The Water Chestnut

Freshly Harvested Water Chestnuts

Most people in the U.S. have only tried water chestnuts from a can. I never thought much of them until I tried a fresh one.   They are a common Chinese vegetable that keep their crunchy texture and sweet flavor when cooked.  They’re fat-free and have lots of potassium and fiber. We are lucky in Florida to be able to grow them and enjoy them fresh.  The water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) is quite easy for the backyard gardener to grow , but they need seven months of frost-free weather for their growing  season.

Water Chestnuts Growing in a "Concrete Mixer" Container

The water chestnut is an aquatic vegetable.  I always keep an inch or two of water in the containers I grow them in.  My chestnuts are growing in inexpensive concrete mixing containers I purchased at Home Depot.  I dug the ground out a little so the containers would sit in the ground.  I let duckweed grow around the plants which makes the containers look pretty.  It does splash out of the container when it rains, but then it seems to grow back overnight.  Did you know that duckweed is edible too?  I would have to be really hungry to try it. Maybe that is a culinary experience that should be left to the domestic animals and fish. 

Water Chestnuts at the Start of the Growing Season

The water chestnut plants spread easily.  It is only necessary to start with a small plant in each of these containers.  The one plant will produce many more and give you a large harvest of fresh water chestnuts.  The plants are mature after six weeks of planting them.  The green tops will turn brown and die off.  They are to be left in the water with the brown tops for two to three weeks and then harvested.  To harvest the corms (tubers), you have to dig your hands in the muck and feel around for the round corms (water chestnuts).  We actually had a really fun time doing this.  It’s a good idea to leave one or two of the corms in the muck for the next growing season.  I found my water chestnut starts from a place called TaDeGe in Ft. Lauderdale. We have visited this place several times and ordered stuff from the website.  The guy that runs this business has introduced us to so many cool plants and fish.  We’ve bought monster snails, wakin, gorgeous lotus, tiny shrimp, water lilies, and water chestnuts from him.  His website is educational, full of humor and just plain fun to look at.

In the late 1980’s, Florida researched the possibility of making the water chestnut into a viable Florida industry.  It didn’t work out because the corms are hand-harvested which made the cost of labor too high.  The water chestnut was introduced into the U.S. in the 1930’s.  In 1988, the U.S. imported 25,000,000 of them.

To prepare the fresh water chestnuts, the paper-like brown skin has to be peeled like a potato.  There are many recipes for them, but the most common way to eat them is in stir-fry.  We just peel them and devour.  They haven’t made it to the frying pan in our household yet.  They are sweet, crispy, and fresh with a fruity flavor. I think they taste like a coconut.  My kids love them too.

With all the freezing weather we had in our zone 9b this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect of our water chestnuts.  I never let the containers dry out through the winter and I found lots of sprouts today. I did a little happy dance.  They made it. 

Come grow with us!

20 Responses to “The Water Chestnut”

  1. hi so where can i buy water chestnut seeds? i tasted the fresh water chestnut when i was like 7 yrs old and don’t know whats the name of it until last night…please let me know where can i buy seeds? thanks very muhc

  2. Samantha Says:

    Hi, love following your website.
    I had a question, how do you control mosquitoes in the water you have laying around with the water chestnuts?

    • I’m glad you like our website. Hearing that makes it all worth it.

      I grow my water chestnuts in black, plastic bins used for mixing concrete. The big hardware stores sell them. They’re cheap and shallow…. perfect for growing the water chestnuts. A few drops of vegetable oil in the water should help control the mosquito population. I heard this works for bromeliads as well.

  3. Hi there! I am trying to grow water chestnuts here in Melbourne Australia. I am using a styrofoam box and have added heavy soil and organic fertilizer and planted really tiny corms in them. I added a few inches of water so the whole thing is really muddy. Recently when the weather got warmer algae like stuff started growing and covered the whole surface green. Do you get that happening to yours? The water is really still and stale but i do see a few green shoots coming up. I am just wondering how you manage to maintain freshness. Another worry is breeding mozzies. I don’t what to get fishes cos they are alive and will become like pets which I will worry about on top of my kid and dog. How do you manage that problem if you have that Thanks!

    • Mozzies… I love it! That’s what we should start calling them too. A few drops of vegetable oil in the water will prevent them from breeding in it. I have duckweed floating in mine which must be what helps keep the water clear. The fertilizer could be what is causing the problem with the algae. Maybe there’s too much nitrogen in there. Our river always has a serious algae bloom when the seasonal rains start and it causes fertilizer run-off from the agriculture. I have my corms planted in homemade compost and no soil. We’ve never had a problem with algae. Our problem is that the ducks won’t stay out of it and keep flattening them.

  4. Yeah the water in your pots look very clear, mine has a thick green scum (algae) over it. Funny why do duckweeds make the water clear but not algae? They r all photosynthesizing plants arent they? Homemade compost? Can share the ingredients? I thought i have to use heavy materias like garden soil so they can weigh the corms down. My mud smells bad too. I think I may scout around for some duckweeds. Fortunately my dog isnt interested in playing with water unlike ducks. How much water in terms of cm or inches do you give the chestnuts when they are just sprouting/producing shoots?

    • I’m stumped on this question. There’s something in your pots that is causing the algae to grow. Maybe too much chemical fertilizer in the garden soil or high nitrogen from something? If the pots aren’t too heavy, can you dump out the water and fill them back up with more water? The smelly mud isn’t too worrisome, but I think you do need to replace the water. Duckweed isn’t really necessary, so don’t go through too much trouble to find it. It’s really invasive if it gets out anyway. I collected mine from our river which is loaded with it.

      Homemade compost is not complicated at all, but it takes time to make… like several months in hot weather. It’s really valuable to gardeners though. It’s just a pile, hidden out of the way, of all your kitchen scraps, grass cuttings, cut-up cotton shirts, newspaper, cardboard, etc. No animal products though. Compost critters break all this down and turn the garbage into beautiful, nutrient-dense soil to re-use on your plants. Aren’t you in Australia? You have one of the best compost, garbage eaters known… the red-wiggler worm! It’s native to Australia, although I’m not sure which part. You should google it. We have to keep our red-wigglers in a special bin, but maybe you could have them in your garden.

      I always keep my water chestnuts with a few inches of water above the soil line. They have their own mini-swamps.

  5. I live in Indiana (zone 5) but I’m going to try starting them indoors to see if that works. Yes, I love Tadege’s website as well. I think I’ve read every article on there.

  6. Thanks! I just read your reply. Now I get it…your homemade compost is the contents of the compost bin. I have that! And I have a worm farm too with those worms you said. I thought your homemade compost is made up of certain % of commercial potting compost and organic fertilizer etc…some ‘magic’ formula that works for water chestnuts hehe…

    How deep is the homemade compost’ that you give the water chestnuts? And how deep do you plant the corms? So 1 or 2 inches of water throughout growing season is enough for your plants?

    Re mozzies and algae yes I am resorting to regular supervising and changing water gently so I won’t disturb the plants. I also bought two goldfish to eat larva and pupa but have not put them into the styrofoam tub cos the water is too murky may kill them. Still trying to work out something workable but the reward of fresh corms is making me think hard. Thanks!

  7. I did not see chestnut for sale on that site. Would you sell me a few plants or seed?

  8. Hi, I have been looking for water chestnuts also. Tadege’s says he is not selling them anymore. I do aquaponics and I think they would be a nice addition to assist with water clean up, as well as food.
    If anyone knows where they can be found, I would really be appreciative.

    • My ducks completely destroyed my water chestnuts and I’ve been hunting for replacements ever since! I’ve had no luck at all. So I would be appreciative as well. I tried to order more from Tadege but didn’t get a response.

  9. I’m encouraged by this post. Thank you! I got some water chestnuts from TaDeGe two years ago. I was unable to give them much attention the first year so felt lucky they survived the winter. I put my survivors in two kiddie pools last spring (I live in N. Florida) and they went crazy–multiplying! However, I didn’t know when to harvest them, and kept checking, but never was able to feel any corms at all. I wonder if I didn’t search diligently enough. (?)

    At any rate, I notice today there are a few little green shoots coming up in the kiddie pools. Should I transplant? Should I let them come up in the same kiddie pools? What medium do you use to plant them in? I followed TaDeGe’s instructions and used part peat moss, part composted cow manure.

    At any rate, it looks as if I do have some survivors to start this season, so any advice to help me toward a harvest would be great.

    • Wow, I wonder if you know how lucky you are to have them! My ducks destroyed mine and I haven’t been able to find any to replace them!

      They are ready to harvest when the tops turn brown and die back. The corms will be under the muck so you would have to dig in there to get them and they can be tough to find sometimes. Even when I thought I’d gotten them all out there were always a couple that I missed.

      Don’t transplant the little green shoots that you have coming up in your kiddie pools. You could maybe add some more ‘Black Cow’ to feed them a little and make sure they are sitting in some water in their pool. (I added some duck weed to my pools and it helped to keep them clean and made them look beautiful.) Other than that, just make sure they don’t dry out.

  10. How did you keep it from becoming a mosquito breeding ground?

  11. Baytoven Says:

    There is only one problem that I had this year (my first): Harvesting. Just as with any other feed fruit, toward the end of the season, sugers are converted to starch. Think of over-ripe sweet conm… starchy. Even while the reeds were still green, one that I pulled out and tested was hard and starchy. In other words, inedible.

    “Seed” plants can be obtained in any large city. Locate your local “Oriental Foods” supermarket. All those Chinese restaurants need a supply of fresh WCs They do seem to be seasonal. Here in Tampa, FL it seems to be ~March through fall or winter.
    Choose the freshest looking with healthy looking “sprouts” on one end. These are NOT leaf buds. They are ROOTS and should be planted facing down.
    I use Black Kow and soil for my muck. Don’t use potting soil with pearlite. Those little white bastards float and are a pain in the butt. As you did, I collested duckwees from our local river, but kept it in a separate tamk or a few weeks then separated the duckweeds floating on top before adding it to the WC tub. That eliminated the algae problem.

    I disagree with you on the water depth. At leadt two inches of water should be above the muck.The “reeds” need it to support them and prevent them from being blown over in the wind.

    As for the mosquitoes… There is a company, Summit that sells “Mosquito Dunks”. They are certified safe organics. They contain a close relative of BT or Thuricide. It is a bacteria that is totally harmless to anthing other than mosquito larvae, just as BT only affects caterpillers.

    Enough babbling from your friendly neighborhod crackpot, mad scientist, tinkerer and inventer.

  12. earthlychow Says:

    I grew some chestnuts this year – worked out well and easy. Here are my experiences. http://earthlychow.com/yes-you-can-grow-your-own-water-chestnuts-and-its-pretty-easy

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