Seed Propagation

Description

This month I will be talking about seed propagation, an important skill to develop to maintain food security, particularly starting annual plants and fruit trees.

Seeds are amazing. They are little packets of life awaiting the correct environmental conditions to spark life. Seeds create genetic diversity within specie. This allows plants to develop environmental preferences, creating specific varieties and in turn, potentially creating new species and evolving into new plants.

With human help, we would call this process selective/genetic breeding. This is where a human collects seeds from a particular plant with favorable traits and continues to select seed until the desired traits have become normalized. This is how beets and chard have become ‘different’ plants, when in reality they are the same plant grown for specific qualities. That being the roots in beets and the leaves for chard. This process should be done in your garden to establish plants that are adapt to your environmental conditions.

Planting by the Moon

This may sound a bit faithful or superstitious, but in my experience, planting with the moon truly makes a difference. Today I noticed 90% of the seeds I planted 5 days ago sprouted. How else could you get this high of a percentage of germination without the moon? Beans and amaranth literally sprout within two days, its incredible!

Tip: If you don’t believe me, go ahead and plant seeds randomly, but make sure you write down the date, and then, look at the moon phase. Plant seeds throughout the month and notice that most all of the seeds will sprout around the new and full moon, regardless of when they were planted into the ground.

Phases of the moon

Check out the chart below to get some hints. I’ve read and tried other methods for moon planting, but I find this to be most useful. Starting seeds two days before the new moon allows the seeds to awaken with water and humidity. By the time the new moon comes around, the seeds have so much moon gravity pulling on them that they cannot stay within the cozy little womb and they jump out, showing beginning stages of germination. The chart below also describes how moon phases directly affect plants growth.

Moon Phase Chart

Seed Planting

Yes, you can just follow what a seed packet says. But a lot of the time I get seeds from friends, save my own seed, or when I buy delicious fruits and decide to plant those seeds, no seed pack instructions come along.

It all depends on the size of the seed, larger seeds tend to take longer to germinate and needs to be planted deeper than tiny seeds. Think about brassica seeds vs. bean or squash seeds. Here is my general rule for planting seeds: plant the seeds twice as deep as the width/thickness of the seed. So a seed that is a quarter inch thick will be planted a half-inch deep. Most times I stick my seeds in horizontally to the depth desired. Don’t worry too much, it doesn’t need to be an exact science, just stick em in and wait for them to sprout. However, seeds smaller than a pepper, Capsicum spp., I surface sow, or lightly dust potting mix on. Literally just add the seeds to the top of your potting trays.

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Peanut seed planted to correct depth

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Seeds smaller than Capsicum spp are surface sown

Preferences for seed starting

I prefer to start almost all my seeds in my ‘sunhouse’, rather than planting directly into the ground. For whatever reason, most things I put directly into beds disappear and don’t sprout, I don’t know if its ants, birds, rats, too much rain or whatever factor I’m not considering, so I just play it safe and plant it somewhere safe and sheltered.

My ‘sunhouse’ consists of a clear plastic roof to allow sunlight in, but keep rains out. Also the space should be rat and bird proof, for me, I just threw netting around my table. This space should be near a water source, whether that be a small catchment system coming off your roof to allow a hose to be attached. Or simply close enough to your home structure so that you can water with a hose. The place should be raised off the ground, so grasses and other weedy plants don’t drop seeds into your trays. This system could be as simple or elaborate as needed. I know people who just grow their seeds under the eve of the house on the sunny side. So just keep these factors in your mind when creating a place to start seeds.

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My Sunhouse

I typically use three types of trays or pots to start seed: the typical 4-pack, a smaller 6-pack tray, and a larger ¼ gallon pot (for fruit trees). These can all be purchased for under a dollar each. You could cut toilet paper or paper towel rolls to size, or really use anything you can think of, you just want to make sure you can take out the plant safely without damaging roots or soils.

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My prefered tray sizes

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Use larger pots for larger seeds

Plant Variety or Crop

One of the main problems starting seed and growing vegetables in the tropics is variety. Think about it; ‘typical’ vegetables in the grocery stores are temperate or Mediterranean climatic plants, because well, that’s where mega farms are located. The ‘western’ diets consist of those plants because those are the plants that developed in the regions where those people lived.

The tropics are another story. We simply cannot grow onion, broccoli or other ‘staple’ vegetables (unless you live in higher elevations or have a completely controlled environment). However, there are relatives of these common plants that do thrive in hot, humid, wet environments. So these are the seeds to look for. When I buy heirloom seeds online, I look for Thai or Southern varieties because I know the climate is similar. Another option is University of Hawaii seeds because they too have been selected to thrive in our environment. The best way to ensure optimal results is to change your diet to include things that grow in your climate.

Final Considerations

  • Label all seed trays, you may think you’ll remember dates and varieties, but after a month I cant remember anything of that matter!
  • Use quality seedling soil mix. I used regular potting soil for a while, and once I switched to seedling mixes the difference was night and day. I also add biochar to my seedling mixes to add soil structure and drainage.
  • Once you fill your trays with soil, water them multiple times before adding seeds, it will fill in air pockets and make the medium moist and ready to start germination.
  • Add multiple seeds into trays in case some of them don’t germinate. It’s easier to thin out plants than it is to start new trays if you have spotty germination. One plant per tray is ideal. Multiple sprouts in a single tray create too much competition.
  • Flats may be used if you plan to transplant them into their own trays when they are ready.
  • Once seeds are planted, water them daily; in the morning or the evening, and keep a steady routine, plants rely upon consistent conditions.
  • Seeds do not need nutrients before they sprout. Long-term germinating plants, like fruit trees, I simply throw in cinder or cinder soil. Once they sprout, place them into their own pot with nice soil and allow them to grow.
  • Starting from seed saves money rather than buying starts at a market. You could buy a single plant for $3 or you could buy a seed packet with 300 seeds for $3. Hmm.
  • The only downside to buying seed packets, are that they come with too many seeds for a small scale, and our environment is not conducive to store seed regularly. So there are a few options: you can share seeds with friends, or plant all the seeds in a pack and share the excess product. Plant all the seeds and eat most of them as sprouts or micro-greens, saving the largest and most vigorous for the garden to become mature plants. The final option is to save them temporarily for yourself. My method for storing seed: get small zip lock bags; add unused seed. Make sure it’s labeled well, air free (as much as possible), then take all your baggies and put them in a mason jar, then store in the fridge. Seeds will last a few months and retain their viability. If you leave your seeds in their original packets they will deteriorate pretty quickly.
  • Hybrid seeds do not set viable seed, buy non-hybrids if you plan to save seed. I typically buy heirloom seeds because they are open pollinated and have specific qualities that I desire. Also, who wouldn’t want purple beans, orange tomatoes and red carrots?

 

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Store seed in air-free baggies in a mason jar in the fridge

Happy Gardening!

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Okinawan Spinach (Gynura bicolor)

Description

Okinawan Spinach, Gynura bicolor, is another leafy green that everyone should grow. This plant is a highly ornamental, low-growing perennial, which produces an abundance of leaves and tender shoots. The yellow/orange flowers attract butterflies and the leaves are high in protein and have cholesterol-lowering properties. Plants are shrubby sprawlers that attain heights of about four feet. Perfect for an edible landscape or as a weed suppressing ground cover. There are two different varieties, a fully green one and a green and purple one. The purple variety seems to thrive in deeper shade.

I will also include Longevity Spinach, Gynura procumbens, in this post because they are extremely similar plants, grown and eaten the same way with a slightly different taste and nutrition content.

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Green variety

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Purple variety

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Longevity Spinach (larger leaves)

Propagation

Okinawan Spinach is grown from cuttings.

Stick into the ground and it will root in about a week.

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Cut stem

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Remove older leaves

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stick into the ground

Care

Plants prefer part shade, and will grow easily and effortlessly.

Regular pruning promotes branching; therefore, creating an abundance of tender shoots and leaves for consumption!

Eating

The leaves are best eaten mixed with other greens to avoid an overtly strong flavor.

Tender leaves and shoot tips may be eaten raw, steamed, stir fried, sautéed, or used in soups, stews or tempura.

Older tougher leaves should be cooked and are less palatable. However, over cooking may lead to sliminess.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask anyone you know growing Okinawan Spinach for cuttings. You may also find them at a farmers market or a plant sale.

My Garden

Okinawan spinach is one of the first plants I started growing here at the house. I just stuck it into the ground in cinder, and forgot about it. Nearly two years later, it’s still thriving and is a keystone ornamental next to the front entryway. I typically forget about the plant and whenever I’m in need of some crunchy greens, I bump into it. Stumbling through the dense vegetation looking for the sprawling stems, they typically find the shadiest places in the understory and emerge through the top layer of the shrubs and fall back down toward the ground. Making it extremely easy to grab a running ‘vine’ and cut it off to eat the leaves. This, in-turn, gives me propagation materials, I then take them and stick them into the ground in the food forest. Generating an overabundance of high quality leafy greens for consumption. Wow, I love tropical gardening!

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Happy Gardening!

Luffa (Luffa spp.)

Description

Luffa (Luffa spp.) or angled gourd is another useful multipurpose plant. The small immature fruit may be eaten and mature fruits, once dried, are luffa sponges, great for dishwashing or bathing! Like most cucurbits, the buds, flowers, young leaves and tender shoots are also edible. The fibrous interior of mature fruits can also be used as filters to remove oil from water. Although it is an annual, this plant lives for a long time, creating tons of fruit!

This is one of the few cucurbits I can grow successfully that doesn’t get attacked by the pickleworm, and is virtually pest free, giving me a useful product as well as food. If you have trouble growing squash, cucumbers, gourds, or melons; try luffa and chayote (see previous post).

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Propagation

Luffa is grown from seed; direct sowing works well, as does transplanting. If transplanting, put into the ground as soon as possible, as not to allow them to become root bound.

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Care

This plant grows moderately fast, so give it someplace to sprawl, or climb and forget about it. Once you see prolific flowering, check periodically for young fruits, to harvest for consumption. If you plan to use them as a sponge, harvest when fruits are 1-3 feet long.

Fruits grown on a trellis, or allowed to climb, will become elongated, creating large straight fruits. It will be easily harvestable if grown this way.

If allowed to grow on the ground, fruits may become curved and create a more snake like shape. Fruits grown like this are harder to find for harvest, harder to prevent rot and check up on. Fruits growing directly on the ground should be lifted off the ground somehow; put on a rock or log/stick so moisture doesn’t collect and rot out the fruit prematurely.

Eating

Young fruit (up to seven inches) may be eaten raw or cooked like zucchini. Larger fruits if still tender, must be peeled and cooked. Great for stir fry and soups.

Processing

During the dry season fruits will dry perfectly fine on the plant, however, during the rest of the year when we get constant rains, harvesting the fruit ensures product consistency.

This is how I process my mature fruits into sponges. First, harvest mature fruit when 1-3 feet long, a good indicator is to wait until the green fruit turns yellowish. Second, I leave the fruit on the dashboard of my car for about a week. Once the skin of the fruit is brown, crispy and cracks when you apply pressure, it’s ready. Next, pop off the stem and some of the skin and smack around the fruit to knock loose the seeds; pouring them into a convenient place. Then crack and peel the skin off the fruit and use as a sponge!

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Drying. Dried. Peeled.

Where to obtain planting materials

You could ask anyone growing luffa for some seeds, as one fruit gives at least 50 seeds, anyone would be happy to give them away. You could buy a luffa from the farmers market and take out those seeds and plant them. Or you could buy a seed pack online or at the local garden store.

My Garden

Like I mentioned earlier, this is one of the few squash I can grow successfully. So, I’ve been planting it all around the yard. First, I tried growing it as a ground cover, but it doesn’t grow profusely enough to cover and shade the ground, and its always finding a way to sneak and climb up something! But the plant is delicate and has a moderate enough growth, that I can allow it to grow up some trees and around other places I can maintain, but allow to grow on its own. It is also an annual, so it will die back and allow the tree to grow without the stress of a climber once the squash has lived out its life-cycle. Fruits do get heavy on the vine, so make sure the vine doesn’t climb young trees as it could snap branches. I grow my vines year round always having sponges and food. This is a great carefree plant that everyone should be growing. Who wouldn’t want chemical free sponges, grown from home?

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Happy Gardening!

Sissoo Spinach (Alternanthera sissoo)

Description

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!

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Propagation

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.

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Cut off stem

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

Care

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.

Eating

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!

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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.

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Beginnings of a forest (ōhiʻa lehua)

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uluhe

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Young forest (ōhiʻa lehua and uluhe)

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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.

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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.

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‘black gold’ – completed pile

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covered large pile

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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.
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Steps 1 & 2. Lay down cardboard and shape bed

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

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

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

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Step 8. Plant (sweet potato cuttings)

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Step 7. Add mulch

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

Happy Gardening!

Lablab (Lablab purpureus)

Description

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?

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Propagation

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.

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Dried Bean Pods

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De-shelled beans ready for eating or planting

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Seedling

Care

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.

Eating

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.

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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:

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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)

Description

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.

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Propagation

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.

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Cut semi-woody stem

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Stick into the ground without majority of leaves

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Seedling growing near parent plant

Care

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.

Eating

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:

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

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

Happy Gardening!

Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)

Description

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?

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Propagation

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.

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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

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Cut off branch or stem

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Trim leaves off

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Stick into ground

Care

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.

Eating

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:

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

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Mixed in the main garden.

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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)

Description

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.

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Propagation

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.

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Cut off branch or trunk.

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Trim off larger leaves.

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Stick into the ground.

Care

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.

Eating

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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)

Description

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.

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Propagation

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.

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Stick fruit on ground

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Place 1/3 of fruit above soil line

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Mulch well

Care

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.

Eating

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.

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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.

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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.

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Happy Gardening!