In Production Today: November 2014

Bellis rainfall to date: the undeclared drought of 2014

Bellis rainfall to date: the undeclared drought of 2014

I am so glad I decided to use the heat, winds and drought of Brisbane’s spring and sprummer to my advantage: it’s ideal for producing a seed crop! As my Queen of the Night buds, 2014 is firming up to be the world’s hottest ever year on record. Brisbane’s fifth season, ‘sprummer’, has intensified into an early summer. In this undeclared drought, I water from under the shade of an umbrella. Lucky my ‘White Shahtoot’ mulberry is still cropping, so I can set my brolly aside, stand under its shade and nibble the sweet fruit whilst watering surrounding crops. My banana surplus has become twilight daiquiris. Loving home grown! I just harvested 690g chickpea (Cicer arietinum) seed from a 2.5 sq metre planting. When the Jerusalem artichokes (the 2.5 sq m planting) had died down in autumn, I mulched over them with mushroom compost to improve the soil. I sprouted mushrooms from that. I sowed five rows of chickpea in this improved topsoil, and last week I harvested my chickpeas, dried beautifully by the withering weather. I cut the chickpeas off at ground level, allowing their nodules to decay and release their nitrogen into the soil. Now I’m watering the Jerusalem artichokes, encouraging them to make their first of two crops, one around New Year, the other in autumn.

Not a bad return from a small space: two crops of Jerusalem artichokes, one each of mushroom and chickpea, soil fed with nitrogen and improved by reused compost. Now, 690g chickpeas is a couple of protein-rich feeds for a family (the equivalent of a small chicken), but that’s from 2.5 sq m of soil.

No productive system has ever out-perfomed a one hectare mixed farm run by a family, and from my results you can see how simple steps can be integrated to diversify productivity. Scaled up, my yield is the equivalent of 2.7 tonnes chickpea per hectare, and  Australian irrigated chickpea provide an average return of between 1 – 2 tonnes per hectare.

I’ve just returned from a speaking tour of the New England Tableland’s north west slopes with the Upper Gwydir Landcare Assn and the Upper Gwydir Women of Mettle programme. At one engagement, I spoke about sustainable growing with Ecologist Dave Carr, at Millgalarr Farm, a sustainable chickpea farm 30 km from Warialda.

The Horn family, who own Millgalarr, operate a low till, rain fed farming system. Fewer mechanical operations mean lower operational costs. For the first three years of low tillage, the region had good rainfall. Millgalarr’s chickpea harvest was slightly lower than those from conventional, intensively managed farms. Last year and this year, when rainfall was almost at drought levels, Millgalarr’s land has sustained its yield, while other farms (with their more compacted, less porous, less organic rich soils) carried on spending money to raise their conventional harvest, but they barely got enough worth harvesting.

Sweetpotato leaves are edible when young, they’re valuable fodder for my guinea pigs’ diet, they get a lot of it while my sustainable lawn is recovering from visitor damage during open days. But my girls prefer the leaves of ‘Ace of Spades’ to those of ‘Marguerite’, so I’m replacing the latter with the former in my nature strip. Owing to the drought, my ‘Marguerite’ tuber crop has been halved.

My ‘Red Gauntlet’ strawberries, which were my Grandad’s favourite cultivar back in England, have finished resting after their winter crop and are cropping and blooming again. When I moved to Brisbane in 2003, a local gardening expert told me this cultivar was unsuited to the subtropics. Ten years on it has proven to be the most resilient here in the coastal subtropics.

My thirteen year old native plum, Pouteria australis, is in bloom for the first time. Pineapples are also flowering, bananas and Tahitian lime are ripening (this is its sixth lime crop for 2014!).

Last winter I finally discovered someone was growing the same mint cultivar that flourished in my Nan and Grandad’s ‘Victory Garden’ in London. Its aroma takes me back to my childhood. Sadly, joy has been replaced by concern: the leaves developed brown flecks – lesions in the leaf tissue – indicating the presence of a nematode. As soon as I made the discovery, I sealed the plant and its pot in a plastic bag and disposed of it. I don’t want this pest invading my existing, healthy mint collection.

This morning, after watering the garden in advance of the forecast heatwave, I picked my first pepinos and planted a new variety of yam: African White yam, Dioscorea rotundata. I’m looking forward to seeing how this performs.

If there’s anything listed here you fancy trying yourself, join the Seed Savers Network. Our seed is free to our members!

If you want to buy seed or plants listed here, refer to my blog ‘Where do I get seed for that plant?’.

Here’s my subtropical food garden’s first menu of summer:

Edible roots
Arrowroot, Canna edulis
Beetroot, Beta vulgaris ‘McGregor’s Favourite’
Cassava, Manihot esculenta
Cassava, Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’
Cocoyam, Xanthosoma saggitifolia
Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus ‘Dwarf Sunray’
Mangelwurzel, Beta vulgaris Crassa Group
Radish, Raphanus sativus ‘Palestinian’

Edible leaves
Basil, sacred, Ocimum tenuiflorum
Cassava, Manihot esculenta
Cassava, Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’
Celery stem taro, aka Tahitian spinach, Alocasia esculenta
Cha-plu, Piper sarmentosum
Chickweed, Stellaria media
Chicory, Cichorium intybus
Chicory, Cichorium intybus ‘Red Dandelion’
Chinese celery, aka smallage, Apium graveolens
Chinese spinach, Amaranthus tricolor
Chinese spinach, Amaranthus tricolor ‘Mekong Red’
Chives, Allium schoenoprasum
Coriander, Coriandrum sativum
Coriander, Thai, Eryngium foetidum
Cranberry Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella
Curry bush, Helichrysum italicum
Curry leaf, Murraya koenigii
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
Dill, Anethum graveolens
Endive, Cichorium endivia ‘Pancellari Fine Cut’
Eschallot, Allium cepa var. aggregatum
Fennel, Florence, Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum Group ‘Zefa-Fino’
Fennel, Bronze, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’
Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum
Green Amaranth, Amaranthus viridis
Huauzontle, Chenopodium berlandieri
Japanese parsley, Cryptotaenia japonica
Kaffir lime, Citrus hystrix
Kale, Brassica oleracea ‘Red Russian’
Lagos spinach, Celosia spicata
Landcress, Barbarea vulgaris
Lebanese cress, Aethionema coridifolium
Leek, multiplier, Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum
Lemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus
Lemongrass, Native, Cymbopogon flexuosus
Lettuce, Lactuca sativa ‘First Fleet’
Lettuce, Lactuca sativa ‘Royal Purple Oakleaf’
Mangelwurzel, Beta vulgaris Crassa Group
Marjoram, Origanum marjorana
Mexican tree spinach, Cnidoscolus aconitifolius
Mint, Corsican, Mentha requienii
Mint, native, Mentha satureoides
Mint, Moroccan, Mentha spicata
Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus
Old man saltbush, Atriplex nummularia
Onion, Tree or Egyptian Walking, Allium x proliferum
Onion, Welsh, or spring onion, aka scallion, Allium fistulosum
Onion, Welsh perennial, or perennial spring onion, aka scallion, Allium fistulosum
Pandan, Pandanus amaryllifolius
Parsley, Petroselenium crispum ‘Italian flat-leaved’
Purslane, Wild, Portulaca oleracea
Radicchio, Cichorium intybus
Rocket, Wall or wild, Eruca saliva
Silverbeet, Beta vulgaris cicla ‘Rainbow Mixed’
Society garlic, Tulbaghia violacea ‘Variegata’
Society garlic, Tulbaghia violacea ‘Fairy Stars’
Stinking Roger, Tagetes minuta
Sweetpotato, Ipomoea batatas ‘Ace of Spades’
Sweetpotato, Ipomoea batatas ‘Marguerite’
Swinecress, Coronopus didymus
Thyme, Variegated, Thymus serpyllum ‘Variegata’
Variegated four seasons herb, Plectranthus amboinicus ‘Variegatus’
Variegated four seasons herb, Plectranthus amboinicus ‘Bayside Beauty’
Vietnamese mint, Persicaria odorata
Warrigal greens, Tetragonia tetragonioides

Edible petals
Banana, Musa x sapientum ‘Java Blue’
Bedding Begonia, Begonia semperflorens
Cranberry Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella (excellent for tea)
Fig-marigold, Aptenia cordifolia
Goldenrod, Solidago sp.
Pansy, Viola tricolor ‘Johnny Jump Up’
Rocket, Wall or wild, Eruca sativa
Stinking Roger, Tagetes minuta

Edible seed
Chilean wine palm, Jubaea chilensis
Pigeon pea, Cajanus cajan

Fruit
Banana (green), Musa x sapientum ‘Java Blue’
Banana (ripe), ‘Pisang Ceylan’
Chilli, Capsicum annuum ‘Portuguese Peri Peri’
Chilli, Capsicum annuum ‘Siam Gold’
Jaboticaba, Plinia cauliflora (syn. Myrciaria cauliflora)
Kaffir lime, Citrus hystrix
Lime, Tahitian, Citrus x latifolia
Mulberry, white, Morus alba
Mulberry, White Shahtoot, Morus alba var. laevigata ‘White Shahtoot’
Pawpaw, Carica papaya ‘Southern Red’
Pepino, Solanum muricatum
Strawberry, Fragaria anassae ‘Red Gauntlet’
Tomato, Cherry, Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Sweetbite’

Medicinal / Spices
Aloe vera – leaf juice used to heal sunburn, scratches, and for shampoo;
Bulbine frutescens – leaf juice used to treat burns, rashes, as an infusion for sore throats;
Brahmi herb, Bacopa monnieri – aids cognitive function;
Cardamom, Eletteria cardamomum;
Cardamom, False, Alpinia nutans;
Galangal, Alpinia galangal – spice used like ginger with similar properties;
Ginger, Culinary, Zingiber officinalis – spice that helps decongestion of catarrh, aids digestion, blood flow;
Ginger, Shampoo (species unknown) – from Seed Savers. Juice from leaves and roots (rhizomes) used to wash hair;
Greater celandine, Chelidonium majus – stem juice kills warts on hands;
Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum – juice used to heal wounds, relieve toothache, staunch bleeding;
Krachai (root), Boesenbergia rotunda;
Rosemary, dwarf, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Benenden Blue’;
Rosemary, fastigiate, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Miss Jessopp’;
Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora (young plants);
Turmeric, Curcuma longa – spice with anti-cancer properties;
91 taxa

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Jerry Coleby-Williams
15th November 2014