Shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum)

Description

Shallots, Allium cepa var. aggregatum, are tasty perennial clumping bulbs that resemble garlic and/or onion. Shallots grow one to two feet tall. Bulbs, leaves and flowers are edible and may be eaten cooked or raw. Shallots have a very interesting growth habit; they grow from a single small bulb that grows larger before creating multiple small bulbs that spread out from the original, forming a clump.

Propagation

Individual bulbs are planted just under the soil surface six inches apart. I haven’t found solid evidence on seed production and am currently running experiments to see if they will set seed. Rumor has it that true shallots do not set seed, but onion-like shallots do produce seed. Somewhat confusing.

Purchased Shallots separated and ready to plant

Plant with rootlets down and just below soil surface

Care

Shallots prefer full sun, a fairly weed free zone and good drainage. Growing in polyculture works well as they will fill a small tight niche while other plants may grow taller or wider nearby.

Eating

Shallot bulbs are delicious! Green leaves may be eaten exactly like green onions. If harvesting for leaves, remove a few from multiple plants to obtain a harvest rather than take all from one plant, which may set back or damage that individual.

Where to obtain planting materials

Shallot bulbs may be purchased from the farmers market or grocery store, found near the onions or garlic. Although sold for consumption, you may plant them to grow and produce more.

My Garden

Onions and garlic have always been two of my favorite and most used staple ingredients throughout my life. When I moved to Hawaii, I realized I could no longer grow those plants, as we do not quite have the right conditions (cold) for them to grow effortlessly. In my search for a replacement for those two, I came across the shallot, which I’ve decided is the tastiest replacement! This is the first time I’ve grown shallots and I’m super excited as I watch them grow. I stuck some bulbs into the ground about two months ago and now they are clumping out and starting to flower! How exciting!

Shallots with: Thai Basil, Catnip, Amorphophallus konjac, Squash, 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!

Awapuhi/Shampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbet)

Description

Zingiber zerumbet, ‘Awapuhi or Shampoo Ginger, is a perennial multipurpose herbaceous plant. The shoots, rhizomes and inflorescence liquid are all consumable. The rhizome has traditionally been used in medicinal applications as an anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, de-wormer, and for various types of pain management. The liquid from the inflorescence is drinkable. Perhaps the most well known use for ‘awapuhi is the inflorescence liquid as shampoo or conditioner for the hair and skin, as it provides a soothing, shiny and smoothing effect. This ginger relative grows to heights of about two to four feet. Like some other gingers, ‘awapuhi dies back annually to store its energy in its roots/rhizomes. From these rhizomes, the plant re-sprouts in spring, when the weather is ideal for them. ‘Awaphui can form dense thickets, so allow them to have a lot of space, or plan to manage them annually. Despite its tendency to spread, it has not been included on any invasive species lists and has been on the islands for over 1,000 years (i.e.: it’s generally not a problematic plant).

To utilize the liquid from the inflorescence: use a cup or jar and hand-squeeze the inflorescence until the juice comes out. Milking may be done repeatedly if left on the plant. If using as shampoo, you may or may not decide to rinse out the liquid dependent upon your desires.

Hand squeeze to milk inflorescence

Propagation

‘Awapuhi does not produce seed and is only propagated by division. Dig up rhizomes when dormant; divide and replant for plant replication in a separate area. Rhizomes spread on their own naturally.

Rhizomes sprouting

Care

This plant is very carefree. Plant it, let it grow and watch the flowers emerge. This plant will thrive in heavy shade and waterlogged soils. In other words, it can be planted in places where most plants will not live.

Eating

Shoots are spicy and consist of the still folded leaves as they emerge. Mature rhizomes are intensely bitter; young rhizomes are not as powerful.

Where to obtain planting materials

Ask a friend growing the plant for some rhizomes! I’ve seen this plant for sale at local nurseries, too. ‘Awapuhi is pretty easy to find, as it was a canoe plant, an ancient Polynesian introduction into Hawaii.

My Garden

When I first started my garden, I was really interested in finding all the Polynesian canoe plants. It took me awhile before I found my first ‘awapuhi plant. But finally, I got a small bit of rhizome from a neighbor that slowly established itself. A few months later, another friend gave me a bunch of his harvested “edible ginger” (Zingiber officinale). I went to eat some of the ginger and it was so intense! I used too much of it and made my meal unpalatable. For a few months, I was confused about that whole situation until I allowed some of the rhizomes he gave me to grow out. As soon as the flower came out, I knew what had happened! I accidently ate ‘awapuhi! At least I obtained some amazing medicinal benefits from that experience. Two years later, I was able to dig up that original clump and spread it around to create many more plants, some of which I planted in a waterway where not many other plants want to grow. Now I get it watch it thrive and utilize the many flowers it creates!!

Happy Gardening!

Bamboo (Multiple Species)

Description

Bamboos (multiple genus and species) are huge perennial multi-purpose grasses. They may reach heights from 10-150 feet dependent on species. Bamboos are typically divided into two types: the runners and the clumpers. Runners grow from spreading rhizomes that sprout and continually ‘run’ from the original planting location, which could spread indefinitely, creating major invasive potential. New growth on clumpers gradually radiates out from the original planting in a relatively predictable pattern. Clumpers are generally more desirable as they are not as aggressive and do not readily spread into unanticipated locations. I only recommend planting clumpers as they can be more easily maintained.

Bamboos may be utilized in numerous ways. The tender new shoots may be eaten and the older, more mature stalks, or culms, may be used for building or as containers. There are many uses for bamboo and a lot of information on bamboos.

Bambusa ventricosa and Nastus elatus

Nastus elatus – new shoots edible raw

Propagation

Propagation is from division, as seed is not typically produced. Dividing a clump may be done in numerous ways, being species dependent. The easiest way I’ve found for propagation is to take a mature culm, cut it off the parent plant, strip off leaves and cut the culm into segments of at least four nodes. Dig a narrow trench to allow the culm segment to fit horizontally into the trench fully below the soil surface. At this point you allow the culm to do its thing for a few months (four to six months, usually) and they will send up new shoots when ready. Once you notice the new shoots, you may dig up the originally planted culm and with a handsaw, divide dependent upon how many shoots emerged. Pot them up individually and you now have a clone, or multiple clones from the parent clump.

Care

When young, plan to weed regularly; bamboos start slowly and have the potential to be overtaken by other vegetation. It seems there are two “seasons” for bamboo: the above ground growing season and the below ground growing season. So, this means that you only see visual growth six months of the year. You may think they are dormant or not growing, but they are in fact getting ready for their intense above ground growing season by working underground. Once they get going, regular fertilizing will enhance growth.

As clumps age, regular maintenance will be necessary. Remove any dead/fallen over stalks. Dependent upon on how you decide to utilize the clump, that will determine how it should be managed. Culms can be selected out for straight growth (timber applications), or thinned for an easier bamboo shoot harvest. Regular pruning of lower branches creates a trouble-free working space and allows the bamboo to look “cleaner.” All bamboos have different growth patterns; be sure to research what to expect before selecting species. I prefer bamboos with minimal to no lower branches as they are easier to work and walk around.

Quick tips for mature culm management: Get yourself a nice bamboo specific handsaw – this will allow for nice quick detachment from the parent plant; always cut bamboo at the nodes. If using bamboo for building, use a ring of tape around the culm above your cut line to prevent the bamboo pole from splitting during cutting. Curing may or may not be useful for specific bamboo purposes. Look into the multiple methods for curing. I’ve had uncured culms last two years or more without any decomposition issues.

Use bamboo specific handsaw for timber management. On thin walled bamboos it may be ideal to use a tape ring to prevent bamboo from splitting when cutting

Eating

Bamboo shoots are delicious! Careful selection of species allows for selection of desirable traits. My most recommended species is Nastus elatus as this plant plays nicely with others; it has an upright habit with minimal to no lower branching. This plant also produces new shoots that are edible when raw. (Not all bamboos are edible raw, and many contain higher levels of cyanogenic glycosides that needs to be cooked for a while before it becomes edible.)

When new culms appear, they start off and sprout quickly and grow a few inches before stalling. During this period, they are gathering energy for the rest of the growth of that culm. This stall period is when you want to harvest shoots for consumption. Simply cut off new shoot as low as you can. Peel off outer sheaths to reveal a tender – usually white – inner core. That is what gets eaten.

Edible shoot with outer sheaths removed – ready for consumption

Where to obtain planting materials

There are a handful of nurseries that sell potted plants (usually quite expensive). Or ask a friend with a clump mature enough to try to divide from. Try various methods for propagation to determine what works best, or do some solid research and figure out what other people suggest to propagate that specific species.

My Garden

I’ve been growing a handful of bamboos for a few years now. One of my clumps is old enough to be regularly producing new edible shoots, and due to me not planning out the best location for this bamboo, I need to regularly harvest it so it wont grow into my catchment. This means I get regular shoot harvests as I maintain that clump and slowly thin it out. You really should take the time to plan out the location for the height and spread of a bamboo clump. They are really quite prolific and dominating plants, yet their beauty and usefulness is enticing.

Nastus elatus branch-less habit

Guadua angustifolia – thorny/branched habit

Happy Gardening!

Spineless Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa)

Description

Spineless chaya, Cnidoscolus chayamansa, is another highly nutritious perennial ‘tree spinach’ (not to be confused with the closely related spiny chaya, Cnidoscolus aconitifolius). This productive plant can reach heights of over 12 feet, is fairly fast growing and requires very little attention. The abundant leaf matter is high in protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. It is commonly consumed fresh/cooked, but can also be dried and stored for use as a dietary supplement for humans and animals. This plant thrives in dry tropical regions, but with a little care, can also be grown in very wet places.

Propagation

Spineless chaya is typically grown from cuttings. In its native habitat, it allegedly produces seeds. However, I have never heard of that happening here.

Take a slightly woody stem cutting and remove it from the parent plant. Remove all but the top leaves and allow the cutting to dry out a few days. The cut/sap will callous, and prevent it from rotting from the bottom of the stem. I’ve found it’s best not to remove the top part of the cutting and to only utilize cuttings with growing tips still attached. This prevents rotting from the top down. Once dried a few days, proceed to stick it into the ground!

Remove leaves but retain growing tip. Allow to dry/callous and proceed to plant!

Care

Spineless chaya can be grown in part shade or full sun. Plants grow slowly at first and begin to grow rapidly once the hottest months come around. This plant is basically pest and carefree.

Eating

Boiling or frying are the main cooking methods. Chaya leaves contain hydrocyanic glycosides; make sure to cook leaves for at least five minutes to remove toxins. While this specie can technically be eaten raw, toxin tolerance will vary depending on the individual. Therefore, it’s probably best to keep raw leaf consumption to a minimum. New shoots are also cooked and eaten as a vegetable.

Where to obtain planting materials

This plant is very easy to find within Big Island gardening communities. Ask a friend for a cutting!

My Garden

I’ve grown this plant for a few years now, but it’s taken me awhile to figure out the best way to propagate because of its tendency to rot out. With my newest technique described above, I’m finally starting to spread it around. I haven’t had the most productive plants grown here but I have a few friends in nearby places with huge chaya plants. It is persistent, but I haven’t seen its full growth potential at my site. It is a pretty plant, though!

Spineless Chaya grown with: ti, kalo, sissoo spinach, okinawan spinach, cosmos, edible hibiscus, kava, Cuban oregano, orange, and coconut

Happy Gardening!

Mitsuba (Cryptotaenia japonica)

Description

Mitsuba, Cryptotaenia japonica, or Japanese parsley/Japanese honeywort, is a perennial shade-loving herb. It has a taste somewhat reminiscent of parsley/celery. Mitsuba grows up to two feet tall, with a clumping habit formed by short rhizomes and thick roots. Most parts of the plant are edible: the leaves, stems, shoots and seeds. The leaves smell wonderful to brush against and have a beautiful appearance.

Propagation

Mitsuba grows from seed; however, I’ve never seen my plant produce flowers.

Plants may easily be divided as well.

Care

Mitsuba is carefree. Plant in part shade and watch it grow! Regular fertilizing will promote vegetative growth.

Eating

The leaves/stems are used fresh or blanched/parboiled and used in various dishes: pickles, soups, salads, stir fried, or fried. Leaves become somewhat bitter with too much cooking, so cook them quickly or add them as a garnish. The roots are typically fried.

Where to obtain planting materials

This one is a little bit more difficult than most. I’ve never seen the plant or seeds for sale on island. I got a small plant from a friend who got that from a friend. It is around, and I’ve seen it for sale on some seed catalog websites. From my readings, this plant is highly valued in Japanese cuisine; maybe tap into their community to find the plant.

My Garden

I’ve been growing this plant for a little while now and I always use it as a parsley replacement in recipes or when I want a similar flavor. My plant is just now vigorous enough to divide and create more plants. It’s nicely nestled into my herb garden where the leaves make me stop and stare whenever I see it. In the same bed, I’ve been letting my crotalaria spp. (rattlepod) grow like crazy to propagate and gather seeds; luckily for mitsuba, it loves living under the shade this provides!

Happy Gardening!

Bush Mint (Satureja viminea)

Description
Bush Mint, satureja viminea, or Jamaican tree mint, is a perennial tiny leaf mint relative with a large stature and a very potent spearmint flavor. Bush mint reaches heights of six to eight feet with a woody stem, and is delicious as a mint replacement. Apparently, this plant is used in a cool healing bath once processed lightly as well. It also produces abundant little white flowers seasonally. What a pretty plant!

Propagation
Bush mint grows from seeds and cuttings. It is a little difficult to propagate, so in anticipation of that, try to start a lot of plants at once.

Care
Bush mint is a carefree plant. Prune to desired shape and fertilize when needed. This plant grows better than all other mints I’ve tried. Prefers full sun or part shade.

Eating
I have switched from growing and eating other mints because this mint has upright leaves meaning it never comes in contact with the soil, I go for the higher leaves to prevent slug contact as well. I usually only eat tender new leaves as the plant produces so much leafy matter there’s no reason to go for older leaves. I use this mint in teas, soups, salads, and curries. Yum!

Where to obtain planting materials
This plant is a little bit more difficult to find. I’ve only seen it for sale a couple of times. However, quite a few people are growing it so if you come across them ask for a handful of cuttings to try and propagate.

My Garden
I discovered this plant about a year ago and I got a little keiki from a friend. This plant was only a few inches tall and now it’s over four feet. I constantly prune it as I harvest to keep it right around that height. It seems to just flush out and flush out; the plant flowered for about two months and now it’s back in grow mode. This plants habit works wonderfully in an herb spiral or an herb garden; a lot of other herbs are
lower ground growers and this one sprawls upward, creating different canopy layers within your mini garden. Canopy stratification is important for plants to grow well together; they can fill all available niches to prevent unwanted plants from growing. They also protect each other from winds, intense sunlight and heavy rainfall, which are all quite abundant here!

Herb Spiral: Bush Mint, Chives, Garlic Chives, Mitsuba, Vietnamese Coriander, Stevia, Society Garlic, Culantro, Tansy, Ko’oko’olau, Pineapple Sage, Plantain, Cosmos and Crotolaria

Happy Gardening!

Hawaiian Cocktail Pepper (Capsicum chinense)

Description

The Hawaiian Cocktail Pepper, Capsicum chinense, is a highly productive perennial sweet bell pepper. The peppers start green and turn to deep red (sometimes yellow) as they ripen. From my observations, this is a hot pepper that has been domesticated to no longer produce the heat; when you open a pepper you get that scent of heat but no bite when you eat them. These pepper plants can live about two years and grow 2-3’ tall and 3-4’ wide.

Flowers

Fruits

Growth Habit

Propagation

The Hawaiian Cocktail Pepper, like most peppers, is grown from seed. To harvest a pepper for seed, I allow some of the largest peppers on the plant to stay on the plant until the peppers have slightly shriveled. Then, I will open it up, eat it, and save the seeds for planting. Check out the seed propagation blog for more info on starting seeds.

Rumor has it that this pepper will grow from cuttings and can potentially be grafted onto other rootstocks. I do not have any experience with this, yet.

Care

These are very carefree pepper plants. Grow in some shade, full sun, out of the rain, or in full rain. Regularly harvest peppers for stimulation of the plant. Cut off dead branches and occasionally you can give it a heavy pruning, leaving just a couple of main branches.

Heavy prune: cut off woody branches and keep that bright green branch in the middle

Eating

Harvest at any stage of ripeness; I usually wait for a least a little color to appear on the skin, You can leave them on for quite a long time and they will slowly wrinkle; at this stage they are still edible. Just don’t allow them to go soft or you will miss your window to eat them.

Where to obtain planting materials

Get fruits from a friend growing this plant, or keep your eyes open at the farmers’ market; I see these peppers sold all the time. That’s where I got my original seeds.

My Garden

I’ve grown this pepper for a few years now; at this point most of my seeds are from my own plants, I did recently get some new genetics mixed in when I got a handful of peppers from a friend. You’ll always want to bring in new genetics periodically so your plants do not weaken. I also recently acquired a yellow variety of this same plant (very exciting)! During the eruption my little potted pepper plant was hiding in my sun-house. This plant did not get watered for five months and survived regular doses of sulfur in the air. This pepper plant continued to produce for part of the eruption and when I moved back into the property, the plant was here waiting for me full of flowers. This is the plant in all of my photos for this entry. The plant is loaded with peppers (for the second time since September) and continues to flower and keep on going. What an amazingly hardy little plant. I shall continue to collect and spread these genetics.

The pepper that survived the eruption

Happy Gardening!

Litte Fire Ant (Wasmannia auropunctata) Prevention and Protocol

This blog entry is intended for Hawaii residents to prevent new introductions of an invasive specie onto your property.

Description

Little Fire Ant (LFA), Wasmannia auropunctata, is an invasive ant with a nasty sting. LFA are small, fully red, slow moving and live in trees. They do not swarm and they only sting when they get roughed up. While they are not super painful, multiple stings will leave welts and itchiness for a few days. No ants are native to Hawaii and all cause harm to the native ecosystem. However, LFA cause harm to us humans as well, they can and should be controlled around your home.

Typical LFA activity on a potted plant

LFA do not spread very far from their nest. So most nests will be brought onto your property by human activities of moving around materials. Maybe in a potted plant or other plant materials. Check all materials brought into your yard before spreading them.

This is important to note. Worker ants do not start new nests. Only a queen will start a new nest by laying a new queen, this new queen will travel very close to the original nest and start her new nest. Queen and worker ants look quite different, and you will usually see eggs where there is a nest and a queen. So only moving a nest can create a new nest. Not moving individual worker ants.

I highly recommend taking a free LFA workshop from Big Island Invasive Species Committee to learn more information from the experts (http://www.biisc.org/lfa/).

Survey

First thing to know is if you have LFA or not. You will need to survey multiple places in your yard to see if or where they have nests. They prefer trees and shaded moist areas. Look at BIISC website for more details (http://www.biisc.org/surveying-for-lfa/).

  • Use a chopstick, coffee stirrer, stick, pencil, anything that you can stick somewhere and can remember what it looks like
  • Spread a thin layer of peanut butter on the stick (LFA love the protein and sugar content of peanut butter)
  • Poke them into crevices on trees, bananas, ti, near shrubs or into grass
  • Wait 30 minutes
  • Check sticks to see if LFA are crawling around near the peanut butter
  • If you cannot identify them as LFA check website above for confirmation details
  • Note locations where infected sticks were found

Survey all soils, mulches, cinders, composts, tree materials (including posts and logs), firewood, potted plants, cuttings, grafts, air-layers, literally everything, before moving them around your site. 

Chopstick with smeared peanut butter

LFA Found

Quarantine Potential Infection Points

It only takes a few minutes to survey materials at the entrance of your property. This will prevent nest from entering! Once the survey is completed you can proceed to deal with the outcome of your survey. To learn about chemical products for treatments and prevention check out http://www.biisc.org/types-of-products-to-control-lfa/. Amdro and Tango both work as a chemical control.

Non-Pesticide Method For Prevention

Soapy water will drown the ants. The soapy water breaks down the exoskeleton of the ant and deteriorates their floating/waterproofing abilities. When I bring new materials into my yard, I soak them all in soapy water for 15-30 minutes to reduce risk of bringing in new nests.

I also follow this process before I transplant a potted plant into the ground. That way I’m not spreading a nest to an uninfected part of the yard.

Protocol:

  • 5 gallon bucket with ~ 1 gallon of water
  • 1 teaspoon of soap. Any dish soap will do, but make sure it isn’t ‘ultra’ as that could harm your plants. I use Dr. Bronner’s soap.
  • Stick your whole plant into the solution, soil and all. Make sure there is enough water to completely cover the whole pot.
  • After 15-30 minutes, remove the plants and run water through the pot to wash out any excess soap. (If transplanting I look at root ball to make sure no more ants are moving)

3 gallon water: 3 teaspoons soap

Plant soaking in sudsy solution

Larger scale soaking. Sudsy water

Soak plants as much as possible

Rinse out soapy water

Keep the ratio at least 1 gallon of water: 1 teaspoon soap. So 3 gallons of water would be 3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon of soap. When doing larger containers just make sure the water stays sudsy during the soaking.

This also prevents spreading other pests around too.

Conclusion

I’ve been using this method about two years now and I haven’t spread any ants around to uninfected parts of the property. This process does work! I also soak everything before I give plants away including cuttings and I have never given anyone fire ants. If everyone were to follow this easy protocol we could greatly reduce the spread of these little ants!

This makes for much more happy gardening!

Heart of Palm (Cocos nucifera)

Description

Heart of palm is a well-known vegetable taken from the terminal bud (youngest leaf shoots) from many different palms. This entry will focus specifically on the coconut tree (cocos nucifera); however, most palms can be processed the same way. Taking the heart of palm does kill a coconut tree, so please only cut down a coconut if it is in an undesired location, like too close to the house. Other species grown for heart of palm generally have a different growth habit and a single plant will produce multiple trunks, which can be harvested without killing the entire plant. Taking the heart out of the palm is a lot of work, but the younger the tree the easier it will be. This was the first time I’ve processed heart of palm and I very quickly realized this is my new favorite vegetable! It is so versatile!

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Propagation

Coconuts are grown from seed. Literally place an unopened coconut on the ground. Give it time.

You can grow them in a patch and let them grow for a year or two and come in and harvest the palm of the really young trees. That way you’re growing them for their hearts and you don’t need to allow them to have the space they need as full mature trees.

Harvesting

Never cut down a coconut in the wild or on someone else’s private property. Coconuts are the tree of life and have more uses for humans than any other plant on the planet. These are very very special and important trees. With that being said, if the palm endangers or is in the wrong place, go ahead and work it. The smaller the tree the safer and easier it is to work with. Do not take on this project with a large palm if you don’t have the capabilities of using a chainsaw. Coconuts are dense and hard to work; a handsaw just won’t work for the trunk (I tried). Heart of palm is very perishable. Work the palm quickly and efficiently and do not open the heart until you are ready to eat it. It oxidizes immediately. Take it into the kitchen to store it right away and do not leave in the sun. You may refrigerate or freeze fresh once harvested.

This is the section of the palm where the heart is located. The rest of the palm is woody and has older fronds. Cut down the entire trunk and cut off this section to work it separately.

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CIMG4469

Buck up the rest of the trunk into sizeable pieces and distribute them as borders or around trees for mulch. Utilize fronds however you would like, I mulched them heavily around an orange tree then in areas to suppress grasses. So many uses from this plant!

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Work the heart out of the palm by cutting cross sections of both sides of the heart until you notice a difference in texture and color.

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Bottom Section of HOP

Once you notice the difference, begin to peel off the sheaths. It’s all edible at this point so begin trying pieces to determine if it’s bitter or not. If it is bitter, peel off another sheath and get down another layer. Try it again and see from there. Once you have gotten past the bitter part and into the delicious sweet heart you’re ready to bring it inside.

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Slice lengthwise to take off layers

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keep on going

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now you can begin to taste for bitterness

Now you see why heart of palm has such a high value, it is a lot of work and does kill certain palms.

Eating

Heart of palm may be eaten raw or cooked. This is where things get really interesting. I found that there are a few different pieces and textures within the heart. The main part people eat is the small cylindrical very center. But I really enjoy the larger chunks outside of this portion that come along with it. These remind me of fish fillets. Even when you cook them, we broiled them and added a little lemon and it was literally like eating a piece of white fish. We made ‘crab cakes’, ‘ceviche’, ‘mashed potatoes’ and raw salads with it. You can make creamy soups, sauté, pizza, omelets, curries, chutneys and salsas as well.

My Garden

Someone planted coconuts too close to the house. As I’ve lived here, I’ve slowly watched the coconuts get larger and larger. At this point one developed a nice trunk and started leaning toward the house! I knew one day the time would come to cut the tree down before it gets too large and becomes a danger to the house. And of course if you let it get too large, it will grow directly over the house (searching for all that reflective light like the ocean) and drop fronds and nuts on the house. The house would quickly become damaged. I was talking to a friend one day telling him my woes about cutting down the palm. He said, ‘why don’t you eat it?’ That changed it all. So the day came to cut her down. I got a huge heart of palm harvest and now I use the dead stump to tie string for a trellis. The roots of the coconut are now starting to break down and turning the soil into incredibly fertile soils. The coconut used to suck up all the moisture and nutrients from the surrounding beds, now I see the other side of it and the coconut heavily feeding my beds and plants that are directly next to the stump. Allow the nutrient cycling to continue!

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Happy Gardening!

Cassava Processing – Pressure Cooking

Description

Cassava tubers are an incredible, versatile, starchy food source. It is super easy to grow and thrives in minimal and poor soils! Did you know that processing and preparing cassava is just as easy as growing it? There are many ways to prepare cassava; I’ve found this method really straightforward to get it into the kitchen. This method is for pressure cooking cassava and not making flours, starch granules, or ferments. Once cassava is out of the ground the shelf life is really short, so process it as soon as possible. Not to worry when you have a large harvest, it’s easy to store too!

You need to learn the variety you’re growing. Be sure to only dig up the same variety and process it by itself. Don’t mix varieties when you process and cook as they may have different textures and cook times. Variety names do not matter, as I cannot find any information on varieties and cook times, so just stick to your same varieties and learn as you go. I’ve heard on our island we have three varieties: red, yellow and green. But I have at least five distinctly different varieties growing right now, so that shattered that theory. Look at leaf shape, color of stem and leaves, and color of petiole and stipule. Since cassava is typically grown as a clone and not seed, genetic variability doesn’t occur. So these are direct clones someone has cultivated somewhere and it adapted and evolved into separate varieties. In simple: stick to same varieties when preparing and cooking. I like to grow a few plants in close proximity and harvest them all at the same time and re-grow a patch once harvested.

Harvest

Again, you have to learn when your particular variety is ready for harvest, write down when you planted it and write down when you obtain a satisfactory harvest. Different varieties harvest between 6-18 months. You may harvest at specific time depending on the age of tuber you want. I prefer young tubers as you can use them all and not worry about woodiness. So I harvest early.

There are two ideologies when it comes to harvesting cassava. 1. Dig the whole plant up, and 2. Dig a few tubers at a time as needed. I prefer pulling the whole plant up, and pull up multiple plants at once, and have a single large processing batch rather than doing small ones regularly. I like to minimize work and store processed goods to grab and throw together a meal rather than: harvest, process and then cook.

Yank that plant out of the ground! If you’ve prepared soil, it comes out as soon as you pull enough on the main stalk, should be easy to pull up all the roots at once. If you didn’t prepare soil and it’s growing in lava rocks, you’ll have to get down there and move around rocks until you can get the whole thing out.

If you harvest during the week of the full and new moons, the energy of the plants will be in the roots and therefore, create a more nutritious harvest. If you harvest at these times, it is also a good time to propagate as the energy is in the roots and will begin rooting right away. Working with nature!

Post Harvest Processing

  1. Separate stalks from tubers. I mulch the tops of my plants where I harvest, then I take the stalks and stick them in the ground elsewhere to propagate them. Crop rotation is important to prevent pests.
  2. At this stage the tubers should be washed to remove excess soil. Can be done in a bucket or with running water. I’ll usually use a little luffa sponge to scrub if necessary. These skins will be removed so it is not too important.
  3. Next, take washed tuber and cut it into large pieces, there are usually natural breaking points on the tubers, separate at this point and cut off rootlet ends. If whatever tool your using doesn’t cut through the tubers easily, they are woody, not edible, take them and compost them. This is where you’ll need to learn when to harvest your variety. If they are mostly woody then you are waiting too long, harvest them earlier next time. dsc_0721
  4. Grab a knife and slice lengthwise along the whole tuber. You’ll notice the flesh isn’t very thick so you only need to slice that deep.dsc_0730
  5. Stick your finger under the skin at one of the edges, sometimes you may need to use the knife and pry it up.dsc_0732
  6. Slide your finger along the sliced cut along the whole length. Don’t worry the tuber should be nice and juicy and smooth to work with. Turn tuber around the do the same along the other side of the slice.dsc_0733
  7. At this point, you’ll notice the whole skin is coming off in one piece. Continue to work it; it will come off easily in one piece. Compost that nutrient rich skin!
  8. Wash again. Bring them inside. Wow, that was easy!dsc_0750

Kitchen Work

In the kitchen comes the final part of processing. First thing to know: if your knife doesn’t cut through easily, compost it, it’s not worth the frustration!

  1. Cut everything into evenly sized pieces, we usually take one of the smallest roots and use that to size everything (if a tiny outlier exists, its not worth cutting all the larger pieces to that size). The more standardized all the pieces are, the more even the cooking. Tubers are typically cut 3-4 inches long x whatever piece is the average smallest diameter. We prefer to keep cut chunks as large as possible.
  2. When working with them check out the very center of the tuber for woodiness. If you harvest them young there’s nothing to worry about and no woodiness. If woody just cut it out.
  3. Once everything is nice and evenly cut and all woodiness removed, add to pressure cooker.
  4. Pressure cook for 5-8 minutes (dependent on variety). Once time is up, quick release, or pour cool water slowly over top of cooker to cool, so you can release the pressure as soon as possible to stop cook time. The pressure cooker is an important tool and I suggest everyone goes and finds a simple stove top cooker. It is worth it to speed up cook times of our tropical foods. Pressure cooking times starts once pressure regulator is moving and pressure is built, until then it’s pre-heating. You can boil but would probably take 40-45 minutes.
  5. Stick a fork into a cassava piece, fork should enter slowly and fully pierce.
  6. Once cooked take out and allow to dry. Now you have edible cooked cassava! This is your base for all cassava dishes. We typically freeze as much as we can at this stage for quick already processed cassava meals. We freeze them on a baking tray in a single layer and then fill into Tupperware or freezer bags once frozen. This prevents them from sticking to each other as they freeze. Once frozen they won’t stick together. We do the same for our bananas.
  7. From here, fresh or frozen, we make: fries (baked, roasted or fried), hash browns (refrigerate before shredding for best results), throw them in soups, curry, chili or anything really. Now you can utilize them as a potato and use them in any recipe calling for that. This is where cassava gets fun! Tubers do not have too much flavor and benefit from heavy spicing.
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    Fries: Bake @ 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Olive oil, sage, rosemary, salt, pepper

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    Preserved cassava products: frozen pressure cooked,  frozen hash browns. In jars: puba –  fermented cassava flour

Conclusions

Processing cassava in this manner is easy and accessible for anyone to enjoy this dense and delicious starch. This methodology allows us to use tubers in a certain way, there are other numerous ways to eat and utilize this amazing plant. My favorite method is called puba, take fresh root and mill it into a thick moist ‘flour’. From there you take it and press out all of the liquid. After pressing and it’s fully dry, you take it and press it into jars and allow it to ferment 1-2 weeks. From there you can use it as ‘bread’ and make pizzas and crusts. It’s delicious!!! Cassava is so versatile, now you too can enjoy cooking it up!

Happy Gardening!