staple seed crops!

 Say 'seed crops' and the first thing it pops to your mind is a large field of wheat, rice or maize.
Yeah, right. Like if I could grow them extensively without heavy machinery: I'd die of exhaustion in the process and this must not happen.

I'll tell you a story, during the Middle Ages in Europe, right after the fall of the Roman Empire there had been an obscure time of a couple centuries when survivors actually lived almost peacefully and well in the courts, a time when people reverted from classic agriculture to something closer to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and actually everything was going fine.
It was probably during that time when most traditional herbs and root crops had been rediscovered from the old times.

Well, then things stabilized a little, barbaric dominations lasted more than a few days at a time and overlords began pretending taxes again in exchange for not killing or enslaving people. That's where money kicks in again.
Long distance trade displaced barter again, more productive crops had to be grown in more productive ways in order to make the surplus for trading and gaining money for tax. That meant much more labor and much less nutrient crops. Plus, most of the usable land had been grabbed for intensive monocultures. People modified their diet and lived mainly on high energy but otherwise poor cereal crops which lack in essential aminoacids and vitamins.
Poorer food and much more work meant a fast deterioration of living condirtions which ultimately lead to the black death pandemics of 1300's which exterminated between 1/3rd and 2/3rds of the european population and prepared the path for the rise of the great banks and financial institutions which are our nemesys today.

That's why my staple crops won't be annual cereals. They must not be annual cereals because I'd probably be dead soon if I try to make a living out of them.
There simply is too much work involved in growing annual cereals and they won't feed me well too.

Having said that, starches or even inulins if boiled enough are actually needed. Energy is part of a diet, no matter what.

Therefore we need to carefully select what to grow.

The main points are:
- don't grow too many annual species. They need to be sown at the right time and in the proper manner. Too many and you will be swamped by them.
- don't grow too less annual species and of similar families. Diversifying is the point: if one crop fails maybe others will succeed.
- the species must satisfy the usual requisites of EROEI and resistance to pests, diseases, drought and/or damp conditions.
- the species must be as complete as possible in terms of nutrients.

The following species are invariably summer or fall crops and not necessarily they are domesticated since domestication usually causes considerable weakening and loss of genetic diversity.
I am currently evaluating their viability and usefulness and for some of them I've already reached my conclusions:


- chenopodium quinoa: if you are here, you probably already know what chenopodium quinoa is, so I won't bother repeating the usual annoying speech you may find copy-pasted everywhere else. You should rather look it up here, if you want: http://www.pfaf.org .
I held great hopes in quinoa, after reading by chance about this plant I decided to venture into this whole project. Reality however was of a far different opinion.

There's actually a reason why quinoa trials in europe and everywhere else in the past centuries had been held, yet quinoa hasn't been adopted for large scale seed production. The grim answer is that quinoa simply won't do well in a climate that's not dry, pest free, quite cold but not freezing for most of the year and with very strong sunlight. Remove one of these requisites and quinoa is bound to fail.
Here's a ladybug cleaning an already doomed quinoa plant

Even if by chance the climate allows quinoa to deliver, the stinkbugs within a 10km radius will all gather around its seed heads and feast on the seeds in spite of any saponins they might have. Then if you manage to save you plants from all of this it rains for 2-3 days and the best seeds, being absolutely non-dormant will germinate while still on the plant.
As disappointing as it is I'm still willing to select the best plants, who knows what might happen. As a matter of fact, some plants seem to attract many stinkbugs while others are simply being ignored. That's a reason to keep researching on it. Also, if you live in a cooler climate with summers consistently below 30-32 C it might be worth trying it, especially if it doesn't rain too much.

- chenopodium album (lambsquarters / fat hen): this one deserves an article on its own. When you read about quinoa, you always see lambsquartes mentioned: when at young stages they cannot be easily told apart.
C. Album however is what quinoa should have been. Highly resistant to everything: pests, diseases, drought, freezing and very hot spells are no match for this species. It is very competitive and aggressive, always reliable and massively seeding whatever the soil it grows in, it can be found from the artic to the boundaries of deserts with the exception of extreme arctic and desertic climates. In addition to this, its seeds, leaves and flowers are highly nutrient.
This is actually the most successful plant I'm growing, a specialised article will follow. Here's one of the experimental plots

- chenopodium pallidicaule: this is an obscure andrean relative of chenopodium album. It is said to grow on extremly high elevations and is highly tolerant of cold. It might grow during northern hemisphere temperate winters but unfortunately it is described as being intolerant of high humidity. I would like to try it but seeds are very difficult to find.  No picture because I don't have any.

- amaranthus cruentus / hypochondriacus: these are actually two central-american species with similar seed heads, you can't tell them apart unless the plants are mature and seed heads can be closely observed. One of them, A. Cruentus is known to be compatible with the weedy A. Retroflexus and forms hybrids with it (a 10% crossing percentage is usually observed) so A. Cruentus should actually be avoided if you need predictable results and don't want to create new species each year...

They have been tested this year and found to be quite productive, beautiful and drought resistant, however due to their very open shape the seed heads are much vulnerable to shattering and attack from stinkbugs. On another note, they need to be sown at a moderately high density, bigger plants tend to be recumbent, larger and weak if grown on very rich soil

There are four reason to keep growing it:
- it can also grow in moderately cool climates and is very adaptable
- high EROEI
- crossing with A. retroflexus usually creates spiny seed heads with anti-stinkbug features
- it is more drought resistant than A. Caudatus but less than weedy amaranths
- the seeds are very nutrient and complete, moreover diversity is needed

- amaranthus caudatus: this andean species is on its second year of trial and is actually performing very well. It is quite drought resistant and will only suffer during windy dry and very hot days with bright sun. Even so, this is a problem only if there's been a long previous period of drought. To stay on the safe side, you should however provide summer irrigation channels within the rows. The plant is productive, pest resistant (aphids are usually not a problem, preferring other species and the seed heads are usually stinkbug-proof) and disease resistant. To perform best, however it needs not to compete against grasses or its own kind. It can be sown at high density with thinning and this usually stops competition from weeds, an alternative is row sowing with wide rows to allow manual hoeing.  When the plants get large enough the weeds will be quickly shaded.

Main points: the seed is highly nutrient and with a balanced set of aminoacids, this alone is worth growing it. When thinning the seedling leaves are edible and taste pretty good, this is the other major point.

- amaranthus retroflexus: this major weed is the local competitor against amaranthus caudatus, it is more drought resistant that any other amaranth and produces large amounts of delicious leaves. Its black seeds can be used for flour and are abundantly shed, their only inconvenient (precudes many usages) being the shiny black cover which enforces a strong dormancy and allows them to survive for years in the soil.
Being wild in most places it is much more pest resistant than any other andean amaranthus species.
It doesn't need any watering, therefore I suggest growing it as a safety net in case A. caudatus crops fail (something not happened yet). It needs quite a high sowing density if it is to completely displace other weeds. It tends to succumb under chenopodium album if grown  together with it.
Here's a large senescent specimen of amaranthus retroflexus, as you may see its seed production is considerable and will soon be evaluated:

- amaranthus blitum: this is another weed, I'm currently evaluating a few specimens mostly a leaf vegetables although I'm waiting for it to produce seeds as abundantly as the leaves! Time will tell.
Here's a young plant, on a followup article the seed evaluation for larger plants!

- lepidium sativum (garden cress): I suppose there is no need to show pictures of garden cress leaves, so here's the mature crop, let's say it hasn't been plagued by pests or diseases and only required reasonable watering, no other care involved:

This has already been harvested and the yield is pretty good, more than 1 Kg of seeds good for oil or sprouting with a high protein percentage, from the test plot above

Some volunteers already appeared and went fast into flowering, thus suggesting potential for two harvests per year! Note the mature plants are recumbent, although not as badly as it seems.

- phaseolus vulgaris (common beans): last but not least, pole beans. I say pole because they tend to produce for a longer time and are easily harvested even while producing. The variety I'm trying is called 'Trail of tears' and comes from Realseeds, this one has proven pretty disease and pest resistant: as long as the leaves and pods won't get in contact with too much water bean anthracnose is not a problem. I also used a few chenopodium album plants as additional poles and this spells aphis fabae and bean mosaic virus: both haven't been a problem, although present they didn't affect the plants to a dangerous extent. As for other fungal diseases, as long as the plants aren't watered too much and over the leaves they will be safe.
This variety produced extremely well in fertile soil. While some plants died early in intermediate crowded soil, others in rich soil are still going strong and producing.  Other seemingly senescent plants for some reason came back to active life O_o.
This needs some serious selection. Oh, they are quite drought resistant, as most beans are. The best plant in good soil produced almost 1Kg of dried pods.

Other plants in medium to poor soil did much less (10x less, actually). Next year I'll do a large scale trial with beans (more varieties!) and chenopodium album intertwined.


- phragmites australis (common reed): this one, exactly like typha latifolia, looks very promisin as a perennial grass. Most of it is edible o yields edible derivatives, more info here: http://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Phragmites+australis . Actually there seeds here are actually a secondary byproduct of the plant. Unlike annuals this one requires moist or wet soil, especially swamps and water streams and this is its greatest disadvantage, in exchange for the sanitary problem (mosquitoes breeding ground!!) the yields are pretty good and the overall usefulness is very very high. I haven't acquired seeds yet.

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