As we say good-bye to the rains, we’d like to take this time to write a special tribute to our favorite, and perhaps most unusual looking, rainy season crops.
During his usual tour of the centre, Eston always explains to people how we strive to use all of our resources in permaculture, including vertical space. We have diggers, such as cassava and sweet potato, below the soil, ground cover and mulch on the soil, and a whole cornucopia of species growing to varying heights above the soil. A group of crops that use virtually all vertical space are the climbers, which do particularly well in the rainy season.
Our three favorite climbers here at Kusamala all just happen to be very unusual looking.
The first in line is the air potato (dioscorea bulbifera), also known as an African potato or potato yam, is native to West Africa and tropical Asia. Unlike most potatoes, this yam grows in the air on a climbing vine. Hence the name! A perennial crop, the vine dies back in the dry season and grows back with the rain. It is prepared much like a regular potato, peeled, blanched, then roasted, boiled, baked, or fried. These alien-looking yams are a good source of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and some iron.
Next, the African horned cucumber (cucumis metuliferus). Native to tropical Africa’s woodlands and grasslands, this spiky fruit is an annual vine that grows easily from seed. It has become a weed in Australia, but here at Kusamala we can’t get enough. Peeled and sliced, this cucumber makes a refreshing salad or pureed for a cold soup.
The last climber is the chayote squash (sechium edule), also known as vegetable pear and shu shu, among others. Easily cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions, the chayote squash in indigenous to Central America. The fruit will begin to germinate while still on the vine and can be planted directly into the soil, preferably at the base of a strong tree as this guy grows fast and heavy! The young fruit can be grated or thinly sliced into a salad; they also can be baked, boiled, or stuffed. They’re a lovely addition to soups and curries in place of or alongside your old boring potato.
If you have any interest in trying or cultivating these unique crops (they all make memorable table decorations as well!), please contact us and we can help you get started.