Tomato wine, tiger milk, and mini macadamias: Crops to mitigate water declines in future drought-striken areas

Some really cool ideas. I live in Phoenix- one little weed that pops up during the summers is common purslane. I believe it used both C4 and CAM photosynthesis which makes it quite hardy during dry summers. It makes for a pretty nice set of greens if you clip them off.


I’d be very curious to try tomato wine, tiger milk and mini macadamias. With those names you already have part of the marketing challenge well in hand! I would worry about promoting cultivation of nutsedge in areas where it could become a problem though.

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Forget Tiger milk

Cockroach milk is where its At!

These suggestions are awesome, I’d get all of them!

And hopefully make something that tastes more like red wine instead!

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I’m growing this in my garden this year! I haven’t done the full harvest yet, but the tubers I’ve dug up to sample were delicious. And it is growing well without even too much water - I planted it among my beans, and it’s making a great groundcover to retain moisture and keep the soil cool. It seems to be growing just fine with the amount of water I normally give the beans.

It’s also extremely high in oil, so it has a big potential as an oilseed crop.

This is something I’ve never heard of, and am going to add to my list immediately!

Look up Joseph Lofthouses’ work with tomato breeding, if you’re not familiar already. The modern “tomato” is just a tiny subset of a tiny subset - the plants that happened to be grown by the particular indigenous people contacted by the spaniards, happened to survive going to Europe and being grown there, and happened to survive being transported to north america and being grown here too. Saying you know what tomatoes are like from trying one of them is like saying you know citrus because you had a key lime pie once. Even the more diverse-seeming heirloom tomatoes still come from this very limited pool.

He’s been working on creating a breeding stock mix with as many wild tomato ancestors mixed in as possible, and the results are crazy. I’ve been growing some of his seeds this year, and some of the tomatoes taste more like tropical fruit than tomato.

Here’s a few of my thoughts on the matter of water usage:
I know it’s probably not achievable, but if we actually want to reduce water usage we’ll need to encourage more small-scale growing and eliminate massive ag monocultures. Sustainable, water-saving techniques and crops are not difficult, they’re just not suitable for mechanized harvests and there therefore ignored.

My vegetable garden needs very little water, to the point that we were away for 4 days during 110F heat and <10% humidity, and nothing was even wilted when we returned. And I’m even growing some corn, which is a notorious water guzzler.

But it took a lot of careful planning, soil prepping, and dense interplanting to reach this stage.

We excavated trenches around the entire edge of the garden bed to a depth of several feet, and filled the bottom half with chunks of logs and large branches before replacing the soil. As these decompose, they act as mini aquifers, and store water that the plants can access. Ever rolled over a rotten log in the forest and noticed how many roots were embedded into the wood? This is why.

We also have a firm “no exposed soil” rule - if it’s not being covered by a plant, it needs to be covered with straw or leaf mulch. Paths are covered in 6 inches or so of woodchips. This helps retain moisture, eliminate soil loss, and prevent weeds.

We also use sunken beds - the planting areas are slightly lower than the surrounding ground, so water pools there and doesn’t run off. Most commercial ag uses raised rows, which are easier to harvest but have horrible runoff problems.

The result? Our 15x20 community garden plot produces far more food than my partner and I could ever use, and we’re constantly giving things away. We grow most of our own spices, including ginger, turmeric, and safflower. We pick about 20 pounds of tomatoes a week, 10 or so in beans, have tree collards with 3-inch-thick trunks, and the corn just hit 15 feet high. And we have an insane population of pollinator insects and birds hanging out all the time as well.

All that just to say, drought-tolerant plants are important but technique is even more so, and current commercial ag strategies are probably not sustainable even with better crops.

But for your list, here’s a few other crop ideas to add:

Caigua - Cyclanthera pedata - it’s a vine that produces small fruit that taste like slightly peppery summer squashes. You can chop them and add them to any vegetable dish when they’re small, or they turn hollow when they’re large and you can stuff them like peppers. Insanely productive, absolutely fine with hot weather, can be planted in terrible soil and doesn’t need much water when established. Also the bees go absolutely nuts for the flowers.

Tamarillo - a perennial solanum, has fruit that tastes like a combo of tomato and bell pepper. It’s frost sensitive, but grows OK in my garden in california. Since it’s a perennial, it needs relatively little care once established, though it does like a bit more water than some of the others.

Mulberries - these grow like weeds, literally. Non-fruiting ones are constantly used for shade trees, but the fruiting ones produce insane quantities of fruit with very little effort. The problem is that they’re fragile and mold quickly, so hard to transport. In places like Turkey they just set up big cauldrons in the orchard and process them on-site into a molasses-like sweetener.

Canna lily - often used as an ornamental, but generally overlooked as a potential food crop. Easy to grow, has big starchy potato-like roots, and looks gorgeous to boot.

Dahlias - most people don’t even know these are edible. Usually bred for looks over taste, but there’s a huge potential food crop there.

There’s also a large number of perennial grasses that could be farmed as grain crops. Once they have established root systems there would be virtually no need to water them at all, because they have roots than can get 10 or 15 feet deep.

Here’s a nice little list of some more underutilized crops:
and PFAF keeps an enormous database of plants with food crop potential:

Sorry for writing a whole novella here, but this is one of my more passionate interests. Given the rise of plant pathogens accompanying global warming, we’re dancing on the edge of disaster by depending so fully on the few crops we use.

According to Smithsonian, "three-quarters of Earth’s food supply draws on just 12 crops and five livestock species.:

Imagine what happens if we get a global pandemic of a crop disease, and lose one of those species? Yikes.


In New Mexico, I’ve started growing tepary beans and encouraging wild ground cherries in my xeriscape front yard. I also have two wolfberry bushes that are quite tasty. If we could find a way to make buffalo gourd edible, it is much hardier than zucchini and pumpkin vines.

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I sense a fellow permaculture/food forest aficionado here!


I’ve only had them in baked goods because they’re expensive. It’s not like walnut, almond, or pecan. It’s sort of buttery, no bitterness, with a little bit of a vanilla taste.

Definitely. These aren’t things I intend to do myself, just ideas that someone else might use. I can see how crops would be more culturally entrenched in Europe especially.

“Tomato wine” would indeed be difficult to sell. I don’t think normal food business models apply to the wine world.

It might be wise to not even call it wine and dub it a new beverage entirely. Maybe a multi-fruit drink that just happens to be 90% tomatoes, like V8.

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Didn’t know about the noxious weed designation. It’s already pretty common. USDA has it listed as both native and invasive in most states, which confuses me:

With chufas, because most of the U.S. population is on the east coast and everything almond is shipped in from the west coast, Texas, etc., growing them out east would cut almond demand, save some food miles, etc. Nutritionally, chufas don’t compare well to almonds, primarily because of vitamin E, but I don’t think most consumers would care, they’d just want a plant-based milk alternative.

There definitely need to be improvements in harvesting technology though, because that would be screen-based. Rocks would be a nightmare in the beginning.

*Yes and no to greenhouses. Most tomatoes grown for sale as whole, intact fresh fruit are definitely greenhouse territory, but the vast majority of those grown for processing/canning are determinate varieties grown outdoors with only irrigation and plastic mulch. No staking, etc.

Unfortunately, I don’t see big money going anywhere in ag. That’s why I want to drive the tractor, because otherwise it’d be a robot.

We just need somebody whose name starts with “D” to sell the nuts. :joy:

I’m not opposed to a roach farm, I’m just not sure what to do with the product outside of livestock feed.

I didn’t expect to hear that. Nice! Give some the blender treatment and let me know what the end result’s like. I assume that growing on a commercial scale would require sandy/silty soil, and the harvester would basically just scoop the soil and screen them out. From there, density could sort out the rocks, in a water tub.

Rabbit hole… :rabbit: I’ll definitely look into it, especially the ones that taste tropical. I’m a fan of varieties like black krim and gold medal, but the resulting wine tastes the same as it does using German johnson and red cherry types.

I’m definitely a fan of permaculture, or at least non-monocultures, edible landscaping, etc. And mulch. I <3 mulch.

I’ll add caigua to my list. Mulberries grow wild everywhere here. I like them, but they’re annoying to harvest because they’re so small, and the birds usually beat me to them. I like the idea of U-pick operations though, just not necessarily for trees.

Another dual purpose crop to consider (at least here in zone 6) would be ornamental alliums, the kind marketed for flower gardens. Multiple markets, perfectly edible, produce tons of seed, pollinator value, pest repellent/control properties, etc.

I know, right?

i think this is because one subspecies is considered native, but the others are not. unfortunately, i believe most of the ones grown in cultivation or which pop up as weeds in the US are the non-native subspecies.

As a follow-on dessert, Bird’s Milk is great too. An even stranger name considering that birds aren’t mammals…

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I wasn’t sure how people were going to respond to this topic since it didn’t really ask a question, but shared an idea. I’m glad @ameeds mentioned purslane and @naturalist_nate mentioned the hard sell aspect of a new crop. It would probably be easier than Mealworms for Dinner. A few more resources like the two in @graysquirrel’s comment above:

In my experience, the flavor scale for non-commercial foods is much wider than what most folks are used to and there’s also a wilderness-phobia that makes people afraid of eating non-commercial foods.

Then it’d be seen as a regular tomato juice.) Maybe hide the tomato part in the name entirely if it can affect the sales.

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A commercially successful version of such a drink. The concentration of tomato juice is known to be above 90%, especially towards the end of venue closure or during happy hour.

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But. They are changing. Farmers can see climate change and drought and failing crops and changing markets.

Big Ag grows tomatoes in the dry parts of Australia. Exporting groundwater or desalination.

one more for @graysquirrel 's list is protecting small farmers heirloom seed varieties. Africa is fighting against Big Ag’s GMOs.

And on my no thanks ick list is flour from powdered crickets.
Also HUGE waste from the actual fruit of coffee berries, which is also edible.

We have a quietly growing emphasis on veldkos. The wild food which was traditionally eaten by hunter gatherers. And is still eaten by Cape chacma baboons - bulbs, flowers, shellfish.

But they know about it, there’re even maps of future distribution of grounds good enough for growing grapes in Europe, so farmers will shift gradually when it will happen just because they will be failing at spots where they’re at now. Talking about possible wines, there’re so many home-made variations from every fruit or berry possible, maybe there’ll be more prune wine on market or similar thing that doesn’t need much attention and constant watering as tomatoes do.

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exporting groundwater makes no sense to me, and exporting desalinated water makes no sense either if the desalinated water is coming from a supply that is intended primarily for human water needs. i’m not sure how Australia’s tomato industry works, but it looks like there’s at least one farm in Australia that has built their own dedicated solar farm and desal plant to supply the power and water needs of their farm. to me, that’s less objectionable, with the remaining issues being the usual issues of land use, habitat destruction, etc.

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