Endangered species

Sprouting a Future Without Water

This beautiful valley is running out of water. There are many culprits, and not all of them the usual suspects. Today, I’d like to talk about one small solution, which entails using water the way the valley does. Here’s my thinking: water falls in the winter, in the early spring, and again in June, and that’s about it until late Fall, except for some thunderstorms that shake the house and make everyone’s dogs (and my cat, who misses his dog) go nuts. Human water use, however, drops in the winter and spring, rises in April and May, drops in June, and rises through the summer, until it drops again in the Fall, right when there’s more water around than anyone needs. Weird. Moderating that just a little bit is bound to help, and one way to help with that is to grow climate-appropriate crops. Lambs’ quarters and red root pigweed grown for early greens and late grains are one way to get on board with the water cycle: four crops from two species, with zero irrigation. Here’s another: sprouts. One of the challenges of gardening in this climate is that broccoli bolts. No sooner does it get a nice head than the spring weather heats up, the head never grows that large, and after you pick it you’re out there snipping off florets every day before a) the aphids invade and b) they go to bloom. But why fight it? Cut that head and then relax. Time takes care of the rest:

Broccoli Gone to Seed

Broccoli sprouts are twice as good for you as broccoli. Each plant produces lots.

So, once the spring’s excess water has dried up and that old broccoli has bolted, it happily produces seeds in the drought. As a C4 plant, it’s very good at managing heat. It just doesn’t want to stay juvenile, that’s all. And then, when the water comes again, you can pour out a teeny bit of water from the tap, when water use is otherwise very low, and sprout the zillion seeds the plant happily produces. What’s more, they’re worth 75 cents a gram. If you grew a kilogram of this stuff, it would retail for up to $750 in small packs and $40 a kilo in bulk. That’s serious cash. No expensive cardboard packaging, no huge bills for diesel fuel, cold storage, retail refrigeration or retail spoilage, not to mention the way the stuff goes eyew if you forget it in your fridge drawer. Just spring all year round. And it’s not just broccoli. I left a radish to go to seed, because they self seed so well and I love the randomness of all that …

Radish Seeds in the Raw

Doing better than my poor red cabbages, which have become aphid havens, the poor things. Note to self: seed the red cabbages later. Wayyyy later. Or just overwinter them and grow them for seeds, too. As every farmer says, “Next year.”

Here are the radish seed pods up close and personal…

Radish Fruit

Each pod contains the beginnings of a sprouted salad. Those seeds retail for up to $300-$750 a kilogram in small packs and $14 a kilo in bulk. 

And, here’s the thing. Some plants just want to produce seeds. My sunflowers, for example…

Sunflower Seeds Halfway to Glory

And they support the bees along the way. Sweet! $5 a kilo retail. Make for very lovely salads, and lots more. 

But why just these russian giants? Why not go wild, so to speak, with sunflowers that need even less water? Such as these arrow-leaved balsam roots up in the hills?

Arrow-leafed Balsam Root Meadow, Bella Vista

A major food stuff for all the Plateau tribes.

The seeds are small, mind you …

Balsam Root Flower Heads on a Platter

It would have been a better idea to pick these in June or July, but I was off galavanting. I get what the birds and the voles have left.

Here’s a closer look, so you can see the seeds…

Tiny Little Sunflower Seeds

And that’s just the thing… harvesting native plants might be a tad invasive, but growing them for seed and using the seeds for exotic flavour? How much would these be worth in a fine restaurant in Kelowna or New York?

If there was any justice in the world, they would be worth a lot. What’s more, this is a crop that’s way more than organic, which has been a high-value category for decades. This is a crop that is organic and water neutral and indigenous. That should be three chains of added value. Four, if you count the fact that this is good for the land and the people who live with it.







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