16 Nov 2015

The Downfall of Achocha



It's been a bit blustery of late but I certainly wasn't expecting this last weekend.

I hadn't posted a garden update for a while and my sleep patterns hadn't yet shifted from British Summer Time so, having dusted off my breakfast and a huge pile of washing, I was in the garden by 7.30 a.m. last Sunday (Yes, Sunday. Lie ins are so last decade, at least in my case.)

The plan was this: take a few photos, see what needs doing, pop a few spring bulbs into the rain softened soil.  But you know what they say about best laid plans.

The first thing I saw when I got to the garden was that Saturday's strong winds had brought down the (admittedly very cheap) arches that I used as support for my climbing beans and achocha this year.  They looked so lovely during the summer, a leafy arch to walk under, weighted with produce. And that was the problem. The achocha vines were still chugging out an abundance of fruit while the beans were slowly fading so it all got a bit lopsided. Lots of rain had softened the soil that the arches were bedded into and after a prolonged blast of wind, down they came, twisting and buckling as one part of the base remained firm while the top pulled away and down.  It was a devastating sight.

There was no point in bemoaning the loss of the arches; instead, it was the sight of all those lovely peppers and beans sprawled across my broccoli plants that caused despair. Weather can be such a two-edged sword.  With all the rain we've had this year, the little spiny hedgehog fruits had soaked up all that water making them crunchy, sweet and juicy - ironically, a perfect harvest but one that I would have preferred not to have all at once.



Achocha can be a prolific vine at the best of times and will (accidents apart) keep going from late July until the first frosts. One plant can grow up to 20 feet in length with many fruit bearing side shoots and long sensitive tendrils curling like springs around anything they come into contact with.  The plant had woven itself into a tangled spaghetti and it took me two hours to cut the vines off the arches, removing the fruit as I went. Two overloaded colanders got brought back indoors but quite a few pods will just be used for seed. So that's that for this year. The achocha is finished.



The large black seeds can be easily saved straight from the pods in the kitchen - just slice off the stalk end and open up the pod. The seeds are held around a central stigma so can be pulled off in one movement. It's quite addictive - I now have a large bowl of fresh achocha seeds.  If anyone's interested in growing them next year, give me a shout and I'll happily post some.

Here's my thoughts on why you should grow them:
If you like really green tasting veg (cucumbers, courgettes, peppers, beans) you should try achocha at least once. They're delicious eaten whole when small (a bit like cucumber, which they're related to). Older pods need to be cooked with the seeds removed; slice and stir fry or use as a substitute for peppers in casseroles. Fried in butter, they taste (to me) like asparagus. Yum. The pods will grow to about 2 inches long and are hollow when mature; stuffing them is how they were eaten by the Incas.
Achocha are reputed to be capable of lowering cholesterol (or so I've read).  Most importantly, in my opinion, achocha  flowers are pollinated by hoverflies who also love to eat greenfly - this I know to be true - and who wouldn't want lots of hoverflies in their garden?  They're also a great novelty veg for children interested in, or new to, gardening - don't be put off by the spines, they're very soft.

I've spent a good deal of time figuring out the best way to preserve my unexpected bounty. More in my next post but let me just say it might involve jam.  ;o)

22 comments:

  1. I've never tried acocha so if you have some seeds going spare I'd love to try some.

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    1. Sure thing, Sue. I'll get some in the post to you (I still have your address) - hope they grow well for you in Yorkshire!

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    2. The seeds arrived safely today, thank you.

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    3. My pleasure, Sue. I'm always happy to share. x

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  2. I'd not heard of achocha before I saw your photo on IG, Caro. Sorry about your arches – strong winds are not the gardener's friend. I'll be interested to read about your jam!

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    1. I'm now taking note of sturdy structures as I walk around the neighbourhood. Some strong beams and a handy carpenter is what I need! Jam post will be posted soon!

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  3. I too have never heard or seen acocha before. Where did you originally discover it? You have given us some good selling points, it sounds very versatile. I too would be interested in a few seeds if you can spare some. Sarah x

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    1. I used to buy my seeds from the Real Seed company and found these on their website. I thought they would appeal to any children gardening with me, especially as these particular ones are also known as 'Fat Babies'. (You can also buy exploding achochas but I thought that might be going too far!) I'm delighted to send some seeds to you Sarah and will contact for your address. C x

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  4. I'll take a pinch of achocha seed if you have some to spare, it's not something I've ever tried, but you make a good case for them and I like to have one or two new-to-me things every year. A shame the arches came down, I've had similar catastrophes in the past as well. I took my runner beans down yesterday in a howling gale. It's all looking a bit neater now. CJ xx

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    1. Great, I was hoping you'd take some seeds, CJ. I think your boys will love how weird these are! Well done for braving the wind to get your beans down. I've been doing some clearing in the garden when I can - it feels good to be getting organised. The arches have to be taken apart and chucked this weekend (weather permitting!) and then I can start to plan for next year. A big push on the cut flower front next year, I think! Cx

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  5. Gosh never heard of those but like the look of them especially in that green colander.

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    1. Apparently they're all the rage amongst growers in America - I get numerous requests for seeds. They're a fun vegetable to grow, especially as they quickly provide lots of leafy shade (they were great on my balcony a couple of years ago, it was like living in a green cave!) The green colander was a happy match but I'm no stylist!

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  6. Me neither. In cross section they look a little like kiwi fruit. I would love to try a pinch of seed but only if you have enough. The fact that they taste like asparagus is temptation enough for me. I thought I was on top of my plot at the end of October but the rain and mild weather has encouraged the weeds so much it looks like I didn't bother. I'm wondering if my runner bean supports are still standing, I guess I'll find out tomorrow.

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    1. I'd be very happy to offload some of my abundance of seed to you, Sarah! When you grow it yourself, you'll quickly understand how I have managed to save so much seed this year. Hope your runner bean supports have survived - do write about it, I'm now on the hunt for strong supports for next year so am looking for inspiration! It's getting colder this weekend - I'm wishing that I'd finished planting my bulbs so will have to brave the elements to get the job done.

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  7. How interesting! I've never tried Achocha! What a shame about your arches, the wind and the weight of plants can wreak havoc for sure! Oh I know what you mean about the hour changing, it does take a while to get used too! The dark evening too....sighs...xxx

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    1. The arches were expendable, Dina - I've found out how useful they are and will try and build something a bit more permanent and solid. Typically, the twisted metal now needs to be unscrewed (in this cold weather!) before I can move and get rid of them. The dark evenings just make me want to go to bed earlier … or wish for a nice log fire to curl up in front of! xx

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  8. As I said myself just recently "Every cloud has a silver lining"! I've never tried Achocha, so it's interesting to read your description / opinion of them.

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    1. We're a resourceful bunch, us gardeners! Most of our clouds will have silver linings (or perhaps not, when considering slugs and the damage they can do). If you ever fancy growing some just let me know Mark.

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  9. I had not heard of achocha before - what an interesting fruit. I'm still trying to find my way with "regular" veg, but I'll be putting this one on my future list.

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  10. Thanks Margaret. Every year is different and brings new problems so I think even the most practised of us are still facing new challenges each year. Achocha are an interesting veg to grow but I'd still advise anyone to just grow what you know you're going to eat. Caro x

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  11. Achocha are utterly fascinating plants. Glad you got a good harvest, despite the calamity!

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    1. Thanks Emma - the humid weather we've had was perfect for achocha and they can be really prolific once they get going! I think they're brilliant - easy to grow and fascinating to watch the springy tendrils. I quite fancy growing the bigger ones next year, the ones that can be stuffed like bell peppers. Have you grown other varieties?

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Caro x

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