Posts Tagged Climber

Achoca (Cyclanthera)

Cucurbitaceae (Cyclanthera pedata or brachystachya)

Tender annual

Sometimes referred to as a stuffing cucumber, Caigua, In the Andes (quencha) it is also widely called “caihua”. Elsewhere, it is known as pepino de rellenar (Colombia), pepino andino (Venezuela), and variations on “achoca” and “caihua.”[2]

A climbing cucurbit from Peru with thin vines producing an abundant harvest of edible, hollow, green, pods or ‘gourds’ 6-15cm long with a spongy interior containing a dozen or more hard black seeds. There are two achocha species; ‘Fat Baby’ (Cyclanthera brachystachya) producing single fruits which are fat and covered in soft, fleshy spines and ‘Lady’s slipper’ (Cyclanthera pedata) which sets smooth fruits in pairs that are more elongated and slightly curved like a Persian slipper.[1]

Origin Native to Central and South America – from Mexico south to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia now considered one of the ‘lost crops of the Incas’. ‘Caigua’ is currently cultivated as a food in the Carribean, Central and South America.

Site & Soil ‘The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils..It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland).It requires moist soil’[3].

Propagation Grow in the same way as other tender cucurbits. Sow in pots 4 weeks before planting out after the last spring frost.

Care Provide protection until plants are established and provide a climbing frame, pergola, trellis or wigwam for the plants to scramble over.

Spread plants can grow 4.5metres and are best grown vertically though they can be left to scramble over the ground between larger plants.

Harvest Pick regularly to increase production. Immature fruits (before the seeds have formed) taste and look like tiny cucumbers. Pick when small and eat as green vegetables raw or cooked. As the pods grow they become hollow when they are best cooked with the seeds removed.

Storage The fruits keep well for a week or more in a cool place.

Botany and Seed Saving Achocha do not cross with other cucurbits and saving seed is straight forward simply pick or scrape the seeds out of the mature pods, dry and store. ‘The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Insects.’[4]

Use The immature fruits may be eaten raw or pickled. Unlike many cucurbitaceous fruits, the fruit are more like pods and become quite hollow as they mature, and the mature fruit is often eaten stuffed. In South America the fruits are used like peppers – either raw or cooked (after the seeds are removed). They are also stuffed with meat, fish or cheese and then baked.” In Ecuador a soup is made with the fruit. Like many cucurbits the leaves and tender young shoots are delicious cooked and used as greens.

Medicinal A tea can be made of the seeds is used for controlling high blood pressure. Caigua is traditionally taken to reduce blood cholesterol levels. It has various traditional medicinal usages, mainly to control cholesterol, reduce obesity, control high blood pressure, regulate the metabolism of lipids and sugar in the blood stream and decrease cholesterol.

[1] Emma Cooper – http://www.coopette.com/articles/growing-achocha

[2]Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation (1989) Squashes and Their Relatives (202-209)

[3] Plants for a Future http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cyclanthera+pedata

[4] Plants for a Future http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cyclanthera+pedata

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Chayotes

Sechium edule. Cucurbitaceae Chayote, also called Vegetable Pear, Merliton, Choko or Chow Chow 

I love trying new vegetables and this is one I started growing in 2008 which turned out to be one of the best edibles I’ve grown. Chayote is not something I had grown or even tasted before 2008 but a local cheese maker, Hermine, who runs an organic goat farm nearby, gave me two chayotes.  The idea was that I could eat one to see what it tasted like and plant the other, but as they both started to sprout I planted both and just hoped that they would taste good at harvest time. The vegetables turned out to surprisingly good, crisp and delicious, almost better than a courgette or a cucumber in some ways; the flesh is denser and crisper, with a light subtle taste and smooth texture that makes them very versatile in the kitchen. The leaves were also delicious and as the climber produced tons of leafy growth it is a good source of leafy veg too.

Origin Its origins are Mesoamerican although how far back it goes is a mystery because, unlike many other vegetables, there have been no remains; fibres, seed or skin found to date its cultivation or use. It was however recorded by the early Spanish invaders as a food consumed by the Aztecs.

Propagation Chayote are propogated from the whole fruits. Keep some fruits back each season and plant as many as required. In spring plant the chayotes on their sides with the thin end facing slightly upwards nearer the surface, cover with soil, water in then add a layer of mulch to protect from any late frosts and retain moisture.

Site and Soil As with other cucurbits Chayote will grow best in rich soil. Plant the whole fruit in stations prepared with good rich planting mix. I use a mixture of manure, woodash, leaf mould and garden compost.

Care Keep moist and provide a climbing frame for the plants to grow on.  Pinch out and tie up plants as they grow.

Harvest Fruit are ready to harvest 4 -6 months after planting.

Use Most parts of the chayote are edible; the starchy tuberous parts of the roots are used like potatoes, the shoots as a pot herb, the young leaves as spinach or as a medicinal tea, the fruit as a vegetable and the nutty stones inside the fruit are prized by cooks. When young the fruit can be eaten whole but as they get bigger it is best to remove the skins as these can get a bit tough. They are equally delicious raw or cooked and go well with nutty, hot, salty, spicy or sour flavours. I particularly like to cook them with coconut, lentils, peanuts, tomatoes, chilli and citrus. Lovely grated raw, sliced in salads, stir-fried, lightly boiled, baked, candied, pickled, pureed, mashed or added to soups, curries and stews. I’ve still have lots of experimenting to do with this vegetable in the kitchen but so far it really is a winner.

Pests & Diseases keep an eye on them as with any cucurbits undercover, they will be prone to red spider mite and powdery mildew. I also had a problem with mealy bug in the polytunnel which affected the chayote plants very badly.

Lunar Planting
I have found that cucurbits sown one or two days before a full moon have a higher germination rate and crop more vigorously. I planted the second of the two chayotes on the 19th March two days before a full moon. The first I planted a couple of weeks earlier.

Sources and links for more information
wikipedia gives a good breakdown of the many names for this plant around the world.
R. Lira Saade (National Herbarium of Mexico, Mexico City) writes about Chayote as a neglected crop describing its botany, history, culture and uses in her article New Crop Chayote
Chayote is posted as a Plant of the week on Killer Plants

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