In Production Today

A view of the house from under the bamboo. The lush foliage is masking the reality of a poor wet season

A view of the house from under the bamboo. The lush foliage is masking the reality of a poor wet season

There’s a rising list of problems this summer: grasshoppers have hatched in large quantities on the arrowroot, so yesterday I sprayed their growing points with pyrethrum. This organic gardener is not going to let a grasshopper plague get them. The arrowroot still bear the scars of last month’s hailstorm.

Cockroaches are very active at night – need to watch for their feeding damaging the root tips of pot plants. Five flying adults invaded the kitchen last night whilst we were making pesto from the sweet basil – all in one hit. Pandemonium ensued with a lot of swatting. Even Damo took action. I’ve never seen him move so fast…

And ants. Ants are wandering everywhere in the house on the scrounge. They’re just small, black, inoffensive native ants searching for food. Sugar and sweet things like honey, cordial, jams, etc, are kept in the fridge. Keeping bins sealed, emptying the compost bin daily and washing up dishes promptly seems to be helping prevent ants and cockroaches from moving in so far…

We’re halfway through January, so we’re more than halfway through the wet season. So far this month we’ve had 24mm of rain, but of course this could change in an hour… A fall of 21mm on 3.1.07 allowed me to insert a bed of sweet potato cuttings and most are rooting. They’ve had two waterings since 3.1.07. That fall turned the lawn emerald green, but two cuts later it’s drying up and browning off rapidly. Next time we get decent rain I’ll give the lawn it’s summer feed of chicken manure to help it fill up the few developing bare patches. I don’t want any weeds moving in.

The winter sown parsley and mangelwurzels are still alive – amazingly long-lived especially in the subtropics – due in part I think to the cooler than normal summer. The choko is going mad – they too prefer the cooler weather – and I’m getting a bucketful of fruit weekly. The Golden Bantam sweetcorn is cobbing – and a mouse has moved in to the compost heap. Possibly waiting for harvest as keenly as we are…

Summer heat and humidity, only really noticeable since New Year, have brought mildew to the luffas (self-sown), zucchini, edible fig and butternut pumpkin, so they’ve been sprayed with a quick-acting copper-based fungicide. I want them looking passable for guests expected this weekend.

The Ceylon spinach is powering away and there’s sufficient of their juicy, richly-flavoured leaves and shoot tips for me to be able to give some away to our neighbours. The two lime trees have produced four fruit. Not much I know, but I can allow these to mature as the trees are now three years old.

Keeping citrus adequately watered when we have so little spare has been hard. Citrus are not good plants for drought and mine need twice weekly checks for watering, leafminer and gall wasp. Scale is breeding prolifically on them and I’ve twice washed them off stems with a sponge and soapy water. But the flavour of the lime we picked yesterday was fantastic. Mouthwatering.

The Huauzontle, Chenopodium nuttalliae (syn. C. berlandieri, pictured left) an Andean ‘pseudo-grain’ is going to seed. It’s not a true grain or cereal, which are grasses, but is most commonly grown for it’s rich-tasting leaves – another spinach substitute. It’s been attacked by thrips and yesterday I sprayed it with neem oil as a deterrent.

The biggest losers this year are the lesser galangal, cardamom, culinary ginger and turmeric which just can’t grow well without summer rains or regular irrigation. They look pathetic, but are surviving…

A neighbour stripped his vegetable garden almost bare to save water and sowed the vacant beds with a mixture of sunflowers. They’re in full flower and all are facing our way. A beautiful sight – and such an easy way to get organic matter into the soil without watering.

Other plants in production include:

* Lady-finger banana – two bunches, another almost ready for harvest. Very sweet and tangy;
* Yams – the large type is very vigorous and produces in ground tubers. They’ll be ready for harvest in winter when their foliage has died down; another one which bears aerial tuberlings, given to me by Peter Sargent (we filmed the Whyanbeel Arboretum story at his place last year) are growing slowly but seem healthy and are flowering;
* Sweet potato – ready for harvest as soon as the cuttings have rooted and have started growing strongly;
* Jerusalem artichoke – propagated from some winter tubers which were lifted, divided and replanted last December;
* Silverbeet – I’ll have to keep some on hand at all times now I know these are a favourite of Damo’s (anything to keep him off fast food!);

* Chinese spinach, Amaranthus tricolor, (pictured right) have reached 2m tall and are trying to flower. Topped them and used them as greens. Very rich and flavoursome, but due to modest water rations I have to remove the mid-rib from each leaf (tedious) as they’re too fibrous. Tedious but a good feed. Seed can be used as another pseudo-grain for gluten-intolerant people;
* Eggplant – small fruit, but very tasty;
* Chillies – about six different varieties from mild to very hot – cropping abundantly;
* Pineapples – it has been a good summer for the very sweet Rough pineapples;
* Pawpaws – just one adult has survived the water rationing to bear two fruit, but two juveniles are growing (just) and seedlings are also making slow progress in pots;
* Lemon – about a dozen fruits are ripening on the three year old tree;
* Okra or Lady’s fingers, just started fruiting. Had to reduce three rows to one to save water as they don’t perform well in drought;
* Lemongrass, Moroccan mint, Society garlic, Kaffir lime, golden oregano, culinary pandanus, garlic chives, Warrigal greens, Aloe vera, Hibiscus spinach and passionfruit;

Jerry Coleby-Williams
16th January 2007