Don’t stop at potatoes
Aug 10, 2020
The best times to plant potatoes in this area are allegedly after the first full moon (and before the new moon) in January and August. Well peoples, we just had a full moon last week. It was a beauty. And though I can barely believe it, how did we get to August already?
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But wait, there’s more. More starchy root vegetables that is.
Don’t stop at potatoes. I know we all know them because they’re a supermarket staple, but they are by no means the only potato-like food that grows well here. Actually, a lot of the following are far more suited to here than potatoes. Tatties prefer a climate like Dorrigo, Scotland, NZ and the Andes which is where they’re from. The warmth and humidity here aren’t ideal for them.
Let’s start softly.
You will know sweet potato. Ideal for growing here and both the root and the leaves are tasty edibles. Some people call these yams, especially the orange ones.
There are a couple of other yams to try. Most of the world lives on some sort of yam, they’re not really unusual.
So there’s oka / NZ yam (oxalis tuberosa). Better in the cool season here, sorry.
And there’s ‘African yam’ (dioscorea sp) which is a vigourous vine. Some of these have both an underground tuber that’s edible and an edible aerial tuber as well. A friend calls these tree potatoes and you do not want to be standing under one when it falls off the vine! Knockout.
On the African theme, there’s a small annual tree called cassava (manihot esculenta). When I say tree, think of a tall stalk with a few leaves looking like hands. A lot like a pawpaw/papaya ‘tree’. The cassava dies down and drops it’s leaves about August, which is when you dig up the big sweet-potato like roots and feast. To propagate, the stalk is cut into foot-long lengths and poked into the ground. It’s a bit easy to grow 🙂
There’s a couple of plants that like wetter soil than most.
Taro (colocasia esculenta) also known as yam in parts of south east asia. I love the taste of this. Like a creamy potato. Absolutely must be cooked, and some people need to wear gloves to peel it as it can irritate skin before it’s cooked. Once cooked it’s notably easy to digest. Go figure.
Arrowroot / edible canna lily (canna edulis). You might know it in your kitchen as a thickener, like cornstarch, but the plant looks like turmeric and grows an edible tuber. I’ve just discovered the leaves are edible too!
The sunflower family isn’t just the pretty flower we all know. It has fartichoke, the pet name for Jerusalem artichoke (helianthus tuberosus). A prolifically abundant tuber. Put one in the ground, come back a year later with a large bucket. Great if they don’t give you awful wind. They affect some people a lot more than others.
And the daisy family contains yacon or Peruvian ground apple (smallanthus sonchifolius). Also grows itself. The brown skinned tuber is crisp, juicy and almost sweet. It can be used as a fruit in a fruit salad, or as a water chestnut in savoury dishes. It stays crisp with cooking. The little red tuber it grows is the part you replant for next year’s crop.
Moving into the pond, we can grow actual water chestnuts (eleocharis dulcis). They are divine home grown treats. Nothing like the things in the can. Though I admit they are a bugger to peel / prep for cooking. Growing them is as simple as putting 2 or 3 in an old sink or bath with some mud and a lot of water and keeping the water topped up until winter. They will FILL their growing container with tubers.
Lotus (nelumbo nucifera). Not just the divine flower. Requires plenty of mud and ‘fertiliser’ and water a foot or two deep to develop roots. Yum. You’ll recognise it from Chinese dishes, among others.
And then there’s the original tuber that was grown all over this area and seems to get a mention in every Gumbaynggirr story. The yam daisy (microseris lanceolata). It seems crazy that we don’t grow this.
If you have any growing tips for any of these, share your knowledge in the comments.