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The New Naturalism : What to Plant for Maximum Nutritional Yield

November 29, 1990|KYLE RODERICK

The Seeds of Change philosophy holds that adopting a plant-based diet is the best solution for improving individual health and lessening the toll of the human race on our Earth's limited resources. Founder Gabriel Howearth hopes that his many rare traditional and heirloom seeds will germinate among a mass audience. (Traditionals are those crops grown by indigenous peoples, such as a super-nutritious, nutty-tasting grain, quinoa, which was widely cultivated in the Andes 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. Heirlooms are those crops grown by Europeans, Canadians and Americans in the last 300 years.)

But he and his colleagues know that moving toward this kind of a lifestyle may be complicated for some, impossible for others.

How should a working person who wants to grow things in his or her limited time, and space, begin? Howearth says that before planning a garden, "people should start learning about what kind of nutritional yields they will be getting from their plants, rather than focusing on quantitative yields." Specifically, Howearth recommends that 75% of the foods in any vegetable garden should have a good balance of free amino acids in them. Key minerals and vitamins should be considered as well, and there should be lots of nutrient overlaps.

For the neophyte Southern Californian gardener, Howearth recommends trying the following time-tested traditional and heirloom plants:

* Bush Acorn Squash and Bush Buttercup Squash. Both are both high in Vitamin A and free amino acids, and are excellent winter squash for the Southland climate.

* Jerusalem artichokes. This is one of the few native North American food plants. It must be planted in spring for harvesting in winter. The plant boasts a varied vitamin balance, contains useful digestive enzymes and is often recommended by nutritionists for those with hypoglycemia.

* Hopi Blue Starch Corn. Grown without irrigation in the Southwest, this is the main source of modern blue tortillas and chips and the traditional staple of the Hopi Indians. It's also the most widely adaptable of Hopi corns for other regions.

* Perennial sweet or hot peppers. Perfect for space-conscious gardeners: They grow straight up. Most peppers have more Vitamin C than tomatoes. If you have the room to plant tomatoes, Howearth suggests Double Rich or Caro Rich seeds. "The Caro has been scientifically analyzed and proven to have more Vitamin C than an orange," he says. "And both types are extremely high in most of the free amino acids, so you're getting a high nutritional yield for all the space that they take."

* Nutmeg Bush Cantaloupe. A space-saving heirloom fruit that grows on a bush rather than a vine. It's also deliciously meaty.

* Okra. It contains high amounts of Vitamin C and amino acids and is also one of the toughest, most drought-tolerant vegetables. "Okra's an undeservedly unglamorous vegetable," Howearth says. "It's so easy to grow and so good for you. It's great in vegetable soups, spicy stews and gumbos."

* Amaranth. "It's a high-protein gardener's grain that usually grows in rock," Howearth says. "One head yields 3/4 of a pound of grain, and cleaning it is relatively simple. You just cook it whole or pop it or add it like seeds to baked goods." The plants also grow about five to nine feet tall and are lushly ornamental; the Seeds of Change catalogue offers a dozen kinds of amaranth.

* Nasturtiums, borage, violets, evening primrose and native American pansies. These are just a few of the edible organic flowers available through Seeds of Change and Peace Seeds.

Many Seeds of Change seeds are drought-tolerant, require low maintenance and are ideally suited for growing in the Southern Californian climate. For information on obtaining the Seeds of Change catalogue, write to 621 Old Santa Fe Trail No. 10, Santa Fe, N.M. 87501. Another related seed catalogue and research journal is Peace Seeds, run by molecular biologist Alan Kapuler, Ph.D., a co-director of Seeds of Change. Write 2385 SE Thompson St., Corvallis, Ore. 97333, for information. In addition, upmarket national gardening catalogues are getting into the act. Both Smith & Hawken and Gardener's Supply will be carrying Seeds of Change seeds in their spring 1991 books.

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