Water Chestnuts : Eleocharis dulcis
Chinese Water Chestnuts are a sedge that grows naturally on water margins and bogs, they are a native of plant of Asia. They are a striking plant, and a tub full of the rich green reeds looks pretty amazing. To grow it in your garden you need to do a little bit of preparation. Here in NW Tassie we are in borderline growing conditions, we really do not get enough frost free days or heat and this affects the size of the corm. However in saying that I get a good crop at home every year, growing them in my little greenhouse, and they taste so much better than the tinned ones. They are prolific and once you have your container ready, really easy to grow. Once planted apart from topping up the water through the summer we do nothing to them until they are ready to harvest.
Containers: Old bath, plastic tubs in fact anything that holds water, the container needs to be around 70 cm deep to allow for sufficient root growth. This year at Produce to the People we are using those soft plastic containers often sold to hold ice in.
Soil: We use compost, with chicken manure. Once, harvested we make up the next years box, which means when we are ready to plant next year the work is already done. We use about a 1/4 chicken manure/straw mix fresh from the chicken house with compost mixed through. We also add a handful of dolomite lime as water chestnuts like a PH of around 6-7.5 and water occasionally just to keep everything damp.
Planting: We plant the corms in early spring at around 3cm deep in small pots. Recommended planting spacing is 2- 4 corms to the square metre, if you overcrowd them the yield is reduced. To begin with only water enough to keep the soil damp. If the corms get too wet early on they can rot. Once the leaves get to around 10 cm high we transplant them into their big container and flood them so that they have 7-10cm of water sitting on top of the soil, keep them flooded until the reeds turn brown, which happens mid to late autumn. Then we withhold watering until harvest.
Pests and Diseases: We have not had any trouble with diseases and the only ‘pests’ we have had at home was when we grew them outside in tubs in the orchard and our young muscovies discovered the tub. They happily ate the leaves and pulled out the developing corms, they were ecstatic me not so much. The undersized or damaged corms make great chicken, duck and turkey food, full of carbohydrates and goodness.
Harvesting: Harvesting is easy and fun, we tip the tubs up and pull out the dried plants, roots and corms. Then just sort though the soil to finding corms.
Storage: We store them in the garden shed in a bucket filled with damp sawdust. They seem to do well and although we lose a few to rot they are usually the ones that have been damaged that we haven’t noticed. You can also store the ones you are going to eat in the freezer, but once frozen they are no good for growing the next season.
Eating: They are usually peeled before eating, I just chop off the top and bottom then peel with a knife. Chickens get the scraps. You can steam, boil, stirfry or even roast them. They make a nice addition to our winter menu. Not too bad fresh either, sweet and nutty.
Tips: If you are in a climate like ours, I have found a couple of things to improve crop size. Fertilise the soil well and keep the container in a warm place. It is all about the heat, you can use the smaller corms for growing next years crop as corm size does not affect crop size. From one corm in a good growing season we get between 50-100 corms which is pretty amazing from one corm.