Kang Kong (Ipomoea aquatica), is fast becoming one of my favourite garden plants…even though I hadn’t even heard of it a year ago! Perennial, fast-growing and tasty, it is widely used in Asian cuisine, but so versatile you can pretty much sub it into any dish that calls for green vegetables. I use it raw in salads, add it to omelettes and casseroles, but like it best lightly stir fried with garlic and chilli. Although the leaves of many healthy greens are bitter, those of of Kang Kong have a mild, sweet flavour, yet they are high in iron, protein, calcium, amino acids , Vitamins A,B and C and rich in antioxidants. Given that Kang Kong is also easy to grow and so prolific that there is enough for my livestock, worms and compost heap too, I can’t understand why everyone isn’t growing it!
Here in Far North Queensland Kong Kang kong is cheap to buy in the shops, but I chose to grow it as my homegrown Kang Kong is sweeter, fresher and free from pesticides. I also like the fact I can pick only as much as I need when I need it. As it thrives at temperatures above 23°C and loves water, it is the perfect option for tropical gardens like mine where at certain times of the year other leafy greens either rot or struggle with the heat. Although it grows poorly if temperatures fall below 10°C and is killed by frost, it can also be grown in temperate climes as a summer annual inside a greenhouse.
How to Grow Kang Kong
Kang Kong is closely related to sweet potato and morning glory and has the same vine like growing habit if left to its own devices. It is semi-aquatic and grows best in boggy areas or ponds, but can be grown in raised beds where it requires a lot of watering. As i like to keep my garden as low maintenance as possible, I grow it in flooded containers, here’s how:
Step 1. Fill a watertight container with compost and flood so that the water is just above soil level. Any watertight container will do, for example an old bath tub, esky, fish tank or styrofoam container. I use 200 litre blue plastic barrels cut in half as they are readily available in our local area and can be picked up free or very cheaply ($20-40).
Step 2. Although Kang Kong can be grown from seed, I find growing from cuttings far quicker and easier and I would recommend this option if you can buy the vegetable locally. If you cannot find it at your local market, try speciality Asian stores. It may be labelled Water spinach, Ong Choi, Kang Kung, Rau muong or Phak bung! To start my beds, I bought a couple of bunches of Kang Kong for $ 2 each, then cut each stem into about 4 pieces and poked them into the flooded compost about 5cm apart.
Step 3. The planted sections quickly take root and begin to grow. Add more water whenever the beds begin to dry out. Whilst fertiliser is not vital, adding seaweed fertiliser or worm tea every couple of weeks helps to ensure high yields. Kang Kong prefers weakly acidic soil with a of ph 5.5-7 with a high organic matter content.
Step 4. Harvest before the plant flowers, when the stems are young and tender but crisp (after about 20 days). Cut the tip back to about the third newest leaf and within a few days the runner will produce a new tip ready for harvesting again. Kang Kong is best harvested during the cooler part of the day and eaten soon after as the plants can wilt quickly. If not be be eaten immediately stand upright in a glass of water until ready for use.
One note of caution, whilst I have not had any problems with insects eating my Kang Kong, at one point the beds were entirely destroyed by furry four-legged pests, leaving them in the state shown below.
Thankfully the main culprit was easily identified…
I would suggest that those with dogs ensure their flooded beds are not easily accessible by their pets. I now have all of my Kang Kong safely behind a fence , which saves my crop from the free range chickens pecking at it too!