Brisbane Local Food

Growing local


After initially having trouble growing these myself, I'm now having good success with a good crop, getting better, each year.

SITUATIONS & CONTAINERS - They can be grown in any medium to large container that holds water eg. Old bathtubs, kid’s wading pools or Styrofoam broccoli boxes. Alternatively, you can grow them in a plastic lined trench in the vegetable garden. On a larger scale they are grown in flooded fields like rice. These fields are ideally located below a water source like a dam so that the water level can be maintained with a gravity flow. They can also be grown on dam and pond edges but only if the water level is controllable and stable.


COMMON NAMES: chinese waterchestnut, apulid, haeo chin, cu nang, ma tai, ohkuru guai

BOTANICAL NAME: Eleocharis dulcis

FAMILY: Cyperaceae, the Sedge family

ORIGIN - ELEOCHARIS dulcis grows in many parts of India, SE Asia, New Guinea, Northern Australia and Polynesia. Some varieties are not sweet and are grown for starch and pig food etc. The native Australian variety is small but quite sweet and it is one of the main foods of the six and a half million Magpie Geese in the Northern Territory. Logs of the explorer Leichhardt not that "it was the tastiest native food offered to him by the Aboriginals". The variety we supply comes from China where it is know as ‘Hon Mati’, it is superior in size and sweetness.


Waterchestnuts are a rush-like plant to 1m tall, native to swampy, tropical areas of Asia. There is a small variety native to the tropical wetlands of Australia.



Waterchestnuts are nutritious, containing B vitamins and can be eaten raw or cooked. They are a common ingredient in Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian dishes.

Peel or scrub well and slice thinly, add to stir-fry dishes and soups. 

Waterchestnuts will keep in the fridge for several weeks in sealed plastic bags or containers to prevent them drying out. They can also be frozen.

Do not freeze the corms you are saving to re-plant, only the ones for eating. Dried out corms or ones that have been frozen will not grow.

There are always a few that rot during storage and need to be sorted out from time to time. This rot is often due to even slight damage to the skin during harvesting & later handling. They keep quite well in the ground where they grew while the temperature stays low enough to maintain dormancy.  They also keep very well in cool damp sand.



It is important to understand that waterchestnuts are not aquatic plants but rather swamp or edge plants.

As you are growing a root crop it is important for a good yield to have sufficient depth of soil for good root growth. On a backyard scale a bathtub provides a useful deep waterproof container; on a larger scale a paddy can be constructed or a dam shaped to create a wide shelf below water level. Plant the corms in early spring 5 cm deep into your chosen spot.

Plant 2 corms to the square metre, overcrowding the corms will dramatically reduce yield. A rich, sandy, well-limed loam with a pH  of 6.5 to 7.2 is needed. Well composted animal manures or other organic fertilisers can be used to improve fertility.

Keep the corms well watered and allow growth to reach around 10 cm high before flooding 7-10 cm deep. Maintain this depth for the whole growing season which should be at least 7 frost-free months.

In late autumn, when the tops have browned off, drain completely to encourage hardening-off of corms. Leave 3-5 weeks to mature, corms should be a rich chestnut colour.

Keep refrigerated until used or until replanting next spring.


The corms are ready to harvest  when the leaves turn yellow, then turn brown and dry off.


The only serious problems that commonly occur is rot and damage from birds.  A total or almost total loss of seed corms due to rot can occur if they are introduced to a soil or medium that has been freshly fertilized with manure.

This can be avoided by fertilising the field or container a few weeks early giving the manure time to break down first. It is often a good idea to start the chestnuts growing in a lower nutrient nursery plot in the mean time and transplanting later when the plants are about 300mm tall. Start by transplanting 1 or 2 plants watch their progress for a week or so. If they are still green and looking healthy transplant the rest. We find a small amount of rotten corms when harvesting but we don’t consider that a problem.

Grass Hoppers here also do minor damage.


And again, some instructions from another source:

Growing Chinese Water Chestnuts

(Eleocharis dulcis)


This plant is native of tropical and temperate areas of East Asia, the pacific islands, Madagascar and West Africa.

It naturally grows in marshy ground, which is seasonally flooded.

It has half to one meter high light green cylindrical rush like foliage.

It prefers a fairly heavy clay based soil with lots of organic fertilizer and a long hot growing season in a warm spot.


Growing Instructions-

-Plant out corms in early spring or plants in summer so that the crown or growing tip of the plant is 3cm below soil level in pots or tubs.

-If planting corms, keep soil moist but do not submerge until green shoots appear.

-Once plants have started to grow, gradually increase the water supply either by flooding in tubs or lowering pots deeper into water till the growing tip is 4 to 10cm below the water surface.

-As autumn arrives, either lift pots gradually out of the water or allow tubs to dry out by evaporation till they are no wetter than the average pot plant when winter arrives.

-The tops will die back and be straw coloured.

-Harvest the corms which will be anywhere through the top 100mm of soil only after there has been some good cold weather to sweeten the corms.

-Large corms can be pealed and eaten raw or cooked in stir fry and other Asian cooking.

-Store corms to be replanted next season in a dark, cold place in cold water or damp sphagnum moss.


Good points about Chinese water chestnuts-

- they are a good alternative food crop

- they store well

- suit permaculture principles by using another niche to garden productively

- can be grown in a space as little as a 20cm pot which can be submerged in water.

- have a great crispy texture even when cooked.

Pests and problems-

Water chestnuts are not very successful grown in dams where stock have access to the water edge as animals will eat the green growing tops. Ducks, wild and domestic will puddle in mud and dig up and eat the corms if given half a chance. When soil dry out towards the end of the season mole crickets and witchety grubs may burrow in the soil and damage corms, so watch out for evidence of tunnels.



Trying again. The pots planted out in winter were sitting in too much shade so I've moved them out into full sun along with the spuds and Kangkong. They're shooting, which is better than I've managed to achieve so far.July 2014

Here's my 2014 winter crop. A big improvement on previous years. I now plant the small corms wider apart (don't overplant) and ended up with some excellent sized corms this year. I also add Organic Xtra to the potting mix.

The pot in the pic is now replanted with small corms in this manner. The white pot shows the current crop.

Big corms for eating. Small for replanting.


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