August 22, 2022

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In frost free areas we’re blessed to be able to grow tropical food plants in the summer and better known European style veggies in the winter. This time of year, spring, is especially abundant with its overlap between the cool weather and hot weather plants. This post shares pics and links to info for a small selection of food plants from our garden.

Arrowroot (Canna edulis)

This is Queensland arrowroot, photographed in mid August about a week into our Southern Hemisphere spring. You can see tired, yellowing foliage that's been hanging on all winter, old dead stumps where Alain has been cutting fodder for the chickens, old tubers for the pigs, and in the middle foreground, a new shoot just about to begin to unfurl its first green leaf. 

This clump needs to be lifted out, divided up and put to use as I described here.

The next pic, below, is a new row of arrowroot that Alain planted a couple of weeks ago, when I wrote this post.  

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed is a salad staple in our garden whenever and where-ever it can find a cool, moist, protected spot. I don't know how to grow it on purpose; it's a generous volunteer whose presence reminds me that abundance is all around us, if we're looking. 

This time of year, when the weather is cool and has been consistently damp, chickweed is everywhere. In the images below, it's growing around the bases of our blue barrels and coming up in between the things in the barrels. As I see it beginning to volunteer, I often clear a space for it. It's a prolific seeder; once you have it, you have it forever 🙂

Chickweed needs regular harvesting to keep it from becoming stalky. Cut it with scissors, take it inside, and chop it into a salad or put it in a bag in the fridge where it will keep well for many days.

You can read more about chickweed here

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)

I love dandelions. Most of us know them for their persistence in lawns and roadsides, their sunny yellow flowers  (from which you can make wine), and their fascinating seed heads.

Your grandparents know that dandelions are deeply nutritious, both the roots and the leaves. Eat the leaves and flowers in the spring, and the roots in the autumn.

Dandelion leaves have an amazing array of nutritional benefits. Even their bitter taste is beneficial, which is an idea that takes some chewing on in our sugar-addicted culture.  

You can make, very simply at home, a medicinal tincture from dandelion roots (sorry 'bout the ads in this video).

Did you know that the word "officinale" in the Latin name for dandelion refers to its "official" use as a simple, safe, and effective medicine for a wide array of ailments?

Here is a great read on wild greens; scroll down to find dandelion near the bottom. Finally, I mention dandelions in the section on wild plants in this post.

Pepinos (Solanum muricatum)

Pepinos are related to tomatoes and potatoes, so they're similar, only tougher and don't seem to get as many pests or diseases. They can sprawl on the ground or be supported by a low trellis or cage. Super easy to propagate from cuttings and tolerant of neglect, although they will fruit much better with plenty moisture and mulch/compost top ups. Read more, and see pics of ripe fruit, here.

Taro and other water plants

Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is an important staple food that grows in moist to wet conditions throughout the humid tropics. You eat the large corm at the base of the biggest plant, the mother plant, leaving the surrounding small plants in the ground to grow big in their turn. You can also replant the top of the mother plant. Taro is starchy and filling and can be eaten in many ways... search online for recipes and you'll find they're endless. 

In the pic above, you see taro planted in a wet area where our rainwater tank has a persistent leak. This was only planted toward the end of last summer, so it hasn't had much hot sunny weather yet to help it get going. 

And this (above) is taro planted in a container submerged in water. Its not looking very happy in this spot because its been cold. I'm hoping/expecting it to perk up as the weather warms up. 

You can learn more about taro here

Also in the pic above, floating on the surface of the water you can see azolla, which we grow as fodder for our chickens. Learn more about azolla here.

Finally, to both sides of the taro tub you can also see kangkong, or water spinach (also looking very sad and wintery after the unusually cold winter we've just had, but it will soon perk up). That's kangkong runners you see trailing out across the water, with leaves smaller than the taro but much larger than the azolla.

Kangkong is related to sweet potato and looks similar. You can learn more about kangkong here, and this article has a short video about growing  it in water.  

Another post I've written about water-loving food plants is "7 Steps to a Frog Pond That Also Grows Food."

Taro safety note: There are many, many plants with similar "elephant ear" shaped leaves to taro. Some are edible and some are poisonous. There is a great deal of confusion on the internet about their names, and I would love to learn more, especially about how to identify them effectively as they all look similar to the untrained eye.

Please, when you grow plants that look anything like these for eating, do what we did and get your propagation material from someone who has been eating it themselves, and whom you trust to be providing you with the correct plant.

Also, all parts of the taro plant must be cooked to make them safe to eat. 

(There is one exception, with the common name of celery stem taro or tahitian spinach, which we have in our garden. We put the stem of this one in salads, uncooked, and have had no trouble with it. But if you try this, again: get your planting material from someone who is already eating it raw; don't find out the hard way that it was the wrong variety!)

Modular veggies

I'm finishing this post with a couple of pics from our "modular veggie garden," which has lots of things in it but especially any European veggies we grow, because its set up to allow for netting to protect from insects.  You can learn more about our modular veggie project, here.

The reason I call them "modular veggies" is because I love the idea of taking care of one or a few barrels at a time, in small chunks of effort, rather than having to maintain a large annual garden area. We tried that in this earlier, larger veggie growing project, and found that we couldn't sustain the care it needed. 

That's all for now. Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment below 🙂

Can you help in my "taro-like plants" id quest?

Please scroll down and leave a comment about anything in this post, but I'd especially like to hear from you if you can help me in my quest to learn more about scientific names and effective identification for the many varieties of "taro-look-alike" plants. Thanks in advance if you have any savvy to share!!

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