This is a picture of my complete ‘glass gem’ corn of 2015. I can’t completely blame the Belgian climate though, there should have been at least a few more ripe ears when I harvested this one, but some critter had found my small corn patch and eaten most of it before it was ready 😦

Next years for something else….

Dus dit is een foto van mijn hele oogst aan ‘glass gem’ mais in 2015. Ik kan het Belgische klimaat niet volledig de schuld geven, want eigenlijk hadden er minstens een paar kolven meer rijp moeten zijn wanneer deze geoogst werd, maar één of ander beest had mijn kleine maisbosje gevonden en de meeste mais opgegeten voordat hij zelfs maar rijp was 😦

Volgend jaar iets anders proberen…




(Nederlandse versie hier)

Passiflora is a genus of several hundred species of plants, known for its unique and sometimes quite spectacular flowers, and therefore popular with lovers of exotic plants. Different species are used in different ways: The common passion fruit (P. edulis) is eaten as a fruit, while P. Incarnata is used in herbal medicine as a sedative. But most species are just grown for their beautiful flowers.


Passiflora caerulea – blue passionflower

Here in this corner of Europe that’s not without problems: Passion flowers are very beautiful and generally fast-growing climbing plants, but they often need tropical or subtropical climates to thrive. So here in Flanders we’re just at or just below the Northern Border for the most cold-resistant passion flowers that grow well outdoors. There are some species that grow reasonably outside here, until a very severe winter shows up that is. The common blue passionflower (P. caerulea) is the best-known species here and also the best-adapted to our climate. The maypop, Passiflora incarnata can survive even colder winter temperatures, but it completely freezes off in cold climates every winter and then needs to grow back completely from the roots, needing summers more hot than ours to have much flowers and fruits.

(I leave out the northernmost species P. Lutea here, the yellow passionflower which has no ornamental value and is reportedly not the easiest plant to grow.)


Tucumanese passionflower – Passiflora tucumanensis

There are a number of hybrids and ornamental varieties that are grown, some of which very nice. But there is also another less known wild species that should be almost like P. Caerulea when it comes to coldhardiness, the P. Tucumanensis (sometimes called P. Naviculata). This is a South American species that grows in mountain areas and so is accustomed to cooler temperatures.

The Tucumanese passionflower, as its name can be translated, is named after the Argentine province of Tucuman. It has small soft-green ternate lobed leaves and hanging passion flowers, slightly smaller than those of the blue passionflower. The flowers, that are only open for one day, have a spectacular purple-white corona.

Earlier his summer I had ordered a plant of this and some other species from de passifloratuin, and today the Tucumanese Passionflower is the first of those plants that blooms. It is stil to be seen how well it does in the long run, but of all my Passiflora plants I have here now it is the one that continued to grow most in August which was exceptional cold and wet… So maybe it’s indeed a plant that can withstand cooler summers. We will still have to wait and see what happens in and after the winter though…


Tucumanese Passionlfower – Passiflora tucumanensis

But there is more: If we look edible fruit this one might actually also be interesting. The fruits are described as small, but with a very delicate aromatic flavor which is even better than the common passion fruit. What makes it more interesting here than P. Incarnata which generally needs a longer and much hotter growing season to form ripe fruit than we have, and P. Caerulea which sets fruit here, but is not known for its good taste … (and all hybrids, which have reduced fertility, which is not very convenient if you like to have a lot of fruit)
The problem here is that Passiflora-species are generally self-incompatible, so you need at least two genetically different plants (that means no clones which come from cuttings taken from the same mother plant) and I have only one at the moment …

But we’re working on that, so probably this story will be continued one day… The first impressions of the Tucumanese passionflower are very positive right now though…

(Nederlandse versie hier)

This wcourgettedingesell-shaped zucchini comes from a plant in my pumpkin patch although I didn’t plant anything like this, and I honestly have no idea what the plant it comes from was supposed to be, since the label is unreadable now… That doesn’t mean that it’s not pretty good taste-wise, and not ugly either… I did harvest more than one of these fruits from that plant already, and it’s not a bad yielder. I also used some leaves together with other Cucurbita-green in a fine African pumpkin leaves-peanut stew, which i still recommend very much by the way. I still make it with chicken satay and rice, but someday I will try it with fufu.

But let’s go back to my green zucchini here. I don’t know what I originally planted, but it is clear that it comes from impure zucchini seeds. The plant has a semi-bushy way of growth, only growing out a bit more than a normal courgette plant, so I suppose it is a cross between a standard green bush zucchini and other Cucurbita pepo that is not growing bushy, with broader fruit. I suspect it to be something like a spaghetti squash, but I’m not sure at all of that. There are many types of squash besides of long and round zucchini within the species C. pepo, like spaghetti squash, pattypan squash and certain pumpkins. But there are also varietiest that are bred as ornamental gourds’.

And that bit required a warning: some of those ornamental forms of C. pepo are not edible, because they are very bitter by the presence of the rather dangerous cucurbitine. So it can be dangerous to eat just any gourdlike suqash of unknown origin. Fortunately cucurbitine is easily recognizable by the bitter taste so most people won’t eat it.

But it remains important to be very careful with C. Pepo squashes that do not look like the mother plant because their father is soe unknown pollinator, and they must therefore be tasted with great suspicion (by someone who can distinguish a bitter taste well) before it is eaten and served to others…

So if you should ever encounter a bitter zucchini, squash, spaghetti squash or the like, do not eat it, but immediately pull out the plant itself so it won’t pollinate any of the others (in case you take seed)! And do not take any seed of C. pepo variants if bitter plant were close when they were pollinated and the fruits were formed. Also never take C. pepo seed from uncontrolled pollination when bitter gourds grew nearby.

This bit holds true especially for pumpkin varieties of the genus Cucurbita pepo. There are no bitter varieties grown of the other species of the genus. So C. maxima (most winter squashes including giant pumpkins and hokkaido varieties), C. moschata (butternut), and possibly C. ficifolia and C. mixta do not pose the same no such risk.

But still, never eat a bitter squash, kids…

bolivianrainbowI think I ordered them from Ebay or so: a small bag of seeds labelled ‘Bolivian rainbow peppers’. A beautiful variety of hot peppers, a dwarf type that has purple flowers and small hot peppers that go from purple to white to yellow to orange to red. A very ornamental and useful edible plant that I looked forward to growing to very much.

But alas, fate decided otherwise for me.

There was something wrong with the seeds from the beginning: I planted 20 seeds hoping to have a lot of plants so I could share some with other people in springtime.

Alas, only one seed germinated. I wouldn’t call a germination rate of 5% a big success. But at least one plant came up, a dwarf pepper plant that seemed to grow quite well on the balcony in the weird summer of 2013. And then it flowered…

Alas, it did not flower with the expected purple flowers, but with regular white ones. The plant was healthy though, and not ugly at all. whatever it was, it was a dwarf pepper plant which would give me some hot peppers, no matter how they’d look. I still hoped for the spectacular colors, but knew it wasn’t likely that this plant was indeed the variety I bought it for.

And the flowers turned into peppers…

Alas, no purple-white-yellow-orange-red peppers, but a plant with long peppers that pointed upwards, like small very hot pili-pili types. Not that ugly either, with the peppers going from pale yellow over orange to the classic red of a lot of hot peppers. I might not have had my five color peppers, but still I did have an interesting variety of hot peppers that was both ornamental and useful to spice up my dishes. At least, that was what I thought…

…until this week…

since most peppers were tupili pili plantbewrning red I thing it was time to start using them. So I used one, assuming it would be quite hot, to spice up my vegetarian (vegan even, we had a guest who’s a vegan) chili-san-carne with tomatillo and fresh shelled scarlet runner beans… But alas, the chili dish was a big success and one of my better dishes I made lately according to those who ate it, but that was not at all because of the hotness of my peppers, since they had no effect at all, no hotness, no pungency.
Yes, the last of my illusions about the the mystery very non-‘Bolivian rainbow’ peppers had to be shattered too: My small red peppers which I though to be something like pili-pili had actually no hotness at all…

I couldn’t believe that there was no hot chili taste at all in my dish, so I tried one of the peppers that was still on the plant. I even ate one of the peppers as a whole, raw, with seeds and all. And indeed: it wasn’t hot at all.

Yes, instead of the 20 multicolored hot rainbow pepper I sowed I got one dwarf pepper plant with ‘sweet pili pili’. Most probably ‘medusa‘ peppers or something of the like. Which is indeed both ornamental and edible, but besides that nothing that I expected or wanted.  I suppose growing sweet ornamental chili peppers is safer if you have small kids (My three-year old daughter finds them fascinating) but I don’t know what uses I would have for sweet peppers this size, except for decorating dishes for special occasions, or doing a prank pretending to eat a whole hot pepper…

Not that I do not like this variety, but next year I’ll try again to grow me some real hot five-color peppers…



glassgelA while ago it was quite overhyped on the internet: a spectacular close-up picture of one ear of corn, with unreal shiny kernels in all kinds of unreal pearly colors. Some people didn’t even believe it was real, and claimed it was photoshopped. Others said it was probably genetically modified or something like that. It seemed that lot of people wanted to grow it, or to have it, but looking online told me that the seed was not widely available at all, and not only hard to get but also unusually expensive, some people on ebay did sell small quantities of it for quite high prices for example.

Now on to reality, Glass gem is a real corn, not photoshopped nor genetically modified, and just a regular open-pollinated race! And also a very variable one, so you can’t expect every comb to carry the same colors of kernels as that one in the spectacular picture. It probably was selected as the most beautiful one of the whole patch that year anyway…

some more down to earth information about the variety: Glass gem is actually a heirloom race of corn based on old Indian races, with an interesting history. It is a multicolored flint corn, with every plant having a different combination of small ears, and seeds approximately the size of unpopped popcorn. It’s (alas) also a race developed in a relatively hot climate (compared to ours) and not the earliest race, needing officially 120-130 days to mature.

I saw the pictures and thought it was a very pretty one, but I initially never planned on growing glass gem at all after receiving the info I just quoted, I am not the one to fall for hypes and knew it was quite a slow grower, so probably not fit at all for our Belgian climate. Moreover, the seeds on ebay were generally in the category of ‘obscenely high priced’, and it’s a flint corn after all, a type of corn I don’t know how to use. Why pay so much for a decorative corn???

And then, in a weird twist of fate, I suddenly and unexpectedly had glass gem seeds in my hands, 2 small packets even, one packet thanks to smart seeds, and a second one one came from a seed-swap. strange to realise that I had the seeds of the overhyped ‘most spectacular corn in the word’ photograph’, the a lot of people seemed to want to pay extreme prices for, so what could else I do but try to grow it as good as I could? In the beginning of may I planted the seeds I had, and the plants progressed slowly but they looked strong and healthy, and suite prolific. Most plants of this variety have at least 2 ears on them, and some of the bigger plants have more stems (something I haven’t seen before in corn, but then again, I’m not that experienced with corn) but it took the plants like forever to flower, and when the first ears were visible the summer was over.

I’s a very slow corn indeed… Would it yield anything before the killing coldness would take over?

It’s been a vglass gemery warm month of october in 2013 , without any trace of nocturnal frosts, and the plants are still healthy and growing. This I harvested my first 2 ears (see left), so I can give my first impressions now, and I begin here:
I do think that it is indeed a beautiful corn, but not for here, and I wonder if the hype is worth it.

So what are my thoughts on glass gem?

1.) sloooooow: ‘glass gem’ is too slow a grower for our climate, officially 120-130 days but it even took longer here. Also because the month of may was unusually cold (I planted them on the 5th, they only came up at the end of the month…) but I’m lucky that we didn’t have any frost yet and that the weather is still unusually war for the end of october. Hopefully more corn will ripen before the winter kills my plants…It is a strong grower that looks quite healthy and makes a lot of ears though.

glass gem 12.) beautiful: ‘glass gem’, on the other pictures (not that one hyped one) is a very diverse multi-colored corn with small pop-corn size kernels. The plant that I harvested had mostly colors in a weird kind of soft yellow, with some reddish and dark colors. It is indeed beautiful and shiny in a way I haven’t seen in any corn. Worth the wait, but was it worth the stress and looking the weather?

3.) Is it useful?: If I do get a decent harvest still in spite of everything, what do I do with it? Except from seed-saving and decoration, what can I use it for?(I’m not the guy to rip off people on ebay by selling seeds of a supposed ‘miracle corn’ for an enormous amount of money, that wouldn’t feel right!) Yes, it’s edible as a flint corn, to make flour, but I have no idea what I should do with that. The use as popcorn seems to be contested.
(And what am i growing corn anyway? We don’t eat much corn since my eldest daughter is corn-intolerant and can’t eat it…)

Verdict: it was a fun experiment that seems to be turning out okay in the end (although I was despairing most of the time that it would yield anything at all), Glass gem is indeed the most beautiful corn I’ve ever seen, but it’s not fit at all for our climate, and I don’t exactly know what to do with it except maybe for lending the combs to amateur photographers who can make better pictures of it than I am possible to make.
Next year I’ll probably try something else (Alan Bishop’s multicolored genetically superdiverse ‘astronomy domine‘ sweetcorn might be a good idea for the corn department…).

glass gem close-up

Earlier I wrote about the questions surrounding the edibility of the infamous black nightshade, a plant that has been both feared because of it’s toxicity in Europe, and praised for its edibility (both fruit and leaves) elsewhere.

Dying of berry poisoning isn’t exactly my style, so I’m not just going to eat any black nightshade-berry that I come across. But I am adventurous enough to try out some cultivated strains that are confirmed as edible…

That’s why I tried 3 varieties of edible varieties from the S. nigrum complex this summer. If I received them under the right names they were the American garden huckleberry (S. melanocerasum), the very mysteriously named wonderberry (S. x burbankii) and a yellow-fruited variety sold as ‘golden pearls’ (S. villosum).
Due to strange weather (from an extremely cold almost wintery month of may we went directly to a summer of tropical weather too hot for many plants to grow much) a lot of plants (corn, tomatillo, pumpkins, amaranths) are a bit later than other years, and the nightshades are no exception to this, not just in the garden but everywhere where they grow as a weed too. But finally I’ve done the first test tasting the berries of all 3 nightshade types, even though not all of them have many ripe berries yet..

The good news: I am still alive.

The bad news: there’s not that much reason to get enthusiastic…

American garden huckleberry (Solanum melanocerasus)
Let’s start with the ‘American garden huckleberry’. It is the most atypical of the three, It is actually a very powerful vigorous plant with big berries growing erect in clusters, which seem to ripen almost at the same time per cluster. The berries are shiny and black, and the plant seems to produce quite a lot of them…
AGHberryThat’s the good news about the American garden huckleberry so far. The bad news is that it’s very conforming to the stereotype of a lot of things produced by Americans: big, shiny, lot of produce, but the quality is not that interesting. At least when raw the taste is not that very atractive, a bit like the jaltomatos I grew last year, but less sweet even and with a metal-ish quality to the taste.
I hope that they taste better when processed, and I’ll experiment with them later when all the berries are ripe. But I doubt they will ever become my favorite fruit….

Wonderberry (Solanum X burbankii)
Then the so-called wonderberry named after the famous American plant breeder Mr. Burbank. I personally don’t see what so wonderous about the plant at all. Maybe because mwonderbrryy plant  has been overgrown by tree spinach and tomatoes, but it is not the biggest plant or most impressive, with small berries of less than 1 cm diamater. Just as with our native black nightshade the berries are growing in clusters and hanging, and dull black when ripe. Makes one wonder if what I’m growing here is not just a mislabeled edible strain of plain old S. nigrum…

The good thing is that the taste is maybe not that spectacular, but really not bad either, more sweetish. But it doesn’t yield much. Maybe next year I should let it grow in full sun.

‘Golden pearls’ (Solanum villosum)
villosumThe third one, the yellow ‘golden pearls’ of S. villosum, surprisingly looks a lot like the ‘wonderberry’ and like our native form of S. nigrum, with its small hanging berries, except for the color of the fruits, and the plants look generally a bit more fuzzy and soft. The taste is also quite similar to my wonderberry, and not bad at all although not that special either. It seems to grow a bit slower though, I only see 2 ripe berries and only after having eaten them I realised I photographed them with no memory card in my camera, so no picture of the ripe berries..

I am certainly not the biggest specialist of the black nightshade complex, but it’s easy to see that both whatever they sent me as wonderberry and the yellow-berried S. villosum are much closer related to the black nightshade I’ve known all my life than what I’ve received as the American garden huckleberry, and also that both of them are more interesting taste-wise. They have smaller berries and less yield, and they are not that special actually, but at least the taste is okay when raw.

The Garden Huckleberry will get one more chance to prove it’s tastiness later in the year, when all the berries are ripe and I will try to cook them with sugar or so. And if it doesn’t work I’ll never grow it again and leave it to the Americans to make something with it that suits their taste…
The others might be added to a dessert in small quantities when ripe, or just eaten when I’m working in the garden…

And who knows if I get access to another interesting variety next year. I actually want to try the Inidan ‘red Makoi’ variety of S. nigrum one day…


gewone melkdistel1

(Nederlandse versie hier)

Common and spiny sow thistle (Sonchus asper and S. oleraceus) aren’t just two very common weeds, Both of them are also very tasty free vegetables, and they even do pop up right in the vegetable garden: Both are best used young, before they flower, and can be used to replace a slightly bitter lettuce or endive, were it not that they are often quite prickly, being a thistle and all. This makes them not that suitable for raw use (depending on the specimen,  some are still soft enough for a salad, and the leaves are, always very soft and tender, regardless of the spines). I mostly use them for my wild ‘andijviestoemp ” (Flemish traditional mashed potatoes with endive, very delicious with a baked  sausage), or a simple mixed vegetarian lettuce soup, like I did ​​today.

The recipe for the soup is very simple:

1 onion
1 small potato
2 hands of  milk thistle leaves
a borth cube, salt, pepper

Cut the onion into small pieces and fry,  add potato cubes and chopped milk thistle and let simmer with a little water; Add broth and herbs, and then when everything is cooked, mix with an immersion blender.  Add water and then let it cook for the flavors to mix and develop some more …

That’s all…
It’s just a nice simple vegetarian summer-soup, made of a vegetable that you would otherwise just have disposed of as a weed …

Tip: this kind of mixed soups has an even better taste the day after you’ve made it …