Chokos and the ‘look-alike’ Moth Plant pest – which have you got?

Chokos and the ‘look-alike’ Moth Plant pest – which have you got?

It’s choko time again! A-n-d the pest moth plant is fruiting too. As the seeds of moth plant are apparently poisonous, please know a real choko from the poisonous alternative.

 

So how to tell the delicious from the noxious?!

Which is choko and which is Moth Plant?

 

The fruit look ‘sorta similar’ from the outside so people can easily confuse the two. Yet the leaves, flowers and seeds are different. 

Here’s how:

The Leaves

Choko

 

20180428_155638

Choko leaves are similar to grape vine leaves, whereas Moth Plant leaves are different.

Moth Plant:

20180427_162852
Moth Plant leaves and fruit

The Fruits

Here are piks of a choko fruit cut in half. One seed in the middle of the fruit.

 

Here’s a pik of a Moth Plant fruit cut in half – showing the many, many seeds in the center.

20180427_163028 - Copy

See also the flesh is different – harder, and has a milky sap which can be really irritating so best to not touch it at all [if you must pick this plant, use gloves].

 

The Seeds

The single seed of the choko sprouts a little root and shoot from the fruit.

20160522_171117

Whereas the Moth Plant splits the old, shriveled fruit and releases millions of fluffy seeds [so its also called ‘kapok plant’] to fly on the wind far and wide.

20180427_101349 - Copy

 

The flowers

Chokos have 2 types of flowers – the little white-petaled  male ones grow in a long group. The female one [which  forms the fruit we eat] is a single one.

 

Moth Plant flowers look very different:

20180427_101336 - Copy

 

Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article on Moth Plant [also known as Kapok plant, Common moth vine, Cruel vine, and White bladder] for more info.  Also, here’s a Weed Busters article.

 

I hope this post makes clear the difference between the delicious, edible choko and the noxious, pest Moth Plant.

 

For more about the delicious chokos:

 

 

See the post for how we grow the plants and also for recipes using the fruits too.

Enjoy!

 

 

Chokos are in season (late autumn) in Auckland!

Chokos are in season (late autumn) in Auckland!

20160521_100028Woo hoo! It’s choko time again!

Here’s a link to a post about the delicious chokos available now.

The small ones are the ones we eat [like those lower left in the photo showing many chokos of different sizes].

Steam a few minutes for the tiny ones whole or sliced medium-sized ones. Sweet and delicious when they are young.

Large chokos develop a tough skin and are flavorless compared with the tiny ones. We spice large ones to make them worth eating. They are kept in a cold place until we have no more small ones on the plant. Then we use the large ones [unless we’ve given them away].

20160521_103710

Large chokos are usually the ones available in shops. If you see small ones, choose them for flavor.

Chokos grow on a rampant vine. Our’s covers the back fence and a tree. It will die back as cold winter weather and frosts arrive.

choko vine over cherry guava tree

The roots remain in the ground to re-sprout next spring. Covering the roots with mulch for protection in winter helps this short-lived perennial plant last longer.

Where could you put such an abundant provider of sweet, buttery new chokos to enjoy next autumn?

See the post for how we grow the plants and also for recipes using the fruits too.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Leafy greens time now

Leafy greens time now

Lettuces love cooler weather.

And other leafy greens – endive, miners lettuce [not really a lettuce], gotu kola, parsley, rocket, chervil, coriander, etc.

There are so many ways to have the benefit of raw, leafy greens, even in winter.

This is a good time to plant a new lot of lettuce and other greens to provide lovely leaves for many months now the weather is cooler as the days are shorter. And it’s too cold for the caterpillars!

It’s such a balancing act – too much moisture [either from over-head rain or watering] makes for constantly wet leaves which touch each other, hold moisture and become slimy or mush – not nice!

Keep them just moist so they can germinate and grow strong roots. Sometimes a tunnel-house or cover can grow  greens well when there is too much rain about.

Soil temperature

Too cold  and seeds take ages to start to grow.

Try an experiment some time and go out at mid-afternoon and put your hand flat onto soil in full sun and notice how cold/hot it is. Now feel soil in a shaded place.

Best times for planting seeds of greens?

After the new moon on Friday 26th May is the best week to plant for lush leafy greens.

The best days are Sunday 28th, Monday 29th May 2017. 

Sprouts – our easy way to grow and use them

Sprouts – our easy way to grow and use them

We can even make sprouts taste nice so we get nutrients we need in a pleasant form!

When salad greens are hard to grow or expensive, sprouts can fill a gap to supply essential nutrients for our cells and bodies. We can use sprouts in salads, in stir fries and casseroles or curries, in shakes or smoothies.

Alfalfa and red clover are our favorites for salad lettuce alternatives.

We add a bunch of these sprouts to other salad greens – a few dandelion leaves, endive, parsley, rocket, Mizuna, etc. Then add a favorite dressing or put them in a sandwich with peanut butter – that works well.

My current favorite dressings are

  • a balsamic dressing or
  • a thicker, creamy dressing made from tahini and apple cider vinegar/lemon juice. Mix 1-2 tablesppons of tahini with a teaspoon of the juice/vinegar in a small jar. Add any seasonings you like [Salt, pepper, tamari soy sauce, garlic, etc] Add some water [2-3 tblespns about] to the jar and shake vigorously. When combined, leave to rest and thicken up and become creamy. Nice. Keeps in the fridge 2-3 days.

 

20161102_081604
Red clover sprouts growing well

 

Lentil and mung bean sprouts are more substantial so go well in stir fries. Soybeans make soy milk for tofu and patties. Chickpeas make great hummus or can go into casseroles or curries.

 

growing sprouts
Sprouts from top left to right – soybeans x2, lentils, mung beans; then below are more lentils [I use different varieties] and alfalfa

How we grow sprouts:

Get fresh seeds which are not treated! Really important if we want seeds to sprout and grow. Old or treated seed is often dead and just rots instead.

Find some jars and rubber bands and a pieces of mosquito netting [or some other fabric which water will drain through].

I love the circular screw-threaded jar tops with mesh inserts. These fit onto some jars I already have and make it easy to rinse the sprouts often.

First I put 1-2 teaspoons of small seeds or 1 tablespoon of larger ones in a jar as in the photo. Cover with the mesh top. half fill the jar with cool water and leave it sit for an hour or 2. [Sprouts prefer rain water or filtered water if you have it.]

[Important extra step for sprouting mung beans: soak mung beans in hot water to get best germination rate. In cool water some mung bean seeds fail to germinate and stay as hard little balls in the sprouts – not nice to eat and hard on teeth. Hot water has been very effective for us in giving great rates of germination – easy solution!]

Drain off the soaking water and rinse again in fresh, cool water.

Rinsing removes anything which would rot or ferment and makes sprouts taste good [don’t drink the rinse water]. Our jars sit on the ledge above the sink. Yes, I know sprouts grow better in the dark but I forget them there. They grow fine by our sink and I remember to rinse then drain them into the sink at least 2 x daily.

When are sprouts ready?

When small salad sprouts grow green leaves and look ready, they either go into a meal or the jar lid is changed for a solid one [to stop moisture evaporating out from the sprouts] and put into the fridge. They will keep there for some days.

Larger sprouts are better used or refrigerated when they just start to sprout only – well before green leaves stage – or they are more likely to rot instead. Look for the tiny white rootlet which first appears.

Many recipes with dried beans, peas or other such legumes say to start by soaking the dried seeds before using them. Sprouting live seeds for a day or so will activate far more nutrients in the seeds than just soaking them – it just needs more forward planning for meal production [or some in the fridge]!

Sprouts are often added as a garnish to recipes. This is an easy way to start adding them to your meals too.

Another way is to chop small sprouts [eg alfalfa or red clover] very fine and add them to a dressing or salad. They disappear into the rest of the ingredients.

A shake or smoothie can be enhanced with these delicate sprouts added too.

Cost?

$2-4 dollars buys a packet of sprouting from a reputable supplier [eg Kings Seeds]. Each 30 or 100 gram packet will grow MANY jars of sprouts. Such a small price for great nutrient supplies!

Just now lettuces are up to $7 each to buy here, so sprouts are much more cost effective. Just a few sprouts will help our bodies have the nutrients they need so it’s worth the effort.

Sometimes we take an easy option and buy a punnet of ‘ready to eat’ sprouts from the veg section of a supermarket or green grocer. Still cheap greens.

We grow

  • Alfalfa
  • Red clover
  • Mung bean
  • Lentils [assorted varieties]
  • Chickpeas
  • Soybeans
  • Dried beans or peas of various types when I want to experiment.

If this is a new experiment for you, start by adding a few amidst other things you enjoy in salads, shakes or veg. It can take a few different experiments to find what works for you. I wasn’t a great salad sprouts fan until I added them to a creamy dressing.

I often add a toasted seed mix – sesame and sunflower seeds gently roasted in a dry frying pan then sprinkled with tamari soy sauce – yum!

Hope you enjoy trying different options when greens are in short supply – or you just want to try something new.

Cheers
Heather

Grow great leafy greens this week

Grow great leafy greens this week

We love lettuces for salads, especially the frilly types.  

 

And other leafy greens – endive, miners lettuce [not really a lettuce], gotu kola, parsley, mizuna, etc.

This is a good time to plant a new lot of lettuce and other greens to provide lovely leaves for many months now the weather is cooler as the days are shorter.

 

Soil moisture is still important – even if it rained recently, is the new lettuce bed really moist and easily worked?

If the soil is very dense there is less air for the roots and seedlings ‘damp off’ with root rot instead of growing well – they need air as well as water. Add loose, friable material such as good compost

If there is an ants nest there, they keep soil dry around their home and its amazing how dry such patches can be!

 

We check soil moisture each day [move mulch aside and feel below the surface with a finger to decide if they need water]

It’s such a balancing act – too little moisture or too much [specially from over-head rain or watering] cause stress. Too wet can cause leaves which touch each other to hold moisture and become slimy or mush – not nice!

Keep them just moist so they can germinate and grow strong roots.

 

We generally plant seeds rather than seedlings. If you let one lettuce plant produce seeds, there will be hundreds, even thousands. We spread them around all over and leave some to self-seed.

 

 

Another point for good germination is soil temperature

Too cold  and seeds take ages to start to grow.

Try an experiment some time and go out at mid-afternoon and put your hand flat onto soil in full sun and notice how cold/hot it is. Now feel soil in a shaded place.

 

Pests

Ants will carefully carry away lettuce seeds to feed their colony! It is amazing watching a tiny ant maneuver a much larger lettuce seed off to their nest!

Snails and slugs love tender new lettuce seedlings – we put a barrier around them for protection

Caterpillars – especially ‘Green-Looper caterpillars’ love tender leaves and can decimate plants when the caterpillar is 2-3 cm long it has great chomping ability! And they are so well camouflaged! I pick them off by hand when I find them. Neem spray or granules are a deterrent as they stop insects, bugs etc eating.

Black-birds dig for worms etc and throw seedlings all over the place – not good for their survival when their roots are in the air! We place bird netting over new beds as we have LOTS of black-birds!

 

Best times for planting seeds of greens?

After the new moon on Wednesday 26th April is the best week to plant for lush leafy greens.

The best days are Thursday 27th and Friday 28th April 2017. Also Sunday 30th afternoon and Monday 1st May to Tuesday 2nd May – time to sow lots of lovely greens!

 

 

 

Chokos are in season (late autumn) in Auckland!

Chokos are in season (late autumn) in Auckland!

20160521_100028Chokos – a prolific, fence-covering vine, masses of fruit – what DO we do with them?!

From tiny ones, new-formed to great big ones, larger than my hand – here’s our take on making best use of this resource. Now that zucchinis are ending their season growing in the open garden, small chokos make a great replacement.

The small ones are delicious and sweet – just thumb-sized. Steam a few minutes.

Large chokos develop a tough skin and are flavorless compared with the tiny ones. We spice large ones to make them worth eating. Big ones are kept in a cold place until we have no more small ones on the plant. Then we use the large ones [unless we’ve given them away].

Large chokos are usually the ones available in shops. If you see small ones, choose them for flavor.

The choko seed will sprout from the large end of a choko which is as big as your hand and grow into a whole new plant. It first grows a new shoot and begins to grow small rootlets.

20160522_171032It can be now planted into a garden bed in a frost-free zone, or into a pot, large end down, of good potting mix [or at least the growing rootlets covered with soil for protection]. Plant out into garden on a trellis or other support after all frosts and freezing weather has passed in spring.20160522_171117

Chokos grow on a rampant vine. Our’s covers the back fence and a tree. It will die back as cold winter weather and frosts arrive.

The roots remain in the ground to re-sprout next spring. Covering the roots with mulch for protection in winter helps this short-lived perennial plant last longer.

We replant a new one each year or so.

Here’s a post about the wonderfulness of chokos I wrote some time ago – it seems a good time to re-visit it now we have heaps of chokos available! Enjoy now as the season is quite short – a few months at most. Find the info here.

 

Recipes for delightful chokos: see post here

There are so many ways chokos can be used! Some of our favorite recipes for delightful chokos are found here

Wonderful additions to stews, casseroles, curries, soups, pickles.

Or just enjoy the tiny new ones steamed – sweet – a real treat in such a short season, and unavailable in most shops so grow your own treats.

Enjoy!

Grow great leafy greens this week – specially when your current plants are bolting to seed

Grow great leafy greens this week – specially when your current plants are bolting to seed

We love lettuces for salads in warmer weather, so we plant cos or open leaf lettuces at this time as we get a better harvest than with iceberg-type lettuces.  

 

In summer we plant them in a moist, cool spot, maybe in semi-shade from hot afternoon sun. Early morning sun is kind to them.

In hot sun and dry soil leafy greens go through their life cycle really quickly  –  these are not favorable conditions for growing lush greens. If a tiny seedling’s survival is threatened, it quickly produces a seed stalk instead of growing leaves. Suddenly they seem to sprout up, taller and taller.

We check soil moisture each day [move mulch aside and feel below the surface with a finger to decide if they need water]

It’s such a balancing act – too little moisture or too much [specially from over-head watering] cause stress. Too wet can cause leaves which touch each other to hold moisture and become slimy or mush – not nice!

 

 

When you see leafy greens starting to produce a flowering stalk, it’s time to plant new seeds to grow up for crops to harvest in a month or so. 

 

Beware if considering planting leafy green seedlings in summer,

The shock of transplanting at this time is often enough to cause them to bolt instantly to seed while really tiny – no leaves to eat!

 

So, we generally plant seeds at this time rather than seedlings. Keep them moist so they can germinate and grow strong roots. This way they are ‘sort-of’ adapting to the current warm conditions, as much as possible.

 

Another point for good germination is soil temperature

Too hot and they wont even start! Cool shaded areas have much cooler soil temperature than out in full sun.

Try an experiment some time and go out at mid-afternoon and put your hand flat onto soil in full sun and notice how hot it is. Now feel soil in a shaded place.

 

Best times for planting seeds of greens?

After the new moon this first week of the new year is the best week to plant for lush leafy greens.

The best days are Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th  January 2017