out and assimilate it.  This blog provides a free service to expand and refine your skill sets.  If you want to know more about a subject consider buying one of our publications or taking a class.  In classes, we aim to be sure that you will not go away disappointed.  Paleotechnics classes are geared toward empowerment through knowledge, and we mean it.  Most of our income goes to purchasing Turkeysong, the experimental paleo/homesteading base camp in the Mountains of Northern California where we have access to space and materials to figure this stuff out.

Please visit us again, and consider subscribing to our blog in the side bar, to receive email notifications of new posts.

buffalo parfleche

Posted on January 30, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.

Turkeysong, the Year in Chickens 2012

Chickens have been a constant source of amusement here for the past year and a half or more.  We have been testing out various breeds and just seeing how chickens might or might not integrate into the homestead.  We are learning a lot, but the main product so far has been entertainment!  More on chickens later, but here are a few frozen moments from our year of Chickens.  brrrrrraaaaaaauuk. How many speckled sussex?

tonia with a Speckled Sussex.

Speckled Sussex Chick.

baby Buckeye chicken.  Buckeyes are a very rare heritage breed that we are trying out here.  They are alleged to be good foragers, curious and are supposed to emit a dinosaur like raor

Buffy the Bug Slayer being narcissistic?

tonia and buffy, the biggest and the smallest TLA...  tonia is a sebright bantam and Buffy was a Buff Orpington.

Buffy and tonia's eggs begin hatching...

hatching seabuffs.

Checking out a new sibling.

tonia giving the warning fluff.

awww, too cute to leave out.

Speckled Sussi growing up.

Rondo makes the cut as new head rooster.  Still hoping he develops more personality though...

Buffy wears a bra.  He somehow got bra over his head while sticking it somewhere it didn't belong.  We had to rescue him because he was running around terrified.  Or was that just a ruse?

Not amused.  It used to be quiet around here.

So that's our year in Chickens.  It would be great to hear anyone's experiences with free ranging chickens.  We don't have a dog, or fencing, so we've lost quite a few, but they sure are happy running around all over the place scratching the place up.  The eggs are great too from all those bugs and plants they eat.

Deck the Halls With Beads of Berries: paleo holiday decorating with madrone!

madrone berry macro 2

The roots of our holiday symbols stretch far back into the past.  Greenery and red berries brought into the house are the primary symbols of the holiday season for western culture.  These symbols once meant more to people in a time when we need to celebrate, life, hope, warmth and renewal.  Madrone berry beads are a beautiful addition when moving towards a sort of holiday vernacular of the west coast region.  They are attractive, free, not only safe, but edible, and can be returned to the earth from whence they came when we are done with them.  They will last for at least several seasons if well made and cared for.

Paleotechnics usually sells madrone berry garlands and necklaces around the holidays.  After years of stringing and drying the berries, we have some tips on making your madrone beads look their best.  You may or may not be able to follow all of these tips on berry quality depending on what berries you have access to, but we all have to use what we are fortunate enough to find.  We are often asked how we get our garlands so uniform and beautiful.  The answer is attention to detail as in so many other pursuits in life.  So, here are those details and a few other tips.

*Use red string.  Red embroidery thread doubled up works very well.  We have rarely had to buy it new since it is often found in thrift stores.

*Sort your berries carefully avoiding berries which look at all sooty or splotchy.  Sooty berries can get sootier as they dry.  Small black specks are common as well.  The specks will not grow in size, though they will be very visible on the dried berry.

madrone berry cluster 2

*String similar sizes together.  Remove all the berries from the stem and then string the largest berries from a double handful at a time.  Put the berries on a flat tray or dish one layer thick so that it is easy to see the different sizes.  Once the largest berries are strung from that double handful, dump them into a separate container and grab a second double handful, string the largest from that lot, and so on.  That way each round through you are stringing the next smallest size of berry.  If you want to get fancy, you can taper them from small to large, etc.

*Thread through the stem end and as straight as possible.

*String several berries onto the needle before moving them down the string.  This trick just saves time.

*String about a foot of berries near the needle and then scoot them to the end of the string by moving them down one handful at a time, another time saver.

*Once the berries are all strung, go back through them and remove crooked ones.

*Snug the berries up close together.  don’t squish them, but you want them uniformly cozy.

*Dry quickly.  Dry the berries quickly.  Very slow dried berries can turn black and begin to decay.  Hanging above a woodstove or heater is a perfect way to get them dried fast.  It can still take a week or more, but the sooner the better.  Avoid direct sunlight to retain vibrant color.

*Don’t move the berries on the string once they begin drying.  Seat the berries snuggly together on the strand, hang them up, and leave them alone to dry.  The berries will shrink and stick to the string spacing themselves evenly.

*Store the garland away from mice and insects and away from direct sunlight.

madrone berry garland hanks 2

*And finally, watch out for Kissing Bugs!  Kissing bugs are a parasitic biting insect that really likes living on Madrone berry clusters.  They commonly feed on birds and birds love madrone berries, so that probably explains why they are so commonly found there. They are around 3/8 of an inch or smaller.  I’ve never been bitten, but they are very common.  I recently sorted the berries off of three plastic shopping bags full and found as many as four in one bag.  They will usually stay on the berry clusters rather than venturing off, but I like to remove the berries from the stems outside, so the bugs don’t end up in the house.  I examine each cluster carefully before I start working with it, but still keep my eyes peeled as I’m working.  They are difficult to spot.  The Bugs are blood sucking and often bite near the mouth, thus the name.  A study in Arizona found that they frequently carry a parasitic disease than can cause serious chronic health problems.  They often bite at night, so you don’t want them in your house!  I have never noted them to be aggressive toward me at all, and suspect that they would rather feed on something besides people.

kissing bug 2

Posted on December 3, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Check out the new Paleotechnics blog

When I started this blog I was going to throw everything together under one roof from music reviews to opinions, to primitive stuff, to how-to homesteading stuff.  I like that idea because it represents my life and thoughts as a diversified whole.  However, I realize that a lot of people who want to read about chickens and fruit trees might not want to read about the best heavy metal band ever, or other random topics.  I’ll probably be keeping this blog pretty focused on homesteady stuff, with suffusions of opinion and philosophy as they are relevant to how and why I do things.  For now, less related opinions and over arching philosophies will take a seat on the back burner.  I was also not too sure about writing about some of the primitive stuff I do. I’ve decided to open another blog for Paleotechnics.  The Paleotechnics blog will be for the paleo stuff,  I've been involved with for 25 years or so.  Some topics will include, wild foods, tanning and leather working, fire by friction, learning plants, natural glues and paints, fire topics, stone tools and stuff like that.  I already have over 125 potential topics lined out.  The format will be shorter than the Turkeysong blog for the most part.  I’m going to try to keep posts short and less comprehensive.  The shorter approach is partly due to the fact that I can only spend so much time on the computer, but also because I plan to (or in some cases already have done) write in much greater depth about many of these topics in the future.  It will be difficult to decide where to put an article occasionally.  In those cases, I will cross post things like tanning skins that might be of interest to Turkeysong followers.  The first Paleotechnics post is up if you want to check it out.  It is on harvesting, storing and using California bay nuts.

Posted on November 5, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Baynutting: Tips for Harvesting, Storing and Using California Bay Nuts

NOTE:  Bay nuts must be properly roasted to be edible to humans.  In spite of our best efforts to the contrary, we still commonly encounter people who are not roasting their bay nuts properly.  Most commonly, the nuts are not dried before roasting.  The second most common problem is roasting too cool.  The toxicity of unroasted bay nuts is unknown, but they are probably not good for you.  A tickling irritation in the back of the throat, almost like a burning sensation, is indicative of inadequate roasting.  Please read and follow directions.)

Bay nut season is starting here in Northern California and it appears to be a good year. They should be raining down from trees up and down the coast for the next month or more.  The season varies year to year.  Sometimes it will extend into late November or even later.  Ripening times also vary among individual trees with some dropping early and some later on.  Here are some tips to increase your success and enjoyment with baynuts this year and for years to come!  See this article on the Paleotechnics website for a more in-depth treatment of bay nuts and Bay trees.  And, look for a definitive book on bay trees and baynuts from paleotechnics by fall 2014!  Follow us onfacebook to stay informed.)

*Harvest the nuts in a timely fashion.  You don’t want them to either mold, or to start undergoing the physiological changes that happen when they begin sprouting.  It’s best to harvest the nuts before the husks are very dried or very rotten.  It is easiest to husk them when the outer coating is soft, but not mushy.  They are ripe when they begin to drop naturally from the tree.  If the husks are too firm and difficult to remove, let them sit around and ripen for a day or three.

* don't put off Husking the nuts:  When they are soft enough, husk them.

* Rinse the nuts in several changes of water briefly before drying.

* Dry soon after harvesting.  The nuts are easy to dry and may do fine in a warm well ventilated room.  If possible though, keep them near a heat source like a heater or woodstove.  If the sun is out, put them on the dash board of a car with the windows just cracked or simply out in the sun on trays during the day, bringing them in at night.  When fully dry, the nut inside the shell will be somewhat hard and brittle, not rubbery or flexible.

* Store dry nuts in the shells.

* Always dry the nuts before roasting!  Roasting the green nuts is a common mistake, it doesn’t work.

* Roast the nuts in the shells.  They can be roasted out of the shell, but our experience is that they roast more evenly in the shell.

* Roast quickly, stirring often: Roast at 425 to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stir the nuts every 2 to 3 minutes without fail for about 20 minutes so that they roast evenly.  Set a timer so that you don’t forget.  If the oven heat is at all uneven, as many ovens are, turn the pan 180 degrees a few times during roasting.  (Edit:  We've been using a popcorn popper to roast lately.  Seems to be working very well.  See this post.)

* Don’t roast more than you can use soon, and keep the roasted nuts sealed in a small jar or a plastic bag until consumed.  They go stale quickly and are best eaten immediately after roasting when they are at their tastiest.   Traditional use seems to have been mostly roasted in hot ashes around the fire for fairly immediate consumption.

* Roast them how you like them.  As long as they are roasted enough to get rid of the strongly flavored volatile oils that tickle and irritate the throat, you can roast the nuts as dark or light as you like.  The color can range from a light brown (the color of coffee with a little cream) to very dark brown.  Take some nuts out early and leave others in the oven a little longer to figure out what your  preference is.

* Don’t eat too many at once!  while tolerance varies, bay nuts do contain a stimulant and can totally wig some people out!

A few additional points:

* Bay nuts are one of the few foods that are high in the rare fat lauric acid, also found in coconut oil and ascribed numerous health benefits.

* The flesh of bay nut husks are edible when ripe.  The upper (stem) end of the nut is the best part.  The flesh is similar to avocado, to which they are related.  It is more of a nibble than a significant food though.

* The fat in bay nuts is very stable being almost completely saturated, so the un-roasted nuts can keep for years.

* Roasted bay nuts make awesome bait for trapping mice and packrats, who can smell them from a long way off and seem to find them irresistible.

Related post:  Roasting Bay Nuts in a Popcorn Popper

Posted on November 4, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

Red Astrachan to King David: Apple tasting impressions summer/fall 2012

This has been our best season for apples so far, with something like sixty or seventy of our varieties in fruit.  We are through the early season and into the mid season now.  What I mainly want to do in this post is briefly introduce some ideas on a philosophy of apple tasting and selection, and then cover some of the more promising apples we’ve eaten so far.  I'll include a few notes on some of the less promising apples as well.  I was somewhat remiss in taking photos, but I'll try to do better for the rest of the season.

Some varieties bore only an apple or two, and others in enough quantity to get pretty well acquainted.  Sometimes it takes a few years in bearing condition for the trees to produce exemplary fruit, so most of the varieties that were disappointing this year will be given a stay of execution to prove themselves of some worth before deciding to convert them to another variety by grafting.

It is also a learning curve to figure out just when to pick each variety.  Some should be ripened on the tree and eaten without delay.  Others should be picked early and stored for months before eating.  It takes some time and experimentation to figure out just when to pick and eat the things.  So, in some cases, we were only able to get preliminary impressions, and in other cases, no useful impressions at all.  Further, many of the varieties are buried somewhere in the recesses of Frankentree.  He has too many varieties grafted on to ripen them all really well.  Weaker or poorly placed varieties get buried beneath vigorous branches.  That means that some lack adequate sunlight for really good ripening and color.  I try to keep that fact in mind when assessing the fruit.  Some of the promising types will be grafted out into better locations for further assessment.

Keep in mind that the whole reason I’m doing this is to find good apples; actually, I'm doing it to find the very best apples.  But what is good in one place will not be good in another.  So, some of our rejects might be the best thing ever under different climatic and cultural conditions.  Conversely of course, what is great here might not cut it elsewhere.  Still, reviews like this are a place to start in selecting varieties.  Our climate is dry in the summer and can get pretty hot with temps regularly in the 90's and reliably above 100 for a few periods during the summer.  because it is dry, disease pressure is usually pretty light, but the heat can greatly affect quality in some varieties.

A few notes on tasting.  I've spent a lot of time listening very carefully to vintage vacuum tube audio equipment which I collect and repair, and I think I can make an analogy to apple eating.  My take home message after a few years of careful listening was as follows.  You can sit around and analyze exactly how your equipment sounds, breaking down each variable and measuring by quantity and quality.  But, in the end, if the point is to enjoy music, the experience should be taken as a whole and the overall impression on us should be, well,...  ENJOYABLE!  Simple enough, but easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees as they say.  What I primarily rely on in assessing audio equipment now is not whether the sum of the parts should add up, but rather whether they actually do add up.   The best question to ask is  “do I want to keep listening”?  Is the music compelling?  Do I want to turn it up, leave it on, sit and listen and get lost in the music.  Is there emotive force in the music- does it move me?  Am I tapping my foot?  Or, on the other extreme, do I want to jump up and turn it off.  My overall reaction is what ultimately matters the most if the goal is to enjoy the music.  I’m noticing the same phenomenon in taste testing apples for which I’ll use the term compelling.

Am I compelled to eat the apple?  That compulsion could come from many complex co-factors.  For instance, it could be said that a somewhat mild and understated apple is tame and not very intense in flavor.  If my expectations of that apple are too loaded with comparisons to other apples or if I have an over reliance on a few particular traits which I've identified as ideal in a good apple, I might not notice that it’s just really compelling to eat; that, in it’s simplicity as a fruit, there is a formula that simply works.  Creston is such an apple.  For other imminently edible apples the formula may be quite different.  They may demand my attention with intense flavors.  I might find myself chewing with great intent and sucking at the pieces to extract every bit of juice from them.  Whatever the case, the edibility factor, how everything comes together to make us want to eat an apple, is ultimately the best acid test for apple selection when it comes to eating quality.  Paying attention to whether or not an apple is compelling to eat is the most useful single criteria because it brings everything together under one roof if it’s good, or tosses it out on its ass if it’s not.  Not only can the complex factors that create harmony, or a lack of harmony, in a single apple be difficult to analyze, but trying too hard to do so can disrupt the experience of eating and enjoying a good apple.  Breaking down all the elements into their component parts, while interesting, is ultimately of less real utility than just taking the basic encompassing response of mind and body.  Enjoy the Music!

All that having been said, I will of course still be analyzing apples for flavor components and other details like texture and juiciness, along with edibility.  There are of course other considerations, but my impressions on cultural traits are sparse as of yet, so they are not addressed here all that much.

One thing I’m learning this season is that there are going to be a lot of apples that have high potential here.  Determining those which will find long term favor with us will be a journey.  Quality in these matters are always measured in benchmarks.  Something can come along which resets the benchmark and changes the whole perspective.  Fortunately, with apples there is such a variety of flavor, such a multitude of uses and such a long season, that plenty of room exists on the homestead for variety.  With over 200 varieties currently in residence here and more on the way, I think the long list of suitable apples will be pretty long indeed, and the short list may ultimately prove challenging to draw up.  It will be necessary to live with the trees and their apples for a longer period of time to come to know them well enough for all of that to jell.  Fortunately, the art of grafting allows great flexibility in changing over from one variety to another.  For now, we have some losers and some keepers.  Will the keepers be kept?  or will they get bumped by something better?  Give me another 10 years.

So, lets look at some apples:

Red Astrachan, just edible when it's the only game in town.  This is our earliest apple by a good stretch being ripe here in the second week of July and done by the 1st week of August.  My early impressions were that it was not worth eating.  It is an acidic apple, low in sugar and a little sparse on flavor.  "Thin" describes it pretty well overall.  By the end of the season I had decided I could enjoy eating one when in prime condition and chilled.  It is primarily a cooking apple and is alleged by some to make great apple sauce.  I think that would be with sugar added.  I did a little cooking with it and it seemed good enough I guess.  I would like to replace it with something better in that season, but if it’s the best thing going at that time, I might hang on to it.  I am collecting as many early apples with promising descriptions as I can to fill this niche.  Red Astrachan sets the bar pretty low as a benchmark.  Older literature tends to rank this apple higher than I would, so maybe it has more potential in other climates.

Sunrise, Early and promising, but...  This apple started out promising.  I’m still somewhat interested in it, but by the end of it's short season I was a little cold.  It gets points for being early for sure.  Sunrise is an attractive apple which has some neat flavors and a crunchy texture which should be popular with modern apple eaters.  Flavor hints were green grape, bubblegum (tonia), and later a sugar cane or jujube like sweetness.  All in all, pretty tame flavor profile, but interesting when it was prime.  It is a sweet apple.  I realize that sweet apples lacking in acidity are popular with some people, so those people should take note.  I think it is a very good sweet apple at that season.  Still, without a balance of acidity it falls flat, and I tend to lose interest pretty fast.  If some acidity could be injected Sunrise has a lot of other good qualities considering it's season.  I’ll give it a chance for another year or two, but I’m not super hopeful.

Kerry’s Irish Pippin, new benchmark in early apples.  This old Irish apple was as early as Sunrise, which is just slightly ahead of Gravenstein.  Around here that was second and third weeks of August this year.  It is a small apple with a peculiar line running up the side like a seam.  Like Sunrise, it gets points for earliness but, as one source said, it’s a good apple at any time of year.  I don’t have much to say about particular flavors, but it was quite good, rich for an early apple, fruity, maybe some spice.  tonia says dried mango and pear.  The texture is, firm and fine grained and pleasant to eat, not particularly juicy, and not the texture that modern apple breeders are aiming for and consumers are coming to expect.  All in all Kerry's is the most promising early apple here this year and the new benchmark for such.  Tim Bates of the Apple Farm in Philo is a big fan of this apple and I got my cuttings from him.  Thanks Tim!

Gravenstein, Could be better, should be better.  Gravenstein was not very good here this year.  We never got one that was really prime.  Part of that is due to bird damage with not a single fruit remaining unpecked.  I’m inclined to think that Gravs are great when they are just right, but just before and just after, they are of little account.  That "good then gone" character is typical of early apples in general.  I’m still hoping for better things from our Gravenstein tree, but at this point I’m inclined to continue grafting over more of it to other early apples.  We live not far from West Sonoma County which is famous for growing great Gravensteins.  A few samples from that area last year were somewhat of a revelation, but the climate here is significantly hotter and drier.

Golden Nugget, disappointing, but I'm not giving up yet!  Another apple that ripened very early was the Golden Nugget.  I was excited to try this one as it is a cross between Golden Russet and Cox’s Orange Pippin, two great and intensely flavored apples, and still possibly the most intense and compelling apples I've ever eaten.  It ripened in August which seemed unusual, but I read in a forum somewhere that they can ripen very early.  It was just pretty good at it's best, which was disappointing, but then it is the first year of fruit on a two year old cordon tree, so I don’t want to judge it too hastily until the tree settles in a bit.  The last Golden Nugget I ate was better than those before it, so I'm hoping that I picked it too early or that I just need to store it for a while.  Then again, I didn't pick most of them because they fell off.  It does get points for early ripening and seemed promising for an early apple if it gets its act together.  It is an attractive apple, but not by our warped grocery store standards.

Fiesta (aka Red Pippin), Silly name, satisfying apple.  Fiesta is a newer apple as you can tell by the silly name.  It is a cross between Cox’s Orange Pippin and Idared.  It is earlier than Cox’s here.  I don’t have full notes on the season, but I have down that it was very tasty on Sept 15th.  The apples are on the large side, broadly conical and attractive.  The acid/sugar balance is good to my taste.  Flavors are “red apple”, maybe some green apple and some almost artificial fruit flavors which are not uncommon in good apples.  I don’t mean artificial in a bad way, but that is the description often evoked.  Fiesta is juicy, nicely textured when in prime condition and easy to eat.  It has a good balance between keeping your attention while not demanding it or being overwhelmingly intense.  I like overwhelmingly intense apples, but I also like to just chill out and eat an apple sometimes without having to pay too much attention.  Fiesta is a good fruit for casual eating while still remaining quite interesting if you want to pay more attention.  I’m going to slap a label of very promising on Fiesta and look forward to eating more next year.

Cherry cox, better than old Cox.  Cherry Cox were eaten through much of September and in storage well into October.  The fruits have to be harvested over a long period as they become ripe.  This variety has been a real performer here and has bested the famous old variety Cox's Orange Pippin which spawned it.  It watercored the first year or two, but has settled in and had no watercore at all this season.  Watercore is a physiological phenomenon where some of the flesh and core of the apple becomes saturated looking and generally sweeter.  Some people like it.  I'm not so keen on watercored apples, and the fruit will not keep.  We ate the last Cherry Cox out of the fridge on Oct 17th and it was still pretty good.  Cherry Cox is a nice looking sport of Cox’s Orange Pippin (sport meaning it is a mutation of a single bud on a tree which grew into a new variety).  It is green fading to yellowish with often dramatically broad red stripes.  It is reportedly more disease resistant and longer storing than Cox's Orange Pippin with a taste of cherry.  The Cherry flavor is mild in some and strong in others.  It’s something like a cherry cough drop, but in a good way.  It is on the tart side with rich fruit flavors... strong, but not usually intense.  It is a refreshing apple, lively with acidity while still being plenty sweet, and is good for eating out of hand.  I did notice that it was sometimes hard to figure out when to pick and eat it at just the right stage.  It can get a little bit mealy or granular if it is very ripe, but it can taste a little sharp and raw if too green.  The window between seems small and it is difficult to know when to pick since it ripens over a period of weeks.  Still, that analysis aside, we ate them and ate them some more, in and on both sides of, that window and would eat yet more if we had them.  Because of the flavor as well as our overall desire to eat them in quantity, Cherry Cox seems like a keeper here at Turkeysong .  Add high productivity and precociousness into that equation and it’s a real winner.  It isn't the best apple ever, but it has a lot going for it.

Cox's Orange Pippin, nothing to write home about :(  I had one of these off my mom's tree a couple years ago that really knocked my socks off.  I was hopeful after that, but it has disappointed here consistently.  I think good years for Cox's would be few and far between in our climate and we are probably better off pursing other apples including some of Cox's many offspring, a number of which are reviewed on this page and excellent in quality.

Sweet Sixteen, flavor you couldn't ignore if you wanted to.   Sweet Sixteen is another early to mid September apple.  It was finished harvesting by the end of Sept and that was probably a bit late.  Sweet Sixteen is from the University of Minnesota breeding program and was released in 1977.  It is a nice looking red apple that is intensely aromatic and flavorful.  You can smell a good example from several feet away.  Apples boast a large palate of flavors and Sweet Sixteen showcases that fact.  Early, somewhat unripe, specimens were so intensely flavored of bubblegum and cherry candy, that they were a bit much, especially lacking the sugar and acid to balance the flavor.  Later specimens yielded a somewhat more harmonious and less gimicky flavor with notes of artificial cherry, bubblegum, anise, almond and “red apple”.  These flavors are generally not subtle, but are right up in your face.  It will probably be a bit much for conservative palates causing some upturning of noses, nose wrinkling, grimacing and other signs of disapproval.  On the other hand, it must be awesome for kids and certainly for the more adventurous grown ups among us.  If apples have to compete with the candy isle, which it could be argued that they do if we want kids to eat them in this age of foods engineered to make us want more, then this is a step in that direction.  we’ll be hanging onto sweet sixteen and probably adding a tree.  The birds also like it!

Freyburg, Anise and banana flavored, gourmet Chicken food.   Although it did taste of anise as advertised, and sometimes strongly, Freyburg is sweet with little acidity.  Chuck likes it for that reason though, and other sweet apple lovers might as well.  It can taste anywhere from mildly to intensely anise flavored.  Other flavors are banana, perfume or maybe flowers, and pear.  It has brilliantly white flesh and a sort of creamy flavor and interesting fine texture.  As far as I’m concerned this one is out of the running.  If you like sweet apples, it’s probably a good if not very good apple, but for me the total of the flavors and sugar/acid balance is curious, but not compelling.  Most were picked too early, the last one picked on Oct 22nd seemed like it was probably in just about prime condition.  I said Wow when I bit into it because the anise flavor was so strong... but the chickens finished it.

Egremont Russet, a solid old school English Russet.  This is a famous English russet with a rough, pretty thick and fairly astringent skin.   My notes say it seemed prime on September 22nd, but it ripens over a long season with the last few hanging on till mid October.  Egremont was popular with farmer’s market customers who probably would not have given it a second glance if it hadn't been for the tasters we handed out.  Most of the people who tasted it bought a few.  It is very sweet as many russets are.  The texture is dense, but I wouldn’t say dry or rubbery as some russets tend to be.  The flavor is rich and dense, but not particularly complex or “wow”.  It is sufficiently acidic to be lively in the mouth and the peel is fairly astringent.   Egremont seems to be keeping well in the fridge.  The flavor and texture of the refrigerated apples a month after picking is very good and hardly changed.  The most interesting thing is that the stored specimens don’t taste like refrigerator.  Many apples can go into the fridge for only a week or two and come out tasting like a not so delicate blend of everything in there which is a real buzzkill.  The tree is somewhat prone to early drops and ripens over a long season.  I noticed that the birds pecked at them but didn’t care to eat them, probably because of the dense flesh, so damage remained minimal.   I think we might keep the Egremont, but I hope to compare it to some other russets in the next few years.  My experience indicates that the Golden Russet definitely trumps the Egremont as it is grown here.  I haven’t had any significant quantity of Golden Russets on my trees yet, (blame the packrats who ate one tree down to nubs to build a nest), so I can’t compare site grown apples.  Egremont is also alleged to make very good cider which is a bonus.

Rubinette, more please!  A cross between Cox’s Orange Pippin and Golden Delicious.  It’s hard to find a bad word said about this apple in terms of flavor.  We have been very impressed with some of our 10 or so specimens this year.  It is richly flavored, balanced and fairly complex.  All in all Rubinette is a harmonious eating experience, and that is the take home message for this apple.  It hangs on the tree well, but has to be picked before it over ripens.  The apples are small and the tree is said to be small and a weak grower.  The apples were very nice looking and variable in size from medium-small to smaller.  I have only one branch, but am inclined to graft a tree after tasting this years samples.

Chestnut Crab, Delicious and brightly flavored, followed by a hint of rotten nuts and seafood.  I was excited to try this variety bred at the University of Minnesota in the 1940s.  It grew rather large for us on a two year old oblique cordon and is more like a small apple than a crab.  It is a gorgeous apple with flushes and blushes and light russeting over a translucent background.  The flavor was encouraging early in the season, lively and rich with plenty of sweetness.  The word that came to both tonia and I was bright.  I’d like to live with a larger quantity for a while, but I’m pretty sure I could stuff a lot of them down my face... later they were maybe not so good.  After just a week or two of refrigeration they developed a taste which is referred to as nutty elsewhere... thus the name of the apple.  I would characterize it as odd, more like somewhat rotten nuts and maybe with a hint of seafood.  I didn’t care for that flavor much, though It was still really good with cheese.  Other people who tasted it responded more favorably, but mostly not.  That tasting was on Sept 22nd, so it was probably good for eating to my tastes (pre nut flavor) in early to mid September.

Ribston Pippin, probably not.  I may not have picked it at the right time, but this famous apple was somewhat disappointing.  I had one late specimen ripened longer on the tree than the rest that was promising, but not great.  I’ll give it more of a chance, but I have a feeling that we will not experience the coalescing of attributes that have made this apple famous as it is grown in Britain.

Kidd’s Orange Red, I like the orange, but not the red, next please.  Kidd’s Orange Red has a great reputation.  It is a cross between Red Delicious, the apple that nearly ruined America’s taste for apples, and Cox’s Orange Pippin the darling of Britain, and probably the most lauded apple ever in terms of dessert quality.  Kidd's seems to be pretty popular with apple enthusiasts.  I have had the occasional specimen that made me think I should grow more, but in general I’m not that impressed.  Kidd’s Orange can be intense and has some very good Cox like flavors at times, but sitting right next to those flavors is the “red apple” flavor of Red Delicious.  Some people love that flavor and if you are one of them, Kidd’s is probably worth a try.  I find that flavor unharmonious and distracting in this apple, even if I’m partial to it in some other apples.  At this point I’m ready to throw in the towel.  I’ve had it for a few years and it gets demerits for inconsistency in quality and not suiting my taste.

Not Laxton’s Fortune, but hella good!  It typically takes a few years for an apple to fruit from the graft.  The first order of business when they do is to note whether they appear to be what they are labeled as.  Unfortunately mislabeling is common for whatever reasons.  The branch labeled as Laxton’s fortune on Frankentree does not appear to be that at all.  It is a shiny, red, blocky apple which looks like more of a modern creation.  It tastes like a new creation as well.  In fact, it tastes very much like Sweet Sixteen which it also resembles although I have no Sweet Sixteen left for direct comparison.  If the seasons weren’t nearly a month and more apart, I would suspect it might be that variety.  Anyway, whatever it is, it’s good!  It has a very similar flavor profile and texture to Sweet Sixteen, intense almost artificial flavors of candy and cherry flavoring along with a good dose of red apple flavor.  Think jolly rancher candy... which one?  Maybe a bunch of them mixed together.  we’ve only eaten a couple this year, but last year it was a hit as well.  It is just ripe now in the third week of October, so I may revisit this one in a later post after I’ve eaten them all!  The apples in the picture have writing on them because they are part of a breeding effort.

Suntan, super reputation, so far disappointed, not giving up.  This tree has been somewhat of a disappointment.  Reviews by other growers are outstanding.  Like this one for Stephen Hayes:

“...long keeping apple with a WOW! flavour of tropical fruits and concentrated sunshine. The first time we tasted this apple I ate 5 or 6 non stop until my guts were bursting, it tasted that good. Pineapples, mangos and melons were noticeable among the rich mix of exotic fruit flavours in this delightful fruit.” “Possibly the most underrated apple in England.  Today (9th July 2004) Julia and I shared the last apple from the 2003 season-it was a Suntan and it was STILL CRUNCHY and full of flavour.”

My apple guru Freddy Menge also recommended it from his short must-have list.  I’m intrigued by our suntan, but not wowed for sure.  Part of the reason is that they have watercored very badly the last two years usually fermenting on the tree in the hot sun... sunburn more like.  This year a few did not watercore badly, but most did.  I’m hoping that the watercore will go away as the tree matures as it has on some other varieties here.  The fruit can still be enjoyable to eat and even really good, but good specimens are only occasional and they still taste like they are not up to par.  There is a definite flavor of pineapple, which seems to be somewhat intensified by the watercore at times.  Texture is often poor.  I remember hitting some fractured rock when digging the hole for this tree, so I think it is not in a prime spot.  It seems to be lacking in vigor which is not supposed to be characteristic of this variety.  I’m not going to give up on Suntan too easily.  I’m determined to grow it to perfection here if that is possible.

King David, outstanding and here to stay.  This apple is very recommended by local growers and was on several local's must have lists.  It is a Southern apple that resists heat, making it useful for interior California.  King Davids the past few weeks have been a wonder of Acidity, flavor and sugar packed in a gorgeous remarkably dark red skin that takes a high polish.  Mine are dry farmed for the most part, so they are extra intense.  There is a high degree of acidity, but it is balanced with an equally high, if not higher level of sugar.  Late in the season, the sugars really pour on making it a great apple for hard cider too (higher sugar levels equal higher alcohol levels and apples tend to be low in sugar compared to the grapes used in wine making).  Another feature that contributes to King David’s usefulness as a cider apple is a good measure of astringency in the skin due to tannins.  Again, this character is exaggerated in mine because they are dry farmed, but astringency of the skin is a good character in a dessert apple.  The somewhat strong astringency of King David is appropriate to the intensity of the sugar, refreshing acidity and the saturation of flavor in the apple.  I have had Excellent cider made from King David Blended with a Bittersweet apple called Muscat de Bernay and vinted by my friend Tim Bray.  It was an excellent fruity, crisp and lively cider.  King David is his favorite cider apple.  The Flavor of King David has a good dose of what I always refer to as "red apple", but of a broader richness and complexity than other apples dominated by this flavor.  It is also suffused with a subtle spiciness.  It reminds me of spiced apple juice or mulled cider.  Red Apple isn’t always my favorite flavor, but King David's mix of flavors makes it delicious and compelling.  It is supposed to be a great keeper, but my storage conditions are not ideal, so we will be eating most of the ones we didn’t sell at the Farmer’s Market.   As Tim Bray says, “More King David!”.

I am unimpressed by:  Pinata (pinova), Cameo, Cranberry pippin, numerous unlabeled or wrongly labeled apples and probably others I'm forgetting about.  Some varieties that fruited this year are clearly too young or too few to make a good assessment, so I’ll wait for another year to speak to those.  I hope to post about some late and very late season apples in a future post this winter. (EDIT: I revisited Pinata when a late specimen fell off the tree and was half eaten by chickens.  I had been tasting it for months as the apples held steadfastly to the tree, but they never seemed to change much at all.  That final specimen had a whole bunch of neat flavors though, so it gets a stay of execution for now.)

Bulbs Under Fruit Trees Part II: Understory Progress Report

Amaryllis header

Amaryllis header

This is an update to my previous post on experiments with fruit tree understories using flower bulbs.  I get quite a few page hits from people searching for information about fruit tree understories and bulbs under fruit trees and wanted to get this update out there for anyone who is working or thinking along similar lines.  To summarize my project, the goal is to establish an understory for fruit trees which grows up quickly at the start of the winter rainy season to smother weeds, but then goes dormant in late spring/early summer leaving a mat of dead leaves to shade the soil and to slow moisture loss during our long, dry summers.  This whole plan is to address specific problems of a Mediterranean climate with wet winters and dry summers, and may not have much relevance to climates with significant summer rainfall. The bulb growing season is about to start again.  I'm digging stuff up and figuring out what the next moves are. The bulbs have not filled in enough to be sure of how the experiment is working quite yet, but I have enough preliminary information to warrant a short post on my experience so far.  I've planted experiments to just Amaryllis, just Narcissus, Narcissus and Amaryllis mixed, and one that is Snowflakes, Bluebells and Oriental Poppies together.  The Oriental Poppies, Snowflakes, Bluebells and almost all of the Narcissus varieties that I’ve tried are now off the list.  They either have foliage which is not dense or wide enough, or they die back too late in the season.  It is important that the understory go dormant early in the season so that as much water as possible is left in the soil.  The Snowflakes and Bluebells die back too late.  The Oriental Poppy also dies back late and turned out to make poor cut flowers so it also does not add any economic benefit. The only real contenders I have here at this point are the two original ones- the Chinese Sacred Lily Narcissus in both double and single (see edit below) and the Amaryllis including Naked Ladies and some cool hybrid Amaryllis.

Oriental Poppies under Karmijn

Oriental Poppies under Karmijn

The Single Chinese Sacred Lily is behind the Double variety by at least a year, so it looks somewhat weaker so far and I'm not sure it's going to catch up.  Only time will tell.  It is also possible that I have Constantinople, a similar flower to the Double Chinese.  The single and double chinese are identical as far as I know excepting that the flowers of the double are different, it being a sport of the single type, but maybe they aren't quite..?  These small narcissus have the earliest and densest foliage of any of that group I’ve tried so far and they die back quite early as well.  By Mid May they were yellowing significantly and they went down pretty fast from there being pretty crispy by the first of June.  That’s good because the first of June was sort of my goal for complete die back, although I was skeptical that I could achieve it.  The early die back was also in spite of adequate moisture which carried other varieties for at least another month.  Early die back in spite of adequate moisture is just what I wanted; a plant that is on it’s own clock, early to bed, early to rise.   That should not be surprising though as the Sacred Lily was really my original inspiration for the project.

Double sacred lily under Suntan Apple march 5th

Double sacred lily under Suntan Apple march 5th

double chinese under suntan apple

double chinese under suntan apple

The tree that the Narcissus are under, a Suntan Apple, is not doing very well, but I'm inclined to think that its poor performance is due to other factors.  I think a few more plantings of the Sacred Lily are in order. The one big bummer about the double version of this flower is that even with a light rain (almost guaranteed in February when they bloom) every single stem bent and fell over.  Not just drooped, but kinked in the middle and gave it up.  The weight of the water gathered in that double flower is just too much for the weak stems.  I do have access to more of the single version, so I may expand those plantings once I decide if they are going to be vigorous enough.  they are lovely anyway and they smell awesome.  The Erlicheer and Early pearl narcissus did not perform well for the experiment.  They don’t seem particularly early emerging so far, and are certainly not early to go dormant.

Double version of Chinese Sacred Lily broken by the weight of rain water in the blossoms.  They rarely escape this, so there is little added value as a cut flower for market.

Double version of Chinese Sacred Lily broken by the weight of rain water in the blossoms. They rarely escape this, so there is little added value as a cut flower for market.

The Hybrid Amaryllis that I purchased from Bill the Bulb Baron have started to send up flowers.  So far I've only had some hot pink ones bloom.  They are an intense rich pink very unlike naked ladies.  These are crosses that Bill has made between the standard naked ladies and some more exotic amaryllis.  They should be coming up in other colors as well from white through salmon and dark pinks.  The growth from all the Amaryllis is still somewhat sparse as they are just becoming established, but I’ve seen what they can do in other places when well entrenched.  It is not uncommon to see patches of them so thick that there are no weeds at all.  They come up pretty early and they die back pretty early, though they did die back somewhat later than the Sacred Lily Narcissus.  The small bulb sets, or “chips” that I got from the Bulb Baron grew in a garden bed for two years during which time they divided a great deal.  The average increase is around 5 bulbs per each planted.  With the most prolific bulb having 22 offsets around a nice sized parent bulb.  Since I have a lot of them to work with now more will probably be planted under fruit trees this year just gambling that the plan will work.  I have taken a few hybrid Amaryllis and Naked Ladies to the farmers market and they seem to be popular enough.  I can also get as many Naked Lady bulbs as I want, but I'm not sure I want them now that I've seen the more awesome and unique hybrid Amaryllis.   I'm impressed with the Hybrid Amaryllis color so far, although there are quite a few flowers with odd extra petals and accompanying flaws in form, so we’ll see how they look when they are blooming more.

hot pink amaryllis

hot pink amaryllis

pale naked lady

pale naked lady

One other development here is the arrival of chickens.  We currently have 30 Chickens in a range of ages who have the run of most of the place.  We hardly have to feed them except for our kitchen and food processing scraps and some kitchen scraps that we pick up from a local source a couple times a week.  They eat a lot of bugs and grass seeds and whatever is available around the place.  But, in doing so, they predictably scratch and tear the place all to pieces.  Part of the understory plan is to have a dying mulch which stays put all summer, but not if the Chickens have anything to say about it.  The Suntan apple tree with the double Sacred Lily narcissus under it is now barren dirt.  Not a trace of dead foliage remains.  With the Chickens under there scratching and eating dropped apples, there is just nothing left.  On an adjacent tree they have actually scratched some Narcissus bulbs all the way out of the ground.  They are fortunately banned from the garden where a lot of the experiments are planted.  It is best though, not to ban them from the orchards completely because they eat dropped apples which are often wormy, helping to disrupt the breeding cycle of fruit pests.  Of course the drops can be picked up and thrown over the fence but, except when they are eating my cherries and scratch up my mulch, I like the Chickens foraging in the orchard.  I actually knew this would happen and was hesitant to get Chickens because of it, but tonia spearheaded the effort for Chickens determined to have our own eggs and I'm glad we made a move to start figuring the problem out.  They don’t just scratch the bulb beds either, but the tree mulch too and everything else.  They move a lot of soil around and are having a considerable negative impact moving soil down hill sides, filling in drainage ditches along the road and exposing bare soil to floating thistle and other noxious weed seeds.  The ultimate solution may be reducing numbers, but locking them up in a pen all day has become a non-option.  I’ve had chickens a lot and these are the most free ranging as well as the happiest and healthiest looking by a long stretch.  The egg and meat quality are way above the sad grain fed chicken eggs and meat.  We are what our food eats.  Still, something will probably have to give eventually.  I woke up last night with anxiety approaching terror having dreamed that they had excavated a bathtub sized hole in the hillside. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...

scratched out bulbs

scratched out bulbs

Barren soil under Suntan

Barren soil under Suntan

As far as health and function of the trees goes, we don’t have good controls, so it’s hard to be sure of much.  My impression so far though is that the trees with bulbs, even bulbs that die back later than desired, are doing alright.  The trees are mostly bearing heavy crops this year and it was not the wettest year ever, so the circumstances are somewhat informative if also somewhat sketchy. To summarize my thoughts at this point-  being that the primary goals are early heavy foliage, early die back and marketability as cut flowers, the hybrid Amaryllis are looking pretty good.  Naked ladies would be second and the double Chinese Sacred Lily (or preferably the single if it catches up) third since I’m not sure the foliage will be adequately dense.  I had hoped to find other narcissus that could work, but so far no good.  I plan to keep collecting them in the hopes of finding more, but am not that hopeful.  If the plan works at all, it will be using very select varieties planted at an adequate density.  The quantities of narcissus bulbs involved are large, but once up and running bulbs to transplant or share out will be abundant due the the factor of exponential growth.  Bulbs approximately double every year, so that’s 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 or if one started with 100 bulbs, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200 in just 6 years.  It may not play out just like that in real life, but it gives us an idea anyway.  The narcissus will not reproduce that fast if you start with landscape sized bulbs or “chips”.  Those smaller bulbs will mature into larger bulbs the first year and then start dividing.  The Amaryllis appear to have, on the average, reproduced much faster even when starting with chips.  The next 3 or so years should be telling.

EDIT MARCH 2013:  The single chinese are not looking as vigorous this season as the double or constantinople, whichever it is, but I'm still hoping it will catch up.  All foliage is predictably thicker, longer and denser this year as plantings become established, but they are not yet thick enough to smother all the weeds.  That means weeding and or fertilizing etc.. for a few years to establish them as quickly as possible.  I was able to plant 5 new trees to the hybrid amaryllis filling a 6 to 8 foot circle under each.  I started the project with "chips", the smallest available non-flowering size, and increased them in the garden for two years to about 5 for every 1 planted.   Those are good numbers and very encouraging  I had also planted a patch under a persimmon tree, so I had enough bulbs to do 6 trees after two seasons of increase, and if I had increased all for two years before planting, I'd have a lot more, probably more like ten trees worth?  Unfortunately, I can't remember for sure how many I started with, but I'm pretty sure it was 200, 80 or so under the persimmon and the rest increasing in the garden for two years.

RELATED POST: An Experiment in Using Winter Bulbs to Create Fruit Tree Under-Stories

DAFFODIL LUST IV: The Waiting..........................................

About half of the Daffodil seeds from my first year’s breeding experiments germinated and grew last winter, including 3 out of 8 Young Love seeds.  The plants seemed healthy enough.  They grew one narrow leaf each in a flat of soil mix in the greenhouse maturing little bean sized bulbs.  The leaves turned yellow in late spring and then brown, wilting down for the summer sleep.  By all accounts, Daffodils take a long time from seed to flower, so I have a wait ahead of me until they are ready to expose their pretty faces to the sun the wind the rain the bees and the bugs.

This past blooming season I pollinated yet more daffodil flowers and now have over 400 seeds to show for some minor and mostly enjoyable efforts.  I used a lot of pollen from cultivars that I really like, but I was not as selective in regards to the seed parents.  I figured there are two basic approaches to this and other plant breeding, careful and sloppy.  I have little doubt that an approach using carefully selected stock, keeping precise records, using durable labels, researching the fitness or unfitness of the parents for breeding, and learning to select and breed for desirable genetic traits could greatly increase my chances of ending up with really great offspring.  That approach however, sounds about as fun as waiting in line at a bank.  I’m sure it’s loads of fun for someone, but  I’m not a person that enjoys record keeping overly much. Record keeping and the like are tools that I use to the extent that they are needed, or probably somewhat less than the extent to which they are needed; appreciate it I do, but enjoy it I do not.   The other basic approach, and the one I’m currently favoring, is that of sloppy promiscuity and minimal attention to planning, details and after care.  You can’t eat daffodils, and I have lots of other projects requiring study time and mental energy, so I’m liking the casual approach for my daffodil breeding.  (Edit:  This article about daffodil breeder Ron Scamp says that flower form comes from the seed parent and color from the pollen parent.  It also says that perianth (petal) colors are hard to cross, but corona colors (the trumpet) are easier to cross.  I don't think that's too much information to kill my buzz, so I'll be experimenting accordingly:)

Daffodils are easy enough to pollinate in general.  Some of them are sterile or produce very little or no pollen, but from my experiments so far, most of them appear to be fertile.  It takes very little time to run around dabbing some pollen here and there, so I don’t worry about who is or isn’t fertile or sterile, or just plain not in the mood.  I didn’t even mark the pollinated flowers, but simply went back in early summer to look for fat seed pods.  It seems as though Daffodils are almost never pollinated naturally in this environment, so any seeds that form are almost certainly the results of intentional crosses.  A few of the flowers pollinated formed no seed.  Whether the failures were due to sterile pollen, sterile stigmas or poor timing I don’t know.  I had no success at all with the small narcissus types like Minor Monarch, Grand Primo, Golden Dawn and Chinese Sacred Lily, but most others produced at least a seed or two.  I probably spent less than two hours to pollinate and then collect those hundreds of seeds this year.  Even if my germination rate doesn’t improve over 50% I’m happy enough with those numbers.  I do think that I could get more seeds per pod by pollinating the same flower several days in a row, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

Daffodils are generally easy to grow.  Under our environmental conditions, I imagine that I could probably take my little bean sized bulbs, put them into barely better than field conditions this fall and expect most of them to survive with only minor intervention.  They might not grow to flowering size nearly as quickly as they would with some pampering, but the point is that they will take no extraordinary care to survive and come to flowering age.  The bulbs will probably get a small space in the garden for at least a year to increase the bulb size and therefore the probability of survival in the field.  The ease with which Daffodils are pollinated and grown, coupled with the fact that I’m breeding for fun rather than for profit or fame, form the foundation of my new low input Daffodil breeding program.  So what if I don’t know who the parents of my illegitimate Daffodils are?  So what if they take longer to flower because I don’t pamper them?  So what if I have fewer awesome flowers and more ugly ducklings?  This is about investment and return, not just how much investment and how much return, but about what kind of investment for what kind of return.  Instead of fussing with records and tags which may take as much or more time than the breeding and growing, I’m opting to produce more offspring with less and more enjoyable effort.  After all, we reap the experience of our labor as well as the fruits.  More life, less paper!

I’m hoping that it will take me only a few hours a year to come up with a couple hundred seedlings and a little more time to get them growing somewhere the following year.  I’m hoping for 4 to 6 hours a year for 200 or more seedlings each of which holds the promise of unique genetics.  I’m thinking of dedicating an area in one of the orchards to be a treasure chest of daffodil seedlings.  If I plant more every year, I could have as many as a couple hundred new flowers to check out each season.  Once they start blooming, I reap the pleasure and adventure of seeing more of those seedlings come into flower every year resplendent in all their ravishing beauty,  mutated weirdness or stunning mediocrity.  And even if most are plain or unsightly, it seems like there must remain a pretty decent chance that if I add more every year I could just end up with a flower worthy of the attention of someone besides me.  I doubt I’ll be collecting any Daffodil breeding awards, but I’m sure my flowers will make someone pause or smile.  I also get to name them which has to be half the fun at least!  OMG, I can't wait.  I think I'll start a list now.  Maybe I’ll change my mind and eventually approach the process with more care.  I’ll admit that a few pieces of information about the dominance of genetic traits could prove useful, but I can pick that up anytime along the way and for now the unmethodical approach looks pretty good and more importantly, feels fun instead of stressful.

So the Daffodil breeding blogging saga comes to a pause.  Hopefully in a few years I’ll be posting pictures of my motley collection of bastard daffodil seedlings.  In the meantime, I don’t feel particularly impatient since my investment has become minimal.  I hope the rest of you can stand the suspense though. RELATED POSTS:




Black Trumpet Mushrooms

The Black Trumpet mushroom, also known as Trompette de la Mort and Horn of Plenty, is a delicious winter treat in Coastal Northern California.  These relatives of the Chanterelles appear from around December through April up here, but are usually at their best January through March.  They will have growth flushes throughout this period.  Black Trumpets dry and reconstitute very easily retaining a rich flavor and aroma.  Because the dried mushrooms are available to us all year, have become a cornerstone of Turkeysong cuisine.

The mushrooms vary greatly in shape and size.  Tidy symmetrical specimens are somewhat rare with the majority being some manifestation of folded, twisted, doubled, twined, lopsided, inside out or otherwise mutant looking.  Because they look much like dead leaves or pieces of bark, it takes some experience for one to be able to spot them consistently.  The fruiting bodies tend toward gregariousness however, so if one is found there are usually at least a few more very close by and occasionally multiple pounds can be harvested from a patch.

The Black Trumpet is a mycorrhizal mushroom, meaning that it associates with certain species of trees- the mycelium of the mushrooms exchanging nutrients with the tree’s roots.  This mushroom, like many other mycorrrhizal mushrooms, prefers to associate with the Tan Oak (Lithocarpus densiflora).  We have an abundance of Tan Oak, and we have an abundance of Black Trumpets!

STORING:  The fresh mushrooms can be stored for a few days to a week if left unwashed.  Cover them with a damp cloth out in the cold weather or put them in the fridge.  Do not put them in plastic.

The dried mushrooms will keep well in airtight containers in a cool area.

CLEANING:  As the mushrooms are emerging from the ground, they pick up a lot of dirt, leaves, bugs and other crunchy, chewy goodies.  We have streamlined the process of removing these unwanted items.  Tear the mushrooms in half lengthwise from the top of the funnel to expose the interior surfaces of the .  If there are still folds that are closed, tear again lengthwise to expose all interior surfaces.  Put the mushrooms in a generous sized bowl with enough water to easily stir and slosh them around.  Slosh for 15 seconds or so and then remove the mushrooms from the water.  The grit will all sink to the bottom.  If this rinsing process is repeated three times, the mushrooms should be 100% grit free.  For the less fastidious, two rinsings should be adequate.

DRYING:  If you have more fresh mushrooms than you can eat, or you want to stretch your Black Trumpet supply out over the whole year, drying the mushrooms is easy.  Wash as above, but spin in a salad spinner to dry.  The mushrooms dehydrate quickly above the woodstove, in the sun, or in a power sucking plastic landfill destined piece of dehydrator junk.  The dashboard of a car makes a great drying area.  They are best placed on a permeable and slatted surface such as a basket.  If a cookie sheet or other vapor proof surface must be used as a last option, lay several towels on it first.  Try to dry the mushrooms quickly.

RE-CONSTITUTING: The dried mushrooms reconstitute quickly enough to be a good last minute addition to dishes with adequate moisture.  If using dried mushrooms on top of pizza or in other drier preparations, you can reconstitute them by brief simmering.  Do not waste the cooking water!  Only a very small amount of liquid is need and the excess can be cooked down until there is little or no liquid and the flavor is mostly reabsorbed by the mushroom pieces.


The Black Trumpet mushroom may not look like the most delicious thing ever, but it is very tasty and is a prized element of French gastronomy, which gives it major credibility right out of the basket.  The flavor is decidedly savory and somewhat  reminiscent of aged cheese.  Cooking develops the flavor.

These mushrooms are not only imminently edible, but they are also versatile and can lend their special savoriness to many different ingredients and combinations.   In our kitchen, Black Trumpets find their way into an increasingly wide array of preparations.  Hardly a day goes by where they aren’t used and most days they are used more than once.

We cook on the fly here and even when we follow recipes, they are usually modified or adapted to the ingredients on hand and in season, so I’m presenting guidelines more than recipes.  There are many Black Trumpet recipes online.

Black Trumpets, fresh or reconstituted, are delicious on pizzas and foccacias.  The dried mushrooms can also be crushed lightly and added to the the dough or to other savory breads.

Soups, stews and slow cooked moist meats are all good destinations for the Black Trumpet.  Wherever it’s salty and savory, the trumpet will often fit reasonably to exceptionally well- Beef stew, chicken soup, slow cooked meats with onion and herbs, miso soup and preparations with meat broth to name a few.

A flavorful sort of sauce or drizzle can be made quickly by simmering a handful of Black Trumpets in a small amount of stock or even plain water and then thickening slightly with Arrowroot powder or Corn starch.  Pour this over some grilled or broiled fowl breast, cauliflower or broccoli, or a discreetly sized mound of pasta.  A light sprinkling of aged cheese will generally complement well.

When heating oil for a stir fry, scrambled eggs, sauteed onions or other dishes, try crushing a small amount of the dried mushrooms into the oil.  This is a great Black Trumpet trick.  It is fast and easy and infuses the whole dish with flavor.

Rich, nourishing and flavorful Greek meatball egg and lemon soup is a favorite dish around here.  Our version uses Black Trumpets in the meat balls.  It is best made with lamb, but goat, beef, venison or pork will all make delicious meatballs.  It is preferable that the meat be reasonably high in fat such as one would use to make sausage, at least 15% though closer to 30% would be best.  Season the meatballs with adequate salt (use more salt than you would for just meatballs because most of it will end up in the stock.  Taste the stock as soon as the meatballs are cooked through and add more salt to taste).  Add crushed spearmint and pepper.  A small amount of dried oregano and/or thyme is optional.  Fresh finely minced parsley is mandatory.  We like to add a small amount of minced preserved lemon peel as well.  Add a small handful of dry rice grains to the meatball mix.  Don’t forget the dried and crushed, or fresh minced Black Trumpets!  Add small bite sized meatballs carefully to simmering water and cook gently until done.  Turn off the heat and remove the lid so the soup will cool.  Mix 2 to 4 egg yolks in a bowl with a few tablespoons of water. Stir the yolks while very slowly drizzling in some of the slightly cooled stock so as not to cook the yolk.  Just before serving, add the yolks back to the broth and squeeze in lemon juice to taste.

We’ve discovered that Black Trumpet sausage is excellent!  Salt pepper and Black Trumpets, thats it!

Posted on April 5, 2012 and filed under Uncategorized.

The Historic Potato Onion: A compilation of early references

I compiled a bunch of references while researching Potato Onions which are posted below.  It is also available as a The Historic Potato Onion- A compilation of early references, which also has links.  First though, I have some notes on my impressions and observations on reading through these references.  Note that there are many different planting dates and methods of cultivation.  That is to be expected, I suppose, given the widely varying geographies that the authors are referring to.  See also my previous detailed blog post on Potato Onions,  for more details about the onions and their culture, which is probably a better place to start your Potato Onion adventure if you are new to them.

Apparently planting smaller Onions makes fewer, but larger Onions than if larger Onions are planted.  I believe what is usually being referred to here is as follows.   The Potato Onion has a number of “eyes” growing inside of each Onion.  I believe each of these “eyes” probably forms a new  bulb each of which also has more “eyes”.  The larger Onions have more eyes and therefore produce more bulbs when planted although of smaller size due to competition within the plant itself.  The smaller Onions having fewer eyes produce fewer Onions but larger ones due to decreased competition for soil resources.  There are also however references which say that one small Onion will grow into just one large Onion.  I don’t think I have ever seen this happen with the yellow potato Onion variety that I have, so I suspect that it is either incorrect or that there is a variety which does behave this way.  It is also possible that I just have not planted small enough sets to observe the one-small-into-one-large phenomenon or, further, that I have observed it and simply forgot.  I will be observing the results of growing different sizes of bulbs more closely this year.  The idea, as some authors mention, is to grow the right proportion of large and small bulbs to assure larger ones for eating while yet retaining enough small bulbs for good seed.  Potato Onions often have internal division where the walls of skin between the “cloves” or main “eyes” have dried off.  Some mention is made of dividing them along these lines for planting.  I have done so, but not in a very observant manner.

Another interesting recommendation is to plant small Onions on rich ground to grow a crop of large eating Onions while growing a crop of small seed Onions by planting large sets into poor ground.  No doubt the size of the seed Onions could be reduced further by crowing as is done is Ghetto rows for growing the common small onion sets that many people buy for growing bulbing Onions.

Some authors point out that the potato Onion rarely if ever goes to seed.  I have seen mine go to seed and Kelly Winterton is raising new varieties from seed he has saved from Yellow Potato Onions.  It seems that the white variety with smaller bulbs is more likely to go to seed, but it seems less desirable than that Yellow Potato Onion.  I also feel that the characteristic of hesitancy to produce seed stalks is a great advantage of the Potato Onion and that new varieties are best selected with the goal of its retention.  I feel that there must be ways to induce the Potato Onion to seed when we want variable genetic offspring for breeding purposes  If so, such a technique would obviate the need for Potato Onions which produce seed.  Kelly’s Onions are quite large, larger than typical Yellow Potato Onions by manyfold, indicating that we should be developing new varieties from seed.

Recommendations for planting Potato Onions run from September through March. with several references referring to planting on the shortest day of the year.  Here in my mild climate I have planted in the fall and left the bulbs unprotected through the winter with, as far as I can remember, fine results (though this may be what I did the one year that they ran to seed).  I have also planted in late spring and gotten fine enough crops.  In colder climates it is recommended to hill the Onions up or plant them deep in a ridge.  When they begin to grow the soil is raked down or pulled away to insure that the forming bulbs have light and air.  I believe that the authors who recommend that the bulbs be only touching the soil at the base when the Onions in the cluster are forming are advocating the best approach.  The Onions are sometimes inclined to rot if from the bottom while still growing or while hardening off.  So, I would say that this operation of hoeing away the soil from the bulbs is essential if the bulbs are planted deeply.

Another concern when planting early V.S. late is how long the bulbs will keep.  Bulbs of all kinds will only keep so long in storage.  I have long followed the strategy of planting them later so that the main crop comes in late and I can keep it over winter well.  If I matured them in July how long would they keep?  I see from the references that it was more profitable to plant them early to take care of an early market when larger bulbed Onions were not yet ready.  That seems to have been a main niche of the Potato Onion and that may be what kept it alive.  Its diminutive size was probably a disadvantage in selling, but was made up for by its earliness.  I can see the advantage of this strategy and plan to employ it for market gardening and earlier Onions, but I can attest to the advantage of putting out sets later to secure later ripening Onions for storage.  The two are not mutually exclusive and if both are followed with some of the early crop used as one does a green Scallion they could fill a lot of the season with Onions, actually year round.

I found the recommendation to harvest some bulbs in the cluster very young for Green Onions interesting.  The author claims that the other Onions in the cluster will be the better for it, presumably growing larger as a result of the decreased competition for resources.  It appears that they were sometimes grown just for the purpose of marketing early green Onions as well.  The white variety appears to grow smaller Onions, but many bulbs and perhaps it is more suited to this purpose??? or rather not as well suited to being a storage/peeling Onion.  Another interesting recommendation on these lines is to harvest most of the Onions in the cluster for Green Onions leaving a few to produce more green Onions the following year.  This seems an interesting strategy, but I can’t imagine the bulbs simply being left in the ground.  I think that the ripened bulbs would be better lifted and stored until planting time.  The bulbs when ripe are just sitting on the ground surface.  All of the roots rot away leaving the bulb free to roll around or whatever.  Still, as a strategy for growing large seed to continue producing Green Onions for market, it sounds intriguing and maybe there is a way that they could simply be left in, or even on, the ground.

Many references refer to the Potato Onion as a poor keeper.  That has never been my observation and private correspondence with others has confirmed that it seems to be quite the opposite.  I have stored them with no particular care into the summer from a later ripening crop.  Last year I planted some from the previous year so late that they were unable to mature and have stood the winter with green leaves.  I have also tried to grow a very early crop and then plant out some of the Onions for a second crop the same year, but they would not grow.  I’m not convinced that this two crops in one year strategy is impossible to implement, but the Onions may need to be tricked into thinking that growing before being stored a while is just the thing to do.  Perhaps the difference in keeping is early crop V.S. later crop, or maybe it is due to the growing of different varieties than the one I have.  I do lose a percentage to rot in storage, but I don’t imagine that it is even 5% in the extreme though the percentage increases the longer they are kept.

It is apparent from some of the references that there are some real fans of Potato Onions in terms of its reliability and ease of culture.  Several mention resistance to root maggots, a problem which I don’t seem to have here, but then I grow mostly Potato Onions.

There is some mention of a new and superior White Potato Onion.  It seems doubtful that this is the White Potato Onion that survives now because it is of a smaller bulb size than the Yellow Potato Onion.  Still, it is possible that it was just misrepresented.  Most mention is made of the Yellow Potato Onion.  While now there seem to be some red ones being sold (I have not acquired any of them) I see no mention of red or purple Potato Onions in these accounts.

I found the account of a Russian vegetable culture very interesting.  It refers to the potato onion as something of a staple.  It also says that cutting the leaves was said to make the bulbs larger.  It seems unlikely that the bulbs would be larger if the greens were cut much.  The author says that they are cut like chives, but maybe the bulbs are actually thinned out leaving more space and soil resources for the remaining bulbs to grow larger as is mentioned in another reference.

Taken altogether, it seems that the potato onion could be a very versatile crop serving as early garden produce, summer peeling onions and late storage onions simply by varying harvest times and stages and varying planting times.  Add to these things manipulations using cold frames and the like and we see a great potential.  The potential is further potentiated by the fact that the onions do not bolt like the often finicky bulb forming seed grown onions.




This is research material that I compiled on potato onions by searching google books.  I thought I would share it to save other interested parties the trouble of repeating the effort.  There is a wealth of practical information here.  No doubt a repeat search will turn up much additional information in the future as more old books are added to the digital archives.  I had to remove the links because they were not behaving in this blog post version, but you can always find the book online by searching a few lines of the text.  The PDF version, Potato Onion Research January 2012 should hopefully have intact links.

Steven Edholm, January 2012

googlebooks search for “potato onions”:

_________________________________ The kitchen garden; or, The culture in the open ground of roots, vegetables, herbs, and fruits, by Eugene Sebastian Delamer, 1855 The Potato-Onion differs essentially from the above mentioned varieties, and might almost claim to be considered a separate species. It is of high antiquity, being supposed to be the kind that was worshipped, or held in reverence, by the ancient Egyptians. Not only does it come to maturity earlier than the rest, but it is remarkable for the peculiarity of never producing flowers or seed. So unexceptional is this habit of its growth, that few gardeners, if any, can say they have ever seen a potato-onion in flower. If they think they have, without closely examining the case, they were probably deceived by some stray shallot, that accidentally got mingled with the crop. This variety is therefore propagated only by the root. Very small bulbs increase to large ones; large ones subdivide into a cluster of bulbs of various sizes.

An excellent, and easily remembered garden rule, is, to plant potato-onions on the shortest day in the year, and to take them up on the longest. This early maturity is taken advantage of by the stewards and cooks of vessels that are outward-bound for long voyages, when sailing at the end of June, or the beginning of July. By this means they are well provided with a stock of an almost necessary vegetable. With potato-onions, followed by autumn sown varieties, and those by good keeping spring-sown sorts, a sufficient successional supply of onions may be kept up nearly the whole year round. And, not only is the potato-onion supplemental to the common sorts, in point of time, but also in constitutional resistance to adverse seasons: that is, when other onions,—especially those sown in spring,—fail, either from ungenial weather, the attacks of insects, or defective seed, the potato-onion will produce a heavy crop. On the other hand, it sometimes happens, though much more rarely, that the potato onions do not turn out well in seasons when Spanish, Globe, Blood-red, and even Tripoli onions, are both abundant and of good quality. For potato-onions, give the land a liberal dressing of well-rotted manure during the third week in December; dig it in, preparing the ground well, breaking all the clods, and picking out carefully all the roots of perennial weeds. As near as possible to St. Thomas’s Day (on that day, if you can), after having raked the ground, prepare to plant the bulbs by marking out beds four feet in width, with a foot-wide alley between each bed. Fix your line along the bed, six inches within its outer edge, and along this line set your onions, nine inches apart, on the ground, gently pressing them into the soft earth, just deep enough to keep them upright. Set another row parallel to, and a foot apart from, the former; and then a couple more rows, which will complete the bed. You will thus have four rows, a foot apart from each other, and six inches from the outside edge of the bed. The plants might be, and frequently are, planted at smaller intervals, both from row to row and along the rows; but nothing is gained by crowding the plants or stinting them for room. It may be laid down as a general rule, that all young gardeners plant too thickly. One of the last horticultural maxims learned is, that fine and well-grown specimens are obtained in proportion as they are allowed light, air, and an extended area of ground to feed on. When the bulbs are thus placed in their position on the bed, it will be easy for the gardener, by walking up the side alleys, to draw the earth to the rows of onions from each side, till their crowns are fairly covered. In that state they will be left to stand the winter. If frost has already set in on St. Thomas’s Day, plant your potato-onions as soon afterwards as the weather will allow, remembering always, that the sooner the better. It is a common fault to plant onions too deep; observe, therefore, that the bulb ought not to have more than half its depth below the level of the ground. Supposing it a terrestrial globe, the soil should just come up to its equator. In spring, when the bulbs are firmly rooted, and the leaves from the crown have shot three or four inches, with a hoe take advantage of a dry sunshiny day (that weeds may wither), to draw back the earth which was heaped up against the roots, reducing the soil to its original level, and leaving the bulbs half exposed to the air. Nothing more than occasional hoeings and weedings will be required. If grubs and maggots are apprehended, watering with lime-water will be a useful precaution; but if they have once eaten their way into the bulb, scarcely anything will touch them. At the end of the first fortnight in June, symptoms of ripeness will be visible, in the flagging and withering of the leaves. When the original bulb has divided into a large cluster, the central knot will be ripe several days before those next the ground. It may be removed by simply lifting it out, which will expose those which remain to a greater share of sunshine. Potato-onions, like the seeding sorts, should be well weathered before storing, which,will be sufficiently effected, when they are dry, by hanging them in bunches in any dry airy shed, or even in the open air, under the projecting eaves of a cottage. Monsieur Mauduit, of Quimperle, who has long been a successful grower of this variety, advises, as a mode of preserving them, to cut off the stem about an inch and a half above the neck of the onion, to split the end which remains into four pieces, quite down, but without wounding the bulb itself, and to leave it to dry in this state. It will be seen that directions to earth-up potato-onions during their growth are directly the reverse of what ought to be done. The potato-onion is well flavoured, and is applicable to all the culinary uses for which onions in general are employed.


The American Farmer  By John Turner  

September 1866

Potato onions may be set until the 20th of the month. Four to six inches, In rows 18 inches apart, is the proper distance.

Potato onions from small ones, can be grown the quickest of any good variety, and are of excellent quality. The small ones cost from $3.00 to $5.00 per bushel, and should be set 8 inches by 15, and barely covered.


The Farmer's magazine  Rogerson and Tuxford, 1844 POTATO ONIONS. Sir,—I should be glad if any of your correspondents would inform me (through the medium of your excellent journal) what is the cause of the failure in potato onions. In the past year I had a most excellent crop, and they appeared to be well saved; but now, I am sorry to say, they are all rotten. I should be glad to know what dressing is best, whether the same seed should be sown in the same ground year after year, and what time of the year is best to till them. T. C. St. Clement, near Truro. 
Oct. 8th, 1844. Sir,—I expected that some of our horticultural friends, who are better qualified for the task, would have replied to the queries of your correspondent " T. C." respecting potato onions (Mart Lane Express, Oct. 14). I beg to inform him I had this summer a very good crop, from seed that has not been changed for twenty years. I always plant them in ground manured for the previous crop, as early in the season as it can be got into tolerable working order (they may be set from the shortest day to the end of March), but never two years in succession on the same land. The complaint of their rotting has been general for several years; many persons have discontinued their cultivation on that account; I however, find, by frequently looking over those that are strung, and removing all tainted ones as they infect those touching them, I obtain abundance for the use of my family : the small ones keep best. I have tried, as a substitute, the Strasbourg onion, sown in August, as recommended in a Scotch gardening work, by Walter Nicol, but have not succeeded, as, if sown near the tine he directs, they run to seed in the spring; if later they are injured by frost in winter. I am surprised that no mention of the potato onion is made in the above work, and some others on gardening I possess, as, from their early maturity, when seed onions are scarcely bulbing, there is a very great demand in towns for them.


Bulletin / Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, Issues 1-59 1889 As matter of general information, it may be well to mention that all the cultivated onions which form bulbs, belong to the same botanical species, Allium cepa, and that the varieties known as set onions, and the potato onions, have been developed from this species. For commercial growing, the black seed onions have much greater importance than these other forms.


Bulletin, Issues 15-36: By West Virginia. Dept. of Agriculture 1916

Bunch Onions. For early green onions, onion sets or potato onions should be planted in September or October, in drills twelve to eighteen inches apart in the row. The bulbs, if planted four to six inches deep will require little or no protection during the winter. Sets may be planted in the spring as soon as the ground is in shape, but will not produce as early onions as those planted in the fall, set out two to four inches apart, in rows twelve to eighteen inches apart. Particular attention is called to the adaptability of potato onions to most West Virginia soils and the advantage to be gained in securing early bunch onions.


Onions for profit:An exposé of modern methods in onion growing ‪(Google eBook)‬ W. A. Burpee, 1893 Potato Onions {Multipliers).—These produce neither seed nor top-sets, but increase by division of the original bulb. They are early, and valuable for market, especially in more southern localities, but do not keep well. Their color is brownish-yellow. According to reports, a pure white variety of superior merit has recently been introduced.


The profitable culture of vegetables: for market gardeners, small holders ...  By Thomas Smith Longmans, Green and co., 1911

Potato Onions.—This Onion, although not much grown now, is mild and sweet, and gives a good crop with a minimum of trouble. It should be planted, just below the surface, early in January, in rich deeply-worked soil, and is ready to take up about the beginning of July; indeed, old cottage gardeners who favour this variety plant on the longest and take up on the shortest day. If the bulbs are kept out of the ground much longer than the end of January they begin to go soft and useless. When very small bulbs are planted they grow into large ones, but large bulbs multiply into numerous others. Plant in rows 12in. apart, 9in. between the setts. As severe frosts will sometimes destroy the bulbs, it is wise to scatter litter along the rows after planting.


Vegetable culture: a primer for amateurs, cottagers, and allotment-holders  By Alexander DeanMacmillan and Co., 1896

Shallots. These are closely allied to Onions, especially the Potato Onion now so seldom grown, yet useful. A cluster one-third natural size is shown in Fig. 13. Small bulblets should be planted early in well prepared soil, in rows 12 inches apart, the bulbs being 8 inches asunder in the rows. From these small bulbs break out numerous others until during the summer quite large clusters are formed, and when ripe are pulled, dried, and stored. They need other

wise simple culture such as being frequently hoed to keep the soil clean. The common Shallot is the smaller, but by far the nicer for flavouring, as it is of a pleasant, delicate nature. The large or Jersey Shallot is reddish and of coarse texture. It is not so highly favoured as is the other variety. It used to be the custom of cottagers in some districts to plant Potato Onions on the shortest day, December 21st, weather permitting, and take them up on the longest, June 21st; but in very early spring planting both of these underground Onions and Shallots answer equally well.


Fruit recorder and cottage gardener, Volume 2 1870

Potato onions are not grown from seed, but are raised from the bulb multiplying in itself: First, you set out the small onion; this grows till it becomes a large onion the first year. You plant the same onion the next year again, and it produces two or three ordinary sized onions, and, if pure, some ten or twelve small sets around them. These small sets are again planted for large ones, the following year, but those that grow inside should not be planted for seed, for if they are the seed will soon run out.


Report [of the Commissioner of Agriculture]  By North Carolina. Dept. of Agriculture 1905

Sets of Yellow and White Potato onions can be used for the same purpose (editor, referring to the culture of early green bunching onions), and are planted in the same way, but the Queen is far superior for this crop. The Yellow Potato onion sets will make a fine early ripe crop If sold as soon as ripe, in late June, but they must be disposed of early, as they will not keep and are only in demand when the market is bare of ripe onions, before the Northern crop comes in.


Annual report of the Department of Agriculture for the ..., Volume 19, Part 2  1912 "Multiplier" or "potato" onions are compound bulbs. Instead of having a single heart or core like the ordinary onion, each bulb may have two to half a dozen cores. These bulbels should be separated and planted singly, for if left in the original "potato" they crowd each other in growing like "sets." When given room they make a very rapid growth and are soon ready for pulling to be eaten or sold. But if left in the ground through the season, each bulbel will "multiply" and make a large compound bulb like the one from which it came. Multipliers also send up fruiting stalks but are not so sure to bloom as the other kinds and growers do not desire that they should, so they usually "nip them in the bud," preferring to propagate by the multiplying bulbs.


Vegetable growing  By Jesse George Boyle  Lea & Febiger, 1917

The potato onion produces green onions very early in the season. It propagates itself by means of its vegetative parts, by a division of the bulb. Large bulbs of this onion are planted in the spring or autumn, and about the parent bulb is produced a large number of bulblets or small bulbs. The bulblets are planted in the autumn and produce green onions early the next spring. The date of planting is from October first to fifteenth. The small potato onions are planted 3 inches apart in the row, and the rows 15 to 18 inches distant. It is generally desirable to mulch the rows after the ground is frozen to prevent alternate freezing and thawing, which may seriously injure or even kill the seed and cause it to rot. The mulch is removed in spring as soon as growth starts.


The Encyclopedia of Practical Horticulture: a reference system of commercial horticulture, covering the practical and scientific phases of horticulture, with special reference to fruits and vegetables ‪(Google eBook)‬ The Encyclopedia of horticulture corporation, 1914

Certain types and varieties of onions, including the "top onions" and the "multipliers" or "potato onions," are extremely hardy and may remain in the open ground throughout the winters of our Northern states, especially if given slight protection. These types are, however, not adapted to growing for market, except as green onions, "peelers," or "bunchers," to be sold during the early springtime. In certain sections of the South Atlantic coast region large areas of the top and multiplier onions are grown for this purpose.


The Cultivator, Volume 2  By New York State Agricultural Society, 1845

POTATO ONIONS. From some remarks upon this species of onion, in the October number of the "Cultivator," it seems that farmers generally are not much acquainted with it. A brief description of its qualities and the mode of cultivating it, may therefore be acceptable to some of your readers. Its mode of propagation is peculiar. A large onion, set in the ground early in spring, breaks into several (5 to 15) separate onions, which grow in a cluster of three or four good sized bulbs at the bottom, and a number of small ones lying on the top. These last vary in size from that of a nutmeg to that of a small hen's egg. The small ones arc the seed for the next year's crop. The smallest will grow into very large, single bulbs; while the larger ones will grow into two or three middling sized onions. The average annual increase, taking Large and small together, is about tenfold. This description will readily suggest the proper mode of cultivation—which is to set out the small onions for the purpose of producing the large ones, for table use— and to set out a sufficient number of large onions for the purpose of producing the small ones for seed. The first should have a moderately rich soil, the last a soil rather barren. The onions should be put into the ground as early in spring as the season will admit. After the ground is made mellow, set the onions in rows far enough apart to allow a hoe to pass between them. They may stand 3 lo 4 inches apart in the rows. Just cover them with earth. They may be stuck into the ground with the thumb and finger. They need no further care, but to be kept free from weeds. To preserve them, they are gathered with a potato hook, as soon as the tops are dried, and then spread for a few days on the barn floor, or some other dry place. I formerly kept them over winter on a scaffolding in my barn; but having lost about 70 bushels by the severe winter of 1834-5,* (thermometer 23° below zero,) I have since put them into my cellar, which happens to be a very dry one, where they keep perfectly well, on a crib with a bottom of laths far enough apart (\ of an inch) lo permit a circulation of air through them. Thus managed they keep longer than any other species of onion. I have them suitable for cooking the year round. In their eating qualities, I do not discover any difference between them and other onions. But for cheapness of cultivation, certainty of crop and amount of produce upon a given space of ground, they surpass all others. There is a sort of Eschalot, that has been cultivated and sold for the potato onion. Wherever this fraud has been practiced it has given the onion a bad name. The genuine article, properly cultivated, has, I believe, been universally approved and highly valued. * A curious fact in physiology came under my notice, the spring following, that deserves to be 'mentioned, though it is foreign to my subject. The rotten onions were thrown out in the spring into the barnyard, where some of them were eaten by hens. This strange food gave our eggs a most unimaginable taste—loathsome and nauseous beyond all description.


Making horticulture pay: experiences in gardening and fruit growing  edited by Maurice Grenville Kains, Orange Judd company, 1909 - 276 pages

"Last November," writes J. G. Orsburn of Kentucky, " I planted 125 acres in potato onions. The land was well manured with chicken and stable manure mixed. It was broken deep and close, and harrowed nicely. The rows were laid off 3^2 feet with a garden plow, and the onions were covered 4 or 5 inches deep to keep them from freezing out of the ground in winter. No more attention was paid to them until the opening of spring, when the ground was dry enough to work. Then I cultivated shallow, and kept it up every ten days, or after every rain, until the onions had matured. The cultivation was done with a garden plow and was never more than 3 inches deep, which left the onions a good, firm seed bed. I harvested them in July, and the plat yielded at the rate of 300 bushels an acre. The onions were as large and fine as any I have ever seen. The soil is designated as Miami silt loam."


The works of Martin Doyle. [pseud.], Volume 2  By Martin Doyle W. Curry, 1836

POTATO ONIONS Should be planted in December or January, on well manured ground, at ten or twelve inches apart; and from twelve to sixteen inches between the rows. In June or July they may be dug out, and when well dried, hung up to keep. An approved mode of treating these, is, when the leaves are full grown, to draw the earth away from the bulb as far as the fibers, forming a basin round the root; it then throws out fresh bulbs, and they all ripen well. The same method succeeds with Shallots, and prevents them from rotting. ____________________________________________________________________

Circular / Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College and ..., Issues 8-70 1915 Multiplier or Potato onions are commonly used for supplying green onions. These are grown from sets which divide continually, none of the bulbs ever attain much size. The sets are usually planted in the fall in the same manner that spring onions are planted. The following spring each set will produce from six to a dozen green onions. If a few of the onions are left they will remain until the following year and produce again.


Journal of horticulture, cottage gardener and home farmer, Volume 34 Journal of Horticulture Office, 1878

The Potato Onion grows in clusters, which are divided and planted annually. It may be; planted at the same time as the autumn-sown Onions are transplanted from the seed bed; indeed, we generally follow up these on the same piece of ground with the Potato Onions. The whole crop is lifted in June or July and stored like the other crop. When any are •used the clusters are divided and a few of the best left for planting again. When planted the bulbs are not wholly covered, but about the time they are fully swelled all the soil is removed from round the bulbs, so as to allow them to swell freely and ripen at the same time.


Dreer's Open-Air Vegetables: A handbook based on recent field observations and talks with gardeners H. A. Dreer, 1897 - 148 pages

Potato Onion. Potato or Multiplier onions increase by division of the bulb. A small bulb planted in spring will produce a large bulb in a comparatively few weeks. A large bulb planted in spring will, by division, produce from six to ten small bulbs. This onion is much planted in the South in autumn for scullions. It is grown in the North as a summer onion, to some extent. Large specimens of it (the yellow variety) were noted in Rhode Island in July, 1896. It is said to be free from attacks of maggot, but is liable to some other troubles. To perpetuate the stock the practice is to plant large onions and small bulbs at the same time.


The American Home Garden: Being Principles and Rules for the Culture of ...  By Alexander Watson (gardener.)  Harper & Brothers, 1859  531 pages

POTATO ONIONS. Potato onions are so called from their habit of producing their bulbs just below the surface of the ground. The large roots of these onions are planted, in the same manner as above directed for top onions, to furnish the sets, and these, in turn, produce onions for use. Unless raised with special care, they are apt to be strong and unpleasant. To have them good, it is necessary to divide the sets in the spring until each has but a single heart; then set them out in very rich, light soil, at the ordinary distance for onion sets, four inches apart in rows a foot wide, and cultivate them faithfully by frequent hoeings and top dressing, or the use of liquid manure (see p. 35), and they will yield you fine large onions, of a very mild and agreeable flavor.


Garden and farm topics  By Peter Henderson  P. Henderson & Co., 1884 - 244 pages

Potato Onions. These are increased by the bulb, as it grows, splitting into six, eight, or ten sections, which form the crop from which the "set'' or root for next season's planting is obtained. The sets are planted in early spring, in rows one foot apart, the Onions three or four inches between, and, like the Onions raised from sets, are generally sold green, as in that state they are very tender, while in the dry state they are less desirable than the ordinary Onion.


Market growers journal, Volume 7, 1910 Potato Onions. I planted some small Potato Onion Sets last fall instead of large Onions, and I have all small ones. From five bushels of Sets I have about two dozen large Onions. Some have made as many as a dozen small Onions from a Bet. They made a large growth last fall. Did I plant these too early last fall or have they run out as a neighbor tells met Will they do for planting again this fallf <W. J. B., Virginia. If your Potato Onions are the white variety you will find that they never make very large Onions, but are good for early green Onions. If they are the regular Yellow Potato Onion the growth is probably the fault of the -soil or fertilization, for small Sets should at least make a big Onion and some Sets too. Early planting has nothing to do with it. I always plant the Potato Onion in September to get a strong fall growth. I fertilize in the furrows heavily, and make a bed over the furrow.and set the Sets deeply in the bed, as a winter protection, and in early spring pull the soil away from them so that they will make their bulbs on the surface of the ground; for they should have only their roots in the ground when swelling. Deep planting may have been the cause of your trouble. With heavy fertilization and proper planting and cultivation the Sets will be all right.


Gleanings in bee culture, Volume 20 A. I. Root Co., 1892

WINTERING OVER POTATO ONIONS. On pages 339 and 340, Mr. A. F. Ames, of Tennessee, speaks of wintering potato onions; and it seems a surprise to you that they, being planted a month later than other varieties, wintered well. Perhaps if friend Ames had planted the others at the same time, they might have wintered as well. I do not know anything about those; but we have grown potato onions for the last 20 years with success, and but very little loss, with the exception of two or three years when we had over two-thirds of a crop. We always calculate to plant about the 10th of October; in a warmer climate I should think better, a little later, so the onion would get well rooted before it freezes up, not putting on your mulch until the ground is well frozen, so you can wheel your manure on with a wheelbarrow. This mulch will then keep the ground from thawing and freezing, which rots the onion. That is how we had our losses. It would freeze a trifle, and then thaw. Perhaps Mr. Ames put on his mulch before the ground was frozen, and they were kept too warm, and smothered. You might get some information on this subject from T. w. (irlner, of La Salle, N. Y., who has tried to winter several kinds. I was there in March. They were coming up then; but how well he succeeded I do not know, as I haven't heard from him. H. F. Gressman. Hamburg, N. Y., May 9. SWAMP MUCK FOR A MULCH. I noticed with interest what was said in May 1st Gleanings in regard to onions wintering when planted in the fall. There are a great many of the potato onions raised here for market. We aim to plant them as late in the fall as the ground can be worked, some as late as Dec. 1. The later they are planted, the better they winter. The best mulch I have found is muck from a marsh near by. It protects the onion perfectly, can be left on. and keeps the ground from getting dry and hard in the spring. Hay or fodder, or straw manure, is apt to rot them. Ada, O., May 11. Jac. Guisingly.


Onions, and how to raise them  By James John Howard Gregory Observer Office, 1865

Potato Onions, or multiplying onions, are a thick, hard fleshed variety, very mild and pleasant to the taste, and very poor keepers, unless spread very thinly in some dry apartment. They are propagated by planting the bulbs in drills, fourteen inches apart, the larger ones four to six inches apart in the row, and the smaller ones two inches. The small ones rapidly increase and make onions from two to three inches in diameter, while the larger ones divide and make from four to a dozen or even sixteen (usually from five to eight) small, irregularly shaped onions. It will be seen that the larger bulbs answer the same purpose as the seed in the common onion; hence to have onions both for sale and yet maintain the stock, it is necessary that both sizes should be planted. The Potato onion should be indulged for its best development in a soil rather moister than the varieties from seed. The advantage of the Potato onion is its earliness, and the fact that it is not as liable to injury from the onion maggot, when that abounds, as the common sorts. I have seen an instance where on half an acre of each growing side by side, the common onion (that raised from seed) was almost wholly destroyed, while the Potato Onion was nearly uninjured. Shallots differ from Potato Onions principally in their characteristic of always multiplying; a shallot never grows into a large round onion; but always multiplies itself, forming bulbs that average more oblong and are usually smaller than those of the Potato onion. 1 find them occasionally pushing a seed shoot, which I have never seen in the Potato Onion. Their habit of growth is finer, making a longer and more slender leaf than the Potato Onion. They are mild of flavor and greatly excel every other variety of the onion family in their keeping properties; with little care they may be kept the year round. All seedsmen do not know the difference between the Potato Onion and the Shallot. Within a few years I have twice had shallots sent me under the name '-Potato Onion." Top Onions are propagated from little bulbs which grow in this variety where the seeds grow in the common sorts. They grow to a large size, are pleasant, mild flavored, rather coarsely and loosely made up, and have the reputation of being poor keepers. Raised like the Potato Onion.


Annual report of the American Institute, on the subject of agriculture, Volume 5  By American Institute in the City of New York 1847

POTATO ONIONS. On the cjlture of onions in Russia, from the imperial Economical Society of St Petersburg!), by Mons. Sailtet. The weekly Journal of Mussehl, reports the method of cultivating onions adopted in Russia, which consists in cutting the onion into four parts, leaving the quarters united at the root, and the onion having been first hung up and dried in smoke. For want of fresh onions, the smoke dried, still full of sap were quartered down to the roots, and being planted, each produced four fine onions, each of which had its seed stalk. It seems this mode is unknown out of Russia. The onion thus treated is not that from seed, it is the potato-onion. Baron Foelkersahm, a member of the society, thinks it his duty to state, that he has on his estate, followed this method for thirty years, and has constantly had abundant crops.


Bulletin, Issues 57-88  By North Carolina State College. Agricultural Experiment Station Agricultural Experiment Station, North Carolina State College, 1888

Potato onions should always be planted in the fall in the location in which they are to remain. These are the earliest ripe onions in the market, and can be shipped from North Carolina in June, at a time when the Northern markets are bare of ripe onions, and always bring a good price. But they are bad keepers, as all the dealers know, and there is no sale for them after the Northern onion crop comes in. Therefore they should be shipped as soon as ripe, and only the small sets kept for fall planting.


British farmer's magazine James Ridgway, 1852

COTTAGE-GARDENING IN CORNWALL.— Onions.—These find a place in, I may say, every garden in this neighbourhood. They seem to be used very much by the cottagers, and many of them pride themselves a good deal on the crops which they raise, in the management of their onion-beds, in preparing the ground, for instance, and the proper time for planting them, and their after-management. In all these respects a great difference prevails here. I have seen but very few, if indeed any, seed onions growing in the gardens of the cottagers in this place. When I enquire of any of them if the onions they grow are seed onions, ' Oh, no, sir," is the reply ; " we never till any seed onions." "What, then?" "Oh, the potato onions. We are always sure of a crop with them." I shall just state some outline of what is practised by a few persons, and this may be taken as a fair index to the rest. In preparing the ground, I have not seen any of the cottagers ridge it, as is generally done by professionals ' up the country'—that is, towards London, from here. They generally bank it. These banks may be from three to five feet wide at the bottom, and all the soil for a foot or two on each side thrown upon this space, making a round-like bank. This is a very common method of winter fallow. Some use this mode of preparation previous to planting their onions. Those who plant them early in winter, of course, cannot allow their ground to derive much good by either ridging or banking of it, Now, as to the digging and planting, all seem anxious to give the ground at this time some good dressing, and dig it over " very nicely." After this is done, they plant their onions in rows, of some four or five In a bed, generally six or seven inches from row to row, and from four to six apart in the rows. Some plant them early in winter; others about the beginning or middle of February, and a few in March. A few days ago I saw a good bed of potato onions all covered over with seaweed to the depth of some four or five inches, and the onion tops six or eight inches above this covering. This Is both as a means of protection in severe weather, and of enriching and manuring the ground; and again, many of these cottagers (especially if they do not keep a pig) are very careful in saving all the soap suds, and whatever else they can in the shape of dirty water, and with this they regularly water, or rather manure, their onion beds. By this means they are often very good and large onions, and arrive at maturity earlier than seed onions sown early in spring. So they can plant broccoli after them (of these they have a variety that grows very large in this county) or flat-pole cabbages: these are almost universally grown by all classes hereabout for common use; others sow turnips—many preferring the Sweed turnip*, or Rodibakers, as they are generally termed here by the cottagers. G. Dawson.


Journal of horticulture, cottage gardener and country gentlemen, Volume 11 G.W. Johnson, 1866

Potato Onion.—Your correspondent, "G. 8.," in the Number for the 17th inst., wishes to know if any of your readers has, like himself, found their Potato Onions refuse to increase in number. Small bulbs when planted always grow large, and rarely ever split; but good-sized bulbs always divide into from two to seven bulbs, or even more. I often wonder that Potato Onions are not more grown, as by deep culture, with plenty of manure and watering well with weak manure water during the growing season, a heavier crop may be obtained from them than from any other Onion which I hare tried. We always selected our Onions for showing from them, and were generally successful. Their only fault is their not keeping late in the Spring. We always grow James's Longkeeping, or some similar , for late use.—-W. C.


Gardeners chronicle & new horticulturist Haymarket Publishing, 1897

Besides the vegetables raised and cultivated in hotbed frames, large quantities are grown in the fields. These fields are divided into beds 1.75 meters (about 5 feet 9 inches) wide, the length being indefinite; and the beds are separated by alleys 0.7 meters (27 inches) broad, which are thrown out by the plough, and the earth thus loosened is cast over the beds, so that a bed has a height of 40 to 50 cm. Cart-roads do not exist. In the middle of each bed a row of Brunswick Cabbage is planted, on each side of which a row of plants of the Russian Grape-Cucumber or Gherkin is planted, which is a sort the bine of which does not spread widely. Next to these, on each side, come Red Beets; and lastly, as an edging all round a bed, one row of Potato-Onions is planted. This method of planting is universally followed in the Wilna district. The leaves of the Potato-Onion are constantly cut, just as we do with our Chives, and these leaves form a part of the daily food of the Russian peasantry, who live for weeks on nothing better than black (brown) bread and some finely shred Onion-leaves. In Nischni -Novogorod I obtained fresh caviare served with finely shred Onion-leaves, which, to us Western Europeans, seemed a horrible mixture. The Ogorodniki are of the opinion that by cutting the leaves of the Onion they increase the size of the bulb. However that may be, the Onions taste very nice eaten in the following manner :—First a slice of dry roll, and on the top of this a slice of Onion, above that one of Tomato strewed with caviare. The first plants to become fit for consumption are the Potato-Onions, whose leaves, as I have remarked, are eaten by the folk with much gusto, and not despised even by the well-to-do. The Russian farmer is easily satisfied—a chunk of dry black-bread, and slices cut from a bundle, one and one half inch in diameter, of Onion-leaves, eaten as one consumes a sausage, serves for his mid-day meal. Onion-leaves are eaten in soups and with cold dishes. In order to prevent the Potato-Onion from running to seed, they are, in the winter, exposed to a course of fumigation with wood-smoke for twenty-four hours. The cultivator continues to cut the leaves of the Potato-Onion up to the time when they begin to wither naturally. When the Onion-crop ceases to be productive, the Gherkin fruits begin to mature.


Intensive farming  By Lee Cleveland Corbett Outing Publishing Company, 1913 - 146 pages

.....Market gardeners in the vicinity of every large town and city grow a quantity of early bunch onions, either from sets grown from seed as above described or from another class of onions known as Potato Onions or "Multipliers." Potato Onions are hardier than most varieties grown as sets from seeds. The Potato Onion perpetuates itself chiefly by subdivision of the large bulbs, each large bulb splitting up into a number of smaller ones, each of which is planted out to be harvested for green bunching or allowed to grow to maturity to be used next season to increase the planting stock by again splitting up into several bulbs.

....while Potato Onions are usually planted in the autumn, and in those localities where they need winter protection mulched with straw or coarse litter.


Gardening for young and old: the cultivation of garden vegetables in the farm garden ‪(Google eBook)‬ Orange Judd Company, 1883

THE POTATO ONION. The cultivation of Potato Onions is similar to that of onion sets. The small potato onions are planted early in spring, in rows fifteen inches apart, and four to five inches distant in the row; keep the land clean, and that is all there is to be done. Each small bulb will make a large one. The next spring set out some of the large bulbs that have been saved for the purpose, and each will give a cluster of small ones to be planted the following year. This is the usual routine, but generally a share of those planted will split up into several small ones instead of making one large onion.


The American agriculturist, Volume 11  By Orange Judd Publishing Company, Inc. (New York)

pg 4

Potato Onions.—The large potato onion is beginning to attract notice among farmers as well as market gardeners. There are three kinds of potato or hill onions : one small; an old variety known by various names, as tho Bunch Onion, Hill, Cluster, and Multipliers; and a later kind known as the Egg Onion, from its resemblance in form to an egg—all of which are propagated only from bulbs or sets. The two latter sorts are worthless compared with the large "English Potato Onion," when it can be obtained; but the scarcity and high price of the seed has prevented its extensive cultivation. Being very early, and for this reason commanding as good or a better price in June and July as they would the following spring for seed, the stock is kept down to the wants of the market gardeners; hence but few find their way into the market for seed, and the demand, as far as I have known, has never been supplied. They are very easily cultivated, and a sure crop; increase about four or five-fold, that is, five or six bushels for one; and the expense of cultivation is a mere trifle, as the ground may be occupied with various summer crops, with little or no detriment to tho onions or the other crops. My method of cultivation, which has been perfectly satisfactory for three years, is to plant them in the fall, or as early in spring as practicable, in rows about two and a half feet apart, and set them from four to eight inches apart— Rural New Yorker.


Successful Farming

WHEN TO PLANT POTATO ONIONS Frequently it is difficult to secure and get onion sets planted early enough in the spring to produce fine, tender onions for table use as soon as most folks wish them. All this worry and labor can be avoided by planting onion sets in late autumn. November is a good time for this work The earth is as a rule in excellent condition, and if it is not, it is easier to put 11 in good shape than during the wet early spnng months. Sets of any kind will produce good young onions in early spring, but the best to plant is the variety known as the potato onion. These are quite large, but the smaller ones may be used for autumn planting, and will produce from five to ten young onions the following season. If the soil is good, and a liberal coating of wel rotted manure is used to make the Sol rich and to provide a light mulching, the onions will start to grow quite early. The onions will, if allowed to grow, produce a clump of fine onions suitable for •winter use. Reliable seed houses can supply either the seed or the onions from which a start can be secured of these multiplier or potato onions, and when once secured they will remain with you.—J. T. T.


American gardening, Volume 11 1890

Sowing.—Onions are propagated as follows: I, seeds; 2, sets; 3, top-sets or top-onions; 4, multipliers or potato-onions; 5, rareripes. The first two methods are the most common and important, though the potato onions are valuable in some sections, especially farther south.

pg 171 Potato onions, or multipliers, are the earliest and hardiest of all onions, and they are the chief sort raised by truck growers in the south for early market. Prepare the ground as for seed onions, making the rows one foot apart and set the bulbs five or six inches apart in the row, setting so deep as to just cover them. Press the soil close to them. When they have started, loosen the soil by using a scuffle hoe. When the tops wilt or fall down, pull and top, leaving one inch of top on.


The new onion culture: a complete guide in growing onions for profit  By Tuisco Greiner, O. Judd Company, 1903 - 114 pages

CHAPTER X Onion Varieties With reference to the methods of propagation, onions may be divided into three classes: (I) Onions produced by division of the bulb; (2) onions produced from top sets or button onions, and (3) onions grown from black seed. The last named may be separated into two subdivisions, namely, American and foreign types. According to Professor Bailey's Annals of Horticulture, about twenty kinds of multipliers, potato onions and sets were offered by American dealers in 1889. The leading variety of the first class (onions produced by division of the bulb) is the Potato onion or Multiplier, shown in Fig 47. This is most largely grown in southern localities. The yellow variety has been in cultivation for many years, while the white sort is of much more recent introduction. The bulbs are thick, compact, tender if eaten soon after pulling, and very mild and sweet in flavor. Fall planting is generally resorted to with this variety, the sets being placed in drills four or five inches deep. As the name "Multiplier" indicates, if a large bulb is planted, division occurs during the season of growth, resulting in the formation of from three to ten or more bulbs from the parent. If sets are planted, they will make single large onions, but not multiply. The plants begin active growth very early in the spring and may be bunched and marketed at a good profit, or may be allowed to mature. In the milder sections of the South the Potato onion will grow during the entire winter. The mature bulbs should be stored in thin layers in a dry apartment to insure their keeping. This variety is rarely, if ever, affected by the onion maggot. From the fact that the small bulbs increase in size and the large ones multiply, it is necessary to plant both sizes in order to secure onions for market and also maintain the stock. Shallots are frequently mistaken for the Potato onion. They differ from it in throwing up an occasional seed shoot and in the bulb always multiplying, which is not true with small Potato onions. The bulbs are more oblong in shape than the Potato onion. Shallots are small, may be kept the year round, and possess a mild, pleasant flavor.

ONION GROWING IN THE SOUTH page 107 The yellow Potato onion is about the earliest ripe onion that can be put on the market, and it generally pays very well, because the market is at that time pretty bare of ripe onions. But the Potato onion must be sold as soon as ripe, for it is a poor keeper. It makes no seed, but produces offsets from the bulbs, which are set in the fall as other sets, a small set making a big onion and a larger one two to three of

marketable size. There is another onion of the same character but white in color, which is used at times for early green onions. This one never grows as large as the yellow Potato onion, but is one of the best keepers, and its white color makes it desirable for the bunching in spring.


The country gentleman, Volume 25: A journal for the farm, the garden, and the fireside, devoted to improvement in agriculture, horticulture, and rural taste; to elevation in mental, moral, and social character, and the spread of useful knowledge and current news. L. Tucker, 1865

POTATO-ONIONS. crop,) required for seed, and the extra labor of setting! out and cultivation, forbid the cultivation of this j onion as a field crop, unless their superior excellence J would command for them a much higher price than I is obtained for the common onion. "N. E. C." asks for information about these onions. I have grown them for fifteen years. A good garden soil in high condition, is essential to success. Fall plow if you can—work in the spring early. Keep a smooth level surface. Mark in rows 15 inches apart. I In this mark I run a wheel hand plow to deepen it; in this set your onions; if large, 4 to 6 inches apart, and less for the small, say 2 to 4 inches, just covering with earth, and placed so as to be nearly even with the surface. The seed grows in the centre of the large onions—nq,stalk, and the onions producing seed or sets are good as any. I have always used them mainly for green onions for market, and consequently could not tell the yield, but presume 300 to 400 bushels might be grown to tire acre. I clear off what is left in July, and plant celery. A. S. Moss. Fredbnia, N. Y. Eds. Co. Gent.—I notice an inquiry for potato onion seed. The potato onion does not produce seed, but re-produces itself somewhat like the potato— hence the name. You set out a perfect onion in the spring, and as thb top grows the bulb rots and sloughs off, leaving from five to ten small germs, from which the tops spring. These make small onions, the whole weighing but little if any more than the original onion. While in this stage of growth they make a very fine salad onion. Any number of these germs may be plucked from the roots for that purpose, and what remains will be all the better for it. These small onions are set out the second year, just as you would set out top onions, and produce the perfect onion. They grow to a fine size, and are very mild, crisp and tender, having very little of that pungent, tear-producing flavor of the common onion. They are So very mild, that persons fond of that root will eat them, with the addition of a little salt, just as they would a raw turnip or an apple. B. C. Hood.


How the Farm Pays:

The experiences of forty years of successful farming and gardening by the authors

P. Henderson, 1884

POTATO ONIONS are increased by the bulb as it grows, splitting into six, eight or ten sections, which form the crop from which the "set" or root for next season's planting is obtained. These are planted in early spring, in rows one foot apart, the onions three or four inches between, and like the onions raised from sets, are generally sold green, as in that state they are very tender, while in the dry state they are less desirable than the ordinary onion.


Farmers' bulletin, Issues 26-50  By United States. Dept. of Agriculture: 1900

Potato Onion (Yellow and White Multiplier).—The potato onion is most largely grown in Southern localities. The yellow variety has been in cultivation for many years, while the white sort is of much more recent introduction. The bulbs are thick, compact, tender if eaten soon after pulling, and very mild and sweet in flavor. Fall planting is generally resorted to with this variety, the sets being placed in drills 4 or 5 inches deep. As The name "Multiplier" indicates, if a large bulb is planted, division occurs during the season of growth, resulting in the formation of from 3 to 10 or more bulbs from the parent. If sets are planted, they will make single large onions, but not multiply. The plants begin active growth very early in the spring, and may be bunched and marketed at a good profit, or may be allowed to mature. In the milder sections of the South the potato onion will grow during the entire winter. The mature bulbs should be stored in thin layers in a dry apartment to insure their keeping. This variety is rarely, if ever, affected by the onion maggot. From the fact that the small bulbs increase in size and the large ones multiply, it is necessary to plant both sizes in order to secure onions for market and also maintain the stock.

____________________________________________________________________ Cyclopedia of American Horticulture:

Wilhelm Miller, Macmillan, 1901

Multipliers are shown in Fig. 1532-3. Instead of containing a single "heart "or core, as in most Onions, it contains two or more. When the Onion is planted, each of these cores or bulbels sends out leaves and grows rapidly for a time; that is, the old or compound bulb separates into its component parts. The growing bulbels may be pulled and eaten at any time. If allowed to remain in the ground, each of these bulbels will make a compound bulb like that from which it came. Sometimes flower-stalks are produced from multiplier or potato Onions. The best results with multipliers are secured when the bulbels are separated on being planted, for each one has room in which to grow. Two or three kinds of multiplier Onions are known, the variation being chiefly in the color of the bulb.


RELATED POSTS: Where to Buy Potato Onion StartsMr Winterton's Remarkable Potato OnionsPOTATO ONIONS!

Daffodil Lust part III, the Seedling...


Fertilize me...

Having fallen in love with a glossy catalogue photo of Young Love, a fresh yet sensuous daffodil, pollinated her stigmas with who knows what combination of mongrel pollen and then carefully collected the 8 resulting seeds from two flowers it was time to wait for fall planting time. I kept Young Love’s seeds, along with the other 60 odd seeds I collected from my sloppy daffodil pollination experiments close at hand. At first I was really excited about the seeds and left them out on the desk drying in small twisty tied bundles of spun row cover material. The material allowed the seeds to dry, but kept them from being scattered. After a while, when the hassle of having them all over my desk outweighed the fetish value of looking at them a lot, I put seeds in a special little catch all basket on the desk where I could still sort of see them. Over time I became excited about or distracted with other things and stopped thinking about my seeds. I only noticed them once in a while when I needed something else out of the basket and was like “oh yeah, awesome!” That seems just as well since I had to wait a few months before planting them. Not to worry, come fall, my excitement was renewed.


In early fall I put the seeds out in the greenhouse. I did a little reading on propagation of daffodil seeds. Over all it seemed that they would grow easily enough, although some of the methods of propagation seemed overly complicated. I opted to plant them about 1 inch deep in flats. I used a technique I sometimes favor for special seeds with is as follows:

*Fill a planting flat about half full with rich flat soil made mostly of sifted compost.

*Follow the flat mix with a 1/2 inch or less layer of sand. (could also be 50/50 sand and peat, but I generally don’t find it necessary to add peat to propagation sand, though it will hold water longer if you do. The seeds can be laid carefully just where you want them on the sand.

*Cover with more sand to the chosen seed planting depth, in my case 1 inch.

This system offers a moist but well drained environment for the seeds with plenty of opportunity for the exchange of air yet with fewer of the moulds, bacteria and critters that are found in the composty flat mix. There is a tradition of planting seeds in sand or sand and peat for germination, but they have to be transplanted out soon after sprouting up because they have no nutrients to thrive on. When the seeds in the stratified flats strike roots, they hit pay dirt very soon and are off to a good start without transplanting. Sown in the flats, labels in place and watered in, there was nothing to do but wait.

At first I was patient. But I had started some wild Camas, wild Diogenes’ Lantern, Naked Ladies’ and Tiger Lily seeds at the same time. When the Camas came up I was stoked! I had been watching them all in anticipation and was starting to wonder if they would all fail to emerge. First just one Camas seedling, then more, then the Diogenes’ Lantern began coming up. Then the Naked Ladies... then finally the Tiger Lilies.... but no Daffodils :( I began to check more frequently. I started to doubt that my methods were adequate and wondered if maybe the seeds had rotted. For all I could know, they lay under the sand bed as hollowed out shells or worse yet, shells full of putrid rotting slime that had once held hidden promise of a long life of surpassing beauty. I reminded my self that daffodils are pretty tough plants in general and that they have probably evolved to tolerate these conditions just like any other plant, if not better. They just take a long time right? Maybe I watered them too much in spite of the well drained conditions I gave them. My faith in simple propagation methods was slipping. I resisted the temptation to dig in and have a look.


Every time I was remotely near the greenhouse I would go in and look. I had seeded some Apples too, so I had two exciting seed projects to anticipate. I scanned the surface of the sand carefully for any green tips that might be poking through. I tried viewing from different angles. I moved any suspicious lumps of sand in the case that there might be a shoot just below pushing the surface up trying to get out. I blew on the surface to remove any lose material that might be obscuring the green tip of a seedling. Then I blew harder wishing I could blow a layer of the sand off, but alas it was too wet, too compacted, it wasn’t budging. I thought about removing a thin layer of sand since small bits of moss has started to grow and lock the particles together... but that might damage the tips of any seedlings that were coming up. I thought about spraying the soil with water to remove a layer of sand, but ditto, and besides then I would be over watering and they might rot. Aaaagghhhhh!! It was like christmas when you’re a kid.



Finally, one day there was a green tip in an auxiliary pot of seeds! It wasn’t one I was excited about, but at least there was hope and they weren’t all dead! Now I checked even more often, sometimes three times a day. Scanning carefully... I’m not sure a day has gone by when I don’t check, but it’s been slow going. After the first one, more came up but they took their time about it. One came up every few days at the best and just one in a row of many seeds. Finally about 6 varieties were up, with no sign of life in the Young Love row. wahhhhh!!!! I was out of ideas to speed up the process so I had to be content to scrutinize the soil surface. It’s amazing how fast they come up when they do. Two nights ago, after having checked already once in the morning, there it was by the ghastly LED light of my headlamp, a tiny speck of green in front of the Young Love tag! I probably uttered some happy noises and wiggled around or something. You’d think I could rest in peace now, but no, I probably looked at them three times yesterday to check for new plants



I know, its ridiculous, But it’s nice to have something to be excited about which holds some promise for the future, even if it might be nothing more than a small population of peachy colored and probably buck toothed and lopsided flowers with unevenly split cups. I’m sort of looking forward to getting over it and just letting them grow on till they are ready for their coming out party. I will no doubt go through this process again in a few years when they approach flowering age, only worse. Spreading apart the leaves to see if there might be a flower bud tip down in the there, just enough to get a good look without breaking any leaves. For now though I will probably check them obsessively for a bit longer until excitement wears thin and enough seedlings are up for me to say that the endeavor was more or less a success, which is not the case now with 10 seedlings up out of 70. (I checked last night, make that 11:) Apparently Daffodil seeds can lie dormant for a year or two, but I’m hoping of course that mine won’t. That could really be a nail biter.

Now for some real waiting! Wow, I mean really, three to five years from seed is a long time. I’m glad I’m old enough that it doesn’t seem like an eternity. But, if I pollinate a few flowers a year and with a small amount of effort, I can have new flower varieties to evaluate every spring. I guess you’ll hear from me again when it’s time to shallowly judge Young Love’s offspring based almost solely on physical beauty. Until then, the narcissus are blooming so it’s about time to start pollinating again- Woohoo!

The earliest narcissus daffodils are already blooming here in February. If you have more than one kind of daffodil variety, why not cross pollinate a few and see what happens? Just snip off a stamen that is releasing powdery grains of pollen and rub it gently on the stigma (the little center thingy) of another variety. Repeat for a couple of days in the late morning. What better to do while drinking your coffee in the morning. If you want to keep track, tie on a tag with the name of the varieties using the convention Girl Plant X Boy Plant. Collect the seeds when the capsules begin to dry and open, but before they open all the way and drop the seeds. Let the seeds dry thoroughly before storing in a dry cool place.



Growing huge leeks is just a big ego trip!  So here's how to do it!

admiring the leek
admiring the leek

1)  Select a huge variety:  Scratch that.  Select a number of huge varieties.  Products, you may have noticed, are not always as advertised.  So, grow several to find one that preforms.  Also, do you want length or girth?  Usually you will be trading one for another to some extent.

2)  Select a variety that is hardy enough for your climate:  Leeks require a long season to grow big.  If you have extreme winters, leeks may not survive in open ground, but select a hardy one anyway and you can cover it a bit to keep it alive and growing.  (See Eliot Coleman's Four Season Gardening for techniques to keep your garden growing through the winter in cold climates).  The short varieties seem to be the hardy winter types.  My favorite, Bulgarian Giant, barely survives winters here in the low 20's, but plenty still make it through and I select seeds only from those.  Very cold climates will probably dictate growing the stubby flag types unless significant protection is used.


3)  Start early and keep 'em movin':  Leeks grow slowly, so start your leeks in January, February at the latest.  They are also tough and they will survive considerable neglect and crowding.  But, if you want big leeks, keep them growing by thinning and transplanting into a new flat  once they get big enough to really select out the largest ones.

4) Hand Select the Seedlings:  I've planted large, v.s. small starts in separate batches to confirm that indeed selecting large seedlings does make a difference.  Whether the effect is one of genetic potential or environmental circumstances is open to question at this point and would require a different and worthwhile experiment.  I start by sprinkling the seeds in a pot and sifting 1/2 inch of soil over them.  Use good flat mix.  Its hard to find good flat mix and better to make your own from some tasty homemade compost.


5!  Thin early:  I'm ruled by practical concerns like food production, so I plant leeks as close as 6 inches and up to 8 inches apart in every direction (i.e. in a wide bed on a grid pattern in staggered rows as opposed to traditional rows).  However, I start thinning the small, stubby and crooked leeks to eat in early summer.  If you want the super largest plants ever, you should plant them farther apart in the first place.  I'm a fan of equidistant grid spacing in wide beds, so I would probably go with 14 inches apart in every direction.  If planting closer as I do, thin early so that the plants are well spaced by late summer.

6)  Keep feeding those suckers:  Leeks have a hearty appetite.  top dress them with blood, fresh manures, compost, seaweed, coffee grounds, or whatever ya got.  Liquid fertilizers will go a long way too.  If you do any of your own slaughtering, blood mixed with water will please your leeks greatly.  Urine mixed with water will rock them into orbit.  Any manure teas should also be good.  Feed them something at least every month or so.  I don't dig my beds, but if you do you would probably want to dig a bunch of stuff into the soil like manure or compost etc... but don't rely on that to get your leeks through their long growing season, keep feeding them...

blood fertilizing potato onions
blood fertilizing potato onions

7)  Grow for as long as possible:  No matter what you do, leeks take time to get their biggest.  In the spring they will bolt, so they can't keep growing forever.  The longer you can grow them though the bigger they will get until they decide its time to go to seed in the spring.

8)  Save your biggest leeks for seed:  Don't eat your biggest leeks!  You can transplant them if they are in the way, then let them go to seed which will take most of the rest of the season.  Try to save at least six plants just to prevent inbreeding.  When the seed heads are pretty dry, pick them and dry them further and put them in a jar in a cool place.  If you do this for a number of years you will have a strain that is adapted to your environment and tastes!  And hopefully huge!

SEE ALSO: Leeks:  Size does matter!

The Over Sculpted House: designing for the unforseen

"....there are fundamental architectural truths and functions which can be incorporated into almost any building and the fewer permanent manifestations we employ beyond those basic design elements, the more we might leave the structure open to variations in it's potential use, and this point is worth considering in a building design."

Civil planning has always been one of the most challenging undertakings here at turkeysong.  As an example I designed the same 120 square foot building repeatedly after moving here.  I kept moving it to different sites and using different materials and shapes.  So really it wasn't the same building at all, it was just intended to have similar functions.  But what were those functions?  I couldn't always figure that out either!  What would happen in and around that building in the future?  Who knew?  That building has now morphed into a larger structure known as the cottage which is essentially an almost square box with a loft, which still remains without a known long term use.  It's not that we were just building something merely for no reason, but its intended early use is no longer relevant and the potential long term use seems somewhat dubious at this point, all within the space of a few years.

"Does the building serve us or do we serve the building?"

At one point I was inclined to use cob for that building (a material of clay, straw and aggregate much like adobe but used to sculpt buildings rather than to make bricks).  I planned and drew a lot and even started excavating a totally inappropriate spot for it which I eventually had re-assembled by a bulldozer that was handy.  At the time I was reading Michael Smith and Ianto Evan's excellent book The Hand Sculpted House and ran across the recommendation in Ianto's design section to sculpt your house into specific use niches to take the greatest advantage of a small space (I really do like this book and highly recommend it to anyone considering building with cob, but I couldn't resist the title re: this annecdote.  I am also friends with Michael Smith but, alas, no one escapes critical analysis, and I hope I won't either :).  The idea is that you can, with cob anyway, build in very specific shapes as areas for very specific uses like a desk or a sitting area, kitchen, phone etc…  With this approach you eliminate "wasted" space or space that is, as the author put it, "use neutral" or having no specific use.

Keeping a building small by making the most out of the interior space one has by assigning every area have a specific use is rather enticing.  So, I tried designing a building along these lines on paper as well as in my mind and was able to tweak it to fit my list of essential functions into a measly 120 square foot floor space, which was no easy task.  While designing this buildng in my mind, I found myself psychologically uncomfortable with the legacy of permanence and lack of flexibility that this approach necessarily creates.  Once you sculpt a shelf into the wall or sculpt around your wood stove or create an office niche, it's more or less there for good.  We'd sure better get it right the first time!  Where does that leave us?  Does the building serve us or do we serve the building?  Furniture might also have to be built to fit a curvilinear sculpted building after which it is less useful anywhere else one might want to put it.  Being stuck with this lack of options forever was psychologically unappealing for one thing, but it also felt like a trap in terms of practical building usage in that it is very inflexible.  Given my experience here and in the past, I'm inclined to view use neutral space as a freedom of opportunity rather than a problem of lonely, empty, inefficient space.  This of course depends on the extent and nature of that neutral space and the people who interact with it and may be largely a matter of style and taste.  This experience provides a context in which to examine building design and the inevitability of its unknown future use.

I have lived in a wide variety of inadequate shelters as many of my friends also often do.  In California, rent can be expensive and populations high leading to the renting or scrounging of all kinds of substandard housing like poorly built hippie shacks left over from the earlier back to the land movement and converted barns and chicken coops.  There is an adaptation of buildings to people and people to buildings in an attempt to make wherever we land work.  But this doesn't apply only to ramshackle or re-purposed structures, it also applies to very intentionally designed houses which just do not fit the way that people actually live.  I suppose that no building can be guaranteed to work for all occupants and the problem of designing for flexibility to accommodate change and future occupants and the compromises that entails has been on my mind for a while.

The last place I lived had a separate crooked mouse infested shack that we converted into a kitchen, an attached lean to that I used as a tube electronics workshop with tool storage/workbench and, lastly, there was a separate but almost attached building that provided a "living" area and sleeping loft.  A wooden deck communicated between the two.  I was very sick with lyme disease for most of that period and often had to nap in the day time or sleep in.  This made "living" in the living area difficult sometimes and got me thinking about the potential need for a quiet sleeping area and also the need to have kitchens and "living" areas together.  There is a natural gradient of activity between cooking and other waking time living activities and we spend a lot of time on food around here, so to separate most of our waking indoor activities from the cooking part would create an intolerable disconnect.  Sleeping however is another matter.

"...our expectations around having regular sleeping and activity hours are clearly often not supported by reality."

I've been drawn to the idea of separate sleeping structures for quite some time now.  I go through phases where I need daily naps and that alone is reason enough to make the possibility of separating sleeping from waking hour activities appealing.  I also suffer from insomnia, depression, mood swings and general emotional chaos and just sometimes need a place to be alone or zone out for a while.  Yet none of these factors is constant except perhaps that there is no constant except change.  Separating sleeping areas from day time activity areas not only allows one to sleep or escape social interactions at odd hours, it also allows a person to get up and do waking hour activities at odd hours!  I mean really, if you actually step aside and look at it, our expectations around having regular sleeping and activity hours are clearly often not supported by reality.  Whether our insomnias and lack of "normal" schedules around sleep and activity are indeed "wrong" and due to some character fault or modern unhealthy lifestyle factors or if they are indeed just "normal" is almost a moot point.  I've tried telling my brain to shut up and sleep and at this point would prefer to just get up and do something at 3:00 am if I wake up.  That is just my ever shifting life.  It seems to me that people do often design their lives and their infrastructures on assumptions that may not be accurate.  Our interests, needs, relationships and habits all can change unexpectedly on both short and long time scales and that is reality whatever specific grandiose or nostalgic plans and dreams we might have for our futures.

"...any static hard plan you make on paper assumes that we have all the information that we need, which of course we never do!"

When I was first moving here I re-read the permaculture manuals by Bill Mollison and found them to present a well thought out and beautiful philosophy of design.  Like I said though, civil planning has been very difficult here and the idea of sitting down and planning out your world on a map and then executing it with bulldozers and sheet mulch as he recommends just didn't work well for me.  I think I felt a little inadequate at first for not being able to sit down and master plan my world, but I now think the red flags and roadblocks I encountered were probably telling me something else important.  It has taken a lot of time, observation and just living here to start figuring out where to put stuff and I've made some mistakes.  At this point I am more inclined toward something like organic growth in development.  However whacked out his attempt at a practical response to the phenomenon might be, organic growth of buildings and environments to fit human needs and behaviors is one of the primary observations and principals laid out by Christopher Alexander in A Pattern Language (which is a book I would recommend to anyone who finds themselves designing buildings).

I got some second hand feedback from a recent visitor who is a permaculture designer that it doesn't seem like we have much of a long term plan here for what we're doing.  There is probably more of a plan than that person perceived, but still, it's true.  It has, as I said, been a difficult and frustrating process to plan this place.  Still, I feel fairly confident that any fuller plan I would have made would have been wholly inadequate and left me with structures and landscapes that I would serve more than they would serve me.  We have had a land partnership change and relationship changes since then and added a third resident all of which would not have been taken into account in building structures in an initial master plan.  Further, I have had to observe the character of my environment with it's air temperature layers and movements, soil profile and drainage, sun and shade and topography as well as the ways we interact with those factors in order to decide what we want to do here.  Further, ingesting, digesting, internalizing and then manifesting something from that input is I feel a long term proposition.  Besides, I rather enjoy the emerging excitement of the organic growth part.  In talking to my friend Tim Bray about this issue he articulated that he's a fan of organic growth in these things because any static hard plan you make on paper assumes that we have all the information that we need, which of course we never do!  This is not at all to say that I don't plan or don't have plans, but those plans have changed a lot since I got here as I've interacted with the place and gathered information leading me to feel that a gradual approach to planning, and planning in some flexibility, is a better approach for us and this place.  That all being said, I also do recommend reading the permaculture design books because the design philosophy they present will make you a better planner.

"We are still stuck with that quick and dirty mentality and as a product of our environment and culture these values, or lack of, are expressed in what we are leaving behind."

Another reason to design for flexibility in structure use is that we are not designing only for the period that we live here or are even alive.  Once I was talking to a natural builder about some structure I wanted to build and mentioned that I didn't think so and so building technique was very durable.  He said "well how long do you expect to live!".  I was a little taken aback and it took me a second to plumb my motivations for building a durable structure since I guess I was assuming that would be a commonly assumed value (although I'm not sure why since that assumption has not been supported by my observations in the natural building community).   I managed to muster what I thought was an adequate if succinct response to the effect that I would prefer to live in a world in which people looked toward the future and left works that were durable and could serve others in the future in order not to waste resources and human time and energy, and that I planned to try to do my part to manifest that reality.  If you look at old world buildings and even some earlier post contact North American architecture those people were part of a continuum and the expectation was different than todays mentality in that they were building and maintaining a country and a culture.  As the plague of invaders swept across North America with its abundant resources faster and less future oriented building materials and techniques came into play.  We are still stuck with that quick and dirty mentality and as a product of our environment and culture these values, or lack of, are expressed in what we are leaving behind.  A lot of temporary work is done here simply in order to get by involving trailers, crappy sheds and tarps but when we do a real project it is generally with the intention of doing it properly and leaving a legacy that we can feel good about and that might serve someone else well in the future.  Not to take this idea too far out of bounds, but I feel that there is possibly a place for temporary natural structures, or those employing re-usable materials within a culture that is sustainable.  That paradigm however does not seem to exist and when people say natural building, they rarely mean it in a literal sense.  Most natural buildings use a lot of hardware and sometimes have embodied energy in the form of sand and transportation of even natural materials, like the rampant use of bamboo imported from asia.  Once the materials are labeled "natural" or "green" people seem to use them with some indiscretion in regards to the future of said materials.  I hope to write down some more thoughts along these lines in the future.

Recently, I've come to critically examine expectations around structure use and have been inclined toward designing for flexibility in that regard.  The first building was intended to house solar system components such as batteries and inverters.  It was for two separate power systems.  Then it was for one.  Then it was storage and cider making and guinea pig housing.  Now its a bedroom that has switched users temporarily.  Currently it is planned to be a temporary (but probably longer than we'd like!) kitchen so we can get out of the trailer kitchen.  I've tried to plan other uses for this building, but I can't know what it will be used for.  It could make a workshop space of some kind, storage, sleeping, cider and wine making, who knows.  I can tell you I'm glad I didn't sculpt in battery storage or something silly like that!  At this point, the less permanent installations there are inside that building the better.  I put in an adobe floor (not impressed BTW), but if we turn it into a brewing/cider house, it will have to come out and make way for a floor that can be washed down with a drain in the middle.  Oops.

Another example is the aforementioned cottage.  It keeps changing potential uses and again I've realized that the fewer items we install permanently the better.  We were all set to install a slate floor and even had started, but now we're putting it off for a while because we will be using the space as a shop for probably quite some time and are inclined to think it will be damaged by rough usage; either that, or we will just have to cover it up to protect it.  We also had plans for a kitchenette, but now I'm inclined to think that any kitchen-like infrastructure should be easily and 100% removable.  It has also occurred to me that maybe even the loft should be removable.

One idea that I find particularly appealing is that of building small structures on trailer chassis.  Trailers generally suck.  They nearly all leak due to silly flat topped, flush roof designs.  New ones may not leak for a while, but as soon as you move them they start leaking.  This failure is not due to limitations within the laws of physics, but rather our failure to work with those laws and the problem can easily be designed around if the roof would overhang the sides to any degree at all, even an inch.  It never is designed around though, presumably due to the apparently important criteria of milking every possible square inch out of the interior which by law is limited in width if you plan to move the trailer yourself along a public roadway.  Millions of moldy rotting trailers show this trade off to be a poor one.  Anyway, I'm digressing, but because trailers suck, leak and become rotten mold and mouse infested pieces of crap, there are endless free trailer chassis (the metal platform with the wheels that trailers are built on) out there that are perfectly serviceable.  Even a fourteen foot trailer has plenty of room for sleeping and clothing storage.  It can be moved almost anywhere if it is suddenly found to be in the way of some new plans and it can be built with a great deal of creative freedom and attention to craftsmanship.  Add to this that the trailer is un-taxable and not subject to building codes and the trailer bedroom/workshop/office/storage is starting to look awesome!

"There is a certain feeling of excitement when even just moving some furniture around."

One of the great appeals to me in thinking of portable structures like a flexible use trailer chassis building is simply the ability to move them as desired whether it be by necessity or just on a whim.  I've been thinking for some years about how people like to move.  There is a certain satisfaction in moving from place to place.  It's like a new beginning.  Give people the choice to move and they tend to do it.  For Americans though, I feel that all our moving sometimes fractures our communities and prevents us from forming a sense of place and the responsibility to that place or community that staying in one place has at least a chance of fostering.  People moving all the time can become users of communities and places rather than builders and care takers.  That phenomenon is always a bane to longer term locals when some kind of rush happens or a lot of new people move in as with the black market marijuana production economy here in Northern California.  I have always liked the idea of sinking roots into a place like this and knowing it enough to really care about it deeply and not just philosophically.  I hope to do my works here and die here, but I still feel that itch to move or find renewal.  It may be that there is a conflict between sinking roots and knowing a place v.s. an urge to move around which is more or less irreconcilable, but maybe if we look closely there are some solutions.

This is just from personal observation and speculation, but I think we probably have a natural tendency to want to move; to leave one place and to find another.  Leave memories, surroundings and habits behind to start over.  After all, we evolved moving from place to place following seasons and resources and maybe we still feel those stirrings.  I think people have various coping mechanisms for this need when they can't move.  Remodeling over and over again is probably one of those.  People also travel, especially as they become older, and seek out various methods for personal renewal or "re-creation".  And of course just moving.  I could see having a variety of structures built for flexible use as potentially useful to partially fill this need which I know I feel in myself.  There is a certain feeling of excitement when even just moving some furniture around.  You know what I'm talking about right?  One could move into a new trailer house bedroom, move the trailer to a new spot or set up a new small workshop or office space in one.

The one static building I see here is a sort of communal kitchen/waking use area.  I like the idea of having a space for cooking, eating and doing waking hour stuff where people can maintain a sense of connection and community.  The only serious concern I have with this plan is that more buildings require more separate heating, but at this point I'm fairly sure that is a problem which can be overcome by habit and technology and that its inconvenience or added labor will not outweigh the benefits of such an arrangement.  Currently here, sleeping arrangements are separate from living and cooking and overall it has been much more beneficial than not- this after having a bed in the kitchen/office trailer for 4 years!  That sucked.

"... I may be full of shit."

It hasn't been so much my intention here to present much in the way of solutions, but rather to point out a problem that I perceive as relevant and in need of some thought and action.  Human endeavor is plagued by both our limited perception of the present and of history as well as our inability to see into the future, so I may be full of shit.  Still, we have to act on something and too often that is by default the dominant paradigm or someone else's dogma rather than our own common sense and intuition.  Whatever anyone does about it, fitting ourselves to our buildings and our buildings to ourselves and future users will necessitate much compromise.  I hope my approach will be more along the lines of keeping those compromises to an acceptable and functional level or even so slight as to be barely noticeable day to day, rather than one of looking for perfect solutions.  Indeed, that there are not perfect solutions due to the inevitability of change and variations in human habits and character is more or less my main point.  When we over design and over tweak anything we run the risk of implementing inelegant solutions or worse, creating significant burdens.  On the other hand, buildings designed for specific uses can make those uses more pleasant and efficient and, although I like to keep the future and its inhabitants in mind when designing, we have to make buildings that are functional for ourselves as well.  So, where to draw those lines between flexibility and specific functionality in architectural design must then indeed be a complex and very personal matter.  Under-designing may just as easily create its own set of problems if it is adopted as a rigid polarized extreme of over-designing and creating polarized extremes is another counter-productive plague on human endeavors.  I guess one of my thoughts at this point is that there are fundamental architectural truths and functions which can be incorporated into almost any building and the fewer permanent manifestations we employ beyond those basic design elements, the more we might leave the structure open to variations in it's potential use, and this point is worth considering in a building design.  I'm excited about the idea of designing from here on out for flexibility in space use and plan to continue designing and plotting away in this mindset.


As some of you may remember from the first installment I fell in love with a daffodil last year named Young Love.  She was a mail order bride.  I was seduced by the photos of her pearly perianth and frilly pink corona.  Young love bloomed this April among many other new, and mostly lovely, narcissus varieties.  I have to say that she wasn't as pink as I had dared to hope, though at the same time knew better than to expect; and so it seems to go with pink daffodils in general.  But then we don't always get what is advertised or what we expected through our lustful, advertisement colored, fevered imaginations.  Sometimes that may be just as well and what we do get may be as much or more valuable.  Young Love did put on a lovely show and, along with all the other Grant Mitsch hybrids, had an excellent, heavy and even almost fleshy substance.  When the first of them bloomed (integer) I was compelled to put its superior genes to use somehow and I went about crossing it with other early daffodils blooming at the time.  Many mornings from that day through the bloom season I was to be found for a few minutes in mid morning snipping out stamens crusted with pollen from one flower and carrying them around with a pair of tweezers to dabble onto the female parts of another.  I crossed whatever I liked the looks of without even looking up whether the varieties I was using were sterile, or virile, or made particularly good parents.  Some didn't fertilize at all but many, no most, did.

When Young Love bloomed I was certainly not going to miss my chance to dabble in her genes.  I added chromosomes to her girl parts and took her pollen elsewhere (Ok, so maybe she's hermaphroditic).  I can't remember where I spread her wild oats or who's pollen I haphazardly smeared on her stigmas, but come a month or so later her seed pods began to swell with child as her foliage was declining for the long summer and autumn sleep of the daffodil.  Heavy, swollen and pendulous, the seed pods held new possibility within them.  The two pods produced only 8 seeds, far from the potential they held.  Maybe I need to do it more than once?  hmmmmmm.......  I also saved seed from flower record (neat looking, but poor substance), altruist (unimpressed, I don't know why I bothered), hillstar (pretty cool), precocious (awesome), Integer (close to awesome), trigonometry (awesome), harpsichord (awesome), and pink declaration (again awesome) as well as a few miscellaneous flowers of unknown name (some of which were awesome-ish).  Not a single flower seemed to be pollinated without my intervention, so I'm pretty sure they are all deliberate crosses (if that is not too strong a word for my techniques).  At first I worried about rogue genes making their way into my chosen seed parents, but insects rarely seem excited about visiting the daffodil.  Apparently it doesn't have much to offer and natural, fortuitous pollination is infrequent, at least around these parts.

The next stage is to grow the seeds out into tiny bulbs which will then be nursed along into larger bulbs until they flower at which time I get to find out what they look like.  This is a long process by all accounts and it could be 3 to 5 years until the first flowers open.  Not a prospect for the impatient, but age and hard experience have made deep inroads into that aspect of my character, and good riddance.  It takes an average much greater than that provided by 8 seeds to wind up with a new daffodil worth naming and I imagine that it is very unlikely that any of my 70 odd seeds from various parents will produce anything worth adding to the already thousands of named varieties.  Still, that doesn't mean that they won't be fit to look upon or propagate further for personal use or to give to friends.  Then again, maybe one of our 8 seeds will survive the trek to flowering and become the next best-thing-ever.  But its more about the adventure- the promise of novelty and the gamble of genetics.  Its not a gamble that can't be influenced though and at least I get to pick the parents thereby increasing the odds, so who knows…  Besides who doesn't love their buck toothed love child?…. Love Child, now there's a name for a daffodil.  Stick around for five years and maybe you'll find out if our love children are hideous mutants or stunning beauties like their mother.  They will probably be average at best, but I have a feeling I'll keep them around anyway.  (Ok, I've stretched this whole analogy thing thinner than the petal of a substandard daffodil seedling.)


I would like to introduce you to a swell onion that makes its own starts, stores like a rock and tastes great! (Related post:  Potato onion research.)

Years ago when sharing a garden with my mother, she ordered some small onion sets called potato onions.  From that small beginning we've been growing them ever since and have given away dozens of starter bulbs.  The potato onion somewhat resembles a shallot in growth habit.  They tend to be a little bit smaller than shallots and somewhat more rounded.  The bulbs are delicious caramelized, cooked whole in stews and roasts, grilled in their skins on the barbecue and about anywhere you would use a regular storage type onion.  I like potato onions.

I'm really into onions right now.  I'm starting to dream about growing more different varieties and I'm even filling the spring gap between the last leeks and the first scallions with a few store bought onion bulbs. For many years though I pretty well subsisted on only three types of onions from the garden- the leek, scallions and potato onions.  The leeks provide much of the winter fare in the onion department, the scallions are the first in the spring after the leeks have gone to seed and the potato onions keep through the winter and into the summer for use whenever a non-green onion is needed or when the leeks and scallions aren't available.  Its been a pretty good system.  Regardless of what other Onions I might try growing, I don't think that potato onions will ever be left out of my garden.

One of the great things about potato onions is that they are grown from bulbs so you never have to start them from seed.  The bulbs keep remarkably well, so there are always starter bulbs to plant as late as mid summer.  One bulb planted will produce usually 5 to 8 more bulbs, though sometimes more.  I've tried to grow shallots from bulbs before with limited success.  The shallots seem to bolt every time, but the potato onions rarely try to flower before they are ready to dry off and store away.  I have seen them flower, but its a rare occurrence here.

I plant the bulbs shallowly by pushing them about one half to two thirds of the way into the ground.  I don't bury them or push them all the way down.  They like to grow mostly out of the ground.  They will start rooting very soon if the soil is moist.  I usually space them around 8 to 10 inches apart in every direction in a grid pattern.  Onions tend to like to be well fed and especially seem to thrive on nitrogen.  I give them a lot of nitrogen through the growing season in the form of diluted urine at about 1/3 urine to 2/3 water.  Onions like that.

The plants get onion thrips like any other onion and occasionally have some rust, but neither of those problems has ever been so bad as to warrant any intervention on my part and they seem otherwise unaffected by pests and diseases and .

When do you harvest potato onions?  At some point your plants will start to look rough and the tips of the leaves begin to die back.  This occurs before they are actually sized up all the way.  Once the plants seem to be really declining, lets say that half of the foliage is dead, stop watering the plants and let them harden off and finish on their own.  In another few weeks, they wilt most of the way down and can be pulled up.  I read somewhere or was told that one should allow onions to dry off most of the way on their own before pulling and though I've never tested or confirmed its validity, I've always used this approach with good results. Normally, the onions will have almost no live roots left when I pull them up.  If I need the bed I'll pull them a little early, but I want the tops mostly dead at least.

I usually dry the onions under a tree in the shade with the greens still on.  Spread out in a layer one onion thick.  Once dry the remaining tops can be trimmed off to 3/4 of an inch or so, and the onions stored in a cool dry area through to the next summer.  They keep extremely well, although there are always a small percentage that go bad.

The tops can also be braided together by drying the tops first and them dipping them briefly in water and waiting a few minutes until they become flexible enough to work with.

I guess the only real drawback to potato onions is that they are some work to peel.  They are packed with flavor though and I find them easily worth the effort.  I like to throw some sliced into a pan in which I've just cooked some meat and pour in a little white wine or cider to lift the glaze.  Then cook them down repeatedly with a splash of cider each time they cook dry until they are good and caramelized.  Another favorite around here is throwing them on a charcoal grill whole with the skins still on.  When they're well done they can be squished out of the skins as they are eaten.  Yum!  For stews with large pieces of meat and vegetables, or for roasts, I peel them, but leave them whole.

This year I've planted more potato onions than ever and I'm really looking forward to eating them in a few months.  Give potato onions a try and if you aren't an over privileged, entitled brat that can't stoop to taking an extra minute of inconvenience to peel a few small onions I think you'll be glad you did!  Well, to be fair, I'm sure there have been many times when weary from the days activities I found peeling a pile of potato onions less than appealing, but like so many things once you reset your expectations and start to view your food in new lights, peeling a few small onions instead of one big one ain't so bad after all.

Where to go with potato onions from here:  I've tried planting out the early planted crop again as soon as it is mature hoping for a second generation of onions in one growing season.  While I think there is adequate time to make this approach work, the onions have refused to wake up and grow without being stored for an undetermined amount of time.  Unless there is a way to quickly break their dormancy by chilling or other means, it looks like one generation a year will have to do.

One experiment I plan to carry out next year is to plant some very early, even in late winter maybe, and then plant successions.  The bulbs can be eaten when still young and green, so they might make early greens with the bulk allowed to mature in early summer for a supply of summer grilling onions.  The successions or late plantings can then supply the winter and spring storage onions.  No use growing them out early just to store them through much of the summer.

I have occasionally seen potato onions flower.  I think someone out there should start breeding these for more variety.  We could end up with other colored, other flavored, bigger sized or otherwise different potato onions than we have now.  From what I've been able to find, they seem to be the same species as regular bulbing onions and shallots so those varieties, of which there are so many, could be used as the other parents making for a multitude of possible outcomes.  If mine flower again I'll be tempted and I may even try to trick them into flowering for that purpose.  (Since writing this, I've found someone who is breeding new potato onions, though not using the self fertile potato onions rather than crossing them out with anything else.  Kelly's site has information about his experiments and results, check it out!

This page at from the UK also has much information on potato onions.   They recommend planting deeper than I do and planting in Autumn for larger yields.  Also, they recommend digging carefully and storing without breaking the bulbs apart.  I plan to try all of these suggestions this next year.

Potato onions are hardly grown anymore and most people have never heard of them although they used to be quite popular.  By growing and giving away potato onions you can help save them from extinction.  Forward this article to a gardener you know and help revive our potato onion heritage!

Fedco/moose tubers carries potato onions and they are hands down my favorite seed company anyway, so check out the seed section as well.

Also check out:


UPDATE, 12/7/2011


Plants tend to bolt under stress, so I racked my brain for ways to stress potato onion plants to induce flowering.  I came up with the following list which was carried out on groups of 3 before planting yesterday including one control group.  I know it looks pretty rough, but its for the good of the species.  the potato onion race is run down and needs an infusion of new genes to regain its former glory!

I also planted some of the potato onions this past season too late... maybe sometime in July?  Those onions didn't mature.  They are still green and the bulbs are small.  I'm leaving a few clumps of them in the ground in the hopes that they will bolt this spring.  I hope to encourage a few of them using light deprivation and whatever else I can think up.  I hope also to have a few other onions flowering at the same time so that I can make intentional crosses with varieties of single bulbing onions.  Stay tuned for results...


UPDATE MARCH 14 th 2012:

I just finished compiling, cleaning up and publishing some research on Potato Onions gleaned from old books and journals.  You can read it here----> O.  Also, all but two of the tortured onions are growing now, but only one to three inches tall.


UPDATE JUNE 4th 2012:

I was super stoked to see a flower emerge from one of my Potato Onion bolting induction experiments!  It was from the bulbs that were cut at the base.  Then another!  Then some flower stalks from the onions I planted too late last season and left in the ground all winter.  I think I was feeling a little smug in my success.  Then I saw flowers coming out of this years normally planted regular Potato Onion crop, which is unpreferable really.  No torture, no overwintering in the ground.  Coincidence?  I wonder.  Someone once told me that one should always snap the heads off of flowering onions because if you let onions flower, they "tell" the other onions which can cause them all to flower.  I have never confirmed that or heard it elsewhere, but it makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint.  Maybe I did induce flowering and those onions did tell the other onions to flower.  Then again, maybe it's just coincidence after all.  Whatever the case, I now have A LOT of potato onions going to flower.  I also have a couple other varieties of bulbing onions flowering for potential crossing.  Hopefully that means I'll have a lot of seeds to grow out into new varieties of potato onions!

Just FFR the potato onions that bolted first were two of the ones which had cut bases.  That is a I cut a cross pattern into the bottom plate of the onion bulb.  The second to flower, shortly after were the overwintered bunches which are producing copious amounts of flowers.

LIME SQUAD! II: The Slaking



Having burned some sea shells into quicklime in photoessay part one, it was time to slake the shells into lime putty.

In the morning we went out to the kiln all excited and grabbed a few well-burned-looking shells for a quick experiment.  We put the shells into a dish and crushed them lightly with a spoon and added water.  In order to turn into calcium hydroxide, a.k.a. lime putty, quicklime has to undergo a chemical reaction with water which creates a good deal of heat.  Well, our quicklime just sat there cold in the water, no churning and boiling :(  what a let down...   After getting over our initial disappointment it seemed just not right that our lime didn't react.  The shells were completely white through and through.  So, we put the shells and water on the stove to heat a bit and that seemed to slowly kick off the reaction and eventually they broke down into lime putty.  That was encouraging, but it wasn't time for the champagne yet.

I had pretty much decided that we should use hot water to slake at this point, but considering the time and energy we had invested so far we wanted a more informed opinion.  I called Jeff Price at Virginia Lime Works who generously spent a small piece of his morning in the pursuit of my edification in regards to lime and lime burning.  Sure enough, he recommended hot water to start it off when using shells because the structure of shells is less conducive to the slaking process than the structure of stone.  The up side is that shells make more lime putty than an equivalent amount of burned stone.  I took my page of notes and was ready to rock.

The burned shells were added to an old wine barrel pre-charged with hot water.

It wasn't long before the exothermic reaction began to take place.  Note the surface of the water is roiling in this picture and the shells are starting to break down.

The lime was stirred constantly.  Goggles should definitely be worn here.  The the lime is dangerous not only because it is literally boiling and splattering but also because the Ph is very high making it caustic enough to cause chemical burns to the eyes.

Jeff had told me to keep the reaction going by constant stirring and addition of water as necessary.  A lot of water was added as the process continued.  The picture above shows the putty partially slaked, but still with a curdy, cottage cheese look to it.  The lime was stirred constantly to keep this stuff in contact with the water it needed to insure a continued reaction.

When the reaction had pretty much subsided the lime was broken down into a smooth batter-like consistency.

A few days after slaking the lime was stirred up with extra water to suspend the fine lime particles in a thin liquid for straining through a screen.

The lime was poured through a screen or two to strain out un-slaked particles which consist in this case wholly of under-burned shells.  The remaining milk of lime was stirred again in the barrel with a quantity of water to allow remaining particles to settle to the bottom as the stirring subsided. If any under-burned particles remain, they will make good aggregate for plaster or mortar, but for the finest finish plasters or lime washes (lime paint) these particles would be undesirable.

From here the lime sits under its blanket of water.  In time it will settle and congeal into a firm putty.  Hopefully the barrel will facilitate this process as the porous wood draws away water from the putty allowing it to evaporate out the sides of the barrel.

So far so good.  The seemingly small amount of shells expanded into a significant amount of lime putty... maybe 12 to 15 gallons?... and with the addition of at least two parts aggregate for almost any use, there is enough to do a significant level of experimentation in using it.  It the meantime it ages away improving with time in its wine barrel vintage 2011.


 "I have feelings for this flower that some people might consider inappropriate."

Sometimes people don't act their assumed social identity, age, class, sex, race, religion etc... While there obviously is a correlation between genetics and behavioral predisposition, especially by sex, such expectations are largely social constructs. My partner's and my roles are often somewhat reversed. She brings in the money, does the taxes and is more likely to be seen changing the oil in the car. Some of this is I think due to her generation of women often valuing taking control of their own lives, which I generally see as a valuable trend and have often encouraged in my female friends (of which I tend to have quite a few). Its like, they want to have jobs and be valued for skills and compete in that way socially. I think thats awesome. Back on track though, she is also less likely to have aesthetic fixations and relevant to this train of thought to bring in cut flowers unless there is some very especial reason and it is in the service of others, as in cutting them for someone's birthday for instance. I plant a few flowers every year, but there are plenty that reseed themselves in the garden, so there are often flowers to cut. I on the other hand will not infrequently bring in cut flowers... and throw them out later when (and occasionally before) they start rotting all over the table. Over the years I've gradually added to the quantity and species of flowers that grow in my gardens. I tended at first to shun them in favor of growing yet more food, but I've gradually learned to make room for them and appreciate their aesthetic qualities as well as the fact that they can attract beneficial insects and the pleasure that they bring to visitors. Now I'll plant a few on purpose each year, while the orange cosmos, hollyhocks, poppies, calendula, flowering tobacco, pansies and sunflowers reseed themselves to the point of being weedy... if still welcome. Then there are daffodils.

I've always been fond of the small flowering narcissus, of what is known as the Tazetta category. The Tazettas are the smallest class of daffodils, many derived from species native to mediterranean climates. They tend to be strongly scented with many small flowers to each stem. These are the varieties that I'm mostly seeking for my bulb under-stories for trees experiment. When in 6th grade I moved to a Western Oregon property with old fruit trees and overgrown gardens which were home to large yellow daffodils. Even as far back as then I was never fond of the large yellow daffodils standing tall and oversized and... um... very yellow... on the end of single tall stems. I think that somehow the fact that they had been manipulated into this very obviously unnatural form offended my sensibilities somehow. (although, judging by their ubiquitousness, that form is popular with others.)


Since moving here to Turkeysong, I've collected as many daffodils of any sort as I have been able to get my hands on for aesthetic purposes and for my tree under-story experiments. Some of them were moved from the last place I lived. Others have been acquired by begging a few bulbs off of friends. In the winter and spring I travel with small digging implements in case I see some growing in an abandoned lot or ditch somewhere. The clumps are invariably overcrowded. Unless I think I'm going to get busted by some irate human, I'll try to take a moment to plant a few bulbs to start new clumps. Over the last few years, I've become more interested in daffodils and the many forms besides BIG and YELLOW, which due to their prevalence I also have some of and maybe don't mind as much anymore... I said maybe.

Once I started the tree under-story project I began researching daffodils and narcissus species more. The terms are often confused. In popular use, the term narcissus is more often used to describe the Tazetta group with clusters of small flowers as already described while the term Daffodil is more often reserved for larger flowered varieties but it is appropriate to call any of the various groups of narcissus, large as well as small, either narcissus or daffodils. Over centuries, daffodil enthusiasts have forced unnatural communions between the many wild species of Narcissus by dabbling at the flower's sexual parts to move pollen from one species to another creating hybrids between the various species. Then they have further dibbled at the parts of these hybrids to cross pollinate those hybrids with each other creating an increasingly bewildering array of varieties and forms. And still they dabble on creating more and more fantastical varieties.

At first I was only searching for cheap bulbs. Once I started to see some of the crazy beautiful forms narcissus have been steered into by the sexual interference of plant breeders I started to go oooooo and ahhhhhh and found myself navigating online flower catalogues. I've been seized by some sort of daffodil lust. I put together ridiculously expensive shopping carts of bulbs and then don't buy them... but I want to. I dream about them. My computer desktop shows a picture of tazetta narcissus. When normal men my age are looking at the intriguing and delicate variations of the female form on porn sites, I'm taking a break from doing so to navigate ---> DaffSeek<--- an extensive searchable daffodil database, looking at the intriguing and delicate forms of the genus narcissus.

When I saw Young Love, a newish variety by famous Hybridizer Grant Mitsch I fell in love... sigh.... I have feelings for this flower that some people might consider inappropriate. I must have her. She's the kind of flower that might tempt me to leave my wife or girlfriend, make me take out my credit card when I shouldn't and make major life decisions under the potent influence of limerance. Fortunately I don't have to, for as long as I'm not caught by the neighbors trying to pollinate her stigma by inserting my stamen into that lovely pink and puckered corona (a proposition which seems somewhat tempting if wholly unsatisfying), mine is not a forbidden love.

Like many newish introductions in the flower world, a piece of Young Love is expensive at 10.00 a bulb. WHAT? 10.00 a bulb!? Yeah, I know.... but consider this, I can drool over a porn starlet on the internet, but I can't have her, even for 10 bucks. Young Love will not only bloom year after year with minimal care but she will reproduce herself making increasingly more bulbs every year. Each year she will approximately double herself, an exponentially growing resource that will delight me and others and provide cut flowers for show and potentially for sale at the farmers market. Daffodil Varieties vary in their garden performance, but most are reliable and relatively trouble free. Most certainly the permanence of daffodils, the fact that a clump may endure a century or more, has always been a great draw for me. If I go to the store to look at goods I generally talk myself out of purchasing things because I always see the end of the line where I toss item X into the garbage can and it subsequently sits buried in a landfill somewhere for the next X thousands of years. But dear reader, please observe the daffodil flower bulb, a discreet natural package that can sit dried off in the open air for months before being planted in a great diversity of sites and soils where with little care it silently, steadily displays and propagates its treasures through the years. Of course most are much cheaper than young love.... though some are much much more. No doubt my love will fade somewhat or maybe it will grow deeper and more respectful as the novelty and lure of the new and shiny fades away but, either way, I have no regrets about spending my partners hard earned money on a single (though double nosed mind you!) bulb of young love. A house husband has to have some spending money.

There's no accounting for taste. What is showy to one may appear gaudy to another and what is elegant to one is plain to someone else. Whatever the subtle and not so subtle attributes (besides pink and puckery) make this or that variety more attractive to me, my daffodil collection has grown rapidly this fall and I look forward to indulging my new obsession to what I hope will be a healthy degree. Growing, admiring, trading, photographing, giving away and maybe even a little breeding of daffodils sounds like a pretty good time to me just now. I'll probably keep it to a dull roar as my inclination toward the practical will no doubt assert itself in subtle and not so subtle ways steering me back toward my fruit tree and vegetable projects.

To a lot of americans, Daffodils probably seem like kind of a sissy hobby for a guy, but whatcha gonna do? Sports and cars just hold no attraction for me. I do like tools and heavy metal and pretty girls and... sigh... pretty, soft, frilly daffodils :) It is not uncommon in other cultures, such as the British Isles, for men to be avid flower gardeners, but really, no really, rather than feeling a need to justify my desire to grow flowers, I find it rather amusing that I, as usual, have tastes, activities and ideas somewhat outside the norm of my culture. It is true though that as we grow older our hormone profiles change. While women are becoming sexual powerhouses (I almost said predators... oh wait, I just did) many men tend to soften a little around the edges and have more romantic feelings. maybe that has something to do with my position on the role of flowers around the homestead softening a bit over time... even (possibly) regarding the large and yellow. Maybe if I live beyond 60 I'll be out in the yard among my Narcissus blasting our song (definitely she was asking for it by cannibal corpse) on the patio speakers and getting misty eyed while wistfully regarding the first opening Young Love bud of the season lost in nostalgic reverie of the time when I first saw her.... and she hasn't aged a day in 20 years.

Posted on November 11, 2010 and filed under Garden Stuff, Uncategorized.


I used to think of fava beans as a cover crop only and not as a food.  People said they were good to eat, and I tried, but I found them to taste awful.  Somewhere I ran across a short and vague reference to slipping them from their skins which lead me eventually to the fact that the outer skins are fairly inedible.  You would think that out of all the mentions I read and heard about fava beans in conversations, books and seed catalogues that someone would have mentioned as much?!?!  WTF?  Anyway, they are really good after all.

To start from scratch, fava beans are a sizable plant that has been cultivated for geons for both food and soil improvement.  It seems to be fairly common knowledge that a small percentage of people are deathly allergic to them, but I haven't met one yet.  Maybe most of them are dead.  Favas are a relatively robust plant that I've seen outgrow me in height under really fertile conditions.  The large pods contain large seeds that are edible.  The plant is in the legume family and, like most legumes, it has a relationship with some specialized soil dwelling bacteria that colonize it's roots forming small nodules.  The plant provides a home for the bacteria and the bacteria returns the favor by fixing nitrogen out of the atmosphere which the plant then gets to use in it's processes.  I'm anthropomorphizing here.  Honestly I don't know exactly how the relationship plays out in the long run, but there seems to be a mutual benefit.  Like many relationships though, there is probably some compromise along with the good times.  Anyway, legumes are high in protein at least partially due to this relationship.  That bacteria/plant relationship also makes favas a good cover crop as both the plant and the roots with their nodules are high in nitrogenous matter.  They can produce a lot of bulky material for the compost pile as well, which is important if you use a lot of compost, as I do.  They can also be turned under the soil if you dig your beds, which I don't.  Or, you can just cut or break them off at ground level leaving the nitrogen rich root nodules in the soil to decay gradually, which is the method that I favor.

Favas grow best in cool weather.  They can be planted as early as late summer here (Northern California coastal ranges @ 1800 ft) but won't flower and set pods until spring.  I plant them anywhere from late August through November.  Since I don't normally dig my beds, I'll sometimes plant them in among a crop that is already in the ground, but which will eventually be killed by frost or just pulled up as it starts to decline in cool weather- like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants etc...  The fava plants remain small through the winter, biding their time until a hint of spring hits the air, at which time they explode upward and put on a good number of fragrant flowers which are visited by copious numbers of buzzing things.  I would say in general that I have not found them to really actually cover the soil that well, so they are maybe not such a great soil protector.  Soil protection is very important here in the winter with our torrential rains.  An area with "heavier" rainfall might not have this problem because it simply drizzles lightly nonstop, but our version of heavy tends toward intense downpours which literally hammer the soil, followed by sometimes long breaks.  Your mileage may vary by climate, but an under story of smaller thicker legumes such as clover or vetch can help provide more soil cover... I find that weeds work pretty well too:)  The plants lodge easily which, if you are unfamiliar with the term, means to fall over in the rain, wind, snow... actually, they will sometimes pretty much fall over without provocation, though they will fall over sooner and more definitively in inclement weather.  For this reason I really like to stake the plants up.  It's not so much that the beans mind falling over, they will continue growing and making pods, it's more that they fall into the paths making it hard to access adjoining beds and to harvest the beans.  Here we put one stake on each corner of the bed and then a stake every 4 feet or so along the bed edges.  Then a string is wrapped around the outside every foot or so.  Wrap the string once around each pole as you go around.  This is one of those jobs thats easy to ignore, but which I have decided is well worth the relatively small effort involved when you have to access beds over and over through the spring season.  That sentiment is more pronounced this year as our timing was off and all the favas lodged in a snow.  Once it happens, you can't really put them back, so we've had to live with the mess.

If the tops are harvested early for compost or mulch when one can maximize the amount of nitrogen left in the soil; but, then you don't get any beans.  I'm not saying that early harvest is a bad idea, but I rarely do it as it doesn't work into my scheme of things so well.  I've read that you're supposed to cut them while flowering and before starting to set beans in order to leave the greatest amount of nitrogen in the soil.  Sometimes I harvest some of the beds early, but I try to let as many of them seed out as possible because a lot of them are consumed in our kitchen both in season and out of season.  Also, I don't feel that I have to maximize nitrogen in the soil that way.  I see it as just another option that I can choose from when planning and harvesting.  And maybe maximizing nitrogen in the soil that way isn't always the best choice.  Where does all that nitrogen in the root nodules go?  Into the tops and pods and beans of course.  I only eat the actual inside of the bean seed and the rest (which is a lot!)makes it's way to the compost.  I lose some nitrogen there in the compost to the processes therein, but some of it makes it through.  Besides, the nitrogen I do eat mostly gets peed out and that also makes great high nitrogen fertilizer.  Besides, the longer the tops grow the more biomass they produce and I need lot's of biomass for composting.  In the process of growing things in the garden, and the processes of life in general, there is a net gain.  That's how we got this far with our fertile soils and abundance and diversity of life.  My personal observation has led me to think that it doesn't seem to be necessary to calculate everything down to a gnats ass in order to achieve good yields; yields that are in acceptable proportions to the time and energy I have to put into the system.  So I just let them go to seed and make food for me if they aren't in the way of planting something I consider more important.  It is around mid June here right now and the beans are starting to come in in large quantities right now.  This is a late year though.  Most of the beans will be harvested over the next 2 weeks before we start pulling them to plant some vigorous winter squash starts... also late, but 3 months should be enough for most of them and later maturing winter squash will keep that much longer through the winter.

When pulling the tops to clear the beds the plants are simply cut or snapped off low down near the ground and the roots left in place.  If a root mass is in my way during transplanting of the next crop it is pulled and thrown in the compost.  By the end of the season they are usually pretty well rotted away.  I do feel though that the best use of the roots is to leave them in the ground to rot whenever possible, more especially since I don't dig beds and it is important to get organic material into the soil.  Worms pull some down and more gets sifted in during incidental digging like transplanting and root harvest, but roots left in the soil may be the largest contributer.

There are many different strains of Favas out there some of which are alleged to be the more gourmet varieties, but not so many are available through standard sources.  I haven't yet met one on my plate that I didn't like.  Bell beans look like the same thing, but are much smaller.  They aren't so good for eating, so I plant only favas.  At this point I plant whatever I can get that's cheap or free and I figure I'll start selecting a sort of land race for size, flavor, hardiness and so on.  Hardiness is an issue  .I've had them die off in a cold winter, which is not really all that cold here- above 15 degrees fahrenheit.  Not all of them died, but some of the fancy and allegedly gourmet, varieties keeled over.  You'll have to do you own research on that stuff, I'm going for the survival of the fittest plan.  I plant the seeds on about 8 inch centers in a grid pattern so that each row is staggered from the next, like laying bricks.  On this planting plan, the beans end up planted 8 inches apart in every direction. I don't measure the spacing, but just eyeball it and push them in quickly... remember, I have other things to do.  Pushed in an inch or more deep they usually sprout up and grow pretty well.

When favas grow well, which they usually do, they produce copious quantities of beans. The beans can be harvested at various levels of maturity.  Some israeli guys told me to eat them when very young with the skins on.  I tried it.  No thanks.  Firstly, there is very little to them when they are that small so I'd rather let them grow.  Also, they taste bad, but there's no accounting for taste so your mileage may vary.  Different varieties vary in size, but I'm usually not harvesting till the beans are at least above dime sized.  There does seem to be an ideal level of maturity where they are not too starchy, nor too underdeveloped.  Again, that is a judgement call, so your taste may indicate otherwise.  Besides, sometimes these things are perhaps more a failure of creativity or knowledge on the the cooks behalf and less the fault of the vegetable.  I go by the look of the pod as well as the feel of the beans inside.  Look for pods that have well developed lumps and squeeze them to check for size.  Sometimes the lump is deceptive- hiding more air than bean.... other times the lump looks big, and is full, but the beans are still small and underdeveloped.  The lowest beans on the stalk tend to mature earliest, with the rest ripening consecutively up the stalk.

There are specific ways that I remove the beans from the pods and then the inside of the bean from it's skin.  I'm certainly open to finding a better way, but this method is pretty fast.  I not too long ago found myself joining a table of people who were nearing the bottom of an enormous pile of fava beans.  I was ripping through them with my superior shelling technique, but only one person seemed to notice and make any effort to imitate it which, by the way, isn't difficult.  I made some paltry effort to clue them in, but was drowned out by small talk and complaints about the quantity that had to be processed cloaked in encouragements that we were almost at the end of the pile.  Anymore I find myself less willing to put effort in that sort of direction as I'm all too often actually mocked for even stooping to paying attention to such a thing as efficiency in work.  I think that points out something that is fundamentally wrong with the society I live in, but I guess some people think it points out something that is fundamentally wrong with me.  I'll admit I'm over the top at times by most people's standards since I like to improve things, but it works for me.  People seem often more inclined toward, or I guess place more value on, symbolic acts than they do on actual results, but when work becomes more of a symbolic act than an effort to accomplish a goal, then we have become- lame.  I think that's material for another blog.  For me in my context, I have a lot of things I want to do, most of which I will never get to because I only have so much time and energy.  One of those things is to grow and process a sizable quantity of my food.  It's not that I don't enjoy growing and processing food, but I don't want to do it all the time and the truth is that the longer each thing takes the less time I have for other things that I want to do.  Then, too, the more I grow and process the less I buy, and I like that.  Investing some thought and experimentation in how to process food efficiently (and I think this can be a parable for other work) can yield great savings in time and energy leaving more time for growing more food, engaging in other useful activities, partying, going to thrift stores, writing blogs &c.  And it's not that it costs me more effort when I'm doing it, it costs much less effort!.. which is my whole point.  It does take some very small investment, but the unwillingness to invest that attention or, maybe more so, the lack of awareness that it behooves people to make that effort at all, is what puzzles me to no end.  If you have a better way, please out with it, I'm all eyes.

To remove beans from the pods:  Using both hands, grasp the pod on either side of a bean lump.  The thumbs go on the back of the bean a little as you simultaneously twist and squeeze the pod to break it open and push outward away from you.  The breaking outward with a twist opens the pod and the squeeze pops the bean out into a bowl in front of you.  pop, pop, pop, pop, pop and the shell is dropped in the compost bucket.  So elegant, so fast, so efficient... sigh....

To remove the skins:  grab each bean with the three digits of one hand (thumb, fore and middle).  with the other hand, nick the end of the skin with your thumbnail while simultaneously squeezing the bean with the holding hand.  The tearing of the skin is important.  It should proceed the squeeze, but just barely.  With practice, it almost blurs into one smooth motion.  It isn't necessary to tear it open, usually a small nick will suffice.

To freeze, the shelled beans should be blanched.  Drop them In boiling water for 5 minutes and then cool in cold water.  Drain well and freeze in the skins or out.  I like to freeze them in the skins as I think it protects the bean.  I like to lay them out on a towel for a little while if I have room.  Doing so dries them off a bit which means less ice in the bag.  I don't think it's necessary to dry them all the way though.  Pack into ziplock bags and toss in the freezer.  To use them: drop some into boiling water and when fully thawed, pip them before cooking further.

The beans can be cooked all the way in the skins and then pipped.  They are a good snack when cooked in salted water and squeezed out into the mouth, much like edamame (sp?).  Great for a before dinner appetizer while dinner is being cooked.  Cook them until just done or the skins will make them taste bitter and funky.

If I'm going to cook the beans other than for out of hand snacking, I will tend to cook them just a little, pip them and then cook them further.  If the beans are cooked too long in the skins, the color goes off, the water turns a dingy shade and a peculiar bitterness infuses the beans.  Did I make that sound bad?  Good, because it sucks.  If the beans are more mature and starchy it takes longer to cook them making this phenomenon more relevant.

Plain favas of a medium maturity, that is a little starchy, but still fine grained and tender, cooked in water with just the right amount of salt and coated in butter with a sprinkling of black pepper are pretty damn good.  Sorry to share too much, but I'm salivating.  Maybe we could add a little bit of crushed bacon.  As with pasta, I would recommend using a lot of salt in the water, how much?  a bunch.  you might lose more nutrients in salted water, but in terms of flavor it's hard to beat infusing the beans with salt rather than just putting salt on the outside after they are done.  The ideal amount of salt would leave the beans adequately salted without any further addition, but I can't tell you how much that is as I'm attempting to cultivate a feel for quantities in such matters by rarely measuring anything.  I think it's working.... I think.

Another good way to cook the pipped beans is by wet sauteing.  I just put a lid on the saute pan and use a low-ish heat maybe drizzling a bit of moisture in once in a while.  Some butter, a little ham, some mushrooms and onions.....

Overcooked, the beans will fall apart, but they are quite good smashed with some butter or fine olive oil and salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of paprika.  They also occasionally make it into soups.  They are very good in minestrone, though if over cooked they will dissolve and cloud the broth.  That tendency could probably be used to advantage in some other soup but, in my considerable opinion, it ruins most soups.  Honestly I feel that I've just scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of ways to use fava beans and am looking forward to exploring further.

I was just recently clued in that the tips and flowers are also good to eat.  I was hesitant to try them as I had come to view the whole plant exclusive of the inside of the seeds as being nasty and inedible.  I was talked into sampling a tip by a professional cook and wasn't unfavorably impressed.  That just goes to show... something.    I'm still a little hesitant I guess, but plan to explore that option as it seems like the tips could be a valuable addition to winter and spring table fare.

When shelling, you can save seeds that are more mature to dry for re-seeding the following year.  The seeds tend to be expensive and you can use a lot in a big garden.  I can get bulk seed from my local farm supply that is pretty cheap, but I try to save some too.  The seeds rare usually mature enough to dry for a seed crop if they are big, the small umbilical part is released, they feel on the harder side and are starting to turn more yellow than green  I've dried them that way for a while and it seems to work, but I'm not really paying that close attention.  Dry thoroughly in an airy, but not too hot environment before storing in a jar or paper bag in a cool dry place till next season.  If you are a fava eater, then you are probably going to want to save the largest beans.  Good luck, we're all counting on you!

Posted on June 25, 2010 and filed under Garden Stuff, Uncategorized.