Posts Tagged: vegetables
The idea that weeds can be edible pops up periodically, with articles suggesting one person's weeds are another person's salad bar, highlighting chefs who “have a way with weeds,” discussing ways medieval gardeners encouraged weeds, and even suggesting ways to eat away at invasive species. But is this something we should take seriously?
“We call these plants weeds because of the way we interact with them. They're in our gardens, they're in our lawns, and they're competing with plants that we prefer to eat,” said Lynn Sosnoskie, a weed scientist at UC Davis. “But a lot of the plants that are weeds here in the United States were brought here purposefully—to be eaten.”
Sosnoskie's doctoral thesis was on just such a plant, with the tasty name of “garlic mustard.” She has also worked at length on Palmer amaranth, a pernicious weed found in cotton fields that can be glyphosate-resistant. In response to one Georgia farmer asking in exasperation if he should just eat the plant taking over his fields, she did some preliminary research into eating Palmer amaranth.
“It's probably not feasible to eat our way out of a serious weed problem,” she said. “But I certainly feel like we can investigate them as other potential food sources.”
In fact, the Horticulture Innovation Lab at UC Davis has a project that is researching three “indigenous vegetables” in Africa, two of which — amaranth and black nightshade — are considered weeds in the United States. The vegetables can be nutritious and profitable options for small-scale farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and elsewhere.
Though he holds a Ph.D. in weed science, Weller is now figuring out the best ways to cultivate amaranth and black nightshade — instead of to eliminate them. Before he started working with these plants, common assumptions held that they should be easy to grow because, well, they “grow like weeds.”
“But we found out that growing them is more intensive than we were initially led to believe — similar to growing any other vegetable,” Weller said. “They need water, they need fertilizer, and pests are a problem.”
Caveat emptor: Though weedy plants can indeed be a source of food, both scientists cautioned against thinking of weeds as a “free-for-all forage buffet.” Some plants may be toxic, and weeds in farm fields may have been sprayed recently. It is important to be knowledgeable of the plants and how they've been grown before trying to eat one.
Shorter days and colder weather means most people aren't thinking about spending large amounts of time in their garden. However, February is the perfect month to plant cool season leafy vegetables or root plants, like cabbage, beets and carrots. These nutrient-rich plants are packed with healthy antioxidants and vitamins and make the perfect addition to a hot bowl of soup. If you aren't game to play outdoors, cold winter months are a great time to stay inside and start planning for summer garden fruit and vegetable bounties.
If you're like most people you're probably already dreaming about summer fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, sweet corn, blackberries and chard. Follow these three simple tips and you'll be rewarded come summertime with enough homegrown fare to fill your fridge and preserve to carry you through the year.
Step one: plan
Instead of dreaming about a summer harvest, start planning now! Don't get caught up in the seductive call of seed packets or the dreaded 'transplant trap.' This happens when you head to your local nursery without a plan for your garden and leave with 20 plants you've never heard of before.
With California in an official drought, consider planting varieties that require less water. Some great examples of drought-tolerant plants include herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme), asparagus, eggplant, melons, squash and goji berries. Think about Mediterranean flavors, many of these varieties require less water and do well in California's hot, dry climate.
Think outside the box – it doesn't have to be just about fruits and vegetables. What does your family love to eat? Do they love spaghetti? Consider focusing on a good crop of tomatoes, peppers, onions and oregano. You can harvest enough to preserve homemade marinara for the remainder of the year. Add some jalapenos to this garden mix and you have all of the ingredients for delicious salsa, another favorite that is easily preserved.
Step two: prioritize
The size of your garden will depend on available space. When planning a smaller garden, typically 10 by 10 feet or less - prioritize with fruits and vegetables that your family will eat AND that have high or continuous yields. The goal is to produce the largest quantity possible with your available resources (space, water). Great options include tomatoes, bush beans, summer squash, chard and cucumbers. In a small space, avoid crops that monopolize precious garden space like potatoes, watermelon, cabbage and artichoke. Rather, consider purchasing these tasty delights from a local farmers market.
Expand your garden's reach by incorporating edibles into your landscaping or containers. Edible landscaping is the use of food plants as design features in a landscape. Edible plants can be used both for aesthetic value as well as consumption. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries can be expensive to buy at the supermarket, but are easy to grow at home. Visit The California Garden web for information on garden planning and individual plant spacing requirements.
Step three: prepare
Attend a UC Master Food Preserver class and learn how to manage your fruits and vegetables once they arrive from your garden and move into your kitchen. The UC Master Food Preserver (MFP) Program is a public service community outreach program focused on providing up-to-date information on food safety and preservation. Monthly classes are available, and most are free or low-cost to the public.
Preservation techniques include:
- Freezing (berries, onions, broccoli, rhubarb)
- Drying (fresh herbs, kale, root crops, peas)
- Canning (tomatoes, green beans, corn, strawberries)
Master Food Preservers have delicious recipes for salsa, corn relish, pickles, jams, jellies and much more! Winter months are the perfect time to start calendaring Master Food Preserver classes, collecting recipes and cataloging ideas for preserving your summer bounty. Find preserving research, resources or find a local UCCE Master Food Preserver class near you at on the UC Food Safety website.
With the proper planning, prioritizing, and preparation the activity level in your kitchen will be as hot as or even hotter than the temperature outside come summer harvest!
Aiming to energize the seed industry cluster surrounding UC Davis, Seed Central, an initiative of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis and SeedQuest, recently highlighted postharvest handling and food safety at their monthly forum. Recordings of invited guest speakers, Marita Cantwell, Trevor Suslow and Roberta Cook, UC Cooperative Extension specialists with expertise in post harvest science, show the passion they feel for their respective subjects and why we're fortunate to have them on our team. Cantwell and Suslow are in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences; Cook is in the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
Cantwell, a postharvest physiologist, specializes in handling and storage of intact and fresh-cut vegetables. In her talk, she describes the Postharvest Technology Center itself and gives an overview of the handling challenges of many vegetable varieties.
A plant pathologist, Suslow’s program centers on studying the effects of microflora on the postharvest quality of perishable produce. With much attention to current food safety a priority, Suslow’s produce safety overview and specific case examples help us all (ahem) digest this hot topic.
Cook, an agricultural economist, focuses on fresh produce marketing and food distribution. This presentation centers on North American vegetable markets. Even if you’re not a grower, shipper or retailer, Cook's description of trends in the produce industry are fascinating — we all eat fruits and vegetables every day. She talks about things we might not ever think about.
What will be the new food frontier? An article in the Wall Street Journal with the headline “Next Stop for Food Fanatics: Africa” predicts adventurous American palates may soon be craving sub-Saharan cuisines.
Have you heard of these?
- Nakati (Solanum macrocarpon, S. aethiopicum) Also called African eggplant, some types of nakati are eaten for their leafy greens, while others are eaten for their fruit (which can look like a tomato or eggplant).
- Cowpea leaves (Vigna unguiculata) This plant produces black-eyed peas, but the greens of the plant can also be eaten as a vegetable.
- Bbuga (Amaranthus Gracecizans) You might know this plant by its common American name: pigweed.
- Doodo (Amaranthus Dubius) Like bbuga, this type of amaranth is eaten for its leaves in many parts of Africa. In North and South America, varieties of amaranth are usually used as a grain.
- Jjobyo (Gynandropsis Gynandra, Cleome gynandra) Also called spider plant.
Many of these indigenous vegetables are rich in micronutrients such as iron, vitamin A and vitamin B. When it comes to alleviating malnutrition in developing countries of eastern Africa, indigenous vegetables offer workable solutions because they are not only nutritious, but also familiar to the region’s eaters and farmers.
Recently U.S. researchers have been working with indigenous crops like these in east African countries — with funding and support from the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (Horticulture CRSP), led by Beth Mitcham at UC Davis with funding from USAID. In Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, Stephen Weller of Purdue University is leading a Horticulture CRSP research project on production practices, seed resources, postharvest handling, marketing and nutrition of varieties of amaranth, spider plant and African nightshade.
Take a look at this short video for a little more background:
Just as bok choy, an Asian vegetable, has become familiar to many American households, perhaps one day you’ll find nakati or another African leafy vegetable on your plate.
In the meantime, researchers with Horticulture CRSP are working to get more African leafy vegetables into the research agendas, fields, markets and plates of our counterparts in eastern Africa.
Read more abut Horticulture CRSP and its projects around the world at http://hortcrsp.ucdavis.edu.
Only in California could arid land be converted into the nation’s salad bowl.
In the late 1800s, University of California researchers discovered how to remove salts from the soils of the Central Valley, turning it into one of the most productive agricultural regions.
UC researchers continue to play a key role in agriculture today, keeping California the nation’s leading agricultural state, from dairies in Tulare to nut farms in Newberry Springs.
A new brochure highlights the breadth of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ impact. UC guidelines have helped farmers boost broccoli production. UC scientists have developed sweet-tasting citrus and strawberries to meet consumer demands. UC certifies more than 95 percent of wine grapevines grown in the state, providing a reliable supply of high-quality vines for California’s multibillion-dollar wine industry. Whether it’s managing invasive pests, promoting nutrition or sustaining small farmers, ANR serves California’s communities with a focus on advising, educating and searching for solutions.
For more information, read the Cultivating California brochure.
uc anr minibrochure cover s2