Derek – Friday 18th June 2021


The scourers did not work as a snail barrier (see last week’s blog). A few days after putting them on the sides of the raised bed, the butternut squash and sunflowers were attacked by snails. Some of the smaller sunflower seedlings were chomped away completely, while the butternut squash has suffered damage to its leaves. You would think the rasping wire in combination with copper would deter them, but the gastropods march on nightly.

Did the scourers have any effect at all? There’s no way of proving its effectiveness without an experiment. Perhaps some other time. Now there are plants to protect. We removed the large pots in front of the bed. And found they had been sheltering snails. We scattered them. The butternut squash and sunflowers in the bed, we covered with clear plastic bottles and boxes to function as protective cloches. Our hope is that when the plants get bigger, we can take the plastic off. Snails tend to go for new growth. But this isn’t an absolute, as we know from the damage they cause to our hollyhocks and acanthus.

Back in April, I sowed quinoa in seed boxes, as part of the Americana project. The seeds were from Chiltern Seeds, £1.95 for maybe 100 tiny seeds. They grew easily enough in the seed box, and were pricked out into small pots when a few centimetres high, and planted out when they were a little taller.

So far, so good. But as the seedlings grew they looked more and more like a common weed, fat hen (also known as goosefoot). Uncannily like it. Had I been cheated and been sold fat hen seeds instead of quinoa?

Not likely for a reputable seed company. And for just £1.95! If you are going to cheat then make some money out of it. A little investigation was required and pretty soon I had my explanation. Fat hen and quinoa are closely related. Fat hen is Chenopodium album, and quinoa is Chenopodium quinoa. They are in the same genus, Chenopodium, which means goose foot in Ancient Greek (Chena – goose, podium – foot). The leaves are the shape of a goose foot.

Quinoa originates from South America (Chile, Bolivia, and Peru), and was first used as animal food around 7000 years ago, and human food c4000 years ago once they’d worked out how to get the bitter coat off the seeds. Fat hen is found all over the world, its origins unknown. The tiny seeds can be carried by the wind, by birds, on rafts of vegetation and by human traffic. I would think that fat hen may well have originated in South America, as it is so closely related to quinoa that the two plants would have had a common ancestor.

The mystery, then, is cleared up by a family relationship. Not quite. I still have the fear that I am being taken for a ride. Have I planted fat hen, thinking it is quinoa? At present, it certainly looks like fat hen. So much so, I am telling other garden volunteers not to weed it out. It’s quinoa! I am insisting. We have some fat hen in the wildflower bed, and the two are disturbingly alike.

As the quinoa and fat hen mature, it will be easier to tell the difference. At least I hope so, as I have never seen quinoa growing. I have watched some YouTube videos, but you can’t see the detail. Time will tell whether I have sown quinoa or whether I shall be suing Chiltern Seeds.

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