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Heat Loving Food Crops: Tropical & Perennial Vegetables 101

If you are looking for alternatives to leafy greens & carbohydrate/starch crops,especially during the hot months of the year, then it might be time you get to know your perennial/tropical vegetables. Take a virtual trip around the globe & discover all the terrains that similar to our own growing challenges. In the summertime, grocery store leafy greens might do great in all of the states north of here, but are out of the question in our own Florida garden beds. Instead, we should be looking to eat like the rest of the world does; perennial greens from the tropics, from Asian terrain, from the tropical forests of Central & South America & even some of the staples from the African continent. We are looking for edible leaves & tuber crops that thrive in the heat & humidity, thereby offering pest & disease resistence.

Not only are these tropical crops just as beautiful as any traditional landscape plant & could easily fit into a garden design that is HOA-friendly, but they are infinitely more nutritious than their supermarket counterparts. More & more people are becoming aware of the infamous Moringa tree & it’s superfood superpowers, but what most don’t know is that Moringa is just one of many food crops that can offer us a power-packed punch of vitamins, minerals & the other building blocks we need to nourish our bodies.

Most Americans aren’t used to this complex, densely green flavor of perennial greens like the rest of the world’s equator inhabitants are & they might require a bit of transition to get use to the stronger flavor & texture. The best way to prepare these greens is to cook them into soups, stews, stir-fry & even chopped then added to sauces. You might even find that you enjoy them simply sautéed with a bit of butter & light seasoning ( a great healthy addition to your morning eggs.)

Once these plants have been established in the forest garden space, their requirements from you will be minimal or even non-existent. They require no pesticides or fertilizers & won’t even need daily watering during most times of the year. Talk about low tech!

Here are a few of our favorite tropical vegetables & tuber crops growing here around our own demonstration site/ forest garden at Sandhill Farm:

Longevity Spinach: Can be eaten raw, but we prefer them cooked. We use these greens almost every night as a great source of high energy nourishment. We have added the leaves to nearly every kind of dish. To do this, we prefer to cut the leaves into thin strips & either saute or add directly to soup, stir-fry or sauce. (Even our picky 8-year-old likes it.)

Malabar Spinach. Leaves are best cooked (use as you would spinach)

Jewels of Opar. Delicious raw or cooked. Very smooth texture & flavor profile.

Katuk (Variegated): young tips can be eaten raw/tastes like snap peas. Can also be added to soups & stir-fries. The older leaves are a bit tougher & should be cooked into soups only.

Molokhiya/Egyptian Spinach: Can be used as spinach alternative, great in salads too. Caution: it does contain mucilage, which can be slimy if not cooked properly.

Sweet Potatoes: Edible Starch/Tuber & Edible Leaves (Young tips taste like asparagus)

Taro: Another edible tuber, a staple of Hawaiian culture

Malanga: A great landscape showcase plant that provides food, as well. This edible tuber must be cooked thoroughly, though. Cigar City Brewing Co. (Tampa, FL) uses the Malanga as an awesome alternative to potato chips. They are delicious!

Tropical Squash: Seminole Pumpkins offer high yielding, disease-resistant fruit that store for up to a year (& taste incredible too.)

The Moringa Tree: The Legend

Tart Greens: Cranberry Hibiscus - great in salads (truly has a cranberry/lemon flavor profile). It can also be cooked into sautees & stir-fry dishes.

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