Monday, 26 April 2010

The High Altitude Radish - Maca


This isn't a picture of a Maca, nor is it the High Andes where Maca grows but it does share many characteristics with that climatically inhospitable place, the sunlight is intense and the wind bitingly cold and fresh.

In swaps this year I was fortunate enough to receive some seeds for Lepidium meyenii, Bolivian Maca, which is a rare high altitude crop of the Incas. Most of the Lepidiums are weedy things, regarded as pests and interlopers and in living in fear of herbicide whenever they venture close to agriculture but this particular cousin of the turnip and radish, is a vital crop in high altitude Bolivia and Peru where even potatoes, ulluco and mashua struggle.

It has also gained some celebrity as a superfood as it is alleged to have fertility enhancing properties and is now reputed to improve libido and help with menopause. Who knew? Well, the Andeans apparently who commended it to the Spanish to help with their herd animals as far back as the Conquest. In my not so humble opinion it's probably more to do with its ability to concentrate trace minerals from deficient soils than any intrinsic value to the root but that's just the start of a thesis and I don't suppose I'll be following up on it any time soon. Suffice to say, I doubt it's worth investing in large quantities of dried powder from dubious sources if you already have an adequate diet. Unless you're the sort of person who responds to homeopathy obviously.

However, despite all that, I'm quite eager to see what comes up from my seeds. The root is described as tasty and good to eat and more importantly can be dried and stored for long periods of time, years even, with little damage to its nutritional value. The sort of food that might well be useful when the end days come, and let's face it, anyone who's into agricultural biodiversity has half a mind on that most days. Don't they?

In fact, my only concern is that rural Normandy might just be too tropical an environment but we'll have to see. I'll be planting them on the windy side of the house, in full sun and hoping for the best.

By the way, the picture is actually of part of the coast of west Sweden, a rather special environment with a whole botany of its own to explore another time.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Back in Spuds

cleared for landing

Touched down at Stansted yesterday. Now to prepare for the next migration.

Among the rather less ethnically appropriate items I bought in Sweden - some commercial Mirabilis and Mimosa Pudica, Mexican Sour cucumbers, Beauty radish, that sort of thing - I obtained some tubers of a Swedish potato variety called Mandel. Information is a bit scarce about this, even on the Swedish Wiki page, but it's basically a traditional variety from the 1800s or before reselected in the 1950s which has thus given rise to a certain variability.

As far as I can tell the original potato was blue skinned, small and floury, a bit like a Shetland black but without the strong blue inner ring to the yellow flesh of that variety and known as blÄ mandeln (Blue Almond) whereas the modern selection possibly with the help of some cross breeding, is known as the vita mandeln (White Almond). It is still small, oval to kidney shaped and has a lightly golden, very slightly reddened skin. However, it still has the very high dry matter and texture that the Swedes enjoy with their delicious traditional foods like fermented herring and black pudding.

The story is further complicated by the fact the Finns also grow this potato, calling it Puikula. This enjoys EU protected designation of origin status when grown in Lapland, exclusively marketed as Lapin Puikula.

Best cooked in their skins, chipped or used in soup, they don't have a wide commercial range but are well established in the home gardens and speciality markets of Northern Sweden, with the bluer sort still having a following in the south apparently.

I got my white Mandel tubers from the supermarket but they were available in the garden centres alongside more modern and easily recognisable spuds for the home gardener.

mandel potatoes

Monday, 19 April 2010

Pe Po Belly Bum Drawers

So I went to Sweden and the world went mad!

My flight home is cancelled, Ryanair have put me on hold and it doesn´t look like I´ll be able to get back to the UK and from there to France for another couple of weeks. So much for a late start to the season, this is going to be a catastrophically slow start for everything...

Still, as has become my wont, I´ve taken to asking the Universe via the Internet for assistance and it has often responded, sooner or later. Please get me home.

Next task, to find a way to unload the many lovely pictures I´ve taken here and occupy my unexpected downtime with something useful.

And I have managed to get a few seeds although none of them are truly Swedish. I have been promised some Ramson seeds though, which will make a good addition to the alliums when I finally get back.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Oh my

could this be spring?

It might finally have stopped being winter. Hurrah.

Little enough to write up here at the moment so really this is just a note to keep in touch. I'm hoping that by the end of the month I'll be back into the swing of things and updating more regularly but first I have a trip to Sweden to make - wonder if I can find any interesting seeds there - and then the task of moving the cats to France for the summer.

Unless you are already promised oca or other seeds for this year there will be no more swaps until next autumn. I have just three more packages to send and the swapping season will close.

All the tomato seeds planted have now come up, the peppers and aubergines are looking good. Oca and ulluco are potted ready for the move, the Hopniss has made shoots but sadly it looks like the yacon didn't make it at all. I'm kicking myself about that. So stupid of me.

So, just like before here is the state of mind I find myself in, once again. Off to make lists.