Just because you live in the hot and humid south – doesn’t mean you have to skimp on your greens – while lettuce, spinach, kale & co. generally do not do well in a hot and humid summer – there are two excellent greens that thrive in such an environment.
- Malabar Spinach and
- Edible Amaranth
Malabar Spinach (Basella alba)
Malabar Spinach can be found in tropical Asia and Africa and is used as a leaf vegetable. This is the type of plant that you can actually watch growing. I am amazed on a daily basis by how much this plant grows in just a day. This vine is perennial in frost free, warm regions – annual in the rest of the world. Originally native to India and Southeast Asia, it has spread to much of the temperate world and is making some inroads even here in the US (although it is still relatively unknown). It is known under various names such as vine spinach, red vine spinach, climbing spinach, creeping spinach, buffalo spinach and Ceylon spinach. There are actually two varieties – green vine (which I am growing and seems to be more common) and red vine. While the red vine is prettier, I have read that the green vine variety has more flavor. Malabar spinach can be eaten raw or cooked, though it is mucilaginous (similar to Okra). The plant loves full sun and a humid climate. It likes moist fertile soil (where it does a lot of growing) and can even tolerate damp soil. The plant can be continually harvested. Most growth is during hot weather – growth slows when it gets colder and frost will kill it.
There are two way to grow Malabar spinach.
The easiest way is actually to just buy some at your local Asian store, cut off the lower leaves and simply place in some fertile soil. The plants will root easily. For the first few days, only allow it to get some morning sun until it is established and rooted. The above picture shows my rooted plants.
Growing from seed is also pretty easy, though rooting it will give it a head start. I simply placed the seeds about half an inch in the ground and kept the soil moist. Some people say they are difficult to sprout – but mine sprouted within a few days time. The above picture shows my seedlings.
Edible Amaranth (Amaranth mangostanus)
It is scary about how little information there is on this particular green. From what I gather, there are several different varieties of edible amaranth. White leaf (which is what I am growing), Red, Red Striped, Green Pointed, Green Tender, etc. Some people say it is actually the same species as Amaranth tricolour. Edible amaranth is a fast growing annual used to tropical climate and not frost free. Under optimal conditions, the plants should be ready to harvest in 30 days time. The plug and harvest technique can be used to assure a continual harvest. The plant is very nutritious (more so than other greens) but is susceptible to leaf eating pests as the leaves are quite tender. The seeds are also edible when cooked – the leaves can be cooked or eaten raw. I grew my first batch from seed – it was also very easy. Since the seeds are very small, only lightly cover them with seedling soil or a little vermiculite and keep moist.
From the looks of my seedlings (above), I probably have another 2 weeks to go before my first harvest.