January 8, 2011

Polynesian Spinach

I'VE STARTED A POLYNESIAN SPINACH PLANT - 3 to be accurate.   Its a green leafy vegetable that is related to the hibiscus family.  Its scientific name is hibiscus manihot, and in the Pacific its called pele or bele, and has been part of Pacific diets since time immemorial - maybe it was introduced by the first Oceanians, I'm not sure.  The adult plant can get tall and have a woody stem if not kept in a short bushy shape.  In keeping with my new years' theme, I'm posting pictures of the wee baby plants that I'm starting to grow....Our climate allows us to pretty much grow vegetables all year round, so I am slowly building up my gardening knowledge.  Mind you, I - like most of you - for the most part grew up on store bought food.  My dad was a bit of a hobby farmer so at times we had homegrown potatoes, corn, and watermelon, but he was not so keen on the vegetable plots/rows which, granted, take a lot of maintenance.  He is one of those old time Polynesian farmers, who focus on the root crops that one mounds up and are easier to keep weed free - crops like tapioca, taro, and sweet potato.  In Hawai'i, my dad had a five acre farm as a hobby - half of it was full of rows and rows of pele, which we harvested and froze in big gallon ziploc bags and sold to the small trickle of mostly Tongans who would buy, often to take in a cooler on a plane to the continental US, as a gift for family.  Pele leaves don't do well outside of the warm tropics and subtropics.  I know because Dad let some of his Hawai'i pele plants go to seed, collected them, and popped some seeds in Salt Lake City, where they failed to really thrive - must have been the altitude.  Anyways, last year when I was preparing to come here to Ha'apai, Tonga and do sustainable living, my mom sent me several old pill bottles full of pele seeds.  For some reason, I never popped them until now.  We have some pele plants growing that we got from local stalks but I've popped some of these Hawaiian variety.  Once these babies get bigger, I can transplant to the soil, and let them get large, then take cuttings from these, since pele plants are easiest grown from cuttings rather than seed.  I'm learning so much just by finally taking the time to watch plants grow.  Its really amazing, humbling, and puts life in perspective.  I sort of resent the fact that my whole formal education was bereft of the simple truths I've learned just by slowing down and listening to plants and seeds.  Their needs are really so simple: air, water, sun, soil....and they're programmed to do one thing: grow and bear fruits.  The simpleness of this amazes me, and it amazes me that for so long I've been detached from the truth of food.  What an awakening!