Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum)

Description

Sugarcane, or kō in Hawaiian, Saccharum officinarum, is an impressive multipurpose perennial clump grass. This plant has been cultivated for thousands of years around the world and was brought to Hawaii long ago as a canoe plant of the Polynesian migrants. (For more information on sugarcane as it specifically relates to Hawaii, check out: https://cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu/cane/.)

Depending on variety, sugarcane can vary widely in size and stature; some of the more common types grow on average to twelve feet tall by two inches in diameter, with the clump about six feet wide. Not only is sugar cane one of the most efficient known photosynthesizers, some varieties even fix their own atmospheric nitrogen in association with the bacterium Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus living in the stem!

Sugarcane is a perfect permaculture plant in the tropics; as an easy indicator of soil fertility, it can be grown up quickly as a windbreak and provides ample amounts of biomass. When the canes and leaves of sugarcane are chopped and applied as mulch, the result is an amazing fertilizer. As it decomposes, the nitrogen and sugars in the stem are released, supporting more green leafy growth, as well as beneficial microorganisms in the soil. Silica is also returned and made available, aiding and improving surrounding plants’ defense mechanisms and enhancing plant water translocation.

Sugarcane is traditionally used for sweetening medicines, as an anti-bacterial for wounds, and of course, juicing and processing into sugar. It’s edible and it’s medicine, too. I didn’t even mention the diversity and beauty! What a cool plant!!!

Propagation

Although mature clumps sometimes produce seed, sugarcane is typically propagated from cuttings. Take a stem with at least two to three nodes and bury it horizontally. Another option is to partially bury it at a 45-degree angle into the soil, making sure some nodes are under the soil surface. Typically, the highest portion of the stem is used for propagation, while the lowest part containing the most sugars is processed for consumption.

2-3 section node cuttings ready for planting

Plant horizontal with some of the shoots directed upward while the rest are pointed directly downward

Care

This plant loves sun, rain and is quite hungry. Plant in fertile soil and/or feed regularly for maximum production.

I maintain my plants as upright clumps only. Once canes begin to sprawl too much toward the earth, I cut down for mulching, propagation or consumption. I find leaving a tidy patch for easy maintenance is most beneficial. I also periodically remove spent leaves from canes to expose their beauty and mulch their beds.

Expect anywhere from nine months to two years before the first harvest. To ensure as much sugar energy is left in the cane as possible, harvest the plants before they flower (typically November and December in Hawaii). Sugar is concentrated in the lower portion of the cane.

Sugarcane is commercially harvested two to three times then replanted. However, with proper management, a clump can be grown for 10 years (or more) before replacement.

Eating

The easiest way to enjoy sugarcane is to divide into node sections and remove the thick outer skin of the cane. The inside is chewed to release the juice; fiber should be spit out/composted.

Sugarcane juice is obtained by pressing canes. Further processing and drying will result in crystallized or granular sugar.

Unopened flowers are edible raw, steamed or toasted. Unfolded leaves are edible cooked.

Cut into node sections and then cut off skin

Quartered and ready for snacking

Where to obtain planting materials

Sugarcane is everywhere! Sugarcane is regularly available at many plant sales, and is often naturalized in wild places. There are also a handful of collectors/enthusiasts around who share their specimens readily.

My Garden

Sometimes I overlook plants’ qualities, and until I’m actively cultivating that plant, I don’t fully appreciate the species. Sugarcane is a perfect example. It’s on the road everywhere, and it was in my first garden in Hawaii before I moved in. So, I allowed it to grow and ate it a few times. It wasn’t until one of my friends brought me over to his place that I truly recognized the diversity in colors, shapes and robustness. He’s always trying to share his collections’ diversity; just in case he loses any, he’ll know where to find them, again. As an individual who always wants to promote biodiversity and sharing, I gladly accepted a number of sugarcane cuttings and planted them in my own garden. It was only this month that I recognized and appreciated the unique attributes that I described above, and realized the importance of this species in a tropical cropping system. This is one of the first pioneer plants that should be planted in a system to feed the soils to allow for greater cropping capability for future plantings. It makes sense why this plant has been cultivated for generations as a biomass, protection crop and fertility builder. Grow sugarcane!

Sugarcane grown with: coconut, banana, squash, cosmos, cassava, blue basil, bush basil, edible hibiscus, Plectranthus barbatus, coleus, and crotalaria

Sugarcane grown with: coconut, banana, squash, cassava, cosmos, blue basil, bush basil, edible hibiscus, Plectranthus barbatus, coleus, and crotalaria

Sugarcane grown with: coconut, banana, squash, cassava, cosmos, blue basil, bush basil, edible hibiscus, Plectranthus barbatus, coleus, and crotalaria

Sugarcane with: Thai Basil, Catnip, Amorphophallus konjac, Shallots, Ginger, Boesenbergia rotunda, Pigeon Pea, ele ele banana, Broadleaf Papaya, Squash, Finger Lime, Kava, Kalo, Jobs Tears, Cassava, Alternanthera dentata

Happy Gardening!

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)

Description

Rosemary, Salvia rosmarinus, is a highly potent perennial herb, with a long history of cultivation. Rosemary has the potential to grow up to six feet tall and wide; different cultivars may have differing growth habits. I prefer upright forms because I find them easier to maintain than low-growing sprawlers. Medicinal properties are attributed to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, which may boost the immune system and blood circulation. It is also considered a cognitive stimulant and can improve memory! Rosemary has an amazing aromatic smell and an interesting structure, too!

Propagation

Rosemary is propagated by cuttings. Use cuttings six inches long and strip off all lower leaves, leaving a few at the top. It can set seed, however, seeds often have low viability and can be very difficult to germinate.

Cuttings ready to plant

Care

Rosemary prefers full sun. Once established, it is quite tolerant of most conditions.

Rosemary is from the Mediterranean region where conditions are typically quite dry. These conditions are very different from a wet tropical ecosystem, so a few techniques are recommended to allow it to thrive in the tropics. If you live in a wet zone, it is beneficial to add cinder into your planting hole to allow for better drainage, as rosemary cannot handle waterlogged conditions. Pot culture is common with rosemary as it allows one to create more desirable soil conditions and the plant can be moved out of excessively rainy weather, when necessary.

Eating

I harvest the youngest, most tender leaves and use them in the kitchen as an herb. I prefer to cook them rather than use raw because of its slight bitterness. Used as a savory seasoning on baked goods or roasted veggies is my favorite way to consume it.

Where to obtain planting materials

Rosemary is sold pretty much everywhere. Whenever possible, I find it beneficial to acquire propagation materials from a neighbor or other local source growing successfully, as this indicates a cultivar that will be more adapted to our climate.

My Garden

Growing up in California, I’ve always been around rosemary; it’s in a lot of people’s front yards where you can smell it as you walk by, and it’s a common ingredient in many foods. I have fond memories of walking to school and putting rosemary in my pocket to smell all day long. Moving to Hawaii, I was shocked to learn it would grow here as well! I grew rosemary in pots for a few years in Puna (from cuttings from friends), and after moving to Hilo, I noticed one of my neighbors had a small hedge growing on their fence. Their planting inspired me to take my plants out of pots and stick them in the ground. Wow! I’m actually surprised at how they are thriving and growing much faster now. I added plenty of cinder into the planting hole and planted them in a slightly raised bed. Now, the real questions: how big will they get, and will they flower?

Rosemary planted in my herb garden with: mitsuba, ko’oko’olau, kafir lime, tzimbalo, kalo, belembe, curry leaf, shiso, papaya, bush oregano, bouillon plant, bush mint, fragrant pandan, mint, mugwort, strawberries, blue berries and moringa.

Rosemary planted in my herb garden with: mitsuba, ko’oko’olau, kafir lime, tzimbalo, kalo, belembe, curry leaf, shiso, papaya, bush oregano, bouillon plant, bush mint, fragrant pandan, mint, mugwort, strawberries, blue berries and moringa.

Happy Gardening!

Bouillon Plant (Cordia verbenacea)

Description

Bouillon plant or erva baleeira, Cordia verbenacea, is a perennial herb and potent medicinal plant. This plant seems relatively rare in cultivation and is quite hard to find information on growing, yet there is much literature describing the medicinal properties. Bouillon plant is a small tree, growing up to twelve feet tall and wide. The scent and flavor of the leaves is almost exactly like soup stock, most closely resembling chicken noodle soup, in my opinion. This plant is extremely medicinal; its antibiotic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic and diuretic properties are utilized to treat colds, flu, fever and coughs, pneumonia, parasitic diseases and infections, rheumatism and arthritis, insomnia, malaria, skin diseases, ulcers and bleeding, all while promoting muscle relaxation, pain relief, digestion, and overall healing! This plant is used topically and internally in its leafy form, and made into an essential oil to be used medicinally, as well.

Propagation

Bouillon plant is easily grown from cuttings. Woody cuttings take more readily than non-woody cuttings.

The plant flowers profusely and sets some small red berries, I have not yet done any experimentation to determine if these seeds are viable or not.

Cuttings ready for planting

Care

Bouillon plant thrives in any location, part shade to full sun. I have started cuttings in pots as well as directly in the soil in a few different places and they’ve all taken off. This plant is very vigorous and is always full of edible leaves. Flowering does not affect the taste of the leaves, so this one can be maintained in a less diligent manner than some other herbs.

Eating

This plant may be eaten raw or cooked. I personally think the leaves are a bit intense raw. We typically take leaves, chop them coarsely and add them early in cooking, right after the onions are sautéed. We cook them with beans and soup quite often; the bouillon plant is actually one of our most used herbs.

Where to obtain planting materials

This seems to be a really rare one. As far as I know, only a handful of people have this plant on the island. It should be more widely grown!

My Garden

I first discovered this plant while visiting and working on a farm in Kohala with a friend. It was planted directly next to the house and when we brushed up against it, I was instantly intrigued. When we asked what the plant was, no one knew. I asked for a cutting to try and propagate, as seeds weren’t on the plant at the time. I started two cuttings and although they both took, I kept them in pots awhile, as I wasn’t sure what the plant was or where I would want to plant it. Those plants eventually rooted into the ground and I decided to pull one up and go plant it out in the field. My friend, who also got a cutting, grew his out a little bit and posted photos in a few online forums, asking for help with identification. We finally got an ID and were able to research and learn a little bit more about it.

I’ve since started eating it regularly, and just a few days before press time, experienced the medicinal properties of it firsthand. I recently got quite a few wasp stings and was very swollen, so I decided to try the plant on my hand, rather than my regular injury go-to (comfrey). I didn’t fully cover my swollen hand with the poultice and after I took off the covering I noticed half of my hand was still swollen and the other half completely normal. At this point, I was convinced of the medicinal properties and covered my hand for one full day; after that, the swelling was gone and my hand was back to normal. Wow, the magical properties of plants! This plant is another amazing addition to anyone’s homestead. The plant fascinates anyone who smells it, and the medicinal properties are on par with comfrey, another magical herb; this one is just a bit more pleasant to consume!

Bouillon plant planted with taro and papaya

Bouillon plant planted with: taro, stick oregano, papaya and tzimbalo

Happy Gardening!

Black Turmeric (Curcuma caesia)

Description

Black Turmeric, Curcuma caesia, is a potent perennial medicinal herb. This plant and its amazing blue-green colored rhizomes have an agreeable odor, but intense flavor, somewhat reminiscent of turpentine. Black turmeric goes dormant during part of the year, reverting to underground storage rhizomes to wait out the winter. Mid-spring, the plant shoots up bright pink and yellow flowers, and leaves up to four feet tall, bearing a red stripe along the midrib, follow a few weeks later. Common medicinal applications include use as an anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-asthmatic, antioxidant booster that can also soothe gastric issues, relax muscles, ease joint pain, control bleeding, and speed up healing of cuts and wounds. Pretty much a cure all!

Propagation

Separate roots into rhizomes, mother rhizomes and storage roots. Typically, turmeric is planted only from the mother rhizomes; the regular rhizomes are sold or used. If you only have access to regular rhizomes or are trying to propagate as many plants as you can, growing from the rhizomes is fine. Break them into sections where you have at least three eyes per rhizome. Plant them into the soil three to four inches deep and await their emergence.

Thus far, I have not figured out what to do with the storage roots; they do not grow, and I haven’t experimented with utilizing them. I usually only use the rhizomes.

Regular Rhizomes on top left. Mother Rhizomes bottom. Storage Roots top right.

Care

Black turmeric is grown exactly the same as regular turmeric. Take a rhizome and stick it in the ground, await its emergence in the spring and then fertilize. Once it goes dormant in the winter (leaves die back completely), dig it up and enjoy its beauty and taste!

Eating

In my opinion, rhizomes are too intense to use for cooking. We do a simple tincture and take a dropper full every night before bed. I’ve heard of people doing honey infusions as well.

To make the tincture, we take freshly washed rhizomes and add them to a food processor to chop finely. We then soak it in Hawaiian Okolehao (moonshine made from Ti leaf and sugarcane) for three to four weeks, agitating/shaking once a day, then strain and jar the liquid.

Where to obtain planting materials

I’ve seen this plant for sale a few times at plant sales, but it still seems to be oddly rare on the Big Island. I think because of its intensity, many people do not know how to use it.

My Garden

I’ve been growing black turmeric for a few years now; it wasn’t until this past year that I started consuming it on a regular basis. Previously, I only grew it as an ornamental because I couldn’t find a way to utilize the rhizomes appropriately. My mom’s co-worker shared with us her recipe for the tincture in exchange for some rhizomes. This simple exchange gave us the potential to utilize this amazingly medicinal plant. I believe the sugarcane in the moonshine smoothes out the intensity of the turmeric flavor, allowing it to be diluted enough to be enjoyable. We haven’t experimented with other alcohols, yet, but I’m already convinced the moonshine is the way to go.

This plant is highly ornamental and thrives without much attention. Everyone should be growing it!

Black Turmeric growing with: Acerola, cassava, mexican sunflower, awapuhi, sugar cane, mocambo, brazilian cherry, rollinia, mulberry, ooray, blackberry jam fruit, Ugni, podocarpus and cook pine.

Black Turmeric growing with: Acerola, cassava, mexican sunflower, awapuhi, sugar cane, mocambo, brazilian cherry, rollinia, mulberry, ooray, blackberry jam fruit, Ugni, podocarpus and cook pine.

Black Turmeric growing with: ti leaf, vetiver, pigeon pea, belembe, triple crown thornless blackberry, culantro, tamarillo, kumquat, poha, bell peppers, and citronella grass

Happy Gardening!

Hawaiian Hot Pepper (Capsicum frutescens)

Description

The Hawaiian Hot Pepper, Capsicum frutescens, is the classic local hot pepper. These peppers are quite small, but hold a perfect punch of heat. Plants are prolific five foot tall shrubs that live for two to three years and produce an amazing abundance of fruits. This pepper is most Hawaiian gardeners’ go-to pepper, as it’s always available to quickly grab and add to any dish. Hot peppers are nutritious and good for our general health, due to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and endorphin-releasing properties. This is the pepper added to make “chili peppa watah,” a traditional Hawaiian condiment.

Propagation

Hawaiian Hot Peppers are grown from seed. Simply open up a pepper and scrape out the seeds. Either cover very lightly with potting soil or surface sow. (Check out my seed propagation entry for more info.) Typically, peppers are slow at the start of their life; after a few weeks in the nursery, they start growing rapidly. I usually add five to ten seeds per pot and cull them as they reach two to three inches in height. I leave only one pepper plant per pot and then transplant to the garden after they are about five inches tall. At this stage, plant them in the garden as close to the kitchen as possible.

Care

Once established, these plants are extremely hardy and can pretty much grow on their own. They like as much sun as you can give them, but will do fine with partial sun. Regular harvesting promotes more fruit set, as does regular fertilizing. Fruit flies and/or pepper weevils can be a bit of a problem with peppers; to reduce losses from insects, harvest peppers when turning orange and allow them to sit a day or two to turn red before consumption. (I eat them orange sometimes as well.) They can also be pruned heavily and tend to re-sprout just fine.

Eating

In my opinion, one pepper per person in a meal is the perfect heat level. When I make large batches of salsa, I use two Hawaiian Hots, and one for a small batch.

Where to obtain planting materials

These peppers are regularly sold at nurseries, or you can buy some peppers from the farmers’ market and plant those seeds. Everyone should grow this pepper!

My Garden

I’ve grown Hawaiian Hot Peppers for over four years. This past year, I trialed over twenty different pepper varieties; the Hawaiian Hot still persists as one of my choice peppers, as they seem to be the least affected by fruit flies and almost always have fruit available for consumption. They become strong, sturdy bushes and can hold their own against competing vegetation. I like to keep three or four pepper plants close to the kitchen and have more in other places further away. Peppers are, in fact, one of my most used ingredients in the kitchen. They are so easy to grow, it’s almost insane not to grow them yourself! Peppers are quite ornamental as well, so they add a splash of beauty in any location. Grow them, eat them, and share your overabundance!

Hawaiian Hot Pepper with: tangerine, avocado, tangelo, dwarf maoli bananas, papaya, canna, bell peppers, lemba, kalo, lemongrass and ti.

Hawaiian Hot Pepper with: tangerine, avocado, tangelo, dwarf maoli bananas, papaya, canna, bell peppers, lemba, kalo, lemongrass and ti.

Hawaiian Hot Pepper with: tangerine, avocado, tangelo, dwarf maoli bananas, papaya, canna, bell peppers, lemba, kalo, lemongrass and ti.

Happy Gardening!

Canna (Canna edulis)

Description

Canna, Canna edulis, also known as Achira and Queensland arrowroot, is a highly productive, hardy, perennial food source. The rhizomes are the main food product, however, immature seeds and young growing shoots may also be harvested for consumption. Canna grows six to eight feet tall and produces abundant flowers and leaves. The rhizomes are high in starch content, yet are easily digestible. This plant is closely related to ornamental canna plants; however, this plant has been domesticated as a food source for its starchy roots for thousands of years. Canna thrives in poor soils and waterlogged conditions and rhizomes can live underground for years without becoming too woody or inedible. This is the perfect sow-it-and-forget-it plant; leave it in the ground and dig as you desire a starchy food in times of need. Not to mention this plant is highly ornamental!

Propagation

Canna is typically grown from root division: digging and splitting of rhizomes and replanting in new locations. Make sure propagation material has at least two buds for new growth.

This particular variety does grow true from seed, however, not all varieties do, especially where cross-pollination with ornamental varieties can occur. Scarification is commonly used to speed seed germination.

Canna ripe seed pods

Canna Seedlings

Canna root division propagules

Care

Canna is a carefree plant. It will grow in light shade or full sun. Canna may be used as a mulch source and likes to be regularly pruned to remove exhausted or older growth.

Harvest of rhizomes may begin as early as four months from root division. Ideal harvest time is six to ten months after planting.

Eating

Young tender shoot tips may be consumed as a vegetable.

Rhizomes are cooked and consumed like a potato, typically boiled or baked. A traditional method for preparation is to bake them underground whole for 12 hours, then scoop out the insides and consume. The starch may be extracted to make a flour to use as a thickener. Some Asian cultures even make clear noodles with the flour.

Where to obtain planting materials

I’ve only met one other person growing this plant intentionally on our island. I have seen this plant one other time on a hike to a Puna beach. Besides that, I’ve only seen the ornamental varieties around. Try an internet search, or ask around to see if it’s more commonly grown in your area.

My Garden

I looked for this plant for a long time; I finally stumbled upon it while working at a friend’s farm. He has many varieties of canna growing. One day, I asked him about this one colorful canna plant. He said, “that’s achira from the Andes!” Little did he know I’ve been searching for this particular species for years! He said he only had one plant and I could take some seeds to propagate it. Luckily, it was in a lone location in his agroforest so it wasn’t cross-pollinated with any other species. I took my few seeds and started a tray of them. Within a few weeks’ time, I had 32 little keiki awaiting a spot in the ground! I eagerly planted them out at two different sites and feeling the need to spread these hard to find genetics I gave some away to some trusted gardener friends. At this point, I’ve collected so many of the seeds from my plants that I don’t even know what to do with them! I will continue to plant them throughout my agroforest in the wettest locations where some other plants don’t want to grow so I can create patches of food insurance for later. My friend’s farm is located in a fairly dry environment; once I took those seeds and planted them in a wet location, they became extremely prolific!

Canna with: tangerine, avocado, tangelo, dwarf maoli bananas, papaya, hawaiian hot peppers, bell peppers, lemba, kalo, lemongrass and ti.

Before pruning and mulching.

After pruning and mulching.

Happy Gardening!

Winter Squash (Cucurbita spp.)

Description

Winter squash is an amazing, long-lived, productive, nutrient dense food source. Winter squash is a broad-term descriptive regarding the hardness of the fruit skin, indicating that it may be stored for long periods of time. For a tropical climate, Cucurbita moschata and Cucurbita maxima are the preferred growing species due to their vigor and hardiness to pests. These squash are sprawlers; vines can grow over 30 feet long. Tendrils provide an ability to climb if allowed, and vines typically produce a good amount of biomass in the form of large, broad leaves to outcompete unwanted plants. There are many varieties, colors, shapes and sizes of fruits. I’ve grown fruits as small as a pound and as large as twelve pounds. The immature fruits, young tender growing tips, seeds and the flowers of the plant are also edible. Fully mature fruits will last a few months in storage. These plants are vigorous and tasty!

Propagation

Winter squash is typically grown from seed. Open a ripe fruit and put the seeds into the ground, preferably direct sown in the place where you want it to grow.

Cuttings with three nodes and a small leaf are sometimes also used for propagation.

Care

Heavily amend the site you wish to grow the squash. Add as much manure, compost, fertilizer and mulch as you can before planting seeds. Squash are very hungry. The more food you supply to them at the time of planting, the more vigorous they will be. (Most literature I’ve read says there is no need to feed them while growing, just at the time of planting). Squash vines are happiest in full sun or light shade. Allow a large space to sprawl, or manage weekly and aim into desired areas. I’ve even seen squash growing extremely well climbing to the top canopy of citrus trees and producing large squash dangling in the air!!!

Male and female flowers are separate, but on the same plant (monoecious). Male flowers typically bloom alone for the first few weeks, and then female flowers emerge. A lot of the time, regular garden pollinators will pollinate the flowers; however, hand pollinating increases the chances of fruit set.

Usually vines tend to produce one squash at a time, unless they root at another node along their vine, which allows them to tap into more nutrients and sustain more fruits.

Male Flower

Female Flower

Female Flower. Notice the tiny unpollinated fruit attached to base of flower

Eating

Flowers and vine tips are edible; they should be picked early when very tender.

Immature fruit is best picked after the flower has fallen off.

The tendril closest to a fruit will brown when the fruit is mature and ripe. Usually the squash will change color and turn from a greenish to a yellow-tan color. Ripe fruits may be eaten with or without skin, and cooked by baking, roasting, boiling, steamed, or sauté.

Seeds may be cooked, or made into an oil extraction.

Tender vine tips ready for eating

Where to obtain planting materials

For the best locally-adapted genetics, it is most appropriate to collect fruits for eating from the local farmers’ market. A lot of time, most squash the vendors sell is homegrown by that vendor; you should ask if that’s the case. Then go home, cut it up, save the seeds, eat the food. If it is delicious (usually most are!), then plant those seeds. You may never be able to identify the squash itself, unless the vendor tells you the variety, but you will have good genetics.

Alternately, buy a seed pack from a seed company. But understand, it will potentially be less productive and more susceptible to various tropical pests. Remember to stick to the preferred species.

My Garden

Besides these past few months, I’ve had pretty limited success with growing winter squash. The majority of my previous fruits came from volunteer vines from my compost piles; anywhere I intentionally planted seeds, the keiki never got vigorous. First, it was the slugs/snails eating all the new growth, then the caterpillars boring into the immature fruits before fruit set, then the lack of sunlight, and finally, the lack of pollinators. The simplest solution for all these issues is adding more fertilizer; the more vigorous the plant, the more likely it is to put off more flowers to be potentially pollinated. I now have squash growing in a few different areas, and as I do my rounds, I regularly see little fruits growing! This is an incredible food source that basically maintains itself once it is going strong. More winter squash is the answer to a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Squash grown with: coconut, banana, sugarcane, cosmos, blue basil, bush basil, edible hibiscus, Plectranthus barbatus, and coleus

Squash grown with: coconut, banana, sugarcane, cosmos, blue basil, bush basil, edible hibiscus, Plectranthus barbatus, and coleus

Squash grown with: coconut, banana, sugarcane, cosmos, blue basil, bush basil, edible hibiscus, Plectranthus barbatus, and coleus

Squash grown with: banana, sugarcane, hot peppers, chico sapodilla, papaya, sweet potato, crotalaria, and cosmos

Squash with: Thai Basil, Catnip, Amorphophallus konjac, Shallots, Tithonia rotundifolia, Ginger, Boesenbergia rotunda, Sesbania javanica, Pigeon Pea, ele ele banana, Broadleaf Papaya, Cosmos, Sugar Cane, Kava, Kalo, Jobs Tears, Cassava, Alternanthera dentata

Happy Gardening!

Yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius)

Description

Yacón, Smallanthus sonchifolius, is a sweet, crispy, and tasty perennial root crop. Despite its status as a perennial, yacón is typically treated like an annual, dug up once a year and replanted. Yacón grows to heights of six to eight feet tall and forms as a clumping herb. The storage roots are the most sought-after product. However, the main stem may also be eaten as a cooked vegetable. The storage roots are high in fructooligosaccharides (commonly used as a sugar alternative) and contain very few calories. Yacón is a very beautiful and productive plant!

Propagation

Yacón is propagated by offsets produced at ground level near the top of the crown. It may also be grown from stem cuttings.

Harvest when stems die back

Clean and separate larger storage roots from offsets

Plant offsets below soil surface

Care

Yacón likes loose soil, and prefers full sun or light shade. Once planted and weeded a few times, the plant will take care of itself. You may harvest within the first year, or leave the plant to grow multiple seasons for a much larger harvest.

Eating

Yacón is harvested once the stems die back and energy is transferred to the storage roots, usually six months to one year after planting. Storage roots are left out in the sun for a few days or weeks to sweeten up. Once the skin has slightly wrinkled, it can be peeled off and the roots consumed. Yacón is usually eaten raw, but is sometimes boiled or baked, made into a drink, or made into a sugar substitute (yacón syrup). Storage roots stored in a cool place will last a few months before deteriorating.

Where to obtain planting materials

I’ve seen yacón for sale at a few plant sales and quite a few individuals on island grow it. Ask someone growing it for some offsets for propagation.

My Garden

I’ve been growing yacón for over two years now. The initial places I planted it were too shady and the soil was too shallow. The plants would develop but not grow to their full potential, leaving me with a tiny harvest. I learned I needed to give them more sun and a larger root area. This year, I decided to dig up just two plants and allow the rest to go another year before harvest, in hopes that I will get a larger crop next season. The two plants gave me a small harvest but lots of propagation material; I will plant those out in more fluffed soil and fertilize more in order to gain larger harvests. I got my propagation materials from a friend’s farm in Kohala where they grow huge yacón plants with massive yields, so it does have the potential to be a highly productive crop. It just needs a little more cultivation on my end. Ever learning as I go along!

Happy Gardening!

Clove Basil (Ocimum gratissimum)

Description

Clove basil or bush basil, Ocimum gratissimum, is a large-statured, potent, perennial basil. This plant grows up to eight feet tall and wide and lives for multiple years. The leaves, flowers and seeds are edible, and are used medicinally to aid in digestion, soothing sore throats and skin irritants, as well as to relieve headaches, fever and common sicknesses. The leaves are used as insect repellent and natural disinfectant, and are commonly made into an essential oil.

Clove Basil. Ocimum gratissimum Leaves and FlowersClove Basil. Ocimum gratissimum Leaves and flowers 2

Propagation

Clove basil is usually propagated from woody cuttings. Seeds can be sown, but germination rate may be very low.

Clove Basil. Ocimum gratissimum Woody Stem

Woody trunk

Care

This plant is pretty much carefree and will grow in light shade or full sun.

Eating

Leaves are used in soups and stews; they are typically added during cooking, and again at the end of preparation, lightly cooked for garnish. Hand tearing the leaves, instead of cutting with a knife, allows the leaves to retain their color and not turn brown. Leaves are also used as a tea. Flavor is almost exactly like the spice, clove.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask a friend growing clove basil for some cuttings.

My Garden

I’m always on the lookout for new-to-me herbs, spices and vegetables. Clove basil came to me while visiting some friends’ farms on the northern end of the island. I get really excited when I find large, strong, and fast-growing plants to add to my repertoire. These plants play an important role in covering soils and aiding in complexity within ecosystems. At this point, I really enjoy mixing clove basil, coleus, cassava and Plectranthus barbatus together with trees in a nice perennial polyculture. All of these plants can be cut back at any point for mulching to feed the tree and all provide numerous beneficial activities. Multi-diverse, multi-strata systems follow nature as closely as possible; it seems logical to follow her example!

Clove basil grown with: cassava, sweet potato, taro, pigeon pea, sugarcane, roselle, coleus, ti, kava, turmeric, Plectranthus barbatus, banana, cocona, comfrey, edible hibiscus, Xanthosoma brasiliense, and kukui

Happy Gardening!

Cosmos (Cosmos caudatus)

Description

Cosmos, wild cosmos or Ulam Raja, Cosmos caudatus, is an incredibly productive edible/medicinal plant. This plant is an annual, but can be regularly managed as a short-lived perennial. The leaves are eaten for their high mineral and antioxidant content, which is believed to contribute to increased blood circulation, bone strength and general good health. Wild cosmos creates a lot of biomass and can reach up to nine feet tall by about four feet wide. The plant starts off slowly, growing to a height of about two feet in the first few weeks, and then takes off to become the giant it wants to be. They usually don’t start flowering until they are four to five feet tall and flower continually until their death.

 Propagation

Wild cosmos is grown from its prolific seeds. Seeds are sown at the soil surface. However, they will sprout through fine textured mulch as well.

Care

This plant is carefree. Sprinkle around seeds, wait and watch them grow. Their lifecycle seems to be about nine months if left unchecked. To prolong their life, I usually allow them to seed heavily for a little while, collect all the seeds and then cut the plant back to waist height. This will spark them to regrow vigorously, again; this process can be done continuously.

Eating

The tender young leaves and stems are commonly eaten raw. Eat from a plant that has not yet flowered as the flavor becomes more intense after flowering. If managed by regularly pruning off flower stalks, the plant will continue to grow leafy material suitable for consumption.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask a friend for some seeds. I’ve never seen this plant for sale, and I only recently discovered that it’s edible, and what its scientific name is.

My Garden

Wild cosmos is one of my staple biomass-creating plants in my systems. I typically create successional cover crop mixes creating a continuous blanket of biomass to protect soils and to create living mulch to cut and feed to my other cropped plants. Where I have it growing as a hedge, it helps with weed suppression, by shading and preventing germination of less desirable seedlings. Cosmos flowers attract lots of bees and other pollinators!

Happy Gardening!