Sweet Apricot Kernels

Move over California, with your water-hungry almonds. 4.5 litres of water to grow one almond? Ridiculous! We have apricots with sweet kernels here in the north, that can grow in the shrub steppe off of a bit of rain and a snowdrift. Are they currently food safe? No. There are issues with poisons in bitter pits and the potential of toxic amygdalin in sweet ones.

These ones are plump and sweet. Sure, most apricot kernels are bitter (as my friends point out below), but I take heart, because there  is an apricot breeder in the valley working on this right now. As you can see above, he has shared his initial success. The world can be remade one seed at a time. Next, some close testing and, I’m sure, a lot of fine tuning, but we’re on an inspiring path here.

Of Butterflies and Ethics

If I had done the ethical thing and turned the land surrounding my house into a desert of rocks to conserve water, this butterfly would not have come today to feed.

All water flows through human piping systems now, unless we resist. Predation is not the only way to be human.

Sustaining the Okanagan 10: 24 Apple Pies

We know who makes the best summer apple pies. Here she is, the summer pie maker.P1180166

She was born in Russia 220 years ago. Look how young she looks in my garden.


Here in Vernon, she usually ripens in late July. This year, three weeks early (two weeks before my apricots). Here she is, hanging out with marigolds, tomatoes, garlic, spinach (for seed) and marjoram.


These are amazing pie and sauce apples. We could have a massive industry here, supporting a large processing and food industry. Instead, we have sweet fall apples to compete with industrial-scale production from Washington, while the warmer contours of the food industry are left to wine: a luxury product, exuberantly priced. People want pie. Don’t you? And tart apple sauce for those pork roasts in October? Of course you do!


The sustainable beauty of transparents is their sweet tartness, their earliness and their processing suitability: no cosmetic pesticides necessary, and a very short season for other pests. What’s more, they respond well to climate, so we could pick them continuously for a month, from the bottom of the valley to the top, using water in the cool zone, where water consuming fruits like this belong. Besides, they’re even better when grown to be picked in September, just before mountain frost. And they are a remarkably easy tree to grow, incredibly resistant to bacterial disease. Look how clean they are!


As another bonus, there’s a variety called Lodi, which ripens five days later, and stores longer. We could further extend our production. The trick of surviving in the Okanagan is about using water cleverly. These apples which take up water in our wettest month, June, and then are done, are a good start. We could exceed the employment of the grape industry, easily, which is a darned good use of our water, too. Think transparents. Think pie. If you’re in the Canadian Okanagan, there were some at Quality Greens last week. They’re probably all gone, but you might like to check.


Landscaping for Water Capture

Welcome to the second of a series of posts on creating a sustainable Okanagan. They are archived on the menu bar above. Today: smart water. Read on…

Wherever there is a crack, stuff grows in the Okanagan. P1050147 That crack above has yellow clover and feral grasses, but there are cracks, right on the sidewalk beside the main highway through town, which are growing wireweed, purslane, amaranth, wild lettuce and plantain, which is to say four food crops and one medicinal plant great against mosquito bites. As for downtown Kelowna, the Okanagan’s urban knot, have a look at this wild lettuce, growing behind a downtown restaurant.


Now, it’s not going to fly to grow our food in these cracks beside the highway, or in alleys, due to pollutants from traffic, but let’s consider a few principles here:

  1. The roads and sidewalks are collecting water and …
  2. the cracks are delivering it and …
  3. in what appears a total desert, life is flourishing.

In other words, the Okanagan is neither a desert nor dry. Look at how a simple roadway can be a seasonal river. That water could have been easily diverted at that joint, and used to grow the thistles I mentioned yesterday, or sunflowers, for a bird seed industry, or anything you like.

The land is simply not dry. Only the air is, and not always. Here’s that alley again. Note the tree on the right, and the water pouring out of a roof drain, uselessly onto asphalt.


Water is limited in the Okanagan, and so is agricultural land, but consider: every sidewalk and every road has cracks, and every road has ditches, and they all work on the same principle, collecting water, moving it and generating life with it. It’s not necessary for water to flow freely to create crops in this climate. With that in mind, here’s a crack:

Rocks like that are everywhere in this region, split by winter frost and spring thaw. They collect water. Not only that, they collect bird droppings, which contain saskatoon seeds, which bloom and give fruit. The image below shows a very common local sight.

The rock shelters the young plant from deer, better and more elegantly than snow fencing around inappropriate, irrigation hungry Japanese maples …

…and collects water and manure (from birds and marmots) and nutrients (from crumbling rock) to nurture the plant, despite the ongoing lack of free-flowing water. The trick in this climate is not to get water to flow but to get it to stop as soon as possible. This principle can be applied throughout the valley, for landscaping projects and even for creating farming land where no water is otherwise available. And we’re close. Look at the decorative rocks in the landscaping above. They are visually appealing (perhaps) and collect heat. They could have been arranged to collect water as well. We’re close on this one. Let’s take that one extra step.





Vineyards in Germany and Canada Compared

Here’s the wall of a vineyard road in Germany (Schlossberg, Rüdesheim am Rhein)


Vineyard Stair, a Self-watering garden zone.

The wall collects water and delivers it to a reservoir. Here, the land is reformed to grow a native plant, riesling.

Here’s the wall of a vineyard road in Canada (Vineyard at the Rise, Vernon)


The native plants are gone (erosion), the soil is flowing away (erosion), water is piped in (erosion.)

So live the Canadians, on land that is not theirs. Pity them. They don’t have a clue.




Today, words in praise of bunch grass.
P1230555The roots of this blue-bunched wheatgrass fill the space between the plants.The soil is their sky. They reach out into it for the clouds of water that flow down through the soil, and still it. They then reverse that gravitational flow and let the sun draw the water in to their new spring leaves and stretch them up into the air. In this act, they reverse the direction of sunlight. They climb it. At the same time, they move water between the atmosphere below the soil and the one above it. The sky is their soil, as much as the earth is. They reach out into both and feed, using the energy of gravity to draw them down into water and the energy of the sun to lift themselves with it. This is what balance looks like. The particular distance between plants on this hill is the result of the steepness of the slope and the correspondingly quick flow of the water down through it, coupled with the damage to the soil’s protective crust by a population of deer trapped into repetitive motion by the constrictions of housing and fences, that allow for few areas of downward and upward motion on the hillsides. The grasses are so efficient at capturing water, that in this, their wet season, the soil is dry powder to a human hand and serves as a barrier against evaporation from the roots, enabling the plants to concentration the inevitable evaporation of this climate into their stalks.


Talking Green Water

On Tuesday, September 17, I will be presenting words and images in a discussion about green water and new agricultural opportunities in the Okanagan Valley.


Green Water Slowing Global Warming in Vernon

Green water is water that passes through plants, rather than flowing in streams and pooling in lakes.

The green water story is quite surprising in the Okanagan. I hope to provide my insights from two years of the Okanagan Okanogan project in an entertaining and inspiring form. The presentation will take place outdoors at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre in Vernon. Time 7:30 pm. We’ll move indoors if the weather makes that a really grand idea.

Allan Brooks Nature Centre

On Allan Brooks way, off of the Commonage Road to Predator Ridge. The best view in the valley.

See you there!

10 More New Water Collection Technologies for the Okanagan (And an Extra One for Fun)

Currently water is collected in the Okanagan by three methods. The first is to turn high country lakes and streams into reservoirs, which are then piped down into the valleys, to provide water pressurized by gravity. There aren’t any untapped lakes left. The second is to pump water out of the lake. There isn’t any capacity left. The third is to pump water out of underground reserves. Water tables are falling. It’s time to think how else we can catch water and store it. Our teacher is the land itself. A few weeks ago, I talked about new ways to collect water in the Okanagan. You can read that post here: click. Below are more observations about some ways in which we can keep the plentiful water that falls on this land from evaporating away before it can be used to sustain life. These are our new water sources. You might notice a little bit of repetition from the previous post. I’ve tried to add new information and a new perspective whenever that happens. After all, I’ve worked for nearly two years getting to this point. It’s hard not to be excited! This is material for the final chapter of my book.

1. The Road Surface.


Good Old Gravel Road!

Sure, mud puddles like the one don’t make for safe driving and lead to washouts, but the dips they fill are efficient at collecting water, and the fine glacial silt and clay of the valley’s upper soils are very effective at keeping it from draining away. Bumpy roads are a bad idea, and waterproof roads prevent frost heaves, but why are we rushing through our residential areas anyway? We can build landscaping cloth that lets water through but prevents weeds from growing upwards, and we can manufacture diapers that wick up a colossal amount of baby-processed milk and water in one go, without dribbling a drip, and we can’t build a road surface that traps and channels water, like that mud-puddle? Ah, but as I mentioned in my previous post on this subject (here) we do…

P1080225Alluvial Channels of a Roadside River

That’s the curb on the left.

The only problem is we drain that water into waste water systems and then deliver it to the sewage treatment plant. It costs a humungous amount of money. In fact, the 40,000 people of the city of Vernon are currently facing a $100,000,000 dollar upgrade cost, to bring this system up to speed. That’s $2500 a person. Surely, since most houses in Vernon are on a hill of one kind or another, we could work out a system in which block by block, kilometre by kilometre, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, the water is stored in cisterns, or is diverted into a series of greenhouses, growing first watercress and then tomatoes, before it is delivered into vertical gardens planted in holes drilled in standing water pipes, before, well, you get the idea. The upgrade could pay for itself and when the water finally got to the lake, it would have produced a huge volume of food along the way.

2. Underground Waterway Construction.

P1080468Choke Cherry Grove and Its Water Collector

I spoke about this concept at some length yesterday, and talked about this natural system in my previous post on new water technologies. What I want to add today is the concept that the earth has underground channels of rubble, solid rock, silt, clay, and soil, working together with gravity, that concentrate, move and deliver water — usually right where the best soil is, with different plants thriving in different regions of the system. Such underground damming and delivery systems, built out of rock, concrete, sand and clay, could be easily inserted into the hills to deliver the invisible dryland water into productive areas, within a few metres, or at most a hundred metres, from the point of collection. In a drying (but not a dry) climate, look underground for the water. Collect it there. You don’t need enough to pump. Let gravity do the work. Now, let me clarify my perspective: at the tiny wages society pays its young people today to look after an economy for the aged, they will not be able to afford $100,000,000 upgrade bills. Let’s give them the gift of ingenuity and creativity instead. Let’s proudly work with what we have. This system could be combined with the road system above.

3. The Plastic Bag (And its Friends)

P1090127Weed-whacked Weeds, Bagged for a Community Compost Program…

…where it will be tossed and turned and heated and will steam all this water away. Hunh?

Currently, the water is right where we want it, in a portable form, the collection apparatus is present, and … we’re not collecting the water that evaporates from the weeds? Not only that, why don’t we just build a device that will dry the weeds on the spot, for the cost of a lawnmower, let’s say, and collect the water. The bag above, left for a few hours in the June sun, shows how readily the water from the weeds collects on the plastic. This should be an easy one. How much water would we get? Huge amounts. Plants are well over 50% water.

4. The Pile of Rocks

P1090417Leave a Pile of Rocks Lying Around on a Clay Base

It will collect water. Don’t forget to capture and store that water. Letting it muck up your road is just disrespectful. I covered this concept in my previous post. Today I’d like to add that in this climate wells don’t have to be underground. In an atmosphere stripped of water by depressurizing and re-pressurizing effects on a roller-coaster ride over the mountains, everything is in reverse. Once you learn to think like that, you will find your missing water, like here:

5. The Parking Lot

P1100280 This Soil is destined for the Patchwork Community Garden, on the Okanagan College Site.

It did an effective job of stopping the water drainage from this student parking lot and turning it into …P1100277


Notice how the parking lot construction method separated this water from the ornamental growing space beside it, which then gets reconstructed into an artful water channel, using landscape cloth, to prevent plant growth and piped-in water from high in the mountains.

P1100245 Notice the Automatic Irrigation Hose on the Left, Behind the Tree

Might this not be the community garden? 

No, of course not. The real one is behind a fence, with the food growing in artificial soil from the composting facility, and irrigated by …


…water piped in from high up in the hills. The food is then given away. It might be time to connect the dots. The water source and the sun are right here. Still, it’s a beautiful garden with an exciting mandate. I just think an opportunity was missed.

6. Wild Harvest

P1100519Don’t capture the water. Eat it.

Or plant grapes …


Seedless Grapes Gone Wild, Bella Vista

These grapes have survived for many years without irrigation. They’ve found their water where it concentrates along an underground cut (an old water canal that’s now a walking trail). They draw it up, and concentrate it in their berries, where it can easily be harvested. Miles of grapes could be planted like this. Huge amounts of water can be captured like this.

7. The Loader Bucket

P1090115That’s Enough Iron-Rich Water for a Row of Carrots for One Week

The next time it rains (and enough rain comes in June to last the summer, if it were all carefully used and conserved), put all your pots and pans and wine glasses out. Either that, or collect it from your roof…

8. The Roof

P1080822Downtown Kelowna

And grow a tree.

P1080803If You Plant the Right Kind of Tree, You Can Harvest it Later

Downtown Kelowna

Either that or let the homeless people who live in this alley do so. After all, they live here.

9. Invent Water-Absorbing Artificial Grass. 

P1080584Plant it by the Roadside.

Harvest it once a year, instead of mowing the real thing.

Oh wait, why not just plant real grass on the roadside, harvest that while mowing, and process it in the sun-powered evaporator the plastic bags are suggesting above? Yeah, why not.


10. Suck the Water Out of a Wasp

P1100394Crab Spider, Unlucky Wasp, and Canada Thistle

Oh, wait, leave that for the spiders.

10.5.  Plant a tree

P1100480Northern Flicker in a Chinese Elm, Grey Canal Trail

Every tree is an amazing water pump, powered by the sun. Tomorrow I’d like to talk about the technological implications of that. I think it’s pretty exciting. I’m sure the flicker agrees.

Remember: choose life!

The Ethics of Water in the Okanagan

For the last week, I’ve been displaying new crops for the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and the Okanogan Valley in Washington. These crops will allow food production to continue in the face of drought caused by the various forms of desertification, including global warming, industrial water systems, human subdivision development and land use decisions, and technological agricultural methods. So far, I’ve identified 20 possible fruit crops and 30 possible vegetable crops, most capable of producing food and wealth without any drain on the living water systems of the valley.


19th Century Water Technology

Similkameen River, Shanker’s Bend, Washington

Before moving on to other exciting new crops, I’d like to step aside for a moment and talk about water, desertification, new water technologies based upon plant physiology, and new forms of and locations for agriculture. This a social and ethical discussion, that touches on art, social sculpture, food, and earth. It cropped up so many times in the discussion of the previous crops, that I felt it would be best to remember that the crops are part of the discussion of water, not the other way around.

P1070188Western Swallowtail on Wild Mock Orange

It is possible to farm and have a living earth, too. It’s not a choice. In fact, if anyone asks you to choose, they do not understand water, or earth.

In my explorations here over the last 18 months, I have discovered to my surprise and wonder that farming actually farms water, not earth. Even the soil, which physically supports crops, is really a community of microbes, providing complex underground atmospheres and nutrient transfers as complex as photosynthesis. The air that passes over a tree and the clouds above it, are also present around its roots, in a mirrored form. Storms pass through the earth as much as they do through the sky, and clouds drift there, lazily, and it rains there, and the soil breathes. The soil is a living thing.


Fire-burnt Choke Cherry Tree

Breathing in through its roots and out through its leaves. Breathing in through its leaves and out through its roots.

It is life that we farm, not the dead earth that blooms upon. Anyone who farms that, is farming petrochemicals, and producing petrochemical food. That’s not sustainable. That is 19th century technology. It’s on par with 19th Century medicine — a good beginning but the patient has a good chance of dying.


Abandoned Garden Shed

Improvements aren’t always improvements. More money was invested in this garden shed than was ever invested in the yard surrounding it. Now that a generation has passed, the new owners have no interest in the yard at all. The presence of this garden shed adds to the value of this land, although it has no accompanying garden. Ironically, the absence of a garden improves the value of the land as well. Something went wrong here. 

Once we’ve explored the stories of water, we can talk about herbs and other crops, where they might be grown, and how they might change the social stories of our urban environments. Farming is a form of sculpture. So, here we go!

1. Water

Water is more than a molecule of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms. It’s the basis of life.


Life, Lost on the Sidewalk

1 minute into an afternoon storm that caught me unawares.

Since water is life, to humans, such as you or I, who are social animals, water is a form of social space. To put that into perspective, here’s a less social animal, with whom I share these grassland hills …

bullBullsnake Cooling Itself off on a Vineyard Driveway

The snake is unaware of the social claim laid on the driveway by men and their tractors, and the peril that he is in, because he’s not social. To him, the driveway is the earth, and his self. It’s up to humans to regulate their social space. In this case, I drove the bullsnake into the grass before the tractor came.

2. Where water comes from.

Here, just inland from the North Pacific Ocean, water comes from the open water between Japan and Vancouver Island. It fills the air, breaks in a wave on the arc of volcanoes along the Pacific shore, spills over them, and breaks again on the mountains on the true North American shore, five hundred kilometres to the East. That water comes in the form of rain and snow. The snow is able to store water, and release it slowly through the environment, in a descent from the high country, down to the lowland lakes and rivers. Living water systems on the hills do the same work.


Snow Blooming in a Grassland Gully

Water exists in time.

3. Heat and Drought.

This is how dryness starts…


Rain Forest and Dreamtime Island, Broughton Archipelago

The earth revolves from west to east. The wet winds that blow off of the Pacific are this motion. They collide with the mountains on the North Pacific shore, and instead of stopping are pushed on by the balance of energies between earth and the sun. As the winds are pushed upwards, up the slopes of the mountains, they lose pressure and drop water, are pushed up farther, lose more pressure, and drop more water, and so on, until they crest the peaks, depressurized and stripped of water. They do not stop there, though. The spinning earth pushes them on, down the other side, where they repressurize. Stripped of water, they are warm now, and warmer the farther they sink into the valleys of the plateau, and the warmer and dryer they get, the more water they pull out of the air, out of living things, and out of the soil. The winds might even be wet, but they still draw water out of the earth. At the floor of the valleys, the air can draw 11 times more water out of the soil than falls as precipitation. The dry land to the east and the rainforest to the west are one: mirror images of each other than combine to form a living whole. It is not that the air of the Okanagan is particularly dry, but that it absorbs any water that is not quickly whisked away underground or into chains of life. Freestanding water, or water that can easily become so, will vanish into the rainforest deficit. The effect is a little like this:


The Big Bar Eskers

Cariboo Plateau

It’s not actually dry and hot here. It’s just that the air is turned inside out.

4. Water and Reverse Atmospheres

It’s doing anything it does up top, but it’s also being passed along through chains of life. Let me show you a couple diagrams as illustrations. First, a standard model of water flow in the Okanagan:


Blue Water System for the Okanagan, Government of Canada Source

This system is good at describing water as an element, and tracing its free flow. It is dependent on keeping surface water clean, capturing it, using it, returning it to the ground for the filtration, and letting the sun draw it out of the open lakes and return it to the hills in the form of rain. When put in place, it looks like this:

1280px-Vineyards_and_Lake-_Osoyoos_in_the_Okanagan_ValleyOsoyoos Lake

However, take another look:

1280px-Vineyards_and_Lake-_Osoyoos_in_the_Okanagan_Valley-1 Annotated Osoyoos Lake

The Orange rectangle is Hurley Peak, Washington. The mountain directs the Similkameen River towards its union with the Okanogan River a few miles south of this lake. The mountains that feed the Canadian Okanagan, including Osoyoos Lake, lie to the North, but are at the same altitude as Hurley Peak, and carry snow into the early summer. Slowly it is released downward, through the chain of life that covers the valley, until it reaches the lakes, from which it flows down to the Columbia River at Brewster, Washington. To see how much this pattern differs from the official government pattern, and how much more life (and less elemental water) is in it, consider the yellow rectangle.


Kobau Mountain Above Osoyoos

At high altitudes, the air is less pressurized than it is in town on the lakeshore. Accordingly, it can support trees, with their high water requirements. As the pressure increases deeper in the valley, trees die out and grassland plants thrive, which are able to balance the pressure of the atmosphere at these new water-deficit depths. In the natural system, the water flowing down from above would generate cloud, that would rain and invigorate these systems, fill the gullies running through them with life, and carry this energy down to the wetlands on the lake shore and the lake itself. Animals living in the environment would be sustained over time, by the differing seasons caused by altitude and its mirror, the particular stages and forms of plant life responding to time and depth. That is prime agricultural space. All it requires is appropriate plants, rather than the European plants currently planted in the valley bottom, in the 19th century colonial model. The water is there, but only for plants that can withhold it from the air, and especially if the system is complete and water is allowed to flow down through the hills rather than over them.

5. Desertification

There are many ways to make a desert. One is with words. Another is with mythology. In the Okanagan, the colonial mythology is rooted in the Manifest Destiny of the United States of America and a near-Biblical drive for Eden. In the 19th Century model, water was removed from the Syilx natural system described above and pumped over the so-called desert, to make it bloom. You see farms like that there in the valley bottom. The only thing is, they missed this:


Ravine at the Foot of Anarchist Mountain

Water that flows underground, through life systems, shaded and protected from the sun, brings high country productivity and crops right into the high-pressure, low-water zone — much like the industrial water systems that supply the gardens of Eden have done, releasing it to the surface, where it is most vulnerable. Over half of the water (over half of the life) in the valley vanishes into the air due to this exposure. Yes, it looks green down there, but not only is all that expensive technology not necessary, but it represents only half of the life that would be present if it were not there. There’s more, too: it also prejudices thought, into thinking that the valley is a desert. It isn’t. It has one desert, yes, the only desert in Canada, yup, and it is contained in the red rectangle you see below:


The Pocket Desert of N’kmip

1/2 an acre of desert. That’s it. The green rectangle behind it is Black Sage and N’kmip vineyard areas, the Cabernet and Merlot and Pinot Noir plots of the Okanagan, evaporating water into the air in order to mine the heat created by the valley depths.

6. The Ethics of Water

Essentially, whose water is it? Let me take a stab at that: it belongs to the planet. In their native environments, humans actually have low water requirements. We don’t need a lot. Every tree needs hundreds of times as much. It also produces far more, or can, with human guidance. In other words, water is life. Our job as living creatures on the planet is to transform that water into life. The trees do, as do all plants. It means, if we care for them, we create life, too. Well, almost. First, the tree, hard at using its high water requirements to produce an abundance of life …


Honeybee among the Male Staghorn Sumac Flowers

… and then, thousands of times more water poured onto neighbouring soil …


Unharvested Vineyard (Due to Bad Crop Practices)

… to produce ice wine, or, in this case, a small amount of bird food. The rest of the grapes were pruned off, to concentrate elite flavours in the wine, for ice wine production. That’s where ethics comes in, and one place in which the social relationship of humans in the community of living things translates into the social relationships of humans among teach other. To take water out of the living system, to concentrate it in order to grow foreign crops for the benefit of one man rather than thousands of individuals in hundreds of species, can, perhaps, be a legitimate choice. One does get hungry. However, using what is the common resource of all mean and women and children in the valley to produce ice wine or low yielding high value wines for export only, which very few people here could ever afford to purchase or consume, for the profit of a few is not only unethical but unsustainable. The water is a common good. There isn’t enough of it to afford to transform it into industrial or economic products, or even agricultural products that waste it.  Water rates should be set at the use of the water for the common good. The cost of lost life due to water being squandered in deep valley environments is one of the costs of water, should be added to the cost of water use, and used to support alternative forms of agricultural production. The land can produce a vast amount of food and wealth for all, or for a very few. A choice like that should be very clear.

P1070168The Saskatoons are Almost Ripe at the 500 Metre Line!

Water no longer flows from the heights to the depths, creating wetlands and trails of life moving up and down the slopes with the seasons … but it would be a lot cheaper to replicate and repair that system than it would be to build huge new water infrastructure systems at crippling rates of taxation, while continuing to support agricultural practices at the expense of the many and the profit of the few.

15 More New Vegetables for the Okanagan

Earlier this week I spoke about fifteen new vegetables for building a sustainable economy in the Okanagan-Okanogan (click). Some were Syilx crops, others were other North American crops, and others were observations from my garden. Look what I have for you today!

16. Wireweed


This Stuff Only Grows in Driveways and Tractor Damaged Soil

And once established, it is almost impossible to get rid of, ever ever ever ever.

It is a traditional ingredient in Vietnamese hot pot cooking, and is a powerful medicinal. What’s more, it turns driveways green, can root in sidewalk and road cracks, slows water run-off and collects silts that are in the water and the wind. These trapped deposits quickly build up among its stems and form soil. If you don’t want to eat the stuff, that is enough. The new soil can be used in place, or soil and stems can be mechanically scraped off and immediately used as new soil. It also actively suppresses other weeds. This is a fantastic foundation plant for building soil in asphalt and concrete urban environments, which will then support gardens — just not wheat. Wheat will not grow in wire-weed. Think of it as a net that catches a garden out of the wind and the rain. Oh, and it has those vegetable and hot pot uses, too.

17. Purslane
Purslane is a nutritious vegetable used extensively in Middle Eastern cooking, so native to the region that it sprouts up in the cracks of sidewalks  and is harvested from there …

Purslane Source

This drought resistance succulent is high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. It grows throughout the Okanagan.

Here’s some purslane growing in the front yard of the house of worship of a religion that began in Palestine…

Purslane, Okanagan Landing Road

And here is one of its sisters, after the church landscape specialist directed his attention to it …

Food for the Poor, Poisoned

Going, going, gone.

The gravel of this style of landscaping is perfect for purslane: protection for seed, conservation of water, lots of heat and sun, and no competition, as few other plants can survive in such drought conditions. It’s not just gravel…

New Farmland: The Sidewalk Crack

Perfect for purslane, spinach, millet, coriander, lettuce, wireweed, and a host of other crops.

One thing about this farmland is that it is right in front of your house. Another is that it makes use of large amounts of water that are collected by the sidewalk infrastructure. Another is that it gathers sand and dust and turns it into soil. It makes new earth.

The Ultimate in Zero Tillage

Cultivation: 0. Soil loss: 0. Water usage: 0. Transportation costs: 0. Every couple years, the soil could be mechanically harvested and redistributed on areas in need of it.

There are tens if thousands of row kilometres of this agriculture in the Okanagan. If automobile pollutants are an issue, then let’s grow crops here that will mine them, to keep them out of our water, and then harvest the soil that they make. Oh, and the argument that plants will destroy the concrete infrastructure? Really? I think snow removal equipment does a better job of that…

18. Bitterroot


Ain’t She Pretty! A Syilx Crop.

Please do not pick bitterroot. It is highly endangered and under great threat. It is, however, one of the staples of Plateau culture, including the local Syilx and neighbouring Tsilhq’otin and Secwepemc cultures. It was maintained for 4,000 years through spring burning. It grows on rocky outcrops and provides some of the first nutrition in the spring. Selling this stuff in Aboriginal markets and at Aboriginal festivals would bring profit, and be a gesture of tremendous respect. This is one of the spirit plants of the West. It could be brought back to abundance. Water requirement? None. Land? Well, nothing that would grow anything else.

18. Watercress

Here’s some wild Okanagan water cress I found at the end of last week. It goes to prove that dry, grassland habitats are really aquatic habitats, rich in ponds and secret water sources, interspersed with large areas of grass and shrubs. This cress was growing in a persistent boggy area in an alfalfa field in the middle of old orchard land.

Alfalfa Field Not Worth Baling

With a secret pond, worth a second look.

Here’s the second look:

Sometimes a Tractor Tire Can Create a World

A 50 pound bale of hay sells for $5. Since wild Water Cress sells for $15 a pound, which would be $750 a bale if that were how it were packed, fifty pounds of watercress would produce the same gross income as 150 bales of hay, or a hayfield of just over three quarters of an acre. However, yield per acre of watercress (in Hawaii) is 22,857 pounds per acre. Supposing we could manage a quarter of that, that would still be 4571 pounds, for a gross income of $77,565 or the same as 86 acres of alfalfa. Costs are 9% of gross.

That’s worth a third look, isn’t it? Here we go:

Water Cress in January

It doesn’t seem to mind cool temperatures. Of course, it’s growing in water, which is in short supply, but what if it were grown in irrigation water, that flowed through it before being pumped onto, say, golf greens or apple trees or greenhouses? The water would then be free. What if the water that naturally flows through Lake Country on its way to Kelowna grew a little water cress on the way? For one, we’d have some work here. For another, we’d be using water the way it naturally flows here. For another, we’d have soups and salads that would put us on the world culinary map.

Beats milfoil, eh. And it sure beats this:

Alfalfa Grown to Maintain Preferred Farm Tax Status…

isn’t always worth picking up and feeding to a cow.

19. Avalanche Lily, 20. Tiger Lily, 21. Blue Camas, 22. Chocolate Lily, 23. Wapato, 24. Rice Root!

That’s 6 crops. There are many more. They were all traditional foodstuffs of the Syilx, all dug for their tubers. All grow in natural environments and are all very beautiful. There is no reason they could not be grown again, to bridge cultures, heal environments, and provide the continent’s First Peoples with traditional feast foods, for what would no doubt be a good profit, and one that would put no stress on contemporary technologies or supply streams. Many thrive in upland environments. Plus, did I say they were beautiful? Here are our beauties:

rice root Rice Root Source A Syilx Crop


Camas, the great spiritual one. SourceA Syilx Crop

Fritillaria_affinis_000Chocolate Lily SourceA Syilx Crop


Tiger Lily Source A Syilx Crop


Avalanche Lily Source A Syilx Crop


Wapato (Indian Potato) Source A Syilx Crop

This is a wetland plant. If we could divert water through beds of Wapato before dumping it into reservoirs and piping systems, we would get an extra crop, with no extra water. Great for that roadside ditch, too!

800px-SagittariaSagittifolia-bloem-kl Wapato Flowers Source


Wapato Tubers  Source

25. Wild Rice

wild rice 2

Wild Rice in Saskatchewan Source An Indigenous Crop

This high priced grain grows throughout the Boreal Forest. Those environments exist in the Okanagan as well, both in the wetlands of Lake Country, and in the wetlands of the high country on the top of the Plateau above the valley trough. That’s land that is currently drained of water to feed the sprinklers in the hot valley below. If it were used up top first, even if crops such as were planted in reservoirs, and some of the agricultural pressure were taken off the valleys, we would have an extra crop and more water than now. It’s not water that’s in short supply here. It’s just that our agricultural systems don’t work with the water that’s here, but against, and evaporate it into the wind and the sun.

26. Cat Tail

P1060584 Cat Tail Flowers, A Syilx Crop

(Male on top, Female Below)

They can be eaten like corn. Also edible are the corms, and the new shoots (like the ones above). The rhizomes of the plant produce 32 tons of cat tail flour per acre. The pollen can be cooked into pancakes. What’s more, it grows everywhere there is a little water. Here’s some, trying to regrow a wetland turned into a soccer field…

p1330283 … and here’s some trying to establish a wetland high on the dry hills, where the natural water flow was broken by the establishment of an agricultural canal (long disused) and then a walking trail.p1320499 And if you don’t want to eat it, why not make a basket?


And if you don’t want to make a basket, what about collecting its fluff.


Red Winged Blackbird in the Remains of Last Year’s Crop

It’s one of the most absorbant water resistant products out there, and cleans up oil spills lickety split. Growing it conserves water, and considering that some 10,000 (who knows) blackbirds lost out when the Red Wing resort was put into their infilled wetlands in Penticton, we owe the birds big time on this one.

27. Amaranth

red3 Red Amaranth, Granite Creek Winery, Tappen


Red Amaranth, Sunnybrae Winery, Sunnybrae. An indigenous crop.

Amaranth grows wherever redroot pigweed grows (pigweed is a form of amaranth), on natural water, and produces one of the highest grain yields of any grain. It grows anywhere. What’s more, it’s not like wheat. You don’t need a field. In fact, it’s so decorative, that it can replace many landscape plantings, with zero water. Think of it: golf courses could put cat tails in their water traps, and harvest them for an income; they could line the fairways with amaranth, and sell them, too. And the jungles, a must for losing golfers and their stray balls, those could be choke cherries, and they could sell those too. If golf course land is going to be called agricultural land … let’s just do it.

28. Borage


Borage: Queen of the Honey Crops

See the bumblebee leading the way?

This is a traditional European vegetable, dispersed by the romans. It is used in many Spanish, French, Italian and German recipes, including the famous Green Sauce or spring sauce of Frankfurt. It ceased to be a staple of European cookery only because of supply disruptions due to war and economic difficulties. It’s a plant that needs little to no water, produces a vast amount of bloom and nectar, and is impossible to be rid of once planted. This stuff is tough. But the new shoots are a delicacy. Its seeds are a productive oilseed. If you want a crop with multiple uses, that produces prolifically, this is your baby. Imagine: a non-GMO oilseed. I could go for that.


Flowers for All!

29. Peanuts


Only in the American South? Pffuh. 

We used to grow these things all the time.

Peanuts have never been grown commercially in the Okanagan, but that was before the population and culture could support local, specialty foods. Now it can. Now it’s time for the peanut! No more of these dried, salted weird things in cello pacs at the gas station, with their oils all rancid and, well, just go here and read more: click!

30. Queen Anne’s Lace


 Wild Carrot Flower

The leaves, roots,and seeds of wild carrots are edible. What’s more, they are an excellent companion plant for tomatoes, and help to keep them pest free. What’s even greater, domestic carrots are a subspecies of wild carrots, or Queen Anne’s Lace, and can be used in the same way if left an extra year in the ground. The seeds of wild carrots make a delicious spice, an orange-flavoured replacement for caraway. We’ll be talking about herbs in a few days, so I don’t want to get too ahead of things, but think of this: not only can you eat your pesticide, but it’s beautiful. For a host of gorgeous pictures and truly wonderful talk and recipes for wild carrots, here’s the place to go: click. Really? You didn’t  click that? You should. It’s gorgeous. Here, try again: click.

 Next, a discussion of alternate growing strategies to maximize water. The herbs will come soon after that. Thanks for being here. Have a good weekend. Until then, think mint!