Saturday, November 26, 2011

Crown Flower (Calotropis gigantea)



It is said that the Crown Flower ( also called Giant Milkweed) was the favorite flower of Queen Liliuokalani who was the last monarch of Hawaii.  Maybe she liked the crown shape of the flower because it does not have any fragrance.


I know that the emphasis of this blog so far has been on food producing plants but my favorite plants are those that are useful and those that are tough.  The Crown Flower wins on both these counts.  This tree will grow in hot, dry sandy areas.  I have seen a variety of it growing in the desert in Dubai.  The one I have in my garden is growing in a dry sandy area where other trees have failed to thrive. 
                                                                               
The tree I have now I started as a cutting in a gallon pot of potting mix.  When it was well rooted I transferred it to a 3 gallon pot, pinched the tips, and fertilised it well so that it would grow into a nice fat plant.  I then planted it out in the garden during the rainy months of winter to get established.  It was a little slow at first but is now doing well with just an occasional water during dry periods and an occasional trim to keep it from getting too spread out.

There are two main uses of the Crown Flower tree.  First, as a member of the milkweed family, it is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly.  It gives me great pleasure to watch all the butterflies in the garden and to know that I am helping to support them.  Around December the butterflies show up in large numbers to lay their eggs on the underside of the Crown Flower leaves.  These hatch into tiny caterpillars who will munch and munch until they are big and fat and a couple of inches long.  Then they will climb down the tree and go off looking for a fence, or another shrub, or the side of the house to attach to.  They hang upside down in a J shape and turn into a  beautiful green chrysalis trimmed with gold..  After about 14 days they will hatch into Monarch butterflies.  I enjoy watching them and so do all the grandchildren and the neighbors kids

The only down side to all this process of nature going on is that the caterpillars will chew down every leaf and the tree will look very naked and straggly for a month or so but it will revive just fine.  I usually trim the tree at this time when the caterpillars have done with the leaves and the new growth has not yet come out.  Because of the sad appearance of the tree for those short few months I decided to grown my present Crown Flower tree at the back of our garden instead of in the front yard.  One visitor horrified me by suggesting I should be using some sort of insecticide on the caterpillars!


The other big use for the Crown Flowers tree is of course all the leis we make in Hawaii with the flowers.  There are purple and white flowered varieties of Crown Flower but the purple flowers do seem to get used here  more.  Actually I rather like mixing the two colors while making leis or I add some other flowers for fragrance.  Sometimes the petals are removed from the flower center to make a smaller flower for a rope type lei.  Professional lei makers have some very intricate designs using Crown Flowers.

When picking the flowers to make leis, I always be very careful about wearing a hat so I do not get the trees white sap dripped in my eyes.  The sap can cause temporary blindness.  I noticed in Thailand that all the Crown Flower trees there were kept trimmed to about waist height.  It would make for easier picking but also much safer for the eyes.  The picked flowers then need to be soaked in cool water for a few hours to get the white sap off them as well as giving them a last perk up drink.  Crown Flowers are a very long lasting in the fridge so are good for leis that are being sent to the mainland.

Aloha

PS......added in 2013 after a trip to Israel.  While there, I actually saw a Crown Flower in fruit and so I am adding a few pictures as we never see them in fruit in Hawaii.  I guess we do not have the pollinator.  The Crown Flower in the Israel was just slightly different in flower, it was the same as the one I saw in Dubai, but still a very close cousin.  The  green seed pods are huge like the size of an orange but when you pick them they are as light as a balloon.  I stomped on one and it popped loudly and inside was just a small core.  On the tree were a few older shriveled looking pods...and then a cluster of seed ....like little dandelion seeds with umbrella shaped fluff on them.  The  fruited laden tree was quite a different aspect of the plant for me to see.  It was growing wild near the entrance to Masada which is a very dry, hot area.  Here are few of  my photos of it.







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Friday, September 16, 2011

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

Behind our house we have two breadfruit trees that were planted by previous Samoan occupants.  I am in love with these two large trees.  Not only do they provide a large shade area for our family BBQs and birthday parties, but their big, dinner platter size leaves are beautiful when viewed through the window and  keep the back rooms of the house cooler.  Breadfruit was carried out into the Pacific islands by the ancient Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian settlers.  I think it is a pity that breadfruit has been neglected by modern Hawaiians who put a big emphasis on taro when they also ate breadfruit anciently. Taro, like potato, requires a lot of manual labor to get a good harvest.  An established breadfruit tree is a heavy provider of food for minimal work.  Just pick the fruit and cook it.  It is no wonder that Captain Bligh, of the infamous mutiny on the ship Bounty, was trying to take breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the Caribbean to feed the slaves there.  One breadfruit is the size of a cantaloupe melon and each tree can give a crop of a few hundred or more of these.


Breadfruit provides a fair amount of nutrients if you are eating a slice or two as a substitute for a potato.  However, an average Pacific islander can easily eat a whole breadfruit in one meal.  This not only gives needed energy calories but now the breadfruit jumps up to become a significant source of nutrients to its eater.  It is especially good in fiber, calcium, potassium and magnesium.

The Pacific islanders developed over a hundred different varieties of breadfruit over the centuries.  The type I have growing in out back yard is called Ma'afala by the Samoans.  It is a variety that I would recommend.  Some scientists think that breadfruit should be the crop of the future.  Apart from providing food to the growing hungry in the tropics, flour made from the dried fruit does not contain gluten.  If you want to do more research on breadfruit, I recommend the website:   ntbg.org/breadfruit


Breadfruit trees can grow very tall so when they get higher than  two to three times the height of our house, we top the trees to about the height of the house.  Otherwise we will not be able to reach the fruit and and the ripe fruit will fall with a big plop to the ground and are wasted.   It is sad to chop the tree but they quickly grow back although we may miss a crop.  I guess arborists would be against this, but it is what they do in the islands.  Trees seem to grow well anywhere but will produce less leaves and fruit if they get too much salt wind.  As you can tell, you do need a bit of room in your yard to grow them.

Breadfruit trees do have a habit of dropping their leaves on a regular basis.  Unfortunately this leads to them getting chopped down by grounds crews to make less work for them.  I get so upset when such good food providing trees are lost to the community.  Just expect that you are going to be doing a bit of raking of leaves at least once a week.  You can also do what they do in the Pacific islands....send the little kids out to pick up the leaves every morning.  I just feed the leaves back into the tree by leaving them to compost under the tree.  I have a circle of logs under the tree to hold the composting leaves in place.


Baby breadfruit trees can be grown from seed but will not grow from branch cuttings.  Usually young trees are grown from root cuttings.  Occasionally a small baby tree will grow up from the spreading roots on its own. Let the baby tree grow  a few feet and then it is just a matter of cutting the baby tree away, with a bit of the root included, and getting it established in a pot or prepared ground.

Here in Hawaii, my breadfruit trees usually give two crops a year.  One in July/August and one in October/November.  However I was surprised last year to get a third crop around Christmas time.  To harvest the fruit, we use a very long pole about 13 feet long.  It has a peg of wood tied in place at the tip to form a Y shape.  You use this to reach way up in the tree to twist the breadfruit stems until the fruit drops down.  It is handy to have somebody standing by to catch them, but if not there is minimal bruising if they hit the ground.


Breadfruit are eaten as a cooked starch vegetable, much like potatoes.  You pick the fruit just before it goes fully ripe and soft.  The fruit surface will change from green with small bumps to a flatter surface with a slight yellowing.  There will also be dried white dribbles of sap running down the fruit.  When you pick the fruit the stem will bleed this white sticky sap for a few minutes so it is a good idea to leave them on the ground for few minutes to dry off and then be careful of the sap when you pick them up so you do not get the sap on your clothes.

To cook breadfruit, you peel the fruit and then cut it into chunks.  Then you boil it in salted water until fork soft.  About 15 to 20 minutes.  Then just drain off the water and it is ready to eat.  The fruit core is not eaten so you can remove it before cooking or while eating.  If you want a special treat you could also add a can of coconut cream to your hot boiled breadfruit.  Just pour the coconut cream into the pot over the breadfruit and then put the pot back on the stove to boil for a few minutes to make the cream thicken up.  Onions and salt can also be added to the coconut cream.  Just like potatoes, breadfruit can also be baked in a oven (about one hour) or cooked in a microwave (about 12 minutes for one).  I often boil one breadfruit  to eat hot with dinner and then the cold leftover will be sliced and fried with eggs for breakfast.  I have used cold, cubed, cooked breadfruit in a "potato salad" and guests have been none the wiser.  A special treat for when the grand-children come by is breadfruit chips.  Peel and thinly slice a raw breadfruit and fry the slices in hot oil. Sprinkle with salt and serve with ketchup.  I guarantee your young guests will love them.

If you have not already eaten breadfruit, I hope you will now be willing to try it out.  Maybe you will even become an enthusiast like me.  Aloha

PS    January, 2014

Last week I attended an event in Honolulu promoting breadfruit..."Tree to Table".  There really is a push locally to get people back to eating more breadfruit.  One chef said that his personal goal was to get the people of Hawaii to stop making potato and macaroni salad and use steamed breadfruit in the salads instead.  One thing that I had totally never heard before was how to keep the breadfruit from getting ripe too fast after picking.  You simply put the newly picked fruit into a bucket of ice water for at least 10 minutes to stop the ripening process or you can even leave it there in the shade overnight and maybe it will hold the fruit from ripening for a week....or so they said.  Try it out and see how it works for you.  You can put the fruit in the fridge to delay ripening but the skin will turn really brown and unattractive.  Some of the chefs were using the really ripe and soft breadfruit in sweet desserts.

December, 2014

Well this is an add on recipe that I would never have thought of putting on the blog when I wrote it.  It defies all uses of breadfruit that I have known.  The recipe was in our local Honolulu newspaper a few weeks ago and I have finally had a ripe breadfruit to try it.  What a mind shift and what a cheap and nutritional way of making breakfast for the family.   This is a simple and easy recipe for making pancakes.  Take one very ripe and soft breadfruit, remove the skin and core and scoop the flesh into a blender or food processor.  Whir it up with 6 eggs and a bit of salt and there is your pancake batter ready to go.  Just cook it on the griddle as you would any kind of pancake and serve with butter and syrup or jam etc.  A sprinkle of cinnamon goes nicely with it too.  The starch of the fruit replaces your flour, the sweetness of the fruit replaces sugar and the eggs give you protein.  Plus the breadfruit has lots of good nutrition and will be higher in vitamins because of being ripe.  It makes a perfect batter consistency and the taste is a slightly fruity pancake.....maybe like you had added mashed bananas to a pancake batter.  An extra useful alternative for those people who are trying to be gluten free but missing their traditional pancakes.  Before, I would be throwing out a breadfruit that had got too soft and ripe.....now I am wanting ripe fruit!  Try it out.  If you find the breadfruit flavor too strong you could combine the fruit with flour, going half half.

September, 2016

A few weeks ago I had the chance to sit in on the Breadfruit Summit that was held for four days at the Polynesian Cultural Center here on Oahu island, Hawaii.  This was a gathering of many international experts on breadfruit.  This included botanists, scientists, farmers, doctors and business owners.  All of them were sharing their growing knowledge on the fruit that is growing in stature around the world.  Maybe you have even noticed magazine and news articles lately about breadfruit and how it is being recognized around the tropical world as a power food.  I want to add on here some notes I made at the summit that was new stuff to me and may be of interest to you.

---There is a growing industry in making breadfruit flour which is gluten free.  Some islands are just starting out with solar drying etc. but others now have a sophisticated product for export.  The Puou variety makes the most flour.  Cannot use bruised fruit so have to pick carefully.

---Breadfruit flour has a better starch quality than corn starch.  It has good potential in commercial production of sauces.

---Can also use breadfruit flour in non gluten baked goods.  Best to keep amount below 20% of total flours so that the breadfruit flavor is not too strong.

---Breadfruit has a low glycemic level rate of 60 which makes it much more suitable for diabetics to eat than rice or bread.  Need to go back to traditional foods on Pacific Islands for better health.

---Ma'afala variety of breadfruit has the highest protein level.  ( aprox. 6%)  This is a complete protein and is therefore better than soy bean as a protein additive.

---Breadfruit is a good hard wood for woodwork.

---The latex from the breadfruit tree has possible market use as a bioplastic.

---If growing lots of breadfruit trees, grow them 10 meters apart.

--The male breadfruit flower is a natural insecticide.  You can burn the dried male flowers to use like mosquito punk coils.  This is an Hawaiian cultural practice that has now been proven effective by scientific study.  ( Yep....now I am drying a bunch of the male flowers ready for when we are sitting outside in the evening. I place them on top of an upside down can to burn)

---Video at PonoPies.com of processing breadfruit.  They use mature fruit to make hummus and ripe fruit to make pies.  Very yummy samples were shared.

---FAO.org has free manual on commercial propagation of breadfruit and breadnut.

--Agroforestry.net   A super wonderful site for all things to do with plant growing/farming in the Pacific Islands.


March 2017

Something new and interesting about ulu.   There was a recent article in a Hawaii newspaper about a cattle rancher on the Big Island.  He talked about how the big 100 year old breadfruit trees on his property served as fodder for his cattle during the dry season.  When the really dry weather occurred the grass would wither.  At the same time, the breadfruit trees would try to conserve water by dropping lots of leaves.  These large dropped leaves were happily eaten by the cattle and kept them going through the dry season.  I thought this was really cool.  I have long thought that my dream farm would have a noni tree in the pig pen.  Now I know that I need to have breadfruit trees out in the paddock as well.  Would have to protect the young trees with a fence though.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)

Before I retired and really got into building up a herb garden I only grew one herb.  Garlic chives.  This was because they were so easy that I could not kill them and because they were so useful to have near the kitchen door.  Some people call them Chinese chives.


Garlic chives are wonderful chopped up in tuna or egg salad sandwiches. (For non-Americans, this means canned tuna fish or mashed boiled eggs mixed with mayonnaise and seasonings,)  The chives give the sandwiches some extra color and taste.....although the little kids will sometimes turn their noses up at the green stuff in the sandwich filling.  My favorite way to use the chives is to chop up a big bunch and add it to scrambled eggs.  You first saute the garlic chives in a little hot oil and then when the smell of garlic hits your nose you add the eggs and mix it all together.  The chives can also be used as a stir fry vegetable.

I have had the garlic chives for so long that I forget where I got the starter from but you can buy a small pot of them at Hawaii garden stores.  The most important thing to remember about them is that this plant can be an aggressive spreader so it is best to grow them in a container.   I have mine in an old galvanized tub of half soil and half potting mix. Garlic chives will also self seed so you need to pick the flowers before they seed or you will baby chives popping up all around your container.  The white flowers are pretty and sturdy so that they can make a lovely posy in a vase on your kitchen bench.  I love mixing them with Thai basil flowers.  Of course if you want to grow garlic chives starters for your friends it is easy to collect the seed heads and grow  babies in pots.

Garlic chives like sunshine and to be kept well watered.  Lack of water makes them go all floppy but they will perk up again when they get a drink.  A hand full of balanced slow release fertiliser every three months or so should keep them happy.  I have no problems with bugs on them except  to keep a watch out for mini-snails hiding amongst them or bag worms, looking like little clusters of sawdust, attaching under the leaves.  Hand collection and a squeeze between your fingers will deal with them both.   If the garlic chives get all long and messy looking you can cut the whole lot down to about an inch from the soil and let new growth to give them a perky fresh look.  I usually do this about once a year.  They quickly grow back so that you will have them to use again within the week.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Okinawa Spinach (Gynura crepioides)

Growing a regular western style vegetable garden is not really my thing.   For one, growing vegetables in a tropical climate seems more difficult because of soil problems, rampet weeds, insects and disease.  The other reason is because I am a lazy gardener who does not want to spend a lot of time and effort with fussy plants.  I am also very cheap.  I like the idea of growing free food and recognise that eating fresh vegetables is good for my health.

My search for easy grow edibles has lead me to a lot of interesting "spinachs" that come from many different cultures around the world.  Usually these "spinachs" are some wild growing perennial plant in their place of origin that was first just gathered. Now they are propagated, usually by cuttings, and grown in the garden but need very little care.  You get the plant established, and just pick the leaves or young shoots as needed.  My type of vegetable gardening!  In this blog you will sooner or later be introduced to lots of these spinachs.  The first one I want to introduce you to is Okinawa Spinach as it is called here in Hawaii.


Okinawa spinach is an Asian leaf vegetable that is very easy to grow in any kind of soil and in full sun or semi-shade.  It has few disease and insect problems except one.....the slugs love it.  This is why I grow mine in a large tub up off the ground.  It is easy then for me to check for slugs on my weekly hunts in the garden with my flashlight before I go to bed.  The slugs get chopped with my garden knife.  If this plant is left to grow on the ground it can develop into a high and thick spreading ground cover that needs tips harvested frequently to keep it in control.  It would be good for that rocky unused slope in your garden.

I have not been able to find nutritional value information on Okinawa spinach but being a leafy green vegetable one would expect it to be a good source of minerals and vitamin A.  The raw young leaves can be added to a green salad,  I use this spinach most in stir-fries.  Because of the purple color on the bottom of the leaves it is a colorful addition.  I especially like to pair it with yellow sweet peppers to make a really pretty stir-fry and to sweeten things up although the taste of Okinawa spinach is agreeable on its own.

I have seen Okinawa spinach being sold at farmer's markets on Oahu, and you could easily get some started from a few cuttings. You can put the cuttings in a glass of water for a few days to get the roots started but make sure they are planted within 3 days or they will lose their vigor.

Around Christmas time my Okinawa spinach blooms.  It has fluffy little orange flowers on long stems.  I usually just cut them off to keep the strength of the plant going to the leaves.


Aloha

PS   After growing Okinawan Spinach for over several years now, I have decided that it is best to pull the plant up every few years and plant another one.  They just seem to loose their vigor and get aphids and root death from too much rain.  The thing is to get those new replacement cuttings going while your plant is still healthy and strong.  One plant in a large container is enough.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Guavas (Psidium guajava)


The common pink fleshed apple guava grows semi wild in Hawaii.  If there is a tree growing in or near your garden, chances are that it was established there by fruit eating birds.  Our next door neighbor has a tree in their back yard which kept me supplied with a daily guava on my way to hanging up the laundry in our back yard.  However, a new family with kids moved in next door and they needed to fence in the play area so that I lost access to the tree.  I decided then that it was time to get my own tree.

 I was able to get some small trees growing by squishing a ripe guava fruit into a small pot of potting mix and leaving it out in the sun and rain.  When the seedlings grew to several inches I transferred them each into a one gallon size pot.  After they were well  established, the best and biggest got transferred into a three gallon pot and its tips were pinched to encourage it to to fatten up.  Within several months I had a strong tree a few feet tall and was able to plant it out in my front yard.  There I have been weeding the base area, fertilising, watering and pinching the tips of the tree.  I wanted it to be a fat, squat tree that will stay below the ocean winds coming over the tall garden boundary hedge.  Still the winds have given the tree a bit of a lean.  Because the tree was seed grown, I had no expectation of fruit for  five years or so, but within  three years it was supplying us with fresh guavas and now, a few years later, it is a lovely tree in the garden.  Sometimes the leaves get a little brown edged and tattered by the salt winds but the tree will replace these with fresh green ones.

I have long been a fan of guavas, liking them for their abundant supply of Vitamin C.  (Four times more than an orange.)  However lately there is even more support for the goodness of guavas because they have been found to be an even better source of lycopene than tomatoes.  You know....lycopene that helps give men protection against prostate cancer.  My husband will pick a guava as he walks out to the car to go to work every morning.

             
One does have to be quick on the draw if you want to get fruit to eat.  If you wait for the fruit to turn full yellow before  picking, you will be too late.  The dreaded fruit fly larvae will already be crawling through your guava or the birds (usually the red vented bulbul) will have started eating it.  I even see the wild chickens up in the tree looking for ripe fruit.  So the key to good eating is to pick the fruit when it has just changed from green to light yellow.  I might leave it on the kitchen bench to ripen up one more day.

My favorite way to eat guavas is in a smoothie made in a blender.  Yogurt, milk or juice, a frozen banana, a handful of ice  and one or two guavas.  Enjoy.  Oh...and the seeds are good fiber. 

If you do not want the seeds then the best thing is to cook the fruit a little until they are soft and then put them through a sieve to remove the seeds.  It is just a matter of bringing the chopped fruit to the boil with a tiny bit of water and then letting it simmer until soft.  Rather like making apple sauce.  You can then use the pulp right away or freeze it for later for things like smoothies or making guava jam.

Guavas that have been stewed and strained.  Frozen in ice cube trays to use in smoothies. 
The cubes are very hard so need a few minutes of thawing out before blending.


Aloha

PS  July 20016

Good grief!  It has been 5 years since I wrote this almost first of my blogs.  I think it is about time to update the picture of the guava tree as it looks so tiny in the photo at the top of the page.  Now it is a big shade giving tree in the garden.  The top of it gets trimmed by nature...ie the salt winds coming over the top of the hedge, while I trim the sides off a bit when it reaches out too far.  This past spring we had strong salt winds which really burnt the leaves so that we have not had any guava fruit for months while the tree put all its energy into changing its leaves into nice new green ones.  Only finally now it it starting to burst full of fruit and the grand kids can help themselves again.  Because the tree is so big now we use it for morning shade if we want to sit out in the garden.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Starting Day

I have said that I am writing this blog to see where it will take me.  So far it is stretching my no computer skills.  I am playing around on my own and will no doubt need one of my children to straighten out the mess I am in.  But I have started and I plan to improve the site as I figure out what I am doing.

There will be lots of gardening talk.  No doubt on my favorite themes which are hardy plants, lazy gardening and growing easy food plants.  Of course it will all be tropical gardening.  I hope it is of help to you the reader and I am always interested in learning more from others too.  Along the way you will get a few garden notes from my travels as well.  So lets start the journey and see what happens.