I’ve written before about the wonderfully productive (and delicious) winged yam.
Of course, it’s classified as a Class 1 Invasive, which technically makes it illegal to grow or propagate. As are many of the easiest-to-grow edibles… like the tasty “ivy gourd.”
As a kid, I remember eating small cucumbers off the fence of our neighbors from India. I asked the woman who was growing them how they grew.
She said “Just plant them once and they keep coming back. Very easy.”
Years later, I realized this must have been some perennial variety of cucumber, and as I got more and more interested in gardening, I started actively looking for it again. My old neighbors had moved, so I started asking random Indians if they knew where I could find some.
ME: “I’ll take $80 on pump #5.”
RANDOM INDIAN: “Thank you, sir. Have a nice day.”
ME: “One more thing…”
RANDOM INDIAN: “Yes?”
ME: “Do you know where I can get those Indian cucumbers that just keep growing, year after year?”
RANDOM INDIAN: “Pardon me?”
ME: “See, I used to know this Indian family, and they had this vine on their fence and it made these little fruits that were some kind of cucumber.”
RANDOM INDIAN: “Oh yes. That would be <UNPRONOUNCEABLE>. Very good in curry.”
ME: “Do you know where I can get some seeds?”
RANDOM INDIAN: “Of <UNPRONOUNCEABLE>?”
ME: “I think so.”
RANDOM INDIAN: “No.”
One Indian fellow that runs a gas station near me actually told me he was growing them but wouldn’t share seeds – he only wanted to sell the unripe fruit to me if I wanted those. This is after I made a special trip to his place to give him cassava cuttings. He’s totally gonna reincarnate as a possum.
Anyhow, I recently – and totally unexpectedly – came across some perennial cucumber/ivy gourd plants growing in the backyard of a rental house owned by an Indian family. No one lives there… and they were thriving. At this point, though, I’ve discovered that this amazing perennial is an “invasive” species… and I have a nursery license and get inspected a few times a year, so I can’t grow them.
However, if you get the chance… well… maybe…
Nope. I’m not going to say “grow them,” because then I might get in trouble… but no-work relish… pickles… cucumber sandwiches…
When I saw them, I ate as many as I could – the vines were loaded with fruit. They’re so… so… so good. Maybe one day I’ll get a job for the USDA and get some kind of super awesome secret clearance that will allow me to grow every illegal plant in the whole world.
Until then, I’m a bit stuck. Here’s Green Deane with a closer (and sometimes blurry) look at this amazing cucumber:
If you were able to integrate these guys into a food forest system, or alongside fence lines, you’d have an endless supply of fresh cucumbers. They seem to handle the heat fine, though I’m not sure how low temperatures can go before they won’t come back. Finding good perennial vegetables isn’t easy… especially when the very best plants are often deemed pests by The Powers That Be.
What often happens is that a great staple food plant is brought to the US by immigrants and then planted in home gardens. Because the plant is a tough and reliable crop – not a prima donna like tomatoes or cabbages – it can handle abuse and neglect and less-than-ideal conditions… so it escapes and starts reproducing in the wild. Then, because the average American doesn’t know what it is or how you use it, it continues to spread until native plant societies get nervous, it gets investigated by the government, and eventually it’s named as a wanted criminal. Other useful plants include hemp (which is in a totally different class from ivy gourds and will get you put in jail), opium poppies (which will also get you put in jail), various nitrogen fixers (which won’t get you put in jail, because pretty much no one knows what they look like, even though they’re on the lists), certain root crops and some really cool biomass producers like water hyacinth.
These types of plants are perfect for preppers. You want things you don’t have to baby. My problem is, I don’t want to do anything illegal, so I’m stuck longing for some of these crops and admiring them from afar. I don’t think there’s any way to get the government to remove the restrictions, so I eat them off immigrant’s fences… and dream.
At some point, this whole rotten system may collapse under its own weight and we’ll be free to grow plants that are super productive and care-free.
If that ever happens, I’ll be making big jars of home-grown pickles within three months. Guaranteed.