Vermont Garden Journal: The Groundnut, Or Potato Bean
When is a potato also a bean and a nut? When it's a groundnut or the potato bean. Apios americana is a Native american vine that grows from the Gulf of Mexico through New England.
It's been growing in eastern North America for 9000 years. The bean seeds and the potato-like tubers are both edible. Native American and early European settlers gathered them for food and it probably was served at the first Thanksgiving. The tubers range in size from a walnut to a small avocado and grow on root strings underground like peanuts. They have less starch and 3 times the protein of potatoes. Peel the mild flavored tubers before roasting, baking, mashing or frying them. And watch out, I think groundnuts may be making a big come back!
Many permaculture advocates love these vines because they're a legume that grows well in polyculture settings with other trees and shrubs. Plus, they're native, so you know they're well adapted. Groundnuts grow 6 to 12 feet tall and can become invasive in a garden setting. They're best grown in moist soil in full to part sun in their own location. Let them twine up trees or poles or around shrubs. Some growers like to plant them in containers so they mature faster and are easier to maintain and harvest. In the wild they are often found along stream beds growing with poison ivy, so be careful to properly identify them before wild harvesting.
The vine is a perennial and after 3 years will produce large enough tubers for eating. These can be harvested anytime, but early spring is best. In late summer the vine will produce red or purple flowers reminiscent of wisteria, so it's pretty too!
And now for this week's tip, it's pruning time. Prune fruits trees now as the snow melts removing suckers, water sprouts, dead, diseased and crossing branches. Make clean cuts back to side branches. Check for signs of rabbit and rodent damage on the trunks as you remove the tree guards.
Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about crabapples. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.
Broadcast on Friday, March 20, 2015 at 5:57 p.m. and Sunday, March 22, 2015 at 9:35 a.m.
The Vermont Garden Journal with Charlie Nardozzi is made possible by Gardener's Supply, offering environmental solutions for gardens and landscapes. In Burlington, Williston and Gardeners.com.