Thursday, July 6, 2017

SOURSOP (Annona muricata)

Soursop fruit was first introduced to me many years ago in Samoa.  The Samoan family I was staying with had a Soursop fruit sitting in their wood and fly screen food safe where it was softening up ready to be eaten.  Such an exotic looking fruit and what a wonderful flavor when we finally got to eat it.  I have been a big fan of this fruit ever since.  Luckily there are a few trees in my community here in Hawaii so I still get to eat them  You do see Soursop fruit showing up at farmers markets here too although there are still many people who are not familiar with it.  The Soursop tree is native to Tropical America but I think is one of those tropical fruits that has gone around the globe and gone commercial in juices and ice-cream etc.

A mature fruit almost ready to pick. 

The Soursop tree is an attractive tree with its glossy green leaves .  It can grow up to four meters high but is still a decent sized tree to have in your yard.  It does tend to low branching so you would need to trim off the lower branches to lift the crown if you want a tree you can sit under.  The tree is tolerant of most soil types.  Our neighbors had one for years that was quiet resilient to our sandy soils and salt winds.  There does seem to be some sort of disease that affects the leaves as you will see if you look close at the photo above but is does not seem to bother the tree or its fruiting. It is really easy to grow Soursop trees from the seed although you will have to wait several years before you get fruit.

In the summer the tree gets large yellow/green flowers that turn into spiky green heart shaped fruit.  These will grow from 4-12 inches in length and 6 inches in width.  The fruit is ready when its color changes to a lighter yellowish green and the spikes change from being curved over to straight out.  The fruit then needs to sit on a bench for a few days to soften up before eating.  If you put it in the fridge the skin will turn black and unattractive although the inside will be still OK.  When the fruit is ripe it is just a matter of cutting up the fruit into wedges and spitting out the seeds and discarding the skin as you eat it.

See the green bud and the yellow/green flower just below it on the right.
while on the left is a young spiky fruit.

Soursop makes wonderful drinks.  I like to make a cool drink in the blender using Soursop, lemon juice, sugar, ice water and ice.  Others make it into a milk shake with added spices.  Just make sure to remove the seeds and skin.  This was always a messy job until somebody told me to use a knife and fork, like you are cutting up meat, to separate the seeds out. So much easier!  I also freeze small bags of the prepared fruit to have later in smoothies.

Soursop fruit, like most fruits, is a good source of vitamins to promote health.  However, you also hear a lot about other medicinal potential from the fruit and especially the leaves.  It is easy to find all sorts of cancer cure claims on the internet and I know people in my community who promote its use.  When my neighbor chopped down his tree to make room for house expansion, two ladies came and collected every single leaf from the tree to freeze for future tea making.  There are several recipes for the tea if you google for them.  However, there are also warnings on other sites on the internet that say that too much Soursop can hurt brain cells and cause Parkinson's like symptoms.....meaning the body will not do what the brain is telling it to do.  The toxic ingredient that causes this seems to be in high amounts in the seeds so that is why it is important to remove the seeds when making drinks in the blender.  Of course, lots of people around the world eat lots of Soursop with no problem.  As to the teas made from the leaves; I am willing to hold judgement.  I have two friends who have talked to two people that claim the teas cured them of cancer.  It definitely sounds like there is some active chemicals in the plant for sure but it needs to be handled very carefully. Am I getting some sort of cancer prevention perk from eating the fruit?   Will those who drink the teas  to cure cancer get Parkinson's later on?  Lots of questions!

 Meanwhile I am going to keep on eating the luscious fruit.  In moderation.


Friday, June 9, 2017


Over the years I have made occasional attempts at growing tomatoes but with no great success.  New gardeners in town, who were tomato kings back in California or Utah, have given up in frustration and passed their tomato cages to me so I do not feel so bad.  However, after retirement, it seemed that it was time to get more serious about growing tomatoes and see if I could be a bit more self sustaining.  After all, I do eat a lot of tomatoes.  So, in April of last year (2016), I once again squished the biggest and best of the tomatoes I had bought that week and, after a day or two of drying it out, planted the seeds in a small pot.  The local tomato farmers grow only cherry and grape tomatoes so I decided to go with grape tomatoes this time.  Fruit flies are such a problem in Hawaii that growing large tomatoes is just a waste of time unless you are going to bag every protect it.  I have found the golf ball size cherry tomatoes to be a bit difficult in the past too.

After getting a few small grape tomato plants growing I transferred a few into large container pots on in the kitchen garden area where they would get full sun.  Only one of these actually was alive a month later and eventually starting flowering and then producing tomatoes.  Not huge amounts.  Maybe a dozen or two a week.  But here is why I am writing about it.  Over a year later the same tomato plant is still chugging along and still giving me fruit.

It is a skinny vine plant that has small leaves.  Its old leaves turn yellow and die off.   At first I thought it was diseased but after a while I realized it was just its habit of growth.  On doing a google search I find out that tomato plants are of two types.  Determinant and Indeterminant.    The description of the Indeterminant fits my plant to a T.  A long lasting vine which CTAHR says is the best for Hawaii growing conditions.  The Determinant plants tend to have lots of lush and fast growth of leaves and fruit but do not last long.  I have seen that happen with some plants that I bought.

So now I have figured out a tomato that I can grow I am going to up my game and try and grow more plants and also some of those gourmet different color types.  I am sticking with grape tomatoes though.  I do like these little tomatoes and they freeze very well too.  I cut them in half first.  Easy to throw fresh tomatoes in a salad.  The frozen ones get thrown into a frying pan for stir fries or into a stew.   Tomatoes along with an egg, Portuguese sausage and slices of cooked breadfruit all fried up in a pan is my favorite breakfast for dinner meal!

Tomatoes of course are known for their Vitamin C and Lycopene.  Tomatoes plants like rich soil and lots of sun.  I see them grown in cages or tied up on string.  Mine  is grown on dead branch props..  They like fertilizer, especially Phosphorus, at planting and flowering time.  Because my plant is in a container and long living, I fertilize my plant every month.  They need to be watered deeply but allowed to dry out between waterings.  Not getting the leaves wet while watering helps prevent disease.  I have to  pick the tomatoes after they start turning yellow or the birds and wild chickens will beat me to them.  It means getting the enjoyment of looking at a row of ripening tomatoes on the kitchen window sill.


Saturday, May 27, 2017


I have just recently had three weeks in New Zealand, visiting family and doing some exploring as well.   Bell Block is a historic community in north Taranaki and now mostly is a suburb of New Plymouth.  Here are just a few garden related shots as I was walking around that may be of interest to you.

Not a garden shot but all this produce is from a Bell Block garden.  

While in New Zealand I found a fun gardeners book while looking around a thrift shop.  It is written by a Kiwi landscape architect about her small Wellington garden.  "Life (and death) in a Small City Garden"  by Philippa Swan.  I am writing out a few paragraphs from her book.....see if you recognize yourself.  ☺

 Real Gardeners are a breed of their own.  I'm sure they have a bent chromosome or something which accounts for their eccentric behavior.  A Real Gardener always sleeps badly on a windy night--even when they are in Bali, and their holiday snaps are of the bushes flowering around the swimming pool.  Their first question on ringing home is always about the weather................... A group of gardening ladies is a nightmare at the pictures, especially when it's a Merchant Ivory period drama with lots of roses and wisteria.  A chorus of plant names erupts every time a bloom appears, followed by a messy dispute at to what sort it was and who's got one at home.

Gardeners have a unique navigational system.  When being directed to their house, you will be issued with instructions like, "Turn left at the red-flowering gum tree and we're three doors down from the dogwood."   ..................When a gardener comes for dinner they do things like check whether your magnolia-patterned curtains are anatomically correct and stuff the garnish from the French rack of lamb into their handbag because they've never grown pizza thyme before.  When they go collecting for charity they arrive back with a collection bag full of cuttings, and their consumer choices at the supermarket are made on the basis of what comes in a container most suitable for potting up the hosta seedlings.  Gardeners are never happier than when a friend arrives with a bag of smelly old panty hose.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SURINAM CHERRY (Eugenia uniflora)

In the front windy and dry corner of the garden, where the soil is mostly coral sand, I have a small waist high Surinam Cherry shrub that I planted a few years ago.  I must admit that I did not have big expectations for it there.  It was mainly a shrub to help fill in the corner and, if I was lucky, I would get a few fruit.  A week ago, one of my grand-daughters took me over to the corner to look at something.  Guess what!  The whole small tree was covered with small, pale green jewels.

A month or so back we had a big rain storm and it must have sent the Surinam Cherry into full reproduction mode.  I may have thrown a bit of fertilizer around too at about the same time.  The Cherry tree would have become covered in lots of small white flowers and now here is the fruit just starting to ripen up.

Every morning I go pick the newly ripening fruit before the birds and wild chickens get them and leave the fruit on the kitchen counter to ripen for the rest of the day.  I will have a few to eat fresh but mostly I am collecting them in the fridge until I have a pot full to cook up.  It is just a matter of bringing the fruit and some sugar to the boil and then leaving it to simmer for a few minutes....just like making apple sauce.  You also need to remove the cherry pits after the cooking.  The resulting sweet/sour sauce is fabulous over vanilla ice cream. I imagine some inventive person could also make a relish or chutney out of it that would go well with meat. Some of the fresh fruit I will freeze for future smoothies.... after removing the seeds.  The beautiful jewel like fruit look beautiful as a decorative topping on desserts.  I have also seen the ruby red fruit used in breathtakingly beautiful flower arrangements.

As you can guess from its name, Surinam Cherry is native to the NE coast of South America.  It is a tough evergreen shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall.  The small leaves have a spicy scent and coppery colored new growth.  Its growth habits make it good for hedges.  The Surinam Cherry tends to flush into flower after heavy spring and fall rains.  The 1" round and ribbed fruit are usually dark red when ripe but there is a black variety. The fruit is on the sour side but kids always love to pick and eat the cherries out in the garden. The fruit fly can bother the fruit but so far I have not had any problem with them.  Maybe picking the fruit before fully ripe has helped prevent this.  Surinam Cherry is easy to grow from seed although the resulting little tree is a slow grower.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SANSEVIERIA (Sansevieria trifasciata)

I have mixed feelings about the plant that is my topic this month.  I can always be grateful for a tough plant that will grow in dry, sandy areas.  On the other hand, Sansevieria can get a little out of hand in the garden and start spreading too far or get rather messy looking.  Good strong borders such as a cement path can help keep it in check.  The good attribute that won me over is that Sansevieria is a fabulous indoor plant.  In fact it is usually rated as the easiest indoor plant to care for.  Besides that, it is a very good oxygen provider for enclosed spaces.  It can become a win-win solution if you keep the outside plants trimmed back and pot up the trimmings for inside the house.

Sansevieria is native to tropical West Africa.  It has thick succulent leaves and sometimes it will give out small greenish white flowers on stalks in summer.  There are lots of varieties although most people will recognize the tall lance like leaves of the "Mother-in-law's tongue.  I have a green and a yellow leaf form of this.  I also have a green dwarf rosette type or "Bird nest"  Be aware that the leaves are poisonous to animals.  Sansevieria needs good drainage so go easy on watering your indoor plant.

To get Sansevieria cuttings for potting is is easy to see new baby plants growing out from the mother plant on fat finger size stolons.  Cut off a few of these, making sure that you have some root attached.  Usually I will let the cutting scar dry off for a day before I pot them up.  Three arranged together in a pot looks nicely balanced.  After growing for several months, a potted plant can get very root bound or the strong roots will even break the pot.  You may need to just throw away the plant if it gets too rambunctious and start a new one or severely chop back the roots and repot.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

PORTUGUESE CABBAGE (Brassica oleracea var. costata)

This is just going to be a quick post today but I am excited to introduce a new plant in my garden.  For the first time ever, I saw Portuguese Cabbage starts at Koolau Farmer's nursery about a month ago.  I only heard about this cabbage for the first time a few years ago.  It was an important vegetable in gardens of Portuguese workers on the sugar plantations here in Hawaii. They called it Couves.  I am thrilled to actually see what it looks like and to have a go at growing it.  After only a month of growing this single plant I am already a fan so this is why I wanted to write about it today.   Have a look at the picture.  It is a very sturdy plant and a no fuss one.  There has been a bit of leaf miner in the old leaves but I just remove them.  The plant is very similar to collard greens and apparently grows the same way......the stem just getting taller and will keep going all year long.  I have already had a few leaves in a stir fry and I look forward to just picking leaves off as needed and having a constant supply.  This is a picture of a young plant and hopefully I will be able to put up some pictures of the mature plant later on.  You can check back for later reports.

In Portugal it is an important vegetable used in national dishes.  It will work good in your Portuguese bean soup or in a stir fry or coleslaw.  It can be grown from seed but apparently you can cut the head of the stalk off , remove most of the leaves and plant that up too.  I expect the stalk then grows a few more heads....just like collard greens.  Anyways, I did want to share my excitement about this plant and maybe it is something new for you to try as well.


A month and a half latter and the plant is still surviving.  The leaf miner has not been bothering lately but those tiny round snails have to be watched for.  I also get a few white fly hanging around under the leaves so I have a habit of tapping the leaves underneath as I walk by to make things too uncomfortable for them.  One leaf is a serving for one person.  I love it in a coleslaw with grated carrot and green onion.

July 2017
Well my Portuguese Cabbage is still alive  after five months and I am still enjoying a few leaves from it every week.  It is now a head  of leaves on a stalk.  The white cabbage butterfly have become interested in it so I keep it covered with a bit of netting made from the net bag I bought some avocados in.  It does seem to discourage the butterflies but it may just be that they are now more attracted to my neighbors cabbages.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

HAWAII MOCK ORANGE (Murraya paniculata)

Mock Orange is a small tree that gets ignored by visitors to Hawaii as it is rather plain with small green leaves.  Add that is is usually used in hedges and it really falls below the tourist radar.  It is only when it is in flower for a few weeks in the fall that it gets noticed.  Then there is a strong fragrance wafting in the air as you walk or drive down the road and you turn your head to see where the perfume is coming from.  The small leaves of the Mock Orange are also popular with lei makers in Hawaii as the long lasting leaves are often threaded between flowers for some green contrast color in a lei.  It really goes well with the flowers of my crown flower tree.  I have one Mock Orange tree tucked up into a mixed shrub hedge that keeps me supplied for lei making.  The small Mock Orange flowers are beautiful but do not last well for flower arrangements and some find the fragrance too strong in the house.  You might not want to plant a Mock Orange too close to a house window for the same reason.

Mostly Mock Orange is used in Hawaii for forming hedges along the road front and can grow thick and high.  They are easily trimmed and shaped. Sometimes they get used for topiary. There are quite a few Mock Orange hedges in my community.  Several months ago, one very tall and wide hedge got a very severe cut back so that it was mainly bare sticks remaining.  I wondered whether the hedge would be able to recover.  I had a look at it a few days ago and took the picture below.  As you can see, it is coming back strong and in several more months should be really thick again.  Tough trees!

There is another smaller and lower Mock Orange hedge in town that I walk by on a regular basis.  This one has some problems and one of them is the salt winds that come down the street.

However, the main problem is the way the hedge has been cut over the years.  It has developed what is called "helmet hedge".  Bare branches inside and a covering of leaves on top.  This is because the sun is not getting into the plant because the hedge is cut in such a way that the top is the widest part of the tree and it shades the rest of the plant.  This can happen with any type of hedge.....not just Mock Orange.  Hedges need to be shaped so that the top is the narrowest part of the plant and the sunlight can get into the plant for good leaf growth.  Actually, every time I walk past this hedge, I want to get my loppers out and chop it down a few feet so that it will get new growth like the other hedge above.

If you are from the mainland USA you may be thinking that these pictures do not look like the Mock Orange you know.  That is because another plant is called Mock Orange on the mainland.  A good example of why we also need the scientific names for plants.

Mock Orange is a native to SE Asia and up into SE India area.  It can grow up to 25 ft tall and likes sun but will take partial shade.  It likes well drained soil but is also happier if watered during dry weather.  Mock Orange can be easily grown from cuttings but I have only grown if from the seeds in the small red/orange fruit.  I guess it is because I like playing around with different fruit seeds to see if I can get them to grow.

The main reason that I decided to write about Mock Orange this month is because of this beautiful tree I saw in a Buddhist  temple garden in Cambodia last month. As I have already said, here in Hawaii Mock Orange trees are usually just seen in hedges.  The tree I saw in Cambodia was a beautiful naturally shaped specimen of a tree that really impressed me.Why are we not using these trees more in our garden?  They are not too big.  Trim the lower branches a bit to lift the crown so you can sit under the tree in the shade. They would make a real gem to to have in the garden.  How come we are just using them for hedges?