I planted some radishes ‘way early’ this year. About 50 days ago. They were “watermelon radishes” from an old seed packet. I needed to either pitch the packet or see if they were still any good. I chose to plant them and a very large percentage grew.
A very strange radish with a root that is red on the inside and white on the outside.
The weather then was alternating warm and cold with heavy cold rains.
The unexpected result? My radishes have still not made an edible bulb (though they have had enough time and enough ‘degree days’). Instead, they are bolting directly to seed.
What does this mean? It means that in their short lives they decided they had grown in the fall, then overwintered, and now it was “spring” and time to go to seed in the ‘second year’. Basically, they have said that in their expert opinion, March was “winter in California”. I’d tend to agree.
As I wanted to do ‘seed saving’ from this batch, this is a feature to me. I get to collect seeds a year early. For biannuals I will sometimes dig the roots, put them in the fridge for 2 weeks, then plant them out, so simulate that winter period. The plants can detect winter fairly well, but they don’t “tell time” in the refrigerator all that well. (All their usual cues are gone. Temperature cycles, light cycling, water cycles. After a couple of weeks they just set the “winter flag” and wait for spring.)
The net of all this is that it’s not a normal year. It’s a cold dark year.
As I type this, the day is cool and overcast. I was in the garden earlier and got “sprinkled on”. The record high for this date is 83 F in 1914 while the record low is 44 F in 1896. Must have been some powerful “global warming” between 1896 and 1914. All those horses and “horse do” being done… ;-) “Normal” is 69 F and we are presently at 63 F at about 3 PM (the hottest part of the day). So as days go, today is “a bit cooler than ‘normal’ but not spectacularly so”. Still, this isn’t the Global Warming I was promised. It was supposed to be pushing those 80 F ranges, not dragging along at “barely tomato pollination” temps at the hottest part of the day. Nights will be too cold to pollinate tomatoes reliably. I deliberately held off planting any, based on expecting just these conditions. Did not expect it to be so cold that the radishes would bolt, though. (The good news is that my lettuce, which ALWAYS bolts in the heat, is not bolting At All. I’ve got nice “saladings”.)
Just an “honorable mention” for the virtues of Buckwheat. It has been used for generations as a “catch crop”. When the main crop of wheat or barley doesn’t germinate, or gets drowned, and you just don’t have enough time to start a whole new crop, folks would plant Buckwheat as an emergency food. To “catch” what they could of a productive season.
I had an old packet of buckwheat seeds. Label says “Darwin’s Garden 8/2008. Grown under corn and runner beans from old commercial buckwheat.” Yeah, 3 years is not THAT old for seeds kept in the fridge. But still, these had not been frozen and were a few years into it. Not knowing their normal “shelf life” (that can run from 1 year for onions to ‘several’ for large seeds like beans and corn) and it being a small seed, I figured I ought to give them a trial.
I put some in a “6 pack” just to test germination. Sometimes the “Darwin’s Garden ™” selections don’t thrive as well as the ones grown with an easy life… That was all of about 4 or 5 days ago. I’ve already got sprouts. (One popped up in about 2 days!) So a bit later I’ll be finding a “nice spot” for these guys to grow.
I alternate a stress interval with an “easy growout” interval where I select for desirable traits. Originally I just hit seeds with stress. The end result after a decade was a tomato that would grow anywhere and make fruit. The problem was that it was sparsely leaved, grew long and spindly with stiff hairs, and made only a few fruits that were about 2 cm in diameter and undistinguished in flavor. But it was durable ;-) I think it needs some “breeding out” into a more juicy flavorful line now 8-0
At any rate, I’m once again impressed with the virtues of Buckwheat. I suspect more of us will be rediscovering buckwheat pancakes and soba noodles if the cold, wet, dark trend continues. I also found some “cream of buckwheat” breakfast cereal at Whole Foods. Has a decent flavor (mild) and a nice metabolic uplift from a modest serving size. If you are planning for “seeds to save for a rainy day” (literally!) make sure you have some Buckwheat in the jar. I got mine from the “bulk buckwheat” section of Whole Foods several years back. (About a decade ago).
Radishes too. They grow fast. In a “famine foods” situation you can eat the leaves and seeds. Radish sprouts are nice too… so if they ‘bolt’ it’s still not a loss. Oh, and ‘purple pod green beans’. The leaves are eaten in Africa as a “pot herb”. I’ve tried it. Not bad, but spinach has nothing to fear… The purple pod types sprout even in cool soils and can be up and growing in shorter season areas. So everything from pruning a few leaves, to the green bean, to using the extra for cooking dry beans.
Lentils are a very “fast crop” and can be ‘up and done’ in weeks. Yeah, lentils with buckwheat and radishes may not sound all that “nummy” but if you are hungry, having it all in 1 month instead of 2 or 3 is very important. Add in the “8-Ball” or Ronde du Nice squash that is pumping fruit at 40 days, and you can have “food from the garden” in a very short season indeed.
The crop plant, common buckwheat, is Fagopyrum esculentum. Tartary buckwheat (F. tataricum Gaertn.) or “bitter buckwheat” is also used as a crop, but it is much less common. Despite the common name and the grain-like use of the crop, buckwheat is not a cereal or grass. The grain is called a pseudocereal to emphasize that the plant is not related to wheat.
Buckwheat plants grow quickly, beginning to produce seed in about 6 weeks and ripening at 10 to 11 weeks. They grow 30 to 50 inches (75 to 125 cm) tall.
This genus has five-petaled flowers arranged in a compound raceme that produces laterally flowered cymose clusters.
Within Fagopyrum, the cultivated species are in the cymosum group, with F. cymosum L. (perennial buckwheat), F. giganteum and F. homotropicum.
Eriogonum is a common chaparral plant throughout western North America, especially California, where it is the largest genus of dicots and at least 70 species have been cataloged. The flowers have six petals and occur in cymes.
The agricultural weed known as ‘wild buckwheat’ (Fallopia convolvulus) is in the same family, but not closely related to the crop species.
Buckwheat is a short season crop that does well on low-fertility or acidic soils, but the soil must be well drained. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, will reduce yields. In hot climates, it can only be grown by sowing late in the season, so that it will bloom in cooler weather. The presence of pollinators greatly increases the yield. The nectar from buckwheat flower makes a dark colored honey. Buckwheat is sometimes used as a green manure, as a plant for erosion control, or as wildlife cover and feed.
Got to find me some of those wild California buckwheats… I’d figure them as ideally adapted to the area ;-)
Also you simply must love that description as a ‘cold crisis’ food plant. 10 weeks, or 70 days, to grain. Month and a half you have ‘green grain’ for really famine like conditions. Likes crappy soil and cool times. Pollinators will mean more yield, but the implication is that they are not strictly needed (so a ‘bee crisis” would be a pain, but not a catastrophe).
That “perennial buckwheat” sounds interesting too. Always have a ‘soft spot’ for something I can plant once then just harvest when the time rolls around…
They are kind of pretty, too, unlike real wheat. Flowers are always nice in the garden (and usually edible if the species itself is edible).
Even the seed pods have a pleasing look to them.
Heck, you can even make beer with it. “Just because it is a disaster, that does not mean we must suffer, no? -E.M.Smith”
Buckwheat and beer
In recent years, buckwheat has been used as a substitute for other grains in gluten free beer. Although it is not a cereal, buckwheat can be used in the same way as barley to produce a malt that can form the basis of a mash that will brew a beer without gliadin or hordein (together gluten) and therefore can be suitable for coeliacs or others sensitive to certain glycoproteins.
So I think it would be a good time to start rediscovering the joys of “buckwheat cakes” …
As a footnote:
This site has an interesting list of all the food crops used as “famine foods”. Things folks might not like eating during good times, but that ARE known to be edible if you really need something.
You can spend hours there discovering things like the fact that bean leaves are edible as a “pot herb” or that Chrysanthemums can make a nice addition to a salad…