Friday, December 13, 2013

Survival Plant Profile: Water Chestnuts

Every once in a while, I come across a crop that's totally foreign to me as a gardener.

That was the case with water chestnuts until just a few years ago.

I didn't know they were a sedge, I didn't know that they were different from the invasive water chestnut, and I couldn't find any planting stock for testing in Florida.

That is, until my friends at the USDA hooked me up with a few to try out this last winter. I planted them in jars of mud on my windowsill until the weather warmed up outside, then snagged an old bathtub from a family member, put in some potting soil, and planted one in it.

Here's what I started with:

And here's what I had a month or two later:

And by July:

These plants grow like mad. When the leaves began dying back and I started pulling them up a few weeks ago, I found I had piles of water chestnuts for eating and planting.

NOTE: How I grew them this last year was not quite correct. First off, I added too much water to the tub and not enough dirt in the bottom. I got a lot of small and squashed corms from this method. Next year, I'm growing them in these bad boys:

Yep. Those are old hot tubs behind my greenhouse. I actually have three now, all of which will be growing food for me this next spring.

Until then, however, I'm keeping some water chestnuts growing in the greenhouse. Here's how to grow water chestnuts:

Step 1: Find something that holds water.

Step 2: Put some good dirt in it.

Step 3: Plant a water chestnut a few inches deep.

Step 4: Add water until it's over the soil line.

Growing water chestnuts is totally easy. Just wait - within a few days, that chestnut will pop up. They grow like crazy, as mentioned previously, and the "nuts" will be all over the place beneath the muck in about 6-7 months.

Alternately, you can grow water chestnuts in kiddie pools or swampy areas. For low-work yield, they're hard to beat. They're even pretty good nutritionally. Plus... the flavor is superb. Nothing at all like the canned or frozen blah you get with Chinese takeout.

Send me $20.00 and I will ship you five of them via Priority mail, shipping included.


4 Spuds

Name: Water chestnuts,Chinese water chestnuts
Latin Name: Eleocharis dulcis
Type: Perennial water sedge
Size: Around 2-5' tall
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Corms
Propagation: Corms, division
Taste: Excellent
Method of preparation: Raw, cooked, pickled
Storability: Decent. Keep in cold damp sand or can them.
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low

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At December 13, 2013 at 8:07 PM , Blogger Tina said...

Very cool but one concern holding me back on this one... does this create a mosquito breeding habitat? That is the last thing I want...

At December 13, 2013 at 8:47 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Good question. I added a natural bacteria to the tub to keep the mosquitoes from taking over - but now I know you don't even need that much water. You can grow them in muck, rather than standing water. Alternately, you could add goldfish to the system.

At December 23, 2013 at 9:05 AM , Blogger Ron Layton said...

Where might one purchase some corms? Thanks, David. Good stuff!

At December 23, 2013 at 9:13 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

E-mail me directly off the link at the top of the sidebar below the newsletter link - I have a few I can send you.

At March 8, 2014 at 6:44 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Do you still have any you can send? I will pay postage or has any one found a source for them?

At March 9, 2014 at 12:25 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

Drop me an e-mail.

At March 10, 2014 at 9:02 PM , Blogger drgnflyz said...

I would definitely keep those suckers in a contained environment for growth. Looks like they could take over in a heartbeat. Any idea if they will they grow in brackish water? Glad to have found you! I am in SW Florida on Sanibel and am converting my entire landscape to edible. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Peace

At September 8, 2014 at 9:23 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

David, I'd be interested in the corms as well. Are you still selling them? I'll keep checking this site. Thanks!

At September 8, 2014 at 11:15 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

If you click through the paypal link I do have the full plants for sale. I'll have corms in the fall - they aren't ready yet.

At September 25, 2014 at 8:27 PM , Anonymous Ian said...

Do you have any posts about harvesting and shucking the nut? If not, what's the most efficient way you've found? Thanks!

At September 25, 2014 at 8:51 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

That's the Achille's... root of water chestnuts. I just use a carrot peeler but there has to be a faster way.

At September 27, 2014 at 3:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about grating them on a microplane, like one does with zesting a lemon, just to get the outside off?

At September 27, 2014 at 3:59 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

That would do it. I'll have to try it out - our roots are about ready now.

At November 16, 2014 at 11:08 PM , Blogger Patrick said...

You still sell these?

At November 16, 2014 at 11:41 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Yes, though they're going dormant right now so I'm sending live corms instead of bundled plants. They're great plants.


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