Monday, December 4, 2017

CHAYA (Cnidoscolus chayamansa)



Chaya is a plant that I am slowly starting to appreciate although I also have my concerns about it too.  A gardening friend gave me a 2 ft. cutting of it ten years ago along with the warning that the leaves must be cooked as it is poisonous to eat it raw.  That made me a little apprehensive but, after all, there are other plants like taro leaves and cassava that have to be cooked too and I still eat them.  The cutting was planted in my kitchen garden and within a few months it took off like crazy.  Now I was getting worried about the plant taking over my kitchen garden area so I decided to pull it out before it had total control.  I dug the plant out and propped the main central branch against a coconut trunk at the back of the yard while I decided what to do with it.  Did I want to keep it or not?  Well within a few weeks that branch had sent down roots and established itself in that place despite the sand soil and the salt winds of the back yard.  So there it is still, now a tree of ten years growth and about 10 ft. high.

There are times when it gets too bushy and I just snap some of the easily breakable branches off.  The bountiful, large green leaves give green bulk to the nearby compost heap.  However, I always make sure the branches go into the green waste bin to be chipped so they do not get a chance to sprout into more trees.



I have grown to admire the Chayas survival skills.  I joke that it will be the tree that feeds us if our island goes down because of a huge hurricane or nuclear attack.  Increasingly I hear of medicinal benefits from this plant.  Especially for people with diabetes.  Google around on the internet for more information if you are interested.  Meanwhile, the Chaya is an attractive small tree in the back yard and the butterflies like the small white flowers it produces.

The Chaya is native to the Yucatan peninsular in Central America and part of the food and medicinal heritage of the Maya who live in that area.  The Chaya leaves are very nutritional in minerals and vitamins with even a 5.7% protein count.  The thing that the eater must understand is that this plant has a high content of toxic hydrocyanic acid (cyanide) so it must be cooked for at least 15 minutes to release the toxins.  That being said, some claim that a few raw leaves a day are not going to bother you but why tempt fate.  The plant also chemically reacts with aluminum so do not not use aluminum pots or serving plates for it.  After these precautions, you will get a bountiful, tasty and nutritional vegetable to add to your soups and stews.  If you want to use the leaves in green smoothies or salads you will need to cook them first.  The leaves are used to make medicinal teas but soup is going to do the same for you.

Note leaf shape and the white sap oozing caused by leaf removal.


The Chaya tree has rapid new growth and likes good drainage in the soil.  It is easy to grow and easy to keep trimmed down for harvest of the leaves.  One tree is enough to supply your families needs.  This is a plant that does not need to be watered or fertilized once rooted.  The large soft green leaves are shaped rather like a maple leaf and because of that it sometimes gets mixed up with another tropical alternative vegetable called Lau Pele or Edible Hibiscus (June 2015) which is related to Okra.  It is easy to distinguish between the two.  Just snap a branch tip off.  The Chaya will bleed a white sap while the Lau Pele/Edible Hibiscus oozes a clear slimy sap like Okra.  I do find the white sap of the Chaya to be a bit irritating to my hands so I wear gloves when trimming the Chaya tree.

Aloha

Thursday, November 2, 2017

IRISH GARDENS



I have been off traveling around Ireland for five weeks and, as usual, I have a few photos to share with you.   The countryside of Ireland is famous for its beauty and rightly so.  On the other hand, it was hard to find any home gardens that stood out.  Most had just a few shrubs and maybe a pot of flowering plants by the front door.  From my perch in bus and train, I saw little evidence of vegetable gardens beyond a couple of community allotments near towns.  Maybe the weather puts the Irish off gardening or I was there too late in the season.  On the other hand, I noticed the gardening book section in book stores was very tiny....so maybe that tells it all.

In the cities, some of the pubs were notable for hanging baskets of colorful flowers and towns might have a garden of flowers at an intersection.  The one thing that really surprised me was how much New Zealand native plants had become part of the landscape.  Cabbage trees/Ti Kouka, NZ flax/Harakeke and Hebes/Koromiko were everywhere.  Similar weather I guess.  The Fuchsia, a native of Chile, had also become very much part of the countryside in gardens and hedges and was in flower while I was there.

Any beautiful gardens of note were always a big private garden at a historic house that was opened to paying visitors and who hired gardeners to look after the place.  There were two historic gardens that I visited that I would highly recommend to anybody visiting Ireland.  One was the long narrow medieval garden behind Rothe House in Kilkenny.  The other was the Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara.  They were both so beautiful and also so interesting as part of the history of gardening.  I also loved Muckross Farm Museum at Kilarney.  A lovely country walk around three farms peering into farmhouses of the past.

Aloha

Kilarney House

Walking street planters, Dublin


A pub in Kilkenny


Lawn area that also doubles as a helipad for Dublin Castle.


Town flowers,  Kilkenny


Mowing the lawn,  Kilkenny


Crab apples at Trinity College, Dublin


City garden by public stairs, Drogheda


Container plants in courtyard at Kilarney House


Farm house,  NE from Galway.  Notice the old potato ridges running up and down the field behind the house.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

WEEDS IN A ROCK PATH



A long side of my house I have a rocks and stepping stone path.  It works well for all the rain water that falls off the roof above it as there is no rain gutter.  ( I was inspired to make this path after seeing a similar entry way floor made of rocks and wood planks in a Japanese house.)  The problem with it has been the weeds growing in it.  I am not ready to use weed killer there so in the past I just got down on my knees and pulled  out the weeds.

I now have a way easier way to kill the weeds.  BOILING WATER!  It means several loads of a filled kettle from the kitchen but it does the job easily and instantly.  Yay!  My old knees are happy about this.

Before

A few days after.


Aloha

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

LIRIOPE MUSCARI "variegata"



The variegated Liriope in my garden is grown as an edging to a stony walkway on the side of the house where I also have my mini nursery area.  I have no strong emotional ties to this plant.  I acquired baby starts of it at least 20 years ago: planted them, and they are still going strong.  So I guess they have proved themselves as another tough plant to have in the garden.



I think I have talked about my theory on selecting tough plants for the garden before.  I will tell it again for the newcomers to this blog.  When choosing tough survivor plants for your garden, you do not look at those beautifully maintained gardens. You check out semi abandoned properties that have not had good care for years.  The plants that are still growing there are the ones you want to grow in your garden. It will save you a lot of time and frustration in the future.

Variegated Liriope is native to Asia.  It grows in clumps with narrow leaves that grow up to 18" long.  In the late summer it can send up a slender stalk with tiny white flowers.  The clump will gradually enlarge by sending out underground rhizomes to make new babies on the side.  It can grow in full sun or light shade and handles most types of soil.  Liriope is a popular ground cover or edging plant.  Remember to give it some space for expanding of the clump when you plant it along a cement curb.

As those clumps enlarge it is easy to slice off a few baby plants with a big kitchen knife.  Make sure that you get a baby with a few roots on it so you will have to cut into the soil with the knife.  These babies are easily potted up.  Usually I cut the leaves down to about 8" for easily handling and I will stand the baby in water for one or two days before potting it up.







Sometimes the variegation stripes of the Liriope will disappear.  A new baby in the clump will revert to its ancestors characteristics and send up only dark green leaves.  Unless I am actually wanting a green type to plant elsewhere, I just cut out the baby that is upsetting uniformity of the edging.

Sometimes my Liriope will look a bit ragged with brown tips, especially after salt winds.  I usually go along the border with my scissors and trim off the worst.  I read on the internet that on the mainland they will mow mass plantings of Liriope once a year which rather boggles my mind.  I guess a mature plant would survive a lawn mower or a weed eater and should have got over its bald look after a few months.  About once a year it is good to pull off all the dead leaves that are under the plant.

Apart from being a good edging plant, I enjoy adding a few leaves of variegated Liriope to small flower arrangements and even looped to be included in a lei.

Aloha

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 withhold 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.

Aloha

Friday, June 9, 2017

GRAPE TOMATOES



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 fruit.to 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.

Aloha

PS  Aug, 2017
 Have a look at the netting cage a friend built for her tomatoes so that she could keep the birds from eating them and she could have vine ripened fruit.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

WALKING AROUND BELL BLOCK, NEW ZEALAND



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.

Aloha