Monday, June 17, 2013

Basic Heat Survivors

Stinging variety of Chaya

I want to take each one of these separately and do individual posts.  Today, there's just a list of what has worked for us so far, and ones we've heard good things about but never tried yet.

The ones that endure the most punishing heat so far, and have food uses:

1.  Chaya, aka chayamansa, aka Mexican Chaya or Mexican Spinach Tree:  These are propagated by cutting a section and sticking it in the ground, watering it in and watching it go!  Leaves are harvested with gloves unless you have the unprickly variety (meaning non-stinging.  The stings are similar to stinging nettles).  We PREFER the wilder variety with the stinging leaves.  These turn out to be bushes nearly 8 feet tall by the end of our season, die back in the winter, come back in the spring from the roots.  A nectary plant for Gulf Fritillaries and some other kinds of butterflies.  Leaves must be boiled in order to eat to neutralize their initial cyanic compounds.  We find them an agreeable green with a neutral taste, best cut into thin strips before cooking, removing stems.  They are HIGHLY nutritious and I believe I remember some mention that they are one of the only plants with some of the nutrition usually only found in meat protein. (See? I'll have to go dig up the stats again)

Moringa, before coppicing again

2.  Moringa oleifera.  These grow like weeds once started and Jack propagates them from (I forget the formal term) limb cutting stuck right into the ground.  When they reach no more than 4 feet (or, for us, two feet) they can be easily cut as a coppice crop.  The new sprouts keep on coming and are especially good at this stage.  We will soon try a suggestion to use the actual sprouts as an asparagus-like substitute.  The leaves at this stage lack the hard stems that with more mature limbs end up being needle-like when dried.  The leaves are a magnificent nutrient source.  We have yet to enjoy the flavor.  It is peppery and green, so a little goes a long way.  One of the best uses we have for this is to cut the fronds as mulch around other plants, due to its high fertility-adding in fertilizer.  It is also said to be an excellent animal forage and we've seen chickens take readily to the cut branches, with gusto.  Somewhere I read grazing animals can be fed it as supplemental forage and huge vitamin booster, some up to 50% total feed, if introduced gradually.  We intend to use it for a several-cuttings-per-season forage in areas that don't naturally support much grazing, and we will use it prodigiously as a very soft wood to keep running through a wood chipper for a natural fertilizing wood chip mulch (differing degrees of size and fineness) when we one day get a wood chipper.  That, and for supplementing livestock feed for healthy and vigorous animals.  And for making a daily green tea for our own use.

3.  Honeysuckle, japanese:   It can be invasive, but I do want a patch for medicine making.  This one deserves its own post, too!

4.  Canna lilies:  I've found repeated mention of using the blossoms in salads and the rhizomes as a baked starch.  With the low places available to grow them and the beauty they add, they are worth a try

Almost spineless Nopal Cactus

5.  Nopal cactus:  We have a nearly needle-free variety given to us a few years back from a former client who wanted hers moved away for more garden space.  After removing the fine glochids by scraping with a knife, these are edible and medicinal.  And so easy to grow you just plant and forget them.

6.  Gynura procumbens:  This is our blood glucose friend, purported to have a similar effect on blood sugar as the medicine such as Metformin.  It's a hardy warm weather trailing plant with slightly fuzzy leaves.  The flavor is not unpleasant, it is mild and green, but slightly fuzzy.  I know a man who eats 12 leaves a day for his blood sugar control.  I find very little western research on this plant but it is a traditional plant to keep as a potherb in the East and to include in salads fresh.  We like ours and would like to explore its potential more.  It grows easily behind and under bushes and in pots kept in a sheltered place under a bush or tree.  Ours overwinter by a doorway and come back with a burst in the warm weather.

7.  Sweet potatoes:  Edible root and leaves.  We have yet to try the  young leaves but they were eaten, and still are, by southerners in the US pre-twentieth century and by other cultures worldwide as a highly nutritious green.  We have not grown sweet potatoes here yet but it will be one of our first farm plantings, for the potato and the greens.

8.  Calabaza, tropical pumpkin, winter squash:  This is our hot weather variety of winter squash.  We still have three left from our harvest from one single seed that sprouted in a compost area, left untended and weedy.  It not only survives neglect every year (we throw a few seeds into the same place each year and one or two always sprout) but it resists borers, vigorously vines through weed and up trees if left to do so, and in the early fall we walk through with a mower, mowing the bermuda right up to the vines and picking up full grown pumpkins till there is a big wheelbarrow full.  I think we got about thirty off one plant last year with no more effort than that, and they cook up silky and mildly sweet, yum!  I can't believe I was an adult before I learned the greatness of winter squash/pumpkin.  This market stall (hispanic) variety seems to fit the bill here.  We will definitely increase our uses of this on the farm.

9.  Okra.  Takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'.  And is delicious.  Very heat tolerant.

10.  Cowpeas:  Purple hull peas, or any other favorite regional variety.  They are delicious, store dried well, are good forage for grazing animals, and the young leaves are my FAVORITE cooked green, LOADED with nutrition!  They rock the heat and can be tilled back into the ground for fertility.  We WILL be planting these on the farm.  One of my favorite memories of home garden food growing up, when paired with fresh homegrown tomatoes, yellow squash with onions, and cornbread...yum!

This is a good starter list.  Do you know of anything that might be added to the list? We're open to all of it...edible "weeds," unexpected favorites, survival plants, plants otherwise unknown to the western markets as edible but known to be staples in other cultures...we're interested in them all.

David the Good has a good list to peruse over at his Florida Survival Gardening Blog.

In Florida the summer season has come to be a non-planting or growing season in modern times due to the heat and vagaries of either drought or monsoon.  We plan to vary things a bit to still have productive summers.  We're new to this but plenty of others are leading the way, and we love gleaning from their expertise.

What are your hardiest go-to plants...and what are unexpected favorites in your own patch of dirt??


Shreela said...

Awesome post! Pinned a similar for non-edibles yesterday by a Houston reporter. Going to pin this post to my Gardening in Droughts board so I can refer to it in the future.

Why do you prefer the stinging chaya? Does it grow better, taste better, the butterflies prefer it? I had some, but it died while potted during Tx 2011 drought, while I was in Central Tx for Mama's big surgery. The only potted plants that DH didn't neglect-kill were in the more expensive self-watering plants.

Never heard of eating moringa sprouts, cool! I look forward to when I get some going in the ground one day.

Don't need anymore Honeysuckle LOL, and am fine with Cannas, but didn't know their leaves were also edible - did know about the tubers.

Need to clean out my nopale patch, but mine aren't needle free. I believe I'd love some needle-free! LOL

Had to look up Gynura procumbens, is it eaten like a spinach, or just medicinally? I currently take Metformin, but will find out this week if my weight loss was enough to reverse my insulin resistance. But my intermittant hypertension didn't notice the weight loss, argh!

Tried sprouting a store-bought sweet potato a few months ago, but it just rotted even though I did tend to the water. I bet they sprayed it with that non-sprout stuff I've read about. I don't really like sweet potatoes, but hope to learn to enjoy them cooked in a multi-veg dish with heaps of spice, because no more white potatoes for me (in addition to insulin resistance, have to drop almost all carbs due to suspicion of leaky gut). Back to sprouting for slips, I was hoping to try stir-frying sweet potato greens, since I haven't foudn them at the Asian store yet.

Calabaza, is that easy to find at Hispanic grocers? Can we eat the flowers like with summer squash?

Daddy said Okra sustained his family during their heat waves (Northern AL, so not quite as bad as yours and my recent heat waves LOL). But he said in order for them to keep producing the small, edible pods, they needed to be harvested daily.

No idea young cowpeas were edible! Are cowpeas the same as black-eyed peas? Or are the just related?

Hope to order some cassava slips/sprouts from David the Good next time he blogs about it.


Robbyn said...

Shreela/Sherri, thank you for your wonderful and informative reply! Hope this may help answer some of your questions:

Why do you prefer the stinging chaya? Does it grow better, taste better, the butterflies prefer it? This reason is ours, particularly, maybe not shared by everyone. We got the stinging variety from one source and the non-stinging variety we got from ECHO global test farm in Ft Myers. Jack is our resident planter and he found through trial and error that the chaya plants do better planted where you want them in the ground rather than kept in pots for the longer term. As he experimented growing them, he would plant the initial plants in a hole amended with simple compost and water them in now and then for a few weeks, till they seem to be growing well. As we observed the differences between the stinging and the non-stinging variety, the stinging variety seemed to be "wilder" in a sense, in that it grew much more vigorously, responded to changes in the weather better, and grew larger and more abundantly. The non-stinging variety for us never achieves the size or vigor of the "wilder" stinging variety. We believe the taste of both to be comparable and probably the nutrition as well. We have both experienced the "sting" of the stinging chaya leaves when harvesting, and it is similar to the rashlike mild burn of a stinging nettle...the fuzz on the leaves is what stings (there are no stickers per se). By simply wearing basic gloves, the inconvenience of the sting is avoided. If stung we just washed our hands under cool water with mild soap and eventually the sting went away. The stinging variety is a veritable butterfly buffet..the non-stinging one is not so much. The deer leave it alone (the stinging) though they sometimes take a munch or two from the non-stinging plants. Some of our non-stinging chayas never came back from the winter freezes, but ALL of the stinging ones did. And, finally, we LIKE the fact the stinging kind make a very attractive barrier to intruders. They don't survive the winter with any foliage or branches...those die back to the ground. But if you have concerns about wandering foot traffic in any area, having the stinging chayas would never HURT to have because of well...the sting :-) That's my answer on the chaya. Next up, answers to another part of your reply :)

Robbyn said...

Q#2. am fine with Cannas, but didn't know their leaves were also edible: I don't know that the leaves are edible...I found mention that the BLOSSOMS are :)

Robbyn said...

Re: Sweet potato tubers and greens:
I didn't grow up enjoying sweet potatoes as much as a child (I disliked them) as I do as an adult. The difference is that I don't like mine sweetened, I like them serves savory, baked and spread with butter and a pinch of salt. However my hubby and some friends love it made as a pie or souffle. I make mine with very little extra sugar and include pumpkin pie spices and condensed milk, following the recipe on the Libby's pumpkin can (my grandma used that recipe, too) for pumpkin pie (I add a pinch of powdered ginger, too). It bakes up mild and delicious as a side dish or dessert. I like sweet potato more myself roasted with other veggies and served alongside a small portion of savory meat, such as a roast, or a small addition to some stews or soups. As for the leaves, here's a link to begin with:
There are a lot of recipes to be found if you do a web search, and there are some traditional foods from Africa and other parts of the world to search as well. I plan to try using them as I would a creamed spinach, a simple stir fry, or simply brought to a boil till fork tender. I'd love to hear if you find a way you love to eat them!

Robbyn said...

Gynura procumbens, is it eaten like a spinach, or just medicinally?

We don't cook with it, it has a weirder mouth feel to it than spinach, so is better eating with mixed greens in a salad or just deliberately eaten for its medicinal uses. I don't know enough more about it, but it is worth seeing if there are any updated sites on the net recently about personal use. I did receive a comment once from a health practitioner overseas (I think from Indonesia) stating that many people keep a pot of it or grow it in their backyards and it is safe, but I cannot state personally for anyone else's use what they should do. Best to do your own research. Jack and I have had no adverse effects from it, so we use it as a healthy salad green we know won't HURT our blood sugars :)

Robbyn said...

Can calabazas be found at a hispanic store?

Here in Florida there are usually some to be found looking similar in appearance enough that we know it's in the same family. They are harvested with some greenish stripe showing, but after harvest the rind fades to a buff beige or variation of that, with or without a pattern, and in varying sizes and shapes. The buff beige is our tipoff, and the fact that you can ask in a hispanic market for calabaza in your region and see what seems to grow best there...they are definitely grown locally and taken to market. We have not seen any so far that come from overseas labeled as such. Put Calabaza or Calabasa in the search bar for my blog and you'll see pics of what ours look like. We have seen others that are smaller, more oblong, and they also resemble and are probably akin to the older species here called the Seminole pumpkin, but to us they are enough different that we'll simply keep growing some from our own seeds. The seeds can be roasted in a little olive oil with salt like regular pumpkin seeds. Simply putting them in the ground with a little compost and enough light watering to get a good sprouting plant started is all that's needed to get them going...the vines are very long and you simply mow over the ones you don't want to keep (they are unruly!ha). Yes, the blossoms are just exactly as edible as pumpkin and squash blossoms, even though I've not yet learned to use them, but shall!

Robbyn said...

About okra production and daily harvest?

Yes, when they get started, you harvest daily because the bigger ones are simply inedible and the little ones are tender and boy do they produce! wear long sleeves and basic gloves when harvesting because they have invisible prickles that can be uncomfortable to get on your bare skin. This is one of the few we might plant in actual rows for ease of harvest. How did your dad's family prepare their okra during those times? I'd love to know! did they use a certain variety?

Robbyn said...

Are cowpeas the same as black-eyed peas? Or are the just related?

If you do an internet search for companies that offer cowpea seeds, you'll find the black eyed peas, crowders, cream peas, and purple hull peas all in the same category. It seems each region of the South has its own preference of favorite, and though they look and taste different they all are categorized as cowpeas or field peas in general. ALL their leaves if in the cowpea family, are edible. I hate a comment from someone a couple years ago who mentioned that they grow a patch simply for the fresh greens to cook. here's a little more on their history:
Here's an article I contributed to a blog in the past when we first tried the greens.
If you love black eyed peas, do try some of the other cowpea types, because each has its own distinctive flavor, texture, and you'll find your best preference. I myself prefer purple hull peas over black eyed peas, and my ex's family always served crowders. Jack loves his purple hulls cooked freshly picked, I love the home-canned sort because it makes its own "gravy" in the process and that's what I grew up eating :)

Robbyn said...

I'd love to know how you do with cassava when you get some! we see it grown here and it cracks me up that there have been mistaken "marijuana raids" of properties where police who knew little about local cassava growing practices thought they were on to a big stash just to find out later they, um, confiscated a cassava planting...haha! I like David the Good's plant list and the yard long beans are on our list to try!

Robbyn said...

P.S. one of the hispanic terms here locally for cassava is also "Yuca/Yucca," not to be confused with the western agave-like spiky plants I grew up calling Yucca. My husband grew up eating cassava cooked various ways.