Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Space worms

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Worms were the only survivors when space shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry in 2003. Caenorhabditis elegans, nematodes, had been sent into space to test a synthetic nutrient solution. Their naturally short life-span meant that the survivors were several generations removed from the worms that were blasted into space at the beginning of the mission. Nematodes experiments have also been conducted on the International Space Station (ISS), looking at the effect of microgravity – it turns out that these worms can suffer muscle mass loss in the same way as humans do. Nematodes weren’t the only worms included on that fateful mission; among the student experiments (which included space bees) was one that aimed to investigate mealworms (Tenebrio molitor). Sadly they didn’t survive.

Worm compost
Composting worms, at work on Earth

Small organisms such as these are very useful for bioscience research in space, but there are other reasons why worms might be a key feature of future space adventures. When the latest Antares supply mission to the ISS suffered a ‘launch mishap’ at the end of October, another student experiment – to investigate whether worm composting works in space – went up in smoke. The students wanted to find a way to recycle leftover astronaut food, and were sending composting worms (Eisenia fetida) into space – the same worms you’re using here on Earth if you have a worm composter. Fortunately, the students have been told they will get another chance to run their experiment.

Composting worms can help to dispose of waste food because they can eat things we can’t, and including animals and insects into closed-loop agricultural systems in space is one way of completing the cycle and turning waste products into inputs. They can be used to improve the soil and produce fertiliser (like the composting worms) or to turn inedible biomass into protein to enhance the astronaut’s diet. But adding animals into the system can be tricky – not only are they large and heavy (hence expensive to launch into space), but they produce waste gases and some of them would stink out closed quarters. Plus you have to factor in the time spent looking after animals, when astronauts are already busy. Aquatic animals such as fish are also being considered, but bring their own set of problems to overcome.

And so the idea of raising edible insects in space arises. These ‘microlivestock’ can be easily and cleanly raised on waste products, and produce little in the way of waste themselves (and frass , worm poop, makes good fertiliser). Insects are already eaten in some cultures on Earth, although for most people they are decidedly not on the menu.

Main course
An appetising plate of edible insects

Two of the most studied species are silkworms (Bombyx mori) and mealworms, which are beetle larvae.

Katayama et al point out that insects were an important portion of the hunter-gatherer diet. Perhaps the Paleo diet people should be taking a look….

Silkworm pupae
Yummy looking silkworm pupae

Yang et al write about the history of silkworm consumption in China and state that silkworm culture won’t have adverse effects on the cabin environment. They also say that silkworm fibre (I assume they mean silk) is over 98% protein and could be hydrolysed into an edible product. I’m not sure anyone would find that more appetising than the worms themselves.

Yu et al propose a simple bioregenerative life support system involving mulberries and silkworms. The mulberries would provide fruit for astronauts, plus leaves to feed silkworms. The silkworms could also eat the leaves of stem lettuce – stem lettuce is a popular Chinese vegetable, but the leaves aren’t eaten (and seem to be considered inedible). 105 silkworms would provide the daily protein requirements for an astronaut (a Chinese astronaut, or taikonaut – they note that the Russians have double the protein requirement!). The silkworms can be eaten as pupae or as powdered larvae (which has the advantage of not having to deal with cocoons). Yum.

Beyond that being a slightly dull diet, I fail to see how mulberry trees would make good candidates for space cultivation, being large trees. You could take seeds, I suppose, so they blast-off weight would be small, but then you’d have to wait years for the trees to mature….

“The height and diameter of ground-controlled mulberry tree were much lower than other kinds of fruit trees. Lower trunk shortened the distance of transporting nutrient and water, accelerated the growth of branches and leave and improved the efficiency of photosynthesis.”

Li et al note that silkworms have a limited waste disposal role, as they only eat the leaves of stem lettuce and mulberry leaves. They investigated mealworms as an alternative, feeding them wheat straw and vegetable waste (and wheat is one of the ‘big 3’ cereal crops on Earth that produce most of our calories, so being able to grow it in space would be useful). Mealworms can be fed a variety of plant material.

Mealworms, with a side of mole crickets

And earlier this year, three volunteers spent three months inside Moon Palace 1 (Yuegong-1), an artificial biosphere in Beijing designed to test the kind of life support system that may one day be used for a long duration space mission. They grew grain, vegetables and fruit and fed the crop wastes to mealworms. They ate dozens of worms each day, trying out different cooking styles and seasonings. No doubt we can expect them to publish a cookbook very soon!

Mealworms may not be the best choice, though – the HI SEAS project decided against them as they are “little escape artists”, something I have personal experience of. I used to have a regular delivery of live mealworms to feed the garden birds. I can just imagine how the postman felt when he delivered the damaged box from which they were all escaping…. Some scientists feel that freshwater algae could deliver the same benefits, but that’s a topic for another post :)


Katayama, N., Yamashita, M., Wada, H., & Mitsuhashi, J. (2005). Entomophagy as part of a space diet for habitation on Mars. The Journal of Space Technology and Science, 21(2), 2_27-2_38.

Kramer, M. (2013). How Worms Survived NASA’s Columbia Shuttle Disaster. [Online]. Accessed 9th November 2014.

Li, L., Zhao, Z., & Liu, H. (2013). Feasibility of feeding yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor L.) in bioregenerative life support systems as a source of animal protein for humans. Acta Astronautica , 92(1), 103-109.

Rutkin, A. (2014). Space hopefuls dine on worms in ‘Moon Palace’ module. New Scientist. [Online]. Accessed 9th November 2014.

Space Today Online. (2006). Tragedy of Space Shuttle Columbia. Space Today. [Online]. Accessed 9th November 2014.

Yang, Y., Tang, L., Tong, L., & Liu, H. (2009). Silkworms culture as a source of protein for humans in space. Advances in Space Research, 43(8), 1236-1242.

Yu, X., Liu, H., & Tong, L. (2008). Feeding scenario of the silkworm Bombyx Mori, L. in the BLSS. Acta Astronautica, 63(7), 1086-1092.

Posted in Blog on Nov 8, 2014 ·

Last modified on Nov 9, 2014

Tags: space & compost.

Scented leaf pelargoniums

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My mistreated scented geraniums

As previously mentioned, among the plants that I have rescued from the allotment so far are two scented leaf pelargoniums (aka scented geraniums). I’d wanted to add some of these edible flowers to the garden for years, and so in February I ordered a collection of four plants from Otter Farm. And then life kicked off (as it does) and they ended up being dumped on the allotment and left to fend for themselves while I took care of buying the new house.

The original collection included Orange Fizz (“with a lemon sherbert/orange scent, pretty flowers and an upright habit – excellent in cocktails”) and Lady Plymouth (“beautifully rose/mint-scented variety, with grey green leaves edged cream and gold”), but unfortunately they were the two that died. I may choose to replace them next year – I haven’t decided on a planting list yet.

Meanwhile, Attar of Roses (“with a gorgeous, distinctive rose scent, makes a large plant”) and Pink Capitatum (“lime scented leaves and fabulous mauve pink flowers”) have survived, although as you can see they’re not in the best of condition. They were in the garden until the cold weather arrived, and now I have brought them in to work to overwinter on the windowsill and receive some TLC (or at least regular watering…).

They fell over on the way to work, and Attar of Roses filled the car* with such a lovely scent I was tempted to keep it in there as a living air freshener. It was making the office smell nice yesterday too; I can’t smell it now the plants are on the windowsill – I may be too far away, or just more used to the scent. One of my colleagues described as as being like “very expensive perfume”. Pink Capitatum is less pungent, but if you bruise a leaf (which is delightfully furry) then you do get a citrusy waft.

Since they’re half hardy they can’t go out into the garden until the risk of frost has passed next spring, but one potential spot for them is in the herb garden at the front of the house, where we will brush past them on the way into the garden. I will have to give it some thought.

I will also ponder getting some more varieties – do you have a favourite scented pelly?

*Yes, I normally walk. But I’ve been ill. Ryan says he will write me a note, in place of my mum :)

Posted in Blog on Nov 7, 2014 ·

Tag: flowers

When life gives you lemons...

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Seven years ago, I found a couple of lemon pips in a bag of salad, and sowed them. It took them a little while, but eventually they germinated:

Oranges and lemons
Citrus pips germinating

And by the following February I had a couple of nice seedlings:

Lemon seedlings
Lemon seedlings

What happened to the second is lost in the mists of time, but by November one was a nice, strong plant:

Young lemon plant

But life is never easy, and for a few years it was really tough on the little lemon. It had to overwinter in an unheated greenhouse – they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but dying right back nothing every winter makes it hard to be a happy lemon.

Still, in June 2013 it proved that life goes on…

Leafy lemon

Rescued from the garden when I moved, the lemon spent last winter in my office at work. It was reasonably happy, sitting on my desk, until it was infested with scale insect. My first inkling was a sticky desk. Although I tried to clean up poor lemon as best I could, it was tricky at work and he had to wait until I could bring him home to the new house.

One of the first things I did when I moved was bring lemon home (and, boy! it’s heavy in his soil-based compost) and put it outside in the garden. A couple of good rain showers put paid to the stickiness, and I used an (organic) bug spray against the insects, but lemon couldn’t stay outside as the weather turned colder.

Instead, I brought it inside and did my best to clean off the remaining scales. Time will tell whether I’ve got the infestation under control, but for the moment lemon is clean and happy sitting on the living room windowsill. I wouldn’t say it was grateful for my ministrations, though. It stabbed my thumb with one of its thorns. Some of them are small and delicate, just right for slicing through skin. Some of them are impressively long and formidable – I reckon they’d go straight through the soles of flip flops! Still, the lovely citrusy aroma rising from the leaves did make up for it a little bit….

It remains to be seen whether my lemon will ever flower, but in the meantime, here he is enjoying the view:

Lemon tree at home on the windowsill

Posted in Blog on Nov 6, 2014 ·

Tag: fruit

Thoughts on: Exotic

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A view up through the canopy in the Eden Project's tropical biome
A view up through the canopy in the Eden Project’s tropical biome

It’s November, and across the world hundreds of thousands of writers are taking part in NaNoWriMo – a month-long sprint to write 50,000 words of fiction. I have no current interest in writing a novel, and indeed I doubt I could manage NaNoWriMo this year. So much has happened that I am struggling to write at all. And so I thought I might take up a different challenge and try and blog every day in November. (I’ve already missed yesterday, but I’m home sick so I’ll get my mum* to write me a note ;)

New additions to the house this week include a sofa that’s comfortable to sit on (a big plus!) and enough boxes from Ikea to make even a flatpack virtuoso cry. Ryan is in the process of putting together our new wardrobes; the additional storage space will make life much easier. There are also new desks for the office, but they will have to wait a while.

Had we moved in when we expected to, the garden would have been more of a priority. But now that winter has arrived, with damp days and dark evenings, there’s not a lot I can get to grips with outside at the moment. I have been thinking about what I am trying to achieve in the garden, and last week I started jotting down some words that came to mind. One of them was exotic, a word that tends to be synonymous with ‘tropical’ when it comes to gardens – but tropical isn’t what I have in mind. I prefer Google’s definition:

Google’s chosen definition of the word ‘exotic’

So… foreign :) Distinctly non-British. No red, white and blue colour schemes. No cottage garden, rose garden, or straight-lined vegetable patch. Peacocks rather than wood pigeons. Exuberant, rather than restrained. Colourful, fragrant and (and this is a word I’m not overly comfortable using) sensual.

That’s all I’ve got for today! You might be in for a month of partly-formed thoughts.

What does ‘exotic’ mean to you?

*That’s a joke. I don’t live with my mother, I have a shiny new house :)

Posted in Blog on Nov 5, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Introducing the new garden

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Well, we’ve been here a couple of weeks now, so it’s time I introduced you to the garden :) It’s a real blank canvas at the moment, waiting for me to have the time to start working on it. The front garden is the sunniest spot, and can be considered to be in full sun:

Front garden 2

Front garden
My front garden

The front garden is 6.8 m along the house and 3.1 m wide. That trellis panel is prime plant real estate – possibly the best spot in the garden for something that likes it sunny. I haven’t decided what to plant there yet, but a nice climber would give us a little more privacy. Suggestions include a grape vine, and some sort of climbing rose. Possibly a kiwi fruit, but Ryan isn’t the biggest fan. What would you put there?

For the rest I am thinking that this would be a good place for a herb garden – right outside the front door. I also have 6 Chilean guavas that might make a nice little hedge against the picket fence, and we need to put some sort of path down to the garden gate, as this is the main way into the garden.

You’ve already had a sneak peek at the back garden – this is the view from the other direction, facing the house.

Facing the house

The back garden is pretty much a square, with an extra ‘hidden’ bit under the kitchen window. If you stand there, you get this view:

Back garden

Rough measurements are about 11 × 8 metres. It’s going to be compact, especially once the arbor is up and we’ve put in a largish shed and a greenhouse :)

Existing shrubs

There are some mature shrubs along the front fence that I will take out; current plan for the arbor is for it to go in the corner on the right hand side of this photo. This main garden is where I am thinking of putting in a Middle Eastern-inspired design.

But there’s an extra bit of garden…. It’s completely separate, and has to be accessed from the road at the front of the house. It cannot be fenced off, as it contains a utility box (gas, I think) for which access is required. It’s currently a bit of a no man’s land, with ‘low maintenance’ planting:

Extra strip

Extra strip 2
More garden

But it should be relatively sunny, and it’s larger than the front garden – roughly 7.8 m along the carport and 3.2 m wide.

I am thinking this would be a nice place for plants that are more able to take care of themselves – small trees, shrubs and perennials. Again, it might be nice to have a bit of a path down the middle, but that’s as far as I have got. There is a reasonable amount of traffic (car and foot) in front of it, so it’s not the place to put anything too tempting.

So that’s my new garden :) When I look at the back garden, sometimes I think it’s going to be too small – but then I remind myself that I haven’t even touched it yet, and that manageable and productive is far preferable to over large and out of control!

It will certainly be an interesting year next year.

What do you think?

Posted in Blog on Nov 3, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Gardening offers 2/11

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Sweet chesnuts opening
Sweet chestnuts at Kew

I have a couple of last minute offers to share today. If you’re a Sarah Raven fan, then you may be interested to learn that you can save 15% on lights and candles until midnight tonight – to ‘celebrate’ the clocks going back. (I have yet to find anyone who thinks that’s a cause for celebration!). Anyway, if it’s time to add more light to your life then click through to see the list of products on offer – the discounted prices are already showing.

Also until midnight, you can save up to 25% at Thompson & Morgan. Click through to the website to start shopping, and choose one of the following discount codes to claim your offer:

  1. 25% off seeds: TNESEED

  2. 20% off flower and vegetable plants: TNEPLANT

  3. 20% off potatoes, onions and garlic: TNEPOT

  4. 20% off fruit trees and fruit plants: TNEFRUIT

  5. 20% off gardening equipment: TNEEQUIP

  6. 20% off Christmas gifts: TNEXMAS

And WoodBlocX have 10% off any order placed over the Halloween weekend, before Monday 3rd November 2014. The code you need for that is SpookBlocX2014.

Harrod Horticultural are offering 10% off their raised bed kits, for which the discount code is RB10.

There’s free shipping on offer from Pennard Plants throughout November – just use the coupon code FREEPOSTAGE.

Kew’s Grow Wild campaign has 120,000 free seed kits to give away so that you can transform your local spaces into “beautiful, inspiring and colourful wild flower havens”. The aim is to create over one million square metres of wild flowers in spring 2015.

And if you’re looking for lawn or compost/mulch products, then you can save 10% at Rolawn Direct by clicking through and using the discount code ROLNOV14 when you place your order. It’s valid until 1st December 2014.

I am an affiliate for some of these companies, and use the revenue from any referrals to help with the upkeep of the website. I believe them all to be reputable companies, and have used most of them myself at some point.

Posted in Blog on Nov 2, 2014 ·

Tag: offers

Glutbusters: November 2014

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Disappearing ‘Chinese lanterns’, the ornamental Physalis alkekengi

It has been a long, warm autumn in my area, and we have yet to experience the first frost of winter – but the leaves are falling and it’s clear that colder weather is on the way. Very little sown or planted now will put on much growth, as the days are short and there isn’t enough light. But bulbs, perennials and hardy veg will be putting down roots, ready to emerge as the days begin to get longer in late winter.

Broad beans are a classic winter vegetable, sown now to provide a welcome harvest during the ‘hungry gap’ in spring next year. Whilst spring is a hive of activity for the gardener, and plants will be putting on new growth, having anything worthwhile to harvest requires a little planning.

At first glance, broad beans may not seem an obvious choice for a GlutBusters’ garden – although they can be grown in containers, they are far more productive when planted in open soil. Dwarf varieties are available, but these beans can take up quite a bit of space. But the broad bean is a multifunctional plant that deserves your attention.

Broad beans are quite often sown in modules (toilet roll tubes work well, as do little handmade pots), as they are very attractive to rodents until they begin to sprout. They are traditionally sown in November, or February, but check the packet advice for your chosen variety. The large seeds are easy to plant – simply push them into the compost with your finger. Pot-grown plants can be set out in May, and are normally planted in a double row, so that they provide each other with some support. (Space rows about 22cm apart, with 15-20cm between seeds.)

Broad bean bed
Broad beans are an attractive addition to the garden

GlutBusters broad bean advice

  • Broad beans are attractive plants, with interesting square stems and pretty white flowers early in the year. Plant them somewhere where you can appreciate the view – and bury your nose in the flowers to draw in their delicate scent. If it’s looks you’re going for, see if you can find seed for the ‘Crimson flowered’ heritage variety.

  • You should also consider this a wildlife-friendly plant, as those early flowers provide a valuable source of food for bees when not much else is in bloom.

  • You might like to try munching on a few flowers- they’re edible, and were included in a dish I was served at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, no less. Sprinkle a few onto your salad for a homegrown, winter lift.

  • Sowing a couple of different varieties (or some now, some in late winter) will stagger your harvest. Autumn sowings usually mature in late spring/ early summer, but you can find early/ express varieties.)
  • Don’t forget to eat the tops of your broad beans as a leafy vegetable. Pinching them out makes the plants less attractive to blackfly, but don’t throw them on the compost heap!

  • Another simple way to stagger your harvest is to pick some pods very young, and eat them whole (like a beany version of mange tout).

  • At the height of the harvest season, you can shell your beans for cooking (as the season wears on, you may find they need peeling as well….). But don’t waste those empty pods – they are edible and can be used in soup, or for vegetable stock.

  • And once you’ve had enough broad beans, you can leave the rest to ripen fully on the plant and save them to keep as dried broad beans later in the year. The Vegan Organic Network has a PDF factsheet on growing beans for drying.

  • Broad beans are physically easy to save seed from, but they cross very readily. If your garden is isolated, or you don’t mind growing plants that will be different from their parents, then you can keep some seed to replant for the next season.

  • Field beans are tall varieties of broad bean grown as a green manure – to benefit the soil, rather than the gardener. They are nitrogen fixing. If you’re growing your broad beans to eat then they will have used a lot of their nitrogen to produce beans, and won’t have a lot left to leave in the soil when the plants are finished, but there’s still benefit in either digging them in, or removing them to the compost heap to add their remaining nutrients there.

GlutBuster alternatives

If you really don’t have the space for full-grown broad bean plants, or just fancy a quick and easy indoor crop, then why not try the microgreens version instead? You will need broad beans (or ful medames) that are sold for eating/sprouting rather than for planting (as seeds may have been chemically treated), but you can get fresh harvests from the kitchen windowsill all winter long! Broad beans are sprouted in exactly the same way as peashoots are grown, so why not try doing a tray of each?

Soy beans are a more exotic option, although they’re still an unusual crop in the UK and there’s no guarantee of success. They’re tender, and would be sown in spring for planting out once the risk of frost has passed.

Or you could simply choose to grow peas, which can be sown now if you choose one of the hardier, smooth seeded varieties that won’t mind the cold weather.

And although we’re familiar with the idea of shelling peas, we rarely think of doing so with beans, either eating them as young pods or waiting for the beans to dry. But freshly-podded beans are a real homegrown treat! Seeds of Italy have a large range of beans and would encourage you to try eating some of them freshly shelled. Again, these would be for sowing in spring, rather than now.

GlutBuster buys

Blueberries have stunning autumn foliage

Suttons are offering their blueberry plants* collection for just £18.99 at the moment (RRP £44.97). It includes three plants, one each of three different varieties – spreading your blueberry harvest from early July right through to late September. If you’re hoping to add more fruit to your garden next year then that sounds like a bargain not to be missed :)

For something more seedy, Helen Gazeley has profiled a company that looks like it was born to cater to GlutBusters – MoreVeg sell seeds in smaller packets, with the idea that you can then choose to grow more varieties :)

And the first half of the month is the time to bag a bargain from, where they’re offering a whopping 75% discount on everything until 17th November 2014.

*That’s this month’s only affiliate link. If you choose to click through to Suttons and place an order then I will be rewarded with a small percentage (at no cost to you). If you prefer to leave me penniless then don’t click :)

GlutBuster star

Lots of colorful pumpkins
Lots of colourful pumpkins, by Tambako The Jaguar

Our seasonally-relevant star of the kitchen garden this month is the pumpkin. Growing a giant one to carve on Halloween is a popular gardening task with kids, but eating the innards may be less so!

The joy of pumpkins and squash is that they come in all shapes and sizes, and if you’re short on space in the garden you can find a well-behaved one, or allow it to scramble up a vertical support. Nearly every part of the plant is edible, from the tender young leaves and shoots (a common source of greens in African cuisine) to those lovely yellow flowers.

Summer squash are eaten fresh, but winter squash (including pumpkins) can be easily stored to eat later, once they have been properly ‘cured’ – allow the outer skin to dry by keeping harvested squash at room temperature with good air flow for a couple of weeks. And harvest them with a T-shaped ‘handle’ of stem, which helps prevent rot from entering the fruit. You can even use them as a decorative display until it’s time to eat them….

The Independent reports that Halloween pumpkins waste a staggering 18,000 tons of food in the UK, so when you’re carving your pumpkin, think of the flesh as food rather than compost fodder. There’s a recipe for pumpkin soup at that Independent link, and a quick Google will bring up plenty more ideas.

And… you can eat the seeds! You don’t have to have a hulless variety to do so. Check out these sites for a Roasted pumpkin seeds recipe, basic preparation and 5 ways to use squash seeds for ideas.

GlutBuster top tip for November

Check that none of your garden containers is sitting in a saucer – even winter hardy plants will struggle to survive with waterlogged roots! Give them a wash and put them away for use next summer. You may also find they’re harbouring slugs and snails, so it’s a job worth doing :)

That’s your GlutBusters update for another month. What are you suggestions for garden jobs to do in November, or are you all busy planning ahead for next year’s garden?

Posted in Blog on Nov 1, 2014 ·

Last modified on Nov 1, 2014

Tag: GlutBusters

UF Space Plants Lab

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This new short video from the University of Florida Space Plants Lab explains how and why they’re studying how plants react to being in microgravity.

Posted in Blog on Oct 28, 2014 ·

Tag: space

Book Review: Qaqamiigux

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Shortly before I moved, I came across references to a new book with an unpronounceable title – Qaqamiiĝux̂: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. I was intrigued, especially since I had to look up where the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are. It turns out that they’re off the south western coast of Alaska, with a cool, wet and stormy climate. The region is volcanically active.

Qaqamiigux (if you’ll forgive the ongoing lack of accents, I can’t quite get them to display correctly in HTML!) is the word for subsistence in the local language – hunting and gathering. The book arose out of anthropological work in the region, and aims at improving the diet of local people by ensuring that they still have the knowledge and expertise needed to harvest and process local foods. A lot of the information included was gathered through interviews with elders; some of whom have since died.

The diet in the islands has changed considerably in the last few centuries. The population was once entirely dependent on the local environment for sustenance, but new foods were introduced by the Russians when they arrived in the islands in the 1700s. From an anthropological perspective, it’s interesting to note how they were not immediately accepted by the locals – for one thing, they were too expensive. But the Russians did successfully introduce vegetable gardening.

The Americans brought more new foods, and livestock, when they bought Alaska – but again, they were not initially accepted by the local population. Even in times of hardship (and famine seasons are a feature of the environment), the islanders clung to their traditional fare. Only social changes, and being made to feel that their traditional foods were ‘inferior’, led to their wider adoption. [It’s interesting to juxtapose this BBC article on which meats are considered ‘normal’ and why – which looks at this scenario from the opposite direction.]

The Russians brought food such as flour, sugar, tea and salt. Whilst they were useful additions to the diet, and allowed new methods of food preservation that are still in use today, you can see that they may also have been the start of a problem. When the Americans brought their packaged and processed foods, which are widely available today, the islanders began to adopt the Western diet that is making so many of us overweight and leading to chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Qaqamiigux is an attempt to reverse that trend, by bringing the younger islanders back in touch with their local foods and a healthier diet. It is a mixture of traditional stories and wisdom, practical knowledge on harvesting and processing local foods, and recipes to add them into a modern diet. There’s information on safe canning, nutritional information for all of the ingredients covered, a pronunciation guide and a full set of references in the back of the book.

I feel I have to offer a warning at this point – do not buy this book if you are vegetarian, and are offended by images of dead animals. They abound in the book, and the animals featured are ones that we would not normally see on the dinner table. Marine mammals loom large, with the traditional diet including seals and sealions. Whales and sea otters were once (but are no longer) on the menu.

Fish and bird eggs are included, as are reindeer and caribou (although these were introduced into the islands). For each species there is hunting/harvesting information, details of butchery and preservation, recipes and traditional stories and the values they encompass. Coming from a culture that wouldn’t dream of catching and eating animals like seals, it makes for fascinating reading.

There’s also a section on edible plants, some of which sound very interesting. The Chocolate lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis) is also known as wild rice, as its bulbs look like tightly-packed rice grains when they are harvested in summer and early autumn. They’re a starchy staple, as are the bulbs of the bog orchids (Platanthera convallariaefolia and Platanthera dilatata). The roots of the blue lupine (Lupinus noot-katensis) are mentioned as ‘Aleut potatoes’, which I found interesting as unusual edibles have been marketed to the UK population as ‘like potatoes’ ;)

The local berries we would now doubt find familiar (if not immediately palatable), but you would have a harder time convincing people from outside the region to eat Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum), which is called Putchki. Toxic chemicals in the ‘skin’ of the plant can cause burns on human skin in conjunction with sunlight (parnsips can do the same, for reference – same plant family). The book notes that harvesting on a cloudy day is preferable, and that the plant has to be peeled before being eaten, but is used much like celery.

There are sections on tidal foods harvested from the beaches, and seaweeds, and one on ‘other foods’ – the ones that were introduced by the Russians, and are part of the culture now.

So… Qaqamiigux offers an interesting insight into the food culture of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands for those of us who live elsewhere. However, it is important to bear in mind that this is a cookbook aimed at the modern inhabitants of the region. Its recipes are not entirely traditional; many of them call for packaged ingredients, or canned soup – like most American recipes. If you buy this book wanting to recreate ‘authentic’ recipes in your home kitchen then you may well feel disappointed (although most people would struggle to get hold of sealion intestines anyway).

If you live in the US, you can buy a hardcover copy of the book direct from the publisher, or via Amazon. The RRP is $55.

To avoid a wait, and overseas shipping, I bought the Kindle version instead, which is £6.33 or $10.19. Remember that you can get a free Kindle app for most devices now, you don’t have to own a Kindle to read the books.

Qaqamiiĝux̂: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands
by Suanne Unger

Kindle edition, £6.33
Hardback, 381 pages, $55, published 15 November 2014
ISBN 9780991459100
Publisher: Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association,Inc

Posted in Blog on Oct 26, 2014 ·

Tags: books & food.

Gardening offers 25/10

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Penny Royal
A plant that is not Penny Royal!

If you’re stocking up on seeds, then head over to, where they’re offering a whopping 75% discount on everything until 17th November 2014.

Thompson & Morgan are offering ‘buy one, get one free’ on selected varieties of onions for autumn planting. To make use of this offer, click through to see the list of varieties, and add your chosen ones to your basket. The cheapest pack will be free, providing that you complete your order before midnight on Thursday 30th October 2014. The discount should be automatically applied, but if it isn’t then the coupon code you need is TNS278A.

Sarah Raven are giving you up to 50% of selected varieties of bulbs for autumn planting, until midnight on Sunday 26th October. Again, click through to see which varieties are on offer, and add any you fancy to your shopping basket. The discount has already been applied. There are also 50% discounts on hardy annual seedlings and perennials, whilst stocks last, so have a good look around the site for bargains, whilst you’re there.

And foodie, rather than garden-related, but Cool Chile are celebrating the Mexican Day of the Dead by offering a 10% discount on all web orders placed before midnight on Thursday 30th October. You’ll need to enter the discount code BONES when you checkout to activate the offer.

Just a reminder that there are some affiliate links in these offer posts – the small amount of revenue I make from them helps pay for the upkeep of the blog, and costs you nothing. If you’re leery of these things, the links to avoid this time are the ones for T&M and Sarah Raven, but if I’m saving you money, surely you don’t begrudge me my crust? ;)

Posted in Blog on Oct 25, 2014 ·

Last modified on Oct 26, 2014

Tag: offers

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