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A Taste of the Tropics

Some interesting and productive tropical fruit and vegetable crops can be grown in cooler temperate climates with a little attention to timing. Below are a few you might like to try if you have a little extra room in your garden.

Amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor or A. cruentus)

Sacred to the Aztecs, amaranth can be grown for its leaves or its grain-like seeds. It can produce a heavy crop of tender greens in just 5 weeks in the heat of the summer.

Ceylon or Malabar spinach (Basella alba or B. rubra)

This is another extremely heat tolerant tropical potherb. It is a bit slow getting started in early summer but makes up for it with tremendous growth once the days get really hot. It is beautiful plant with lustrous leaves and small pink flowers. It requires a fence or trellis of some kind to climb. Ceylon spinach is a very mild flavored slightly mucilaginous green that can be used like regular spinach.

Fig (Ficus carica)

Figs can generally be grown where winter temperatures don’t get below 20o F. They grow on small trees or shrubs that do best in front of protected south walls of buildings. Heavy mulch can protect the roots from hard freezes. Figs can be eaten fresh or dried. They are a good source of potassium.

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batata)

Sweet potatoes are native to Central America but are now grown throughout the tropics. They need at least 4 months of warm weather to produce a good crop, but bush varieties adapted to cooler weather have been introduced. The deep orange varieties have much more beta-carotene than the yellow varieties. The young leaves are eaten as a nourishing potherb in Asia.


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