Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Description

Turmeric, Curcuma longa, or ‘olena, is a potent perennial spice, dye, and medicinal plant. The plant grows 3 feet tall and creates edible spicy rhizomes. This plant is high in anti-inflammatory properties and is widely known to curb or completely cure arthritis within a few months of regular use. This plant is highly ornamental with big green leaves and a very showy flower!

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Propagation

Turmeric is propagated from small pieces of rhizome, or modified stems. Turmeric does not produce seed.

Place 3-6 inch pieces of rhizome twice as deep as their diameter into the soil in the early spring. And then await emergence. You can also wait for shoots to grow on rhizomes you have saved in a cool, dry environment and plant them once the shoots appear.

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Fresh harvest

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Stored and sprouting rhizomes

Care

Turmeric is commonly grown like an annual, and has a natural die back/dormancy phase during winter when leaves die completely. Shoots will reemerge in spring and come back to life.

Make sure soil is high quality and not too rocky for ease of harvest and for larger rhizome production.

Once the leaves have disappeared, the harvest can begin. You may dig up the whole root mass or dig roots as you need them. If you live in a dry area, digging up the whole plant isn’t an issue, but in a moist humid environment, I prefer to leave in ground and harvest as needed to avoid losses due to moisture on stored rhizomes.

Eating

Fresh leaves are used as an herb, and young shoots and inflorescences are boiled as a vegetable in some places.

The main use of turmeric is for curries and spicing, but I enjoy a simple tea to give me my regular dosages of medicine. Turmeric needs to be combined with black pepper in order to increase absorption into the body. The spice is very potent so a little goes a long way, and commonly will stain your cutting board and knife.

Tea recipe: boil ½ gallon of water, add 2-3 inches of coarsely chopped turmeric once water has boiled (with or without skin). Add pepper if desired, or drink tea while you are eating a meal with pepper added. You may simmer roots for 20 minutes, or simply add turmeric chunks and allow cooling on its own (usually over night). Strain and drink a cup a day! May refrigerate or leave at room temperature.

Where to obtain planting materials

Turmeric is commonly sold at plant sales and there are a few different varieties sold here in Hawaii. There is the common yellow turmeric, white turmeric, blue turmeric, and black turmeric.

You may also get some turmeric at the farmers market or grocery store and leave it on your counter until it sprouts and plant that.

Or of course ask a friend for some bits of rhizome, if someone has grown the plant for at least one life cycle they will have plenty of material to share!

My Garden

I’ve grown turmeric ever since I’ve lived in Hawaii. My first harvest I found in the forest where I was living, and harvested many pounds and I spread that around everywhere. I now have turmeric growing in almost all my zones. I’ve made dedicated beds so I can have an easy harvest. I’ve also stuck rhizomes in many places just to plant sprouted bits. The farm I am staying now has turmeric growing in many places in very diverse polycultures and in the early stages of succession in multi-diverse food forest/agroforestry systems. What a beautiful and useful plant to spread everywhere!

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Turmeric. Bamboo. Edible Hibiscus. Papaya. Kale. Perennial peanut.

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Bamboo. Cassava. Air potato. Kale. Papaya. Kalo. Avocado. Perennial peanut.

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Happy Gardening!

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Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus)

Description

Cuban oregano, Plectranthus amboinicus, also called Spanish thyme, Indian borage, Greek oregano, oregano or false oregano, is a highly fragrant, quick growing, mat forming, perennial herb. This plant grows up to 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide if left untrimmed, the growth habit tends to sprawl, and becomes woody at its base. This plant is also highly ornamental and two varieties exist, a variegated variety and a solid green variety. The flavor of the herb is likened to oregano, thyme, and pine with a mix of peppery minty flavor. Quite a complex arrangement! In my opinion, it deserves its own distinct name, however, common names tend to describe other plants!

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Propagation

Cuban oregano grows extremely easy as a cutting. Use cuttings 6-8 inches long and plant about 4 inches deep into the soil. It is best to start in shade and move into full sun once it develops roots. Or plant directly in the garden with some overhead vegetation cover to produce shade. However, a developed plant prefers full sun.

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Cut stem

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Remove lower leaves

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Stick 4 inches into soil

 

Care

Cuban oregano can withstand shade, but becomes leggy and thin, rather than a dense mat it forms in full sun. This plant grows quickly. Mature specimens become sparsely covered and leafless in the lower stems and regions of the plant. In order to counteract this behavior, regular pruning and harvesting is recommended.

Eating

The flavor is rather strong; therefore, a small quantity of fresh leaves is used for spicing. In its native range this herb is used for masking the intense aroma of fish, goat and game. This plant is also used medicinally to treat coughs, as well as minor infections and inflammation. The aromatic oils make this plant useful as an insect repellant and also for laundry scent.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask anyone growing this plant for some cuttings. If you grow this plant you have plenty of propagation materials to share. This plant may also be found at some plant sales.

My Garden

I’ve grown Cuban oregano for a long time now, but most of my ground covers tend to get shaded due to the overwhelming abundance of growth in my garden. This plant can be easily maintained under shade as it grows slower and doesn’t grow more than you can harvest. I worked at a horticulture therapy program where we grew Cuban oregano in full sun and it was always jumping out of its beds and trying to grow everywhere. Which is wonderful in the correct situations! It’s a lovely plant to observe and smell. Give it space and let it grow. Currently here at my transitional garden it is already growing well on its own. With a little bit more care and tending it would fill space nicely.

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Cuban oregano growing with lilikoi, pineapple and gardenia.

Happy Gardening!

Rapid Resilient Food Systems

This post will be describing the possibility of regrowing nutritious food sources from nearly nothing, as quickly as possible. Grabbing or finding your quickest growing, most necessary food plants can enable you to grow your own nutritious food in a new place within weeks. This post could be useful to start up a new garden, or to be used if a displaced individual would have some space to grow food.

Background

The garden I tend is 1 mile (1.6 km) from fissure 8, the rapidly growing new Pu’u in Leilani Estates, Hawai’i. This new lava flow started at the beginning of May and is flowing with rapid release showing no intentions of slowing down. I have been unable to tend the garden due to air quality. At this point, I do not know if my edibles are poisoned by the emissions from Kilauea, but when I look at the plants I know they are being negatively affected.

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Strawberry Guava. Almost fully defoliated due to emissions. One of our most invasive species.

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Defoliated invasive Gunpowder Tree, active lava field, dead pasture and forest in background.

The situation

Here in Puna, most people have a bit of land; most people are even willing to grow some food on it. Currently there is a lot of displaced individuals, due to the lava activity, who used to grow their own food. They may be staying at friends houses or staying in shared places. If you are in this position, or a new renter, you will need to ask permission from a landowner to utilize some of their land to grow food. Most reasonable people will understand your desire, and will be willing to allocate a space for you to do so. If the landowner were reluctant you would want to plan out your space to be beautiful and prolific in order to share your abundance with them. The potential problems that could arise in a borrowed space could be: potential lack of cleanliness from a visual perspective and something becoming overgrown and becoming a ‘burden’. The idea is to create a system that will maintain itself after a short period and last there forever in-case a situation like this appears again. Always readily giving garden therapy.

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Edible Sweet Potato and Sissoo Spinach 2 weeks after cuttings planted

 

The Plant List

For a small space these are my necessities: Basils, Comfrey, Cranberry Hibiscus, Culantro, Katuk, Kale, Lemongrass, Mints, Okinawan SpinachPlectranthus amboinicus, Sissoo Spinach, and Sweet Potato (for leaf harvest). For a larger space include Edible Hibiscus, Moringa, and Taro grown for leaves. For a longer term space include all the plants I’ve previously blogged about.

The Facts

Initial Planting: My new garden space is 350′ elevation and much more dry compared to 780′ and wet in Leilani. The bed is small, 12′ x 2′. All I added to an old garden bed was about a 1/3 of a trashcan full of my previous soil mix: 1/2 potting soil, 1/4 compost and 1/4 biochar/sifted cinder. I planted Basils, Canna, Comfrey, Cranberry Hibiscus, Culantro, Katuk, ko’oko’olau, Lemongrass, Mints, Okinawan Spinach, Sissoo Spinach, Sweet Potato, Taro, Turmeric, and a few annuals I was growing. The annuals were: Portuguese Kale, Bell Peppers (shishito and other), Eggplant, Tomatoes and Tomatillos. Once planted, I heavy mulched it, and then I waited. The chickens came out of nowhere and decided to munch on the veggies, so I added a fence, build it and they will come!

Two weeks into garden: Sissoo spinach and sweet potato leaves ready for harvest. I planted a 2′ x 3′ space with sissoo, and I had enough harvest for three hungry adults. AMAZING!

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First Harvest. Week 2.

Three weeks in: Sissoo spinach, sweet potato leaves, Portuguese kale, and culantro all have new growth and ready for harvest. Katuk, cranberry hibiscus and okinawan spinach leaves starting to grow rapidly, not yet ready for harvest. We are well on our way in the garden, within a few more weeks all the perennials will be harvest-able and the annuals will start coming on, as they get large enough. This mini-food system is up and going!

Edit: Four weeks: Sissoo spinach, sweet potato leaves, Portuguese kale, culantro, okinawan spinach, and cranberry hibiscus can be harvested. Tomato, tomatillo and bell peppers flowering.

 

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Look at all that food!! This system is now bustling, and I’m ready to start regular harvests. All it took was 3 weeks!

Final Thoughts

I’ve recently realized the necessity and luxury of growing my own food. I find it hard to find quality produce I can trust. Luckily, I’ve built some relationships with farmers at the farmers markets whom I trust. But buying produce from other vendors is sometimes sketchy. It’s hard to find out where produce comes from, let alone how it was grown. I always prefer local produce even over organic. But you really need ask a vendor you can trust where each product comes from. They will tell you and then you decide if that product is for you. Some other vendors are farms that are certified organic on our island, those vendors are a no brainier to buy from, but I still always ask where the product comes from. Think about it, if you buy a mainland cabbage, it takes at least 3 weeks, by boat, to arrive on our island. Think about how long it took to get from farm to the shipping container. Then being shipped from Oahu to Big Island, SCARY. I feel ok buying highly store-able products; onions, garlic, potatoes, which naturally have a long shelf life, think about plants that can be stored for winter uses. But I do not want to buy short shelf life products like cabbages, leafy greens, tomatoes, or others from mainland. So grow your own food and in the meantime support those local farmers!

 

 

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Keep on gardening!

 

Comfrey (Symphytum spp.)

Description
Comfrey, (Symphytum spp.) or knitbone, is the ultimate permaculture/multipurpose perennial plant. Comfrey is a magical medicinal healing plant; its deep roots have amazing abilities to mine the soil for micronutrients and makes them available in their leaves, bees love it, and it grows prolifically in any environment/soil.

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Propagation

Comfrey is grown from clump-division and from root cuttings. I typically only grow it from root cuttings because it is less work.

Simply dig around in the soil, find the root and cut off a section. Take this section and cut it up into 3 inch bits and replant them horizontally 2 inches deep in new location. Give it a couple of weeks and new leaves will emerge.

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Dig up roots

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Cut into 3 inch pieces and replant horizontal

Care

Comfrey is a carefree plant. It grows about 3’ tall and wide and flowers year round with no care. If you want to utilize comfrey for its soil building properties, you’ll want to cut it back to about 2 inches off the ground, then mulch, compost, or make compost tea from the leaves (wear gloves when handling, hairs on the leaves may irritate). Doing this will make use of the micronutrients mined from the ground and make them available for other plants to uptake. Once cut back, it will start re-growing immediately and start putting up vigorous growth once again. The leaves break down quickly and give their nutrients to the soil. A healthy plant may be cut back completely 4-5 times a year in a temperate environment. In the tropical environment its almost endless the amounts of times you can cut it back throughout the year! Even just growing this plant around your trees will give extra nutrients to them.

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Cut back to a few inches above ground level. Look at all that wonderful mulch!

Uses as medicine

Comfrey has so many uses as medicine it deserves endless research. Historically, comfrey was used internally and externally to treat throat issues, broken bones, arthritis, ulcers, burns, inflammation and many other issues. The main reason I use comfrey is for its antiseptic and cell growth stimulant properties. Healing my wounds in hours. It is seriously magic.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask a friend who grows comfrey for some roots to propagate. Make sure you get a sterile variety so it doesn’t spread by seed indefinitely. I’ve grown mine for a few years and they have never spread beyond their original clump unless I spread around roots.

My Garden

As an avid environmentalist I spend most of my time outside playing in the waves, forests, mountains and in the garden. Living on a very young landscape, the lava rocks are very sharp and unforgiving. This means I cut myself basically everyday. Sometimes small, sometimes larger. But I have no fear even though I live in a region teeming with staph (Staphylococcus spp.) because I have my go to medicine all around. I simply grab off a bit of leaf and mash it between my fingers and create a poultice. Apply this directly to the wound and throw a Band-Aid to keep it in place, I then wrap tape around the Band-Aid it to actually keep it on my skin (LOL at waterproof Band-Aids in the wet tropics). I have not used traditional western antiseptic in three years and have never had an infection! Yes comfrey!

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Comfrey with: edible hibiscus, kalo and lemon

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Comfrey with: cranberry hibiscus, perennial peanut, sweet potato, snake fruit, cacao and tamarillo, hapu’u, pigeon pea and waiawi in the background

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Comfrey with: sweet potato, edible hibiscus, gliricidia, vi apple, ice cream bean, and ulu

 

Happy Gardening!

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum)

Description

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum), or sawtooth coriander, is a small potent herb closely related to the cilantro/coriander (Coriandrum sativum) plant. Culantro has a very similar taste to cilantro; it is stronger and more pungent though. Culantro can be considered weedy, is a truly tropical plant, and will thrive in your garden with no help. Plants can easily be trained to become perennials. Quite the contrary of cilantro in our tropical environments, cilantro doesn’t like our rains, heat/sun and is hard to establish. Why grow something so difficult if you could just grow culantro with no effort?

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Propagation

Culantro is grown from tiny seeds. Plants left to flower will set seed prolifically and do not need to be re-sown with your help.

Culantro can easily be up-planted and moved anywhere desirable. Don’t worry if you break a few roots, this plant is extremely hardy and will bounce back.

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Flower and seed head

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Up-plant and replant

Care

Culantro is a carefree plant. If you would like to perennial-ize your plants, cut off flower stocks when they appear. Consistently doing this will force the plant to keep producing edible leaves and it will not end its lifecycle.

If you want to propagate more culantro: let one of your plants go to seed and continue to cut off the flower stocks on your other plants. Your single flowering plant will set lots of seed and drop them all around itself. Give them a little time and new plants will emerge all around your flowering plant. Once the plant flowers it will die. But you should have plenty of keiki to replace it.

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Cut off flower stock to keep plants from ending their lifecycle

Eating

Treat culantro as you would cilantro. Use young tender or older leaves raw or cooked. However, use less of the leaves, as it is more potent than cilantro. Flower heads may be blended to create a pesto or salad dressing as well.

Where to obtain planting materials

Look around your property for it; chances are it’s already a weed in the garden somewhere. Seriously.

You could ask someone growing it for some seed, or a young up-planted plant would be easier. Or try to find it at a plant sale. This plant is easy to find and identify (leaves, flowers and scent are unmistakable).

My Garden

When I first moved onto the property I would cut the grass and get a strong scent I could never place. As I left the grass to grow, I would walk around and get poked by the flowers of this unmistakable plant. This plant would force me to cut the grass sooner than I would like because it would always poke me! One day I was at a plant sale and noticed this plant. I saw a photo of the flowers and looked at the leaves. I immediately realized this was the plant prolific in the grass at home. I noted the name and checked out the plant once I got home. Realizing this scent I associated with cutting the grass was cilantro like, or rather the pungent scent of culantro. I decided to up-plant this and move it into the herb spiral at home. This was about two years ago. Those plants are still growing strong in the herb spiral and still out there in the grass. Food and medicine are literally all around us without our knowledge!

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Culantro in the grass

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Culantro surrounded by Sisso Spinach and Winged Bean above

 

Happy Gardening!

ko’oko’olau (Bidens spp.)

Description

ko’oko’olau (Bidens spp.) is a medicinal native Hawaiian plant. The two species I will describe are Bidens menziseii subsp. filiformis, and Bidens hawaiensis, both endemic to Hawaii Island. There are over 200 species of Bidens worldwide, with many of them being highly medicinal. Medicinal properties include: promotion of good health, cleanse the body, prevents: strokes, diabetes, constipation, stomach, and liver problems. Basically good for everything, do some more research to identify more medicinal properties. This plant is also highly ornamental!

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Bidens hawaiensis

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Bidens menziseii subsp. filiformis

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Propagation

ko’oko’olau grows well from seed or cuttings. I prefer to grow them from seed so they have a stronger root system, as they tend to fall over when they get large.

Surface sow seeds and they should germinate within two weeks.

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sprouted seed

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keiki awaiting transplant

Care

It would be safe to call ko’oko’olau a weed, as it propagates readily and grows quickly. Needing no care at all. I have noticed ants love farming on menziseii but it doesn’t seem to affect them.

They prefer full sun but will grow in part shade. These two varieties grow from the coastline to about 8000’. And need good drainage, meaning add lots of cinder into the soil mix. Or grow them on straight cinder or straight lava like they grow in the wild!

Did I mention they are frost, drought, heavy rain, scorching sun, and high winds tolerant? Yeah, grow ko’oko’olau anywhere and everywhere!!

Bidens menziseii subsp. filiformis grows to about 15’ with the largest trunk diameter I’ve seen is over 5 inches!

Bidens hawaiensis grows to about 6’ in a more shrub like habit.

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Eating/Preparing

Grab a few leaves and throw them in boiling water. You could also dry the leaves first, 3 cups water to 1 tablespoon of dried leaves.

Where to obtain planting materials

I highly recommend sourcing seeds or cuttings from your local species as the islands of Hawaii contain 19 endemic species. Please grow the correct species, as keeping genetics pure will allow these species to continue to thrive in their endemic habitat. As some of these species are rare, it would be wonderful to promote and propagate them in the correct environment and hopefully seeds will spread and become more naturalized and hopefully spread from cultivated specimens and retake their landscapes.

If you live in puna contact me for a seed source. I will share when they are in season.

My Garden

I first learned of Bidens menziesii while working on Mauna Kea replanting the high elevation forest. Working closely with this plant gave me an appreciation of this species. On the mountain this seems to be the fastest growing species, making it the pioneer plant the mountain needs to become reforested once again. This is a keystone species that we plant with Sandalwood, as the host plant. This plant also goes to seed within half a year and sets seed vigorously. Perfect for a restoration plant. In the forest at home this plant grows well, but has not flowered yet. Possibly due to the amount of shade it receives.

I’ve only been growing Bidens hawaiensis for a little while now and do not have quite as much experience with it. Although it has already flowered, I was not able to catch seeds because the rain knocked them off.

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ko’oko’olau growing under mamane tree on mauna kea

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ko’oko’olau growing in the forest at home with hō’awa

Happy Gardening!

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

Description

Lemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus, is a wonderful aromatic perennial multipurpose clumping grass. Lemongrass is an essential flavor in Southeast Asian cooking, but also a great mulch plant, being high in carbon makes it an excellent addition for your carbon ratio in your compost pile. It also works great as mulch around your plants; cutting the plant back to 6-12 inches tall it will regrow vigorously. The roots go deep and help prevent soil erosion as well. This plant is closely related to citronella grass, (Cymbopogon nardus), meaning that lemongrass also contains insect repellent properties (great next to your tomatoes or bell peppers). And finally lemongrass is a great barrier plant; most weeds will be stopped in their tracks trying to cross a lemongrass hedge.

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Propagation

Although lemongrass does grow from seed, it is better to get a non/low-seeding variety as it will be less likely to spread. The only way to know for sure if it is a non-seeding variety is to divide shoots, or grow cuttings, from a superior variety and grow a clone.

To take cuttings from an existent clump: pull off 2-3 shoots; trim the tops and stick into the ground 2-3 at a time. To create a hedge, plant them (2-3 shoots) 2 feet apart. They can also be rooted in water, but I’ve found they root just fine in the wet soil environment I live in.

Propagation by division: Find a mature clump (12 inch diameter) and pull the whole clump out of the ground. Divide the clump with a spade fork into 3-4 stocks each, and remove the top of the plant. Replant and water heavily.

They do take their time to establish with both methods. I regularly propagate by cuttings so I can continue harvesting for food while propagated plants establish.

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find center of clump

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push stock down – to pull off a few stocks

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trim top leaves

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stick into ground

Care

Lemongrass is a carefree plant once established. Water new propagations heavily until new growth appears. Full sun is preferred, however, they can be grown in light shade but do not grow at their full sun vigor and become spindly. Mature plants are about 3 feet tall and wide and can tolerate fairly poor soils.

Eating

Prepare stocks by cutting off long ends of tops and trimming the base. Then ‘beat up’ the fleshy shoots before cooking. Add the shoots whole into your dishes and remove before eating.

Tender hearts of stocks can also be eaten as a vegetable in rice dishes.

Upper leaves may be used as flavoring as well, but should be tied in a bunch during cooking for easy removal before serving.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask a friend for a couple of shoots and replant them. Or look at the farmers markets, as fresh shoots will still be fine for planting, or plant sales.

My Garden

I started off buying a single lemongrass plant. Once it became large enough I started propagating it. I had some space to fill in a newly created section of the yard; it was at the very front of the lot along the road. I had a few trees growing there taking up canopy space but needed something to fill in the ground and mid level so the house wasn’t visible by the road. So I decided to try out the lemongrass hedge. I stuck them in the ground every few feet and waited. Now that those plants are nice and mature it created an amazing barrier. The grass on the lawn doesn’t try to jump into the space and the desmodium inside of the space doesn’t try to jump out over the lemongrass. As the trees grow and fill in even more canopy space I’m surprised that the lemongrass is growing really well in the shade. I also layered this hedge with patchouli in case the shade becomes too heavy and the lemongrass doesn’t succeeded, the patchouli can grow in complete shade.

I’ve followed this same method in a section I just created that has more sun than the previous. However, this time I planted a row of Surinam cherries too. So I should have the lemongrass and patchouli fill in along the boundary quickly, and the Surinam cherries taking their time to fill in the rest of the hedge creating another barrier between my neighbors lot and mine.

The key is to garden in layers and succession, filling in newly cleared areas so all niches are filled, therefore, weeds will not take over.

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barrier hedge

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barrier hedge (lemongrass, strawberry guava, hapuu, avocado, kou, pigeon pea, papaya, soursop)

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newly planted barrier hedge (lemongrass, patchouli, surinam cherry, naupaka, akala, aweoweo, kolomona, apple banana, edible hibiscus)

Happy Gardening!

Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan)

Description

Pigeon Pea, Cajanus cajan, is a gardeners dream. This 10 foot tall perennial bush produces beautiful clusters of bee buzzing blossoms, followed by pea pods with up to eight seeds. These seeds can be eaten immature, shelled like peas, or eaten at various stages of ripeness dependent on desires. Not only does this plant produce an abundance of pea pods, the tender leaves and shoots can be eaten as well! Pigeon Pea is also nitrogen fixing, gathering nitrogen from the atmosphere and ‘fixing’ it into the soil. Once they are cut back they release this nitrogen and make it available for other plants. This means they can be grown as a cover crop (cut back completely just as they start to flower) or used for coppicing (cut back periodically once woody between 1-6 feet to regrow later).

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Propagation

Pigeon Pea is propagated by seed. Harvest seedpods when completely dry on plant to save seed.

Check out seed propagation for tips

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Dried Pods

Care

Pigeon Pea tolerates shade but really thrives in full sun. They grow slowly at first, but once they become established they reach for the sky. Pigeon Pea is a pioneer species, meaning; it is the hardiest of plants growing in any climate or soils.

Eating

Young seeds are shelled and eaten like peas

Mature green seeds are eaten cooked, boiled.

Mature dried seeds are eaten split, cooked as a pulse, in soups, curries, sprouted, fermented, or ground for flour.

Tender under ripe pods can be cooked

Leaves and tender shoots are eaten as cooked greens (steamed, boiled)

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Seed at various stages

Where to obtain planting materials

Get seeds from someone you know or buy them

My Garden

I’ve been growing pigeon pea for a while now, trying it in various places to find its perfect preference. All of my plants start out slow taking at least 6 months before they reach 4 feet. At this stage they seem to start to bush out. The more sun they get the faster they grow. The varieties I have only flower in the shorter days of fall so this plant is not producing year round. I stick it around wherever I can and let it grow. I come by and trim the branches in the path and add them to the bases of my trees feeding them the biomass and the nitrogen in the soil. What a great food plant to have around!

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Pigeon Pea with: cacao, cranberry hibiscus, snake fruit, lilikoi, kalo, roselle, pepino dulce and comfrey

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Pigeon Pea with: papaya, banana, koaia, poha, cocona, cranberry hibiscus, okinawan spinach, dragon fruit, mamaki

Happy Gardening!

Air-Potato (Dioscorea bulbifera)

Description

The air-potato, Dioscorea bulbifera, is an incredible perennial plant. The edible tuber of the crop grows in the leaf axils of the vine, meaning the tubers hang in the air! Although this is called air-potato, it is truly a yam. There are toxic varieties that are highly invasive in some parts of the world; however, this variety is delicious and completely edible. The vine can grow 40’ or more in a season, and produces an abundance of tubers.

This is a fast growing vine that has the potential to become invasive. Please do not plant in, or near the native forest, as that ecosystem is too fragile to have another invasive species.

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Propagation

Take a small aerial tuber, or cut off a section of a large one, and stick it in the ground. I’ve noticed they will not sprout until spring, but once they sprout they don’t stop growing until they die back in the fall/winter.

Any aerial tuber that falls to the ground and is not picked up will sprout, creating the potential for invasiveness.

Care

Stick into the ground. Wait for it to sprout. Guide onto a trellis. Consume tubers.

This is actually the easiest growing plant in my garden. If you are trying to keep it on a low trellis, you have to guide the vine daily or it will go crazy and jump anyway to get higher. I grow mine on a teepee trellis and just wrap the vine around the entire teepee.

The plant dies back after production of tubers in the fall/winter. The plant will regrow at the beginning of spring. No need to dig or touch the underground root.

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Eating

May be cooked just like any potato; baked, mashed, boiled. I’ve found removing the skin on the more mature tubers is beneficial.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask someone you know who grows it for an aerial tuber. Make sure the person has eaten it and you are getting an edible variety.

My Garden

I’ve been growing air potato for two years now and I’m always surprised at the shapes and the angles of the aerial tubers! This plant is so fun to grow and show off to anyone that stops by! Air-potato is so easy to grow, easy to prepare and delicious. Everyone should be growing and eating this plant!

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Happy Gardening!