Water Chestnuts – The French Alternative
Jackie French loves the crunchy texture and flavour of water chestnuts. However, they are high maintenance plants, which need at least eight months of frost-free growing. Duck potatoes are a great alternative for colder areas. They are easy to grow and they can be used in the same recipes as water chestnuts.
Growing water chestnuts
Water chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis) can be grown in a pond, an old bathtub or even a large waterproof bowl or bucket. Plant the corms in spring, about 5cm deep and 2 corms to the square metre. Keep the plants moist until they are about 10cm tall, then fill the container up with water until it’s about 7-10cm deep, with the tips of the leaves just showing. Leave the pot flooded at that depth for about seven months, then drain off the water in late autumn. Leave the soil moist but not wet for another month or so, then harvest the water chestnuts. Water chestnuts will grow in most areas of Australia, but they are frost tender and require at least an 8 month growing season.
Duck potatoes (Sagittaria sagittifolia) are also known as kuwai, arrowhead and sagittaria. Plant them in spring in a full sun position, either around the edges of your pond or dam, in pots in your pond (weighted down with rocks), or in a waterproof container. The corms should be 10cm apart and 4cm deep, with a covering of 10-30cm of water from the moment they’re planted. Harvest them in autumn, but keep a few corms to plant next spring. Duck potatoes will grow anywhere in Australia.
Unlike water chestnuts, duck potatoes must be cooked before being used in your stir-fry. Boil them for about 20 minutes, slice thinly and then stir-fry them.
Look in the Yellow Pages under ‘Fountains, Statuary &/or Sundials’ for a water garden specialist. (Note: make sure your sagittaria are the duck potato edible ones.) You can buy both water chestnuts and sagittaria by mail-order from:
52 Crystal Waters via Maleny
Phone: (07) 5435 2699
See Jackie French’s article in the November edition of the Burke’s Backyard magazine, available at newsagents for $4.80.
For more information about growing tropical and subtropical crops see ‘Tropical Food Gardens: A guide to growing fruit, herbs and vegetables in tropical and subtropical climates’ by Leonie Norrington (Bloomings Books, $29.95).