Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Food-plant guide a great gift

Changing the Climate with the Seeds We Sow is the latest book from Dan Jason of Salt Spring Seeds. It’s a 64-page profile of 16 basic food plants that are “nutritious, energizing, time-tested, earth-friendly and beautiful.” They are also foods that are chronically under-valued, though they are examples of plants that could feature prominently in adding nutrient value to home food gardens and in and creating secure local food systems.

Some of the foods are well-known kinds that are easy on the earth and nourishing, such as beans and lentils, amaranth, wheat and oats. I was surprised and pleased to see included items like garlic and potatoes, nettle and chickweed. All are easy to grow.

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I always leave patches of chickweed in the vegetable garden, where the soil is robust enough to produce lush leaves with a cool and soothing taste. Chickweed is packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s a favourite, refreshing in-garden snack food.

Jason makes a strong case for growing our own or buying organic potatoes, because health and environmental risks accompany potatoes grown by conventional methods that include several sprays administered through the growth and harvest cycles. One spray commonly used on potatoes is toxic to honey bees. In home gardens potatoes give high yields of food for the space they occupy. The tubers are a good source of protein, fibre, vitamin C and potassium.

Most garlic sold in stores comes from China or Mexico. The bulbs bear little resemblance to the plump, flavourful ones grown locally or at home, and the imported bulbs carry the risk of herbicide and fungicide residues. I regard the collection of fat and juicy, home-grown garlic bulbs stored in a cold closet of my home as a personal treasure trove, poised to elevate taste levels in meals through the winter and spring.

At the risk of setting some lawn-lovers’ hair on fire, I must mention the dandelion entry. This common “weed” is a renowned herbal medicinal with powerful cleansing properties. The nutrient-rich leaves contain 10 times the vitamin A of carrots. The roasted roots make a tasty and healthful coffee sustitute.

Food choices. Among the solutions proposed to address global warming, researchers have determined that “the top cause of climate change is what we eat.” Jason makes a case for choosing products of soil-enhancing, emission-reducing, ecologically sensible agricultural methods over products of a chemical-industrial farming system reliant on fossil fuel inputs. Growing your own and buying local as much as possible eliminates transportation, processing and packaging costs to the environment.

“Every time we eat a local apple instead of one that has been shipped thousands of miles … we are moving back toward sanity. Every time we plant a normal seed, buy seasonally, cook a meal, support local farmers, choose food that is not poisoned, we are supporting a return to health and harmony.”

Changing the Climate with the Seeds We Sow is a concise and inspiring aid to honing our food choices to support health in ourselves, our communities and the environment. It would be an ideal gift for an adventurous and ecologically mindful home gardener and anyone keen to make wise food choices. The book is published by Salt Spring Seeds and is available for $15 only at saltspringseeds.com. Publishing will soon be taken over by Watershed Sentinel Books. At that point the book will be more widely available.

 

GARDEN EVENTS

Lily auction. The Victoria Lily Society will host its 12th Annual Rare Bulb and Plant Auction on Monday at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich. View live and silent auction items from 6 to 7 p.m. The live auction will begin at 7. Everyone is welcome.

Orchid meeting. The Victoria Orchid Society will meet on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Gordon Head United Church Hall, 4201 Tyndall Ave.

Comox meeting. The Comox Valley Horticultural Society will meet on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the Conference Hall of the Florence Filberg Centre, 411 Andertron Ave. in Courtenay. This final meeting of the year will feature members displaying their garden hobbies, crafts, art and preserves. Some wonderful Comox Valley gardens will be pictured, and two experts will put on a bonsai show. Non-member drop-in fee $5.

Greenhouse tours. The Butchart Gardens is hosting greenhouse tours on Saturdays and Sundays in November at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. The tours will cover propagation methods used, plant over-wintering, pest management, and the production of floral displays. Cost is the price of admission to the gardens. Spaces on the tours fill quickly. Reserve by calling 250-652-4422.

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