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A New Plant on the Block
The farm lands near Lake City, South Carolina, are bordered by deep ditches. Without those ditches, the area would be like a swamp, and even with those ditches, recently those fields have still been flooded. My family traveled through that part of the world on the way to a meeting in Ocean Drive and had an interesting discovery.
The week before, on Making It Grow!, Tony Melton had told me that farmers had unharvested vegetables going to seed in the fields – the ground was too wet to support a tractor. Many of those plants were Brassicas – members of the mustard family that grow so well in our relatively mild S.C. winters. These plants are considered biennials; they spend one season in a rosette form, growing relatively close to the ground, and then when they have accumulated enough cold hours, they shift into the reproductive phase and “bolt,” sending up a stalk that flowers at the top.
The day we drove by those Florence County fields, the sun was brilliant and the sky a flawless blue field. And several hundred acres of fields were aglow with the most beautiful yellow flowers imaginable, a yellow as clear as that found in the old fashioned daffodils that still grow up on the rural roadsides.
Being a highly educated Clemson Extension Agent, I pronounced that those fields were filled with bolted collard greens and how sad that the farmers had been unable to get them picked and sold at the market. Well, imagine my chagrin as I remarked on my cleverness to Tony Melton a few days later. “Those aren’t collards, Miss Amanda,” he informed me. “That’s canola growing out there.”
Canola is a member of that Brassica group, but grown not for its leaves but for its seed. Originally it was called rape and for centuries has been used world-wide for fuel. The original type found in nature had potentially toxic levels of erucic acid which also made the by-product meal unpalatable to animals.
But plant breeders went to work and in Canada made selections that resulted in an improved species with lower levels of erucic acid and other unpleasant compounds, which they called Canadian oil, low acid, shortened to Canola.
For those of us trying to keep cholesterol in manageable limits, this is prized oil with high levels of “good for you” mono-unsaturated fatty acids. Although its smoke point is closer to olive oil's than those you fry up turkeys in, I use it for anything I’m cooking up without any trouble.