Susan Kwong has set up a new database/wiki on perennial plants or plants that can be “perennialised” in Australia’s temperate climate zones. She takes the view that the plants we currently grow as annuals were probably originally “domesticated” by selecting for individuals which produced edible crops quickly, and which were either already annuals, or were made annual by a process of selection. From her point of view, growing annuals as basic food crops introduces an element of uncertainty into every year – if the annual crop fails there not only isn’t any food from it, there aren’t any seeds for the next year’s crop.
Some annuals can be “perennialised” by selecting more long-lived, longer producing individuals so that, once established, they carry over their production into second and subsequent years.
So far there doesn’t seem to be much focus on the process of perennialising specific annuals, but the database is a wealth of information that isn’t just relevant to Australia’s temperate zones – a lot of the plants are grown in the sub-tropical zone (includes the Lockyer Valley) as well.
Here’s the article where she sets out the concept and the thinking behind it (someone should tell her about using shorter paragraphs for legibility and maintaining reader interest).
It turns out that a lot of the plants documented in the database so far are things that you might not have thought about as food plants at all, or might not have been aware of. Here’s an example from the first set of plants, published in September.
What I find most useful about this database is that it introduces me to new food plants, and gives me additional information about the ones I already know.
For example, a while back I was looking to identify something we’ve been growing successfully for two seasons now (in the post about wicking pots in November). It’s the plant in the foreground.
Well, in the latest monthly issue of Susan Kwong’s perennialising database I found it listed as non-heading Chinese Cabbage (Brassica rapa, subspecies chinensis). Definitely the same plant, but I was a bit surprised about the common name. Here in Australia Chinese Cabbage is usually used for wombok (Brassica rapa ssp. pekinensis) and I didn’t know there was a non-heading variety. This is a plant that I’m really familiar with as my parents used to grow this as a commercial crop on our farm at Eight Mile Plains (which at that time – early 1950s – was well outside Brisbane). I have no idea where they marketed it, being too young at the time to take an interest in such things.
A bit of digging on the internet and I ended up with an informative article about Asian versions of Brassica rapa on Google. In Australia chinensis is known as pak choy or pak choi, and in fact I found it in my Evernote database where I’d clipped it from the October issue of the perennialising database as Brassica chinensis (Bok Choy).
Problem solved. It is a non-hearting Chinese Cabbage (because it is the same species as what is commonly called Chinese Cabbage), but it is a different sub-species (chinensis) and is best known in Australia as Pak Choy.
And I still have to get myself some seeds of gai laan, which is what I originally thought the pak choy was, and which looks like a very interesting vegetable – one of its other names is Chinese broccoli.