Sunday, December 08, 2013

Notes on some small seed crops

A few years ago, I sent an email to the Portland Permaculture Guild list with these notes on various small seed crops:

Of the small seeds, fennel seed comes the closest to meeting my overall food forest goals, as a perennial insect nurturing weedy multi-use plant, with seeds providing good calorie yield per square foot. However, it misses my goal of being edible in large quantities; I'm eating about 50 calories per day of it, and don't think I would want to increase that beyond 100-200 at most. Read a more detailed write-up.

Good King Henry works well as a perennial, decently yielding low-maintenance seed crop. But it bears seeds even smaller than quinoa, which require processing to get off the chaff. My limited experiment suggested the labor time:calorie yield is good, making it worthwhile to process them if you're serious about growing your own calories, but it does take a while. GKH seed requires the same sort of soaking as does quinoa, but I don't find that at all time consuming or difficult. I find the cooked seeds hearty and delicious, and everyone else who's sampled them has liked them as well.

Sunflower seeds have a lot of potential, though we've had trouble direct seeding due to slug pressure, and we've consistently failed to harvest and/or process the seed heads in the autumn to actually eat them.

Favas and early peas also have a lot of potential for us in winter-rain Mediterranean climates, though again we've had trouble with slug pressure. Our slug problem also means we've yet to successfully grow, let alone overwinter, scarlet runner beans, but I'd love to get that going as a perennial large-seeded legume.

We tried Lupinus perennis, the perennial lupine from the east coast which native americans supposedly ate. I found that the seedpods ripened unevenly and if I waited too long to harvest, the pods ejected the seeds in the garden while if I harvested too soon, the pods never really opened up to easily release the seeds at all. As a result, I had trouble effeciently separating the small seeds from the pods. And then I had trouble with the soaking process; apparently lupines need thorough leaching to get rid of the bitter toxic alkoloids. If I recall correctly, I followed a method where I scalded the seeds first, then let them soak in cold water for a few days. Many of the seeds swelled up properly, and tasted fine, but enough of the seeds did *not* swell up that they acted as nasty little rock-hard, bitter landmines amongst the deactivated beans. I gave up on these as a human seed crop and transplanted them into the chicken yard.

We've been growing evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) as a root, leaf, flower, and seed crop, but I find the seeds pretty much unusable. They're easy enough to harvest, but they're so tiny that I can't run them through our grain grinder or just sprinkle them on food and expect to crush them up in the course of eating. I have to deliberately eat a pinchful at a time and chew them up really well. Sadly, the seeds have no flavor at all; it's like eating tiny crunchy nothingness. I don't enjoy eating tiny crunchy nothingness, so I've given up on these as a seed crop.

2 comments:

Bill W. said...

Why not brassica seeds? It's certainly pretty easy to get a ton of seeds from Chinese cabbage at almost any time of year, for example. Too much erucic acid?

Norris said...

Yes, great idea! I would assume that you can't eat brassica seeds in great quantity, but they're certainly worth using to whatever extent you can. The perennial arugula makes a lot of seed, though I only harvested in once (for seed saving, not for eating) and don't know how much you can harvest how fast.