Sissoo Spinach (Alternanthera sissoo)


Sissoo spinach, Alternanthera sissoo, or Brazilian spinach is the perfect edible perennial groundcover. Sissoo forms dense mats a foot thick and shades out the soil, making weed seed germination nearly impossible. The leaves are purely crunchy without any slimy texture. This plant grows thick, lush, and roots when nodes touch the soil, what a perfect plant. Sissoo loves the shade too!



Take some rooted stems and throw them on the ground. Literally. I like to stick the cut end into the soil, maybe add some mulch and forget about it.

Sisso does not produce viable seeds. The only way it will spread is from the original planting.


Cut off stem


Remove bottom leaves and stick into the ground. It will root overnight


Sissoo prefers 50% shade and will grow deep green, tender leaves. If grown in a sunnier location it will grow well but not as lush and tender. Perfect under a tree!

It also likes to be pruned back for vigorous growth, making harvesting a must to keep the plant looking healthy.

I’ve found that planting a cluster rather than a single plant produces a dense ground cover, and pruning the plant often, adding the cuttings right around the parent plant.

This plant also loves organic matter, so be sure to enrich the soil a few times a year.


The leaves may be eaten raw, sauteed, steamed or boiled. This spinach does contain small amounts of oxalic acid, meaning if you eat large (large) quantities, you should cook them. They do cook quickly though.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask a friend growing sissoo for some cuttings. It may also be found at some farmers markets or plant sales.

My Garden

One of my neighbors gave me a ton of cuttings a few months ago (thanks!), and I used them to really establish an area. Since this area has taken off, I’ve been eating a bunch of these leaves. It has great flavor and is actually one of the best ground covers I’ve used. In the shade not much can compete with it. It was the perfect addition to my perennial bed in the main garden. Including air-potato, winged bean, cranberry hibiscus, Malabar spinach, culantro, and with watermelon, and long beans. As this planting matures I will gladly spread cuttings to other areas I wish to have a carefree ground cover. Basically everywhere!


Happy Gardening!

Soil Building/Bed Making

This months entry is a little bit different than those in the past. Instead of talking about a specific plant, I’m going to describe how soils are made, and how I create soil and garden beds.

When I use the word organic, I mean organic matter, or natural earth made materials that will naturally decompose over time. “It is matter composed of organic compounds that has come from the remains of organisms such as plants and animals and their waste products in the environment.” Not to be confused with the the label ‘organic’ meaning that it has been certified by an organization.

First of all, soil is the most important part of growing anything. More important than the plant itself.

I live in Puna, Hawaii. Here our active volcanoes dictate our landscape. I live in a region where the most recent lava flow through was 3-500 years ago. Meaning our forest has had some time to recreate itself and build soil (4-6 inches of beautiful rich organic matter).

Learn from observation

Let’s take a lesson from the forest, a self regulating entity, to learn how to create soils.

As you look around young lava flows, what do you see happening? You see ōhiʻa lehua, Metrosideros polymorpha, repopulating the open landscape: finding a crack, growing, dropping its leaves, building soil and making habitat for other plants to move in. In the early stages of the forest you notice only two plants really thriving, ōhiʻa lehua and uluhe fern, Dicranopteris linearis. These two plants shed tons of organic matter, resulting in leaf litter covering the ground, and uluhe sprawling expansively covering the ground acting as a living mulch. This happens for a few hundred years until the trees grow large enough to shade out the fern, allowing open areas for other tree species to populate. In a native Hawaiian landscape, birds and wind disperse seeds of other species to grow. However, in our current environment we’ve lost most of our lowland native birds to extinction, resulting in almost no dispersal of native trees. Allowing the dispersal of alien plants to move in and take over the forest. Creating a forest nonetheless.


Beginnings of a forest (ōhiʻa lehua)




Young forest (ōhiʻa lehua and uluhe)


Planters at Kaimū following natural cycles. Speeding up the process and growing food plants (Breadfruit and coconut)

Let’s think about what the plants are doing to create soil in this new forest. They are dropping leaves, plants may die, and everything falls to the ground eventually. Now this is where things get interesting. Microscopic life, fungus, bacteria, insects, lichens, whatever you can think of, start doing their work. They decompose all this matter, including rocks, into rich soils. A warm, moist, shaded environment speeds up this process. Through these soils, plants obtain their nutrients and live out their life cycle.

Resource Management

Now, let’s translate this into building soil for our own benefits. First off, all plant matter is a resource. Remember that. That is the MOST IMPORTANT factor to think of in your garden. I never take materials to green waste (unless they are diseased). All those pesky weeds, albizia, waiwi, arthrostemma, and everything else are valuable resources ready to take part in soil building.

So, how do we use these resources? Think about a compost pile, the basic components are nitrogen (green) and carbon (brown) based materials. What happens over time? The materials break down and turn into organic matter.

Hint: Did you know that albizia (Falcataria moluccana) is a nitrogen fixing tree? One of the most important macro nutrients for plants. Have you thought about ways to use its ability to fix nitrogen for your favor? How about coppicing? Literally cutting the tree back hard, as soon as it reaches a desired height. Once the tree is cut it releases its nitrogen from the soil because the roots are larger than the above ground parts and it loses them to compensate for the loss of trunk. Leaving this nitrogen available for other plants to take up. The leaves of the tree are high in nitrogen as well, so using them as mulch around you plants also feeds them, just be careful not to add mature branches or trunk pieces as they will re-root if they are touching the soil. A little bit more work than poisoning the trees, however, you have long term fertility for free. If you have large trees, I would recommend getting them professionally cut and not poisoned, and therefore you can manage them afterward, and cut their new trunks when they reach an inch or two in diameter. This will eventually kill the tree, but you may as well use it for its benefits while its still alive and growing! ****Please do not use this method in native forests, the plants there evolved in low nitrogen soils, adding nitrogen will make environments more favorable for invasive plants.


Coppiced albizia

Soil Making

This is how I create soil, taking care of all my leafy weedy plants. I simply throw them all in a pile at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet (a cube). Taller and wider is acceptable, but it must be at least those dimensions for proper sped up decomposition. I build my piles as tall as I can, stomp them down for decompression, then simply cover them (tarp, weed mat, cardboard, whatever) for 6-9 months. Yes this is a while, but in all honesty that is really quick for soil making. What do you do after this time? Check under the tarp and look at your black gold. The pile will have shrunk considerably, but what you have left is pure organic matter ready to start life again.

I make two kinds of piles. One is a large pile that is covered, and the other I add weeds to over time as I pull them from the garden. The covered one is left alone and will become soil more quickly, but I constantly have materials that need to go somewhere, so why not add them to a pile. These piles are separate from my compost pile, which is managed for a quicker turnaround. I wont go into detail on my compost because I’m still trying to figure out a better method.


‘black gold’ – completed pile


covered large pile


uncovered add-on pile

Key Factors Gardening in the Tropics

Due to our heavy rains, nutrients are leached quickly from our soils, and our soils are acidic. Which is fine for most tropical plants because they too evolved to thrive in acidic soils, but in your veggie garden, where things prefer neutral soils we have to amend to raise pH.

Because our nutrients are leached out quickly from the subsoil, plants themselves contain precious nutrients that are unavailable elsewhere. So mulching and chop and drop are highly recommended to cycle nutrients to other plants. And our richest soils are on the surface, creating the organic layer where most plants will obtain its nutrients. Therefore, creating no-till systems will retain highest availability of nutrients.

Chop and drop examples:

Bed Making

All of my beds are raised beds. I use rocks and logs as my borders and mound the soil in my beds. Know what you’re going to grow in that bed. Maybe just sweet potatoes, maybe a veggie garden, different plants have different needs. If growing a mixed veggie garden give it lots of nutrients. My bed making style is a mix between huglekulture and sheet mulching. I’ve found this method to be effective in building nutrients and using plant materials.

  1. I always lay down cardboard first. Weed suppression is key. Remove tape from cardboard before you put it down, or remove it as you see it in the future.
  2. Shape beds with whatever materials around, rocks and dead trees seem to be the most abundant resources I have.
  3. Add layer of any raw organic matter. Leaves, branches, whole plants, tree trunks, it doesn’t matter, as long as it will decompose over time and feed nutrients into the soil. (huglekulture style). Adding problematic weeds at this stage will prevent them from regrowing because they will be completely covered and unable to grow at all.
  4. Depending on what you are growing: amend to raise pH. I use dolomite lime because it gives me magnesium as well as raising pH. Spread a layer recommended by label. Lime and dolomite are two minerals found around the world. They are found naturally and contain no chemicals, so there’s no need to be worrisome about poisoning your bed. (dolopril or calcium carbonate work as well)
  5. Add soil. Unless you have a supply of soil ready to go, I would pick up some cinder-soil from a quarry, and to be honest you may as well get the cheapest one available, as they are all leached soils, no reason to pay more for that degraded top soil. But cinder is important in heavy rain areas to promote drainage.
  6. Add compost, self made soil, indigenous microorganisms (IMOs), biochar, chicken manure, potting soil, or any other organic amendments on top layer. You may mix the organic matter and cinder-soil, but I wouldn’t mix them too deep as the top layer is the most important.
  7. Add mulch. Any materials that will cover the soil works. Banana leaves, coconut leaves, mulch from the transfer station, fern leaves. Anything really.
  8. Plant into your bed. If its dry season I would water the bed as you make it. If its rainy season, let the bed get rained on and plant away.

Steps 1 & 2. Lay down cardboard and shape bed


Step 3. Add organic matter (any raw plant matter will do, trunks, branches, leaves, weeds)


Step 4-6. Add soil and amendments (biochar)


Step 4-6. Add final amendments and mix top layer


Step 8. Plant (sweet potato cuttings)


Step 7. Add mulch


Bed a few months later. (sweet potato, mulberry and fig)

Happy Gardening!

Lablab (Lablab purpureus)


Lablab, Lablab purpureus, is another prefect multipurpose plant to grow. Not only is this a beautiful plant, but its leaves, flowers, tubers, pods and beans are all edible! Lablab is a vine that grows up to 18 feet tall, making a great trellising plant or ground cover. There are perennial and annual varieties available, so make sure you find a perennial, they live for about three years. Oh yeah, did I mention it’s nitrogen fixing?




Lablab is grown from seed. Stick seed into the ground 1/4 – 1/2 inch deep.

Seeds are easy to save. Just allow to dry on the plant and harvest.


Dried Bean Pods


De-shelled beans ready for eating or planting




Lablab is an extremely easy plant to grow. Grow in full sun/part shade. Plant your seed and wait for harvest.

It does tolerate heavy pruning if growing on a low trellis. I prefer to grow them as an edible ground cover and just take time to make sure they aren’t climbing up young plants.


Immature pods can be eaten like green beans/peas raw or cooked.

Once beans are starting to develop, I remove the pods, due to the fibrous nature, and use immature beans in soups or curries (takes some time, but well worth it!).

Fully mature beans are poisonous raw. But can be eaten like dry beans, changing the water twice and throwing it out once cooked. May also be used for tofu or tempeh.

Seeds may be sown and eaten raw as a sprout (comparable to mung beans).

Flowers and young leaves are edible raw or cooked. Older leaves should be cooked.

Tuber is cooked boiled or baked.

May also be used as a fodder plant for animals.


Immature Pods

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask someone you know growing it for some seed. Or buy seed online.

My Garden

I started growing Lablab on a trellis under the eve of the house. I would have to constantly cut it back so it wouldn’t climb onto the house. After eating the beans for a while, I decided to let some mature on the plant so I could save the seed. Now I have tons of seeds and have been sticking them in the ground everywhere in the food forest. They sprout quickly and start growing fast. Perfect for a ground cover. The purple variety I am growing, I haven’t eaten yet, but the green kind is delicious. And both are beautiful. Heres some photos around the yard:



Food Forest: Lablab, sweet potato, comfrey, rattle pod, sunn hemp, desmodium, corn, taro, sissoo spinach, katuk, poha, basil, tea, cardamom, kava, chaya, cranberry hibiscus, watermelon, luffa, edible hibiscus, banana, cassava, papaya, blood orange, star-apple, hawaiian cotton, avocado, gliricidia, allspice, finger lime, wi, hala, starfruit, mangosteen, loquat, gamboge, white sapote, tree tomato, ice cream bean, jackfruit, brazilian cherry, bacupari, breadfruit, and acerola.

Happy Gardening!


Katuk (Sauropus androgynous)


Katuk, Sauropus androgynous, sweet leaf or tropical asparagus, is another delicious tropical perennial. Katuk is actually my favorite leafy green; its peanut/pea-like flavor really draws me in! The leaves, shoots, flowers and fruits are all edible! The plant grows as a lanky shrub gaining heights of 12 feet, but is usually pruned to 4-6 feet for easy harvest.




Grown from seed or from cuttings.

Add seeds to potting medium as you would any plant. Seeds germinate rapidly seedlings grow quickly.

For cuttings, take semi-woody stems, at least a foot long, and stick them into the ground.


Cut semi-woody stem


Stick into the ground without majority of leaves


Seedling growing near parent plant


Since the plants grow tall, they tend to fall over; so regular pruning makes them manageable as well as gives you plenty of shoots and young leaves to eat. Growing plants close together (4 inches or 10 cm) could create a nice edible hedge.


Young leaves and shoots may be eaten raw or cooked. The shoots are nicknamed ‘tropical asparagus’. Older leaves should be cooked, steamed is my preferred method, but sautéed or boiled is good too. And I cook the flowers the same as the leaves, I do not really enjoy the taste of the fruits so I typically don’t eat them, however they are edible too.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask anyone you know growing katuk for a cutting or seeds.

My Garden

I’ve been growing Katuk for a while now, but I’ve only recently started propagating it more readily. I’ve just started cutting off stems and sticking it in the ground wherever to add some diversity into the food forest. Here are some of the plantings:


Next to Guava tree, Pineapples, Chia, Edible Hibiscus, Peanut, Asparagus, Katuk, Turmeric, Sweet Potato, Perennial Peanut, and Eugenia stipitata.


Out in the food forest near Sweet Potato, Edible Hibiscus, Avocado, Cinnamon, Rollinia, Brazilian Cherry, Kopiko and ferns.

Happy Gardening!

Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)


Cranberry Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella, or false roselle is another beautiful delicious multi-purpose perennial. The maroon-red leaves and vibrant pink flowers of this plant make it worth growing on its own, but the leaves, flowers, and tender growth can all be eaten! The leaves taste slightly sour or pleasantly tart and keep their maroon color after cooking. The flowers are used to color teas and other beverages. This plant also contains anti-inflammatory properties! What’s not to love?



Grown from seed or cuttings. Plants prefer full sun or slight shade.

Sow seeds 1/4-1/2 inch deep. Water daily. They are a little slow to establish, but well worth it. I have tons of seeds sprout still on the plant, see picture for directions.

Take cuttings 8-12 inches long and remove most leaves. Plant immediately or put in bucket of water, and transplant into ground once roots have developed.


Some seeds sprouted on the plant. I just took this flower head and put it on some soil in a tray in the rain. its growing quite nicely now


Cut off branch or stem


Trim leaves off


Stick into ground


Make sure to water the plants heavily. Once established, they flower profusely making tons of leaves to eat and flowers to make tea!

Once they reach a desired height, I usually trim them to prevent them from falling over, giving me more plant to propagate and more leaves to eat.


You may eat the leaves raw or cooked. Sauteed, they retain their color better than boiling. I prefer not to eat too many of the leaves because of their sour quality, but a few added into a dish brightens it up! You can also eat the top few inches of tender stem.

Where to obtain planting materials

You can get cuttings from anyone you know growing Cranberry Hibiscus. You can buy seeds or potted plants from a nursery.

My Garden

Cranberry Hibiscus is basically a weed. It grows quickly and flowers abundantly creating tons of seeds. How perfect for a food source! So I’ve started spreading this plant around and its striking color makes any spot more attractive! Here are some of my areas containing Cranberry Hibiscus:


Next to Guava tree, Pineapples, Chia, Katuk, Peanut, Asparagus, Edible Hibiscus, Turmeric, Sweet Potato, Perennial Peanut, and Eugenia stipitata.


Mixed in the main garden.


Behind Nursery Table: Edible Hibiscus, Cranberry Hibiscus, Chaya, Gourd, Pigeon Pea, Sour Bush, Sweet Potato, Voluntary Artocarpus, and Desmodium, behind these are a row of Bananas, Lemongrass and a Gliricidia.

Happy Gardening!

Edible Hibiscus (Abelmoschus manihot)


Edible Hibiscus, Abelmoschus manihot, bele or abika, is a nutritious, high in protein,  perennial shrub grown for its large leaves. The plant grows up to 12 feet tall, has leaves as large or larger than a plate, and a beautiful hibiscus flower. This plant is extremely hardy, vigorous and abundant. What a perfect food source! Edible Hibiscus has become one of my staple vegetables because it almost always has leaves I can harvest.



Edible Hibiscus is grown primarily from cuttings. Simply cut off a branch or some of the trunk and take those cuttings and stick them in the ground. They will take off after a short period and begin growing rapidly! I usually use cuttings a foot or so (30 cm) in length.


Cut off branch or trunk.


Trim off larger leaves.


Stick into the ground.


Make sure to give the plant plenty of water. It grows in part shade as well as full sun. Just sit back and watch it grow!

In my experience the plant gets top heavy and falls over in large rains/winds, so I constantly cut it back so its not too heavy and have it supported by a trellis.


You may eat the leaves raw or cooked, boiled or roasted. The larger leaves seem to be a bit more slimy than the smaller ones. But are both delicious. I usually eat smaller leaves raw and cook larger ones. Leaves are also excellent for thickening sauces or soups.


Where to obtain planting materials

Ask anyone growing edible hibiscus for cuttings.

My Garden

I have trouble growing annuals during winter, due to day length, so I have to rely on my perennials for my food source. I’ve been growing Edible Hibiscus for over a year now, but I was only using it occasionally until recently. So noting the abundance of leaves on the hibiscus, I decided to eat it more regularly and I’m really enjoying it! Now that the plant is established, I have to prune the plant heavily every few weeks, giving me tons of cuttings to spread all over the yard. Aiding in over-abundance of a valuable food source, gearing me toward food self-sufficiency, the ultimate goal. Here’s some of my plantings around the yard:


Main garden:      Edible Hibiscus, Guava, Araza, Coconut, Roselle, Cranberry Hibiscus, Cabbage, Turmeric, Strawberry, Hot Peppers, Air Potato, Tomato, Chia, Sweet Potato, Basil and many others.


Food Forest:         Understory: Edible Hibiscus, Tea, Sweet Potato, Ti, Desmodium, Okinawa Spinach, Cardamom, Crotolaria, Moringa, Sissoo Spinach, Taro, Chaya, Poha and a mushroom log.        Overstory: Avocado, Orange, Star-Apple, Hawaiian Cotton, Papaya, Brazilian Cherry, Breadfruit, Kōpiko and ‘ōhi’a Lehua.        Young Trees: Acerola, Finger Lime, Allspice, Vi, Ice Cream Bean, Gliricidia, Mangosteen and Banana.


Behind Nursery Table:       Edible Hibiscus, Cranberry Hibiscus, Chaya, Gourd, Pigeon Pea, Sour Bush, Sweet Potato, Voluntary Artocarpus, and Desmodium, behind these are a row of Bananas, Lemongrass and a Gliricidia.

Happy Gardening!

Choko (Sechium edule)


Choko, Sechium edule, also called Pipinola and Chayote is an outstanding perennial vegetable and squash relative. Choko bears pear shaped fruits that are eaten raw or cooked. But the tuber, seeds, and young stem and leaves are all edible too! Choko grows as a vigorous vine, needs plenty of space and can become really expansive.



Choko may be grown from whole fruits planted horizontal with a third of the fruit exposed at the top. Or grown from older stem cuttings at least 8 inches long.


Stick fruit on ground


Place 1/3 of fruit above soil line


Mulch well


Choko loves full sun and grows so fast that weeds cannot even compete! Mulch heavily where you plant your fruit and make sure there is plenty of compost or other foods for the vine as it is a heavy feeder. Now just enjoy watching the speed of its growth! I grow mine on trellis to maintain its growth so it doesn’t go wild around the yard.


Fruits are eaten like zucchini or potatoes, harvest fruits when they are immature at 4-6 inches long to avoid woodiness in the skin, or harvest when mature and use like a potato. The seed is edible and delicious and the skin may be eaten on younger fruits and removed for older fruits.

Young tender leaves and shoots are eaten up to 10 inches long and are cooked; however, remove tendrils, as they are fibrous.

The tuber of the plant is used exactly like a potato.

Where to obtain planting materials

You could ask someone you know who is growing it for a fruit or cutting. You could buy one from the farmers market and plant that. Or you could find a wild vine and pick off a sprouted fruit.


This fruit sprouted on the vine!

My Garden

I’ve had choko growing in my garden for over half a year and it escaped into some undeveloped part of the yard and climbed up a tree and was going everywhere. I decided to cut it back and tame it so I haven’t gotten any fruit yet, although it has flowered, I just cut it back before I could harvest anything. But where it is planted, I now know its not enough space and could potentially get out of hand again, so I decided to make a new area where I could let it have a large space to climb.


Not enough room to grow

So I made this new trellis, went out to this massive vine in my neighborhood grabbed a sprouting fruit, took it home and planted it, within two weeks it had grown over 4 feet! Around my new trellis I’m going to have sweet potato ground cover, and on the other edge is a row of privacy palms, ti, some lemongrass, bamboo, a native palm, pigeon pea, roselle, and cassava.


Happy Gardening!

Winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)


Winged bean, Psophocarpus tetragonolobus, also known as goa bean or four-angled bean is another delicious perennial vegetable to grow! Being in the Fabaceae family, winged beans fix nitrogen extremely well, but they are also an excellent food source in the pod, also the bean, young leaves, shoots, flowers, flower buds and tuberous roots are all edible! Winged beans grow as small vine (up to 12 feet), easily trellis-able or grown on a tree. If you do not live in the tropics there is a day-length neutral variety suited for annual growing in many parts of the world.




Winged beans are grown from seed, but scarification and soaking overnight are recommended to speed up the process of germination. Transplant plants into a full sun location.


When the plant is young, make sure to weed it and help support it on a trellis as they are initially slow growing. Next sit back and enjoy the relentless harvest! If you are growing the plant for tubers, do not trellis, and remove flowers by hand once they develop.


Harvest bean pods when they are 5-8 inches long. If you wait longer you can harvest the beans and use them like lima or soy beans, meaning you could make bean milk, tofu and tempeh, or roast the beans like peanuts. Dried seeds may also be used for flour or as a coffee substitute

The young leaves and flowers are cooked as greens, or may be eaten raw in small portions. And the tuberous roots can be eaten fresh or cooked like potatoes and contain 20-25% protein.


Where to obtain planting materials

You could ask a friend growing winged beans for some seeds. Or order them online, as the beans at the market are too immature to produce viable seeds.

My Garden

Winged beans are one of my favorite vegetables, they are so versatile, can be eaten raw or lightly sautéed and grow so well here. So I was extremely excited once I got some seeds and made a little bed to plant them. In this bed I created three tipi trellis one for winged beans, one for Malabar spinach and one for air potato, the latter two are slightly/highly invasive so I wanted to keep them somewhere away from the forest where they could potentially run wild forever. And below these trellis I planted New Zealand spinach, sisso spinach, cranberry hibiscus and dahlia. I do have a guava tree that is slowly falling over near this bed so it had shaded out my beans pretty hard until I cut it back, so that’s why the bean vine is not filled with leaves as it should be. Even though it was shaded out it still produces tons of pods for harvest. Mmmm I love winged beans.


Happy Gardening!

Moringa (Moringa oleifera)


Moringa, Moringa oleifera, also commonly called drumstick tree, horseradish tree or malunggay, is the most nutritious plant on the planet! The leaves are the most nutritious part, containing high levels of protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, B and C (there is more but I will let you discover that)! How lucky are we living in the tropics being able to grow this plant? Well, tropical environments are not the only way it thrives; it is also highly drought tolerant and can be grown in very dry regions where not many other vegetables grow. The tree is fast growing up to 35 feet, but usually maintained as a hedge for easy harvests. The leaves, roots, flowers, pods, bark and seeds are all edible, making only the wood itself not edible. The seeds are used to make cooking oil and also used as a water purifier!! The plant is extremely medicinal due to its nutritional properties. How incredible!



Moringa is commonly grown from seed or large woody stem cuttings.

To grow from seed, remove hard seed coat and plant the smaller white seed. Direct sowing is recommended, but I almost always plant into trays. They propagate quickly and grow fast, I like to transplant them in the ground when they are a few inches tall (4-6 inches), because they have a taproot and I do not want to harm that.

To grow from cuttings, select hardwood 18-36 inches long and 2-5 inches thick, leave in a dry shaded place to cure for a few days and plant 1/3 of the cutting into the ground. Make sure the soil is well drained.


Remove harder outer shell by hand and plant white seed


Weeding is necessary when the plants are young, so they don’t get choked out. Once the plant is taller, you may start trimming the top, to make harvest easier, and produce new leaves for harvest, or let it turn into a full tree.


Leaves and tender stems are used like spinach, raw or cooked, or thrown in soups and stews. The leaves also change their nutrition content when they are dried, and become more potent in some areas.

The immature seedpod can be eaten raw or cooked like green beans.

Seeds can be roasted, sautéed, or eaten raw. Mature seeds are usually fried.

To make cooking oil from seeds, dry, then roast, mash then boil. Then strain out the solids and let the liquid sit over night, in the morning, the oil will have floated to the surface and can be skimmed off. This oil is called Ben Oil.

Seeds as water treatment: peel and crush/mash seeds to coagulate suspended particles in water, helping to remove disease organisms present. Leave mashed seeds in water for 1 hour. 1.5 grams of Moringa mash filters 32 ounces of water.

Roots may be eaten only after the bark has been removed. Once removed, grate it, add vinegar, and you have a horseradish substitute.

Where to obtain planting materials

If you know someone growing the plant you could ask them for a stem cutting, or for seeds. Typically seedpods at the farmers market will not be mature enough to grow seed. So your other option is to buy seeds from a dealer. They are pretty inexpensive, I believe I got 100+ for around $5, and they have a high germination rate, maybe buy them with a friend to split the cost and the seeds?

My Garden  

Moringa was one of the first plants I planted at this property. I was really excited to grow it once I learned about its incredible properties. I eat it in almost every meal I cook. My first planting I got at a plant sale and I currently top it so it doesn’t grow any taller, and next to it I planted some plants I grew from seed, hoping to have a hedge of Moringa one day. It seems the plants like to take their time establishing their roots and are a little weak on their trunks for a while, so I tie them up to some bamboo or stick to keep them straight. But at some point they will focus on above ground growth and take off, filling in the hedge space.

Next to the moringa hedge I have: kale, hot peppers, pineapples, choko, morning glory, lilly, comfrey, random clovers and my tree nursery and above that is wild forest/non-cultivated areas.



Happy Gardening!

Papaya (Carica papaya)


Papaya, Carica papaya, is another staple plant you should grow in your tropical home garden. Although the ripe fruit is very popular, especially here in Hawaii, papayas are mostly grown around the world for their immature fruits, that once cooked are used as a vegetable. Papayas are incredibly productive and fast to mature; they start producing after 6-12 months! And may live up to 15 years, but more often around 5 years, but production does taper off after 3-4 years creating less food. Papayas are large herbs, gaining heights from 5-30 feet and a six-foot spread, and resembles a small tree. They have a small canopy and can be planted close together or intercropped with many plants, how perfect for a home garden! The fruits are eaten, as well as the flowers, leaves and stems of the leaves. There are many different varieties of papaya, so try different ones to determine your favorite. Dried leaves may be used at tobacco substitute, and can also be beaten in water to form a soap substitute. The leaves are also used as a meat tenderizer when wrapped around meat over night. There are also many uses for medicine, but I will not go into detail for that.



Propagation may be done vegetatively from cuttings, but more commonly from seed. Propagation from seed is very easy; once you eat a delicious variety, simply stick some of those seeds into the ground where you want the plant to grow, or into potting trays. I have tried planting cleaned seeds and seeds directly from the fruit and both germinate quite easily, so I see no need to clean and dry the seed.

I do have a problem with direct sowing seeds (planting seed directly where I want plants to grow), so I plant my seeds into small trays first, then transplant out when they are a few inches tall. Papayas have a sensitive rooting system and a deep tap root, so make sure you transplant while the plants are young and haven’t developed their tap root yet.


Plant seeds in trays or directly into the ground


Transplant when small to reduce harming the taproot


Weed around your young plants until they are tall enough to fend for themselves. Or better yet, grow a ground cover around them so you minimize weeding efforts. Papayas fruit year round, so adding compost, or nitrogen fixing plants periodically is recommended.


Eat ripe fruits raw when they are a yellow/orange color and slightly soft. The ripe fruit can be processed and used in numerous desserts or recipes; just do some research to find out how you want to use it! The fruits are high in pectin making for a perfect jam.

When eating unripe papaya, remove skin and seeds first, and then cook similar to a summer squash, like zucchini. They may also be boiled, sautéed, baked, or pickled. The papaya will soak up the flavors that it is cooked with. For papaya salad, you must remove skin and seeds, boil until tender, then chill, and add lime and chili. The seeds may also be eaten like black pepper if desired.

The leaves must always be cooked. Young leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach, while older leaves must be boiled with two changes of water. The flowers are also cooked and eaten, generally with the leaves. The soft part of a young stem may be eaten raw, while the rest of the stem must be cooked. After cooking, the older stems are typically used peeled and grated, the bitter juice squeezed out, and the mash mixed with sugar and salt.

Where to obtain planting materials

There are quite a few inexpensive or free ways to obtain seeds. You may find a delicious variety off the street, from a friend or somewhere else. You could buy a delicious variety from the farmers market or somewhere else. You could also buy seeds from a store, but why do that if you could sample the fruit before you plant it.

I prefer non-gmo varieties as they have better taste and since I am not planting a huge monocrop, I have no fear of disease. Make sure you plant a variety you enjoy eating, as the fruit from your planting will be the same as the one you ate, it would be terrible to grow a variety you don’t even want to eat!

My Garden

The very first plant I planted when I moved into this house was papaya. It was still a keiki when I moved and I was worried about waiting too long and harming the taproot. So I just planted it randomly in an area hoping that it was a good spot. Now it’s a main point of my garden, it marks the beginning of the down sloping path toward the eventual food forest. It’s nestled in next to an ice cream bean tree and Brazilian cherry tree, with comfrey, sweet potato, taro, poha berry, tobacco, ferns and hibiscus all around. The papaya is about a year old now and starting to be covered with fruit, I haven’t been able to harvest one yet, but it should be pretty soon.


Once I started sampling different varieties I finally decided to start planting more seeds. I found a couple of varieties I really enjoy and only want to eat those now. The varieties are Sunset and Waimanalo. I have started a new area where I planted pineapples and in-between those are papaya and want to get some ground cover of perennial peanut established. Once the papayas get bigger I will plant something else in the mix.

The other place I planted papaya is in a mixed planting area where I am waiting for trees to establish themselves. The trees are: rainbow eucalyptus, soursop, milo, kou, mango, hala, Brazilian cherry, tree tomato, hapu’u, hibiscus, dracaena, strawberry guava, and rollinia. The other plants are: lemongrass, ti, heliconia, Chinese ground orchid, bamboo orchid, gotu kola and long beans. I created mini mounds where I planted beans and squash, the beans did well, but the squash did not, so I ended up planting papaya in the mounds as well. I’m thinking that the other fruit trees will take a few years to start producing, so while I’m waiting I will have papaya harvests for a few years, and cut them down as the other trees need the space. In this area I’m battling weeds, because it’s so open and I am trying to establish some plants as a ground cover, but nothing has been too successful yet. I may just throw in some sweet potato since it grows so well, but who knows. I’ll figure out the right plant some day.



Happy Gardening!